Mumbai may be the chosen city of India World, where everyone of every stripe, caste and origin in the country comes to live, but the lingua franca is possibly not the one you’d expect it to be, 64 years after the British left the place. It certainly ain’t Hindi.

One of the first ‘greetings’ I received when I first moved into the area I am staying in in Chuim village in the Khar Danda area of the city was, “Welcome to India,” immediately followed up with, “Get back to England.”

With the folk memory of the dark, rascist days of Great Britain in the 1960s and 1970s hard-wired in from before I was born, my brain said, “How dare you!?”, immediately followed up with, “You little bastard”. But at the same time, my heart said, “Absolutely goddamn right.”

Typically, one or two people an hour will stop to say hello and find out what your good name is and where you do come from, and it may be too early to say, but so far, the reaction to my answer of, “England” seems to have been exclusively either a grimace and/or a swift exit.

(Of course it’s too early to say, it’s a blog – that’s the whole point, isn’t it?)

And let’s get this right, it is England. ’None of this Impero-peak, ‘Great Britain’, ‘Britain’ or the ‘United Queendom’ ; ’none of that bollocks. It’s England. You know? Fish, chips, cup’o’tea, bad food, worse weather, Mary F-ing Poppins – England.

And yes, it was us, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry, I really am.

We belong in India about as much as America belonged in Vietnam; just as we don’t belong in Ireland; just as we didn’t belong in the West Indies. The paucity of imagination in presuming that the ‘West Indies’ was just another India, West of the ‘first’ one, is a perfect example of the kind of horrible homogenisation that runs all the way through the imperial enterprise—or, as it has now been rebranded, globalisation—whether it’s the Shemites, the Romans, the East India Company or the Americans with their names on the handle of the poker.

We didn’t belong in Indonesia, just as we didn’t belong anywhere in the Caribbean or the Pacific. We didn’t belong in America, so the French made us have it. We didn’t belong in Surinam or Tangier or Oman. We didn’t belong in Australia. We didn’t belong in Senegal, just as we don’t belong in Canada, Singapore, Ghana, Honduras, South Africa, Madeira, Gibraltar, Afghanistan, Iraq…

“Absolutely goddamn right. Never get out of the boat.”

I felt some of the sting that is presumably absent from the life of the average old colonial in fixing on a name for an individual I enlisted as a contributor to a documentary I was making about hip hop in South Wales in 2002. Having not heard his name spoken properly, and too scared to ask the rest of his crew what it was, I began calling this immense, menacing West African drug dealer, ‘Donny’. If I’d gone for ‘Die Hard’ or ‘Dastardly’ or ‘Dangerous’ it might have been alright but ‘Donny’!? Is there a stiffer, whiter, squarer name in the English language than ‘Donny’? I was relieved when Diamond decided not to crush my head between his hands.

I felt the same way moving in to this family’s home in Mumbai when I misheard the name of the man of the house and scrabbled around at a couple of ‘T’ names before settling on ‘Trevor’. This huge, alcoholic Goan who nicks 5 rupees from me every time we go and fill up my water bottle at his mate’s overpriced shack round the corner is as Indian as Ghandi, but thanks to a bunch of diseased, dick-swinging Portugese egotists his ‘real’ name is ‘Tyronne Mendes’.

As I have found in many situations in Asia, I cannot explain my own apparently bizarre behaviour in any adequate way. I thought in a majority Hindu country I would be bang on masquerding as a de facto vegetarian for a few months, but sure enough, here in this Goan Catholic village, in this Goan Catholic household, with the indefatigable Goan Catholic, Trevor Mendes, I’m as much of an outcast as a vegetarian in Europe (at least in Southern Europe and the more working class parts of Northern Europe):

“You know, teek-hain? Prawns have got a type of iron in them that you’ll never get from spinach”.

Yeah, cheers Trev, normally I’d be trying to put you off yours so I could get more prawns in, but I’d rather not have amoebic dysentery until next week if that’s allright with you, cock. 5 rupees?…

V.S. Naipaul calls the embarrasment of colonial name-giving, “place names in the mouth of a conqueror”. Cassius Clay described ‘Muhammad Ali’ as, “a free name”.

“Firdaus becomes Freddy, Jamshed, Jimmy, and Chandrashekhar, which is clearly impossible, becomes the almost universal Bunty or Bunny”

–V.S. Naipaul, An Area of Darkness, 1964

It was the same story in Hong Kong, and, to be fair it’s the same with lovely people from all over globalised Asia, from the thriving ‘Elvis Presli’ in Indonesia to the inumerable Chinese ‘Candy’s, ‘Pinky’s’, ‘Flower’s and ‘Josephine’s making moves and taking names all over the Pearl River Delta, to all the magnificent, firebrand Thai ‘Susan’s spinning Victorian notions of emancipation into candyfloss. The ubiquitous ‘English name’ is just a concession to Western ignorance, and god knows we need it.

What exactly are we producing at the moment other than over-specialised, lazy, drug-happy underachievers with an inflated sense of their own entitlement, like me?. We elbowed our way violently to that place in the sun, and now the sun has well-and-truly set.

The sun of the British Empire rose in the West and finally set in the East, in India. Not content with perverting the natural order of the world in geographical, political, economical, spiritual and psychological terms, we went for a little astrophysical perversion as well.

As far as India goes, we just simply didn’t belong there, just as we didn’t belong in the Phillipines or Nigeria or Uganda or Jordan or Zanzibar or Qatar or Malta or Lagos or Palestine or Fiji or Kenya or Kuwait. When we eventually realised that we only really belonged on a tiny, rainy island in the North Sea notable principally for its fishing, it was too late, so we had to invent globalisation to keep the dream alive, even when it was dead. And now we’re desperately trying to reanimate a corpse.

“…limited islanders, baptised with mist, narrowed by insularity, swollen with good
fortune and wealth.”

–R.B. Cunningham Graham, Bloody Niggers, in the Social Democrat, April, 1897

I should know, I am one, and yes, my little friend, I am going back to England. We had our chance and we Royally fucked it up, and you deserve all the opportunities available, and all the luck in the world.

It’s your world, mate. We just live in it.

One morning in early September I developed a small pain in my left foot while walking in to work. It felt like nothing more than one of the brief aches a habitual ambulator like myself occasionally experiences, and I figured it would subside after I’d sat at my desk for a bit. I was wrong. By mid-afternoon the pain was so intense I couldn’t keep a shoe on without wanting to scream. Aside from some very slight swelling above the arch there was nothing visibly wrong, but what felt alarmingly like a protrusion of bone had formed just under the skin. The slightest touch on the area sent fresh lancets of pain up my leg.

A friend drove me to an urgent care clinic after work, where the doctor on duty gently poked and prodded at my foot while I flinched and yelped. After x-rays and a blood test he concluded that the bones were fine, and diagnosed my ailment as a sprain of the joint between the metatarsals, exacerbated by a slight excess in body fat. He gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatories and some information on joint pain and sent me hobbling on my way.

Though I was relieved not be to suffering from something more severe, the treatment was hardly the cure I was hoping for. The medication (2400 milligrams of high-grade ibuprofen daily) did little for my immediate pain and, as an initial side effect, gave me indigestion and some deeply strange dreams. The only shoes I could wear with any degree of comfort were my Converse Chuck Taylors, but walking anywhere, for any length of time, continued to hurt. Despite this I started hitting the gym with regularity, as losing weight was an imperative part of my recovery; with some disciplined exercise and calorie-cutting I dropped about eighteen pounds between my initial diagnosis and the end of October. Until I became acclimated to the pain, that first week on the elliptical was a study in agony.

It worked, to a degree. The swelling subsided some, as did the pain. But not enough, and after seven weeks I went to my primary care physician for a follow-up exam. She concurred with the urgent care doc’s diagnosis, though she had me leave another blood sample with the lab for comparative analysis.

She contacted me less than a day later with the test results and a new diagnosis. My foot pain hadn’t been due to an injury, but rather was a symptom of a larger issue: hyperuricemia, elevated levels of uric acid in my bloodstream due to my kidney’s failure to excrete it out properly. These elevated levels can – and in my case, did – cause an attack of gout.

Uric acid is a waste product created by the digestion of purine; uric acid levels in the body are raised by the consumption of high-purine foods: meat, certain types of seafood, fructose, and alcohol. No problem for a normal renal system, which then filters it out, but with an under-performing one like mine, the leftover uric acid crystallizes in the joints and tendons. In the majority of cases hyperuricemia is genetic, so while the symptoms are preventable, there is no cure.

This diagnosis meant that I had to make some lifestyle changes, and quickly. Unless I want to suffer another one of these attacks, I have to switch to low-purine diet, meaning that I am now, for all intents and purposes, a vegetarian, and quite possibly a sober one at that.

This, to use the vernacular of our times, really fucking sucks the big one.

It’s been about a month now since I received this diagnosis, and my emotional response has alternately been one of depression and one of resentment, both due to my body having made such a determination without my input. At the risk of sounding petulant, the entire matter struck me as simply unfair; I was already exercising regularly, had been cutting back my meat consumption, and have never been a particularly heavy drinker. For fuck’s sake, I didn’t even start drinking until a few weeks shy of my twenty-first birthday.

I was in too much of a funk to even write for a while, and turned my attention instead to researching my affliction. There’s a maddening amount of conflicting information on gout nutrition out there, and parsing through it just increased my depression even more; the websites of major medical institutions like Kaiser-Permanente, Johns-Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic all contradict each other. Plus, there’s no way to determine what specifically triggered my attack, as unlike an allergy, there’s no clinical test for susceptibility. Tolerances vary from person to person, so avoiding an attack is pretty much an all-or-nothing deal.

It could be worse, I know; as annoying as it is, hyperuricemia isn’t fatal, and once my foot heals won’t impair my day-to-day activities. And technically speaking, I do have a choice in the matter: I can keep eating what I want, as long as I’m willing to live with the pain. But that doesn’t really amount to much of a choice, does it?

Understand that I have nothing against the vegetarian lifestyle, save for a small measure of scorn reserved for those who embrace it solely because it’s currently trendy to do so (this is exponentially increased in the case of trendy vegans). Several near and dear friends – not to mention a couple of past girlfriends – are vegetarian, and out of respect I’ve generally abided by their diet when around them. But I’ve never wanted to be one, cheerfully preferring the options available to me as a dedicated omnivore. Hell, I’ll admit it: I really, really enjoy eating meat. I can’t look at a pig without craving bacon.

Ultimately though, I’m too much of a Darwinist at heart; adapt, or die.

It’s been an uphill battle so far, mostly because the learning curve is pretty steep, and I’m proving to be a genuinely terrible vegetarian. I’ve never really cared much for vegetables, and know almost nothing about creating a balanced meal out of them. I make salads so dull even rabbits find them uninteresting, and a couple of weekends ago I managed to create an inedible mess out of a very straightforward recipe for butternut squash soup. My digestive system, long accustomed to extracting nutrition from bits of dead animal, is only begrudgingly adjusting to the increased amounts of plant matter I’m now consuming.

I’d be in even more dire straits if I weren’t graced with some very cool, very generous vegetarian friends both locally and abroad, all of whom went above and beyond in response to my clarion call for aid, providing me with advice, recipes, cookbooks, and some much-needed moral support. Thanks to them I now have a small (but expanding) repertoire of dishes that I enjoy eating, and have so far managed to avoid malnutrition.

I do have some flexibility in my diet: eggs are fine, and low-fat dairy is encouraged, as lactose helps neutralize the presence of uric acid. It also looks as if white fish such as mahi mahi and cod might be safe, though the ever-present threat of mercury poisoning that comes with eating too much seafood still remains. Recent research suggests that white meat poultry might be all right, if servings are kept small and infrequent – say, five ounces or less twice a week, though again this varies from person to person.

I’m not going to chance it, however, as I hope that by going the full vegetarian route I can continue to enjoy the occasional drink. I genuinely enjoy the taste of beer, and I live in a city that has seen a massive rise in excellent microbreweries in the last decade; to cut myself off from enjoying their wares just seems masochistically cruel.

And, more importantly, I’m not going to push the threshold of my diet because I’m still in pain. Three months have passed and my foot is not healing correctly. The initial teeth-clenching hurt has diminished but never completely dissipated, and the mysterious bony protrusion remains. The recent seasonal drop in temperature has caused the joint to ache in a myriad of new and unpredictable ways, and on the worst days, I limp. My doctor has effectively shrugged her shoulders and referred me to a specialist, who is not available to see me until two days before Christmas.

I’ve become acclimated to this ever-present pain, but I’m weary of it, and I’m beyond ready to wear shoes other than my Converse. If giving up meat – and if necessary, even alcohol – is what it takes, then so be it. I’ll take my place among the herbivorous, begrudgingly though it may be.

I really am going to miss bacon.

Inked

By Robin Antalek

Essay

Eighteen years ago on the way to the delivery room the feeling of not being able to stop what was about to happen suddenly overwhelmed me.  This baby that had been making me miserable for twenty-four hours had to come out and the passage of egress was not going to be a gentle one.  When my first daughter eventually emerged from her day long battle waged in the birth canal, cone shaped head and bruises on her face the size and shape of peach pits from the last ditch effort emergency forceps, a smudge of pink between the delicate fuzz of her brow that one of the nurses deemed an “angel’s kiss”, I was assured in a week, maybe less, her face would be healed and the trauma of her birth would leave no visible scars, only memories, where I would be able to chart the ghost marks on her face, badges of what she and I had endured in the moments before her birth.

I went red-eyed and messy-haired to my kitchen this morning to make coffee wherein I saw a large cockroach lying upside-down on my breadboard writhing in the throes of Death. 


I had laid poison last night and it was now taking effect on this roach’s entire system, his whole way of Being. And here I was to actually witness it. Christ. Face-to-face with the big consequences. On my breadboard. First thing in the morning. Jesus.

He was flat on his back, pedaling his legs in a medicated slow-motion Hell dance; his verve, his quickness, a bleary memory from another time– yesterday. I’m pretty sure this was the same commando roach I would see on reconnaissance missions in the pantry between the plastic bags of tomato ramen. I bet that just a few hours ago, he was wheeling and ruling in his headquarters under the refrigerator, telepathing suggestions to his underlings and just doing his ‘survival thing’. Now here he was, dying and double-clutching on my breadboard. This was all so very disconcerting to me…and utterly fascinating.

I ambled quickly to my bedroom to get my deluxe Swiss Army knife with the 10X power magnifying glass. I hurried back and flicked the magnifying glass out so that I might fully examine this Socratic insect on his final deathbed, choking on the Hemlock I had thusly administered. Amazing detail, I thought, as the eastern sun filtered through the kitchen window, conveniently illuminating this Stygian peep show. In one way, I felt slightly morbid and a bit sadistic doing this, as it was I who had plotted to kill him, to extinguish his fire, to effectively block his Life Path. It was I who had gone to the Thrifty on Vermont and Hollywood and picked out the most expensive roach bait traps, the shiny black boxes, the ones with the cartoon renderings of the little purple bugs with the Xs in their eyes.

I was faced with what I viewed as ‘personal enc-roachment’. I actually didn’t mind the little guys all that much but I was tired of girls saying how gross my kitchen was, they shrieking at the crawlers and stabbing at them with their high-heeled shoes. I had had enough. And I admit, I did this all with forethought and malice, moving with blinders past the ‘guilt factor,’ as I realized I was somehow bearing justice and wreaking truth. So there I was, bearing justice and wreaking truth and peering like some Cyclops god through the looking glass at this beautifully ugly hi-tech insect passing onto his reward on my crumby breadboard. Some reward, I thought. This was all so fucking disconcerting.

So I pull in nice and tight right up to his translucent orangey-brown face and Socrates looks me right in the eyes and curses me with his churning mandibles: One day, all this will be yours, Sonny boy. That’s right Mr. Curious, Mr. Pious, Mr. Cyclops God, Mr. Mercenary Jester who hath poisoned Gregor Samsa, King of the Roaches, you too will have your day under the glass, under the sun, under the gun, under the scrutiny of your malevolent peers. And hopefully you’ll be in that predicament before you’ve had a chance to leave a real legacy behind and then you’d be sorry that you had procrastinated so long and you’d fight to hang on and pedal your skinny legs so that you could continue to live and strive for glory but it would be too late by then because you would be paralyzed by the Anti-forces dripping coagulants into your nostrils and making you breathe noxious molasses until you choked on your own blood.

Well, I thought, today is Gregor Samsa’s day to die, and I am sorry for this, but I suppose I should grasp this opportunity to thoroughly examine his cephalothorax and the dwindling state that he’s in. And so I did, moving my monocle down past his hair-hinged V-legs to his abdomen, which was twitching and heaving with much melodrama. Lean and ridged and slightly pointed but rounded-off oh so elegantly. Pure precision design.

Looking closer still, his abdomen metamorphosized into the face of a woman before my very eyes. A moon-faced woman with a little Flip Do from like, the 30’s, and she had a beauty mark on her cheek, on both of her cheeks actually, perfectly symmetrical beauty marks, and she closed her eyes as if she were listening to some strange music that she had never heard before and she cooed and pursed her lips and moved the back of her hand over her forehead and she sighed and batted her lashes until they came completely open and just then it struck me, she looked just like Anais Nin, 

 

 


 

Anais_nin

perky and beautiful and classic and avante garde in a totally new Silver Lake kind of way and she poofed her cheeks out and then she sucked them in and became pouty like a French postcard girl who had so much laundry to do that she didn’t know what to do and because she had absolutely nothing clean to wear, she had to do her laundry in the nude, bending over, lathering and squeezing and rubbing her garments down into the soapy water, then pulling them up, letting them drip, and then she would push down on them again and they would bubble out of the water like the lively little breasts that she herself possessed and she would clutch at them and scrub her fine garments clean and careful not to get her forehead wet with soapy water, she would take the back of her wrist and dab the sweat from her brow and sigh and bend over again and then come back up and then go back down again and then come back up to wring them out. She shuffled in her woodblock slippers across the hardwood floor like a veritable white-faced Geisha, bobbing and delicately swaying in front of the plate glass windows where she looked out to her garden to see Juniper bushes and Japanese Sand pear trees and Japanese water and Japanese stone and Japanese lifeblood and Japanese bone and Japanese beauty and Japanese pain and Japanese sunshine and Japanese rain.

The light through the kitchen window dimmed behind a cloud and the room darkened down a bit so I pulled the magnifying glass to the side and viewed the cockroach once again whole with Naked Lunch eyes and I could see that he was now through trying. He was a bumming boy, obviously in a great deal of pain. He was bushed, he was whipped and I didn’t blame him. I mean, how could I, after all that we had been through together? He had put up a formidable fight and for this I admired him. I looked down at him and sort of wished that we could be friends, colleagues, drinking buddies or some such stature of equal footing, as I was now uncomfortable and feeling terrible pangs of remorse for inflicting the Death Penalty on a being who was guilty of no crime except natural cohabitation. Was this sentence of Death a mortal sin or could this be classified as venial?

I mean, he was always pretty considerate of me, skittering out of the way when the kitchen light came on to make way for me, just doing his thing like anyone else in Los Angeles, fending for himself and basically getting what he could get. Was I too fucked-up and desensitized to realize that this being was no less important than me, or a CEO of some massive corporate enterprise of for that matter, a revolutionary spiritual leader? What had I been thinking? Had I gone too far with my paranoia and glossy pride? Where had my values gone? I didn’t normally prescribe to hierarchies or human constructs. I’d like to think of myself as being a peaceful, justice-oriented person. Laissez-faire. I’m from San Francisco, for God’s sake. I’m into Fugazi. I revere the principles of Dr. King and Gandhi.


 

Mlkghandhi

 

I am not built upon a foundation of hubris. I am not a killer. Jesus, I am a vegetarian, a martyred protector of my animal/fish/bird/insect brethren and now this because I briefly considered this living being not worthy of sharing my space and placing importance on what other people might think. Who the fuck am I to do this? Who the mother-fuckin’ fuck am I? I mean, I relocate spiders, don’t I? Why is this different? Fucking shit. I had no idea of the repercussions involved. I thought roaches were somehow omnipotent, able to withstand a nuclear blast where humans would melt into ash. I didn’t realize they could experience real pain and suffering. Yet my selfish whimsy was halting a formidable Life force. Who the crappin’ Hell am I to do such a thing as this? Shit. I might as well be a power-drunk occupational jar head.

At that moment of my consternation and self-immolation, the King seized. Gregor Samsa ceased to live. Anais Nin was still. Socrates closed his eyes for the final time. I touched his V-leg and he did not respond. I flicked his ribbed antennae and it was limp. The cloud moved past the sun, bringing full illumination to the cutting board. Long shadows cast upon him summoned the brittle body of Jesus. I, a societally-pressured Pontius, swallowed a stone and grabbed one of his legs between my forefinger and thumb and lifted him gently up. I took one last look at him from another angle and then I dropped him down into the brown paper garbage bag underneath. I asked God to bless him, and to forgive me, and then I put on some coffee.


 

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