Mumbai, Socialism & The British Raj

000083If others speak ill of you, praise them always. If others injure you, serve them nicely. If others persecute you, help them in all possible ways. You will attain immense strength. You will control anger and pride. You will enjoy peace, poise and serenity. You will be divine. – Sawi Sivanada

(Excerpted from Chapter 6: Egg Curry Mind Control: The Grateful Unrich…)

Bombay 9-15-88

As the plane makes its descent, the sprawling shantytowns come into full view. I walk out of Bombay Sahar Airport into drenching humidity and the most wrenching poverty I have ever seen. After brushing off several hotel touts and dope peddlers, I decide to walk the couple of miles into Bombay. I stride nervously out of the airport parking lot, where a man sits waiting in a wooden cart tethered to a mule.

To my right are rows of shacks made of black tarp, cloth and sticks. Two dozen people crowd into a circle in front of one hut, joyfully immersed in a game of cards. To my left a young boy wearing a badly soiled sari bails human shit from a cement crevice into a stagnant ditch that runs in front of the shacks. As I turn the corner a child crouches on the highway, emptying his weakened bowels. I feel embarrassed and overdressed in my faded tie-dye t-shirt, torn blue jeans and worn out sneakers. Maybe I don’t need new shoes after all.

I pass a procession of Hindus carrying a shrine to Ganesh, the jolly elephant god of happiness and prosperity – wise son of Shiva. The revelers insist I join them. I comply. They are covered in red dye and fling scarlet dust upon me as I join their parade. They tell me they will celebrate for two full days then throw Ganesh into the sea, casting away their worries with his figurine.

Just as my legs grow weary and the monsoon rains began to fall, I hear someone hollering for me to jump in the car. Across the road I spot Alison and Lisa Kate – two upper crust British women I’d met in the airport. I eagerly jump into the 1950’s black Bentley. They introduce me to Ramu Menchon – business associate of their father’s and host for their stay in Bombay. Ramu, an upper class Indian and an engineer for a British construction firm, insists I come to his flat for something to eat. I feel uncomfortable, yet I know there must be some reason for this sudden turn of events.

Ramu’s 11th floor flat overlooks Mahim Bay. The view is spectacular, especially as the sun sinks below the surface of the expansive Arabian Sea to the west. His wife Dravi is as warm and friendly as her husband. She cooks us a delicious and ample Indian meal and we retire to the living room to drink imported whiskey. He asks me to stay the night, but I feel he has an apartment full with his British guests and decline. He insists that his driver take me to Colima, Bombay’s sleazy cheap hotel district, where I’ve heard the Salvation Army charges 40 rupees ($2.50) per night including breakfast.

After I check in Ramu’s driver says he is under instructions to bring me back to Ramu’s for dinner. Ramu takes us to one of the finest restaurants in Bombay, famous for its Tandoori-style northern Indian cuisine. The food is exceptional, like none I’ve ever tasted. But Ramu’s British business associate – who is here for two nights of meetings with his counterpart – sours the mood. He is condescending towards Ramu and his wife and towards me. Lowly Indians and unclean backpackers, heaven forbid. His attitude towards his fellow British subjects is markedly different. God save the queen.

He wears his wealth much different than Ramu and has a cold clammy essence. Maybe he is of lizard (royal) bloodline. Ramu bends over backward to make him comfortable. Not once does the smug bastard display any gratitude. It is as if it was 1946 and Ramu is still his colonial subject. I remember the rear of the 747 and Colin’s take on the Brits. “Chucki Arlee! Up with the IRA!”

Ramu, on the other hand, continues to help me. His driver picks me up and takes me across town to get required hepatitis and cholera vaccinations. At night he takes me to supper at Ramu’s, where we delve deeply into politics. I am impressed with his intelligence and that a man of his wealth would unabashedly call himself a socialist. For the first time in my life I am hearing that one can be successful financially and still stand on principle – that there is no dichotomy, no dualism, no sacrificial choice involved in doing the right thing. It is a notion that the guilt-ridden Western mind has conjured up – encouraged by the guardians of monopoly capital, who wish to doom all men of principle to a life of poverty.

Of course Gandhi may take issue, insisting on voluntary poverty, but to hear Ramu’s refreshing viewpoint makes for rich debate. Ramu also tells me that he suspects that the CIA is helping Pakistan to destabilize the Punjab. He now knows that I am no ordinary American. Political sensitivities are brushed aside. He reveals his disdain for the Reagan Administration and for US foreign policy, which has historically placed socialist India squarely in the CIA crosshairs.

As I walk around Colima dodging hash brokers and black market moneychangers, I notice revolutionary banners sporting the hammer and sickle hanging on banks. They call for nationalization and criticize US multinational corporations like Coca-Cola. I learn that Coke and Pepsi are unavailable here since the government protects its own domestic soft drink industry. India is already blowing my mind.

The cynicism of my own culture haunts me on the crowded streets of Colima. A Buddhist man named Sama approaches me near the central Post Office and offers to show me the sacred places of Bombay. He is a quiet slow-moving man who fought with the British colonial army during WWII. He is Tamil and originally from Sri Lanka. My guard is up and I dismiss him as just another peddler, telling him I can’t afford a tour. He becomes angry saying, “What is money? Money nothing! I honest man!”

I spend the rest of the day considering my reaction to Sama, wondering if I have internalized American distrust and cynicism to a point where my spiritual essence has suffered. I realize that up to this point fear has been driving my Bombay decision-making. I’ve been reacting, not acting, afraid to dive headlong into India’s predicament. This tiny Buddhist soldier had given me new life through his anger. I walk back to the hostel. I pass a blond-haired European heroin junkie laying on the corner, a white turban-clad fruit and cigarette vendor and a near-naked man with a basket full of cobras.

India is famous among backpackers as a place where it is easy to “lose” your American Express travelers checks, essentially signing them over to a friend and doubling your money when the refund rolls in. I had figured on pulling this scam somewhere along the road – rationalizing my decision by reminding myself that AMEX is a dirty company involved in the dope trade and that Henry Kissinger and Edmund Safra are just two of its sleazy board members.

My encounter with Sama left me wondering if I should skip stooping to the level of these criminals for the good of my own soul. This would be an action of restraint as opposed to a reaction empowering the forces of chaos and deception. It occurs to me that living with the constant suspicion as to the response of the authorities to such an act, and not the act itself, is what would be detrimental to my spiritual essence. Isn’t the purity of one’s soul worth more than some kind of fleeting politically motivated justice? Just because Kissinger wants to darken his soul by carpet bombing Cambodia and backing Pinochet’s death squads, doesn’t mean I should be lured by these forces of darkness into following suit.

The Salvation Army folks are fairly hospitable, if a bit rigid, until one refuses to pray with them at breakfast. At this very moment their creepy side emerges. One may be forgiven for wondering if they aren’t actually some CIA front or cover for an international pedophilia ring. Probably, since all organized religion was in fact organized by what David Icke termed the “Babylonian Brotherhood” to mentally and emotionally imprison people.

The man in charge of Bombay’s Sally Army psyops fundamentalist bandwagon is known as the Sergeant. But the clientele is more interesting. It’s the cheapest dive in Bombay, so many Indian nationals stay here along with the usual hard core Western backpacker set.

Rajeesh bunks across from me. He is in his mid-thirties and has come from Madras – where he, his wife and their four children survive on $30/month. They are in Bombay so his wife can take a nursing exam that – if she passes – will result in a higher paying job. They have spent two-thirds of their monthly wage just to get here by 2nd class train. The whole family is staying at the hostel. The worried look on his face tells me that if his wife fails the exam they may be stuck here in Bombay, swallowed like so many others who come here looking for a better life, only to land in the expansive slums that surround this dirty industrial hub of nearly 10 million mostly desperate people.

Another bright spot at the Sally – it certainly isn’t the breakfast, which consisted of unsweetened sticky oatmeal every morning – is John Phillips, who this morning points out more than one bug in his bowl of gruel. A tall quiet bearded man from Trinidad, John had escaped England, where he has lived for the past four years. Tired of carpentry work and the Thatcher nightmare, he made a beeline for Turkey then took a ferry to Israel. He worked on a kibbutz until he could no longer stomach the sight of paranoid Zionist civilians toting Galil rifles into every cafe in Tel Aviv for afternoon coffee. He made his way to Cairo, took a boat down the Nile, then flew to Bombay. At age thirty-five he is bound for Australia, but open to something better along the way.

Born in the Year of the Snake a dozen years before me, John shares my instincts. We hit it off right away. He’s lying in the dormitory bunk across from me reading the Autobiography of Gandhi, which I’d bought and read earlier in the week. The used book store scene in India is phenomenal. John has returned from Goa, but is already tired of the noisy polluted Bombay scene. I tell him I’m heading south tomorrow for the very tip of India – Cape Cormorin. I’ve heard good things about a place near there called Kovalum Beach.

Dean Henderson is the author of five books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries,Das Kartell der Federal Reserve, Stickin’ it to the Matrix & The Federal Reserve Cartel.  You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @www.hendersonlefthook.wordpress.com

2 responses to “Mumbai, Socialism & The British Raj

  1. penniewoodfall

    Thank you …you took me back. 🙂

  2. Proof there is not a rupee’s worth of difference between India(East) caste, and British(West) class, on this ever devolving earth.
    Except perhaps, in the amount of denial.

    The rich are the rich, the poor the poor, and the rest of us are too..

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