It’s 9pm on a Monday evening and I’m sat in my modest living room in front of the TV. It’s time to catch up with Rick Stein as he continues his fascinating (but ultimately sweaty) Indian odyssey, sampling the culinary delights of this vast nation. Visually stunning, especially in HD, this series has had me salivating at the imagery more than any other cookery programme I can remember. Featuring beautifully photographed sparkling shots of colourful sights and sounds, only the delicious smell of the food and the pungent smells from the backstreets are missing from the experience. Whilst educating me with some useful tips on Indian cookery, this series has however brought back memories of one of the most humiliating and painful experiences of my life.
My enjoyment of the food in India was fairly mixed. You firstly need to acclimatise to the fact that in a lot of dishes, meat is served on the bone and whole spices are left in the sauce – generally the food in India bears little resemblance to the Anglicised, mainly Bangladeshi influenced dishes we’ve come to know and love in our local Indian restaurants. Once you’ve got your head around this, there’s certainly an endless array of tastes waiting around every corner. You tend to find yourself becoming more adventurous the longer you’re there. Street food is virtually available everywhere you look. Even if you fancy a break from the norm, food you’d expect to be a diversion from the spice-a-thon can turn out to be anything but that – I had a cheese and tomato pizza in Amritsar which turned out to be hotter than some curries I’ve tasted.
Now, as we all know what goes in, must come out. If you travel to India for any length of time and don’t get the Tommy tits, then simply you’re in the minority. The combination of unclean surfaces, poor hygiene standards (especially in restaurant kitchens), the inability to adjust to keeping your hands clean every waking minute and a diet of spicy food eventually takes its toll. I had brief bouts of ‘bottom colds’ throughout our trip. The 12 month supply of Diocalm we’d packed and plenty of water normally did the trick. However my curiosity for the local cuisine eventually lead to an evening I would dearly love to wipe from my memory, but one I never will forget.
After 3 weeks of travelling around this vast country and the weariness this can bestow on the average middle class English traveller, my girlfriend (who is amazingly now my wife – ‘amazingly’ considering what she was about to witness) and I found ourselves in the famed hippy hangout of Goa. We picked one of the quieter resorts and checked into what I can only describe as a ‘moderately luxurious budget hotel’ on the beach front. We spent a few relaxing days sat by the pool, swimming in the sea, sunbathing on the white sandy beach under palm trees, watching the incredible sunsets and chasing off the local perverts who tried to photograph my wife in her swimming costume.
On our final day, we decided to sample the local seafood in one of the many beach huts dotted along the coastline. This, as you might imagine was a massive, massive mistake. Anyone who knows me well enough will tell you I’m a sucker for a prawn cocktail. So the opportunity to eat prawns big enough to physically assault me was too good to turn down. They arrived sizzling, coated in delicious spicy garlic butter. I demolished mine in record time. My wife didn’t enjoy them as much, so I finished hers off too. We headed back to the hotel, full, happy and ready to relax before a mammoth train journey the next day to Mumbai.
I decided to go for an early evening swim in the small swimming pool close to our room. Gently putting in a few lengths, suddenly something started to happen deep in my guts. Something wasn’t right. At first, I dismissed it as a bit of trapped wind. No biggie. Easily solved with a gentle push and a squeak?
No. Not this time. This started to feel very different to anything I’d experienced before.
Things started to escalate pretty quickly. I was in a very cold swimming pool, yet I’d started to sweat. Sweating amidst the humidity of the Indian subcontinent is pretty normal, as we’ve seen in the form of the soggy patches on Rick Stein’s shirt underneath his sweaty man-tits - in glorious High Definition. But in an ice cold pool in the evening - this wasn’t normal surely? I reached for the nearest pool edge and pulled myself out of the water. A pressure was beginning to build up in my bowels. I knew I was in serious trouble now. I had only metres to walk to my hotel room, yet I could tell that even the strongest of clenches would be no match for what my body was attempting to unleash. I grabbed my towel and made a dash for it, bursting into the hotel room, startling my snoozing wife as I tried desperately to remove my sodden swimming shorts. I made a b-line for the poor toilet, which was to be my home for the next few hours. As I sat down, what followed made Niagara Falls in peak flow seem feeble in comparison. An endless stream of liquid jettisoned out of my arse. It seemed to go on forever.
I spent the next couple of hours either lying on the bed drinking water, desperately trying to rehydrate myself, or sat on the toilet holding a bucket whilst a foul, disgusting liquid poured out of me from both ends simultaneously. Eventually we decided I needed some help. On what should have been a lovely final romantic evening in paradise for us, instead my poor wife-to be headed out of the hotel in the middle of the night and had to walk around the quiet, darkened streets of an Indian seaside resort looking for the emergency doctor’s surgery. After what seemed like several hours my wife returned with the local doctor who resembled an Indian Johnny Vegas. He asked me some questions, took my temperature and blood pressure and asserted that I had a severe case of gastroenteritis – no shit!
No shit - mainly liquid.
I was to have an injection to ease the symptoms.
This filled me with dread, having heard horror stories of dirty needles, however I was reassured to see the equipment was all new and fully sealed. Then he unsheathed the needle. I’ve not seen anything the size of it outside of an episode of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. It looked like a harpoon. Obviously, just to enhance the embarrassment it needed to go in my backside. I laid on my front and lowered my underwear. In went the needle. Out came the needle. Then it happened…
The doctor had hands the size of shovels and the bedside manner of an executioner. As he removed the needle from the flesh of my arse, he gave me a good old slap on my bare cheeks. The sort you’d expect a footballer to deal out to a team mate. He berated me about getting ill, he threw me some rehydration salts and warned me that if I didn’t improve I’d need to go to hospital, as if I wasn’t literally shitting myself enough.
Thankfully I did recover fairly quickly, although I had to endure the train journey the next day on a hot, sweaty, smelly train and I could hardly eat anything for the next few days. On the positive side I did lose some weight, but I lost even more of my dignity.
My advice is if you ever go to India, enjoy all it has to offer but be careful, be very careful.
So whilst I watch longingly as Rick Stein cooks up yet another spicy treat, I can’t help but think he’s just a prawn curry away from being slapped on the arse by a fat Indian doctor.