Friday, November 24, 2006

Another Kind of "Jungle Book".

I spent 7 days in the 7 cities of Delhi, spinning around in auto-rickshaws showing my best friend such superb monuments as Quatar Minar, India Gate, Jama Majhid and Jantar Mantar where I started a new series of paintings to do with India. I would've made it to Humayan's Tomb only the Chinese Premier, another kind of Hu, was in town and all traffic in the city got jammed for his VIP cavalcade, 20 million citizens and umpteen tourists put out for one bigwig, they could've flown him in in a helicopter but I guess such power-brokers enjoy holding up an entire city. I got a seven day fever from the intense pollution blanketing the air, impossible to live in, it obviously shortens the local's life-spans.

I went to Delhi Zoo to say hello to the animals but I chose the wrong day, Monday is school-outing day and I was trampled by hordes of kids who terrorized the poor animals, and me as well. They found me more fascinating than any exotic creature, a crowd gathering around me to stare at the Aussie freak, no matter where I tried to take a rest. I was lucky to see the 1 1/2 year old white tiger cub licking the honey from a tree in his compound, then spraying the tree with huge squirts of his territorial juices, one of the most magnificent creature on the planet, I got high watching him for a half an hour and hopefully my entrance fee will go towards looking after him. Finally I found the strength to drag my bags to the Interstate Bus Terminal only to find the usual Indian chaos, a bus strike and I must go on the special Deluxe Bus, this being an old con, one can wait vainly 7 hours in the dust for such a mirage to appear, so I ignored the many exhortations and sure enough the local bus turned up and I was off to the Himalayas.

I cant help but return to that Shangri-la in the foothills of the Himalayas where my old mentor Compassion, (an Aussie yogi who worked under the artist's name of "Latimer" for most of his life), died so many years ago, to sit near the place in the Ganges River where we threw his body for the sacred fish to eat, this being the hallowed body-disposal method for yogis who die in Samadhi, which I believe he hopefully achieved after many years of yogic practice. It was incredibly sweet to be welcomed home by good friends of ten years, to be brought gooey, mock-cream cake as a Maharaja's treat and be told all the tales and gossip of the last year's unbelievable happenings, who got married, who had a car-crash, who suicided, who has become a junkie or a drunk, who got a fuck. Saddest of all was to be told a good friend of mine died from hepatitis and there was not even enough money to buy the wood for his funereal pyre so a collection had to be taken up around the village. Life here is transitory, no wonder they hope for reincarnation.

I laughed when my Sikh friend told me of a trekking tour he went on high in the mountains. He was left behind in the camp as the cook and while he was bending over collecting wood an old man showed up and grabbed him on the arse to his great shock. The ancient lived alone with his animals in a hut and had no teeth, with skin like wrinkled leather from many decades of hard work. The wizened fellow invited Sonnu to his hut to smoke a chillum but whilst in the hut refused to give the promised smoke unless Sonnu showed him his dick. This was refused and the old boy worked himself into a tizzy, begging for cock-therapy, proffering then refusing the chillum, whining on and on till my friend had to beat a hasty retreat. This story highly amused me as it proved even in the high Himalayas basic human nature will out.

The jungle virtually comes into the town of Shangri-la, wild elephants maraud at night, killing villagers in their huts to drink their fermented alcohol, breaking into warehouses to scoff up the food supplies, or ripping into old Babaji's garden and tearing up his banana trees; he is an an old man I love to visit and only last night the elephants came. I've been told by a mate not to roam about at night as the elephants may come and squash me, all of which I find terribly exciting and tempts me to indeed wander about the jungle's edges. A few weeks ago a woman was cutting grass up near Neel Kanth, a temple to Shiva in the mountains 21 kms away, and a huge black Himalayan bear attacked her, biting her on the leg, her hitting it on the head twice with her sickle-knife to make it run off. Once when I went trekking in the mountain jungles leapords prowled around my camp-site at night, my guide was shaking in fear, me by the fire with a burning stick to beat it off if it came too close, false-heroics but it's the adventure I live for, like "Jungle Jim".

Shangri-la is deceptively paradisical, the River Ganges a wild torrent, not the placid swimming pool one hopes, only last week an Indian girl drowned when her tourist-raft flipped in the rapids, though she wore a life-jacket and was quite safe, in panic she kept her mouth open and swallowed enough water to kill her. Many, many drown here each summer, one time I watched a body drift slowly by, he'd only drowned minutes before and it was so spooky to see him gliding off to the nether-world for all the world looking like he might lift his head and call for help. Now my mate has told me a crocodile was seen up the river near Jim Corbett Park, which certainly adds frisson to the rafting expedition we plan in the next few days. And I myself am another wild animal, loose in the jungle, somewhat mad, certainly ecstatic, for now.