07 February 2007

just a little peace before i diet

It's past three in the afternoon and I spent the morning in the slums.
On the way home, supposedly for lunch but really to seek refuge, an
aged woman asked me for help. She was covered in dust over her sari
and carrying two heavy concrete blocks on her head and had dropped an
unopened packet of Gutka: chewing tobacco. At some point in the future
I'll develop enough moral authority to tell a grueling impoverished
woman not to chew tobacco but at this point her small solace is my

The first woman we went to see figured she was 73 years old and had
been "loose" (that is, without anyone to care for her) for 30 years.
She didn't know much about dates but the Earthquake (2001), Indira
Gandhi's death, and the Independence were how she marked time. The
story of her family dissolution is too terrible for me to retell but
she sung us a beautiful bhajan after insisting on a prayer first. She
has nothing but devotion, not even a favorite color. Antjal asked for
her dreams and she told of wanting to devote her life to worshipping
the lord, and to dying quickly and in peace.

As the Dead speak from memory: "All that I ask is a little peace
before I die". The road goes on forever and I've not been here a week.
Thoroughly confused and overwhelmed but there's a strange Italian
consort of the Dalai Lama's nearby and we keep eachother entertained
in Mexican and Argentine slang. She's in the forgiveness game and
buddy-buddy with the Huicholes but more than anything it's the madonna
and risotto that keep us sane and together.

I play more than I practice the flute and my confidence and ability
levels have crossed correspondingly. To every thing there is a season.
I've been eating only fruit and nuts for only a week and may have
gained weight. This is how Jayeshbhai and Anarben are taking care of
me. Fresh bundles of coconuts grapes and papayas every evening. I am
considering stopping the fast or moving out so as to no longer
inconvenience them, and since my main point in being here is to learn
from the light of their presence, it will the fruit (along with,
always, the darkness) that has got to give.

I got a copy of Thomas Weber's tome on the Salt March -- he was the
first person (Australian, in 1983) to recreate Gandhi's candycream
voyage through Gujarat. It's interesting to read and to see the
similarities and differences between his researched journey and my
half-baked pilgrimage. People would always ask me why I did it, even
now -- it seems to have replaced my education as
introduction/qualification (ie This is Ankurbhai, respect him because
he did the Dandi Kooch) -- and I'm slowing understanding why.

I would always say something like, "out of respect for Gandhi", or "to
acquaint myself with the Spirit of India", or "I don't know", or "Marx
wasn't fulfulling me". Which are all true but here I am reading about
Thomas Weber walking around Delhi, going to Gandhiji's Samadhi
(cremation site) and seeing the poor masses touch their foreheads to
the simple stone slab (which reads, simply, "Hai Ram") and, of course,
here I am upstairs at three in the afternoon crying. When I didn't cry
when I left my mother Suhara in Kerala or my real mother Bharti in
Sequim or my lovers here or there or any project or employment. Or any
sunrise or concert or meeting any amount of poor, sick, deranged, or
otherwise troubled souls.

But there's something about Gandhiji and Vinobaji and all these old
men I'm meeting who walked five or fifteen years with either that
makes me cry every time, every day. Crossing into the ashram to get a
book and walking by the oversized postcard replica from New York,
addressed simply to "Mr. Gandhi / India", that makes me weep.

Which is probably why I went on that walk eleven months ago and
probably why I'm having such a hard time getting started on this next
work, now.


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