Saturday, 21 September 2013

Lifting the Sights

In Memory of Vidya Shankar Tiwari
The late Vidya Tiwari  aged about 30 years. Image courtesy Hotel Godwin staff files.

 Something went missing in India recently. The ‘singing’ lift man was not at his usual post at the Hotel Godwin when I ventured down for breakfast after a late arrival the previous night.  I was not too perturbed as for several months he had been telling me about a holiday he was planning back to his village in Uttar Pradesh. Like many of Mumbai’s menial workers, he supported a wife and extended family back home. I knew most of the facts about his life – he would always tell me about his hopes and dreams and especially for his son with whom he shared a single room in one of the higgedly piggedly outer suburbs perched along the railway line. He was paying his son’s way through a college where the 22 year old was in his final year of becoming a ‘CA’ ( chartered accountant). You see - already I am writing about him in the past tense!

I first met the singing lift man about ten years ago, soon after Shelleys Guest House on the sea front shut its doors and I began staying at the Hotel Godwin. ‘Madam’ the small, neat man with premature silver flecks in his hair asked me on my first ride up to room 804 (corner-room-breeze-catching-sea-facing) ‘which country?’ and then reassured me that I came from a ‘very beautiful’ place with of course ‘very fine cricket.’ The following morning the Times of India was duly pushed under my door and thus began our friendship. ‘You come, I happy’ was the usual greeting as he placed his hands in front of his chest and bowed. Then he would ask about my family and always he would tell me ‘you come is like my mother come. I look after you Madam Carole’ and he did. Most respectfully. He carried my bags, made sure I had water each day and one day he told me he would sing for me. His eyes lit up when I responded positively. And so from then on whenever we were in the lift alone he would stand very still, take a deep breath, close his eyes, place his hands in ‘Namaste’ and in a beautiful voice would fill the tiny space with prayerful melody as we shuddered either up or down. Such are the special moments in life and I knew that my generous tips were used wisely.
View from room 804. Image © Carole Douglas 2010
On the second day of his absence I asked his rather surly replacement where the usual attendant was. ‘He is gone’ he told me abruptly (I had refused a tip when he asked the day before) and I then followed up with the breakfast staff. ‘Is Vidya on holiday?’ I enquired. ‘No Madam. He is gone. Finished!’ reported one waiter making an explicit throat cutting motion with his hand. ‘You mean dead?’ I was incredulous. By then I was surrounded by the early morning wait staff eager to give me their versions of his demise; murder, suicide, accident all came tumbling forth and with various gruesome accounts. From what I could gather the tragedy happened between train and track. The body was not identified for days as his wallet containing his ID and money was long gone. I was too upset to finish my breakfast and wandered out to get a closer version of the truth from the front desk who had more or less settled in for the day shift. Whatever the truth of the matter it appeared that Vidya Shankar Tiwari, aged 45, was no more of this world. A voice was silenced and a small void opened in my life!

‘He was either pushed or had fallen off the train’ my friend Mr Singh told me when I returned through Mumbai two weeks later. He had a clearer version of the story. ‘He was a very careful man so I believe he was pushed.’ Vidya left work every evening and made his way to Victoria Terminal where he duly caught the train to his modest home. However, on one awful day in June, he failed to complete his journey. We do know that the incident happened at Wadala Station where the line forks and people leap off carriages and jump the tracks to scramble onto other trains. Mumbai trains are notoriously crowded, accidents are common and no-one cared to report the incident. Without any grace at all Vidya’s anonymous torso lay for five days in a hospital morgue before it was finally identified by his son. Not a dignified end for a most dignified person.

And so the domino effect begins. What happens to a widow left grieving in poverty at the other end of the country? What happens to a young man for whom a father had lined up a better future? Those of you who have read ‘A fine Balance’ by Rohintin Mistry will understand the domino effect that occurs when a whim of fate topples those who are struggling to rise above the mire of mere survival. It stops not at death as it doggedly continues to break links in the delicate chain of life.

The next time I visit Mumbai on October 5th I aim to take a healthy contribution towards a young man’s completion of his final year of study. I aim to set the dominoes upright in this particular game. I have a meeting arranged with the college who will hold the funds in trust and which will be overseen by the owner of the Hotel Godwin who has also contributed to this cause. India wakes the heart and breaks the heart and I am happy to hear from anyone willing to help with an awakening – accountably, transparently and most importantly of all - directly. Contact me at

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Stop,Look, Listen and Breathe

Turn back the clock. It is 1988. Switch on your television, sit back and be fearful - for the world as we know it is coming to an end. David Suzuki says so. And others. Global warming is upon us. Scientists, deeply green environmentalists and traditional communities knew well before this moment in time. Now its our, the public’s, turn to be informed and not a moment too soon. Called to take some kind of action I immerse myself in research, enter the tunnel of despair until a glimmer of light sees the publication of my small contribution in the form of a book called ‘Earth Alert’. 

Cover of book Earth Alert 1991. 
The name of the space craft I.D.E.A stands for Intergalactic Delegation for Environmental Awareness!

The forces gather and names come to the fore. Along with David Suzuki who gives us ten years in which to ‘turn it all around’ and offers us practical solutions, Paul Erlich warns of the dangers of over population, over consumption and finite resources, James Lovelock, originator of the Gaian theory, woos us with the idea of the earth as an interconnected living wonder and some of us re-read Diet for a Small Planet and Small is Beautiful. I read Bill McKibben’s ‘The End of Nature’ and dismally intuit that every sunset, wind, ocean, stream and drop of mother’s milk is forever sullied by some human made contaminant. I am deeply saddened, write a novella ‘The Ball’ but no one wants to publish a modern parable tinged with fear. ‘Not sexy enough’ my publisher tells me!

Sullied sunset. Arabian Sea. © Carole Douglas 2010

I surrender my car. Build a bigger compost heap. Leave notes all over the house to remind us of waste, energy, pollution! We invest in jute shopping bags. Exchange ball pens for pencils. Eat organic. The lists endless! Names, theories and ideologies emerge and flower briefly, global heroes ride on green tinged waves and as the nineties roll on we continue to march, make banners, write to politicians and hound local government to take action while we think globally. Environmental Education is introduced as a curriculum subject into our primary schools. We celebrate. Hold conferences. Self congratulate.

Leaders and activists gather on the edges of a turning tide in Rio de Janeiro - the Earth Summit is a new high in our dreams of salvation. At Rio Centro and at Global Forum I mingle with monks and mystics, prophets and profiteers, activists and actors, journalists and jolly green giants, politicians and protestors - the full spectrum of humanity as the planet gathers for change. In lighter moments we samba to save the planet. I witness a moment in Australia’s history when I am invited to take the official photograph of Ros Kelly as she, one of the first, signed the Climate Change Convention that preceded the Kyoto Protocol. Paul Keating was notable by his absence. I rub shoulders with the likes of David Suzuki, Shirley Mclean and Paulo Freire, arrive home armed with Agenda 21 firmly in my grasp in the belief that we, the combined we, can make it happen.

Turn the clock forward by 25 years - one entire generation. In a terrible moment of Déjà vu I listen as Robert Manne informs an audience at the recent Sydney Writers Festival that Global Warming is a fact, it is too late to turn the tide, we have overstepped the boundaries and we are indeed doomed. I also learn that Bill McKibben is coming to Australia - soon. They still come, the canaries we do not heed and whom the media stubbornly ignores. ‘Not sexy enough?’ Paul (and Anne) Erlich came in March and said (and I quote)‘Now, for the first time, a global collapse appears possible and at the same time avoidable. Population growth supercharged by significantly increasing consumption interacting with our choices of technologies are major drivers. Dramatic cultural change provides the main hope of averting calamity.’ 

Big words. Are they telling us that over consumption combined with over population and finite resources will bring about our demise? David Suzuki sits in Canada resolutely educating the public with simple everyday solutions and James Lovelock sadly stated last year that he is James Lovelock, scientist and author … environmentalist and founder member of the Greens’ who now bows his head in shame at the thought that their original good intentions should have been so misunderstood and misapplied. Ecologist at heart he is deeply disappointed in a movement that has failed to understand that the needs of the Earth are inseparable from human needs. My mind is filled with the image rendered when he asks us to ‘take care that spinning windmills do not become like the statues on Easter Island - monuments of a failed civilisation.’ Who mentioned nuclear power?

 Free Internet image.
Environmental Education right across the board is diluted down to gardening, cleaning up and avoiding plastic bags. My environmental educator friend *Annie is told not too mention sea level rise or global warming when she runs her EE programs for fear it will frighten. We did not notice that the turning tide of Rio was really a sea of shit. Agenda 21 moulders in the waste bin of time and we fiddle with the controls of the air conditioning while home planet burns!

5000 megawatt coal (from Australia) fired power plant in progress. Gujarat coast.
© Carole Douglas 2009

Déjà Vu. The little publication Earth Alert sits on the shelf waiting for me to dust it off and re-read (I note I changed my name in 1994). I suspect the scientific evidence on which it was founded remains pretty much the same although the statistics will have worsened. I might attempt to launch ‘The Ball’ again but how to make it ‘sexy’? In the meantime I grapple with the terrifying lack of political and public commitment to the future of our planet and our continued profiteering from the life force which sustains us.

In the meantime please …

STOP and take stock of the current state of the planet
LOOK and take real action on its behalf
LISTEN to its heart beat and make it your own
BREATHE deeply and make every waking breath really count 

 … not a toy to be played with and discarded  on the sands of time!
 © Carole Douglas 2013

Please contact me if you want to know how to - or get a recommended reading list.

‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’  Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

NB *Annie is not her real name. Changed to protect privacy. 

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Sometimes in India

He was the first person to board the flight – wheeled across the scorching tarmac, manhandled up the steep steps and unceremoniously placed in an aisle seat at the rear of the plane. Bored by the long wait in the departure lounge I had watched this small drama unfold. I first noticed the wheelchair while my camera bag was being unpacked once again; I was furious because I had neatly coiled the cables and packed with great care the various adaptors, lenses, chargers and camera bodies and when the young woman began to remove a lens cover I lost it. India is dusty at all times but Bhuj during drought is something else and the thought of Kutch dust infiltrating my best lens was too much to bear. It never pays to shout at people in army uniform and so my bag was emptied yet again. The only response I got to my repeated question of ‘Why?’ was ‘It is unclear Mam’.

The young man waiting next to me caught my eye, shrugged and impatiently indicated I was holding up the queue. He was in charge of a wheelchair in which sagged a very old man. Ancient hands clawed wildly at the air, a toothless mouth opened and closed soundlessly and all the while his sunken eyes darted back and forth. His long white gown was dusty and spotted with stains and his bare feet cracked and ingrained with filth.

My camera bag was finally approved and I dodged the seeking hands and sat down as far away as I could from human contact. I needed space, breath and recovery time. I was hot, sweaty and in no mood to be bothered.

My flight had been moved forward by 5 hours due to local air force activity and my day had therefore started in a rush. Time management in India is always a juggling act and I was exhausted by all that I had to do in a shortened space of time. I was even more displeased when the flight not only left 30 minutes after the rescheduled time but also when we sat in idling mode on the runway for another one and a half hours while two Stealth Bombers came and went in clouds of exhaust and screaming engines. The captain kept reassuring us that in five minutes we would be in the air as he drove the plane on and off the runway in ever decreasing circles. The air conditioning was almost non existent and I could feel the 40 degree heat seeping through the fuselage! We were not offered water but told to stay firmly buckled and buttoned up! My head ached.

Then miraculously and just as we were told we would not have enough fuel if we did not take off within ten minutes (and Bhuj has no refuelling service) we were suddenly taxiing down the runway and thrust into the notoriously unstable summer air. I made my way unsteadily to the rear toilets and there in the last seat sat the ancient being. His eyes roamed over me and his hands grasped at my shirt. What was I to feel? I did not wish to wait so went back to my seat and into camel state.

One hour later we bumped and ground our way down over craggy ridges worn to knife edge sharpness by weather and time, over dry river beds that snake across dusty plains and then across the mangrove inlets that mark the foundations of Mumbai. Soon we were flying low over the familiar shanty towns that creep ever onwards between new developments and high rise buildings. Amongst the flat grey roofs I spotted orange temple flags, pink spires and green minarets and rested in the comfort that life goes on as usual in this city of twenty million and still counting.

Landing is never easy and I always allow the surging mass to take first place and consequently am often last off the flight. This time I was not, for, as I made my way to the rear door, the old one was being unbuckled and manhandled out of his seat. I waited until he was gone and as the bus drove off my last glimpse back was of an old man in a wheel chair unceremoniously parked in the shadow of a wing and left to wave his hands over his face while his mouth screamed soundlessly into the fume laden air. I dared not give a second glance.

It took an hour and a half to locate my bag by staff who did not seem to care. Not the best flight experience in the world and I was almost pleased to climb into a prepaid taxi with a cantankerous driver who shouted at me all the way home as if I knew nothing about Mumbai. ‘Haji Ali’ he screeched ‘Sea Link’ when I had instructed him to do so and ‘Return madam?’ when I pulled into Geeta’s driveway. Such can be the life and times of India and sometimes compassion is elusive. I only hope that someone remembered to wheel an old man away to some better place

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Remember The Living Earth?

Food for thought. The problem with clearing out my office is that the work expands exponentially; I pick up a box of photos, a pile of papers, a wad of drawings and deliberate on each one. I just came across a quotation I used when I was working in community environmental education. The quote is more potent now than it was 20 years ago and its message is more urgent than ever. We have lost the poetry as we argue in blunt scientific terms about whether or not we are in climate change. I have just retyped the piece and will place it on my newly cleared office wall. This is one thing I will not throw away. Read the words slowly, contemplate them and get the point!

The Living Earth
‘I am the living earth. I am the softened tissue of rocks baked by the sun, split by ice, carved by water and winnowed by the wind. I am interwoven by myriads of tiny plants and animals that pulse and breathe. I am the invisible universe of sparkling molecules in the infinity of living soils that bless the mantle of this globe.

I am the carpet of the biosphere; the floor of the forest, the seedbed of all plants; and my living substance nourishes all roots and all leaves that rely on the sun and rain to make green sculptures out of clay. In the tall dim damp rainforest I house the bulk of animal life and support the endless upward toiling of trees and coiling of vines. I am the bottom line of all grand symbiosis in forest biology. I am the source of mineral molecules in lovey flowers born high among the birds in the rainforest canopy; I am the energy sink, the lovely muddy frugal cemetery for recycling all the forest’s elements in the transitions between life and death.

Touch me, smell me. I am your ultimate quality of life in ecology’s profound cycles. See me, hear me, you humans who pass by me with your round computer heads rocking in the forest sky above me. Spare me a thought you humans who depend on me; remember me as I die before you, when you take away my forest coverings and still the microbes that give me life – me the Living Earth.

Take your shoes off, touch me with your fingers, let your skin tingle as it touches mine.

Shift your gaze sometimes from the stars and remember the heaven beneath your feet. Remember me when the sun burns and the waters gouge me, be kind to the forest that remain and protect them from seamless destruction. Remember this, like me you are already eroding. Know this; like me you are only dust when you are dead. Accept this; unlike you, I am closer to recreation as the living Earth, to Genesis’.

Len Webb, Rainforest Ecologist
October 28, 1920 November 25, 2008

Footnote: Starting in the 1950s, the research of Len Webb and colleagues, from the Rainforest Ecology Section of the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry, identified the rainforests of northern Queensland as being the ancestral flora of the whole continent. They were unique, not merely the 'rag-end' of South-East Asian forests as had previously been surmised. Webb's surveys found evidence for rainforest in 75 million year-old sediments across southern Australia long before Australia drifted close to Asia estimated to be about twelve million years ago.

Under Webb's patient scrutiny the northern forests were found to contain the world's greatest concentration of primitive flowering plant families, suggesting Australia may have been part of the region where flowering plant families first developed. His work subsequently made crucial advances in the understanding and management of Australian rainforests.

He was a key figure in the crusade to protect Australia's rainforests as a non-renewable resource and heritage and frequently quoted from EJH Corner's The Life of Plants to impress upon people the sheer magic of these 'green cathedrals'.

There is a giant tree, prominent in a forest that stretches to the skyline. On its canopy birds and butterflies sip nectar. On its branches orchids and mistletoes offer flowers to other birds and insects. Among them ferns creep, lichens encrust and centipedes and scorpions lurk. In the rubble that falls among the roots and stems, ants build nests and even earthworms and snails find homes. There is a minute munching of caterpillars and the silent sucking of plant bugs. Through the branches spread spiders' webs. Frogs wait for insects and a snake glides ...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

From Superwoman to Supersloth in Four Moves

I just received an email from a friend and erstwhile colleague. After much deliberation she has decided not to assist me with a marketing plan; her mother is unwell, her daughter is doing a major exam this year and with funding (and therefore resource) cuts, her job has suddenly become even more demanding. Whatever happened to etype and superwoman? Remember those of us who managed fulltime careers, childrearing, housekeeping, gourmet cuisine and Ikebana and kept ourselves stimulating, sexy and slim! Perfection!

I know what happened. Some of us saw the light before the collapse, created new lives and our own businesses, went to rock concerts with the kids, dispatched the vacuum cleaner and Le Creuset, exchanged Kafka for kaftans, bras for bare breasts and gave away the size eights. There was enough money in being entrepreneurial and we had enough time to lie on the beach and eat ice cream without guilt.

My career as an artist and writer grew. I took the first byte of an apple in 1987 – a trendy Mac Plus, went back to university and scrolled unix codes on an ‘under construction’ information super highway until a dog called Fetch began retrieving for me. Smart bitch. Mosaic paved the way, software morphed and I gave up the easel for a Wacom and spent more time on my bum than on the beach. Screen time grew along with the waistline. Time passed. I wrote less on the creative edge and made art even less often.

And then what happened? I know what happened. Suddenly, and just as Terence McKenna predicted, the world wide web had spread its sticky filaments into every waking moment. Wetware was on the horizon - the connective tissue of the new world order and I had fallen into the wayside of chaos. The list of never ending things to do and all of them urgent and important kept me at the screen face until the small hours long after other tasks were left half done and cluttering house, heart and mind. I did not write a single greeting card at Christmas time although I did receive one from my only remaining (ninety year old) aunt. Making the fruitcake was a chore and the size sixteens gathered mould while I expanded ever outwards. It rained.

I had a meltdown. My life so creatively reinvented is on the edge of obscurity. I have no tour bookings on the horizon. My website languishes beneath the radar of any search engine – it is ‘under construction’. The ‘free range’ sustainable clothing range I designed for women just like me falters. The book I am writing stares at me accusingly from its folder on the desktop and my credit card threatens to swallow any income for the foreseeable future! All good non-sustainable fuel for any meltdown.

My life post Le Creuset has somehow missed the next move. The answer is simple. I am not i-friendly; I do not own an iphone, ipad, ipod or even have an ilife. Google is too big for my boots. I have fewer than one hundred friends on facebook (shame), I do not tweet and my blog no longer ‘shares’ seamlessly - it is now entirely dependent on circles that insidiously appeared one night and in ever expanding complexity.

The truth of it is that I do not have time to maintain or entertain more than the five friends with whom I am in contact somewhat irregularly. I could not begin to contemplate the 150 that evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorises is the maximum number of friendships that the human mind is capable of handling, let alone the thousands that some boast of on facebook. I do not have time to create circles or i-dle chat. I am too busy reordering my office, constructing a website, writing a book, promoting a business, designing the next range of clothes and attending to the ever expanding list of things to do – along with the waistline!
What happens next? Well today I will be slothful and hang by my toes, gaze on the half done, undone, not-ever-to-be done and dream of lying on the beach eating ice cream with the Jabberwocky. Thank you Lewis Carroll for landing in my hands as I cleared the bookshelf. This state of affairs is, after all, a nonsense of my own creation. Brillig! Enjoy!

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood a while in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

'And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Lewis Carroll

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Fire and Plumstones

 January and it rained at last and the acrid stench of wet, newly burnt land, livestock, wildlife and property dulled any sense of relief. Each day television crews working at infernos’ edges reported new outbreaks burning out of control while thousands of fire fighters from across the country joined ranks to defend the vulnerable. And later we were witness to the awful plight of those returning to the charred ruins of homes and gardens, pets, stock and native animals as families picked through the ashes for signs of life before the flames. It is still sad beyond description.The reminder is constant in the new category added to our roadside fire gauges - CATASTROPHIC! Scary stuff? You bet.
On Friday January18th, Sydney broke all records when the mercury topped 45.8 in the city and further west reached a scorching 46.5 degrees (115.7°F). During the day more than 200 people were treated for heat stroke; hundreds of commuters were stranded when steel buckled, signalling systems failed and overhead wires melted while beyond the city serious fires raged.  I was afraid, stayed at home, shut all the windows and doors and sweated out the blistering heat. Even our dogs were treated to a rare invitation to come inside where they lay panting on the tiles of the kitchen floor. Without air conditioning and fans that simply serve to push around the already warm air, not a lot of energy was exerted and our garden wilted as I watched. These days even backyard food production is trickier than it should be.
For commercial producers it is now more than tricky to bring crops to fruition in seasons such as this. At our local organic market I speak to producers who struggle with their crops. Jamie, from Windy Hill Orchard near Young on the southwestern slopes of New South Wales, has watched weather patterns change since his family established the business 26 years ago. Rain, once spread out evenly over the seasons, now falls sporadically and unpredictably as feast or famine weather patterns play out on the land. According to Jamie, the seasons have moved and he reckons they are now as much as two months out. Shorter, milder winters do not allow apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums to set, the constant lack of rain dries their flesh and sustained highs of 47oC do not a stone fruit crop make! Yet weather is not the only threat.
‘What about open cast mining in your area?’ I ask him. Now a mere 60 km away from Windy Hill, mining activities threaten more than the natural landscape. ‘Those large holes in the earth’ Jamie informs me ‘create micro climates’ and micro-climates, as we know, disturb the larger patterns. It is a planetary given that ecosystems are interdependent. Groundwater consumption and contamination, air pollution and altered landscapes are but the tip of the melting iceberg. Just as we all do deep in our hearts, Jamie understands that the fossil fuels our country has in abundance are at the heart of climate change and, just as we all do, he feels powerless as an individual to bring back the balance. He is simply working too hard to make a living and hang onto his land.
I had an eerily similar conversation twelve years ago while sitting on baked earth in a remote village in India with a block printer who told me in no uncertain terms that the climate was changing. Ismail pointed to the overhead vault of sky and said ‘something is wrong up there and is making it wrong down here’. The river had already dried up, indigo crops failed and in recent years, encroaching industry, powered by plants fed on fossil fuels from Australia, continue to substantially lower the common water table.
No longer can we be guaranteed the usual. Yesterday, when I made a booking at Shaam e Sarhad Desert Camp in Kutch for my October tour, Paarth informed me that, after the late rains in September and October in the past two years, he could not guarantee the camp would be open. Rain in Kutch in October, November and even January? And today Sushma pushed that out to February when she told me via Skype that it rained again just three days ago. I have covered myself by double booking elsewhere just in case and wait and see.
Apart from making radical changes in our daily lives, banging on the walls of bureaucracy and signing AVAAZ petitions, wait and see is the name of the game in this small world we share.  My atmosphere is your atmosphere, my sea is your sea and my life is yours. Treat them with care.
 I have not yet mentioned the floods.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Postcard from Ahmedabad

After a rock’n’roll overnight train trip from Bhuj I emerged into the early morning chorus of chaos as Ahmedabad rubbed its eyes and blinked awake into a new day. Taxi and auto hustlers vied for my money and I simply took the nearest green and yellow tin can and set off in what I hoped was the right direction. Relief Road, the main transport thoroughfare was already pumping. On one side of the open vehicle I was blasted by the cacophony of temple bells as they rang in the dawn and on the other the call to prayer lured white frocked men pedalling furiously on old fashioned high seated bicycles.

My auto rickshaw squeezed narrowly between painted trucks staggering under great bales of cotton, veered between buses already full at 5 am with workers off to a factory, roadside stall or residence to begin 15 hour days for as little as 100 rupees ($AU2) and scraped alongside large cars with small children being chaffeuredto an elite school. Chai stalls steamed into the crisp air and the overnight sleeping buses variously and incongruously named  Shiv Shakti, Ramdev, The Pink City Sleeper and just plain Patel discharged bleary eyed passengers into the dusty air. As we neared Ellis Bridge camels began unfolding ready for the day's haul and vegetable venders were already trading briskly. It was not yet anywhere near daylight.

Several phone calls to Asif later (nothing changes in the world of auto rickshaws) I was landed at his home and instead of hitting bed I sat and talked until breakfast time and then we headed off to his studio. It is warm here in this desert city and as the locals always say it will remain so until the festival of light in a few days time. Ahmedabad is gripped by Diwali fever; the roads regularly gridlock; I can’t get near the old city to shop for a few essentials and fireworks drive me crazy at night! 

Ahmedabad is also gripped by election fever as Chief Minister Narendra Modi woos its citizens with promises that he mostly seems to keep. He did make the Sarbamati flow again, he has built large scale industries in previously pristine environments and which in turn provide employment not to locals but to outsiders willing to work for lower returns and he may just manage to ruin the White Rann of Kutch with a few more bromine plants.  Myopia is indeed a political disease. We do not mention the fact that Muslims are still not allowed to integrate outside their clearly defined urban boundaries. The city is also hosting fever of another kind due to the late rains and heat – Dengue. The insecticide vans regularly ‘smoke’ the streets at dawn and dusk and we all cover up. If you are heading this way do pack tropical strength Deet laden repellent.

Tonight Mumbai seems an age rather then a week ago and Kutch a month rather than a day! Both were busy times in the life of this traveler. The tour group arrives on Sunday and I’ll decamp to the Cama tomorrow; set the mind to another mode and prepare for the next adventure.

On a final note the Tata Photon dongle that Jabbar bought for me in Bhuj is working a treat and I am now connected! Watch this space. In the meantime Aavjo and Happy Diwali  - may your flame burn brightly for another year.