Everything that ain't India

Accidentally MADURAI


Perfect and his lay-wife Perfection were in a state of grace. Staring straight ahead, silent centre of the cosmos at Sree Sabaree’s Pure Vegetarian Restaurant [Memorable Coffee and Snacks] they sat perfectly still, perfectly poised on the tip of their perfect pin. Around them life charged full-pelt, stainless steel platters and mysterious dishes flung from table to table amid the slurp, belch and munch of an Indian lunch.

They were white, thirty and p-p-perfect; rich feral beggars, she with dreadlocked rat’s droppings tied back in a bun, he with an expression of absolute piety oozing from his pimpled, perfect face. He was dressed in something that once was white.

Their thali arrived. He held both hands up in prayer, looking like a frozen Virgin Mary, closed his eyes and blessed the plate. She stared sightless into the universe, beaming the sad face of an over-wrought nun. Each little bowl was received with a Mr. Perfect Prayer. They never talked, never communicated, never looked around, never showed anything but spiritual superiority, their unique, maddening state of grace.

Simultaneously, in the slowest of slow motions, they picked up their forks and began to eat. She masticated her food slowly, thoughtfully, like a dazed cow chewing her cud. I think it was Tantric eating.

I wanted to nail a piece of steak to their forehead. I wanted to smack them with a side of beef, beat some sensation into them, drag them to Meenakshi Temple and show them real faith, laughter and charity, show them the base, endless wonders of a Tamil Nadu life.

But they were too perfect for that.


‘Camera!’ he screeched, his head just inches from mine.

‘Camera! Switch ON!

‘Shhh-h-h-h,’ I said without thinking. ‘Calm down.’

I’m not sure you should say that to a giant Tamil policeman guarding the security point at the Meenakshi Temple. They very much lack a sense of humor.

I held up the camera and turned it on. He grabbed my Sony, pressed the wrong button and discovered the mystery of digital photography with a flash right in his big-strong-guy face. Flash Ten, policeman Zero. Dogster smiled sweetly, shrugged his shoulders and moved on.

I heard laughter from his colleagues as I walked away. I don’t think it was directed at me.


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Back in the permitted zone, the Special Elephant walked by, came to a stop at his Special Spot and hoovered up silver coins with his trunk. The trunk swung back then swung forward, two vast nostrils yawning wide. A wide-eyed pilgrim would edge forward, drop their coin in the twin pink tunnels, the trunk would swing up, gently touch their head, swing back towards the handler and give him the coin.

The elephant oozed love. She had Dolly Parton eyes, pink ears and a necklace of silver bells. When the crowd thinned out she’d stand on three legs and sway, her trunk swinging gently, searching for souls.

No wonder people came to get her blessing.

Tomorrow I will too.


‘I love you, you know that.’

The Special Elephant shook her head as gently as an elephant could.

‘I see you everyday. You know I love you. Will you love me?’

The policewoman in khaki stroked her lover’s trunk. It slowly curled around her.

‘Yes,’ the elephant said, ‘I will love you.’

‘Will you give me a blessing, a special blessing? Will you look after me and keep me safe? Will you send me many children, keep my father strong and well?

‘Yes,’ the elephant said, ‘I will bless you.’

‘I love you, Special Elephant.’

She ran her hand down the length of that spiritual trunk, caressed her Special Elephant and looked straight into those Dolly Parton lashes.

‘Please? You know me. I am your friend.’

Enormous, glistening, gentle eyes looked back. The Special Elephant lowered her head and whispered:

‘I love you, too. I will watch. Everything will be fine.’

The policewoman smiled and walked away. She caught my eye in passing. She knew I understood, even though I couldn’t. Some things are better than words. We smiled softly at each other.

The policewoman in khaki was gone.


By now Dogster could understand elephants, could intuit the whispered thoughts of Tamil policewomen, indeed could read the thoughts of almost everyone. A canny observer might well note a degree of surreality creeping into his prose.

Dogster was off with the pixies. He had no idea.

‘Mmmm, I’ll just have a little swig of that cough medicine… that’ll calm my throat for dinner…’

Oh, just time for a special cigarette.

Better have another little sip of the medicine so I don’t cough in the restaurant.

‘Bring me a large, cold Kingfisher, my friend.’