In the foothills of the Himalayas, again, I can't help returning, over and over, time as a circle, not an arrow, always called back here, as if I've spent many previous lives enmeshed in the Indian landscape. As a rationalist I find it hard to believe in "reincarnation" but who's to say, in a Universe 14 billion years old, 10 billion years ago souls didn't evolve to transmigrate, or clever scientists in some far-flung galaxy didn't discover the technique of transmigrating consciousness. There are many instances of people recognizing 'other' cultures intimately, I myself have had a fascination for all things Indian since early childhood. Anyway, it's a cool sci-fi idea and kind of consoling.
(Though born again as a blind man or breaking rocks as a slave is not too appealing. I guess we all just long for something continuing after death, the miracle of being conscious of this stunning universe not easy to give up after a paltry 70 years.)
I went up into the mountains and sat in a cool mountain stream and pondered the exuberant foliage of the jungle hanging down to the water all about me; a silent jungle, somnolent, as if it's dreaming its existence, me plonked down in the middle of it as witness to the amazing wonder of life on this planet. Life that has Scientifically evolved, yeah, but with a mystique none the less.
That night, back in the city of Shangri-la, I sat in a cafe high above the Ganges River, a Shiva moon in the sky, glowering jungle mountains, shimmering temples, city lights reflected in the water rushing away from me, and I read on the Internet that my dear, beloved next door neighbor, Dolly, died in Sydney a week ago and I am bereft. I loved her very much, she was the one reassuring factor at the hellhole that is Northcott Housing Ghetto. When I was depressed she cheered me up, when sick she brought me hot soup, when lonely she let me know that someone cared. If there is such a thing as a 'saint' she was IT, never hurting anyone, suffering much abuse stoically, she brought up her kids, and her grand kids, in her tiny flat, was in fact the queen of Northcott, had cut the ribbon on the opening of what THEY thought was going to be a workers' Utopia back in 1960.
I was in Mumbai at the time of her death but didn't look at my Facebook page, and am glad of it as Shangri-la is a better place to receive such sad news, it's more bearable here, a site redolent of the sad beauty of life and death. It's a place of Moksha, the struggle for freedom from the wheel of rebirth, from desire, pain and loss. There's a mist shrouding the landscape that makes it all feel mysterious, like the veil of Samsara clouding one's view, that one is ever trying to see beyond, to a greater reality, where all is peace, love, compassion, harmony, oneness. She personified all this and now Northcott will ring with the shadow of her presence.
(This sentiment is in contrast to the harsh reality of the world we struggle in, of greed, jealousy, celebrity, war, profit, competition etc. which I have, in fact, run away from, to this 'other' place. Of course, such ugly reality is writ large here in India, starving millions while a few elite hog all the resources, the corruption of the world exploding in one's face, but as a tourist I'm cut off from the horror here, and try to look past it, like a dreamer, a wanker.)
I nursed my old mentor Compassion here in Shangri-la back in 1974 when I was only twenty-four years old and we threw his body in the river for the sacred fish to eat. The people carry their dead down the streets here on the way to the cremation grounds, for all the world to see, not ashamed of death, death as a natural part of the cycle of life. A few months ago, in the nursing home, Dolly told me, at 93, she was tired of life and wanted to die that night. She asked me how long it would take her to die. I had to be honest and said that as she was a very strong woman it would take about three months, that her family loved her and wouldn't want to see her go so quickly, and I was right, almost to the day, my nursing experience able to suss her prognosis.
And now she's gone, like all the billions before her, back to the interstellar dust, to mingle with the atoms of her beloved husband, who had died 21 years previously and who she had missed terribly. And I carry on, old enough to lose many friends to Entropy by now, the sad beauty of staying alive in the Dreamtime of this world.
P.S. A high mass was held for Dolly at the local Catholic Church, celestial organ and soprano singing, a hundred friends and deadbeats from Northcott filing in and out, wishing her well in her quest for Christian eternity, but loving and missing her terribly in this world, for that is the only place we've known her. And I missed the whole ritual, as usual, for I was off eating lotuses in India but I will always carry her in my heart, while I'm alive, and that's where my true self resides. Even India lies there.
I'm reading Allen Ginsberg's "Indian Journals" which a friend has just given me for my birthday. He was in India in 1962, 10 years before I got there, and he writes a similar tale to mine, only he beat me to it; always I am beaten, the beat generation goes on. Even his mystical dreaming is similar to mine, the souls of us homo sapiens are one. What matters is the story is universal, and can be told over and over, each decade with a different slant or flavor but the same themes, and it's consoling to know that I am not alone in my loss and my search, not for immortality or an afterlife, but full realization of this life.