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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 26: 20 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysIt's quiet now on the quayside below me, though I'm sure I heard marching bands and a confusion of drumbeats and explosions in the early hours. All I can see from my window are children and streetsellers around the Gate of India and pigeons wheeling and flapping about the facade of the hotel. The fussy little balconies and turrets which project from every sea-view room are a pigeon's delight and, judging by the thick encrustations of bird lime, have been since the hotel was opened eighty years ago. Walk down to breakfast. The layout of rooms along open galleries leading off a central staircase gives the impression of a sumptuous prison. There are huge arrangements of flowers about the place and I make the mistake of asking the lady who's setting them out if they're real.

'Of course they're real,' she replies admonitorily, 'this is India, not Hong Kong.'

I glean from her the reason for the unnatural quiet on the Apollo Bunder, and the noises in the early hours which, like another traveller in the Indies, Waugh's Gilbert Pinfold, I'd begun to think were my imaginings. Today is a festival day called Durga Puja, the climax of a ten-day celebration of the triumph of good over evil. There are at least seven different New Years in India, depending on when the harvest is brought in. Effigies up to 50 feet tall will be carried through the streets and destroyed to commemorate the killing of the evil king Ravenah of Sri Lanka by Lord Rama. The celebration of myth and the belief in the supernatural is an important part of Indian life, and on this festival day it is customary to bless whatever brings you your livelihood. So the soldier garlands his rifle and the photographer his camera and the farmer his plough and so on. This is called puja, meaning worship, and would probably explain the garland on the prow of the Al Shama as we left Dubai.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 26
  • Date: 20 October
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Bombay
  • Book page no: 89

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