Ganesha’s Gift

Part One:

It was “locals day” at Ranthambore Fort and as the temperature bounced high above 40 degrees a flood of saris of different colours mantled the temple to Ganesha. Accompanied by Grey Langur and a peppering of flies we meandered the fifth century steps and took shelter beneath the twist of tarp and thatch that rooved the wooden stalls outside the temple. The devotees slowly migrated through the thickness of the heat to the long line leading through the faded pink temple arches.

We purchased our offerings of laddoos, modaks and incense. As sweat droplets swelled on our brows, I looked to the locals waiting in the heat for their turn to gain favour from the god who removes obstacles. Obviously Ganesha has granted us his favour prematurely as Sawai grabs at my wrist and leads McGee and I straight past the line up to a hidden entrance behind the stalls.

“It’s working already” I whispered to McGee. She gave me a look to behave.

We took our shoes off and washed our hands and feet before entering the temple antechamber. We approached the shrine, decorated with garlands of orange and yellow flowers across drapings of red folded cloth. We reverently made our way to the shrine where a holy man accepted our offerings in turn, placing them systemically beside some picture frames of Lord Ganesha and some ornate silver jars.

The holy man then returned some of our offerings to us so that we may worship elsewhere in the fort. I looked at the remnants left in my bowl and asked him what they were. He motioned back that it was a food offering by raising his hand to his mouth. I nodded politely and turned to McGee. She however, seeing the holy man’s gesture thought he wanted us to eat Ganesha’s offering and was already munching down on a laddoo ball.

Asia mat karo! The holy men beckon McGee to stop eating Ganesha’s gift.

Part Two:

We were anxious to leave our tented farm stay accommodation on the border of Ranthambore National Park. Not because our glamping experience was negative. It was anything but. Our hosts at Maa Ashapura had treated us to viewings of Tiger, Leopard, Nilgai and Hyena up close in the wild; we rode horseback under the stars; and we were guests of the manager and his friends for dinner at the incredible Aman-I-Khas. But our train back to Jaipur was leaving soon, we still had over an hour to get there and inexplicably the EFTPOS machine wouldn’t accept any of our cards to settle our bill.

“You had to go and upset Ganesha didn’t you.” I winked at McGee

We still have time. We had drawn cash from the ATM in the village before, we will quickly detour and be back en route in no time. We dash to the village but the ATM machine was blanking out and needed to be rebooted. This was not a promising sign.

“Ganesha, the remover of obstacles! Why couldn’t you have picked a fight with one of the other gods? Maybe eaten some of Shiva’s bananas or Krishna’s gourds?”

We were back on the road but desperately behind schedule. Our driver suggested it was unlikely we would make our train, a point assisted by the fact that he was the most conservative driver in the whole of India. Unlike anyone else in the entire country he was sure to keep to his lane and resisted honking his horn, even when a number of camels set up shop in the middle of the road or when the seemingly endless parade of cows and pigs blocked our path.

“We are really feeling Ganesha’s wrath here babe, can you please make up with him or something?”

“Careful” she replied “Ganesha may turn on you if you get too cheeky.”

We crawled into the station car park, McGee and I on tenterhooks in the back. Gave our hurried thanks and tips to our driver, grabbed our backpacks and raced up the ramp, across the footbridge, skidding into the first carriage of our train as the doors closed.

It seemed there was some obstacle delaying our train out of the station. As the train pulled away we thanked Ganesha for this gift.

Part Three:

A day later we entered the Marriott at Goa. It was to be a treat to mark the end of our journey through India. We were at the swim up bar for less than an hour when we had made friends with the best man of a wedding being held at the resort. The families of the bride and groom were well to do and had hired out the whole resort… except it seems for our room.

Typical of Indian hospitality we were of course invited to join the festivities, an invitation we gratefully accepted. That night we made our way across the footbridge, down the red carpet and through the luminous canopy of linen to a beach full of tables laid in white tablecloths aglow with fairy lights and oil candles.

Photographers and Indian high society mingled and posed and my best travel runners were now feeling rather conspicuous as we were introduced from table to table by the bridal party, drinking Kingfishers and partaking in incidental rounds of prawn canapé roulette. It was about three in the morning when we cut away from the dance floor glow sticks and Bollywood lessons and made our way back to our room.

McGee rose late the next morning, rolling towards me to ask if I was ready for breakfast. “I can’t.” I whimpered. “I have had Delhi-Belly all night, I can’t be away from the bathroom for more than a few minutes.” I lay back on the bed, exhausted, the sheets sticking damp against my clammy skin. The fan providing no relief as I simultaneously burn up and shiver. “I’m going to need to stay here babe, I can’t go anywhere” I squeak. “There is absolutely nothing stopping this diarrhoea.” My eyes widen and we look at each other.

“Ganesha?”

Karma Police

Karma has a funny way of repaying you for the childish antics of your youth. My mate Herman is Namibian and I found it quite hilarious over many years of travel to make subtle comments at the immigration desk as to whether Namibia was even a real country. This would often invoke twenty questions from the officials and would send them scurrying for their manual that had the list of recognised countries.

Sometimes countries, like Slovenia for example, have not updated their manual since Namibia was known as South West Africa which compounded the situation, making the following ten minutes increasingly uncomfortable for Herman as he attempted to justify the existence of a country the size of Texas; and increasingly funny to his infantile friends……

I worked out pretty quickly JFK doesn’t like me. In a bizarre occurrence that would be repeated in some shape or form over the next decade I made my way to the immigration desk. The lady behind the desk, unusually polite and upbeat processes my passport and welcomes me to The States.

“Thank you Mr Robinson, have a nice…..”

Then she stopped and gawked at the screen, before her hand reached down and furiously seemed to hit some sort of hidden button. Immediately two men appeared heavily armed and escorted me to another room sitting me down with a bunch of men who looked to be Mexican.

What an adventure I thought. Feeling comfortable I had nothing to be worried about, I sat there in the back room, scanning the men with their massive guns. Slyly glancing at the Mexicans, there were about seven of them. They sat there steely faced, silent. This is great, what a story. After a while I leaned over to the bloke next to me and whispered “what are you in for?” He however was no muy bueno! no muy bueno at all.

In New Zealand they ask you if you have prescription medicines, weapons, ammunition, explosives and narcotics as one question on the departure card. This puts the average migraine sufferer in quite a position by ticking that box. You’d think the Kiwis would separate out the prescription medicines wouldn’t you? Did I accidentally tick a wrong box I thought?

I started thinking about other countries I have been to, where they appeal to the honest jihadist by asking whether the flyer has engaged in terrorist activities. I have felt like asking if they can be more specific but thought better of it as Border Security rarely have an effervescent sense of humour. Why am I thinking about this? What’s taking so long?

Clearly keeping me here for such a long time was a tactic to start to breakdown the most hardened of criminals. I could see cracks appearing in the Mexican mafia next to me. It was probably only then that I started to feel some pangs of apprehension. Maybe this isn’t some exciting misunderstanding. I start to search my mind for some reason why I am being detained.

Maybe I should have paid that damn TV licence in the UK? Maybe I mistakenly left a debit on my Barclays card when I left England and it has caught up with me? Maybe my over stay in the UK has put some sort of flag on my file? My mind starts to race. Maybe the Malawi Gold my mates smoked in Africa has left a trace on my clothes?…. oh shit, maybe someone has put something in my luggage?

I started to sweat. What is my game plan I thought? Could I plead the fifth? I wonder how much a lawyer costs in the states? I’d probably end up with My Cousin Vinny. I wonder if Guantanamo Bay is nice this time of year?

After a while the guards took me to another room. One stood watch with his weapon trained while a man behind a computer started his interrogation. The next hour or so I was subject to the most frustrating interview ever. I will spare you the transcript but in sharing the below excerpts you can clearly see that as a younger man when I got bored or frustrated I had a tendency to get  a little cheeky.

“Do you have a drivers licence with you?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“I don’t intend to drive anywhere”

“How can you prove you are Michael Robinson then?”

“Um, it says it right there on my Passport next to my picture?”

“What nationality are you?”

“Australian”

“How can you prove you are from Australia?”

“It says it there below my picture, also on my Passport”

“Do you have any other evidence you are Australian?”

“No”

“Why not?”

“I’m confused, it’s my first time to America, you guys do use the whole Passport system here don’t you? I thought that was the generally accepted form of ID”

It was about here that I started overstepping the line.

“Sir, please evidence you are from Australia.”

“maybe by saying something?”

“huh?”

Baramundi’s a bloody big fish

“What are you doing sir?”

“Crocodile Dundee, It’s a little obscure a reference I know, but I didn’t want to use the ‘that’s not a knife, this is a knife’ line given where we are. You understand.”

“This is not a laughing matter.”

“I’m not laughing”

“How does this prove you are from Australia?”

“I don’t think it does…. but can you do this accent?”

Probably should rope it back in I thought.

“Have you any tattoos?”

“No”

“Have you had any tattoos removed?”

“No”

“Have you had any reconstructive surgery?”

“You mean like, was I born a woman?”

Answer the question sir”

“No….. Listen gents maybe if you tell me why I’m here I might be able to help you.”

Eventually, the lads gave in and informed me that the FBI are looking for a man with my name and age. I put it to them there may be more than one person with the same name as me and they accepted I was probably not the felon they were looking for.  Also the felon was African American….

They wished me well and sent me on my way to explore New York. Unfortunately, each time I enter the States, I am still subjected to the Spanish Inquisition at the immigration desk. I haven’t been transferred into a back room again but I usually have to put aside an hour and a half on arrival. Lately I start the engagement with “it’s not me but I know I am going to spend the next hour convincing you of that.”  It doesn’t work.

Herman finds this hilarious. As I said…. Karma.