Monday, June 30, 2014

62) Return to Shangri-la.

A few more stories and the punk poofy cat's seven lives will have been revealed. His journey was somewhat akin to that of Orpheus venturing into the Underworld, the artist seeking his anima, trying to make his self whole, and defying death through the immortality of his art. It had been a long march into the darkness, surviving a violent childhood, homo beats and the infinitely dangerous road, Indian jungles and cities, psychedelic rages and serial killers, Afghani deserts and Minotaur labyrinths, anarchic squats and red-light slums, madhouse furor and ecstatic trance parties, through twenty-one levels of heaven and hell. 

But when he looked back on it all he stumbled, he wasn’t sure if there were any purpose to it, there was no successful destination, no perfection gained, no light at the end, just a little wisdom, and some compassion, for flawed humanity and his own fucked-up soul as well.

As the third millennium crashed into Arthur’s consciousness, new directions opened up, The Beast blocked off one path, that of a pooncey arts career, and his Unconscious catapulted him up another, the open road into the World. He’d had repetitive dreams from the ‘80s into the ‘90s of returning to India, and each time his astral body flew into the sub-continent he was met by an old friend who would hug him and pronounce, “Welcome back! You’ve come again, this is your seventh visit.” This went on, dream after dream, till he reached his 21st visit, and it all came true, he finally returned, in 1997 and was still flying, in his late Sixties, near the end of his life, having had many awesome adventures.

He’d be sitting in his apartment next to his packed bags and his guts would lurch with slight nausea at his impending flight to India and his escape from safe, boring Sydney. He gazed upon the intimate clutter of his abode as if he would never come that way again and he wistfully told his friends it was possible he might not return this time, from his umpteenth journey into the dark, bright, mysterious land of Bharatma. He hoped he really would disappear in the high Himalayas, discovering a lost Shangri-la where his bent soul would be accepted and healed, and then the rest of his halcyon days could be spent in study and meditation.

Or maybe he’d get stabbed through the heart in a grungy hotel room by some desperate, tough guy he’d picked up walking along the marina in Bombay, romanticizing this horrible ending as quick and passionate. Or he’d give himself a hot-shot somewhere hidden in the Himalayan vastness and tumble backwards into the turbulent waters of the Ganges, as he had tried in 1999 but gave up as a bad job, thankfully, for he’d had a fabulous sixteen years afterwards. If he had made it into the river he hoped to get eaten by the Sacred fish as did his mentor, Swami Compassion, in 1974, and thus in some way he would join him, but it was not to be, he was too chicken, life coursed too hot through his veins. 

Yet suicide ever looked over his left-shoulder, his trip-outs to India might even be viewed as a death wish.  He could be lynched by a mob, smashed by an auto accident, emaciated by disease, blown apart by terrorists, entombed by an earthquake, trampled by a stampede, anything was possible.

Maybe it was all paranoid nonsense; life just marched on, and the Indian people were in general friendly and loving. He always had a great time, experiencing exploits to cherish for the few years left him. And that’s all and well, for he’d lived his life like a jungle-safari through a horror-house amusement park and nothing was too risqué for him. Something in him longed to be dissolved into nothingness, atomized within the heart of India, not to have to keep slogging it out in the vicissitudes of Australian post-modern life. Those struggling inside the System seemed oafish wankers, smiling like vampires while willing to stand on him to climb the hierarchy, money and prestige valued above all things. The fat pig politicians making all the mistakes but getting huge pensions for it, the wars decimating whole populations, the environment being destroyed as it was exploited, on and on, there was much to be disheartened about.

He sneered at the new religion of worshiping celebrities, seeing them as fame-whores who promoted false-consciousness like ventriloquist dummies manipulated by a ruling elite. Arthur just didn’t fit in, he barely got by and, hating the modern monster of consumer capitalism, he wanted to opt out. India was the other, the out there that he could get lost in and live out his Sufi Arabian Nights fantasies, regardless of their transience, they were like garden oasis rest-stops in a tortuous travail across the limitless desert of 21st century civilization.

Every great text he'd ever deciphered had the same message: life was cruel, power-mongers rule. Who was he, a little pipsqueak fairy, to have any viable input into civilization? The fantasy of discovering Shangri-la hidden amidst the icy-white Himalayan mountain crags was a metaphor for his longing to find some solace and closure to his fatigue, defeat and failure. Death held the possibility of paradise where old friends were met on a bridge of white-light and they would all laugh themselves up into the stars while celestial choirs sang to a techno dance beat. But that was just some saccharine wishful movie he’d seen.

When, on his first return trip India, he’d had the chance to end it all, he didn’t take it. He’d caught cholera from drinking dirty water at the 1998 Kumbhla Mela in Haridwar whilst visiting a Big Baba’s tent in the teeming Guru Bazaar. As an honored firanghi guest he was served opium tea, made from the sacred water of the River Ganges, in which twenty million people were washing themselves. Back in his aqua-green room, he sank into an intense fever, his guts seized-up and tore him apart as if he’d swallowed glass shards, he projectile vomited out the door, sweating into his sheets till they turned into a swampy morass, he lost three-quarters of his body fluids and was delirious to the point of utter madness.

Some weeks previously he’d attended the premiere of the movie “Titanic” in New Delhi and it was an overwhelming experience. Not just the vicarious thrill of watching a thousand celluloid people drown in spectacular and horrible manner, he was also whipped up by the hysteria of the Indian audience, which matched the turbulence of the icy sinkhole whirl-pooling up on the big-screen. Indians are a very restless bunch, they’re not much for linear narrative, they know how the story turns out; their attention is saved for the highlights. Throughout the screening they jumped up and ran to and fro, in and out the doors, from seat to seat, carrying screaming babies, answering their trilling mobiles and sometimes looking up at the screen, wolf-whistling, catcalling or collectively grumbling.

Outside, searchlights slashed urgently across the gigantic concrete cube of a cinema, and traffic smashed up against its walls; cars, scooters, auto-rickshaws, bikes, piled in heaps like waves of metallic junk hitting a sinking ship. Hordes of brown people climbed out of and over the banked up traffic and ran jabbering helter-skelter like it was doomsday at Dizzneyland. That cinematic night had the crazy visuals of a psychedelic dreamscape, the most remarkable being of Kate Winslett’s gigantic head, glowing like some celestial goddess, with a slide projected across her forehead at a highly emotional moment, asking if car license number 210007 could please remove his vehicle from the front steps of the cinema foyer.

Just so was Arthur’s choleric delirium, back in his room, stricken on his narrow bed. He tossed and tangled amidst his sweaty sheets, imagining them to be the terrible waters into which the ship of his body sunk, with a thousand screams and calls of distress, every drowning soul his own. He was the artist boy sinking away into the freezing void for the sake of love and altruism, while Kate Winslett morphed into the all devouring mother, the dark Goddess Kali, dancing by Arthur’s deathbed, drawing him back into chaos, smashing him to smithereens. 

For three days he suffered and he was shown death, the doorway to the ‘Exit’, hovering in a white fog around him. From somewhere deep in his inflamed heart he dredged up the spirit and made the decision to live, to take life as it came; there was always potential for exhilaration, love and quintessential knowledge to be had, regardless of the pain of getting there. After all, he never had been a wimp, when adversity threatened he got brave. 

He picked himself up off his sweat-wet bed and dragged himself to a doctor’s clinic. He was told that if he’d waited another day he would have surely been dead, for he’d caught the dreaded cholera bug. He was rushed to a private hospital and given inter-venous antibiotics and after three days of tender, loving care he came out of his coma, committed to having another chance at the game of life.

He’d been on suicide trips before, in the derelict squats and towering tenements of Sydney, but he’d never pulled it off, there was always tomorrow, he’d eke out his paltry enjoyments for one more day, just one more day. And on each of his voyages to India, he imagined it could be his last, though he clambered on, reckless and daring. He had organized a taxi ride to Badrinath at the roof of the world in a friend’s beat up Ambassador car, it was near the end of the season and the sacred town would soon be snowed under. Perhaps his car would slip off the icy roads and tumble into the terribly deep ravines, thus fulfilling the curse of the Electrified Baba outside Badrinath thirty years before. Whatever, he was up for it, though he’d try to remember to tighten his seat-belt.

Of course it didn’t happen, not that time round. With mind determined and heart inspired, he arranged his longed-for sojourn across the roof of the world and everything went like a dream, even to the comfy hotel rooms with hot-shower and cable TV in the outlandishly grungy towns perched high in the craggy mountain ranges.

He knew it would revive his spirits and it did; he’d started out suicidal, feeling there was nothing more to enjoy or achieve, and maybe he’d reached the end of his shelf-life. As he flew along in the back-seat comfort of the Ambassador, as if on a genie’s back indeed, with the awesome snow-clad peaks of the high Himalayas looming over him, he experienced the thrill of being alive and aware of nature’s magnificence, his elated consciousness part of the fabric. There was always something wonderful waiting to enthrall the wearied soul if he had the brains and guts to go for it. Colossal waterfalls, healing hot-springs, ancient Hindu temples, infinite vistas of the green Ganges river winding into the jagged precipices, and the unsophisticated, joyous people living off the land as they’d done for thousands of years, it all made the angel in him take wing and sing a song of thanks. He was on the move, he voyaged through splendor, he was free and untrammeled, the journey was fun, and reaching his destination a big thrill, both were worth staying alive for.

Then they had to return to the lowlands, life had to be gotten on with, there was no long-lasting escape from reality on any journey but there was always another adventure around the bend for harried souls like Arthur, happy when he was on the move. From the high mountains he swooned to swoop down into Goa every year for the New Years Eve party where he could dance himself back to six-pack abs. And first rest-stop on the way was glorious Bombay, the seven islands of Mumbai Devi, now joined as one, a Mecca for hard-workers, dreamers and hustlers. How he loved the picture palaces of the Regal, Eros, Sterling and Metro cinemas, the night-clubs, the beaches, sea-side promenades, markets and museums, restaurants and pubs.

He made best friends there and was safely escorted through every imbroglio: the terrorist attacks, the importunate beggars, the screaming gay discos, the teaming railway counters, over the years criss-crossing every djiin-haunted corner of the city. There was a serial killer known as “The Beer Can Killer” who bashed and raped sleeping streeties, leaving a beer can by the dead body as his M.O., striking at all the places Arthur liked to frequent with a friend: Chaupatti Beach, Marine Drive, Azad Cricket Maidan. Arthur freaked at the thought the killer might have lurked nearby while he was innocently sitting watching the sunset over the bay, but he always had his mate as chaperone so there were no worries.

Late at night, on returning to his hotel after the movies, he hugged his friend goodnight in the taxi, insisting he could walk the last seven hundred yards alone, where every doorway creaked ominously and monstrous specters wavered in the shadows as he crept along creepy dark streets. In the morning, when his hotel manager asked him how he was enjoying his holiday, Arthur replied that it was all fabulous except for his fear of the serial killer, but thankfully the bastard didn’t show his ugly mug. The manager gave a glum smile and informed him that they’d found another victim that very morning, dead on the footbridge not three hundred yards from the hotel’s front door. Arthur could only shudder, and say a prayer, of sorrow and thanks. 

Near the Metro Cinema, in Fashion Street, the sleeper buses to Goa line up and here Arthur happily rushed for the night trip to Goa, to roll about in coffin-like boxes as the bus swerved around corners and zoomed down hillsides, into a jungle of heady aromas, of coconuts and bananas, ocean and incense, fish and curry. He couldn’t sleep a wink of it for the thrill and expectation of returning to his beloved Goa, the Bali Hai island paradise scenario of his youth, with seafood and surf-swimming, relentless techno-music and ecstatic trance-dancing.

He hoped there would be lots of parties to go to, small/intimate and big/overwhelming, and the cops told to lay off busting the tourists by the local party-entrepreneurs as they were scaring the cash-cows away. The State/corporate body would eventually get control of and tame the party scene by holding a three day "Sunburn" dance music festival inside a fenced-off compound with CCTV cameras and cops crawling all over to make sure no one was smoking cigs or pot! The crowd of sucked-in middle-class Indians were charged much money to listlessly dance in the hot sun and then go home at 10pm after visiting the big attractions like kiosks that sold laptops and Sunburn festival merchandise. The organizers seemed to overlook the fact that sunburn is as cancerous as smoking. 

They would also one day announce from on high that they no longer wanted international back-packers to come to Goa as they stayed too long and didn’t spend enough money, the very people who had created the hip milieu of ecstatic dancing and laid-back surf and sand life-style. While he could, Arthur would find his niche to relax, dance abandoned and live inexpensively, before it all got swept away by cashed up package tours and hungry, gawking businessmen.

He’d made best friends with the chai-shop wallahs on Tiger Beach and for weeks could kick back and forget his troubles, surrounded by Goans who truly loved him. Then came New Years Eve, the big party night, and he was sitting quietly in his favorite chai-shop on the beach, all day thinking about the phone call he’d just received from Australia, one of his seven best friends had just died unexpectedly, from an embolism to the brain, she was only forty-five and big in Arthur’s life. He was meditating upon the fragility of life and the beauty of Amiria, her Maori warrior strength combined with her Buddhist peacenik nature: oh how he was going to miss her. It was sunset and he was lost in the contemplation of the fiery red ball hitting the horizon of the Arabian Sea, seeing her face in the orange and purple clouds. He was suddenly shaken from his fugue by a loud thunder-like clap, "Thwok!" 
He looked up in shock, an Indian muscle-Mary thug had just whacked his friend Prem, the chai-shop owner, very hard across the face. And then he gave him another almighty slap to which Arthur jumped up and yelled, "What the fuck are you doing?" The bastard had a gang of about seven other ugly bullies with him, all of them macho queens from some brutish gym, drunk as skunks, brainless, and one of them threatened Artie to shut up while he continued the beating.

Like all gangs of cowards, a few of them stepped forward to join in giving the lone Prem a hard slap, then the first thug grabbed him by the hair with one fist and with the other repeatedly thumped him hard in the face. Arthur kept trying to step forward and stop it but was warned off, fists thrust at him, his laptop smashed to the ground with all his other belongings. Apparently this mob of brutes had come to the chai-shop with their own booze and demanded glasses to drink it with. They were now beating Prem up because he'd refused them: they had the numbers, the muscles and the blind drunken nastiness to terrorize whoever crossed their path. Then the thug who'd thrown the first punch picked up an iron bar and moved in with murderous glee.

He whacked Prem hard across the back with it and Arthur screamed and moved forward, little old man that he was, somehow to quash the melee. Nobody else came to their rescue, all the men and boys on the beach and from the other chai-shops kept their distance, afraid of a beating from the marauding ape-men. The thug lifted the iron bar and whacked Prem on the back of his head, a loud "thunk!" to which Arthur groaned in helplessness, it was nasty but he could tell it was not yet a killer blow. Arthur stepped forward again trying to think of some way to stop this brutality as it really looked like they might murder his friend in front of him, but the bastard turned on him and waved the weapon in his face, took a few swipes which Art ducked, then he smashed all the glass in the counter as a warning to Artie before he turned back to finish off his victim.

He raised the iron bar for the third time, about to deal a blow to Prem's head that could kill him, and Arthur screamed , "No!" and knew that he could not just stand there and let his friend be murdered. He was from working-class Australia, was not chicken-shit passive, he’d been in 1001 brawls and now his experience could come in good stead. As a queer he’d been beaten all his life, the violence was nothing new but he was still scared shitless, they could brain him into retardation as well as Prem. But he wasn’t going to run away, like all the other fellows dining in the chai-shop did. He stood nervously by, thinking "Where oh where is Jackie Chan or Salman Khan when you need them, and why oh why can't I take on and beat up 7 guys at once like movie heroes do?

He thought that if the ape really did bring the bar down towards Prem's head he'd have to rush in with a chair as armor, its four legs hopefully pinning the deadshit down while someone somehow came to their rescue, big hope as their were 7 other thugs swelling their muscles up, like bull-walruses on heat, ready to attack. Arthur used all his will, like a beam of tight-white light which he projected onto the carnage trying to pacify the furor. He felt the spirit of Amiria beside him, her strength, her love and quietude, not that she was really there, but the idea of her, what she stood for, what she practiced, gave him strength, gave him power, she was with him, kind of, definitely.  At the same time he had a vision of the Tibetan Goddess, the Green Tara, hovering next to Amiria shedding a protective green light upon the scene. (Weeks later he discovered Tara is the protector against all evil.)

And he possibly crashed the probability wave in their favor and influenced reality, the observer straightening out the uncertainty, for the thug's arm stopped in mid-air when Arthur shrieked, “Don’t do it!” The oaf hesitated, wavered, looked about him as if he didn't know where he was, waking from a nightmare of his own making, he then shrugged, threw the iron bar down and swaggered off with his mob, up the beach, lords of their domain, lord of the flies more like it. 

Prem was shaken but not too badly hurt, he had to go to hospital and get nine stitches in the back of his head, his face swelled up like a pumpkin from all the slapping but he went straight back to work and had recovered after a week, he's a strong guy who has fallen out of coconut trees many times in his life. Arthur went into post-traumatic-shock mode and was a bit of a hysterical mess for a few hours, giving his good friends a hard time as he was so full of tension.

Maybe he just imagined his influence upon the outcome, the arseholes certainly didn't like witnesses to their violence. But there have been other times in Arthur’s life where his willpower and voice of authority, "No, it's not gonna happen that way!" turned dangerous episodes to his advantage and relief. These bastards were from Poona, had given grief on previous visits, and proceeded to go up to the cliff-tops and catch a taxi to Mapusa where they then beat up the taxi driver and smashed all the windows in his cab. They are such steroid limp dicks that surely some day they will get their come-uppence and get the shit kicked out of them till they never lift a fist again.

Prem and family called the cops but they never came, quite useless, too busy chasing and looting firanghis for smoking pot, or as portrayed in the media, selling the drugs themselves, caught on video in a sting operation by two Israeli girls who were fed up with the corruption. Alcohol is tax-free in Goa, to attract tourists, but all the hoopla of protecting them from terrorists is so much hogwash as its the free flow of alcohol that's causing most of the terror in Goa, road carnage, overdoses, fights, brain/liver damage, domestic violence, the list is endless and the inhuman aliens rule as alcohol is their preferred drug. Who needs Al Queda when there’s Al Cohol?

But Arthur did get to shake his tension loose at the big New Years Eve party later in the night, as always at the best venue on the Goan coast, the Hilltop Hotel, where the music is always cutting, loud and clear, and the dance floor has room enough for thousands to move and groove. As he flexed his muscles and limbs in time to the beat he emanated peace and goodwill to repel the murderous vibrations he’d recently encountered. And he brought the spirit of Amiria with him, as if she was his dance partner, and if she wasn’t dancing eternally in paradise, he danced for her.  Dance, glorious dance, hypnotically for 7 hours straight, able to ignore the few minor teenage fights that broke out around him, he jumped, gyrated, boogied, trembled, hopped, waved, skipped, twisted, shamanic dancing that shook his ego loose and united him with the crowd and the universe.

This dance trance was what everybody had come to Goa for, for the last fifty years, it was primeval, wild, glowing with nirvana, attracting waves of Americans, Brits, Europeans, Aussies, then the Israelis, lastly the Russians, as if all of them were dancing mindlessly in the garden of Eden, the tree of knowledge forgotten. Word got out and hundreds of thousands of Indians have rushed in, for they have “an inordinate fondness for singing and dancing”, so said Arrian when Alexander the Great tried to conquer India. Indians dance like divine madmen, for a few hours they can reach back into their distant past, when they’d first settled the subcontinent, forget the strictures of civilization and go back to the jungle, with pagan animal consciousness they dance in the moment and Arthur danced with them, eyes rolled back in his head.

Lots of capitalist cunts and junkie non-freaks have claimed Goa as theirs, crashing the scene to grab fame and money, ballyhooing how they’re IN with the IN crowd, even a freak haven can be milked of its essence. Sad that they were dividing up the future into easily-digestible bites, Arthur didn’t let it get to him as he’d really been there, in the early days of 1972 to 1975 when freaky Goa was invented and then when THE SCENE reached its peak, in 1997 to 2001. They were such amazing, carefree, funky times they can never be recaptured as the crowds now are just too big, the traffic, the cops, the politicians, the entrepreneurs, the money, the trinkets, the bullshit, the hustle, like a tsunami of hippie junk, it’s sweeping away and drowning the true funk, with only plastic tourist trappings left.

He’d already seen the worst that India could offer and now nothing could touch him, he was free to let go and dance fully tranced, whatever the future held, he had no fear, there was only love and euphoria, and respect for an elder from Freak Central aimed at him: if not, then fuck off, let him dance. The whole crowd danced like a chthonic creature from the Underworld with countless arms and legs writhing, flesh pulsating, breasts heaving, feet pounding, hearts beating to the techno rhythms. He let his body go in any and every direction the beat moved him, in and out, up and down, round and round like a Sufi dervish, his muscles melted, his mind emptied, his blood flushed, him and the crowd, mostly Indians, dancing atavistic to reclaim their evolutionary heritage of being one with the world. This was worth staying alive for.

Every sojourn has an ending, then the next one begins. After the Goan raves squeezed his pineal third eye dry and turned his flesh to jelly, he would dissolve into the Arabian Sea for a few more days then head back up to the high Himalayas, to have one last ride through their consoling, inspiring heights, where Rishis once meditated for thousands of years on consciousness and the wonder of the Universe. Yeah, for all of us the journey ends sometime, we melt back into the interstellar dust, and if for a few moments we can forget the pain, sadness and horror of humanity’s unkindness to each other, we can also glimpse the intense beauty, the miracle of everything that unites us.

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.