So there I was innocently strolling through bucolic Highbury Fields (that’s a plane-tree packd park near where I live in London), when suddenly I landed in the middle of Outer Mongolia. There were yurts, people in pointy coloured hats, men in brocade gowns and turned-up boots, though I’ll admit it, most women were in jeans and sunglasses.
The USP was that they were all Mongolian, gathered to support a charity rally from London to Ulan Bator. Obviously Brits figured too, a few of them particularly fearless when it came to attempting Mongolian wrestling. This was the exciting bit, though thanks to a fast expiring battery in my little compact, I have no great visuals of it. But here comes a champ…
Anyway, Mongolian wrestling goes like this: two very muscular (and I’ll say it, often pretty paunchy) men in tiny bikini-bottoms, big leather boots and a kind of half-bolero tied with strings at the back, take to the ground. Warily they circle round each other before finally bending forward and locking arms in combat – just like fighting bulls locking horns. Rules are not complex – basically the first man to hit the ground is out. So round they turn, gripping each other’s jacket strings, sometimes for 10 minutes or so, until finally there’s a jerk, a twist, action takes off and one of them, inevitably, hits the dust.
As for the few daring Brits, well their amateur input was short and sweet, muscles and flab included. Younger Mongolians took to the arena too, usually in ubiquitous jeans plus visible edge of Calvin Klein underpants (ALL of them had this – does CK have a franchise in Ulan Bator or something?). All cheerful stuff with plenty of applause and big smiles.
In the back ground at the only food-stall (my intereste never wanes), a whole pig turned on a spit – at least I got a snap of THAT, or of the remaining shreds. But I do wonder how a charity can justify a cavlacade of 4WDs burning up increasingly precious fuel from London all the way to Mongolia. They said it was for children’s education and funding herds of cattle after the loss of millions to drought over the last few years. But hey, what about the environment? Isn’t there a greener way of helping Mongolia? It did seem a bit dated.
The night before, I indulged in more mental travel, in this case to India in the scintillating company of Zakir Hussain, whose music I discovered at a Delhi music-shop well over a decade ago. What an extraordinary concert and what a generous-spirited man he is. Held at the Barbican which I love, not for its brutalist architecture but for the wood-panelled concert hall (very acoustic friendly) and brilliantly stepped seats with decent views wherever you sit. Hussain himself, god of tablas played with five other musicians and a punchy group of acrobatic dancer-drummers from Manipur, in north-east India. Sarangi, violin, sitar and a regular Western drum-kit (played brilliantly by Hussain’s younger brother, Tawfiq Kureishi) gradually upped the tempo, while the audience, about 60& middle-class Indian, revelled in it. One extended family dressed to kill in front of me celebrated the music by passing crackling packets of crisps and biscuits back and forth. Nearly three hours later, standing ovation over, it was out into the London night. Come again soon Mr Hussain.