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???"
Walhydra 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.
Now 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.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.
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.]
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?"
Our 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.
[Continued in WWSA, Part 4]