Friday, April 16, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 4:
In Which Walhydra stands corrected, but doesn't notice for the longest time

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 4: In Which Walhydra stands corrected, but doesn't notice for the longest time

If she's backed into a corner, Walhydra will begrudgingly admit that she's a fake. Well... maybe that's too strong a word for it, but "dilettante" sounds too pretentious.

It's important to her to be seen as one who knows the right answers, so of course that leaves lots of gaps to cover over. Despite this, fortunately, Walhydra's Virgo core won't let her lie…um…knowingly, which means that, when she's caught out, she will admit to certain things.

Like this, for example: she doesn't remember any past lives.

Knowledge will leak forward from them when she absolutely needs it—sometimes taking her by surprise—but she can't call it up at will.

Or like this: she doesn't have any sightedness or any training in secret wisdom.

She talks fast. She reads a lot. And when someone close by has a need, she finds useful things coming out of her mouth which she doesn't know she knows until she speaks them.

It's rather annoying. And humbling.

It's also why she had to give up smoking Sacred Weed. She was too readily entertained by ensorcellment and too careless of consequences. She confused imagination with revelation too easily. And she tended to get too fascinated by her own prophesying, forgetting that silence, not noise, is the fount of truth.

Given all this, when Walhydra opened her eyes upon the semicircle of New Delhi natives sitting round her half-lotus form at Connaught Place, she kept her mouth shut.

"Now I'm in for it," she thought. " 'S what I get for putting on this big saffron diaper. What an idiot!"

Amazingly, none of her polite attendants let on that she was an idiot.

They asked her intricate questions about her travels. They enjoyed her delight at the things she had seen and experienced in their country. And they did not insist that she impart any wisdom. It was a generous reprieve.

Namaste Mosaic, by bramblerootsWhen the gathering dispersed, Walhydra stood to make her own escape, only to be faced with a small, balding, brown man in a white Nehru jacket, who made Namaste with his steepled palms and then introduced himself. D.B. Gupta, barrister.

Long ago, Walhydra's childhood mind had confused the word "barrister" with "banister."

South Fox Island Light, Banister in Keepers DwellingThe confusion was heightened by old illustrations of the intricate wooden podiums, balusters and jury boxes of traditional British courtrooms.

Thus confounded by memory, Walhydra was momentarily distracted by images of darkly varnished railings and furniture and almost missed what Gupta-gee was saying.

He was inviting her to dinner the next evening in his office-cum-flat in another part of the city. Before she could find an excuse, Walhydra had accepted the offer.

Gupta-gee gave her elaborate directions for autobus connections and street turnings, accepted her assurance that she too was vegetarian, and bowed farewell with another Namaste.

"What in the world have I started now," Walhydra wondered. "Is this saffron some kind of invitation to trouble?"

Spouse Nikki just giggled when she told him the story. "You asked for the job, Sunshine."

"But Nik-keee-eee...."

"You're an adult. You'll cope."

As usual, the Aquarian hubby's way of helping out was to toss Walhydra into the deep end.

Blub, blub, blub....

The next evening, crowds of polite Indians watched as a thirtyish American faggot, wrapped in orange swaddling clothes and necklaces and wandering half way round the world from home, hopped from street to autobus to street in the least European part of Old Delhi.

Bus in IndiaTo complete the picture, the gentle reader needs to know that, in India, any available surface of a bus can carry passengers.

Walhydra had chosen not to hang from the outside window frames, as did a dozen or so others. She managed, instead, to squeeze into the side stairwell—hoping the saffron dhoti wouldn't come loose and leave her naked in the press.

At her stop—she hoped it was her stop—she climbed down, clothing fortunately still intact. The late afternoon sun showed her dusty, unpaved streets, ageless brick and stucco walls...and no street signs.

Still, following her directions, she was able to make her way to one high and nondescript wall, in the middle of which stood a wood-framed doorway and D.B. Gupta, the latter greeting her once more with the sacred gesture of peace.

Gupta-gee ushered Walhydra into a tiny space, two cubicle-sized rooms joined by an open archway. The farther room had the clerkly look of all those civil servant spaces in which she had spent so many unpleasant hours of late. The room in which Gupta-gee offered her a seat was what the British would call a "bed-sitter."

There was a couch or divan, upon which host and guest sat and which—the clever reader will have surmised—doubled as a bed. There were copiously filled bookshelves. Somewhere behind a curtain there was a source of water, storage space and, perhaps—Walhydra never dared ask—a water closet or some such contrivance for discrete biological processes.

And, to complete the bed-sitter format, there was a "cooker" in the middle of the floor. This one was not, however, the ubiquitous electric hotplate of British habit. It was a cylindrical charcoal-burning contraption upon which sat a vat of boiling water and a vegetable steamer.

Gupta-gee explained, as he pared and sliced a marvelous variety of vegetables into the steamer, that his strict but adequate daily diet consisted of these vegetables and two liters of warm, fresh whole milk. He needed no food storage space, since he bought these items in the local market just before each meal.

Walhydra watched as onions, various squash-like items, lotus pods and other nameless things dropped into the mix. Though it was served entirely unseasoned, Walhydra was surprised at the variety and distinctness of flavors in the finished product.

As if sensing her surprise, Gupta-gee smiled slightly and said, "The simpler the better."

Through their evening conversation, Walhydra learned that her host had a wife and three children, whom he supported yet with whom he did not live. He had some years earlier adopted a strict yoga discipline which included, in addition to his diet and exercise regimen, both celibacy and his present solitary life.

Anticipating his Western guest's skepticism, Gupta-gee assured Walhydra that his wife and family were fully in support of this ascetic separation. It was a time-honored path for parents of nearly-grown children in certain Hindu families.

Walhydra nodded, vaguely humbled.

The rest of the evening was rich and pleasant, yet, to her dismay as she retells the story now, Walhydra realizes that she remembers almost nothing of the conversation.

In those youthful years, Walhydra's attention was still distorted by a non-clinical, adolescent form of what is sometimes called ideas of reference. In other words, "Everything that happens is happening to me."

When she had made her way back to Husband #3 later that evening, Walhydra was delighted to tell him of her adventure. The bus rides and the passengers hanging from the windows, the bed-sitter, the strange meal, the host's asceticism. Yet the story was still all about her adventure.

Only now, years later, does she notice something simple.

Gupta-gee wore no saffron. Nor had any of the folk who sat round her at Connaught Place.

Walhydra had, to be fair, not really pretended to any holiness throughout this escapade. Yet the people in the park, and Gupta-gee in his tiny flat, had all treated her with politeness and—yes—reverence.

As she ponders the whole story now, she wonders:

"Perhaps putting on the saffron was not an act of declaring oneself a holy man. Perhaps it was an act of asking to be shown what being a holy man might be."

[Continued in WWSA, Part 5]

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 3:
In Which Walhydra and Nikki give new meaning to the Zen saying, "After enlightenment, the laundry"

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 3: In Which Walhydra and Nikki give new meaning to the Zen saying, "After enlightenment, the laundry"

In our last episode, Walhydra was outraged to find herself labeled as an illegal alien. Righteous indignation being a favorite Virgo vice, we shall leave her stewing in it for now, while we travel back two weeks to fill in the gaps in our story.

One might call the present episode "Clothes Make the Man???"

Old Quarter, New DelhiWalhydra and Nikki figured that the obvious first business upon regaining New Delhi was to get to the American Embassy, report her stolen passport and find out how to replace it. So, on a bright Indian July Monday morning, they set out on foot from Hotel Neelam, a native inn buried in the Old Quarter behind Connaught Place, the main downtown park and commercial center (now dreadfully "modernized").

Walhydra was still struggling to practice Buddhist equanimity, so she tried her best to enjoy the long trek through this urban version of THE human experiment.

Picture, if you will, two young men, one American, one British. Both have hair to their shoulders, the Brit with a reddish beard to boot. Both have Celtic pendants, Indian beads, golden earrings, leather sandals and woven shoulder bags. Both wear the light, white cotton shirts and drawstring pants which they bought in Greece before flying East—sans undies, of course.

Two reasonably cheerful faggots on holiday, right?

As they walk the several miles to the Embassy, picture it starting to rain. An Indian summer monsoon kind of rain. They splash along wide, urban boulevards, giggling at their predicament, and arrive, finally, at the great "golden door" of expatriate America.

Picture what light, white cotton clothing is like when it is drenched and translucent, clinging in artful, designer-ad style to every contour of the human body.

Marine in full dressNow picture our two wet travelers, shoulder bags now held strategically in front of them, as they meet the impassive glare of the full-dress Marine guard in the entrance foyer of the—extravagantly air-conditioned—U.S. Embassy.

Picture them shuffling through lines, sitting in offices, blushing, shivering, smirking privately to each other—all the while dealing with embassy staff in their most crisp and professional "male secretary" style.

Buddhist equanimity, hah!

Over the next two weeks there were actually four more trips to the embassy, to bring passport photos, to get an immunization card, to get the passport, to get the travel visa, but this was all pretty bland business. The "entertainment"—and the lessons—of that fortnight (always wanted to use that word!) lay elsewhere.

After the episode of the see-through clothing, Husband # 3 decided that he wanted to don the saffron scarf and dhoti of an Indian holy man.

Being an Aquarian witch from the Isle of Wight and, by his own totally non-facetious account, a guardian of Glastonbury Tor (Walhydra does not scoff, having seen the reality of it), Nikki knew he could quite properly assume this costume.

Being a thirtyish-adolescent Virgo wanna be and, by her own totally petulant yet sometimes honest self-assessment, an apprentice to said guardian, Walhydra went along to buy her own saffron—but didn't dare to put it on the first day.
[Note: A dhoti is about five yards of muslin. One wraps it round one's waist, leaving the first yard or so hanging free on the right, and knots the top edge at one's navel.

The longer, left-hand piece is drawn front-to-back between one's legs. One pleats the remainder and tucks it in back above one's bum (that's "butt" for you Yanks). The right-hand free bit is also pleated and tucked in the front.

The result looks like pantaloons and can be very comfortable—provided one has spent hours practicing how NOT to leave a great wad of fabric hanging awkwardly between one's legs. An extra two-yard piece doubles as shoulder- or head-scarf.
Walhydra giggled watching Nikki wrestle with the yards of fabric that first day, yet once he'd mastered it, she confessed it suited his bony-but-too-white body well.

With his long auburn hair and beard, his betel-nut necklace, incongruous Celtic bracelet and pendant, and leather sandals, Nikki strode ahead of Walhydra with stately grace down the gloomy entrance corridor of the Neelam...

…and promptly dropped feet first into the shallow, open sewer duct which a staff person had accidentally left uncovered.

Back in their room, rinsing shit from his sandals and dhoti and from between his toes, Nikki was philosophical.

"Ain't it just like the gods," he mugged, "to be sure a bloak don't get too uppity?"

Walhydra, believing herself to be too perfect a Virgo to be "uppity," nodded.

Later that day, at the invitation of some young European and American friends, Walhydra and Nikki moved to another native hotel nearby. Its name, Palace Heights, was a bit grandiose, yet it did have a clean rooftop patio from which one could watch Delhi stirring each morning over one's tea and brekkie.

It was on this rooftop that Walhydra debated with a young Brit the next morning when she appeared for the first time in saffron.

The Brit argued that donning the vestments of someone else's religion without being a practitioner was disrespectful. Walhydra—who could not imagine herself being disrespectful—insisted that, in fact, her dress was a gesture of emulation and respect. This was the role to which she aspired. That was her argument.

What was this story's opening complaint?

"I already know this stuff. Why do I need lessons?"

Sadhu in saffronOur two would-be sadhus walked out into Connaught Place. This is a great, circular central park, ringed about by the broad, roofed sidewalks which front the colonial-era offices and shop fronts of New Delhi.

It's the sort of place where hereditary beggar caste women sit on blankets and point their precocious toddlers toward the white people who pass by. Already masters of their family trade, these youngsters have the touch: a creepy sort of oh-so-light brushing of one's arm or hand which makes one want to throw money as a warding gesture.

This morning, however, the saffron apparently served as a shield. Walhydra watched Nikki stroll off on his own. She was well accustomed to his knack for drawing to himself new students and friends. Let's be honest: she was often annoyed and envious.

Today she simply walked a separate way, "being mindful." When she found a comfortable, open spot, she sat half-lotus on the grass, closed her eyes and settled in to meditate.

Now, this was during the years when Walhydra still thought meditation meant "getting into a certain state of mind." She could do the calming the physical body part fairly well, but then she was always a bit uncertain what was supposed to happen next.

Lots of intrusive thoughts, of course. Itching ears. A foot falling asleep.

And, sometimes, an immeasurable stretch of thought-free, intensely focused concentration on the space before the third eye. A sense of focus which was either that "certain state of mind" or the start of a dizzy headache.

Walhydra drifted through the various stages of physical and mental centering.

Relaxed. Felt the spaciousness of a quiet mind. Smiled blissfully.

And opened her eyes to find a semicircle of a dozen or so Indians sitting in polite silence around her.

Oh, dear....

[Continued in WWSA, Part 4]