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Travel Books - Hand to Mouth to India

I wrote Hand to Mouth to India in 1997/8 at the age of 20. It tells of the journey I made in hitchhiking from England to India with no money. I was full of the tales of the East where sadhus, sufis and mystics trust themselves to the Fates and I wanted to see if it was possible in a modern day and age.

The book became my badge, my freak credentials for a while and the image of the impoverished traveler was one I wore for perhaps a little too long. It's a book of a young man with a few chips on his shoulder and a knapsack full of spiritual ideas which he was a little young to understand. Still, the journey was no mean feat and I learnt a lot along the way- even if it did take me years to understand exactly what.

The story of how the book was written and published is a tale in its own right and you can read about that below the chapter links if you're interested. Be forgiving with the author of tender years and you'll enjoy the book a lot more.
Click on the links below preview the book:

  Chapter 1 Freewheeling - England to Luxembourg   Chapter 2 Round the Bend to Vienna - Germany, Austria
  Chapter 3 Love in Budapest - Hungary   Chapter 4 Blonde Heart-Breaker - Hungary
  Chapter 5 Everyone's a Hitchhiker - Romania   Chapter 6 Orient Express-ion - Bulgaria, Turkey
  Chapter 7 Kindness of the Muslims - Turkey   Chapter 8 Journey to the East - Turkey
  Chapter 9 Sympathy for the Hitchhiker - Iran

When I arrived to Goa in 1997 after hitchhiking there with no money it took me a few days to realise that i needed to support myself. I´d been helped along the road so often that i´d become accustomed to receiving my daily bread at the table of others. I hung around cafes drinking lemon water and hoping someone would buy me lunch. Perhaps I even imagined that someone would be so impressed by my journey that they´d take me under their wing for the season. On the third morning I gathered up my blankets from my bed on the sand and went along to drink tea at the chai shop on the beach. My friend Ali was already there and before I could sit down he snapped:

"Tom, do you have any money? " At last someone was taking an interest.

"Well, no, maybe 20 rupees." He snorted and turned to me with a stern face.

"Goa is not a poor man´s place. Now if you want to sit around the restaurants like a dog begging for crumbs you can do that but be prepared to face the consequences. Perhaps you´ve come all this way to throw yourself on our mercy - but then it´s not mercy."

He went on and I realised that while a pilgrim can hope for a handout, once you actually arrive somewhere you have to start making it like everyone else. Ali bauled me out for a while and then gave me 50 bucks so that I could make a start with something. While I was working out what to do the obvious thing was to write the book of my travels.

I got thrown out of several cafes for making a cup of coffee last four hours while I wrote before settling on the German Bakery for my office. It was a big garden cafe where my lingering presence might go largely unnoticed. After a few days of buying two dry bread rolls each afternoon and a glass of water so that I could swallow them, the Nepalese waiters refused to charge me any more. When the boss wasn´t looking they´d even slip me a cinnamon roll or a cappuchino as I scribbled away. Little acts of kindness like these kept me going more than anything else. Various chai shops on the beach gave me a bed and a bowl of rice each night through the season and though I usually only had a few bucks in my pocket at any one time I somehow made it through. I gave some massages, sold hammocks on the flea market for a successful trader friend and even got some birthday money from home to help me through.

Throughout four months I only washed in the sea and I don´t think I ever washed my clothes. One day an 8-year old English boy asked me.

"Tom, why are you always wearing the sameclothes?" His father told him to hush up at once. I explained to him that I didn´t have any others and knew how the Emperor must have felt when asked about his new clothes. When they returned home the father left behind a bag containing a shirts, trousers and shorts for me.

I shaved with the aid of a piece of broken mirror,a bottle of water and a razor blade in a corner of a paddy field. When I needed to shit I generally had to climb the rocks on the beach to find a discreet spotwhere I could dig a hole. Not surprisingly I didn´t manage to find a girlfriend that season.

Meanwhile the book was taking shape and I carried 100 sheets of crumpled A4 around with me wherever Iwent. As I put my experiences into words I relived the memories and began to put the whole trip into some kind of perspective. One day on the beach I was absorbed in one recollection that I failed to notice the cow that was about to eat my manuscript.

"Aaaaaaah! Bad cow!" Screamed the fruit lady as she chased the beast away with a machete and saved mycareer as a writer.

After that I left all the completed pages with a friend who ended up hiring me to guard his stocks of incense. He rented a room at a guesthouse to store the thousands of boxes and basically let me sleep there out of kindness. I earned it though on my second night when burgalars pried open the window.

"Get the fuck out of here!" I yelled, jumping out of bed and hitting the lights. "Thief! Thief!"

The guy in the neighbouring room didn´t hear me though and when he woke up in the morning his moneybelt and Walkman were gone. He couldn´t understand how until I explained to him about the fishing rods that the thieves use to hook people;s belongings from the window.

The same friend let me type up the book on his laptop and I spent weeks swearing at his Apple Mac, stumbling out of office each day into the rich, amber light of the sunset. Soon all the book lacked was a title. It took two excruciating hours with the pandits and lunchtime to find one.

"How about ´Sympathy for the Hitchhiker´?"

"Iffy. That means you´re equating the hitchhiker with the Devil."

"Okay, then. ´From England to India with 50p´"

"To the point but not exactly catchy. How about´Down and Out from England to India´?"

Collective groans all round.

In a moment of inspiration ´Hand to Mouth to India´ popped into my head and it stuck. Even though i subsequently had to explain 5000 times to non-native English speakers what the hell ´hand to mouth´ means.

I printed the book out with the tiniest font that was still just about legible and forced hundred of readers to go blind as a result. Ink and paper were expensive at the time. That season in the mountains i sold around 75 copies of the manuscript as I walked around cafes leaving copies of the manuscript at people´s tables. I used all the feedback to redraft the whole thing and soon I had perfected the finished product. I´ve since redrafted the whole fucking book at least 6 times.

The next season in Goa my parents gave me some money to pay for the printing costs and I self-published 500 copies of ´Hand to Mouth to India´. For the next weeks I was everywhere with the book, never leaving the house without at least 5 copies in my shoulder bag. I danced around with the book at parties and pitched just about everyone I met. The story caught on like wildfire and I sold hundreds of books in no time at all. I even had people walking up to me in the middle of the jungle at night, asking if I was the guy with the book and did I have one for sale?

One morning I was taking a fruit juice on Vagator beach and a German girl started telling me about this crazy Englishman she´d heard about who had walked all the way from England to India. I was tempted to let the Chinese whisper grow but I sold her a book instead. Various friends took it on their backpacks to haul piles of the book back to England and Israel for me and I was left with about 30 kilos of books to carry myself. For the next 6 months I travelled through the Middle East, Europe and Morocco with my books and I came to understand that self-publishing and travelling don´t mix too well. I almost died while lugging my stock along the Turkish highways with fever and Israeli customs insisted on counting every page of every book. They got dirty, rumpled and torn and I got sick to the teeth of answering the same old questions.How long did it take, did I ever get hungry and isn´t there an ocean between Europe and India?

On the plus side the book became a calling card for me and opened doors wherever I went. I even featured on Israeli TV in a documentary about hitchhiking. Various friends that I´d known from back in Goa thought they were suffering flashbacks when they saw me on channel 2.

I was attempting to track down some of the lost books in Portobello Road, London, when the story sparked the interest of Lee Harris, the owner of Alchemy, a famous head shop. At 65 years of age his imagination and energy burnt stronger than most and we launched an official edition of ´Hand to Mouth toIndia´ in July 2000. I was introduced to all the media socialites and journalists and schmoozed as best I could in the relevant circles. I didn´t really have the right kind of mentality for this kind of thing andgot eaten up by the critics.

"So today we have Tom Thumb in our radio studio wholives on no money at all. Where are you sleepingtonight, Tom? "

"I´m not sure-"

"Well, it won´t be on my sofa. Now Tom, from amoral point of view some people might think it wrongthat you lived off poor people on your travels... "

I tried to explain that hospitality is considered a pleasure, not a duty, in much of the Middle East and Asia. That when you gave money to a beggar in India it´s you who thanks him for the opportunity to gain merit. It was an uphill struggle. I suspect that the first thing they teach you in journalism school is that the best way to get a step up is to put someone else down.

We only broke even with the book but a few thousand people got to read it and that made it a success for me. It´s like a piece of me out there that keeps on working even though I may be just contemplating my navel at the time. Sometimes when I´m feeling like a complete waste of space on the planet, an email comes from someone who´s read the book and now intends to get on the road themselves.

Job done.


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