When I finished university, I took a final stand against the looming reality of full time work and spent six months backpacking solo through Asia while on my way to the UK to look for work. One of the first countries I arrived in was India, and I crossed the border as a naive and gullible twenty five year old with little travelling experience.
India is a country of extremes, and as a new backpacker it tackled me head on. The heat and humidity stifled me, the smells and noise were overwhelming, the scenery was awesome, and the people were always in my face asking me questions – with most motivated by an unreserved curiosity and pride in their country – but a smaller percentage, in the heavily touristed areas, motivated by a poverty driven need to relieve me from my cash in what ever way possible.
After about a month I ended up in Bangalore – a large, relatively modern city in the south. My guidebook stated that one of the local bars put on a laser show in the evening, so I headed down to have some dinner.
A local guy, in his early twenties, sat down beside me, and we got talking. His name was Raj, and he had travelled down from the north west of India on business. We had a few beers that night, and after meeting up again the next evening, he invited me to stay with him and his family before I left the country.
A week later I decided to take him up on his offer – and after a two day train ride north I arrived in Jamnagar, a small city that was close to the border with Pakistan. I tracked down Raj’s address and knocked on the front door of the small factory his family owned. He seemed happy to see me, and announced he was taking a few days off to show me around his town.
Over the next few days Raj put on an amazing welcome. We spent the days exploring the city on his motorbike; at night we would hang on a street corner with his friends, eat street food, chew tobacco and talk about girls (but from what I could see, never actually talked to any). I was dragged into weddings, taken dancing in nightclubs and taught the boys to dive at the local pool.
The trip to Jamnagar became my most memorable experience in India – beating out the big tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal or Varanasi, or the raw beauty of Hampi. The generosity that Raj and his friends showed me was a humbling example of who the Indian people are, and the memory has remained with me ever since.
My time in India seared such an impression on me that it became the setting for my novel – The Amber Trail. Not only that, I named one of the main characters in the book after my friend Raj.
I left India in 1999 with a resolve to pay Raj back one day – but I’m ashamed to say I never did. I settled into life in the UK, and without the social media options we use today, I never managed to keep in contact (hell, neither of us even owned a mobile phone!).
I’d love to let Raj know about the book, and the character I named after him, but all I have left these days is the address of his small factory, and one solitary photo, taken from a disposal camera, of the guys hanging on that street corner in Jamnagar in 1999:
(Raj is the guy sitting on the motorbike in the front)
Over the last few months I’ve been trying to track Raj down, but while it seems his small brass products factory in Jamnagar still exists, I haven’t been able to find a contact email or phone number.
Can you help me find him? Do you live in India or know anyone who comes from Jamnagar? Do you know any of the guys in the photo? They were in their early twenties in 1999, so they should be around 40 years old today.
It’s time for me to pay him back for the generosity he showed me during my time in India. I want to invite him to visit me here – in Sydney, Australia – and I plan to give him to same welcome he showed me all those years ago!
July 2016 Edit: Still haven’t found Raj. Maybe one day. 😦