You are very meaningful. Your story inspires our stories. Your knowing is the knowledge of the trees and the stars. Thank you for being guide and staff. Thank you for the instances where our paths met and I was shown something wonderful about the essence of all things.
Fire in Benares
They sit across each other. The older man, pupils grey and clear as soot, made pure by the fire of day, and his younger self, wild eyed, mischievous and full of passionate desire of youth. They encounter each other – child and sage, perfectly reflected and with perfect wisdom, in murmured syncopated unison. There is Sashi. Orphan at 5, roaming these streets, picking pockets, finding and losing his way every day in a noisy world that seemed larger than his fists ever could grasp. There is Sashi, in his eyes, see the jealous longing, the thief. Ah see the innocence of one small being in a city of rogues. And over years see how the tempest shifted course. There is Sashi, at 15, tired, burning and hollow. And now see those strong gales with grace begin to whisper in that small empty body-flute. ‘I met all the people that came here, and from each I understood the laws,’ the old man speaks with younger shining eyes. ‘The fires on these small streets grew with me. People came to my city from everywhere, and they came for my stories and the stories, both morbid and divine, of these streets I know so well. I made it my business to speak with them. I am fluent in 12 languages, though educated in none, never having studied or attended school. Learning language, culture and desire, starting in the little shops much like the many little boys wild on these streets, I became a merchant, wealthy enough, the provider to my family, to the streets and to this little boy I now have adopted. Here, in Benares, I have roamed the world. I am knowledgeable in all things, the French etiquette, the Spanish dances, the government in Siberia, the politics of Northern Africa. And now all these years later, prouder still, I father my three beautiful daughters, teachers of music and of the arts, they play Sitar, they too reach for the stars. This is my story of Benares.’ Eyes blue and grey, two mirrors, the boy and the man, having regained each other, sit in silent concentration, like a moment of stillness amidst the fierce and fiery streets they grew with.
They were looking for the way, through the narrow touristic shopping paths of the lake city. They saw a young girl walking by and asked her for directions through the maze to the City Palace. She told them where to go. They smiled at each other and she asked them their names. ‘It is my younger cousins birthday party this evening,’ she said. ‘This is where we live. Come, if you can, later and have dinner with us.’ They thanked her, but they were on their way, they said, they wouldn’t be back in time. They had many sights to cover. As they were leaving she shouted out, ‘Do come it would be fun! You don’t understand! We don’t want your money.’
‘For some mysterious reasons ever since I arrived in India, people have been telling me that I am special. Please don’t tell me that. Sometimes my mind tells me that I am better than other people. I love sport and train in triathlon. The exercise releases my pain, but I think I did it too much and for the wrong reasons. I see so many unfit people in India and I judge them for that. I can see now that it is my ego, and it is so very difficult to break my ego down. So please don’t tell me I am special. I have come here to learn to live in a new spirit. I am from Germany where everything is very regimented and people live by various canons, like money or a beautiful wife or how strong you are. You know, my father was in the army. He always had strong views on everything. The last year before I left Germany I changed everything. My friends, my hobbies, where I lived. I began to search. It was a time of my life when I was struggling. I was in love, deeply in love, and it shattered my being. I lived in an illusion, and it broke, and I am raw. I would have done anything for her. And it so happened that Amma was giving Darshan in Germany that day, close to where I lived. It was a chance encounter. She is the reason I came here. Through her I was introduced to this new world of life as ashram. I like doing the hard manual labour. It puts my energy in a positive way. I will go home for Christmas with my family. It will be time. I miss them sometimes. Sometimes I wonder what will be.
The Back of Her
A passing glimpse of a young girl, maybe 10 years old, with long black hair knotted caringly in two braided pigtails, lightly oiled and glistening in the sun. Two matching pastel pink rubber bands end the bouncing tails and a string of white sweet smelling flowers are pinned like a bow dancing below the crown. Both ridiculous and playful. A gesture of love, a proud mother’s morning practice.
Journal in hand, a girl at the ashram reposes in solitude. The sound of music wafts through her ears like the fresh morning sunlight that colours everything sacred. Following the sound to a timid corner in the hall where sits Amanda with an instrument in her hands and a prayer on her face. Eyes closed, they bow together, familiar strangers in a united paradise of expression. Voices lifted, music is the teacher of love and of friendship.
The Secret Garden
It is a house like no other. All the animals come to visit. A long rat snake slithers through the brick pathway in the garden. A crow sits perched atop a branch of the neem tree. Watching the serpent he begins to squawk. A warning call in the dry heat of the afternoon. The snake retreats in the burrows of the cool wet mud underground. The days passes forth. A frog is on a visit to the kitchen sink. For hours he sits quietly amidst the washed utensils. Somebody crosses by, and in fright he leaps across into the open garden, dropping wet liquid along the way. He will return there, to his favourite spot in the damp sink where, free from the burden of neighbours, he can contemplate the silence of the day. A lizard guards the front door light. Every evening he grows larger, feasting on the delicious morsels that gravitate towards the burning lamp. He competes with the neighbouring lizards. Who will find the largest catch? One day he spies a large green moth, resting placidly against the exterior white walls. Greed in his blinking eyes, he stalks his prey, attacking the sleeping giant. A tussle ensues, wing against claw, until the moth too large to fit inside a small sticky jaw finds flight. Suddenly a rooster falls down unexpectedly from a tree, running ridiculously around the yard until with extraneous effort he scrunches his body together and jumps high across the dry palm fence. A neighbour’s dog burrows his way through the same fence that night, wagging his tail all around him before making his way back home half an hour later. The ants scurry relentlessly, gathering food, breaking it down and carrying through the intricate channels that lead to their chambers. In the prettiest of flowers they sit, atop the tables and along the muddy tracks in the garden, they break earth down and cleanse its habitat. No matter if man lay claim to this house, these creature of its environs continue their daily journeys; feasting, expressing, quarrelling – life, in the secret garden.
Gender on the Road
The bus sputtered to a halt, dropping off travel-weary farmers in their white clad attire, black boots, large moustaches and orange red turbans to a small village in the dusty district of Dhar. Men and women with large beige sacks board the bus, settling their goods at the face of the vehicle before regaining a seat at the rear. After initial customary enquiries into their neighbours’ general wellbeing, a sense of silence descends amongst the co-passengers, each gazing out of their windows to the arid, shrubby landscapes of interior Madhya Pradesh. Suddenly, a loud bang breaks through the sheet of quiet. A beautiful sari-clad woman shouting colourful abuses in Hindi slaps the man apparently sleeping on the seat behind her. Gesticulating, she points at his toes that are sticking through the space between the back and the chair and explains loudly, to everybody on board, that he was poking her bottom with his feet. The man runs to the back of the bus, pleading innocence, and the woman begins to calm down. His ego hurt, the man mutters inaudible abuses beneath his breath. Instantly riled, she charges towards him once again, slipper in hand, cussing loudly, begins to whack him repeatedly, and he, trying to escape, wriggles out of her grasp. In a flash, another young woman follows suit and catching his arms from behind, encourages her friend to fight. Enough of this nonsense, they proclaim. ‘Beat him! Beat him! The thief and bastard!’ Drawing blood they battle to the end, slippers and nails, scratching and whacking, until all the passengers, in unison, rise, separate the three, and throw the guilty assailant out of the moving bus into the empty desert below. Shrieking, crying and laughing, they return slowly to their seats, narrating the incident, in shock and adrenalized. A sense of camaraderie settles upon the passengers, and the bus rolls rhythmically onwards, to its final destination.
Two hours later en-route to Mandu on another bus journey two young women are sharing adjacent seats. They are both preoccupied with their own happenings. The younger woman cannot seem to sit still. She is uncomfortable, sweat pours down her face and she murmurs under her breath, painfully aware of every bump on the road and every turn of the bus. A pot of green vegetables is placed besides her feet, and another woman, presumably her mother, stands next to her with a bundle in her arms. After some time the older one turns to the younger woman and unable to contain herself anymore she asks her what the matter is. ‘Well, you see, I just boarded the bus to go back to my village. I am in so much pain. We went to the hospital. I just gave birth to a baby boy this morning, and I am going back home now and I can’t sit down and I am tired and scared.’
We share some fruit and water on the bus. I feel helpless, sitting next to her, this brave girl with her newborn. She gets down half an hour thereafter, picking up her vegetable pot as she stumbles across the bus towards the village and the home where her family awaits dinner. I saw the little new born toes of the infant that lay silently in her mothers arms as she crossed me. Ten little toes that will grow up to walk this land. Until this moment I felt timid – a young girl, travelling alone in this vast land of differences. Her story empowers me. I am here, in this place. I am not little anymore, nor alone. I can do.