This is the third day in a row I have stood under the awning of this shop. Across the street, upon a balcony, she is brushing with long strokes her beautiful black hair. I am excited again. Black eyes. Heavy, wide hips. She knows I am watching her. But then, all the men who pass that way look up. Should I alone confess? There she strides, sinuous and alive, up and down the length and breadth of the balcony, under that signboard reading “Tamasoma Jyothirgamaya Institute of Pranayama.” I will return.
It is a hot day. But later the sea breeze sets in. She is there again. She lets her hair tumble down when she unties the knot in it. Her arms are lifted up silhouetting her breasts and her wheat-complexioned stomach. But, there he is now. Guruji. He is graying. He gestures to her and in that gesture is a token of intimacy. She turns away and keeps pacing up and down the balcony. The old man comes and leans against the parapet. Fat, hairy, pot-bellied. They say he has strange siddhis. He knows how to awaken the serpent. He can make love for hours without reaching orgasm. It lies in controlling the breath, they say. Therefore, she cannot leave him.
Swami Vivekananda, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Acharya Rajneesh, J. Krishnamurti … Knowledge never enough. Experience counts. And then, the beyond.
Today I embark on my course of Transcendental Meditation. The teacher gives me a secret mantra – “ayink.” I must reveal it to no one.
It is three months since I began doing TM. I have been getting up at four a.m. every day. I sit and meditate for twenty minutes using my secret mantra … oink…oink…oink…oink … A quick bath and then I am off to the Vivekananda Kendra to do some yoga. Chandrasekhar is my teacher. I have learnt to stand on my head. My favorite asana is Shavasana.
I haunt the “Rooftop Restaurant.” Three tables, that’s all. Four plain chairs surround each table. The restaurant is divided into two sections. One houses the tables and the other is filled with potted plants growing wild. Old Man Sunny runs this place. We are its denizens, my friends and I. He does not mind our drinking, drug taking, boisterousness, us. It is all right so long as we do not wreak any physical havoc in this place. We reign here. We sit around from dawn to dusk. We smoke pot and write poetry. Sometimes we listen to dark music on a tape recorder or strum guitars. Chat or just remain silent lost in a haze and a daze. Sometimes a story is born. Someone reads it out. Then the pages are torn up and the pieces flutter down onto the street, into the gutter. They set sail for the ocean. Every rivulet ends there.
The “squares” are seeking us out, our circle. They read out their poems. We stare at them steadily. They depart in silence. You want our acclaim, don’t you? You are waiting for the day when you can walk in here in your suit and boots and ties, the executives who can sneer at us, the poor suckers who never made it, aren’t you? Behold the poets who were never in the rat race!
I am beginning to think that our teetotaler musician friend Old Man Sunny loves us because we love things aesthetic. Music, painting, literature. When he was young he was offered a chance to go to Poland to study classical music. He could have become a “real” conductor. In Europe. He refused to go, choosing to live in Kerala to raise groups of youngsters on a diet of Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Handel … Now he is old. But he is young. We love him. He did not compromise. He knew the score.
I met Nancy today. She has a wonderful pair of eyes. Her skin is white and freckled here and there. She is tanned from being out in the Indian sun on the beach. She was sitting at the farthest table playing her shining, silver flute. Her hair is lank and blonde, tied up with a blue ribbon. She was wearing a white kurta and yellow pyjamas. Her son was playing among the potted plants. He would call out to her now and then in a language which sounded like German.
It is Swiss-German, she told me. I sat at the adjoining table and watched the boy. He did not pluck the leaves or the flowers. He just touched them gently. His attention then turned to a column of black ants. Big blighters on the march. He began to kill them one by one. Nancy was up in a trice. She scolded him in her American accent.
“Yohannes, you kill those ants and you are accumulating bad karma. That karma’s gonna get you, you know?”
She dragged the protesting child to a chair, set him down and ordered a glass of limejuice for him. She began playing the flute again. I pulled my chair up to her table. “You play well. Where did you learn to play like that? I asked her.
“At college,” she replied.
“Nancy,” I said, “is it wise to put the fear of the devil into a child? Why should he learn through fear? Is there not enough fear all around already, everywhere?”
She was silent and fingered her silver flute. I ordered limejuice for us. The one-eyed waiter brought the juice in two tall glasses.
“My husband Roger has gone to Thekkady for a while,” she said. “We are Californians but live in Switzerland. We work six months a year and travel around the world the rest of the year.”
She said they had already visited Egypt, South Africa, Brazil and Spain. My friends arrive. I bid her goodbye.
She is there again. I was breathing hard from climbing the stairs to the restaurant. Nancy is 36, fifteen years older than I. She is pretty.
In Turkey, she told me, the police grabbed her and a girlfriend who was travelling with her. Their visas were not proper, the policemen said.
“A policeman ripped off my blouse in the police station. I felt so naked. They threatened to rape us. I wasn’t wearing a bra. They let us go after someone phoned them to say that we were Americans and there would be hell to pay if we were raped. I have never been so frightened in my life.”
We sit silently for a while. I etch her face and figure into my mind.
So we meet again.
But when is Roger returning to you? I ask.
She gives me a quizzical smile.
“You would like to meet him? He is in the advertising line, on the creative side. He is deeply interested in religion, the occult, Zen Buddhism, pranayama. He is waiting for his initiation from Guru Gopinarayana Pillai of the Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya Institute of Pranayama.”
An image of Guruji’s woman flashed through my mind.
I did not get to fill in these pages for days. I have been with Nancy and Yohannes, sleeping in a thatched hut in Kovalam, wandering on the seashore, getting blacker while she gets a good tan. She has almost no bosom. I do not know how to swim. Even Yohannes knows how to swim. I paddle around in the waves while they swim. We lie down on the seashore. Nancy rests her head in my lap. Yohannes cuddles up to me. Sometimes, passers-by stop to stare at us. We have become friends. We do not talk much. Here there is no American, Indian, German, no black or white or yellow or brown, no age bar. There is sex in the air, as refreshing as the gulls’ cries when they come in, sweeping over the curve of the horizon and her body.
Roger is here. She does not come to the restaurant anymore. Should I expect her to?
Hello Nancy, how are you? I missed you, I say.
Shhh, her eyes tell me.
His eyes are blue and penetrating.
He asks me if I like Ravi Shankar.
I prefer The Grateful Dead, I reply.
That was that.
It is a breakthrough, says my teacher at the Vivekananda Kendra. The yogic exercises are paying off, it seems. I was meditating on the Om mantra when golden spots of light began dancing in front of my closed eyelids. It was a pleasurable experience. But I was anxious. Chandrasekhar says I have taken another step on the road to self-realisation. Will o’ the wisps and golden ones at that!
I was afraid again, but curiosity led the cat. Meditating on the Om mantra, something happened. I plunged into a deep, black hole. As I collapsed in on myself towards its epicentre, I saw rising up towards me a mirror image of myself, cross-legged, with a peaceful Buddha-like expression. I opened my eyes. I was disturbed the whole day.
I find a book dealing with Swami Vivekananda’s life and experiences. He had a similar thing happen to him. The mirror image is the promise of selfhood.
Why do these things happen, one after the other? I was in Shavasana and fell into a deep sleep. Suddenly I was awake within a dream. I was spread-eagled on my mat. The window opposite to me, above my body, opened up. It was pitch dark outside. I heard a buzzing sound. A Black Wasp of great size was coming towards me, beating its muslin wings. It would soon reach my window. A humming, buzzing sound was emanating from within me; I realised with a shock. It spread out in concentric circles from a point just above my navel. Spread-eagled, I felt my body begin to spin round and round and round as the buzzing sound grew in intensity. My anxiety increased and suddenly I shouted something. I don’t know what it was. The Blood, the Blood or something like that. They were secret words, words of power. The Black Wasp fled, retreating into the darkness from whence it came and I awoke motionless upon my mat.
Here is a book I have discovered. It describes a yogi who had a similar experience. Pandit Gopikrishna. So it is true. There are unfathomable experiences. Here is Swami Vivekananda again. In his commentary on the Yogasutras of Patanjali, I discover instruction. “The man who attains siddhis must leave them behind lest he succumb to a greater maya.”
I was sleeping when that dream-like state where everything happens as at waking took over. It was a full-moon night. I heard my pet dog running about in the yard outside. Suddenly she was bounding into the room through the bars of the window. She began licking my face. I got frightened when it struck me that she had passed like a spirit through the bars of my window. I threw her out of the room into the yard and woke up sweating.
Nancy came to the restaurant looking for me. She said she was staying with Roger in a room provided at the Institute. “I don’t give a damn about the Guruji but Roger reveres him and his techniques,” she said. I remembered the Bible I had noticed in Nancy’s bag.
“Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” I asked.
“I don’t have to believe in him, I follow him,” she replied.
We drank our limejuice.
“Come and visit us this weekend,” she said. Roger and she were going to spend the weekend at Kovalam beach.
Come, she repeated.
Roger is on a “health trip,” Nancy had told me when we met a few days ago. He eats only vegetables and fruits, keeping to Guruji’s instructions on sattvic food. I took them Rs.30 worth of fruits as a gift. There was another couple with Roger and Nancy. Roger was smoking hashish with them. He spoke briefly about an LSD experience he had. There were such bright colours everywhere, he said. He looked at me as if he knew something I didn’t. But I did.
Towards sunset, we walked out to the beach. Someone filled a chillum with tobacco and Afghan hashish. We passed it around inhaling lungfuls of the sweet smooth smoke. We sat still watching the horizon where the golden sun turned red and sank into a grey nothingness. The darkness gathered around us. I got up silently and kissed Nancy on her forehead. She opened her eyes to smile at me. The moment I kissed Nancy, Roger opened his eyes too. I felt the searing blast of his look.
Come over to the institute, Nancy said.
“Come and meet Roger and Yohannes. We are leaving India in a week’s time. Christmas is almost here and Roger’s journal on his pranayamic exercises and experiences is almost complete,” she chattered happily as we walked hand in hand towards the institute. We climbed up a gloomy flight of stairs to Roger’s room where he sat hunched over a ruled notebook. I asked him how it has been. Better than LSD, he replied. His pen kept scratching on the page. There are so many worlds to explore, suns, planets, moons, stars, colours, love … his voice trailed off.
There was a humming sound. The Black Wasp, I thought. In the doorway stood Guruji. His presence loomed over us. He was watching us in a strange way. His eyes reached out to mine. I locked my eyes with his.
Guruji’s eyes were limpid pools, spinning, swirling pools calling out to me to join him, to go with him inwards. The black holes where the Black Wasp dwells, I thought. And a dog barked. The buzzing sound disappeared. I held his gaze, a small smile blossoming on my lips. Roger was uncomfortable in his seat. Nancy was a trifle pale. I nodded to Guruji. Then I took the stairs down with Nancy in tow. Just before leaving the institute, I kissed Nancy gently on the lips. We will not meet again, I said.
I crossed the street. Looking up, I saw Guruji and Roger on the balcony. She was there too, brushing her long, black tresses. Guruji was staring at me across the distance, a steady stare.
November 26, 1987
Roger and his lot. This business of culture and counter-culture. I remembered John Kenneth Galbraith. Affluence … leisure … degeneration. Roger and his journal. Yohannes and the black ants.
Nancy and I.
The Black Wasp.
Memories. “I don’t have to believe in Christ. I follow him.”