THE LOOK OF MEMORIES: India in the rearview mirror

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Khwaab, by Niraj Chag
THE LOOK OF MEMORIES: India in the rearview mirror

In early 1970, when I was 18, my dad and I were flying back to New Zealand from a few weeks around England and Scotland. We stopped off for a few days in beautiful Beirut (this was just before the civil war destroyed large tracts of it) and then flew on to Calcutta (Kolkata these days).

Just as we were descending the pilot pulled up and announced we couldn't land so were flying on to the next airport to wait for the haze to clear. A steward told me it was smoke from open-air cooking fires which prevented us from landing.

The next airport happened to be Rangoon in Burma (now known as Yangon in Myanmar) where were escorted off the plane by armed soldiers and put in what could only be described as a holding pen with gun-toting military men scowling at us.

They brought us plates of chicken soup which were so devoid of taste that a large and amusing American guy called a guard over and demanded to see the chicken which had flown over the plate.

A couple of boring hours later we flew back to Calcutta and looked down on a city where thousands of small random fires lit up the night.

We now enter the world of cliché because the city was such an eye-opener for me: the colours, smells, poverty, damaged beauty of the buildings, the food . . .

All the cliches.

There were some memorable moments, like standing in a park and catching the piercing eyes of a young saddhu who seemed to look right through me.

By this time I had been listening to Indian classical and folk music for quite a few years so stopped at every musician playing flute or shenai.

I also saw the original godhead poster which had been adapted for the Hendrix album cover Axis: Bold As Love.

s_l500My dad and I had a remarkable time but also some weird and dangerous things happened, which I wrote about at Elsewhere. And that explains why we had no photographs of our time there. It's a strange story.

We bought some silk for my mum but the only thing I bought was a box of miniature Indian instruments which I lovingly looked after all the decades since.

Over time the strings frayed but I couldn't bear to part with this sole memento of a formative experience.

However the Auckland floods of 2023 meant a great cull of such things and so I took the photo and reluctantly threw them in a plastic bin alongside so much other detritus from my life.

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These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

Enjoy these random oddities at Personal Elsewhere.

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