My porn predictions were spot-on. I returned to the DVD kiosk today, said my hellos to the usual guy and asked if he had anything new and exciting for me. Without a moment’s hesitation he whipped out a box from underneath his counter which had ‘Adult’ scrawled across the top in biro and began passing me handful after handful of DVDs with various dodgy but amusing titles: Texas Dildo Massacre, Lord of the G-Strings, etc. etc. Looking at them it was clear that we were dealing with soft porn (no cocks there then) and, unclear how to say it using words that he would understand but figuring in for a penny, in for a poundI asked, ‘These are all soft - anything harder?’ It seems like the language of porn is universal, for without hesitation this guy who can barely understand more that ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ produced a second, similar box labelled ‘Adult X’, from which he extracted more handfuls of DVDs which were clearly of a more X-rated nature.
My Infant Help International Code of Conduct deliberations didn’t take long: fuck it. Three months without sex and without any prospect of sex for the next two, the least that Infant Help International could afford me – having sent me to live in Kashmir – was the joy of some porn now and again. Besides, to be honest I think the rule is a load of bollocks: unnecessary and unenforceable. All ten of the trainees voiced similar sentiments about it in a heated debate with the poor IHI UK staff member who had been sent to brief us on the code of conduct during our induction. So now I have some porn, and although it’s not exactly what I’d usually go for, a cock’s a cock when all’s said and done and it should tide me over until I get back to the UK. I’m pretty sure that the all-men-thick-as-thieves-together attitude which pervades society here will work in my favour in this case, ensuring that news of my porn-purchasing will not spread any further than the confines of the kiosk. I hope.
So aside from acquiring my much needed new entertainment I’ve had a fairly low key day today. Having stayed up ridiculously late last night playing Tomb Raider (seriously, 2am – I’m putting more hours in on that game than I am at the office these days!) I’d planned to sleep late. However, my phone rang at 9:15am. ‘Hello?’ I answered, sleepily.
‘Hello, how are you?’ It was the manager.
‘I’m fine,’ I replied, wondering if perhaps there was an unexpected visitor waiting for me at reception, ‘how are you?’
‘I’m fine. Everything okay?’ he went on.
‘Yes,’ I replied, puzzled.
‘Okay, goodbye.’ And the line went dead. Random Kashmir moment no. 2,351. What the fuck?!
Luckily I managed to get back to sleep and didn’t surface again until well after 11am. I began the day with my normal Saturday routine: tea, plain cake and C+L: in today’s episode, the intrepid duo were undercover trying to catch a killer preying on New York cab drivers. Marvellous. With the end credits blaring I finally dragged my sorry ass out of bed, showered, dressed and headed out to do some shopping. As I passed reception I dropped off my key and asked the manager if he could do something about the rapidly growing and worrying damp problem on and around the window wall in my room. ‘No problem,’ he assured me.
I’d planned to get myself lost in the old city. With my UK return date now set and time in Kashmir running out, I feel a sudden desire – a pressure almost – to get out there and explore a little. The strange thing is that having had my movements restricted during November and December by political tensions, strikes and curfews, I’d totally forgotten that there are a whole load of things that I should do and see before I go. I guess this is what happens in places of conflict, and what has happened on a much larger and more long-term scale to the people here: restrictions become habit, habits become ingrained, and even when the controls ease you find yourself living the same limited lifestyle. I mean, remember how I used to dread my shite Friday nights and weekends of boredom? Well now I positively look forward to hours on end sitting in solitary confinement in room 203 reading, watching DVDs or (mostly) playing Tomb Raider. I really need to get out more.
Anyway, I donned my ipod and headed out into the craziness of the old city: the usual chaos of people, cars, auto-rickshaws, soldiers, dogs, cows, dust and noise. At the least the latter one I could block out with Madonna! I wandered around, not really sure where I was going but relishing the sense of adventure and freedom brought by my exploration of parts of Srinagar hitherto unknown to me. Some of the places I vaguely recognised from the car journey with Rahim all those weeks ago when he’d played the George Michael song and we’d had that conversation about homosexuality. Other areas I’d never clapped my eyes on before: I’m sure I would remember ‘Mackdonalds Fast Food’ if I’d passed it on previous travels. As I looked around the various sights I made a mental list of the things that I’m going to try to fit in during my eight remaining weeks:
1. Buy fresh fish from the women on the bridge and cook dinner for Rahim and I at his place.
2. Go back to Gulmarg for some more skiing.
3. Spend a night on a houseboat.
4. Have another meal with drinks at Grand Palace with Rahim.
5. Catch up with the MSF guys at least one more time, hopefully more.
6. Spend another night at the orphanage: I have promised the kids after all.
7. See if I can wangle another field trip or two with work to more remote and beautiful places like Ladakh, where I went during my first week in Kashmir.
8. Organise a work night out (that’s pretty fucking ambitious, believe me).
9. Make a lot more chips.
10. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, complete Tomb Raider.
Eventually I ended up in the newer and more familiar part of the city, and before my porn purchasing I popped into Srinagar’s biggest department store (about the size of a large Tesco/Esso petrol station/store). In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, big mistake, big, huge. With only 2800R to spend each week this pay month due to overspends in Jammu during the previous one, and this being the first day of this week’s money, I somehow managed to wipe out over half of my allowance buying food, toiletries and magazines that I don’t really need. Still, a bit of reckless spending once in a while is good for the soul. I think I must have spent in excess of £15. Craaaaazy!
Back at my hotel I retrieved my key and was keen to see how well the manager had succeeded in clearing up the damp. Do you know what his solution to the problem had been? He’d opened the window. That was it – opened the window. As many times before in Srinagar, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Anyhow, it’s another night in for me, just me and the mould. Obviously there’ll be some Tomb Raider, then maybe one of the Harry Potter films I bought last week, and then...
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