THE TIMELESS art of waiting and the honey moon, Khimda told us, were a deadly mix. They had the power to rob your eyes of rest. Sometimes for days. They had the maddening power of Comrade Joshi's words.

The day the war started we were waking up from such an unrested sleep.

When Hagar announced the war on TV, Ron spat out loud globs of contempt. Into our ears. "It's a wank," he said louder than his usual. Ron's hands were shaking as he forked the soft turn of his omelette.

Ron usually liked to save his anger for himself but the war had peeled some dried wound inside him. Ron's comment made us look deep into the cheese and tomato whoosh of his wounded soul.

"Wag, you mean Wag the Dog? Ya, it's a bloody Wag," repeated Shivputra with the smugness of a soothsayer. Ron's angry mouth was full of egg, cheese and tomato. But Shivputra was beyond doubt, visibly pleased at having arrived at what was in his yoga school understanding of things, an interconnectedness of all life.

But he had got realisation of the wrong kind.

Shivputra was Norwegian, with residual eyebrows that had once been blond. He also had residual hair that used to be blond. A lot of things about Shivputra were residual too. In his language, he was named after Hodur, the blind and gullible son of Odin. Shivputra had lived and worked in asylums, rehab clinics and old age homes in Oslo trying, with the desperation of a struggler saint, to get a grip on life. But the blind and gullible son of Odin had been dealt a bad hand.

Shivputra's father had been a decorated 'mil-tree mann' in post-World War Norway. He was later attached to the UN. His father's job had taken him to parts where the world bled in perennial streams. His father had been a peacekeeper and a UN presence through much of his military career. But at home peace had always been in short supply. "After a point, I couldn't take the beatings. So I left home when I was 17," Shivputra told us one night, by the fire.

Shivputra was in India on a Yoga Visa. I didn't know such a thing existed but Shivputra showed us his passport. He'd just come from Bihar after stretching and sweating on yoga mats for a month at the Bihar School of Yoga.

Shivputra confessed to us his fondness for words one day. He had a voice that endlessly hemmed and hawed before entering the ears. His hearing too took the longer way home. "I've sin it too, I've sin it too," continued Shivputra giving his head a shake of bitter irony and understanding. "A great film. A great film," he said pushing the first bite of Banana Pancake into his mouth. "Dustin Hoffman was excellent. Too fucking excellent."

Ron did not protest. He'd grown used to Shivputra's messed up 'fondness for words'. Ron was the only one who didn't like Sundar's Banana Pancakes. Ron was British but he didn't feel the part. Age may have had something to do with it but we weren't sure. Ron's travels had taught him to say 'You are probably right' to every argument that sounded to him flat or inappropriate. But he was 62 and much-travelled. Part of his genes were imported too. From across the English Channel. Ron was half Czech. "What women!" Ron said while telling us about his family. His mother was not, in his own words, a great beauty. She was British.

Ron was the only one who was struck by the 'miracle' of the war coming live to us. "For our generation watching a war meant being in it. We had to hide in shelters. Now they stare it in the face. On TV. The fear's gone," said Ron, as he fiddled with the burnt gravel of his eaten toast.

Ron was the drawer of conclusions. He was our summing-up guy. He had long been a seeker of the occult. Maybe why he was the keenest to go beyond the colour whooshes.

"This is a bit like the Templar killings," said Ron after Hagar announced the war.

The night before the war descended black and white on our TV a leopard had come out hunting. We were within the radius of its roar. The forest was slowly waking up to the predator's hunger. The hill was slowly turning into a battlefield. They were banging pots and pans to scare the beast away. But pots and pans were not going to stop it.

Khimda told us how the villagers kept their cattle indoors because of the leopards. Sometimes they did this at the cost of their own comfort.

We had been sitting on the terrace, talking about the lives we had left behind. The sounds, first the leopard's and then that of the pots and pans stopped our conversation.

"We should light a fire," said Amit. Amit's suggestion died young. Like the flicker of a matchstick. Amit like Hagar was Israeli. He was from Tel Aviv.

His "city of fear". A city where you didn''t know whether you'd be home for dinner. "When they made that siren noise, it was like okay, now you take out your gas mask and run and hide and... just do something!" he said frantically slicing the darkness with his hands.

Amit flew fighter planes when not travelling. When not flying he was travelling. He was a frequent flier to places to he'd read about.

That year Amit decided to fly Air India.

It was his big break.

At Khim's Amit's daily routine had SLEEP written on it in a slow and langorous scrawl. He slept through the day on his mat in the clean air of our Himalayan refuge. He'd seen much of the colour and the people of India, getting off Sleeper Class bogeys and poring over glossy India books.

Rita and Udo's cottage was unusually quiet the night the leopard came. We guessed they must have 'slept with the bottle'. It happened whenever Rita and Udo got drunk and opened their backpack of memories. Rita was a teeth maker in Berlin before she was bitten by the India bug. Udo had flitted from odd job to odd job until he finally gave up trying.

He'd met Rita in Goa 15 years ago. It was a love, bittersweet like chocolate, that kept Rita and Udo together despite the many nights of 'sleeping with the bottle'. Rita talked fondly of the teeth she had made, back home. "Now, they have machines," she said, "we used to make art." Rita had a job that she could remember fondly. Udo just remembered the la-la-land of his first real love. "She used to be another person then," he said one morning after a nasty duel with Rita. Rita had the bite. She could make a big man like Udo crumble.

Rita and Udo had done Osho and a few others. They had pretty much milked the holy cow dry. They liked Osho but not his "people". "He was wicked, and so much fun," Rita said. Even in their penury Rita and Udo were the proud owners of an ageing Matador van.

Although it had seen better days the Matador was still game for the winding and treacherous hill roads. The leopard had come upon us suddenly. But Rita and Udo had been better prepared, perhaps with a hunger louder than the leopard's animal appetite.



  1. I love the way you have written this, your dry humour enlivens even the most serious of subjects- thank-you for the poem it is beautiful


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