54. Escape From the Farm!

It’s now the 4th day into my farming adventure.  I did not get out of bed to go up another tree.  I couldn’t help but notice there was a lot of commotion round about the place.  I decided to get up if for nothing else then to see what was happening.

To summarize; an older man, a Punjabi gentleman also did not get out of bed to go to the trees this morning.  It would seem it wasn’t by choice though.  The coroner had just arrived in the community to collect him; not an all together unfamiliar scene here apparently, at least according to the talk I was catching.

His personal belongings were soon collected by some authoritative figure at the camp.  This man had lived in a different ‘residence’ than I, so I didn’t actually see everything but of course word travelled fast and I was amazed when I heard about this man’s stash.

A wooden box had been retrieved from under his bed.  Apparently the elder man was indeed old fashioned and having no use for modern ways, never used a bank.  There must’ve been years of cash, his pay I guess, stuffed neatly away in that box.  

I remember hoping the right thing would be done and the money sent off to his next of kin, if indeed they could be found.  I was 22 years of age and I knew full-well that I didn’t want to leave this farm like that so …   

Escape from the farm!   I found the guys I’d came in with and thanked them for helping me get this job.  I confessed I was not cut out for this and it was my time to leave; must return to my original path, the one in the city.  

They offered to drive me to the Greyhound bus station and gratefully I accepted the lift.  It was nice to have a few dollars in my pocket:  I bought a ticket and was on my way.

Lalit offered a cheerful smile when I walked into his front door of the hotel.  It also felt good to pay my rent 2 weeks (total of $14) in advance.  

A nice hot shower was in order and that night I slept very well in my own space.  



53. A Farming I Will Go …and Freeze My Butt Off!

I agreed to go out and around with them the next day.  We went in their car to meet up with some of their friends -the rest of the Indian gang lol- we went all around the city.  

We ended up at another hotel where I saw many more young Indian fellows -I hadn’t really realized there was a good number of Indians already living here in California.  It was a nice sociable second day and I was beginning to feel more comfortable with my surroundings.

Third day.  Three young men, friends of Shekhar and Ramesh, came out from Marysville and from Yuba City to join us.  What better way to get acquainted than over a nice meal and so we went to have an early lunch at a Chinese restaurant.  

Now that my new acquaintances were up to speed on my situation, they invited me to go out for the week and earn some money with them.  One of them offered, “You come with us and we’ll help you get a job where we work.  At the very least you’ll have an income.”

Another agreeably stated, “Yes do come out to the fruit farms and work with us.  We tend to the trees there.”  Okay I thought, why not?  I was a gambler of sorts anyhow and always was willing to take a chance.  

Besides I liked the idea of an income almost immediately after landing in California and along with it, try out a new experience.  The third chap said, “Yes and do keep your room here in the city, we’ll be back of course.”

The next morning came awfully early as it always seems to do.  I packed a few items and left my key with Lalit at the front desk.  Four of us piled into their car and began the drive out of the city, well beyond the outskirts of San Francisco by at least a couple of hours.  

I remember looking out the window a lot and whatever I saw seemed to be sparse and boundless.

We arrived in the early afternoon at a peach farm.  From what I could see it appeared the majority of the farm hands were Indians and I quickly learned that most of them were from Fiji.  

These guys were hard workers I was told; already familiar with their duties having come from farming backgrounds in the islands.  It looked like they all worked well together.  

One of the guys in the car told me, as new men from Fiji arrived into this part of California, somehow they’d find each other and make their way out here.  These are the guys who weren’t well educated enough to come here and land big-time careers yet here we were all given the chance to get a little cash flow.  

Perhaps there were 2-300 workers all around the area.  Here’s where I take a chance and try something new.  I was assured by one of the guys, “Don’t worry Blue, you’ll be shown by the foreman exactly what to do and we’ll most likely be nearby you anyway.”  

Everything there was set up as a permanent camp of sorts.  To be sure the workers wouldn’t feel deprived of life’s daily needs, a sort of mobile bank, postal services, personal necessities vendor and girls, yes that too, came into the camp on various days of the week.  There was always medical attention on-staff too.  

Well there’s no time like the present to get earning that paycheck.  Of course I was hired on the spot and then shown around the camp briefly, starting with the off-duty accommodations.   

Within each camp or barrack there were about 10 single beds with an individual night table beside it for personal storage.  There were fresh pillows and blankets laid upon each one and thankfully these rooms were kept very warm.  

The pay offered was $1.00 per hour and days were basically 12 hour days, seven days a week.  I noticed there was quite a few Punjabi Indians there working alongside the handful of assorted other Indians and a small number of other nationalities.  

Next morning is my full day; there’s white frost on the ground everywhere, it’s just inside dawn and bitterly cold.  We wear beanies on our heads.  Big ladders are leaning up against the large trees.  

After being instructed one-time by the foreman as to how they wanted us new guys to prune the peach tree, I’m off to work on my own.  I stayed close to the guys I had come there with just incase I had questions or needed help.  

Though I thought it would never come, noontime finally arrived and with it came the very welcomed meal truck sounding his horn.  We stop to rest a little and eat some hot lunch; the menu consisted of roti, pumpkin curry and hot tea.  Thank goodness!

But you know, the same curry meal after meal got old very fast and a few of us guys together decided something had to be done.  I am not sure how we actually succeeded but we managed to drum-out the cook, replacing him with a non-Punjabi Indian cook; one from my Suva no less.  

Understand this, the Punjabi cook was an all right fellow mind you, great tea and the pumpkin curry was nice, the 1st time, but the same old thing every meal? and the rotis were just too thick to be enjoyed.  I know they wanted to fill our stomachs but come on!

Excellent choice on the changing of the guard I tell you.  This different fellow turned out the very best masala pork curry and the softest, thinner and most perfect rotis, with chutneys and delectable dahl.  Now we felt like we were really eating and every meal was a near feast to be sure.

I would say the days and weeks went by but in this case, the truth is the hours of each day passed in bitter cold and well, I worked for 3 days and realized I just couldn’t do this anymore.  

I wasn’t cut out to trim trees in the cold I guess.  My shoulder swelled in great pain.  The wet cold was too much for this guy.  I feel I really tried, I did –but this adventure had to close … it was a no-go Joe.  



30. Golden Roti, a Ticket or Twenty and an Unexpected Party

Out and about every single day along with my South African friend Jittu, we explored all over Bombay.  Besides hanging out on Marine Drive my first favorite thing to do was experience eating as many of the different flavors available in the local restaurants.

Gopis on clothThere were Brahmin vegetarian dining establishments which I mentioned two posts back, serving silver thalis-full of amazing, cooked to perfection, curried vegetables with just right roti and puri, the excellent Punjabi cooking (we called them the best meat restaurants), and the flavorful South Indian kitchens preparing outstanding seafood meals, exquisite sambar, egg curry and masala dosa.  

We indulged in Persian (Iranian) cuisine enjoying perfected biryanis and mouthwatering lamb shish kebab – delicious!  There was always a great Chinese restaurant around any given corner serving their dishes with that Indian twist and always flavoursome to be sure plus I found it really fun to see a Chinese face speaking perfect Hindi.  

Ah yes and the Gujarati restaurants served us delightful kheema, khatti mithi daal and golden chapatis of course, all very palatable.  These are but a few, you get the idea and not to mention a suddenly juicy mouth I’m sure!  

We did our best to return to Marine Drive anywhere between 4 in the afternoon and 7 in the evening for our daily dose of people watching; okay you got me, girl watching!  Oh the beautiful girls accompanied by their families to be sure.

The two of us also had another favorite to-do and that was going to the cinema to see the Indian films.  After all Bombay is the film capital of India.  Our pick of theaters was the Naaz (near my temporary residence as I mentioned in post 28) there at Lamington Road, which ran all the biggest current films.  

In my perception of things it was the top-notch cinema house to attend.  There was elegant balcony seating, it was air-conditioned, the sound system was great, all the seats were nice and comfortable and it was beautiful you know, classy in style.

Outside the theater the line of moviegoers never broke, day or night.  Jittu and I realized we could supplement our income if we sold tickets to those people who were further back in the line, yes!  We’d make pocket money and they’d get to see the show after all, even after the ‘house full’ sign went up in the box office window.

About a week before the show we’d buy maybe 20 or so tickets each, based on how many rupees we had saved up approximately every 8 days and then sell them for that particular day and evening’s screenings for 3 to 4 times more rupees than face value.  

Yes, I know there’s a name for that and you could be sure when we spied the Police wala with their dundas as they walked the line, we’d take off as quick as lightning!  

Here’s the thing: these were mainly young guys of monied families, driving fancy cars and wanting to spoil their girls on a date; they just wanted to get into the show, not even questioning the price of our tickets.  See, the girl wanted to see her screen heroes in the newest film and well, the guys really did too.  

These people are standing in line realizing the show’s just been sold out and they start looking around to see if there are tickets for sale floating around when they notice a small group of people (gathered around Jittu and myself that is) apparently talking about getting into the currently sold out showing.  

They come over to us and there you have it!  They are going in to see the movie after all.  Points for them with their girl and everybody is happy.  They’re so happy many of them even try to give us extra rupees but we refuse the offered tip because we’re already making money.  I get to pay my rent and I eat more nice meals for the next 7 or 8 days.

Another something I was able to indulge in was a few upper-crust parties on Marine Drive, yes the ones given up there in those fancy homes.  And this all due to my Bombay companion Jittu.  At that time in my life I didn’t see how else I would have experienced all that.  

After having attended a few of them with Jittu, I noticed there were basically two types of parties; the family parties and the other parties, the ones where the children and most family members did not attend.  These were the extra entertaining gatherings.  

I can only say that I’d never been so opened up to these elements of the human existence before.  Life is definitely a curious thing.  

Here I was in Bombay, so very far from my little South Pacific island life, learning a lot about the ways of the world and now I knew for sure, there were no limits.  There was definitely no returning home as that young unexposed man I’d left behind in Fiji.


Police wala with their dundas                                             policemen with their stick  (remember my father walking with me and his dunda?)

khatti meethi daal                                                       lentils prepared sweet & sour in taste

Bombay is the film capital of India.                            India is known all over the world for their accomplishments in the movies.  Some of India’s brightest stars are included in America’s movie scene these days.  If you guys haven’t heard of Bollywood by now well, anyway you’d definitely understand that the film industry in India is majorly important to them.

I eat more nice meals                                       Jittu did get allowance from his father every week but he spent it near as quick as he got it, and I will add that he was a very generous friend; spending equally on me as he did on himself.  Everything was ours and needless to say things like transportation expenses, snacks, meals, movies, etc, he kept no tabs.  

I paid whenever I could but there was no denying he had more of an income than I.  It clearly made him (and me) very happy to have someone fun to explore the new surroundings and get into light mischief with.  He didn’t want to hang around his father the whole time they were to be in Bombay.  It was a win, win for the both of us.