Here’s another typical Drinking Traveller story for most of you not to believe and for the rest of you to shake your heads and say, “oh Roy”.
Truth be told, I’m beginning to feel a bit like John McClane when he says, “How can the same shit keep happening to the same guy?” except with me its sexual deviants instead of international terrorists.
For those levelling that same question at me, all I can suggest in way of an answer is that maybe strange things just happen to strange people who roam alone through strange cities at strange hours of the night, as has been my wont ever since I was 13 or thereabouts.
I was just about to post that after two months travelling India and its close neighbours, I was ready to trade hard-to-come-by beers, 10 o’clock curfews and non-existent sexuality for Thailand: land of vice, where alcohol comes in buckets, you can’t walk down the street without seeing a go-go show and it’s common practice to dance on the beach ’til dawn…
…when something happened that completely changed this opinion of India – and yet, I suppose in a way, kind of proved it correct too.
Now, before I go on, I should probably start with some kind of explanation. You may be wondering why I would post something like this. You might be thinking I’m some kind of attention-seeker, exhibitionist. Quite the opposite. It’s going to take a lot of courage and self-doubt before I finally push the “publish” button on this.
But when I set out to bring you the Drinking Traveller last June, it wasn’t to tell you about the history or architecture of the Taj Mahal. It was to tell the truth about what the world is like, to show places we don’t always get the chance to see and to tell the stories that I knew would come, as they always do, and which (in my opinion, at least) are what travel is all about. As my friend Graham (of Inside Other Places) once said, there are few better ways to learn about a culture than by getting drunk with the locals.
Turn back now – reserve this story for my “private” collection – and I may as well close down this whole site. When it comes to honesty, it’s all or nothing. To omit is to deceive, and to deceive is obviously to lie.
So, if you’re my mum, or have some other reason not to want to hear the more explicit details of my travels, I recommend this be your last paragraph.
I was told before I left (also by Graham) that some successful writer, when asked the secret to becoming a successful writer, said “two dead parents”. Now I understand, but I won’t go as far as to agree. Instead we’ll get around this problem like so:
Whenever you see it, consider yourself warned.
So anyway, I was in Someplace Else and it was one of those great nights where you get high off great music (in this case, the Monkberries live) and only a couple of beers, dance for hours and feel totally free and not a touch self-conscious.
After the ‘pub’ I hit a club. For the safety of the persons involved, I’ll withhold the name of the club, though for anyone who knows Kolkata (Calcutta) it should be glaringly obvious. I’ll also keep secret the names of those in question, but that’s more because I’ve forgotten them.
I decided to take a breather and went upstairs to a lounge area partially overlooking the dance-floor and filled with huge sofas more like beds and covered in soft cushions. After a quick examination for vomit, I lay back content and watched the scene.
This was the first place in India I’d seen local girls out on the town. I’d already warmed to Kolkata and sometimes even caught myself feeling I was in London, Paris or some American city.
After a while this young couple came and sat next to me. (The sofas were so big and I’d been in India long enough to forget about any concept of personal space.)
I noticed out of the corner of my eye the guy slip his hand into the girls black dress and I smiled to myself. I figured they were drunk and had just hooked up.
Then the guy leaned across and asked the usual question: “What country do you come from?”
“This is my wife…”
“I like to touch her when someone else is watching. It gives us a kick … Do you mind?”
“Go ahead. Nothing I haven’t seen before,” I laughed and kicked back again with my beer and a good vantage point as he ran his hand under his wife’s dress and produced a big, dark breast – surprisingly big considering her slim build – then sucking on the nipple, pausing sporadically to check the coast was clear, which it never was, but it was dark and everyone was drunk and absorbed in their own business.
They’d been married 10 years – I couldn’t believe it, considering how young they looked – and had two kids, the guy proudly gestured.
“After so many years of marriage,” the guy explained, “you need little kicks like this. Especially here in India.”
I said I’d been here two months and hadn’t seen anything remotely sexual: no porn, no strip-clubs, not even so much as a short skirt or a low-cut top. He nodded like a man who comprehends all too well. For me, two months. For them, a lifetime.
After a while, as local couples danced around us like a striptease, they asked when I was leaving.
I held up my beer, indicating about a fifth remaining.
“We’ll go soon too.”
They offered to drop me back at my hotel. I said “thank you, but it’s not far”.
“It can be very dangerous in this city at this time,” he offered as a limp excuse, and then, “I want to touch my wife in the car. Would you like to watch?”
What was I supposed to say? Now, those who know me best know that given the choice between the boring and normal and the risky and unknown, I’ll always choose the risk. In situations like this there is – for me at least – only fear and curiosity, and what kind of person would I be if I gave in to fear? It’s my curse, but it’s also what qualifies me to write this blog.
Waiting for the valet, I asked the wife how they met.
“Here we used to have arranged marriages, so…”
I imagined these two, innocent children brought together by their families, 10 years later cruising the streets picking up Westerners to satisfy their sexual desires. I almost couldn’t keep a straight face.
“Would you like to see her pussy?” asked the guy as he drove.
“Touch me!” Said his wife. She took my hands and moved them over her breasts, down her back, up the insides of her legs. “Us Indian girls just love to be touched by the foreigners.” She slid off her underwear.
“You’re not jealous?” I asked the husband.
“Why should I be jealous? I’ll get the benefits when I get home.”
“Tell me something dirty I can do to her,” he kept saying.
“I really don’t know,” I said. “I think you’re fast running out of things you can do.” Not the answer they wanted of course but, to me, speeding around the backstreets of Kolkata while a random foreigner in the back-seat feels up and fingers your wife already seemed pretty out-there.
“Stop the car!” She yelled at her husband. “Why are you…all this moving around. Stop, just stop the car.”
“It’s too dangerous…If someone sees…”
“What happens if someone sees?” I asked.
“It’s very bad…You cannot do these things in India.”
Every corner we turned there were men sleeping on the street, on pallets, over the boots and bonnets of yellow taxis, and on the few streets that were dark and empty, when they tried to pull over and switch off the lights, packs of street dogs began to bark and chase the car, making a scene and they had to drive on.
“There are so many people in this country,” I said to fill the void.
“Yes. There are so many people in this country,” he repeated back as though it were a sudden revelation, a fact he’d struggled with his whole life without even knowing it, and only now realising that it wasn’t this way elsewhere.
“Do you like India?” Asked the wife.
I said it’s okay, can be pretty dirty.
“Yes, it’s dirty,” she said. “And there are many uneducated people here. They are getting educated now, but it will take time.”
“Would you like to watch her give me a blow-job?”
“Er. That’s okay. That’s not really my thing.”
All the time the girl is asking, “would you like to climb in front with me? Would you like to fuck me?”
“Um. As nice as that sounds…”
Then, at about the perfect time, there was a loud honk from behind and car headlights lit up the back windscreen.
I sat back, she pulled her dress back up and he stammered something about “the police” and sped off, weaving through the network of tight alleys.
I didn’t risk turning around to confirm whether it was the cops and, by the time I did look back, we’d lost them.
“I think you’d better drop me.”
Back at my hotel the bastards had locked the gate. I found and rang a buzzer over and over but I suspect it didn’t work. I shook the gate, but it was too heavy to make a noise. I looked at the chain – a couple of links seemed to have been replaced by thinner ones, gold in colour, but there were no gaps and the padlock was locked solid. I said (then shouted), “hello! Hello!” But no-one came. I could even see people laying about sleeping in the yard, in the reception – one guy only a few metres away. Finally I decided to swing the gate again – this time hard enough to make a loud clang. I pulled them back as far as I could then swung them forward with all I had, at which point the chain smashed off (as if this story wasn’t unbelievable enough already) and I walked in just as a guy was coming out of the office to see what all the fuss was about. I didn’t say anything – just walked past, muttering to myself, “fucking arseholes!”
I watched Open Season 2 (I’d seen the first one that morning so it seemed only right) (both are shit) then lay down on my hard board of a bed, without sheets, looking up at the whirling fan in my hot, sticky, stained skid-row Sudder Street hotel and only one thought kept passing through my mind:
What the fuck just happened?