Thursday, July 9, 2015
The choice of book rests with the individual.
I have always tended to towards Sci-Fi or a fast moving spy-thriller. Occasionally I have plunged into something deeper, like when I was in India. This was to get my mind completely away from the scenes of dismal poverty or sickening wealth that walked hand in hand from the marble polished hotel forecourts into the sewerage filled gutters, so I had a re-read of Milan Kundera’s “Imagination”.
His deep and memorable prose certainly made me think twice as I watched a woman squatting in a Mumbai tree on the main road from the airport doing her daily morning ablutions. This spectacular display occurred approximately one hour after our arrival in the sub-continent, and while we were engulfed by the oppressive humid heat of pre-monsoon India in a taxi.
At the very moment the woman’s falling faeces cascaded to the street below, I was reading what I thought was a very apt quote of Kunderas’; “There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside time.” I wanted the sickening sight to be removed from my time zone!
Taken literally, modern physicists like Stephen Hawkins would say that this was an impossibility, or rather highly improbable, unless of course we plunged into his parallel and multiple universe theories.
This I’m not prepared or capable of doing so I’ll take you along the mundane route of my enlightened memories that caught fire in the depths of my cerebrum.
New sights of a gold-plated lift taking us to a penthouse abode quickly erased the image of the tree squatting woman and the roof top swimming pool surrounded by imitation grass made me realize that the local Indian film producer we were visiting would have a flushing loo.
However, Kundera’s quote resurfaced in my grey matter about a week later as I stood up and hoisted up my trousers after I had deposited the contents of my Dehli-Belly in the Nilgri Hills’ tea plantation.
It was probably the very act of defecation and relieving my bursting bowels that brought back the memory of the lady in the Mumbai tree and hence Kundera’s quote; but this time the quote brought the word Genesis to the fore front of my brain, as the scenic surroundings reminded me of the mountain Kingdom of Lesotho and the riddle which Chief Mojaje had given me on the last evening of my five day trek.
“The answer’s in Genesis”, he had said and then continued, “Give me the name of the man who was born before his father, died before his father and was laid on his grandmother’s chest?”
We were almost half way through our drive through India and were in Mysore. At supper in the half-a-star hotel , Anthony, the director outlined our movements for the following day. He had to cash some his US dollar traveler’s cheques and then we would take a look at the Holi festival, before travelling onto Trivandrum. I’ve already described this in the story “Dehli Belly in the Nilgri Hills”, so I won’t repeat myself.
This meant that we would not be going to Goa, which I been told by a friend was the most beautiful area of India. The fused culture of the catholic Portuguese colonialists and the locals was apparently a fascinating combination.
Dr Hromik said we would see some evidence of this as we travelled through the southern Nilgris as the Portuguese influence had moved quite a distance into the interior.
So the day after witnessing the harrowing scene of the blood-letting at the Holi festival we climbed aboard our 4x4 and set off.
I take this opportunity to give a brief description of the state of the Indian roads.
You have to immediately understand that it is not only combustion engine vehicles that travel on these thoroughfares. Elephants, mules, donkeys, a few horse & traps, cattle, and pedestrians make use of the roads. It seems as if no particular vehicle or even pedestrian has primary use of the road and everything that is on the road takes its own time to get from A to B. This you can imagine results in slow moving traffic.
The average maximum speed throughout the whole road system is approximately 45 to 50 miles per hour when you are on an open road. In towns and cities this slows down to a snail’s pace, and as none of the traffic lights are in working condition all junctions assume the status of a 4 way stop, with it seems the elephant always having the prime right-of-way, unless it is out-ranked by a cow.
As a first timer to India I was often shocked by how close a small car comes to hitting a huge truck head on. The cars like to weave around the slow moving rickshaws and trucks but this means they have to go on the wrong side of the road. After a while you get used to this insanity. If it’s too much for you don’t watch or close your eyes.
Never mind elephants, because of their massive bulk, commanding the right of way at intersections. Beware of cows! They are holy animals and it seems that the bovines are aware of this fact, and so they happily sit in the middle of the road forcing vehicles to drive around them. This can be alarming at times because around a blind corner you can stumble upon a gigantic bull without warning.
So, as tempting as it might be for those of you, who like the Hindu locals who believe in reincarnation, I advise you to never, drive in India yourself. The road rules and ways of the land are so different than the west that it is a recipe for disaster.
Our trip down the mountain range was filled with all of the above encounters. Elephants laden with cotton bales with a youth the size of Tom-Thumb perched on the animal’s neck weaved its way past trucks, cars, and rickshaws.
We had almost completed our descent when Dr Hromik suggested that we stop in the tiny town of Tenkasi and see as he described it, “A combination of cultures”.
On the main street next to a tyre-changing establishment where eight and nine year old boys removed punctured tryes off their rims with the use of crowbars and their own body weight was a Catholic church. Right next to it was a Hindu shrine and, believe it or not, a Buddhist meeting hall.
While Dr Hromik, our director and his wife decided to enjoy the facilities on offer at the “Yard-of-Tea” establishment, which was next to the youngsters jumping up and down on their punctured tryes, I sauntered across the road to the Catholic Church.
Nothing about Catholicism is small or insignificant; usually their places of worship are huge, towering Cathedrals with bells that summon their congregations from the surrounding countryside, so this church was unique. It was minute.
A small chapel I think would be an adequate description. Neatly aligned fold up chairs for the congregation and a tiled aisle leading to the small altar. I wandered down the aisle and was suddenly aware of nother presence in the church; I turned around and saw what can only be described as Humpty-Dumpty sitting in a chair next to the front entrance.
“Can I be helping you?” enquired Humpty.
“Perhaps, I was just looking.” I replied wandering back to the robed entity.
As I approached I saw that he was not robed in the normal Catholic attire but a wrap around toga, all in white with a crimson band round his large waist. He was completely bald.
“I’m a Bhikkhu”, he said as he rose to greet me.
He explained, “A Buddhist monk.”
“In a Catholic Church?”
He smiled, “Each to his own.” He replied. “I often sit in here to mediate.”
“Instead of your place next door?”
He smiled again, “It helps me understand.”
My God I thought. This is going to be deep. “You are delving into your confusion, right?”
Damm right I was!
He laughed and put his arm around my shoulder and said, “You like a cup of tea?”
We exited the church and crossed the road to my companions who were watching their “Yard-of-tea” being made.
To describe this process is tedious so I think a picture should suffice. The “yard” is the distance which the tea is poured from its brewing chamber to its receiving cup. This movement is said to make the tea smoother, mixes in the milk and sugar, and creates the exact temperature at which it should be consumed. It is a theatrical event and it was fascinating to watch the brewer make each cup individually for his now five customers.
I introduced my new companion to Dr Hromik, Anthony and his wife. Our ensuing conversation was remarkable as it seemed to touch and encompass every thread of enquiry known to man. Politics and religion were the leaders, closely followed by cricket, and then we entered into Dr Hromik’s realm of travelling Dravidian Indians way back in 8000BC and the reason for our visit to India.
The monk, was very interested in this and said, “The paths are wide and the roads are dusty.”
It took a while for this to sink in and it was only at the end of our tea drinking sojourn that I gave him the reason I’d visited the Catholic Church, Chief Mojae’s riddle, “Give me the name of the man who was born before his father, died before his father and was buried in his grandmother’s chest.”
He smiled and said, “It’s an understanding of being born. That will give you the answer, it’s in Genesis.”
That night in my Trivandrum hostel room I sat in bed reading the bible, a reader’s digest condensed version that was in my bedside locker and it suddenly hit me.
The answer was Abel. He was born before his father, as his father wasn’t born BUT created from the earth by God. And he was slain by Cain his brother before his farther’s death and he was buried in the earth, his grandmother.
God bless Buddhist monks!