Saturday, May 05, 2007
Mooi, Jesus, and India
When I returned from India at the end of January my boy Faizel Mooi warned me that he was writing about our travels there.
Weeks passed and I kept hoping that he was lying, or at least that the piece would never appear anywhere.
I was concerned that Mooi would not honor my mostly humble and friendly demeanour ;0) ...
Mooi's piece appeared despite my prayers. It has been sitting idle on my computer for two or so months. Now, as I prepare to leave South Africa, I am taking the risk of placing it here even though it is available elsewhere. I have decided that Mooi should be heard here.
I am very worried now. And for that reason I offer a blanket apology.
I also want to shout out here to Kiru. We never met but in the severe cold of Srinagar I wished we had. Mooi did not like my comments on your fyneness. He deleted pictures of you from his camera just in case I wanted copies ... ;0) ... the boy is just hateful. He also needs more schooling on things skimpy and frilly.
OK, so Mooi is a formiddable Guru. A thinking man of deep wanderings. I don't know anything about the stuff he wanks on about. Most of it is worthy of contemplation. Some of it is just seeming crap. But like my boy Sam would say: "we must respect each other's beliefs."
Thanks Sam. But you have not met Mooi. He is a spiritual ho' who bends and blends more than he should in terms of religion. In fact, he is the only Negro I know who refers to himself as "spiritual." And this he does even though he hardly hangs out with white people ... or at least that is what I think.
So I apologise again. But Mooi probably knows better. This I say because he is a
a lawyer, a respected labor commissioner, and a Guru.
I expect that at least three brave souls will wade through below. Thanks Lauren, Patty and Michelle. I owe each of you a new pair of thigh high boots! The rest can just skim to the parts about thongs, heifers, buffalo asses, public urination, Indian astronauts, and cultural wanking.
Mooi's diatribe, and his smiling Guruness above, will be limited to a short run on my blog. I've edited some for length ... but not nearly enough ... believe me ;0)
The angry, yet creative man,
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO RISWAAN
BY FAIZEL MOOI
Insanity, like every thing else in this consumerist global village, is ultimately a question of brand. The masses identify with the brand that says conform to the societal norm as much as possible. As everyone is as different as fingerprints, a societal norm is nothing but an illusion. The independently insane, such as myself and one Ridwan Laher, identify with the brand that says go nuts because it is much more fun to think differently and you get to puzzle and down right piss off all those you don’t want to understand you in the first place.
It takes a special brand of insanity for two university buddies, who have not hung out for more than a few days in the last twenty years, to roam the Indian sub-continent (a place that defies any attempt to label it as sane) in December 2006 and January 2007. This is especially so as I wrote an article in 2006 called ‘Walk like an Indian’ which clearly sets out why no sane or sheep-like insane person would want to make more than one trip to India. In Ridi’s case, he had already spent close to six months in India becoming an even more nutty professor, and was insane enough to agree to an extension of his contract at a Dehli university thus keeping him in a place which was re-defining his brand of insanity. However, being independently insane is fun so let me turn my wild-eyed gaze onto my latest Indian adventure.
But first a brief description of my comrade in insanity. The apartheid regime decided that he should be fashionable before the era of the Wa-Benzs (for the politically unconscious that is the name given to upwardly mobile black people with the pretensions of the noveau-rich the world over) and awarded him two surnames, namely Nytagodien and Laher. I don’t think they awarded him a hyphen though. Ridi is a big boy, who got slightly smaller since Rhodes as he became health conscious. He lost some hair in a windscreen a few years ago after a hi-jacked vehicle crashed into a vehicle another Rhodes reject, MS, was driving. This explains the advancement of his mid-life male pattern baldness.
In honour of a friend nicknamed Bok, he has grown a ‘bok-baard’ or a ‘goat-beard’ for the linguistically challenged. He contends that the Indian experience has caused his bok-baard to develop a degree a greyness, which he is afraid will motivate his mother to force him to shave it off when he returns to South Africa or she will slap him down.
Ridi has verbal diarrhoea and can’t stop talking, even when he is alone in the toilet. As an intellectual he has a well developed world view about heifers, Indian Indians, the idea of being an Indian of the Diaspora, spiritual and advertising Ho’s, sai bamming, clearing the throat, the joys of urinating in public, Ha-ing and Igly. In short he is the quintessential example of the independently insane brand.
A description of myself? As Ridi puts it, I’m just a "spiritual Ho'".
On the 18th December 2006, Ridi and I flew separately over the Himalayas to enter the disputed territory of Kashmir. Gradually the plains of India gave way to the foot hills of the Himalayas. At first the grey coloured mountain tops were bare or lightly dusted with snow. As my jet crossed the mountains, their height increased and their pinnacles became more densely packed with snow. As we approached Srinagar, hamlets and the occasional small village began to cling the mountain sides. Eventually the mountains opened up onto a broad valley dotted with hamlets, villages and small towns, and we began our decent into Srinagar.
Ridwan (not Kilroy) was here! Ridi landed a few hours before me and must have talked up a storm because all the airport officials and one or two taxi drivers were at pains to point out to me that my friend said that he would meet me at the hotel. After paying a set fee at the airport, my taxi driver drove me to the main road on Dal Lake. A sign greeted us as we left the airport: "Welcome to the Paradise on Earth." Shortly after that another sign warned: "Defacement of Road is a Crime."
Upon arrival at Dal Lake the driver insisted that he did not know were the hotel was. After asking for directions he pulled up outside Hotel Swiss (pictured). He owed me about fifteen rupees in change. With great amusement I observed as he went into a song and dance about how I still owed him thirty rupees as he had not been given proper directions and had to drive a further two kilometres to find the hotel. As he confirmed my expectations that I would be cheated by taxi drivers I gave him five rupees and allowed him to keep the outstanding change. For the entertainment value.
Ridi was sitting in front of the gas heater in the lobby with one of the owners of the Hotel, Rouf. Rouf was wearing the ubiquitous Kashmiri Ferin, which is normally a light brown or grey gown like apparel. It is shapeless to allow space to fit a kangeri underneath. A kangeri is a clay pot covered by a wicker basket, with a handle, in which hot coals are put. A very handy pair of items given that it was three degrees Celsius that afternoon. Rouf is the talkative brother.
His brother Zahid, whom I met later, is a lot more introspective. By the time I had arrived Rouf had already changed Ridwan’s name to Riswaan. I would later also be re-baptised.
After I related my taxi experience and Ridi related his. Ridi's driver kept insisting that the hotel was closed and that he should stay on a house boat. Ridi insisted that he had confirmed the bookings. The hotel gate was closed and the driver took this as proof that the hotel was closed. Ridi had to open the gate to prove him wrong.
Later that first day we walked to the Old City. Even the modern part of Srinagar looks old. It was foggy and cloudy. The trees were stripped bare of leaves, and even the lake and rivers looked grey. As in India, most of the shops are small rooms. There were a lot of establishments with either iron or wood stacked on the floor, for no apparent purpose, as no one had any customers. As we walked Ridi noticed many eagles and hawks. A huge brown eagle was sitting on a ledge on a building about two stories above us with his tail feathers over the edge. Ridi warned: "Mooi, there is an eagle about to crap on your head!" For the next five minutes a man followed Ridi, shouting from a book that may have been scripture. Clearly, another brand of insanity.
Kashmir is a politically disputed region, with claims to its sovereignty made by India, Pakistan and China. A striking feature that first day was the strong military presence every where. Soldiers patrol the streets with machine guns. There are fortified bunkers along most of the main roads. Soldiers are placed at intervals of between one to two hundred metres along most arterial roads. Military vehicles abound. This is clearly a region under military occupation. The military presence can be compared to the siege of South African Townships under Apartheid, but to a much greater extent. One got the impression that the Indian presence and Indians in general, are not much loved nor respected in Kashmir.
We had to stop to buy a hat for myself as I intended to shave my already short hair off. One of the shops had an advertisement for Airtel featuring a Bollywood actor of some fame called Shah Ruk Khan. Ridi: "I don’t like that boy. He advertises everything, from Pepsi to computers. He is nothing but an advertising Ho!"
That evening we got into a discussion with Rouf about Sufis and tabliqes. Apparently, about ten per cent of the Kashmiri population believes in Sufism, the mystical aspect of Islam. Most of the followers of Sufism are concentrated in Srinagar. I mentioned that my father is a Sufi. Rouf kept saying that in Srinagar a person could be the most advanced Sufi but he would never tell you that he is a Sufi.
TALKING TO THE BONES
About two weeks before visiting Kashmir I consulted my father on the issue of talking to the bones. The Sufi’s have a tradition whereby they visit the shrines of Saints. Evidently these ascended Master’s have the ability to intercede with God so that sincere requests can be answered. My intention was to find out what I should do when I visited Roza Bal (which means the ‘Tomb of the Prophet’) where Jesus Christ is buried. After expressing some scepticism about the belief that Jesus is buried in Kashmir he indicated that he would give me the key to unlocking the spiritual energy of the tombs.
On the 19th December 2006 Zahid took us to a number of shrines. The first was the most famous shrine, that of Sheik Hamadan. This was the mosque where the conversion to Islam started and where the Sheik was buried about 1395. The shrine is inside the mosque itself. The mosque complex is huge with beautiful ornate wood work, largely in green, framing the entrance. As was to become a pattern when I visited the shrines, I had just gotten into the meditation when I was disturbed. This time it was Ridi and Zahid informing me that afternoon prayers were about to begin. I sat near the back. The worshippers moved to the front and favoured me with suspicious looks. After a few more minutes of meditation I decided to leave.
We then went to the Jama Masjid where Sheik Sikander was buried about 1385. This is another huge complex, with a courtyard separating two prayer areas. A man with deformed legs gave us a tongue lashing as we put on our shoes in the courtyard before proceeding to the second prayer area. The significant architectural feature of this mosque is the 300 pillars supporting the roofs. Each pillar is an entire trunk of a tree, polished to a warm brown colour. I had a much better meditation at this shrine.
The next shrine we visited that day was that of Sultan-Ul-Arifeen. This is located on the top of a hill. To the right, as we ascended, is Fort Parbat, which dominated part of the sky line. Zahid indicated that visitors are not allowed in there. A donation was requested upon entry to the shrine. In return I was given dates and crystallized sugar. Only men are allowed inside this shrine. Women looked though the windows of the actual building hosting the tomb. Many were crying. Crying at these shrines seems to be a common occurrence. At the other shrines I visited, women were allowed inside.
That evening we all got into a discussion about America’s mind set of dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. As the Americans are a terrorised nation we concluded that they must be the good guys. The conversation veered into religion, Sai Baba, Ridi’s belief in justice, Reiki and Sufism. Rouf by this stage had concluded that my real name was Sheik Yassin! Henceforth he kept calling me Sheik Yassin. When I inquired who Sheik Yassin was he said that he was a central character in the Quran. Ridi insisted that he was nicknaming me after a Sheik Yassin the Israelis wanted to assasinate.
Ridi is enthralled by Indian toilets, as can be seen from his blog. The toilets in our rooms are separated by a wall. Prior to going to bed I could hear him talking to himself about our discussion in a half angry disgusted tone. I know he loves Indian toilets and I know he loves talking, but conversing with himself in a toilet seemed a bit excessive. That night I had a dream that Ridi and I were having a sword fight with broomsticks and I kept saying: "Believe!" He thought that there were phallic connotations to the dream!
THE THRONE OF SOLOMON
On the 20th December 2006 we had our normal stop over for vegetarian lunch at Krishna Dagba and then proceeded up a mountain to the Throne of Solomon, now called the Sri Shankacharya Temple. The presence of the Indian military occupation forces was the strongest we had yet encountered. At the bottom of the mountain we had to fill our passport numbers into a register and Zahid had to fill in the car’s registration. We then ascended through a forest until we were about three quarters of the way from the top of the mountain. There was another checkpoint.
We then climbed 232 stairs to the top of the mountain. In front of us two men each carried a paving stone up to the Throne which must have weighed at least ten kilograms each. They made steady progress without stopping. I had to pause every ten or fifteen steps to work the cramps out of my legs. At the top we were stopped at a third check point.
We then ascended the stairs to the Throne itself. The throne is constructed of ancient, weathered light coloured blocks, which from a distance appear white in colour. It has a roughly octagon base. The actual Throne is designed almost like a sliced cake, with each layer bigger than the preceding one. The original stairs had been replaced, probably a few days or weeks ago by the team carrying the paving stones. I examined the stairs carefully but I could not see any inscription concerning Jesus. According to AHMAD two inscriptions were found on the flank walls encasing the staircase. The first read: "At this time Yuz Asaf proclaimed his prophethood. Year fifty and four’. The second one read: "He is Jesus Prophet of the Children of Israel." I later read that two other inscriptions were written on pillars inside the Throne. I did not notice this.
The interior of the Throne is small and is occupied by a Hindu deity. The view from the top is spectacular but was marred by the fog covering the surrounding mountains and Dal Lake.
We then drove around Dal Lake. Our destination was the Hazarad Bal Mosque. A hair from the beard of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) is kept in an ornately decorated safe within the mosque. Outside the mosque there were an inordinate number of military vehicles and personnel. Even within the Mosque itself there was a strong military presence, with soldiers holding machine guns watching over the worshippers. The presence of the military in such a setting was positively sacrilegious and insensitive to the religious sensibilities of the worshippers. Zahid was of the view that a government minister must have been paying a visit. However, there is normally a strong military presence at the Mosque, given the history of the hair.
Zahid informed us that about three or four hundred years ago a trader bought the hair in Hyderbad and brought it to Kashmir. It is displayed to the public on the Prophets birthday. In 1962 the hair was stolen and during the subsequent uproar a number of people were killed. It was alleged that the Chief Minister stole the hair. One version is that he stole the hair to assist his mother who was ill. Another is that he stole it to provoke a political reaction. The hair was shortly secretly returned. In 1993 a group of militants (can’t freedom fighters just be called freedom fighters anymore?) held up inside the Mosque. Eventually a deal was struck so that they could leave. That is the main reason for so many soldiers at the Mosque.
Back at Hotel Swiss we took our customary positions crowded around the sole single gas heater and discussed the next day’s plans. I had earlier discussed my intention of visiting the Ka Ka Pal stone with our astonished hosts, who had never heard of it before. Incredulity gave rise to interest after I showed them two articles on the stone. ‘So, Sheik Yasin’, said Rouf, ‘tomorrow I will arrange for a taxi to take you to the Ka Ka Pal stone. Or do you want to go to Moses tomb?’ I had indicated my intention of visiting both. But given the taxi driver's fear of the militants in the vicinity of Moses tomb and the distance, I never ended up going there.
THE KA KA PAL STONE
The 21st December 2006 was a grey, cold and wet day. A moderate drizzle fell non-stop. Ridi declared him self unwilling to venture away from the heater. I argued that he could mess with everyone’s brains after making the Ka Ka Pal Stone levitate.
With an extremely unadventurous Ridi in tow and indulging in his favourite pass time of complaining, I set off in the rain with a kamakazi mini-bus driver. The driver overtook everyone at high speed, in slippery conditions, muttering the occasional ‘ben chort’. As the windscreen kept misting up he kept both of the front windows open, sending waves of freezing air into the back of the taxi where we sat. After a just over an hour’s drive we stopped across from a wall enclosing a field. We then had to jump across a ditch and climb up a slippery, muddy incline to get to a gate, which we discovered was locked.
After we sojourned back to the taxi, the driver eventually found the man with the keys to the gate. Behind the gate was a field leading down to a river. No Ka Ka Pal stone was in sight. To the right was a pyramid shaped structure, resting on a platform. The man with the keys insisted that we look inside the pyramid. Inside was a statute of Shiva. No Ka Ka Pal stone. The rain fell. The man said something about not being able to speak English. Eventually it transpired that he was saying he could speak English. With some difficulty he explained that the Ka Ka Pal stone was no longer there. Thinking that it may have been taken to a museum I inquired where it may be.
With Ridi acting as a translator of the man’s version of English into my version of English, he explained that in 1990 the Muslims and the Hindus threw it into the river because the Christians said it belonged to Moses. That was a few years after Holger Kersten’s popular book on Jesus and the Moses connection to Kashmir was published. Maybe the publicity had something to do with their decision. The logic of their actions and their collaboration was hard to understand.
Ridi’s sorrow continued back in the taxi as the howling wind cut through our wet clothes.
"Mooi", he said, "I have one thing to say to you: Fuck You!" I replied: "I have one thing to say to myself: Fuck me, I’m wet!" Ridi continued his lament: "This is the weirdest thing that happened to me. I should have hung with Connie Molusi (a friend from Rhodes). That man wouldn’t drive to no rock." We stopped so that I could buy two kangiri’s to warm us up. The driver ran off and got enough coal for only one kangeri, which only lasted twenty minutes. Ridi’s misery continued flowing from his mouth: "I’m a Sunni. I don’t follow any one after the Prophet." I gave him an amused look: "You follow Mr. Mooi." When we stopped to purchase the kangeri’s I noticed a sign above a shop across the road: "Paradise Choices." This was clearly not the paradise Ridi chose to be in. Later that evening I gave Zahid a Reiki one attunement.
The following day, 23rd December 2006, I went to deliver a final Quran in Srinagar, at the Dastigeer Sahib shrine. On the way back I was approached by an elderly boatman who insisted I call him Cha Cha. He inquired: "Your name please?" I replied: "Faizel." He inquired: "Muslim?" I replied: "No." He said: "Never mind. God is one." They inquire a lot in Srinagar what Religion you follow. I went for an hour long boat ride into Dal Lake.
I then had lunch with Ridi at Mugal Darbar where he related the following dream he had the previous night: "I had a meeting with a man I knew vaguely. He was tall and fleshy. A mixture between Malay and Coloured. He said that he hated me for his whole life. For no reason. I didn’t understand why he hated me. I asked Mooi to sign a declaration because I was going to sue him. Mooi said: ‘No! I will not sign a statement’. I asked why not and you said: Subpoena me!"
On the way back from lunch Ridi decided to go for a boat ride as well so I joined him. Cha Cha was the boatman again. He said: "We waiting for snow to fall. Then the lake freezes hard and we walk on the lake. Yes, Please." Ridi muttered to me: ‘No wonder Jesus was here. He could walk on the lake!"
As Cha Cha oared us in-between the houseboats and the tiny Islands other gondola’s bumped up along side us to sell us wares. This was a watered down (no pun intended) version of the harassment you get in India. I purchased Saffron for Rs25 a gram. The first tradesman inquired of me: "You Muslim?" I replied: "No. Half a Muslim." Tradesman to Ridi: "He’s a full Muslim." Ridi commented to me: "He is offering you dope. That’s why he asked if you a Muslim." The next tradesman tried to persuade me to purchase more saffron by saying: "It is good for health. Put it in chicken curry." Ridi noticed Cha Cha getting a commission from every sale.
The wind picked up a bit. Ridi hugged himself and said: ‘Now it’s getting really cold. I should have been with Kiru." Kiru was my travelling partner on my last trip to the sub-continent. Ridi saw her picture and fell in lust. Which is fine as Kiru likes men falling in lust with her. It allows her to bat her eyelids. Bollywood style.
At the end of the two hour trip I paid Cha Cha his agreed fee of Rs250,00. He said: "You leaving tomorrow. Give me a Rs50,00 tip. Your choice." I could not understand the logic. You tip the worker, not the owner. I chose not to reply. Ridi said: "That Grandpa is ticking me off. He got commission from everyone you bought from."
Back at the hotel I noticed that the bottle of Olive Oil I use during meditation had completely frozen over. We hung with Rouf and Zahid and Ridi fiddled with his blog. I then gave Zahid a Reiki Two attunement. We were by now having supper every night with our hosts. They really showed us a good time and I thoroughly recommend that anyone visiting Srinagar stay at the Hotel Swiss, Nehru Paru, Srinagar. Their telephone number is: 990-674-5946.
JESUS LIVED IN INDIA
The primary purpose of my trip to Kashmir was to make a pilgrimage to Roza Bal which means "The Tomb of the Prophet." The Prophet referred to is Jesus Christ, although on the sub-continent and Persia he is know as Issa, Yuz Asaf (which means ‘the Seeker or Leader of the leapers cured by Jesus’) and Youza Asouph-the name by which he is referred to in Kashmir.
Nicolas Notovitch was a Russian journalist who published a book in 1894 called "The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ" which recorded a Buddhist account of the life of Jesus before and after his Palestine ministry. In 1887, while recovering from a broken leg at the Buddhist convent of Himis, located about twenty five miles from Leh, the capital of Ladakh, Notovitch was shown a manuscript written in Tibetan, which the monks translated for him. It told why Jesus went to India at the age of fourteen.
Notovich was accused by the Christian conservatives of fabricating the account of Jesus’ Indian ministry which he had discovered in the Himis convent. Other travellers found confirmation that his account was true. In 1922 Swami Abhedananda (pictured) travelled to the Himis monastery where he was shown the manuscript. He also noted down a translation of the text, which conforms closely to the Notovitch account.
The earliest written reference, as opposed to an oral tradition, that Jesus is buried at Roza Bal can be found in the ‘Kamal-ud-Din’ written by Shaikh Al-Said-us Sadiq who died in 962 AD.
Roza Bal is located in the Old City of Srinager and is well known. You pass the Dastigeer Sahib Shrine and enter a narrow roadway with a graveyard on the left. A short distance after the graveyard ends is Roza Bal. The actual tomb is now enchased by a brick building with broad brown wooden window frames, inlaid with ornate burglar bars. The outside walls are painted white. You enter the shrine through a heavy green door, which is secured by a latch on the top of the door. The door is underneath a small green porch. Shoes have to be removed before entering the Shrine.
Upon entering the Shrine there is a small floor space, covered with a green carpet, where one can sit and meditate. The sarcophagus is separated from the floor space by a green shuttered wall divider which is burglar barred, preventing access to the sarcophagus. Surrounding the sarcophagus is a wooden chamber with huge windows set in pink window frames. The general public is not granted access to the tomb.
Muslims are buried in a North-South direction. Jews are buried in and East-West direction. The actual grave of Jesus is aligned in an East-West direction. The 15th Century Muslim Saint, Syed Nasir-U-Din who had a great reverence for Jesus and insisted on being buried near him, was buried in a North-South direction. The grave of Jesus is clearly not that of a Muslim, but a Jew. However, although the actual grave of Jesus is aligned East-West, the tomb, which in the Islamic tradition in India, is merely a marker for the actual grave below, is aligned North-South.
It is the practice of worshippers to place candles on the tombstones. A few years ago, when centuries of wax were removed from Jesus’ tombstone it was discovered that a pair of footprints were carved into the stone, with the unmistakable scars of the crucifixion wounds clearly shown.
FAREWELL TO SRINAGER
Rouf insisted on driving us to the airport. The traffic was clear until we were a kilometre from the airport. A huge contingent of heavily armed soldiers manned a road block, allowing only three cars through at a time. Traffic backed up, in three lanes, about a kilometre behind us. After twenty minutes, Ridi, who was catching the earlier flight, got out walked past the barrier and hitch hiked the rest of the way to the airport. After calling me Sheik Yasin for the last time, Rouf bid me farewell at the airport and I eventually departed for India.
CHRISTMAS IN BANGALORE
Ridi’s Air Sahara flight came in late and we only booked into Hotel Gotam just before midnight. I insisted that we had to celebrate Christmas as we would be in Puttaparti for a week immersed in holiness. As we drove to the hotel we noticed crowds of well dressed people milling around outside restaurants and clubs. Evidently all places of entertainment close at 11h30. That did not deter us. We got the Tuk-Tuk driver to stop people in the street until we found a jol. Prior to entering the spot we walked to the main road in Bangalore which was festooned with Christmas lights.
Ridi by this time had had enough of being messed around by the Indians. At 12h11, under the glow of the Christmas lights he said: "I’m going on record. I have had enough of India, Shah Ruk Khan, honking taxis, shitting and pissing in the road. I want civilization! I want Kimberley!"
We then went to an establishment situated underground. It had character. The entrance consisted of a roller shutter door, which the owners kept locking for fear that the police would raid us. After all it was pass the curfew of 11h30. There were tables, but no chairs (Indian logic?!) and the lighting was dismal. It was filled with men determined to enjoy themselves. Two of them wore Santa Claus hats and wore uniforms embossed with the logo of "US Pizza." Ridi informed them that he had known me for as long as they were alive, which was twenty one years. They appreciated the information.
We noticed earlier that large groups of people were attending outdoor services. This guy said to us: "I went to church. But I left. They kept telling us to sit and then to stand and to move here and there’. Despite having just left a church, he appeared to be under the influence of something other than the Holy Spirit." He then asked our names. He could not pronounce Ridi’s name. He gave Ridi a befuddled stare and said: "What were your parents thinking when they named you?"
A few minutes later a neatly groomed man about our age joined the US Pizza boys. His eyes were slightly glazed. After a while he kept pointing to his combed over bald patch. He insisted that we touch his bald plate, all the while saying with emphasis: "Canada!" Ridi was of view that he thought that we were Brahmins and that if we touched him he would go to Canada.
As we walked back to the hotel I noticed a sign that could only appear in India: "Christmas. Eid Mubarrak." Has Christianity and Islam merged? Has everyone become spiritual Ho’s? In my room a sticker was stuck to the wardrobe which summed up my eating experience with Ridi who insisted that we only eat vegetables: "Vegetarians-People of the Future."
Puttaparti on Christmas day was awash in a sea of pilgrims. The great hall at Prasanthi Nilayam was packed with people. We arrived in time for Sai Baba’s Christmas speech.
Christmas lights surrounded the Avatar’s throne. As frail as He appeared, after breaking his hip a few years ago and because of the eighty one years He resided in that body swathed by a saffron coloured robe, He stood for an hour and delivered his Christmas message. It was hard to understand the translator’s accent. The message was simple and to the point: "All are one. There is no separation between that one and that one. Peace is hidden inside love/hate. A person swings between the two. Love is the answer. Peace is the answer."
Ridi was not impressed. He could not understand how God could reside in an old man’s body. He clearly missed the point.
Sai Baba is not the body He resides in. Nor is anyone else. We are all part of one Spirit. Sai Baba is a phenomena that no one has been able to adequately explain. While I cannot say whether He is God in human form I have had personal experiences of his miracles and the dreams he chooses to send to those who are receptive. His miracles are so numerous and have been tested by so many scientists and experienced by so many people, including priests of different religions, that it is impossible to glibly write him off.
Ridi found his Puttaparti experience fiddling with his blog.
The next morning we ordered breakfast at the hotel restaurant. As a break from Indian fare we decided to order a toasted cheese sandwich. A few minutes later the waiter returned and said that they were out of a particular cheese but he could offer us another type of cheese. We agreed. After a long while the toasted cheese sandwich was served. The grated cheese was in one plate. The barely toasted bread was in another plate. Toasted cheese prepared with Indian logic.
Ridi had some choice comments to make: "They bring toasted bread. This ain’t no toasted cheese. This took a half an hour to make. Why put this shit on the menu if you don’t know how to make it? I should have bought a banana. God wrapped it up nicely so they can’t fuck with it." In India they can fuck with anything.
I was taking India in my stride, remaining calm and peaceful within. I was completely in Zen mode. Ridi clearly had not found his Zen. But then again he had no desire to find his Zen. He made an incredibly profound statement. "I am an angry man. An angry man is a creative man!" Well, if someone likes to be angry they should not complain when the universe puts opportunities in front of them to get angry, such as the creative preparation of a toasted cheese sandwich. They should jump for joy at the opportunity to get mad. The creative juices will flow!
We stopped over at Sai Baba's hospital which is a beautiful piece of pink architecture. Ridi whipped out his camera to take a photograph. A woman in her fifties, wearing a pink sari and no underwear squatted down a few metres in front of us and took a piss. With her back to us she stood up while leaning forward, affording us a clear view of her wrinkly ass and private parts, straightened her sari and wandered off.
Ridi exclaimed: "That can’t be right! It’s like a doos." He stood there with his camera in hand. "That was the money shot." I inquired if he got the picture and he replied that he was too shocked to take the picture. As we walked closer to the hospital building he ranted: "I’m traumatised! It looked like a buffalo from behind."
While I was getting internal peace at darshan Ridi was working on his anger. Working to increase it, not to eliminate it. In India the hooter is the brake. As we drove to Puttaparti the driver kept his hand on the hooter, even when there was no one in front of him and even though he was not overtaking. In Puttaparti, where the ashram is called Prashanti Nilayam, the Abode of Eternal Peace, a cacophony of hooting resounds throughout the town, especially in the vicinity of the entrance to the ashram.
Ridi was indulging in his favourite past time of asking the rhetorical question "why do they hoot so much in India?" Sai Baba then gave him a sign. Across the road from the tailor was a traffic sign of a horn inside a circle with a line drawn through it and the admonition: "Horn Prohibited." I took a picture of Ridi reaching for the sign with a smile of vindication.
Ridi made acute observations about Indians every day. After days of experiencing hooting, begging, spitting everywhere, creative breakfasts and so forth he concluded: "I’m convinced that the British didn’t leave because they lost the war. They got tired of these bitches! I’m standing in a queue, this man comes from behind, pushes his hand in front of me and says Tumbs Up!" Tumbs Up is a cool-drink. Ridi was neither cool nor willing to give a tumbs up to anyone.
That evening we were walking back to the hotel when he made another observation. "You notice that Sai Baba attracts a certain demographic of white woman: Tall, skinny and blonde. Look in front of you nigga. Look behind you." I looked. Blonde women, old and young, but tall were everywhere. For the rest of our stay I saw more blonde, skinny women than any other type.
On the 28th December 2006 I decided to get up at 3h00 and wait for the gate to the ashram to open. By 3h30 I was standing third in line outside the gate. The men were placed into four lines of four and we had to sit cross-legged for half an hour until we were allowed into the hall. There we sat for about twenty minutes before being allowed into Sai Baba’s throne room. We chanted AUM twenty one times.
That morning Sai Baba did not appear for Darshan. That afternoon he was so late that I left. As I exited the hall his car appeared. I stood outside, parallel to the stage and got my best Darshan ever. He was so close that I could see the mole on his cheek.
Ridi’s brand of insanity by this stage was bubbling over nicely and infecting me, even though I remained in Zen mode. We noted that whenever we asked something of a waiter in particular and everyone else in general they bobbed their heads sideways like demented Noddys’ and said ‘Haa Haa’ or ‘Her Her’. They also greeted by saying ‘Allo’ instead of ‘Hello’.
Ridi also had a fascination with Igly, a lump of dough that is served with watery dall for breakfast. As we walked down the bustling street outside the ashram deciding what to have for breakfast, Ridi said that we had to practice what to say when we ordered breakfast. "They shake their heads and go ‘Haa Haa’." We have to practice. Move your head as you say "Haa Haa." Now say "Allo Allo." When we order we will go: "Allo Allo. Haa Haa. I want Igly." As we walked we bobbed our heads and went: "Allo Allo. Haa Haa. I want Igly!"
Ridi’s insanity spilled over onto the "Sai Ram" greeting. Everyone one says Sai Ram for everything in Puttaparti. Sai Ram can be used to say "Allo"; "please help me" or "get out of my way." The greeting means divine father mother. Ridi, who was of the view that we were in the Indian version of Disney World, greeted by saying "Sai Bam." When I informed him that Sai Baba’s favourite saying is: "Mind is mad monkey", he kept saying: "Monkey is mind. Monkey is mad. Mooi is mad!"
On the 30th December we ate at our favourite Puttaparti haunt, the Hunaman Rock Café. We discovered that Saddam Hussein had been hanged. The evil one would have been wise to take Sai Baba’s words to heart: "The love of God is the most precious gift." If you wish to ask something of God pray to Him like this: "O Lord, I want only you. When you have Him you have everything."
On the 31st December 2006 I went for my last Darshan. The town and ashram was filling up even more with devotees coming for the New Year celebrations. It was time to leave. On the way to Bangalore our taxi driver tried his best to kill us and everyone else.
NEW YEAR’S EVE IN BANGALORE
We had our first supper at a pizza place on the main road which was decked with streams of largely red Christmas lights. Ridi mentioned that he had read that the road would be closed off to traffic later in the evening and that people would only be allowed to walk in one direction. Despite my experiences with Indian logic, I thought that he was joking. Just then, the young staff of the Pizza place started singing along to a track on the music system and started dancing wildly. Just like in a Bollywood movie. Instead of dancing around a tree, as in the movies, they danced around the restaurant.
We left the restaurant and Ridi began complaining that the heifers in India only wear big ass panties. He commanded: "Mooi, your mission is to find one Indian woman wearing a thong!" I tried to fulfill the mission given to me by my comrade in insanity. I failed. Dismally. Comrade, thongs must be banned in India.
The crowd around us increased. Ridi inquired: "Mooi, can you count the number of people in this place?" I replied: "More than I can count thongs."
The police were not having great success controlling the flow of the crowd. As they tapped one group with their sticks to prevent them moving against the designated flow, another group attempted to go against the flow. We observed this chaos with great amusement. A chubby middle aged policeman clearly thought that we would make an easier target than the disobedient masses. He approached with some authority and rattled something off in Hindi. We are not stupid, we knew he was telling us to move along. Ridi who wanted to mess with the policeman’s mind, politely asked him what he was saying. He rattled something off in Hindi again.
Ridi said: "I don’t understand."
The policeman was clearly pissed off by now. He retorted: "This is India. We don’t speak English!" He said this in English. Logic, logic, logic! He tapped Ridi with his cane to get him moving along. Ridi shook his head in amazement. Ridi kept repeating: "This is India. We don’t speak English!" He continued: "This is going to be the next world power? They’re going to put a man on the moon next year and they still selling peanuts on the street corner!"
Earlier I had tried to explain to Ridi that some South African Indians or Indians of the Diaspora have this romantic notion of finding the village in India their forefathers escaped from. Like me, he could not understand this notion, despite the fact that he went and found the house his Indian ancestor came from. As we watched the madness unfolding in front of us, Ridi still in angry man mode evoked his creativity: "I want to have my genetics revoked!" That boy wanted nothing to do with the Indian diaspora’s return to the motherland. We arrived back at our hotel just before midnight and watched the sky light up with fireworks.
On the 2nd of January 2007, Ridi boarded a tuk-tuk after failing to secure a flight to Dehli and departed to parts unknown by himself. He later ended up in Goa, while I prowled the streets of Bangalore killing time until my flight to Mumbai.
The following day I shopped in Mumbai and also continued my spiritual Ho'ing. Two days later it was back to civilization. Back to Johannesburg with it congested highways, psychotic taxi-drivers, hi-jacker’s, corrupt cops and its dearth of Igly.