Sunday, August 27, 2006

On the Bridge to the Garden of the Moon.

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains besides the turquoise Ganges River is a town I call Shangri-la for it has a millenial old tradition of peace, enlightenment and contemplation of the universal "That" which underpins all existence. Evolving beyond the 20th century it has these days grown into a modern metropolis much concerned with commerce, family and marriage, the pagan Hindu religion providing a colourful backdrop and the study of yoga, philosophy and meditation more of a money spinner than a bringer of "Light". Yet hordes of 'seekers' and 'freaks' still wander in every year to try their luck, Nirvana the ultimate prize to be wrested from a mundane and disappointing materialist world.

The town is bordered on two sides by the Ganga and it's tributary and over centuries has deposited on it's fluctuating banks round white spherical rocks, from boulders to pebbles, zillions of them like so many fractal moons. On this moonscape wasteland at the edge of town a village grew up and it became known as the Garden of the Moon. A bridge stretched out from Shangri-la across the dry bed of the Ganges tributary and into the village and on this bridge much of the area's melodrama played out, as cathartic release and entertaining diversion, for they had no discos, sex clubs or library activities in this oriental, medieval come cyber-punk setting. The town's major brass band, The Jhai Bharat, practiced under the bridge and often the bathos and pathos of events on the road above had a soundtrack to accompany it, "Oomph pa pa, oomph pa pa, riiipppp, wah wah, de de de de dahhhhh!" Trumpets, trombone, drums, clarinet, a symphony of caterwauling to counterpoint the screams and curses of the frustrated town's people fighting for their share of the good times.

It was always a jolly sight to see the gangs of boys playing cricket on every street corner, quite a shock to see those same boys turn their cricket implements into weapons, rival gangs from either side of the dry river clashing in the middle of the bridge and going at each other with the bats and stumps, thwacking their enemies hard enough to break bone. In one fight over nothing a high-caste boy stabbed a low-caste youth and threw his body over the bridge to die in the refuse heap below, and by bribing the cops, court officials and politicians, for he had much land to sell, he only did 6 months in gaol and thence roamed that same bridge on his motorbike as a tough Maharaja, an untouchable brigand.

Young lovers surrepticiously met there, in no man's land, to hold hands and whisper endearments, away from the prohibitive eyes of their elders, who guarded their every waking movement. And when discovered in the middle of that darkened bridge, the hair-pulling, face-slapping and shrieked curses of the irate parents drowned out any cacophonous marriage party passing by. Because of it's mystic reputation Shangri-la attracted swarms of firangis, foreigners, many with a screw loose, ready to flip out at the funkiest encouragement, they met crazed sadhu babas in their wattle huts beside the river who slipped them datura in chai and then gang-banged them, or hypnotised them, bashed them over the head and stole the money they were stupid enough to flash around. These lunatic "seekers after the Light" found only darkness, the river claimed them or they got lost in the fastnesses of the high Himalayan mountains or serial killers buried them in shallow graves in the jungle. One of the most noxious tales from the Bridge to the Garden of the Moon I ever heard involved a flipped-out European woman, a German most likely, as they always seem ready to fall for some Aryan bullshit myth of perfection and power.

She wandered the road dressed as a squeaky-clean acolyte, making crazy ritualized salutations to the empty sky and jabbering mumbo-jumbo nonsense at phantom tormentors. As she neared the bridge she took sudden umbrage at one poor Indian child and slapped her across the face. This brought all the villagers out to scorn and giggle at her madness. She threw herself prostrate upon the ground and begged the mercy of some alien god, then staggered down to the garbage heap oozing it's way under the bridge. Indian refuse piles are the scungiest, slimiest, vomitous ponds of black-sludge in existence, a paradise for the ugly gray pigs that snuffled up the filth but no place for a blonde European in light-white dhoti tied around her neck as if she's Ingrid Bergman in a Biblical epic.

She threw herself into the black sludge and slopped it all about her, scooping up handfulls and plopping it into her shoulder bag maybe imagining she was sequestering priceless treasure. The whole village of the Garden of the Moon gathered on the bridge to watch her antics, unbelievable and hilarious that someone of the snooty Ubermaster race was now reduced to apeman barbarism. When a burly, moustachioed cop finally appeared and tried to get her out of the black sludge she fought him like a wildcat, scratching and hissing, beating him off and making it back up to the bridge and, leaving a trail of dripping black slime behind her, she ran wildly along it's length until he tackled her to the ground, restrained her and finally bundled her off to the local grungy hospital in a taxi for a nice big shot of tranquiliser and eventual repatriation back to the capitalist paradise of Europe.

But the sweetest story I ever heard about events on the bridge involved love and compassion towards the other creatures that share the planet with us, for Hindus at their best are non-violent, adoring the entire universe, seeing "That" worthy of love everywhere. And they save a lot of that adoration for their sacred bulls, the "Horned God" who causes the world to be fecund, with the erect phallus, the Lingam, as it's major symbol. These glorious bulls are allowed to roam at will, for after servicing the cows they've no other use, except for their dung as fuel, so the majestic beasts do what they want, except for eating of the vegetable seller's wares, that's his livlihood and animals get beaten off with sticks. The bulls love to plop down in the middle of traffic, particularly on the bridge to the Garden of the Moon, and all trucks, buses, cars, auto-rickshaws and motorbikes have to go slow and weave their way around them, it's a waste of effort and a sacrilege to move them on, even a Ferrari has to move at 5kms an hour, it really is a medieval place.

It had to happen. One magnificent beast, black and proud, serenely chewed it's cud in the middle of the bridge, one foreleg non-chalantly protruding forward for it's majestic comfort and a truck ran over it, breaking it badly, the bull unable to stand or move far. It bellowed in pain for hours, copious tears streaming from it's huge deer-like eyes, dragging it's hefty bulk along the road as the traffic swerved around it. It cried and cried, heaved and dragged, bellowed and roared, and the town's folk kept on about it's business, for there was money to be made and large families to be supported and no one had time for the difficulty of a pain-crazed bull.

A young man named Balu from the village of the Garden of the Moon had passed the bull several times in the afternoon and was distressed at it's sorry predicament as he was a kind and caring lad, always on the lookout for his neighbours, a strict vegetarian who adored the bull as Lord Shiva's vehicle. He was determined to help the creature and with his many connections was able to arrange a tiny three-wheeled truck, an auto-rickshaw with a tray on the back of it, to come to his aid. He also collected a huge gang of local lads who had stopped on their motor-bikes to watch the spectacle of a huge bull being lifted onto the back of the swaying mini-truck. Ropes were tied and slung all about the bull and the crowd of lads heaved and thrust, pulled and shoved the thrashing beast bellowing in dismay, it didn't know what these crazy humans were up to.

The task seemed impossible as the bull was unco-operative, the truck swayed and the mob got hysterical in their frustrated efforts. Two of the town's most notorious drunks came along and joined in the effort, one grabbing the rope around the bull's neck and pulling on it so hard he threatened to strangle the beast, the other drunk tryingto lift it by it's broken leg. Balu yelled at them to desist in their sorry efforts but they were too drunk to comprehend and carried on torturing the bull instead of helping. Balu had to rush over to the one hauling on the rope around the bull's neck and slap him hard across the face at which he stumbled off and left the rescuers to it, his mate following him.

Much of the rope had been slung about the bull's middle and with huge effort that took hours the crowd heaved it up and plopped it on the back-tray, the truck swaying as the creature continued to thrash about furiously. Tho the mini-truck leaned heavily to one side and swayed precariously about as it trundled along, somehow the bull clung on and the flotilla moved off, a swarm of motorbikes in a phalanx ahead and behind as escort to Lord Shiva's noble animal. Like a victory parade they wobbled with glee thru the entire town and way out to the far-side where there was an animal shelter, a hospital that especially catered to injured cows. There the majestic black beast was unloaded with less difficulty and it's broken leg was set in plaster and restrained. Balu didn't get home to his wife and kids till 1.30 in the morning, that's how many hours it took to load the hapless creature on the inadequate truck and ship it to the shelter.

The happy ending to this tale is that the bull sat around the shelter for many months, spoiled and delighted to service the recuperating cows, not too keen to try again the dangers of the open road and it's awful techno traffic. And there the black bull stayed, in a back paddock, as lord of his domain. It's a pity Indians don't treat each other as well as they do the animals of their world, in bad times they riot and tear each other to pieces because of supposed differences, religion, caste, wealth, brutish selfish behavior, most humans are the "other" to be coerced and exploited. Most of the time Indians are sweet and compassionate but often one has to run in fear of harassment, unlike the cows who walk about placidly and allow you to caress them, for they've never known violence for their flesh, so different from the cows of Auz that run at the slightest whiff of homo sap sapiens, knowing they're up for butchery on the dinner table. Oh to be a bull in India, maybe it beats the existential anguish of our cogitating, feverish brains, trying to be "somebody", trying to stay alive.

I often sat at a chai shop at one end of the bridge and stared up at the sickle of a Shiva moon shining like the curved horns of a bull, happy to be lost in the wilds of this pagan, medieval land, and I would watch the entire town flood past me on their way home from work or shopping, sometimes experiencing a little of the Nirvana the town used to be famous for. In these modern times the yogis, seers, adepts and masters have fled deep into the jungles and hidden mountain fastnesses to escape the voracious desires of the multitudes, there's only the lingering scent of their enlightenment left floating in the air to entice and delight one, and with it some peace to soothe a wounded heart, light ecstacy on the bridge to the Garden of the Moon.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.