Friday, March 08, 2013

Eternity in a Lifetime.

When I returned to Sydney in Febuary I had committed to participating in a group art-show at The Damien Minton Gallery entitled “Eternity”. The brief I had been given was to represent the concept of eternity, somehow include the Sydney character Arthur Stace and incorporate the work of Martin Sharp who had covered both subjects in previous artworks, and I attempted to do all three. The opening of the show was only two weeks away, and I had 10 days to get it in, for it had to be spaced and hung amidst the other 40 contributions, thus I painted furiously every night till dawn, the results of which you see on this page.

Arthur Stace became famous for writing the word “Eternity” in chalk on the pavements all over Sydney during the mid twentieth century. He’d been a stretcher-bearer in the First World War and had come back to Auz a broken man, getting lost in drunkenness, gambling and consorting with so-called unsavoury types such as crims and prostitutes till he languished in the gutter, deadbeat and fallen. Then he had an epiphany at the Tabernacle Church in Darlinghurst, straightened up, turned evangelical and an avid member of St. Barnabas Church on Broadway and threw himself into his obsession with the graffitti of “eternity” on every surface he could reach.

 After much thought during my Indian sojourn I decided to represent his life in a mere factual manner; as a rationalist and scientist I know there’s no such thing as anything being eternal, not only do stars eventually burn out, the very Universe we co-inhabit will some day come to a heat-death and not exist as we know it, unfathomably far off in the future though it be. Certainly the human body has only a very limited life span, and not being a Christian I don’t believe in concepts such as an “eternal soul” or “life everlasting in a heavenly here-after.” Thus I called my painting “From Dust to Dust” and if the Christians give me a hard time over it I can simply reply, “Well, it is a direct quote from your precious Bible!”

Even St. Barnabas Church itself proved the lie of the concept “eternity” as sadly a few years ago some fuckwit put a match to it and burnt it down, heartbreaking really as it was of marvelous heritage architecture, a testament to the ingenuity and brilliance of humanity, (not god), and it took with it an ancient church-organ of which there are only a couple of examples in this country. I put a pub in the middle of the painting as the site of Arthur’s and many another alcoholics’ downfall and was bemused to learn that for many years St. Barnabas and the Pub across the road from it on Broadway waged a “slogan war” with each other on banners fronting the roadway, a simple example of which could’ve been “Dust to Dust” on the church and “Lust to Lust” on the pub.

 The show attracted a crowd of about 500 people, all babbling and imbibing the free wine, but annoyingly nobody bought much art and certainly not my work, which I expected, as money is not my motive, communication of gutsy ideas being my burning life’s purpose. Many did peruse my painting though, and took photos of it and that made me happy. Most of the other stuff took the concept of “eternity” in its fluffy, nice sense, such as “eternal love”; well I suppose love of family is eternal, romantic love is another question. I’m happy for those who have lifelong loving marriages, something denied us gays here in Auz, but many love affairs I've witnessed end in antipathy and acrimony so I'm somewhat of a cynic. (It's true that in today's cruel world Love is a much needed phenomena, what a pity there's not enough of it! And anyway, eternal love has nothing to do with the concept of eternity.)

And few mentioned Arthur Stace himself, perhaps his story is too tough and controversial to approach, but I found it fascinating, not as a religious treatise, more as a contemplation upon the human condition. I’ve got his life stretched out between one exploding star and another, from youth to death, as if there is an eternity in a lifetime, for let’s face it, for some of us life seems long, and inside it we feel as if we could never die, we’ve always been here, slugging it out, with the pleasures and pains taking us high and low. We certainly don’t like the idea it will all end some day, and maybe there’s nothing else, that’s why religions get invented I think, in fear that life could be meaningless.

 I don’t think it is, I love the exhilaration of being, of learning, of wonder at the marvelous complexity of this universe, this is all I know, I don’t long for an eternal hereafter, I have a buzz right here and now. And art as well as knowledge is my raison d’etre; the joy of creating, it’s better than cheating, stealing, selling armaments, making war etc. What a naïve fool I am as most don’t seem to give a shit about art, certainly not my meager output, I had to carry my canvas home and stash it with all the rest crowding out my bedroom, one day to be thrown in the dumpster when I return to the interstellar dust.

Even this Blog will disappear one day, for instance if there’s a nuclear war and an electro-magnetic pulse wipes out all the content of cyber-space! But in the meantime I will continue to write my labrynthine tales of “Remembrance of Things Past and Future”, jump into it anywhere you wish, head backwards or forwards, no matter, the gist will unfold, hopefully some gems amidst the trash, tales of the human condition in a world reaching for the Heavens but bent on Hell, from another of the fallen, like original sin, we're all flawed, genetics, environment, society makes sure of it.

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.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Secret Community Discovered.

Since boyhood I have been fascinated by a mythic kingdom known as “The Secret Community”, first glimpsed in the 1930's movie “Lost Horizon” and hinted at in arcane tomes like those of Lobsang Rampa, where enlightenment, joy and eternal youth would be bestowed upon any who discovered it. Whenever I trekked in the high Himalayas I fantasized that I would wander up some hidden mountain crevice and stumble upon a glowing monastic village clinging to a cliff-face and be welcomed within by a loving, wise people, there to end my days far from the rat-race of the cities below.

As I got older and wiser I realized I wouldn’t be fit to live in such an idyllic community even if I did find it as I am a deeply flawed human, restless, temperamental and neurotically horny, and it wouldn’t be long before the good citizens of Shangri-la threw me out on my ugly arse. Perhaps I hoped “They” could heal me of my problems, my foibles, woes and psycho-sexual fuck-ups and I could then end my days in peaceful contemplation of the meaning of this crazy Universe, for I’m not that bad a fellow. But after much hard-felt cogitation I also figured that such a site is indeed just a myth, this world too corrupt and nasty to allow such a beautiful phenomena to exist for any length of time, at best it would be turned into a tourist attraction, like a meditation theme-park and cash-cow, at worst it would be bombed to rubble as a threat to consumer capitalism.

At the end of my latest sojourn in India, to have one last glorious experience of the high Himalayas, I was taken by a mate in a four-wheel drive way up into the mountains, past the town of Rudraprayag where sacred rivers clash, along a ridge and into the snow. On previous journeys the snowy crags of the Himalayas had always been a distant line of monoliths, seemingly impossible to reach, no matter how much they seemed to hover right over me. But now we drove right into them, deep into the gleaming white crevices, the four-wheel drive’s tyres half buried in snow. We then drove down off the ridge, into a hidden valley, the road gave out and we bumped over boulders, slushed across streams to eventually pass by terraced rice-paddies and orchards, through lush vegetation cultivated as if in a lost paradise.

We drove to the very end of the hidden valley, very close to the Tibetan border, to the village where my mate had grown up, medieval wooden huts perched upon the slopes of the high Himalayas, refreshed by brooks of pure snow-melt, orange, apple and walnut trees in abundance. We stayed there for a few days and I was treated like a visiting Maharaja, the simple food delicious, the people polite and caring. They were all in bed by 9pm, and an exquisite silence reigned till dawn when they arose to begin their activities of daily living, lighting the cooking fires, tending to the animals, fetching water, working the fields, much as their ancestors had been doing for hundreds of years, a traditional mountain-peasants’ life.

And to my harried soul it seemed halcyon, without the complications of town and city. The children played and studied, grew up and married, ran the farm and had children of their own, following hallowed traditions, and saw the world around them as sacred, in synch with their gods. They were a simple people with simple lives, perhaps close to my idealistic myth of “The Secret Community”.

Yet they also had satellite TV and while I waited for my evening meal the kids turned it on and I was bombarded by commercials for Dettol, potato chips and Indica cars, and I wondered what useless desires were stirred in the breasts of the locals that might cause them to be dissatisfied with their simple lot. My good mate who’d brought me there himself had fled to the towns below in search of a job, money, adventure, distraction, and his fondest wish was to one day own a car. After all, it was that four-wheel drive that allowed us to visit his far-off village so comfortable and speedily.

When I got back down from the mountains and was in my favourite restaurant I got to talking with a fellow diner and we both admitted to being tired of all the big babas, swamis, fakirs and fakers in so-called spiritual India who had built institutions and promoted programs of “7 Easy Steps to Enlightenment”, money and fame the obvious agendas, (he thought access to western women was actually the main motive!) We agreed that the sweetest of all souls to hang-out with were the ordinary people who toiled through life, had no pretensions, no money, no adoring retinues, the people you meet in the chai-shops, resting under trees by their fields, walking the dusty roads, sitting on the gutter watching the world go by. These simple people have become my gurus, they give me great joy with their homely hospitality, and they have no bullshit about them. (They can waffle on about the love of their gods but I overlook this as their way of seeing the world as sacred.)

I thought of all the unsung heroes of the world, who do their work without great recompense, medals or limelight, like nurses, teachers, cleaners, orphanage managers, mothers and fathers. That they’re probably all around me all the time, sitting next to me, passing me by, and they don’t trumpet about their greatness, their achievements, their toil, they just get on with it, quietly, unobtrusively, really caring, for the betterment of humanity, nature and the world in general. And that was my epiphany, “The Secret Community” has been around me all the time and I just couldn’t see it, because I’m such a fuck-up, searching for the “Other”, looking for the stars and not where my feet are tramping.

As I foresaw I was flung out of the Himalayan “Community” on my flawed arse and spirited back to Australia and the suicide towers of Northcott. Cursula next door disturbs me every night with witches’ Sabbaths on my doorstep, cackling and guzzling booze or hissing with junkies over the providence of their next hit or hanging from her bedroom window at 4am. shrieking how her zombie boyfriend is trying to kill her; he never is, she simply wants the rest of us to know she exists, eternally.

And my beloved 91 year old Dolly from two-doors up has been moved into a nursing home, no loner able to look after herself, and on visiting her I saw that she possibly has only 7 months left on this planet. Living in this housing ghetto will be unbearable without her, she consoled me when I’ve been lonely and unloved, she was the unheralded queen of Northcott, the real personality who cut the ribbon on the joint when it first opened in 1960, not the Queen of England as the bureaucrats would have it, she only visited later. Oh how can I bear this zombie-land without her, one of the saints of “The Secret Community” soothing the savage beasts by sheer goodness of heart?

                                                           Northcott Housing Estate.

                                                                Laurel "Dolly" Wilson.

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.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Russian From Goa.

While I was in Goa this season I hardly heard a word of English spoken, I was surrounded by Russians, gluttonous, gruff and stolid, they’ve taken over the whole coastline with hardly a smiling face among them. Not that I’ve got anything against Russians, they have their own universe to live in, so unique it doesn’t include the rest of us, and why should it, they have a marvelous history and culture, Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, Kandinsky, Stalin! Walking past a hotel balcony I espied what would pass for young, hip intellectuals smoking hash and philosophizing, and they just weren’t interested in me, a penniless old Aussie who only spoke English. I suppose they’re the new Russia, those who could afford to travel, the children of Putin. Maybe not, maybe they're trying to get a break from him, who knows? They're not telling me.

(Don't get me wrong, their history goes back thousands of years, their culture is overwhelming and I'm absolutely impressed and admiring of their achievements. Maxim Gorky is one of my favorite writers, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff and Shostakovich can hardly be beaten in the classical music field, and Tarkovsky is one of my favorite film-makers. And as far as genius gays go, Dhiagalev and Nijinsky take the pink cake. There must be a hot cognoscenti, liberal gang in Russia, it's too amazing a nation not to have one, I only wish I could meet some of them.)

Only a few years ago you could start up conversations in the chai shops with anyone sitting at the next table and form sweet if fleeting friendships, but not anymore, no raconteurs, no greetings, no friendliness. I imagined many of the Russians around me to be beefy old-style apparatchiks and 21st century mafiosi with their cellulite babushka wives, or muscle-bound pimps with their posse of blond whores, all laid out like elephant-seals on wooden beach-beds, eschewing the Communist Party holiday camps by the Caspian Sea, now preferring sunnier climes for another kind of party, techno/drug parties, as did the Brits, American hippies and Israelis that came in waves before them.

In my loner's paranoia I was just being cold-war prejudiced, mostly they were middle-class bureaucrats and professionals with their families: athletic, blond, healthy, all too ready to consume what was once a forbidden world. I was quite bemused by the new-age tribe of young Russian freaks dancing in droves at the disco-clubs, covered in tattoos, dressed in Indian gear, dreadlocks piled high on their heads, choofing down on chillums and shouting “Bam-Shankar!” like the ‘60s hippie cult regurgitated for the umpteenth time. Because they’re thirty years behind the times, they’re very hungry to catch up, but unlike earlier hippies, they don't seem amiable, not joining in with the other international freaks, they seem to resent that English is the international language, and possibly feel they’ve improved on the Indian hippie style, more hip than thou, Russian culture matchless in its epic panache.

(This is not to ignore the fact that Russians were possibly the first hippies with their communes and experimental arts back in the years of the post-revolution, 1918 to 1921. I'm thinking of the Futurists and the Constructivists, and all those attempts at Utopian living, sharing everything, owning no capital, relinquishing jealous personal relationships and overcoming religious brainwashing, experimenting with mind-altering substances. The Russians were fifty years ahead of the '60s Summer of Love American hippies.)

Of course I'm glad they've come out from behind their iron curtain and joined the rest of the world, we're a family of nations, especially in Goa, and they prove that anyone can be hip, cool, smart and, what the fuck, viva la difference as well, pluralism keeps us on our toes. I wouldn't mind a blond Russian boyfriend but they're terrible homophobes. An extremely handsome fellow tried to crack onto me at a party and I was dangerously tempted except he hadn't sussed out my sexuality, he was a pimp trying to push his posse of pussy onto me, and all I had was eyes for him.
As these Tartar hordes eat and drink non-stop, they should keep the Goans happy as money flows like alcohol. But no, there are complaints about “the Russianisation of Goa”, they’re taking over a lot of local businesses, running beach shacks, taxi services and tourist offices. What was once an isolated natural wonder, the fresh-water lake at Aarambool Beach, has not only been turned into a cess-pool by money-hungry Indians but is also now referred to as “Little Moscow”, the Russian crowd filling up every available space. And according to the newspapers, the Russian mafia is now controlling the drug trade, always a big business in Goa’s 'party-party' head-space; opiates, MDMA, hash, with only the Nigerians as the interlopers who control the cocaine trade, though not for long as they’re being run out of town, for rousting, rooting and robbing all the blondies dying for that black cock, even though the blonds know it means trouble.

For instance, let me relate the brouhaha that exploded at a party held at an elaborate thatch affair, built into the jungle cliff-side on Big Vagatore Beach, called “Our Shack”, owned by a Bollywood movie-star. He rents huts behind the cafe shack where a blond Russian woman took her hunky Nigerian paramour after he sweet-talked her on the beach. Everybody knows to watch one’s ass in Goa, especially with Africans as they’re usually desperate for money, the Indians treat them like shit in their racist dislike of black skin, and the Africans can't find legitimate jobs. But she threw caution to the winds and after getting fucked stupid got all her money stolen.

In the middle of the party, with all the fools on the beach waving their arms in the air like sea-anemones, she burst from her hut screaming she’d been robbed of $1000 US by the black fucker. All the Goans pounced for they’re just waiting to have their low opinion of Africans verified, they beat the alleged thief with sticks, bottles, rocks, giving him and his fellow Nigerians a good pounding before they made their escape, their muscular frames able to take an amazing amount of punishment.

(Not all Africans survive such a fracas, there is one poor fellow, a student from Burundi, in a permanent coma in hospital after being beaten senseless by an Indian mob in some city in the hinterlands.) All the other international freaks ran for their lives, squealing like ninnies, such aggro events not to their peacenik liking, except for her fellow Russians, who joined in the beating and cursing. What a melee, one party I’m glad I didn’t make it to, and she never did get her money back.

The hottest party I do always make sure I get to is the New Year’s shindig at the Hilltop Hotel at Vagatore where the sound-system is huge and the techno is cutting-edge hard-style. And indeed the music was phenomenal, I danced like a shamanic banshee, lifting right off, flying to the moon, dissolving into the quantum flux.

Goa has for thousands of years been a hotspot for dance, they have a ritual just before New Year’s at a village called Siolim where they dance in a trance to celebrate life, be at one with the Universe and welcome in the onset of Spring, the festival led by the oldest, wisest and most experienced of the native dancers. In my way I do the same at the trance parties, the westerner who shakes away all artificial boundaries like nation, gender, race, class, age. I absolutely let go of my banal worries, dance till I drop, work all my muscles till they ache and sound-surf on top of the crowd, a madman for sure with a kind of divine madness.

But the milieu at Vagatore this year was terrible. Over the years the international freak crowd has gone elsewhere, sick of the harassment they get from drunken, groping Indian men. The Hilltop must be getting desperate for money as they seem to let in a plague of oafs who terrorize the trance-punters; no woman is safe, the morons just move around the crowd like swirling flotsam touching up all they pass, even an old gronk like me got my crotch rubbed a few times, I had to keep moving as always some idiot from the boondocks got in my face trying to be my effusive dance partner, standing on my toes.

Eventually all women with their chaperones had to move to the front of the stage where security guards could attempt to keep watch and protect them but even this didn’t work as their were just too many glassy-eyed assholes infiltrating and groping. I gave up towards dawn, having had my fill of ecstatic trance-dance as I couldn’t get fully abandoned due to the ongoing molestation. I realized I was over the party scene, for if it wasn’t drunken Indian thugs taking up all the space it was boring Russians in their disco-slut designer gear looking down their noses, with not a square inch left for friendly, garrulous me.

I love Goa and the Goan people, I will go back there one day, but perhaps I need to let the Russian invasion run its course, another few years I’d say. Other old Goa-hands agreed with me, paradise has turned into a traffic-jammed madhouse and mafia murder spree, next year perhaps they’ll stay in Thailand, Bali, even Auz and hand Goa back to us old freaks, but I won't count on it. Money-worshiping Indian entrepreneurs are taking over the party and beach scene, they only want rich tourists who stay for one week, back-packers can fuck-off. I left my Goan paradise earlier than I’d planned to and, at a roadhouse on the infinite highway, I cried, I was so sorry to be rushin’ from Goa.

P.S. Back in the Himalayas I did meet a cool Russian, one on one, smiling, friendly, speaking fluent English, interested in what I had to tell him of the history of Indian freaks, the ‘60s and my take on philosophy. He was a 27 year old geologist from Siberia and wanted to go on a wildlife expedition into the mountain jungles with a tab of acid to liven things up, all of which highly amused me and proved I shouldn’t judge a nationality by mob behavior, there’s always an individual who will shine forth and prove to be a great ambassador for their country.

And yes, you too Vladimir from Moscow, who I met in the above chai shop on Vagatore Beach in the last few years, so open and friendly, intelligent and cultured, we discussed literature and film, and he was not intimidated by my loudmouth queer persona at all. We are still in contact via Instagram and I hope we remain friends. I gave him my card and I've noticed a big Russian readership recently and I imagine it's not only him reading me but he's recommended me to others as well. The world can have "a million voices" and then hopefully we can all sing as one, in friendship.

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.

Stairway to the Gods.

Hari Ke Podi at Haridwar.

Beware of motorbiking in India!


Like the dream I’ve had more than 21 times, I flew thru the infinite darkness, across oceans and continents, under heavens into netherworlds, over landmarks and signposts pointing the way to heaven and hell, where a million gods confuse and bemuse. And I land in Delhi, city of djiins, to get lost amidst fabulous structures like Humayan’s Tomb, Quatar Minaret and the labyrinth of Main Bazaar finding old friends to welcome me home with real affection. But beware, one can be fleeced while sleep-walking, by djiins who smile seductively, spirits of fire, fickle, mischievous and cruel. But I'm a survivor, a hardened vagabond, I can find my way out of any dark alley.

I’d promised a Tibetan mate a night out on the town and for me, a movie addict, that meant indulging my hobby of discovering new cinemas, so we caught a took-took out to the edge of Delhi to a 21st century ubiquitous shopping extravaganza called “Ambience Mall” where I was promised bliss at the “Director’s Cut” cinema. We got lost in far-flung suburbia but finally, there out of the darkness, shone a colossal concrete cube with an oval glass-dome on top, the facade covered in fairy lights to disguise its functional rough-concrete ugliness, with a flight of Cinderella steps leading up to the golden doorway into an ambience of spending frenzy. In front was a marble fountain, gardens and palm trees also covered in fairy lights and spaced all around like lit-up mushrooms were sheet-metal phalluses, as if the mall was a site of ultimate fecundity. My poor old rickshaw driver looked quite flummoxed as he dropped us off across the road from the monstrosity, expensive cars zooming around and designer-dressed babus making a hullaballoo while we peasants cringed for daring to enter the Maharaja’s palace.

Inside was four floors of designer hell and as we went up the escalator to the food court at the top I had an out of the body experience, the urge to fling myself onto the tawdry gold-tinsel sculptures hanging from the roof and go crashing down upon a giant gold papier-mache idol of Ganesha, piercing myself upon the many spears he held, performance-art to stop the happy shoppers in their tracks and make their jaws drop.
We marched about the hideous kitsch tiers of shops, the usual Hugo Boss, Diesal, Levis, KFC, McDonalds where I pissed of the staff by helping myself to the juice-fridge and not buying a hamburger. And the usual muzak and cheerful wall-paper art, all to lull the shoppers into a daze of amenability, the new opium of the masses, stoned in the Temple of Consumerism.

 We had a “gourmet” pizza with no anchovies (!), perused the 7 customers in the three ultra-expensive restaurants and then cruised into the funky “Directors’ Cut”, photos and Bios of many of my favorite directors on the walls, the décor post-modern art-deco, very cool, easily the best room in the building. Even the toilet was like a chi-chi nouveau-riche disco, black and gold marble, bottles of scented hand-lotion, woolen towels and a sign saying there was a CCTV camera watching EVERYTHING in case you tried to steal something. I couldn’t resist lavishing the hand-cream upon myself as I danced about to the piped techno music, knowing the Security Guards would get a laugh when they watched the videos.

It turned out to be a “Gold Class” Cinema, classic red-lit edges, couches with blanket and bottle of fruit juice, and a hot movie, “Cloud Atlas” by the Watchowski siblings. I read the book last year, pared down in the movie and chopped to bits, losing much of its sense, the through-line of the human spirit always attempting to overcome oppression vaguely evident, to my rebel's delight. Still it went for three dam hours, we got out at 2am and found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, luckily always there’s a mob of rickshaw drivers waiting patiently deep into the night, hoping someone will stagger from the Maharaja’s monolith with whom they can earn a buck. I got driven home way across the vast city for $5 and my friend Raxsin thanked me for a fun night for we had taken the piss mercilessly of the whole scene: the theatre of robopathic consumerism that we’re all conned into playing a part of these days, like a new global religion.

Then I cruised up into the Himalayan foothills in a private taxi, doing it easy for once in my life, no chasing 7 modes of conveyance dragging 7 pieces of luggage stuck in traffic jams for 7 hours squeezed into a tight seat with 7 families and their entire household goods. A few times we had close calls swerving around a tumultuous humanity but we made it up that long highway to Haridwar on the Ganges River and past another major landmark, signpost site of the Collective  Unconscious, Hari Ke Podi, Stairway to the Gods. Rama, representative of Vishnu the Preserver, came this way with his wife Sita and brother Laxman when they were at the end of their lives and done with this earthly existence, the celestial staircase up to Heaven somewhere high in the Himalayan mountains in the vicinity of Badrinath. I tried to find that stairway when I was a young vagabond and I seek it still, in my decrepitude.

I made it to Shangri-la for Diwali, Festival of the Lights; it was the night Rama came back from 14 years penance in the dark jungle and as a benign, enlightened king he’d been sorely missed and now his people’s lives were lit up again, the kingdom was happy and the land fruitful, like King Arthur healing the wounds of his kingdom with the Holy Grail. And so I did pujah to Rama with a Hindu family I have long loved, put a light on their doorway and watched the fireworks above Shangri-la, bursting like a million new stars in interstellar-dust clouds, only it was cracker-night smog. Exhausted I had to walk up a mountain to get to my room and a man on a scooter came to my rescue and gave me a lift, his name happened to be Rama, a hotel wallah trying to get my custom, and yet…

Shangri-la, paradise from a dream of the Orient, temples, mountains and sky reflected in the flowing green-silver of the Ganges River, another God(dess.) But the river is a wild thing of nature, not a toy for our amusement, the placid burnished mirror of its surface belying what lies beneath, the Underworld, oblivion, opposite to the reality we live in. On the first day of my idyll I went up river and sat peacefully upon a rock in the jungle above the raging torrent of white-water rapids. I contemplated the beauty of the scene, delighting in my good fortune to be aware of the 7th heaven that I found myself in. Many inflated rafts drifted by full of squealing schoolgirls and their river guides or Delhi business associates out on a team-building exercise, all with helmets and life-jackets paddling furiously every which way and being swept by the turbulence into the rock upon which I sat. I’ve done this rafting many times and well know the thrill of hitting a whirlpool and being flung dangerously towards the seething water and so watched amused as they all swept safely onwards, yelling in joy, hundreds of them.

Then came a raft with only three guys in it, all river-guides by the look of them, they were fooling about with a video camera, maybe making a promotion to post on the Internet, and they’d taken their life-jackets off, why the fuck is a good question. They hit the whirlpool and one guy fell overboard, clutching at his jacket but it was torn from his grasp and floated away; his mates reached out a paddle for him to grasp but the raft was swept onwards and he just missed grabbing it; instead of continuing to swim after the raft as I would’ve done he panicked and swam away, into the turbulence, trying for the sheer rock-face from where I watched above with anxious eyes. He scrabbled at the sheer wet rock but couldn’t clutch the slippery surface and went under, he came up and I held out a vague hope for him but could do nothing to help, no rope to throw and I’d drown if I jumped in to attempt a rescue, for there is an undertow there and it sucked him under again from which he never resurfaced.

Before he went under for the last time he looked up and saw me above, on the rock, in safety, in another world, and he looked deep into my eyes, one last look of sheer terror and behind it the knowledge that he’d blown it, was a fool, his one life, so short, so young, and it was gone, and then he was gone. I stared down into the maelstrom hoping he would resurface, other people along the river had noticed the incident and come running from all directions, a veritable crowd formed within 3 minutes and stared down into the water as if they could will him back, but he was gone, gone, gone. I walked back thru the jungle and cried in shock and sadness.

I’ve seen quite a few people die in my life, from accidents and in my job as a nurse and am very aware of the fine misty curtain between life and death that sometimes gets lifted and shows one the truth of existence in this universe, that it ENDS one day. A miracle of consciousness in this world above, an unknowable oblivion below, a fine skein of quantum film separating the two, easy to break through; life’s a balancing act, to be alert and intuit where you’re going, that’s the rub. It’s an intense elation to be alive, the adventure of climbing the celestial stairway to the gods, but never quite reaching the top.

P.S. I very nearly did get to the top of that Stairway to the Gods and topple over into oblivion later in my sojourn when I went motorbiking up in the Himalayas close to the Tibetan border. We hit a mud-slick and the bike fish-tailed, we crashed to the ground and slid down the road, the heavy bike on top of me, techno-music thumping in my ears from my MP3, and for a few seconds I thought, "Here it is, the END!" I'd felt a thwack on my left knee but on jumping out from underneath the bike thought I was OK.
A few hours later the knee stiffened from the cold and swelled up, I'd bruised it badly, yet lucky I didn't break it as we were in the middle of nowhere, glaciers all around, no villages for many miles. There was a hot-springs tank and hotel a hundred klms back down the mountain and when we made it back there I sat in the tank for 3 days till the swelling went down. My Kismet is to keep climbing that Celestial Staircase and never meet the Gods, because I don't fucking believe in them, just Guardian Angels!

 Sadhus choofing down at the end of the trail


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