Friday, April 2, 2010

Siddhartha was First a Deer

“Sometimes a man just walked over the edge for no reason at all, or because he was unhappy and did not want to live any more. You could never tell; there are many sadnesses in the hearts of men who are far away from their countries.” -Precious Ramotswe, telling the story of her father, Obed.
Sat in the crowded café this morning, exhausted after a night of brilliant dreams and writing. I pick up a newspaper, the Hindustan Times, and am appalled. From Bathe, near the river Sone, 19 men, 27 women, and 10 children were massacred by 44 men in a case of ethnic cleansing.
I put the paper down and scan the faces around me. There is a Dutch father with his son. I have seen them once or twice holding hands walking along the Ghats and envied their closeness. I heard the father say while the boy stuffed toast and jam in his mouth, “Thank you for coming here with me.” He said it in English, and the boy said nothing in return but looked out over the Ganges.
Another story was of 8 men who received life sentences for kidnapping and killing a wealthy farmer. They had taken him from the water shed from his fields and mutilated and burned his body even after the ransom was delivered.
Inside the café I see an Austrian family of father and mother with teenage daughter. She is young, pretty, with golden hair. The parents are quarrelling about something. Hands moving quickly. No one is smiling. The young girl sits between them stroking the petals of flowers on the table. I try to cough, get her attention, make a funny face at her, something, but she only stares at the floor.
The third newspaper story I read was of an “Honor Killing” from the Jat Community in Haryana. A young man and woman eloped and when they returned, not because he was of a lower caste and deemed “untouchable,” but because they were derived from a common ancestor, the two were taken from one another and beaten with stones until dead. The murderers were sentenced to be hanged.
Once again I put the paper down and look through the café. There is a young couple, young parents, with what must be a six year old boy and two year old daughter in high chair spitting up apples. I’ve wanted to talk to them since the first time I saw them, ask them what it is like to travel India with a small child. My blood starts to pump thinking about Kinu and the possibilities of taking her on the road. They are calm when the child fills the room of crowded tables and squeaky chairs with her screams. They don’t fight. They smile at one another as if it is their joy. It brings a gladness to my heart that nothing can match.
The last story I read is of a “Dowry Mutilation.” A young woman’s family refuses to pay a higher dowry in the marriage to their son. So the family boils hot oil and pours it on the face of the young woman, making her completely deformed. I have seen monsters twice while walking around India’s streets and am moved to tears. It is all I can do not to just crumble at the sight of this horror as there is nothing left of her head but parts of exposed brain and bone just holding out her hands in the market for pennies.
Both times I have returned to my hotel room and fallen in the middle of the floor and wept like the last day of Christ, as if exactly this is the day that Jesus was nailed to a cross the sky had no answer but blackness and absolute death. This last time, in Varanasi, the manager and an attendant in the little hotel in which I am staying actually came to see if I was alright. They must have heard me sobbing through the walls and knocked on the door surprising me, the manager saying, “It will be okay, sir.” I nod and close the door. It won’t, and they have no idea why I am crying.
Inside the café I look for something to relieve my thoughts as I fold up the newspaper and vow not to read another for quite some time. Across the room in the corner I see a man much older than I am, with a wispy white beard and almost bald head, wearing glasses and scribbling into the margins of a notebook. It is like looking into a mirror and I turn away. Who wants to know the future, really? Wouldn’t you rather just be surprised?
I left the café and sat in the sun and tried to remember things I once knew but have forgotten. The taste of breakfast sausages, how to count to ten in German, the sweet smell of cow’s breath, what the deep cool of pine forests feel like on a naked back. I sip a warm chai from clay bowl, I am in the country of tea and milk, quite yummy I find. Yes, I am trying new things.
I’ve also started writing the beginning of what I think is my second book. I miraculously found a copy of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, about Precious Ramotswe, the Botswana private eye that my mother has raved about for so long and just dropped down into the stone alley and began reading. Yes, see Mom, I listen to you. It paid off, last night I had a dream of an entire book full of twists and turns from cover to cover and early this morning it began pouring out of me. It is good, takes my mind off the newspaper, that’s for sure.
The book, should I ever finish it, is about how everyone in this world is broken to a point, caused always be our desire. What we want breaks us and we spend much effort trying to mend our mistakes. Varanasi is a city of light, full of schools and colleges and every temple imaginable. Hinduism is its birth, from Siddhartha, who left the palace to learn and saw poverty and sickness and old age and death and returned to a father who had no answers and teachers who could not help. So he sat under a tree and thought for six years until he gained enlightenment.
Mending the mind takes time.
It is said that in Siddhartha’s first incarnation he was a deer. How nice is that? Ever come upon a deer in the field? Yes, you have and so you know. The softness, subtle grace, the delicate movements. May we all have this kind of life of peace and simplicity. Innocence. One of walking through grass in the sun. Happy Good Friday, everyone. Remember to be happy.

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