I wandered enrobed in my black kurta, Levis and black strapped sandals, my destination was of course Sathyam Cinemas on Peter Street; I still had a mile or so left. It was a hot day to walk, mid October as a matter of fact, the monsoons had done nothing to reprieve the fury of the indignant sun that burned with a vengeance. I passed busy streets with speeding bikers and warring car drivers, it was around 3 pm, I wanted to catch the midday movie with a friend who would be joining me over there. Now the Cineplex was my home for I often spent my days and nights over there, I lodged in the Zen ashram down the street from the Cineplex. I spent my days walking across the city, sometimes my scooter served as a guest on my travels, but I preferred my feet more. I often walked the Mahapalipuram highway, often staying for days sheltered in the thick pines that grew on the sides of the highway. Staring at the stars in the night and meditating for hours on end in the distant night listening to the waves of the ocean, and dreaming strange dreams with strange beings. I entered the compound of Sathyam Cinemas, young men and women thronged the counters speaking hurriedly with pressed tones, huge posters of currently playing movies hung on the outside walls, I scratched my beard as I surveyed them. There was James Bradley cooper with golden sunglasses in one of them, Jeff Goldblum stared with his strange brown eyes out of a nearby poster behind him stood a bald Eddie Murphy clad in a long flowing robe sporting a serene grin’ Holy Man’ read the title. I asked a nearby gentleman for the time, 3:05 he said with a frown. I thanked him and walked to the side, ‘she should be here any moment now’, I thought to myself. Might as well say hello to Jacque I thought, Jacque was the head chef at the bakery attached to the Cineplex. He was no ordinary man. He had arrived in Chennai fresh off of winning the Regional Culinary challenge at Marseilles, France where he had grown up. Jacque had visited the ashram a while ago curious, a novice myself I showed him around. The ashram roughly housed about thirty monks who had all taken up all the in house vows of utmost sincerity, of constant seeking and transcendence and lastly of undying dedication and devotion to humanity. Needless to say we bonded on a realm of the abstract, for he displayed a genuine interest in the art of living, and often had since then confided in me his doubts, existential concerns and of life in general. Gentle and warm, Jacque often talked to me about the realm of the supernatural in which we both held a keen interest and concern.
I walked into the cozy bakery with its thin painted glass doors; the cold air of the air conditioning reprieved me from the heat of the streets. A few customers stood around in the sophisticated space, despite its small size, there were some cushioned sofas on the side with an elegant wooden table with some magazines and brightly colored bottles of exotic sauce. A delicious aroma wafted through the air, I know that I had taken a vow of simplicity, but food especially fine food was something I would write my soul for. The Walls had a combination of paintings and pictures, Van Gogh’s Famed Starry Starry Night hung on the east end of the wall, while towards the counter were various framed pictures of children, the Eiffel Tower, Chefs in kitchens etc. Near the west wing of the Hall, stood a mysterious painting, one that had on many occasions had cast a spell on me, it is hard to describe it, but it had a dark and shadowy space, in which a stream of light briefly entered into and a few spaces up there was a window and a full moon with brilliant specks all around. I walked upto it and began my inspection of it, art, especially fine art serves as a comfort, a drug of sorts, pulling one away for several intoxicated moments from the carefully constructed realm of consciousness with its flailing desires and unresolved grief. Casting him/her instead into a space and enclosure with infinite boundaries and possibilities, with every stroke of paint, I felt myself loosing myself deeper and deeper into the psyche of the piece before me. I embraced the darkness of the shadows, creeping slowly in its solace approaching slowly the mystery of the window, when all of a sudden a hand on my shoulder casts out the reverie. I smiled and turned to face Jacque,
‘Is it me or is the placing of this particular painting in direct relationship to its very message…?’
‘I have never thought of it in that manner before..!’ he said with a surprised look with perfectly accented English.
‘ This painting alone is placed aesthetically as far as possible from the other themes rampant in this disco space, van Gogh sought to capture his most pleasurable memories of the night with starry night, he was partially blind when he set to work on it..! But this…!! Its …
‘I know, words fail me too Jim’
‘There is someone I want you to meet’ I said with a smile
‘Wow, so you do have what is called in our world – a Normal friendship, eh…?’
‘Well she is certainly in no ordinary words- ‘ordinary’ I can tell you that..!’
‘ I should inform you that I am well aware of your extended social preferences – wanderers, tea shop walas, drunkards passed out on pavements, mad men who scribble on walls, lonely middle class wives, some or most of them scare the heck outta me Jim..! So you can wonder how this moment makes me feel’ he said with a long suffering look.
‘Relax hotshot; she is certainly in the avant garde department herself .I think that the two of you will get along famously!’
‘Oh..’ he said with surprise
‘Well she should be here at any moment now!’
At that exact moment, the door opened bringing along with it a parcel of sunlight that appeared out of place in the bakery’s sterile and fashionable lights, before resuming the stoic pace of the inner space.
‘Hey there… ‘ I called in her direction
She turned her head in my direction, she appeared flustered,
‘Oh you have no idea..!’ she began
‘Monsieur Jacque Herrignon meet Jess, and Jess meet Jacque’
Oh, hello, she said with a big smile
‘I have heard so much about you, and I also have a lot of respect for your work’ she said with a smile
‘And I know nothing about you thanks to our amazing friend’ he said with a raised eyebrow in my direction.
A gesture that I completely missed out on, it was only when he elbowed me gently did I realize that something was amiss.
Why have you never told me about her Mr. Mount Road Mystic…..?
‘Pffftt…’ I waved him off
‘Anyway it happens so that Jess has similar culinary aspirations if you know what I mean …!
Oh… Wow, so I take it that you’re a cook…? Asked Jacque good naturedly
‘I am not that good’ she said in a self conscious manner
But yes you could say that cooking is my passion’ she said
‘Don’t let her modesty fool you Jacque, she makes a mean pasta, and her chapattis and dried fish are to die for, not to forget various other succulent and aromatic dishes… ‘
‘We even clashed over restaurant ideas a long while ago’ I added with glee
Whose fault is it that someone misunderstood what I said..?
Yours, I added with a triumphant snicker
Don’t they teach you modesty in that ashram of yours…?
Tra la la la… I sang
Jacque watched in utter fascination
‘Where are my manners, I apologize for the behavior of our insane friend, I have tried your special mousse’ and I should tell you they are out of this world’
‘I never knew that he could be like that’ he said with surprise
‘I know, Mr. Kilometers for words can barely register a normal sentence every once in a while’ she quipped
‘And if we ask him ‘why’ he would mumble some metaphysical and astrophysical nonsense that looks like it makes sense in some twisted manner! ’
‘These Pisceans’ she added with the stark cynicism that only a Gemini could muster.
Jacque laughed well naturedly
‘Please Pisces makes up for all of the glaring deficiencies of its compatriots, it certainly does make up for the ‘inability of comprehension’ in regard to all general sufferings quite rampant in the adventurous Sagittarians, the lack of resolve of the watery Aquarians, the sincerity absent among Cancerians in matters regarding feelings pertaining to the heart, does remove the conservative streak most Gemini’s go through and even preach about at some stage of their dynamic lives and….. ‘
‘Ayyo… Not me’
‘Please don’t even broach the topic of the zodiac because our mystic here thinks of himself as the official spokesperson of the zodiac..! And he can go at it for hours… even days… She grumbled
Hey..! How many times have I told you guys that I am not a mystic, though I do have my mystic moments, I am a seeker, I seek and I choose never to be satisfied with any given moment, it is eternal happiness that I seek, not passing tides of good will and illusory contentment, mystics are people who are more aloof from the general concerns of human vanity. I am not’ I said with a smile
Jess smiled and gently nudged me, ‘Did I tell you that you were my favorite enemy…?’
‘Yup….. Everyday..!’ I feigned indignation
Hey man, we gotta rush, ‘Holy man’ starts in ten mins, are you sure you don’t wanna join our merry ranks…?
I wish I could Jim, but you know that I have a bakery to run. Some other time he said with impeccable charm
It was a real pleasure meeting you Jess, hope I see you again sometime soon
Ditto, we should meet up and swap recipes or who knows , maybe have a cookout or two..Hmm make that three…!
As a matter of fact why don’t you join us this weekend Jacque, we are planning on experimental trials in pizzas and in the general Italian menu direction…?
Oh, you don’t mind…?
It would be my pleasure, she said with warmth
I’ll take you there don’t worry Monsieur , I mock bowed
Ha ha, count on it pal, he said with affection
Hey Jim, I have been meaning to talk about this dream over with you….
Oooohh… Why didn’t you say it a little earlier Jackie boy…?
I’ll come back after the movie jack; we can talk it over buddy
Jess rolled her eyes in my direction, I waved a quick bye to Jacque as we both exited the small bakery and walked towards the entrance.
We passed across various people with stains of urbania all over their hip clothes, a dirty looking woman extended a bowl in my direction, she had an infant nestled against her right arm, I stared at her with a smile and searched my pockets, I fished a ten rupee note and placed it in the centre of the dirty bowl, she moved quickly past me and on to the next person, I smiled at suneyna who regarded me with a cool look of haught.
Do you ever wonder why we come here arriving at a decision that seems to be the simultaneous decision of people just like us…? And how we sit next to each other in a casual aloofness, with nothing more than our shoulder rests separating each other as we sit side by side next to complete strangers…? How we fail to even realize that inter connected web of meaning and shrouded purpose…? Don’t you find it strange..? I asked her
I came here for Eddie Murphy and buttered pop corn, she said with a flick of her eye brows
And of course strangers freak me out Jim, I am semi claustrophobic in case you don’t remember
I smiled at her as we got our tickets checked and were let through, we entered into the inner sanctum of theatre 7.
What is it..? I asked
Come on, do share J
You blow me off for days and then you ask me to come join you for a movie like nothing has happened, I can’t let you off the hook so easily Jim..!
‘Did you know that there are 7 different types of cloves…? And that 7 in indicative of the Sabbath, and is in general representative of peace, rest and tranquility…? In some cultures they bury their dead on a Sunday, and make a wooden structure with 7 different sides, and that July in general is famous for its evening skies, now you can ask me why, but it seems that the properties of light in the month of July(which happens to be the seventh month by the way) undergo a sort of inner process, and due to the distance of space and the light continuum and all that baloney, the seven colors of the rainbow present themselves in the sky on alternative days and in an individual fashion?’
Did you just make that up…? She said with a sinister frown
‘Nature presents itself in all its glory, raw and unhidden, feast oh noble seeker in its infinite storey’s
Answer me Jim, you disappear every now and then, can’t you just announce it in an off handed manner at the very least..?
Half of the times I don’t even know if you are alive or dead..!
I blew off a breath, ‘I am sorry,
‘You know that I don’t do it on purpose, and most often it’s you that I connect to when I re-enter civilization and life in general’
She had turned her eyes back on to the screen. Peace was not an option at the moment
‘ In all likelihood you will live for seventy five years, make that seventy five summers, seventy five winters, seventy five autumns and seventy five springs. Abandon all pretenses, live everyday like it is your last. Now I am not asking you to make the world come to a halt, I am asking you to become a seeker, to seek and explore life, like a noir, like a nuance, like a strange dream, like a strange mystery. I am beckoning each and every one of you to grab onto life like it is a life hold, embrace yourself for who you are, embrace your anxieties, your fears, your desires, your hopes and dreams and live, live, live like a prairie, like a prancing antelope in deep interior Uganda, live like you have nothing to lose. Begin now’ spoke G (Eddie Murphy) on the screen
I felt my eyes swell up, I chanced a glance at her, and she had a similar look on her eyes as well.
That was deep huh..? I asked her with a silent smile,
Yeah it was, she said
The movie stopped for intermission, I looked at her and bumped my shoulders with her.
‘Sorry, I kinda get carried away sometimes, you know how I get’
‘So do you wanna hear about my latest adventure on the highway…? ‘
‘God, you live like a bum Jim’
Hey I am a bum, I said with pride
So Suresh decided that he wanted to tag along with me on one of my highway treks, so I usually sleep in this one spot on the highway, it’s kind of like a personal shrine, it is well shielded by the trees of course and the beach is just above this mini hump in the shore stretch. I usually mark my spots, now this spot is not that hard to find, but you should however make sure you reach there before six thirty because it gets dark after that. I usually carry my backpack along with me; and in it I have a first edition of Complete Freedom by Jiddu Krishnamurti, the Bible and a torn copy of Man’s search for Meaning by Victor Frankl.
Wait… Who is Suresh…?
Oh, he happens to be this guy I met on the train. The blind guy who quotes old Tamil poets and often regales me with stories of old madras cinema and all the heroines of that day, I think I’ve told you about him. I hang out with him sometimes. He visited me at my ashram and thus the idea was born.
Oh, yeah, yeah..! That Suresh eh..? So what happened…?
Well we reached around 11ish, and we had trouble finding my spot, because the shore stretch has 3 similar looking tree clusters, and you know how me and detail perform together. So anyway, we had stopped in the nearby village sanghi, a rough 20 kms from the Guindy-Ecr stretch, where a mechanic who once repaired my bike treated us with dinner; it was because his son had gotten an engineering seat or something I think, we hung around there for a bit. We left his place around 7, and after that I met Govindan, a communist friend of mine, who lives in a compound owned by some big shot movie type, he takes care of that compound, don’t ask how we met it’s a long story. We exchanged grand conversation, slandered a couple of local politicians, it was jolly good, we talked until ten thirty or so I guess, I bought him some chapatti and kurma from the nearby village, because you know he is rather old and often skips dinner.
Man you should check out the compound though, it’s sick, wicked and nasty. It’s on Pebble Avenue, and quite close to Sanghi village. It has mango trees, neem trees, guava trees and trees whose names I don’t even understand; I could not enjoy them because it was dark.
So Me and Govind discussed my new fascination with Zen Buddhism, the Buddha, dream symbols, personality traits of corrupt politicians and yada yada … Now you should know that Govind was one of the first people to create the communist party in Chennai, and he has quite a colorful past, if you throw in face-offs with gundas, passionate public speeches, some spicy romances in his hey days, and his subsequent lifelong passion towards humility and philosophy. He would occasionally throw in a quote by Nietzsche, Sadhguru and his personal favorite Periyar. He is that Versatile; he is a pleasure to hear by the way, had I not promised Suresh a night out at my shrine beneath my trees and my ocean’s infinite sheets, I would’ve stayed along. But promises were promises, and ol’ jim never breaks a promise. So I bid adieu to Govind with promises of return in the following weeks, it was just a half hour walk from pebble ave anyway. The streets were serene and glowed with the rays of the moon above, the stars are another story swooh. Man, it was perfect in that one moment, it’s a pity that Suresh could not see what I saw.
I lead him through the trees, my shrine lay beyond a 3 treed thicket, and it was perfectly sheltered and to a casual observer would blind him to the occupants beyond the wood and the green. I asked Suresh if he needed anything, some water, or some wine, or bread perhaps..? He politely refused my offers and instead lay his head back on an inflatable pillow that he had had in his bag and remained silent for a while. I in the meantime gathered some twigs and made a small fire. I studiously took out my copy of Man’s search for meaning and read as the flame flickered on. I read for a good fifteen minutes before being cast into a spell by the dancing flames of the fire, I sat completely absorbed in its delicious play. Did you know that in certain African cultures they converse with flames in matters regarding the future and the past..? They have been known to awaken certain slumbering spirits.
Suresh slept through the night without so much as a word, now you should know that certain activities take place just after midnight, certain restless spirits awaken from their gloom, certain wayward youths confide in the bottle and can cause quite a stir with their drunken antics, strange women appear and disappear. A lot of them can be said to be a figment of the mind, but the lines connecting reality and beyond reduce their rigidity in those brief and poignant moments, and as the world slumbers another seems to awake. A world whose secrets that I am very attentive to. I always tend to talk at length to certain elements of the inner world; I think that I have told you that. And they are usually intense; I search for my dreams, explore terrains shrouded by shadows and create characters to feel close to. I search sometimes for God as well. Sometimes I forget who and what I am in those burning moments of incomprehensibility. I meditated for about 3 hours, and surrendered my soul to the world within me. In my meditative state, I wandered amongst strange beings, came across varied vibrations, plunged into the depths of forbidden abysses and searched for historical beings. I often came face to face with art in those precious moments, and I would weep at my inefficiency and inability to express its message in the cold and brutal external realm. But anyway I slept for about 4 hours after that, in the morning I woke up, I woke up Suresh, we tidied up a little and we walked back. That’s about it. J
She took her time to process it all in, never commenting about any particulars.
‘Oh, Look the movie is back’ I said with joy
‘Jim…’ she said it a little louder this time
Huh..? I stared back with a dumb founded expression
‘Don’t disappear like that again without telling me, you understand…? ‘
Of course, I beamed
Hey you know the second part is really beautiful in the way it expresses the struggle Jeff’s character has to face when being confronted with a choice to either further his career or let G(eddie Murphy’s character) follow his journey. Real good stuff.
‘You’ve watched this already you dumb shit…? ‘
Of course my lady, I just wanted to watch it along with you !
This seemed to satisfy her for some reason, for she smiled at me for the first time since we’d met…..