Then there was the snap, I think I heard the sound too. Something snapped in the overall schema of the cosmos. I felt as if the umbilical cord connecting me to the mother ship snapped. I suddenly felt as I was a free flowing thought form, disassociated from all the manifestation, all material forms, all sense of perceptions, all articulation of form and matter, all needs and requirements, all limitations of vision and senses, there were no boundaries or shapes, it felt like zero gravity, like a lazy and sleepy revolving dance in zero gravity. I started feeling vibrations where I once saw forms such as people, trees, water, air or stone. All around and within were just vastness and oneness.
There were moments in my life earlier where I felt this, however, only in frames or moments of magic. This time, in the now, it was all there was to be. I surfaced on the ocean of everlastingness and all there was to be was light – endless and unbridled.
I will be honest at that very moment I felt contented and honestly didn’t knew exactly what the pronoun “I” meant or rather should I say that I knew what in true sense it was meant to be.
I placed by camera back in its pouch, placed the two Radha flowers on the scooter’s carry tray, took one more look at the plant where Radha grew and started riding towards the Chunambar backwaters resort.
The entry to the backwater complex was only about five hundred meters from where I found my Radha. The complex is a government run tourism initiative. I ask around for what the place has to offer a tourist and I am told that from the complex, a ferry takes people through the backwaters to an almost virgin beach – hence is a ferry through what is expected to be beautiful and scenic backwaters and then finally to a quite sand beach. I purchased the to-and-fro ticket for the ferry and wait until enough people arrive for the ferry ride to start. I waited for about twenty minutes by the wooden jetty of sorts. Around me, as I sat down and started to write, was a sweet and happy family of dogs. A new liter, about three weeks old, pampered by their mother. I always connect with dogs, a constant that has remained in my life. My love for canines. I look at those little pups and I am at once reminded of Stooky – the first dog I had as my companion. It was in the winter of 1996, on February 18, that we got home this mischievous mix-breed pup and I named him Stooky. From day one we connected, we both out did each other in levels of mischief and mayhem at home. Mom had enough on her hands managing us both and then as a family we decided to get one more pup, just two weeks after getting Stooky home. It was March 2 and we had gone to the Vet to get Stooky vaccinated and we saw a beautiful little fur ball. A month-old German Spitz and we took her home. We named her Jerry – funny name for a bitch. Well within two weeks we had two members added to our family. From that day onwards my life turned around. Being a single child I was always on my own, always doing my own things, always felt lonely at time and hence have always reached out to people more openly in my attempt to connect. Hence friends have always been more than friends in my life; they have always been an extended family to me. But with these additions I became more reliant. I became more responsible as an individual – that too at an early age. When you nurture something, you get connected with the purest part of yourself. Nurturing these pups and watch them grow – felt like a big brother watching over his siblings. I miss both Stooky and Jerry now. Both have passed away. Now we have another German Spitz – named “Jerry” again. In my head one of my yesteryear’s favorite song plays on—“The Animal Song” by Savage Garden.
Then suddenly a whistle blows, it is the boatman signaling that the ferry is ready to go. All the people who have purchased the ticked boarded the ferry one by one. The boatman pulled the string attached to the motor at the back of the ferry and the engine gargles into action and slowly we start our little journey through the backwaters. I wish I was the boatman—I know how to operate a motorized ferry and have been trained on it back in the days in one of my visits to Rameshwaram.
Soon the beauty of the backwaters steal away my thoughts. It was like how Kerala would have been at this time of the year. Calm and huge backwaters with dense tropical forests on both side, with the water reflecting like a mirror the glare of the sun and the dark green color of the forest on both sides and a black outline of the canopies. The backwaters, while looking through the ferry looked like an inverted world, a mirror image of the world around. Strange images form and then deform by the foamy water around the ferry. Every once in a while I see Radha’s face in those waters. In the depths, as if reflecting the world and emanating her depth to the world. Then suddenly her face will be no more, it will be then the face of the night scorpion. Radha, the unadulterated manifest form and night scorpion the mystic off-shoot that is both within and without Radha. A kind of super form, superimposition, yet only a shell and a transient one at that.
I spot a few sea gulls flying a few meters above the water level, a Kingfisher—the majestic bird of the water lands, a pair of beautiful skylarks. Skylarks in this part of the world means that this is the onset of the migratory season, the Skylarks migrate from colder reaches of European water belts to the warmer locales and enroute grace the India Ocean and Bay of Bengal. I see myself as flying at greater heights, watching over the sentinel system, I see myself as the bird of Jove, a golden eagle. Above my eagle flight is a far mightier and stronger bird prowling the skies, it is my Wanderer—a Garuda. Watching over the world and spreading his wings to mediate dark and light. Above the Garuda I see the night scorpion raising her karmic sting, ready and mounted with her delirious poison. Above the night scorpion, I see Radha shining like a Solar storm and when the light from Radha reaches the Golden eagle it shines like the brightest bird in the sky blinding all else. Then I look down again into the waters and these layers of realities, one on top of another, seem inverted, with me the Golden eagle at the top and in that order, the Garuda below him, the night scorpion and then Radha.
Magic of inversion!
Such images, thoughts and realities criss-cross my mind. I am mesmerized by all the beauty around. It feels good. I am happy.
In the ferry alongside me is a family of five—I am sure of them to be Aggarwals or Guptas. Then in front of me a middle-aged Tamil couple looking into the glaze of backwaters trying to find the romance lost to their years of marriage. Further to the nose of the ferry are seated three people. Someone of fatherly age and a very-young, just-married couple. I am intrigued somehow by them, don’t know why. I keep my gaze at them focusing my lancing intuition to draw out the truth behind their eyes. I slowly get a sense of what they are like, but my mind takes time to piece together the strings of feelings and built a coherent reality of their lives. The ride to the beach was fairly long, unlike most ferry rides at tourist destination. It took a good twenty minutes or so. The backwaters, unlike the sea, have a supremely calming effects on most people and it had no different effect on me. It calmed me further, well almost to sleep. It is like losing yourself in the long tresses of your lover.
As the ferry neared the beach, the sound of the waves started merging with the calm of the backwaters and there was a slow introduction to the babe of Bengal. We arrive at the beach spot and disembark from the ferry. Walking towards the beach line, I realize this is an almost untouched beach. Far disconnected from civilization, possibly this could be a place just in the vortex of my strange mind. Was this real? It felt as if the beach was a junk yard of lost souls, souls who have forgotten what they were ought to do, or souls who have outdone their spirit, a kind of exile beach where your soul gets trapped for all eternity in the same state as it arrived here. A null and a void—a coordinate that did not exist in the cordon of time and space. A beach for immortals when they have outlived life itself, for the retrograde consciousness, for the ant that has realized that it is GOD, for the truth that knows that all this does not exist. All this could be a random aberration or a trick played by the mind. But whose mind? Does Pondicherry exist? Do I exist? Is Radha real? Or is it just another of those fervent attempt by the system to keep a rebel mind under check? Is poetry the only medicine? Is poetry the most feared of weapons by the keepers of this landscape? What if it came to our knowledge that all our collective memories were a farce, all our lives and its individual histories just a scripted sitcom, all our loves nothing but a journey to our inner self, all our hates and dislikes just our inability to cope with our own selves? What if I told you gravity does not exist?
I stroll alone on the beach line, the only people around are the eleven people who were ferried here. They all pick their respective spots near the beach. I stroll. I know what this place is meant to do. I can smell and taste its purpose.
I spot a small grey shell crab on the beach and click a photograph—my god is he fast moving or what? Took me three shots to get him in the frame right. Cancer—the crab. Strolling along the coastline, alone, with the foam of the sea flushing my floaters, I get a distant sense of how Khalil Gibran would have felt in his heart when he wrote “The Prophet”. I get a sense that he too is acknowledging my presence in his solitary beach. I get this strong sense that he is smiling at me from there, and half expecting me to smile back. I do.
I am just a grain of sand,
Blow me away to distant lands,
I am just a trick of the hand,
It’s your music played by my band,
I am just a nubby drop,
Plant me in your heart and I shall crop.
After a good hour or so, I look back at the people who were my ferry companions. I see the family of three, the old man and the young married couple and in one shot I get the truth of their life—without any exchange or words, just like that, through God’s own merit in me. This is the story of their lives in a nutshell:
“The old man has accompanied his married son and his wife on this trip. He sorely misses his wife, who has passed away to an ailment. He feels deeply uncomfortable carrying on his life without his wife, his partner through thick and thin. Yet, he concedes to life each day and tries his best to be around for his son and daughter-in-law. But he is deeply uprooted from life. He feels that his presence is an intrusion in his son’s life. The daughter-in-law does her part to talk to the old man on the beach and make him feel as much part of the deal as he is. But something is amiss. The old man is waiting for his end and is praying to God that he takes care of his son’s life when he won’t be around. This place does this to these people. They unashamedly feel what they are feeling.”
I walk within striking distance of the old chap and look into his eyes. I convey, without words or action, that I understand what it is all about. His eyes respond in a humble gesture of thanks to me and reassurance to himself. Eyes speak in languages yet not heard by man. Such potency!
From the background we hear the familiar grunt of the engine; it is the ferry bringing in more tourists. I decide to head back to Auroville and so take the ferry back to the Chunambar complex. From there on I pick up my scooter and ride back on the Pondicherry road. The Radha flower on the scooter’s tray has bloomed further. Deep indigo-blue shade and a sublime fragrance. I stop at the Le Café and order a few Radhas and gulp them down like routine shit. Like a drunkard on a bar stool. Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!
By now the waiters at Le Café have started to recognize me and have started giving me the welcome smile whenever I drop in and ask me “So Saaar, should I get you a Radha Juice?”
Yes baby, yes. Get me Radha. Get me all your Radha. I am holding my ground and making my claim. Get me my Radha, my stake. Bring her on in any form or matter that one might seek & find and I will be her true keeper. In this dance of zero gravity, where up is down, all left is right, I will fall above into Krishna and through whatever gods who keep this source code hidden, I fall into all of them consuming all gods and emerging from them as me, I consume all powers and cardinals, I devour myths and tranquilize inhibitions, I lunge and plunge into the core of Radha. Into the inferno of manifest, into the source of this light, breaking her rib cage of fears and preconceptions, straight into heart. Unwelcomed and uncalled. I barge in, ground my spear, let go of my shield in the battlefield of the universal heart. I plant my ticking bomb inside her myriad forming heart and sit and wait for the thunderous explosion. Into that where there is a dungeon of musical keeps and a lonely melody weeps. ‘I’ the true shape shifter attain the unattainable and thus make this very statement absurd.
The number of Radhas consumed go up to insane levels, and then in about a couple of hours, the waiter announces—“Sorry Saar, we have run out of today’s stock of Radha juice. Saar! You drank 23 glasses of Radha.”
Then it freaking hit me that I am about to burst out into the ocean. I could hardly move, so freaking full of Radha. After another hour or so of sea gazing and I decide to head back to my cottage in Auroville and enjoy a much missed afternoon siesta. I ride back on my scooter almost half asleep. Reach my cottage, and fall into the bed and doze off.
When I woke up the sun was still shining brightly through the window. It felt as if I had a slept for a long time. I looked at my watch, it was 3:30 p.m. The early start to the day was really a magic. Here I was after all the adventure and an afternoon siesta and it was still not even four in the afternoon. I felt vague pangs of hunger and a tremendous urge to write down the notes for day. I washed my face, picked by tote bag, my camera and the scooter keys and off I went. I rode towards Auroville and on reaching there, the first thing I did was I picked up the Radha flowers from the scooter’s carry tray and ran to Neeraja’s kiosk and showed them flowers to her. She gave me a big smile and said, “So you found it.”
Boy was I exulted to hear that. I knew all along that this was the Radha flower, but Neeraja’s validation meant that God was on my side. It might seem like an absurd pursuit, and trust me it is. Like all absurd pursuits, it was powered by love and lunacy and a child-like hope. Well I made it. Yuppieee!
After that I clicked a few photographs in Auroville and of the tourists and ate a vegan salad at the Canteen. Post that I wanted to sit and write, so I headed to Kofi Bar. On entering the Kofi Bar I at once felt at ease, just like home. The sofa and seating was much like home. I parked myself and started to write. In rushed strokes of the hand, the words started to tumble out and I galloped through pages of my diary, filling it with the words that captured the progression of the days here in Pondicherry. Usually, when I am well and truly into my writing I seem like an eccentric nerd, as if concocting a grand plan to swallow the world. There is a rushing urge and a stormy flamboyance. I ordered a honey oat cookie and hibiscus tea and plunged into my writing. Writing about Radha, celebrating the saga, and how it all made sense to me.
The Kofi bar, as I mentioned earlier, is a hang out joint for the perma-vacationers and hippies. So people who come here are mostly regulars, who meet each other everyday. Much like the Central Perk from FRIENDS. The food preparation and sharing model is also innovative and not something I have ever heard of before. These perma-vacationers, from all parts of the world, often come into the Kofi Bar along with ingredient for a dish or two; prepare it for a sizeable number of people, then eat their share also get to eat dishes prepared by other such vacationers from the group. So they prepare something for everybody and then they also partake what others might have prepared—kind of a global kitchen. For tourists like me, all dishes are paid. Nonetheless, I simply love the variety and the hippie overtone of this place. So many languages being spoken over the common sitting area. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot of people speaking German. My German is poor, albeit I am able to decipher simple conversation and speak simple sentences. It gives me a far greater acceptability among these foreign nationals. I share the Sofa with a set of German twins, guys of around 25 years of age, vacationing in India for the last four months. We exchange pleasantries and they ask me what I am writing. I tell them some outline of the narrative, about the quest for Radha flower and the adventures I have been having in my life and in specific around my days in Pondi. They seem impressed. It always is great to find someone who appreciates one’s writing—that is the ultimate kick of being a writer.
After about half an hour, I tall and beautiful looking foreign woman walks into the Kofi Bar. I notice her and then I am back to my writing. The next thing I know is that she is sitting on the couch adjacent to the one where I am sitting and she is fiddling with a chess board, setting it up for a game. She then prods me and asks me if I would be interested in a game of Chess. I was not too sure if I wanted to indulge in Chess; however, I then thought—what the heck Bala? Just play, you are on vacation?
She said, “Hello, I am Maali. What is your name and where are you from?” I responded by telling her my name and my country and place of origin. Then I ask her where was she from. She was from Israel.
Then she asked, “So what is the bet?”
Naturally I was hesitant, but then she was persistent. She threw an open bet, “If you win, you ask for anything of me. If I win, I take whatever you are writing.”
Hearing this, the Kofi bar crowd roared. An open bet from such a stunning lady. While my writings, that too the ones without any back-ups are extremely dear to me and it should have made my further not indulge in the betting jamboree, it did the exact opposite. I felt an urge to take on the challenge in order to taste the feeling of defending what is rightfully yours even in alien territory against the best in the business.
I took on the challenge and we had a game on.
Maali made well crafted moves and I could tell with the precision and the confidence that they were technically coordinated ones, a set up of fall traps. My chess play on the other hand is unlike that of a strategy game. I play chess like a battle. My game play is aggressive, relentless, and full of foolish frontal attacks. My idea of Chess is that there should be carnage across the enemy lines, the enemy should bleed and feel the roaring power of your attacks and should fear placing their players when you have opened the firing line. So what if you lose some of your key players in trying to do so. If you are in battle, be prepared to die, but more than that be prepared to kill. It is an attitude that holds water in all my situations of life. It is not a violent display or an aggressive bent of mind, but more a reflection of how I yearn to see life in black or white. In chess there are no gray areas. White you win, black you lose, or vice-versa.
Well here my precious writings were on line. I had to win the game. I ceased to see losing as an option; it stopped existing, like it never did. She was perhaps the best in the ghetto, but I was invincible. It was unfair, I placed the Wanderer at the thinking level, like a governing body, and I jumped as if literally into the Chess board. I was the king, marshalling my army, mounting attacks, dissecting enemy coups, and ready to bleed but not to lose. Maali made well thought out moves after spending minutes over each move, and after each of her moves I would move my pawns only basis by instinct in flash of a second. So the moment she started to build an attack, hoping in her head that I will run for cover and give her space to accentuate the attack; I would kill her first player in my firing range. This worked wonderfully well for me. Her orchestrated build ups started losing relevance and I was eating into her army at rapid pace, while still losing some of my own. A good half an hour into the game, I had invaded into her inner lines and her King was in jeopardy, and within the next three moves it was check mate—I won!
She was aghast at this. She kept nodding her head in disbelief. Then she was a true lady and congratulated me on the win and we clicked a snap. She asked me what was to be her side of the bargain as part of the open ended bet. I said, free lunch. Somehow those around me gave me looks of disbelief, as if I should have asked to get laid or something. But free food scores over all that jazz you know.
While the free lunch got ordered and it started coming through. Maali made another bet, free dinner or your writing. I was game. This time just for kicks. You lose once to me, I will beat you to pulp anytime. Unlike the first game, I was not on instinctive reactive offence mode. This time, I went for the kill from word go, brought out my Queen within the first four moves, then getting the Bishop into action by the fifth and the mighty Rook by the twelfth move. The horses also joined the party and the whole board was a mess. I had parked my heavy weights at absurd places, making it difficult for Maali to make any sensible move. I choked her game play like a python and was wolfing down her players almost at every alternate move without losing much of my own wards. The victory was not far, it was glorious and full of fire breathing moves. She finally conceded her champ status of the ghetto to me. She had worked for nearly four months to get this title of sorts and in one day I swallowed it. I kind of felt weird for her. But such are the fragilities of pride.
With the winning of the second game, my free dinner was assured. I need not pay for anything I eat from that moment onwards until night. I decided to only move out of Kofi Bar after dinner.
I get back to writing and the evening moves on, more people come and go, Some just eat a snack and make their move, while some stay put for hours like me. Here no one asks you to get going, even if you are not ordering. This is an awesome place. I see posters of hippie culture groups, dream interpreting sessions, yoga and mystical initiation flyers, kundalini information pieces—all these and more pasted on the walls.
I strike amazingly deep conversation with so many foreign nationals, we talk about life, love, philosophy, writing, art, literature, life after death, death while living, sex, hope, religion, mythology, human behavior, nature, success and failure and a hell lot that I can’t coherently remember. I was on a high. I never needed alcohol or any other intoxicant to get high. I go bonkers even while sitting on a chair by myself.
Then as the night slowly stepped in, the Kofi bar started filling in by musicians, artists, painters etc. I saw a group of Europeans with musical instruments walking in—one with a guitar, another with what seemed from the cover like a mandolin, then one with a round African percussion two-piece drum set. Soon the night eased out these people and they started to play initially their favorite songs, then taking in requests and within an hour it was all of us sitting in the joint playing and singing like one composite band. First I requested them to play, American Pie by Don Mclean—we all sang the song… “By by miss American Pie, I drove my chevvy to the levvy but the levvy was dry, then good old boys were drinking whisky and rum, singing this will be the day that I die”.
Then I requested them specially if they could improvise a tune on the song I made up during my Delhi-Chennai flight—“Sonic Boom”.
With a few iterations, we agreed on a reasonable version and I was asked to front the song, and I went on:
“Boom, Sonic Boom, Boom Sonic,
I am on my own, not on gin n’ tonic,
I blaze the sky, with the look in my eye,
I got no wings, and that’s why I fly,
Boom, Sonic Boom, Boom Sonic,
I tell the velvet eye, to wander the sky,……..”
It always feels good to get your lyrics onto a song. That’s the culmination. That’s when you set a song free. Let it roam the streets of forever and into the hearts of whoever cares to listen and hum. I set the Sonic Boom free.
I feel that I belong here. I am not an outsider. We think alike. In fact all us thought less and felt more. I was in sort of a delirium with the music hitting its crescendo. The dinner came in patches, we all shared each other’s food and it was good fun. In fact, one of the best fun days I have had in some time.
Then the lights were dimmed, it was around 9:00 p.m., and a round of sharing our thoughts with the group started. Unlike a therapy session, were such things happen in a forced and lame manner, this was voluntary and natural. Some spoke about their fears, their loses, their love, their dreams, their plans, some just sang an old song, and then my turn came.
I spoke of Radha, about the flower, about the girl, about everything that this name means to me. I spoke for a good ten minutes I suppose, and there was a deafening silence. I had for the first time shared this Radha saga with people besides my closest friends. I felt a huge weight off me. I was not holding anything back. I wish Radha the girl could have been here, right at this moment, and looked at the world and herself the way I was able to see. She would have been bowled over; heart over head, on the insanely glorious wonderment that I see in her. Once I completed my rhetoric of sorts, some of them came forward and hugged me so tight and some came through and lifted me on their shoulders. I had never been treated this way. This was new and amazing. I was treated like a rock star after a monster performance. There was adulation alright. There was love and there was a respect for what had been shared. Wow! Being lifted by people of different nationalities almost felt like I was a global icon.
After sometime, things slowed down and it was nearly 10:00 p.m. and we parted for the night. I headed back to my cottage and slept the night off.
Next morning, life was still beautiful. It was all there—the secret of happiness. I headed out towards the Kofi Bar for breakfast and was treated like a celebrity in a one-horse town. I thank Kate, the Dutches, who guided me to Chunambar backwaters to find Radha. I ask her if I could find a pack of incense sticks of the Radha flower. She tells me to head for the Sambani Café—whose owner also runs a parallel business of exporting incense sticks and fragrances. The Sambani Café was to be found in the by-lanes by the East Coast Road, just a few hundred meters before the Auroville beach. Honestly I was not too hopeful of finding Radha incense sticks, as I had already had spoken to Neeraja about it and she categorically mentioned that it is not used for incense sticks due to its undertone fragrance. Also, I had tried almost every incense stick store in the town and miserably failed in finding what I was looking for. But I was not disappointed, as I had found the flower itself.
So Sambani Café was just a try. I walked into the closed doors and asked for the owner. He was a fat middle-aged man, very dark skin with blisters on his forehead. He seemed like a nice chap and entertained me with my questions. I told him that Kate from the Kofi Bar had asked me to meet him and I was looking for a pack of Radha flower incense sticks. He nodded his head and asked me to wait, and went inside his home—an old world but beautifully done up brick house with a beautifully manicured garden. The wait was short; he came out with a purple pack in his hand. My soul almost jumped with excitement.
I pulled the pack from his hand and to my utter dismay and confusion it read “Lavender”. I was not looking for Lavender; it was Radha that I was seeking. No, no, no. If I had wanted Lavender, I could have purchased it straight on day one from Neeraja’s kiosk.
Then he told me that since Lavender is a hugely popular fragrance and is in much demand both within Pondicherry and in export markets, they try make as many packs as possible. However, since Lavender is not a very widely grown aromatic plant around Pondicherry, they adulterate the costly Lavender essence with bulk of Radha flower pulp. Being a lower toned, fragrance, Radha does not interfere with the much stronger and higher spectrum Lavender fragrance. At the same time the mild fragrance of the Radha flower provides the much needed girth to keep the diluted incense some body and smoky texture. Wow! I have never felt so happy and thrilled at someone carrying out adulteration.
I purchase six packs of Radha fragrance, and I head on to the beach where I spend the next couple of hours just gazing at the sea. Just admiring the goddess. My trip to Pondi has surprised me and filled me in whatever that was needed. I thank the Wanderer, and I see him at me. I head back to my cottage, look at the six packs of incense sticks and decide that one pack goes to the land lady of the cottage, one pack goes to Kate, one pack goes to Neeraja, one pack goes to the musician group that put my Sonic Boom song to tune, one pack goes to the Le Café counter from where it all started, and the one remaining goes to Radha herself.
The last two days in Pondicherry are spent enjoying the moment, eating amazing organic food, drinking amazing Radha gulps and herbal teas, meeting up with the friends I made in Kofi bar, seeing around town, taking photographs, visiting museums, lighthouses, etc.
Then one fine day I take the morning bus to Chennai. I spend two days in Chennai visiting my cousins, elders, extended family. They all are more than happy to see me. I had not connected with them for so many years and always thought that they will not able to relate to me. But then I was so pleasantly surprised by the love and warmth that I received that I vowed to come back to them as frequently as I can. Then there is always the pull of the Pondicherry to draw me to Chennai. After hectic two days of relative mingling, I enter the Chennai airport with my backpack hoping for a pleasant flight home.