My original Darwin - Singapore ticket put me in a small bus with eight other European travellers; this bus and its driver carried us precipitously and without much apparent concern for tomorrow from Denpassar to the western end of Bali where we thankfully exchanged the mad bastard and his minibus for the salubrious ferry to Java. The trip through Java to Jakarta was without incident passing through Surabaya and then Jogjakarta, epicentre for the wax-based tie- dying arts of Indonesia, the batik industry; both cities densely crowded with people and things; smells sweet, sour, foul, heavenly, putrid as though the human population, having existed for so long in the one place could finally be itself, a contented tangle of negotiated compromises. Nothing underground here. The city of Jakarta was largely unrecognisable; even the central canal seemed to have gone – maybe the city’s centre had migrated elsewhere attracted by proliferating concrete, steel and glass skyscrapers. I laboured through the crowds and the saturating heavy heat and headed for the port, disinclined to spend time in the city even though it may have harboured here and there fragments of my childhood occupation – perhaps I might have found the Italian restaurant where the waiter had taught me, all those years ago, to eat pasta with a fork and spoon or maybe the suburb we’d lived in was still recognisable. But such prospects held little charm so, jumping into a betjak, I asked the peddler take me to the port where I hoped (ticket scheduling was a loose, open-ended arrangement) to find a ship preparing to sail for Singapore. The ship was there, huge belly kissing the dock, several access ramps carrying an evidently endless stream of cargo on board. Busy place. Was there room for one more? No baggage, nothing to take up too much room, just a small bit of deck would suffice. But the deck was wall to wall people and their children, chickens, packages, the odd goat. The office said that this trip was booked out, the ship packed to capacity. The next one wasn’t for another three days. Three more days in Jakarta? I was desperate to get on. A fellow I’d met on the dock had a booking on this trip and suggested I could get on the ship masquerading as his porter. He had a couple of bags one of which was quite heavy, so I picked it up, my own small shoulder bag hardly noticeable and followed him up the gang plank where his ticket was checked by the steward. My acquaintance indicated his bag and said something; as I got to the steward he nodded at me and I just kept walking, carrying on my accomplice’s bag. For the next hour and a half before the ship sailed I moved around the crowded deck and avoided anyone who looked official. I did have a ticket, but it was just not for this trip. Clearly the authorities were not that concerned about overcrowding and in the end, in spite of the ship being dangerously packed from a European perspective, the comfortable familiarity with which Indonesians live in large numbers in close proximity meant that I wasn’t ever questioned…just another passenger faced with the singular task of finding a small corner on the thickly packed upper deck to lie down. It was a two-legged journey stopping off on the southern tip of Sumatra in a place called Tanjungpinang. Just a large village really. I got off the ship for a wander around with a couple I’d met on deck, had a meal – no dining facilities on ship so far as I could tell – and strolled back on board, heading straight for my preferred spot, right on the front of the rusting steel hull, one leg draped on the port side the other on the starboard side, sitting astride this colossal machine invisibly extending its entire throbbing mass behind me as I gazed into future’s wide horizon, the cool breeze intensifying as the ship strained for her cruising speed to Singapore. At times, below me in the green waters, pods of dolphin rode exuberantly the currents surging before the ship, their pleasure infectious as I sat astride this narrow world, a small man riding the interface between steel and sea. Singapore, and my first footfall on the Asian continent, did not at first have much to distinguish it from the hustle of Indonesia aside from the fact the natives could speak English. The customs officials, sharply turned out in crisp ironed white shirts and baggy khaki shorts, had, at the time, a brief to shield the island nation from the contagious corruptions then thought to be carried by men whose hair length extended over their collar. I’d heard about this alleged plague threatening the ordered little world of Singapore and not wanting to be identified as a possible carrier and denied right of passage had cut my hair off, totally camouflaging the lurking anarchy which had the authoritarian rulers of this once-upon-a-time English enclave nervous as hell. Ridiculing the island and its fears rebounded in a most unpleasant way as though my scorn had offended the place; and just to let me know that a nation state may do as it pleases, it caste me down, sicker than a baited dog as I groaned, vomited, spewed, diarrhoead, puked, writhed and sweated for two days as a toxic invader and a million of his mates picnicked through my suffering body. I beat them all in the end, but it was hell on earth there for a while, Singapore vanished, the off-white walls in my hotel room went a kind of suppurating green; I was never going to eat again. Actually the food in Singapore was fantastic; the city had an army of providers along its roads, serving a mind-boggling variety of stuff to the passing parade, it just happened the excellent flavours disguised the tiny bacterial freeloaders in the dish of noodles which then ran amok in my gut. The city officials would have been better advised to forget about long haired hippies and their degenerative mind disorders and instead clean up the kitchens. It’s a point of view. Like all good disease, you learn from the experience. Well, your body learns. That was the last time I got sick in my journey through Asia, the Middle East and Europe. And it had nothing to do with careful consumption; like women who perennially forget the excruciating pain of childbirth and do it again, wherever I went I would eat whatever was in front of me, apparently now oblivious to the uncomfortable encounter in Singapore. But that brief disease seemed to have inoculated me from further infestations so I travelled, eating and drinking without concern or dire consequences. With one memorable exception in the chill nocturnal Kumaon hills of northern India… After a few days to recuperate, wandering around the neatly trimmed parks and gardens I was fascinated by the variety of monkeys whose main game seemed to be to entertain their human cousins with outrageous theft and thrilling agility, not to mention ill-concealed mischievous intent. What is it about monkeys? Diminutive analogues for us more sophisticated bipeds, their antics offer a glimpse, a surreptitious tear in civilisation’s fictive seal. We peer through, perhaps not quite believing, but entranced by the subliminal resonance of an ancient memory. From Singapore to mainland Malaysia there’s a bridge. I walked across it and headed for a train to shunt me north to Kuala Lumpur. This city seemed to float in a hot sea of tumescent air, speckled red flowering trees and baking bitumen. Somebody had told me the Sikh temple offered free accommodation to travellers. The bearded, turbaned men were kind and considerate, affording me a bunk in a small, dark concrete room, clean and quiet. They made no demands beyond drug prohibition. At dinner time the kitchen confirmed the culinary reputation of this generous people. Their reputation as security and transport workers I wasn’t to discover until life in India would reveal the specialising imperatives caste within her cultures. From KL the trail went north to Thailand. From the Thai border town a disconsolate old steam engine dragged a line of packed carriages all the way to Bangkok, a massively spreading fungus- like growth the train slowly penetrated eventually reaching into the heart of this most chaotic of cities. More noise, rubbish, cars, motorbikes, clutter, cramped housing, tiny alleyways, doors and windows than anywhere I’d ever been; the roads seemed like they’d been designed by a different committee for each block where no one knew what anyone else had in mind beyond the broadest idea of creating a surface for vehicles and people. A good deal of the time the directional flow of these surfaces appeared completely undetermined, much like traffic on a river. No doubt the massive volume of traffic slowly ground its way to a destination; the whole thing, beastlike, animate, perhaps even sentient did have a whiff of organisation about it but to one just blown in on a whim, the sensation of being carried along by this thing was…uncanny. The river metaphor is a good fit for Bangkok as the whole city seemed hedged by canals and rivers, streams, swamps; people living on the water because that’s the only space left, everywhere loosely tucked and shambolic. Maybe it was the other way round. Maybe the first people to live here lived on the water and when that became too crowded eventually moved onto reclaiming land and brought their water world with them so that now their roads behave like rivers… Accommodation in a place like Bangkok can be anything you like, but I wasn’t here to look at temples, zoos, the sex industry or duty-free shopping - just simply passing through. But so massive is the place, so intense its gravity that for four or five days I wandered, cloudlike, trapped in the miasma of this effluent place. As a child I’d passed through Bangkok with my parents and we’d done many of the touristy things and places, including one memorable encounter with the Reclining Buddha. It was enclosed in a building tailor-made and tight around the giant polished bronze image leaving only a thin margin along its flanks for the faithful and the curious to try to take in this extraordinary object. My mother had whispered in my eight- year-old ear that this Buddha was famous for his ability to smell a lie. Anyone who’d ever told a lie would be identified by said reclining object of worship which would then crush the offender by rolling off his plinth. Bloody hell thought I, backing into the wall and sliding as quickly and as quietly as I might to the exit where the scorching white light and heat of the outside world suddenly beckoned attractively. So I’d done the temple thing before; now I strolled past outside, observing detachedly the saffroned monks and their begging bowls, the many polished Buddhas, their humble supplicants, the unblinking continuity of belief that determined the lives of vast numbers of human beings. In spite of Thai Buddhism’s non-theistic ideology its style and preoccupation with glitter and gold had strong similarities with pre-reformation Christianity with its rich traditions and ritualistic worship of myths, idols, relics and saints, none of which, in my view, had any authentic relationship with the inner life of the Spirit I so earnestly sought. So I meandered about eventually returning to my cheap hotel room. To get to the room you had to walk through a restaurant and climb a set of stairs in the back. Upstairs the rooms were cool and dark, tall ceilings. Beds comfortable enough but the walls did not go all the way to the ceiling. About three quarters of the way up they became spaces filled with an insect proof material. No mosquitoes, always a blessing, but plenty of noise from the other bedrooms. Innocent as I was, not to say naïve, the good number of gorgeous young Thai women in the restaurant at all hours did not suggest any extra services available through the Thai Song Greet (transliteration questionable) hotel. Very friendly they were those girls; they’d smile and laugh a lot at me, sitting, diligently tossing down the fabulous fare fired out of the open kitchen. It never occurred to me they were sex workers until late one night the sounds of their trade floating over into my room eventually woke me up as to why those girls stared and giggled at me so boldly. So I was staying in a brothel, but thanks to the accommodating nature of the owners, nobody ever put the hard word on me to buy the product. Or even the soft word. The workers were essentially passive and apparently not required to tout for business. Maybe that’s why the rooms were so cheap: the number of guests not taking advantage of the hotel’s plat-de- jour must have been negligible and adequately compensated for by the regular contributions from the girls. I don’t think I ever really got my head around the idea that people pay for sex. What are you buying …the license to walk away undisturbed? I thought the maintenance and negotiation was integral to the fun, stirring in complex emotional flavours and accelerating intensity without which sexual relations would seem to be not much more engaging than masturbation. OK, naïve. For an inadvertent cuddle between the carnal and the religious there’s probably no riper city on earth than Bangkok; its two syllabled name a combination of a euphemism for fucking combined with and a penis vulgarism…no wonder the place is teeming with religious iconography – for balance? North of Thailand lies Burma, or Myanmar as the ruling military junta prefers to call it and in 1971 it was, like today, a paranoid state and did not allow casuals to wander through, so an alternative was to overfly the hapless and oppressed population. As my Indian destination lay somewhat to the north-east of Delhi, it was to that city I flew in one of Air India’s finest. Rattling and shaking, the old plane lunged gamely towards the end of a Bangkok runway and I for one wasn’t entirely convinced she’d make it into the air. But make it she did, lifting slowly and painfully, her engines howling but still not drowning out the clatter and bang of loose fittings in the cabin. Reaching cruising altitude, and by way of contrast, the sari clad hosties glided, silky smooth, down the aisle with their obligatory refreshments and confidence inducing smiles. After some hours banging through the skies of south Asia, landing did not straight away discourage the shy disquiet lying low in the belly as the steel machine’s pilot pounded the plane’s ageing body down onto a blistering New Delhi tarmac. It was the middle of the night, weak lights pooled orbs of mad insects as I walked towards the terminal, my body instantly dripping sweat, tuning into the surprising, saturated nocturnal heat, mind absorbing the density of human activity servicing the airport as though here there was no night. No night here, just the work, the bustle, the business trucking on, immune to the niceties of waking and sleeping. Here it was permanent daytime, hot, clammy, permanently awake in the dark. Crowds of dusty carry-wallahs lay over their carts, taxi drivers in casual clusters playing cards, bright eyes beaming from dark faces, child entrepreneurs, beggars, all touting for trade or exchange, something, anything, all having some relative or best buddy with just the place you needed to wash away the sweat and adrenalin of your encounter with Air India and the evening air of New Delhi. I’d been told about some good cheap accommodation in the old city, frequented by the overland crowd, the doped-out drug tourists; eventually I found a driver who would take me there rather than to his cousin’s obviously much better arrangement. That was no easy negotiation; the competition for tourist money was intense, it really was a matter of survival. The roads and alleyways into Old Delhi witnessed the precarious nature of survival here with people and their meagre possessions sleeping clustered and sheltered with rags or cardboard or bits of sheeting, tangled woven humanity carpeting just about anywhere you cared to look. The old city was still humming and trumpeting late in the night as the taxi very slowly waded through the confusion of people and cars, trucks and Harley Davidson taxis, bicycles and cows, India’s facsimile street cleaners, languidly chewing up old paper and bits of rubbish, gazing about with supreme detachment, knowing their place, unchallenged in this Hindu world, supremely confident in their lot. India is a place big on knowing your lot, your place in the scheme of things, an ancient order cruel and dispassionate in its application. The hotel was tucked into a corner of what seemed like the core of a teeming termite colony wedged between two extraordinary sweet shops loaded with an uncountable variety of delicacies, the whole quarter a chaos of shops and eateries all still busy trading with the apparently infinite crowds who surged about, lit by a weak and limping electricity supply struggling for authority in a conspiracy of shadows. The hotel had a couple of beds available, but no rooms. The vacant beds were up on the roof. After climbing five or maybe six floors up the zigzag spine of this very old, dilapidated building, I emerged into the warm close air of nighttime Old Delhi and rooftop accommodation with a view. Weakly bleeding lights from a mega city, in dark equation with smoke, exhaust fumes and whatever volumes of unknown pollutants, had combined to render the dark grey and pink sky blank, with no stars to see, but on the ground, in an inverted parody, billions of tiny twinkling lights to the horizon. Under such a sky and in such a city I lay down to sleep, tired and oblivious to the other hotel guests sharing this marvelous place. Life in Delhi was a pleasure. To have arrived in India must have been some sort of relief as the constant urge to catch a bus, a train, get on down the road, seemed to evapourate in the staring heat of Delhi. With her blue skies pale and dilute from dust and pollution, her carrion vultures spiraling high above the red walls of the ancient fort I wandered the streets of the old city. Sometimes for the pure fun of it I’d jump one of its Harley taxis – this machine represented a significant evolution from its antecedent, the Indonesian betjak, inheriting the advantageous and spectator friendly design of the betjak where passengers sit in the front facing cab, but relieving the Harley rider of the humiliation of peddling another human being. The Harley driver was in comparatively effortless heaven, his cab driven by 1000cc’s of internal combustion; unfortunately the city’s air was not so heavenly - in part thanks to the many hundreds of such engines pumping out their toxic exhaust. But what a great way to get about a dense and crowded city, providing a dress circle spectacle, a front row seat where you could reach out and run your hand along the side of a cow meandering across the road as the driver gently circumnavigated the sacred beast. Life in India would prove to be a fantastically sensory experience. But that’s not what I was there for; I didn’t even have a camera! Unthinkable in today’s highly technologised world where all experiences can be, must be, mediated through some product, some piece of equipment, some agency, all of which, in an accumulation of small ways, adds up to robbing the traveller of an immediate and direct interaction with the discovered world. The advantages of photography, moving and still, and their hard copy certainty must be measured against the loss of memory and story telling functions, a diminishing of intuition. Dependence on any external aid eventually reduces creativity and the human skills integral to communication developed over thousands of years. None of this is obvious at the time, none of it probably even noticed, but take away the props, the toys, the mediators and suddenly there it will be, standing in your face, that sense of emptiness, the feeling of unfamiliarity, dislocation, because somewhere down the road we’d sold off our personal vision for a technological dream. When was that moment? New Delhi was a place I had to go for logistical reasons: the bank – for the unavoidable money transfers and back in 1971 India’s banks still operated largely from ledgers, giant dog-eared books, their once-upon-a-time white pages stained light brown with multiple use, and apparently practically useless. Finding a transfer from an Australian bank took about ten days – that was just finding it – it had been there but no one could find the right ledger – or something. It was all hand made. And not a little frustrating. Every day back to the same bank for the same diligent and willing workers to flick through the same ledgers with the same result delivered with that slightly disconcerting left to right bobble of the head. “Terribly sorry Mr Gilmour, your bill of transfer does not appear to have been processed at this end”. But of course it had. It was just buried. Deep. Those ledgers…I wonder where they are now the world has Windows? Leaving the bank I’d walk along to Connaught Place, a huge circle of mostly high-end shops, boutiques and expensive eateries all connected with a covered cloister whose archways gave onto a central garden area. The walls had once been colonial white, washed into the concrete render, but had over some good number of years been the target for spitters. Europeans have long abhorred the practice of public expectoration, putting up big signs all over their public transport utilities discouraging the practice. I don’t know what some Europeans put in their mouths to produce a culture of spitting but in Delhi it was betel nut juice. The mild narcotic favoured throughout South East Asia as a digestive aid produces inordinate volumes of bright red saliva which have to be spat out. The cloistered walls of Connaught Place had what appeared to be generations of spit residue reaching about four to five feet from the ground and on close inspection revealed a depth and variety of tone to suggest framing for display in a New York art gallery. This saliva graffiti continued unbroken around the full circumference of that colonial edifice, with apparently no concern by the authorities to remove it. The current iteration had to have been there for at least five years…Australian local councils’ obsession with graffiti eradication apparently not shared by their Indian counterparts. Or perhaps the subversive act of spitting on the walls of a building put there by their former colonial masters suited the political climate and its officers did not want to whitewash local activism to past exploitation. Maybe, maybe not. The failure by Australian council officers to understand graffiti as an appropriative and signal gesture of a disempowered minority worthy of its place in a world replete with commercial signage says much of the myopic mindset of petty officials and their ageing conservative supporters. The matter has of late lost all its mirth; it’s been tamed and reconstituted as a kind of official wallpapering of the street, its edge blunted in smothering and banal decoration. Pretty enough no doubt, but empty of cultural, creative or psychic identity. Some will argue existing graffiti itself represents a kind of cloned identity, from the much derided tags, scribbles from a spray can, to the more sophisticated eye catching, multihued creations known as throw-ups and wildstyle. But the identity is at least authentic and subject to peer influence and design, a genuine first step on the anarchic path to invention. Some early exponents of street art have, unsurprisingly, been absorbed by contemporary mainstream art and names like Jean-Michel Basquiat and ……… have been turned into wealth production machines. Even though Basquiat managed to not deviate from the script for artists who fall into the heroin honey pot, his work continues to generate wealth for those who own and want to sell his expressionist vision, started humbly on the streets with the simple and ugly tag SAMO, Same ol’ shit. And it was the same ol’ shit that killed him. Here in Australia a couple of well-known painters have also favoured this script as a career move; Brett Whitely, famously, and more recently, suburban psychedelic Howard Arkley, neither of whose work suffered a collapse in market value on termination of supply. One afternoon, wandering the betelstain gallery after another unsuccessful encounter with the ledger handlers I happened upon the Canadian couple I’d eaten with in Tanjungpinang on our way to Singapore. They were looking a little the worse for wear and told me the heat was the least of their concerns. He was dressed much as many westerners, jeans, t shirt, sandals, his red hair tucked inside a panama-style hat shading his freckly face; his mate, a lovely looking, very long blonde haired woman, had decided that to be cool she had to wear as little as possible so the skirt was short and the blouse implied a generous cleavage. We decided to go to a nearby eatery for some refreshments. As we walked together the couple of hundred meters to the restaurant, I experienced for the first time the advantages in travelling alone I’d imagined before leaving Australia. A small crowd of young Indian men had gathered behind us as we walked and were obviously having some fun at our expense. By the time we got to the gates of the courtyard restaurant they were so close behind I could hear them breathing. In their enthusiasm for getting close to us one would occasionally bumped into our backs as they tugged playfully at each other, laughing and jeering. Most of their attention was focused on the woman who tried to use her man and me to block the party boys. As we entered the restaurant I hoped that would be the end of it as gingernut was losing his composure and his anger was bubbling just below his sunmarked skin but they followed us right in. Free country. We stood in front of the large blackboard menu contemplating the possibilities when suddenly the woman screamed out some abuse and swung an arm at the little band of nuisance. I didn’t see what had happened and before I could react the Canadian had grabbed a couple of the boys and was punching and kicking as they backed off yelling, putting on a great show of not having a clue as to why the mad white man was going ape. A table was knocked over in the struggle smashing a water container and scattering the three people waiting for their meal. It was all so quick I only had time to turn and watch the gang yelling angrily as they beat a retreat through the gates. In a matter of moments the restaurant manager had approached us and asked us to leave. That seemed something of a misjudgment on the part of the manager but he was adamant and so we left. Apparently one of the boys had stuck his hand up the back of the woman’s short skirt. What a pain in the bum having to be on guard just because your girlfriend likes to wear short skirts. Simple solution really. She just had to cover up, but coming from a western culture where laws unconditionally support women wearing pretty much whatever they like regardless of its possibly inflammatory affect on immature ball-bearers, she was either unprepared, unwilling or unable to make concessions to time, place and situation. They weren’t having much fun, the Canadians. The angry couple, rather than realise their own contribution to the mini drama decided to do the easy thing and blame the Indians; and through gritted teeth the guy swore they would soon be on their way back to Canada. Just a case of travellers not heeding the clichéd but practical advice: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Excessively enthusiastic support for said advice has been described as ‘going native’, an insulting term in colonial times for a deviant member of the British Club whose primary loyalties had swung from the patriarchal ‘us and them’ mindset to publicly supporting the colonised peoples’ culture and respecting intrinsic value in local customs, traditions, language. Such people would often assume elements of the local dress code, learn to speak the language, perhaps marry a local woman; such choices tell of respect for the visited country and its people. To describe such gestures in terms of betrayal, as disloyal and insulting, to ostracise individuals for something that’s probably no more than a generosity of spirit betrays a crippling insecurity and arrogance in the tribalism of the so-called ruling classes. I’ve always enjoyed the different local peoples in whatever country I’ve lived in, the then so called natives; I considered myself a native. A native Australian. That’s the semantic view I favour. But even in the 21st century the word is problematic in Australia. The political and sociological implications of ‘native’, clashing competitively as it does with ‘indigenous’ sometimes makes for complex argument. The situation is further nuanced by my ethnically ambiguous appearance. In recent years I have lived in Brisbane and through university studies met many Aborigines, at one point doing work experience in an Indigenous news radio station. Almost without exception, and based purely on appearances, these Aboriginal people identify me as a ‘murry’ the south east Queensland word for Aborigine – and it’s not because I routinely smear myself with white ceremonial paint. The use of tribalism and its multiple permutations as the locus for identity seems increasingly clumsy; global evidence suggests it’s now unworkable. Permutations of tribalism upon which to build a self include a religion, a football club, a nationality, a disability, a sexual preference, a race; the list is long and hard. But in the absence of the most obvious and accessible of all identity anchors, Being Alive, having consciousness, those lesser, divisible identities which are amenable to social, political and creative exploitation continue to thrive on our collective march to a MAD conclusion. But clumsiness aside, when I got to India my instinct was to merge with the surroundings, to pass unnoticed, to tread lightly; to that end I acquired a lota, a brass water-carrying container, a loose fitting cotton shirt and discarded my hot shoes – the light-weight faded green cotton jeans I’d worn from Australia were still well serviceable. This lota I carried on a thin woven strap diagonally across the shoulder in imitation of the wandering holy men, much respected in India. These Saddhus, who occupy a highly visible presence all over Hindu India, gather in ragged groups according to the divinity of their choice. Loosely speaking each of the three principle Hindu gods represents a primary function of the three-in-one Übergod, Brahman; and, to use terminology appropriated by the recently realised virtual world of cyberspace, his avatars, or those who act for him, are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and their respective roles are Creator, Preserver and Destroyer or cutely speaking, GOD as acronym: Generator, Operator, Destroyer, bridging the religious models of Abrahamanic and Hindu theologies . In spite of their shared model the operational ideology of Hinduism is the more tolerant of diversity with its younger derivative favouring a more puritanical, chauvinistic spin to the faith although very recent violent Hindu activism would suggest that for political reasons Hindus are learning some bad behaviours from their ideological opponents. The puritanical element dominating Abrahamanic religions can probably take responsibility for the devil narrative, the dark side of the human psyche. Since we are made in the image of God and God’s revisioned character, his New Testament profile, is merciful and meek, the dark side must be accounted for somehow, so, never at all comfortable with God as destroyer, he/she/it was repackaged enabling awkward, unpleasant and downright terrifying things in life to be attributed to Satan and his buddies, now cast down and on the outer, excommunicated from the heavenly choirs, but doing the Überone’s dirty work; like servants in an Edwardian castle who have their own staircase craftily built within the main staircase to provide discrete access. Who wants to see the servants walking about cleaning up? And isn’t that what the Devil does? Cleans up the moral world by weeding out the sinners? And there’s nothing that unites us quite as convincingly as a good enemy. Have a look at the thousands of white clad Muslims chucking stones at this same celestial identity when on the Haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Imagine how hard it would have been for George W. Bush to harness the dogs of war without the axis of evil. So, on account of my darkish skin, jewellery choice (I’d acquired a silver bangle worn above the elbow – most Shiva Saddhus seemed to have one) and the lota, I was accepted as one ‘on the path’ by Saddhus and the broader population. This finally killed off that most persistent and irritating of inquiries “What is the purpose of your visit?” But the lota thing was no expedient or simple affectation. In India there is no toilet paper outside the luxury hotels serving westerners. So how do you wipe your arse? Water has long been the custom and outside of the major cities the public toilet facilities are found in dry creek beds, behind bushes or wherever you can squat; if you want to wipe your bum, you’ve got to bring your own water. In the land of no eating utensils the lota served the vital double role of drinking and bumwash container. This potentially hazardous dual purpose is adequately managed by means of a strict apartheid when it comes to hands (left hand for wiping, right hand for eating). On my final day in Delhi I remembered a request from my ex back in Sydney. She had asked me to bring her home some saris. Just down from the hotel in the old city I found a clutch of sari shops, each shop manned by two, three, sometimes four men sitting on a raised carpeted floor drinking tea, eating cakes, chatting, surrounded by their wares of floor to ceiling neatly stacked silk and cotton possibilities. The first shop that arrested my browsing looked welcoming and alive, the men laughing brightly. I stepped up onto the shop floor and sat down with the three men who, realising they had a prospect, suddenly became attentive. No question in their minds about the origins of this young sahib. “What do you seek young master?” I thought the inquiry was tinged with some irony, making light hearted play of my pseudo- saddhu appearance as the men continued to giggle lightly, chatting in Hindi amongst themselves. Given the bargaining-based nature of shopping in India I thought I could neutralise any inclination they might have to rip me off by playing with them. “The truth is what I’m after. Can you tell me, in truth, which is the most beautiful sari in the shop?” “Truth and Beauty all in the one breath! Gracious me young man, you ask an amusing question and we are wondering if you can afford… and to what place would you be going in your beautiful sari?” “OK, it’s not for me”. Maybe they thought I was a drag queen. There’s an enthusiastic market in India for cross-dressed entertainment. Priscilla might have wowed ‘em in the pubs of Broken Hill, but the adventure had been going for centuries here in multicultural heaven. “Of course, not for you, perhaps a girlfriend?” So they dragged out ten, twenty different saris, each one paraded by one of the men, draped and displayed across his body in the full and certain expectation that this demonstration would prove the elegance and desirability of the modelled transparent fabric. Finally I selected a couple I thought might suit an Australian girl. After several minutes haggling about the price one of the men sighed. “You want most beautiful, you must pay most beautiful price”. I wasn’t convinced and was about to leave when the shopkeeper who had for the most part sat quietly at the back caught my eye. “Are you sure this is what you are looking for?” The change of subject surprised me into a smile. “If you are looking for beauty and truth you have indeed come to the right place. Here, look here, see this person, he will guide you to the truth, he is the living master, the one who can without fail reveal to you the purpose of your life and right at this moment he is very keen to meet westerners at his ashram in Hardwar, you can see him”. That took a bit of digesting which I did while scanning the little pink pamphlet he’d given me. There was a photograph of a chubby young boy, maybe twelve years old all dressed up in a decorative costume, made with materials not unlike those used to make the Balinese dancers’ costumes. I didn’t immediately recognise its identity so the shopkeeper informed me he was dressed up as Krishna, the Hindu etymological equivalent of Christ; although the Indians didn’t sacrifice theirs – he is usually represented having a blue body. Was that some kind of cross- cultural nod to the undisputed champions of the human sacrifice, the Aztecs, and their alleged penchant for colouring the bodies of their bloody offerings to the sun god with bright blue chalk? A kind of race memory to retain the idea that sacrificing humans doesn’t work? If that’s the case, by Roman times the lesson had been forgotten and so the old idea that somehow a sacrifice will do the trick gets reincarnated, but in the case of the Christian myth, a single individual is caste to carry the full weight of humanity’s perceived corruptions. This tangled sequence might well get the Monty Python treatment if they were still about as the new sacrifice ritual is riddled with ancestral and cultish blood curdling artifacts where the faithful drink the blood and eat the body of the sacrificial victim. Plus ça change. In the latest mad chapter in the saga of human sacrifice to god, that is apart from the usual ‘die for your country’ propaganda where country and god are conflated, we can see daily on the evening news evidence of deluded Muslims having blown themselves and others to smithereens in the hope of blissful martyrdom, a heavenly life with multiple virgins who, owing to the heavenly nature of it all, will presumably remain virgins. Did the young converts to this insane idea think it through? Back in the sari shop the men claimed the fancy dressed boy was the Living Lord – the claim seemed an extremely bad fit with the amateur hour dress-up pamphlet. The text of the pamphlet was entirely indecipherable, it was all in Hindi. The picture reminded me of a Belgian cultural identity, the mannequin Pis, a fountain statue of a small naked boy urinating in a gutter; at different times of the year the locals dress him up in costumes to mark the season. The chubby kid in the pamphlet, although apparently alive and evidently human looked like others had dressed him up for their own purposes. That such a person might reveal the purpose of my life was laughable, let alone the outrageous Living Lord thing, so I laughed and left, apologising for neither having the purse for the saris nor the head for the guru. And that was just about it for Delhi, it was time to head towards the foothills of the Himalayas.
No Man’s Land
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