Category Archives: India

Adventure, mass murder and bananas. It’s the perfect Edinburgh comedy show.

Charmian and Kaye on the Ganges in Varanasi

Charmian (left) & Kaye last month on the Ganges in Varanasi

If you are going to perform for over three weeks at the always potentially rainy and windy Edinburgh Fringe in August, it is best to make your show about a glamorous subject simply on the basis that the research will cheer you up.

Comedian Charmian Hughes was in India last month doing 16 days ‘research’ with her friend Kaye Bachelard. Both were following in the footsteps of their earlier even more feisty relatives and trying to uncover what really happened to them.

Kaye had a relative who forsook the Jesuit priesthood for a woman. Charmian’s story was even more of an adventure and will be the basis of her Edinburgh Fringe show next year.

“Which section of the Fringe Programme do you think I should put it in?” she asked me last night after she and Kaye had run through their stories with photos and videos in Charmian’s kitchen.

“In the Comedy section,” I said, “because it will attract more bums on seats. It’s a real cracking adventure story – well, a double adventure story – the 19th century one and your own 2013 one. It’s got murder, mystery mayhem and all the rest – but you’ll make it funny with all the incidental details – the populace paying homage to a great man by giving him bananas is worth at least a titter.”

I asked Charmian to give me an ‘elevator pitch’ for her proposed show.

“It is,” she said, “about me and my friend Kaye going to find out about our families who had escaped from India – and WE ended up having to escape!”

“Who was the relative whose adventure you were following in the footsteps of?” I asked, on the basis that it’s easier to write blogs if you get other people to supply the words.

“Mrs Goldney,” said Charmian. “She got caught up in the Indian Mutiny. She escaped on the back of an elephant by climbing up its tail and disguising herself in torn-up petticoats as an Indian bride. She took shelter with the one-eyed scoundrel and the Rajah and she escaped from a mob who were trying to kill her by throwing her money around so, in the end, she had the same tipping worries as everyone else does in India. Do you think it’ll work?”

“Yes,” I told her. “It has a Three Act structure. It starts off like it’s going to be a gentle tale about two modern women on a trip to India following in the footsteps of their forebears… then it becomes a 19th century female Indiana Jones adventure story set in the Indian Mutiny, with people getting killed by being tied to the front of the barrels of cannons while others are beheaded and escaping on elephants…

“…and then we have the end bit of your adventure which we can’t say too much about in a blog because it would give away how you met royalty and why you thought – with good reason – that you and Kaye might be killed and/or bricked-up alive inside a wall. What is there not to like? It has adventure, mass murder and bananas – the perfect Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. And, because you both had short hair, people kept thinking you were lesbians and kept offering you double beds. So it even has the lure of sex in it. You just have to add in some Indian dancing…”

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

“No dancing,” said Charmian.

“There has to be,” I said. “It’s a tradition in your shows. You did the sand dance in two of your shows. This one cries out for you to do some Indian dancing.”

“No,” said Charmian.

“Well at least have a practice here in the kitchen,” I said.

And she did.

I have high hopes Charmian may, once again, dance in her Edinburgh Fringe show next August.

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Comedian Sameena Zehra, a homicidal pacifist, insists she really is quite mad

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Sameena with husband in Edinburgh last year

Sameena with husband in Edinburgh last year

“When I’m stressed,” Sameena Zehra told me in London’s Covent Garden last week, “I make architectural floor plans to calm myself. I put in where the electric points go. If I ever have a plot of land and money to build, I will have hundreds of floor plans to choose from. But I really shouldn’t tell people about liking architectural plans.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s part of my general madness… homicide and everything else. When I have an argument with my husband, I plan the arrangements for his funeral in detail. I’ve planned my own as well. I’m going to have a Viking funeral.”

“Why?”

“I like the idea of people standing by a beach and sending me off on a raft and then firing burning arrows at it.”

“But before that, on the 4th of April,” I said, “you’re starting a new monthly comedy club in West Ham called WHAT?””

“It’s called the Cult of Comedy,” said Sameena, “mainly because I’ve always wanted to start a cult because I want loads of people who will do my bidding.”

“If I were doing cheap psychology…” I ventured. “Liking architectural plans, wanting a Viking funeral and starting a cult makes it seem like you want to control things which, I suppose, comedians want to do because they want to control and affect the audience.”

“I have no desire to control the audience,” Sameena replied. “But, in my own life, I have had a thing about wanting to control the things that happen in order for me to then go crazy – because you need the boundaries. I would never go up on stage with a half-finished piece of work.”

“Ideally,” I suggested, “you should go on stage with a script fully worked-out in extreme detail and throw parts of it away to fit into what happens on the night. Then you always have a strong skeleton to fall back on.”

Sameena with a cuddly friend; without any sharp machete

Sameena with cuddly friend but without any sharp machete

“But you have to have courage to do that,” said Sameena.”And ability. I’ve been doing comedy for two and a half years and I’m not good enough to just ‘let go’. I’m still learning. I was an actor for fifteen years: I really enjoyed doing original writing, new plays. Sometimes I worked on plays that were still being written, which was fascinating.

“One of the reasons I moved from acting to comedy was I wanted creative control of my work. Really, as an actor, if I’d had one more offer or audition as an Asian shopkeeper or a terrorist’s wife, sister or daughter, I would have killed someone. I loved being an actor but I wanted to leave while I still loved it.

“Comedy’s amazing, because you write something and you take it out and do it. You don’t have to wait for a producer or a director or anybody. You just write it and do it and then you stand or fall on the quality of your work. I’ve given myself five years to get to a point where I have some sort of audience that likes my work.”

“You know my theory,” I said, “that you have to play the Edinburgh Fringe three years in a row. The first year, they don’t know you’re there. The second year, you get some attention. The third year, they see you as an established performer.”

“I may not be able to do Edinburgh this year,” Sameena told me. “I don’t know if I can afford it. But, if I don’t do a full show, I am going to go up for a week and do open spots and see other shows.”

“The danger if you leave a year gap between shows,” I said, “is you have to start from scratch again because not only do audiences change but reviewers change. So where is this place you want to be after five years from starting comedy?”

Sameena’s 2012 show

Sameena’s 2012 Edinburgh Fringe show: Tea With Terrorists

“I want to be touring my show and to have found my voice and be more courageous and have written a really good piece. I think my show at the Fringe last year – Tea With Terrorists – was a good show. The new one I’m writing – Homicidal Pacifist I don’t know what that’s going to be like. After five years in comedy, I would like to have honed my craft and to have had fun doing it and I would like to have done it with integrity.”

“And,” I asked, “if you don’t reach that point after five years?”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” said Sameena. “I’ll keep doing comedy, I’ll just have to change my strategy.”

“So why are you now a Homicidal Pacifist?” I asked.

“Because,” explained Sameena, “I am a pacifist in my heart: I believe in non-violent civil disobedience. I believe that, when we use violence, it demeans and diminishes us as human beings… On the other hand, I occasionally have the urge to get a machete and run around an Asda supermarket with it.

“Here’s the thing. I love humanity, the adjective. But I do not like Humanity, the noun.

Sameena’s new 2013 comedy show

Sameena’s new 2013 comedy show, previewing in Brighton

“The premise of my new show is that I’m working on a plan to cull the human race. It’s going to be thought-out and logical. There’s going to be a questionnaire. If you fail it, you get three years to fix yourself. If, after three years, you haven’t fixed yourself, you’re going to be culled.

“There’s going to be a culling aisle in the supermarket. Every supermarket will have one and there will be an announcement that goes: Attention! Customer announcement! Culling will begin in Aisle 3 in fifteen minutes.

“There are certain groups that will have a preponderance, like merchant bankers. It doesn’t mean all of them will be culled – because I’m unwilling to dismiss a whole group of people just because of the worst characteristics of 90% of them.

“That’s where I am. I’m very angry about things and I can imagine being in a news story that ends with the words: She then turned the gun on herself. But I hope I won’t. So I need to get it out of my system.

“I love crime fiction. It must be the homicidal inside me. I love Elmore Leonard and Steven Saylor, who sets all his crime novels in the Roman Empire. You get a whole milieu; you learn about the social history of Rome. Same with Dorothy L.Sayers: 1920s Britain. Same with C.J.Sansom who writes novels set during Henry VIII’s reign. I think I like the puzzles as well. I’m a great fan of puzzles.”

“And architectural floor plans,” I said.

“I’m writing a crime novel myself,” Sameena told me.

“Based where?” I asked, surprised.

“In modern-day London. I’ve always wanted to write a crime novel. It’s about a woman in her thirties who used to be part of a three-person team that did extractions in South American and African countries where people get kidnapped.”

“Extractions for companies?” I asked.

“Yes. And now she runs a private detective agency with a friend of hers.”

I asked: “Can I say that in my blog or will someone nick the idea?”

Sameena Zehra

Sameena – a fan of detectives & kick-ass Moghuls

“Who cares if they nick the idea?” replied Sameena. “The one I want to write – the one I need to write before I die – is a detective novel set during the Moghul Empire in India. There was a Moghul King called Akbar The Great and the years of his reign are pretty concurrent with Elizabeth I in England. It was a Moslem dynasty and he was an amazing guy. It was one of his descendants who built the Taj Mahal.

“I’ve got a female detective in mind who is part midwife, part travelling mendicant. You need a character who can pass between royalty and the common people. She goes around solving mysteries and I would like to have the absolutely amazing tapestry of the Moghul Empire behind these everyday stories. Nowadays, because we’re all becoming Islamophobic, we’re forgetting that Islam was a real force for spreading knowledge. And women were educated. They had options. They even went into war. There are lots of famous Indian women warriors. They kicked ass.”

“You strike me as being very organised,” I said. “Isn’t being disorganised, doolally and mad almost a pre-requisite for being a comic?”

“A lot of people have said to me that comedians are mad,” said Sameena, “and stupid and bitchy. But I haven’t had that experience. By-and-large, the people that I’ve met have been generous and encouraging and lovely to meet. I’ve met the occasional arsehole, but I’ve just gone I’m not having anything to do with you, thankyou very much.”

“I like comedians,” I said. “But they do tend to be doolally in one way or another. That’s what makes them interesting.”

“Well, I’m quite mad,” said Sameena. “I’m quite aware of this.”

“No, no,” I said. “You come across as being a director or producer. Someone who’s creative but not mad.”

“I am quite mad,” insisted Sameena. “I hide it very well.”

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Toilet seats and the difference in the collapse of British & Russian empires

A bottom-shaped toilet seat as it was meant to be

A toilet seat as it was meant to be…

I flew to Kiev yesterday. I went to the toilet first.

They have tried hard at London’s Gatwick Airport.

There is a new ‘super-loo’.

The holes in the toilet seats are rectangular.

I checked my bottom before and after using one. My bottom is not rectangular. I was unable to check other people’s bottoms. But I suspect the design of these new ‘super’ toilet seats is a triumph of design over practicality.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Some seats in the Departure Lounge at Gatwick have little flat surfaces next to them with plug sockets and USB ports so you can use and charge your computers and mobile phones.

All the sockets and USB ports had been switched off.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

Ukraine International Airlines were very attentive on the flight to Kiev. All the pilot and cabin announcements were, of course, in both Ukrainian… and in English as, I think, the rules say they have to be. At least, I think they were in English.

But the English was around 97% totally incomprehensible. It was like audio origami. I basically only knew it was English because of the polite addition of clear Thankyous at the end of sentences.

A triumph of good intentions over actual effectiveness.

A street in Kiev at 9.40am this morning

A central street in Kiev – or Kyiv –  at 9.40am this morning

So now I am in Kiev.

In an enlightening conversation last night, a local was telling me how the corruption system works.

It is a triumph of actual effectiveness over good intentions.

I say I am in Kiev… but actually I am in Kyiv. Because ‘Kiev’ was the Russian-approved Western spelling used in the Soviet era. Now Ukraine is independent. So now it is written as ‘Kyiv’.

As with all ex-Soviet states, there was and is a problem with the Russians.

I remember a historian (not British born) telling me in the 1990s what he thought was the difference between the collapse of the British Empire and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

I do not know if he is right or wrong, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

The way he saw it, the British had conquered an empire but had, by-and-large, not fully integrated themselves within the local community, particularly in India.

In the Raj, they tended to live in British communities, go to British clubs and continue living their British lives separate from the local communities. Britain was always seen as their home country. They lived consciously as ex-pats.

With the Soviet Empire, the Russians, to a greater extent, colonised each country and moved their families and lives lock, stock and family barrel into them because they, perhaps, felt that all these other countries really were part of one great Socialist country.

When India got independence, by and large, most British families simply upped-sticks and left, mostly going back to their ‘home’ country – the UK.

But, when the Soviet Empire collapsed and satellite countries got independence, the Russian populations within those countries had psychologically, economically and physically integrated their families’ lives within the communities. They had no actual close family ties back in Russia. They were not expats living away from mother Russia. They were Russians who felt fully part of the satellite countries.

For example, in Uzbekistan, they were not Uzbeks yet, in Russia, they were not ‘real’ Russians. They had nowhere to ‘go home’ to. These were Russians who had been in Uzbekistan for generations and were now left stranded in what had been their home country and was now a foreign country.

Same thing in the Ukraine… exacerbated by a history of invasions over the centuries.

There is a heavy Russian presence in the east and in the south of modern, independent Ukraine. According to a 2001 census, 67.5 percent of the population declared Ukrainian as their ‘native’ language and 29.6 percent declared Russian.

They considered Russian their ‘native’ language.

Almost 30% of the country.

Almost all in the east and south.

This is not good.

Some people talk of splitting the country.

Mostly the Russians in the Ukraine. And the Russians in the Kremlin.

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England beat India in egg roulette + paranoia, killing baby girls, massacres

Egg smashes on forehead in Amritsar Test Match

Egg smashes on forehead in First Test Match at Amritsar

Almost a fortnight ago, I blogged about Andy Dunlop, president of the World Egg Throwing Federation, heading a team of top English egg throwers  bound for India for an acclimatisation period before Team England (surreally including a Scotsman) faced the might of India in a historic First Indian Test Match in the Russian Egg Roulette Series.

They cracked it.

Andy and the team have now returned to Britain in triumph.

You can see the BBC TV report here.

Yesterday, constantly interrupted by calls from the BBC and other media outlets desperate for puns about sporting eggsellence, he told me what had happened in India…

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We went to India for a couple of reasons.

To teach 1.2 billion people how to play Russian Egg Roulette.

And to assist/promote the campaign to end polio.

The former we excelled at, though we may not have quite reached our target figure.

The latter… we are getting there.

This is likely to be the 3rd year with no new polio cases in India, but there is still work to be done in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Over 20 innoculators have been killed this year in those countries due to religious-based fear, so they are going to be difficult to crack.

Our Indian trip took us Delhi, Lucknow and then to Amritsar. In the course of 10 days, we see-sawed from Upper Class opulence to the depths of destitution. You have to see and smell it to really experience it but, even then, you can’t with your full belly and the knowledge that, soon afterwards, you will be back in a 5 star hotel supping a beer which would cost the locals a week’s wages.

In Dehli we took part in pre-event publicity for the polio National Immunisation Day, when 172 million children under the age of five would receive 2 drops of vaccine in their mouths.

Then on to Lucknow, where we did more press and then went out into the Muslim community to assist the local teams. We were clad in bright yellow polo shirts adorned in Polio symbols, getting people into the booths, stopping traffic and explained that we weren’t there as part of a US-led conspiracy to sterilise the kids but to rid their community of polio. Suspicion, though, was deep and was openly displayed.

On our second day there, we did mop-ups: going from house to house, knocking on doors, child catching anyone who couldn’t reach over their heads to touch their opposite ear (a sign that they are under five) and didn’t have the little fingernail on the left hand painted purple.

When that process finished, we were whisked off to a Rotary-sponsored orphanage to see how they look after the abandoned children. Two of the youngest babies there had been brought in the week before after being found deposited on a rubbish dump.

A hundred or so tiny kids were being looked after and were looking after each other. The blind and autistic were being led by the able-bodied.  Great work was being done, but we noticed there were only three girl children.

It seems that girls are usually killed before being dumped… but the papers report that female infanticide is reducing.

Amritsar plays host to the First Egg Test Match next week

The Golden Temple in Amritsar: 45,000 are fed free each day

In Amritsar, we marvelled at the Golden Temple and the volunteer teams who run the kitchens which enable 45,000 visitors to be fed for free each day.

We learnt about the massacre in Amritsar in 1919, about Udham Singh, freedom fighters, revenge and modern day terrorism.

They didn’t mention the last, but the armed guards in the streets, the arrests and  recent events told us we were in  place of potential danger.

They didn’t mention the anti-Sikh riots which killed 3,000-4,000  in recent times, nor the fact that the 1919 massacre was carried out by local Sepoys and Gurkhas under the command of the Brits.

We visited the memorial to the 1919 massacre but we were not shown any memorial to the 1984 massacres.

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Wikipedia currently has a page listing some of the massacres in India. So it goes.

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Edinburgh Fringe Russian Egg Roulette – and the First Indian Egg Test Match

(A version of this piece was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

Russian Egg Roulette at last year's Edinburgh Fringe

Russian Egg Roulette contest at 2012 Malcolm Hardee show

Last year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe included a celebrity Russian egg roulette contest featuring the likes of comedians Richard Herring, Arthur Smith and eventual winner Lewis Schaffer.

It was officially sanctioned and supervised by internationally-renowned Andy Dunlop, president of the World Egg Throwing Federation – himself a former Dutch National Russian Egg Roulette Champion and 2012 Birdman of Worthing winner.

Russian Egg Roulette will be back at this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 23rd August in the ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh.

The official rules are fairly simple, if messy:

Individual challenge against an opponent on a knock out basis. Players sit opposite each other, across a table. A tray containing 6 specially selected eggs will be proffered. 5 hard-boiled, 1 raw. Each player takes it in turn to select one and then smash the egg onto his or her own forehead until one player finds the raw one. The finder of the raw egg loses the game or match.

Today I feel honoured – indeed, humbled – to announce that, after long and careful consideration, the World Egg Throwing Federation has decided that this year’s contest at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be given the official accolade of Scottish National Egg Roulette Championship.

Andy Dunlop confirmed the details yesterday.

England egg team - Bell, Dunop, Bath and Leech

Hopeful Russian Egg Roulette team Bell, Dunlop, Bath, Leech

This morning, he and a team of top English egg throwers scrambled to get on a plane bound for India where, next week, Team England will be facing the might of India in a historic First Indian Test Match in the Russian Egg Roulette Series.

Andy told me yesterday: “The four of us have honed our skills in reiki, aura differentia and egg divining.  We won’t be relying upon luck.”

The match itself will take place in Amritsar, which Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday visited barefoot.

But I can reveal today the shocking truth that Team England will include a non-English ‘ringer’ – Scotsman Norry Bell, who has been brought in to boost England’s chance of success because, well, frankly, because the Scots are better than the English. As a Scot, Norry says he hopes to do well “as long as the eggs are wrapped in sausage meat and bread crumbs”.

I did ask Andy Dunlop yesterday why the team is representing “England” and not “Great Britain” and he was somewhat evasive.

“Hmm,” he told me, “we did consider that but, due to historical differences of opinion between the two nations, we decided to drop the Great Britain tag. And, apart from that, the damn Welsh would have complained about exclusion from selection.”

The other two team members, Stephen Bath and David Leech, look on Andy Dunlop and Norry Bell as joint team captains and say: “We would follow our captains anywhere, mainly out of curiosity to see what they do next.”

Team England will have a short period of acclimatisation before their match next Wednesday. During that acclimatisation period, they will be supporting the Polio National Immunisation Day on Sunday 24th February in the Lucknow region, as part of Rotary International‘s project to rid the world of this disease. And, on Monday 25th, they will help undertake a sweep of the area to ensure no children under 5 have been missed in the immunisation.

Amritsar plays host to the First Egg Test Match next week

Amritsar will play host to the First Egg Test Match next week

On Wednesday 27th, the big match itself will take place at the Mohan International Hotel.

The cost of the trip has been financed out of the team’s own pockets. They receive no funding whatsoever from any government, any polio campaign funds nor any charitable organisation nor Sport England. Virgin Atlantic declined to upgrade Team England from cattle to upper class on their flight, despite pleas. Two of the team are using their Air Miles. The others, Andy told me, “are too inexperienced” to have attained the right amount.

He also tells me that absolutely no chickens will be harmed and all eggs used will have been checked and declared unfit for human consumption before use.

The winners will receive a fine silver trophy. For the losers, there will be a carved wooden cup with a lid to hold the shells of defeat.

The 2013 World Egg Throwing Championships will take place in Swaton, Lincolnshire, on Sunday 30th June.

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There was a comic in England, a comic in India and a comedy critic in Kenya…

(This was also published by the Indian news site WSN)

I guess other people’s half-glimpsed lives always seem more interesting than your own but, if you actually lived their lives, you would only be aware of the hole in your left sock, occasional toothache and a tendency to go to the toilet in the middle of the night if you’ve drunk too much tea before going to bed.

Ah…

Just me, then.

Yesterday, I blogged about chatting to comedian Bob Slayer after a This Is Your Laugh comedy gig in London and his plans to tour Europe with a Swedish rock group. This morning, he told me what had happened to him after the gig:

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Bob Slayer shortly before being kicked in the face

Bob Slayer just before he was kicked

I got kicked in the face by a girl from Slovenia… OK, I did ask her to do it but that doesn’t make it hurt any less…

I was walking home after This Is Your Laugh and I saw two young ladies drinking a box of wine on a bench in Mile End Park. Attracted by the wine, I decided to go over and say hello. They both told me to “Fuck off, weirdo!” Which I suppose is fair enough. A lone man approaching two young ladies in the park after midnight can be a little intimidating.

I was going to just walk on but decided that an alternative way to put their minds at rest might be to acknowledge the situation and at the same time show them that I was friendly.

So I asked them: “Do you want to kick me in the face?”

One of them simply increased her volume of “Fuck off, weirdo!”

But the other showed some interest.

“Can I really?” she asked, as she bounced up and down like a Ninja.

“Um… OK then…” I replied.

She leapt in the air like Chun-Li, spinning around as she did so, then landed her foot directly on my nose in what I believe was a perfectly executed ‘roundhouse kick’.

I didn’t have time to be impressed as I was instantly falling backwards and downwards like a sack of spuds. She didn’t need to tell me that she was a kickboxer but she kindly did anyway.

I was also very impressed with her after-care service.

She apologised a lot, then took out some wet wipes to clean up the blood and we drank her wine together for the next hour before I finally tootled off home…

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That story, if you know Bob Slayer, might not seem to be particularly exceptional.

But this morning, I also got an e-mail from amiable and – I suspect he would not want to be called this, but he is – sophisticated comedian Matt Roper. (He performs as ‘Wilfredo’.) He is taking a break abroad:

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Matt Roper with a hair of the dog

Matt Roper with a hair of the Indian dog

There are sights in India a man should never have to see.

At the top of this list is the sight of yours truly, waking up fully-clothed on a bed in a ramshackle beach hut with my top lip stuck to my gum and wearing just one bright pink sandal.

There is an alcoholic drink made in Goa called Fenny, made from the juice of cashew apples then suitably distilled. One glass with a mixer can make you feel slightly merry. Two can get you utterly smashed. Unfortunately, as I found out far too late, it is also used medicinally as a strong laxative.

I thought I knew India – and my own body – very well. But I have been far too cocky. Stomach cramps. The shits. Five long days spent switching between staring at a rattling ceiling fan and looking at the back of the toilet door. Squatting for five days straight can send a man mad. You can’t go anywhere. You daren’t move.

Many words can be used to describe India but boring could never be one of them. It awakens your senses.

The other day I witnessed a lifeguard on a jet ski almost accidentally killing a swimmer and I have spent an afternoon paragliding with a lesbian from Kazakhstan. I have been called ‘a shit’ by a girl from Eastbourne, which is quite wrong. A bit of a cunt I might be. But not a shit. They are two entirely different things.

A friend from England is here somewhere, following Amma on tour. Amma – a guru from Kerala known as ‘the hugging mama’ – is giving satsang today. My friend, it seems, has become a devotee. I just had a text from her telling me that she is (my friend, not the guru) ‘on the stage’ at 5pm. What she is actually doing on the stage is a mystery which will soon be revealed. It staggers my mind. But, with a bit of luck, I might get a hug from the infamous Amma. I just hope she doesn’t call me a shit.

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Meanwhile, doyenne of British comedy critics Kate Copstick continues her work in Kenya, where her Mama Biashara charity helps poor people (mostly women) set up their own small businesses by giving them small start-up grants. She sent me these extracts from her diary:

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Kate Copstick in Kenya last week

Kate Copstick working in Kenya despite men

Doris is waiting with some groups of Zimbabwean women (the ones who are having to do casual labouring to eke a living) who want a grant, so we head back to Corner to meet Doris and the Zimbabweans.

The women are very sussed. These are terrific women – smart, strong and sooooooo long-suffering you would not believe it.

Husbands divide into three categories:

1) dead

2) ”anaenda anakuja” (he comes and goes)

3) useless/drunkard.

The average number of children is around six.

The women are anything from first to third generation Zimbabwean refugee. Their community is VERY male dominated (albeit the men are useless or drunk) and their religion forbids the use of medicines. If someone gets sick, they pray.

Frankly, I am beginning to thing that the Amoxill/Piriton/Ibuprofen brigade are quite smart after all.

The first group we meet are planning to sell fresh ginger. They know the market, they know their suppliers and they are going (at my insistence) to do half wholesale and half retail to maximise profit. There are nine women in the group, with forty children between them and their total grant is just under £300.

It is around £30 each. And I think this business will fly.

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As I said at the start, I guess other people’s half-glimpsed lives always seem slightly more interesting than your own but, if you actually lived their lives, you would only be aware of the minutiae. Even Kate Copstick’s minutiae, though, are more interesting than the hole in my left sock. She adds:

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My cats are fattening up on UHT milk and tinned sardines. And so are their fleas (I suspect) on ME. Anything that is not a scab is a lump, anything not a lump a bruise. I am considering suing the manufacturers of Doom, the spray with which the air in my lair is heavy and which promises death to anything that crawls or flies.

I am off to scratch.

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