Traveling India : perilous book writing : learning Namaste in Old Delhi
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
Before I understood that God brings all things about through us, I had to live my life out in the world. Out in this crazy, impossible, beautiful world.
And so at thirty years of age I was in Old Delhi, India- Mother India- and had been there for three months, unable to leave, because I was going mad on loneliness, Old Monk Rum, freedom, torpor, and words.
India, Mother India, a land of madness and miracles, where nothing is reasonable, and everything belongs, because in India there is no norm, no paradigm, no structure, nor concept upon which to base any idea of right or wrong, for the Mother accepts all, and is all. If you go to India and try to fit in, you never will, because no one fits in there, not even Indians. And that, I suppose, is why the Indians greet you as if you were a deity- as one for whom there is no duplicate, because to be unique is to be eternal, as eternal as God- which is why they greet you with namasté: I bow to the God within you.
At the time of writing this book I have been to India a number of times, and yet to this day the only word I have learned which I continue to use, besides chai, is namasté. It is a word I am still learning, and perhaps a word I will never finish learning. Namasté, I bow to the God within you.
It is a word which has no similarity with any salutation from the occident, and its closest approximations are the Hawaiian word Aloha, and the Alaskan Upik word Chamai, both of which have also been pathetically mistranslated into the banal English word 'hello'.
Namasté; it is a word which destroys this world, and creates another. In an instant. For, the moment we greet or part in this way, the entire fabric of the universe is re-woven and becomes an infinitely unpatterned unity where entropy and order, the sacred and profane, and the spirit and flesh are no longer opposites, for there are no opposites, and everything is singular, secular, and sacred, and all blemish is honored as a unique addition to the gyrating, cornucopic menagerie flung out from the fecund womb of ruleless creation.
When first I stepped foot on Indian soil, I felt as if I had landed on the moon. Never had I encountered a country whose impact shook me to the very core, like India. Of course, I had arrived before 1992, which meant that the Indian government was still refusing to allow any foreign products into the country- a moratorium which had been sustained for the previous forty years, as a further Ghandian step to remove all external influences, and help return the culture to its purest state, which was impossible, of course, but it provided the likes of myself with a destination which was so thoroughly unique and untainted by the rest of the world's offal, that it was, as I said, like arriving on the moon.
At that time India was an insular, inviolable, independent entity, both economically, and spiritually. Nowhere on earth was the seething chaos so uninterrupted, so organic, so thickly perfumed with the contiguous, ever-present Great Self, animating all, choreographing all, birthing all, burning all, and being all, as in India. Even unto this day, nowhere else is God so lost within the struggling microcosm, and so found within the panoramic whole.
On my first trip I had arrived both heartbroken and with a terrible fever, which is how I always seemed to arrive at any of the destinations I chose for an indefinite overseas trip, after I had said goodbye to all I had known, sundering the chords of love and malice which bound me to others, and so launching my shuttle out into the fabulous cosmos, to whirl about until landing God knows where for an unlimited length of time.
That first trip I stayed for six months, and by the time I left the mystic land, I was a part of India, and India was a part of me, and thus it would be now and forever.
And so I returned again after a few years, some two decades or so beyond that psychedelic night in Halifax, and I was on one of an infinite number of dirty, crowded, and chaotic streets of Hindustan, and all of the sudden a déjà vu set in, and the remembrance of that long and punishing evening as an eight-year old kid came tumbling back to me, as if I had finally come full circle and was now living out the reality of that fantasy, as if the dream symbology was now being fully manifested in my life, having taken over twenty years to play itself out, falling unnoticeably, but unavoidably, out of the timeless sublime and into time and disorder, and I was far off of the conveyor belt, and had no idea how I was going to ever get back on it again, for I was in Old Delhi, thirty-years old, and living alone in a loud and dingy, cheap as they come, crumbling hotel.
No traveler stays more than a few days in Delhi, if he or she can help it. Delhi is a place to leave, not a place to stay. Only I couldn't leave. I was a writer now. And that meant I was doomed. Doomed to live even farther apart from life, doomed to have a carbuncle forever eating away at me which no one else could see. Doomed to the awe, the solitude, and the paralysis necessary so as to allow the breech word to make its way laboriously out of the birth canal of my soul and not be dead when it hit the page.
I was a midwife, a whore, and a mother to the word back then. I would wake up every morning at about 6:30 am, just as the red orb was peaking its head above the horizon. By 7:00 am I couldn't imagine how I would make it through another minute, let alone another day, for the creative act was also a destructive act, and I was caught in the living tension between birth and death. I was in the grip of a force of which I had no knowledge at the time: the force of growth, and of decay. I was growing and dying, giving birth to the new, and burying the old. I was at every moment being born, raised, seduced, invaded, impregnated, and then giving birth, raising little ones, growing old, laying down, and dying, all at every moment of every day. Caught in the redemptive fire of the soul's own apocalypse, I was being accepted and rejected, judged and released, honored and despised, deified and denied, in each breath, act, and surrender.
But then somehow I would also be swept into the eye of the hurricane, and I would come to a calm, and after recovering enough composure to venture out, I'd have a quick breakfast every morning at one of the nearby dhabbas, and then head back to my little cement cell, at the mosque-like Camron Lodge, in the heart of Paharganj, Old Delhi.
The first few hours I'd spend typing into my prehistoric laptop the notes I had scribbled down the day before, always building up a work, and always tearing it down. I was an artist at work and the work was myself, and like the alchemists of old, I had confused the outer with the inner, imagining that I was writing, while all the while I was being written. I was in the tumbling throes of my descent into flesh. All that lies between the pages of this book is what I remember of that fall.
I suppose I took up writing because there was no other option for me as a way to exist in the world. There was not a career, occupation, or temporary job which held any interest for me. I had no desire to live by a clock, to help mankind fill the world with trash, or to saddle my unbound existence with a label or role. In other words, I was expendable, because I refused, as much as possible, to become an unwilling cog in a moribund machine.
And so writing became the only worldly activity for which I held any interest or energy. All else was merely clutter and obstruction. Though I suppose this is a natural reaction for a person like myself, and for those of a similar disposition. In fact, I once had a dream in which I was told that the vocation of art is a refuge given by God to those who are not fit for the world. And, to be sure, I was not fit for the world, not as it was anyways.
With such a critical, and categorical understanding- that writing was the one and only option for me, a spirit come down to earth, and that such a craft was the only means for me to not drift off into an ambivalent and fruitless existence, the meaninglessness of which has led so many of my brothers and sisters onto the street and its derelict ways, because that is what happens when you lose every mooring in life and float away, becoming a derelict in the caustic sea of human inhumanity- with that understanding I threw myself into the art without knowing where it would lead, but knowing that everything else would lead nowhere.
It seems like a romantic dream to imagine a young artist in a foreign country, dwelling in down-and-out hotels, smoking cigarettes, drinking chai, and living out the poetic nature of the soul. But that is where it ends- a romantic dream. The rest is loneliness, melancholy, or uncertainty. And yet, what in life is that much different?
Life includes pain, and that is that. Show me a person who has not suffered, and I will show you one who has not lived.
This is a realization which I had to acknowledge long ago, but which has helped me walk with a strong gait, regardless of the load I was carrying. And by that I mean I had to accept my failings, limitations, and unmet desires as best I could. I had to look forward, to cast away all that would bind me, to forgive myself for my continual blunders, to humbly pray for guidance when necessary, and from then on it was only a matter of sticking to the grindstone, and learning to love this life which is worth loving.
(excerpted from Roots and Wings: adventures of a spirit on earth, by Jack Haas)