That pull in my stomach I’ve had for the last few years, calling me East – the one that told me I had to go there. That magnetic force that tugged at my body and made me long for sun and scents and scenes I’d never come across before. That energy from within that lured me to Chiang Mai on a one-way flight with no plan or agenda…
It enticed me, eyes wide and salivating for something new. It hypnotised me with the magic of Fate. And all those serendipitous moments, the twists and turns of the plot, the arrows pointing this way and that way; I followed them, and eventually, they led me there – to him.
The more time we spent together, the more I thought it was all over; that those feelings had left me. It was as though the fire in my stomach had simmered itself to cinders and a new flame was flickering, a flame of contentment. As though that oriental yearning had dissipated once our paths had crossed.
I was home and although I was itchy for my next adventure, I’d begun to see the world as my playground again, happy to explore any corner of it with no particular lust for any land.
Until I heard that sound.
One strum of a sarod’s string and it all returned.
For a few moments, I wasn’t here or there, or anywhere really. I was lost in a feeling, some sort of nostalgia for a place I’d never really been. I was back inside that book, feeling the warmth of India’s heart as I turn every page. Gregory David Roberts’ words were pressing pause on my reality and I was delving headfirst into Shantaram.
I opened my eyes and looked around. I wasn’t inside the book and nor was I wandering the slum villages of Mumbai; I was sat on a ruby red velvet chair at the Royal Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool watching a black and white cinema reel crackle onto a huge screen.
Maharajas and viceroys, fakirs and farmhands. Sabu and Gandhi. Dark, striking faces with lines in them. Lines from smiles and lines from frowns. Big, hopeful eyes. Cheekbones. Gaunt bodies with rib cages poking out. Tall turbans, tatty loin cloths and patterned saris.
Muscle aching movement. Chopping, rolling, hacking, washing. Real work and hard graft. Elephants and men used as carriages. Bones breaking and bodies giving way under the weight of a inexcusable British superiority complex.
White, fat and pompous faces paraded around in ostentatious chariots, Hitleresque pith helmets shading them from the blistering heat. Twitching lips, self-righteous smirks and eyes bright with greed.
There were no words and no colours – just the weighty reverberations of a sarod, the shakes of tambourine and the rhymic taps of a bodhrán against the black and white backdrop of India’s colourful past.
In the second half of the performance, Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray’s cult film Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne was shone onto the screen with a re-imagined live cinematic score.
As this quirky, black and white story unfolded before our eyes, our eardrums were tickled by haunting sounds of King of Ghosts being played out Soumik’s sarod, Cormac Byrne’s Irish folk rhythms and City of London Sinfonia.
It was one of those films with acting skills and cinematography so unfathomably bizarre that make your face crumple up with puzzled eyebrows and a matching smile.
Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne follows the magical journey of two unlikely heroes, Goopy and Bagha, who find themselves deep inside a forest. Having just escaped the teeth of a tiger, they start to dance and beat their drum when all of a sudden The King Of Ghosts appears.
He grants them three boons, or three wishes.
Their wishes are for food and clothes to appear whenever they need them, to travel wherever they want to go and to hold people in awe with their music. And with the clap of a hand, they get what they ask for.
As the performance went on I could feel the heat of that fire in my stomach. I felt that tug towards the East again, but not just anywhere East – India, a place that for some unknown reason has a piece of my heart.
So if I should ever find myself deep in the forest, escaping a tiger’s claws, if the King of Ghosts should appear before me and grant three wishes….I just have one.
Take me to India.