The Flower Raj Articles

Welcome Guest


Monk for a season and freak for a while

Add Your Avatar
Add Your Avatar
Article Submitted By: christopherfreeland
Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2012 Time: 2:58 AM

Extract from Toff Freeland’s story, a.k.a. Chidi (à la Chidananda Tirtha).

Swami Pranav Tirtha, an orthodox sannyasin (monk) in Shankara’s dashnami tradition (more about that later), was a well-educated and erudite man who had worked as a journalist when young, as private secretary to Jawaharlal Nehru in Rangoon and as Minister of Information to the Gaekwad of Baroda, but far more than that, he was a happy man. When I first met him, he was 71 years old, I buried him shortly after his 73rd birthday. His first cancer of the throat led to a tracheotomy and he died of the third carcinoma. So, his health was a permanent handicap in the time that I knew him, but he never complained, he would simply ask me to massage him or lay on hands.

When he accepted to reveal to me the science of life, I decided that it would be polite to return to the UK and inform my family of this decision, say goodbye before returning to become a monk, as that was the purpose of the exercise.

Monasticism is frequently misunderstood, some say it is escapism, an easy way out. They are, of course, right, from their point of view. As is the case so often, it depends on what you want from life. I wanted to adopt the same attitude that my guru displayed, to learn how to be and develop harmony. Assuming that desire produces a result, which most people do, irrespective of philosophy or religion, otherwise what is the point of wanting if it does not result in the object desired, the next logical step is one of trying to understand desire. When the subconscious and conscious minds set about wanting something, as a result of concerted conviction, the outcome is inevitable, of very long duration in potential form and is powerful enough to replace all other desires currently on the mind’s horizon. It would be difficult to work on such ideas in the workaday world, and one would soon discard them as not being conducive to achieving one’s desires – them again!

What other monks do or did is their problem. It is one’s karma, as the Indians put it, one has to deal with it individually because it is all of one’s own fabrication. I can think of easier ways out of this situation where one assumes full responsibility for one’s desires and actions, you could, for example, ask for instant forgiveness, but that does seem to be a remote likelihood, requiring more gullibility than I am able to conjure up after a little observation of nature during the course of my short life.

It probably takes a rather special form of thinking – perhaps just thinking – to understand what someone else is doing. We are so convinced of the reality of the material world, we have invested our belief, our hope, our trust to such an extent that we are quite incapable of knowing that the reality of our projection lies elsewhere than in the immediacy of the present. This conviction stops us from perceiving even the notion that we do not actually share this same time-space, although it is very comforting to do so, and if we all behave the same way perhaps it will happen. Materialism in all its splendour and total imbecility!

Talk of pork chops in the synagogue. Back home a few days before Christmas, not eating meat, not smoking, not drinking and not interested in sex brought me into direct conflict with everything British, and probably what any other, society stands for. It is not easy to convince a parent that devoting one’s life to meditation and contemplation is the way to go. I must give Ivan (my mother’s second husband) his due, he suggested that I was in need of psychological help, which I did not agree with but accepted if he paid the bill.

It was a rich experience meeting for six hours, two sessions, with a celebrated shrink working in London and New York. To my surprise he spoke for at least four of those hours, but I do not know what the form is in such situations, however at the end when saying goodbye. I asked him what he thought, he replied that I seemed to be a perfectly normal young man, so I asked him to report back to Ivan along those lines. Several years later, my mother told me that the telephone had rung one day after my return to Africa and she and Ivan had picked up the two telephone extensions at the same time, she listened to hear the shrink giving his professional opinion, when Ivan asked what did he think of the whole plan, the reply was “I would rather like to go with him”. She did not tell me if he ever got paid!

Back to Zambia only to find Suresh (Solanki, my benefactor) and Bapuji (Swami Pranav Tirtha) in Kenya, so I waited in Lusaka, trying the patience of an Indian couple who had been asked to take care of me. It was a rude introduction to living off other’s hospitality but taught me to be especially attentive and discreet. There was nothing I could “do” to repay the favour being rendered, so put it down on the slate, the time will come to return the service.

Basically, the exercise I was embarking on involved unlearning habits and replacing them with ones better suited. You do this by contemplation, or concentrating on what is what and how to apply it if you find it right for you. Contemplation must not be confused with meditation, a common error. Contemplation or introspection involves subject and object, I in relation to something else, the benefits in relation to the disadvantages, thinking through to find a conclusion. Meditation is witnessing observation, initially commencing with I and my thoughts, and gradually refining the process to total immersion with witness-consciousness in absolute unity of the meditator’s conscious and subconscious. There are so many baseless truisms and platitudes bandied about that through sheer force of familiarity we accept them as being the truth, my new job was sifting through all the accumulated “wealth” and replacing it, because nature doesn’t like vacuums.

If I may, a brief word about meditation because in the way of life I learned and still try to maintain, it is a state of mind that one has every interest in using. The word, meditation, is of vague origin but as a Canadian Theravadin Buddhist monk once told me, for the sake of practicality, it is similar to the word medication. A way to regain the inner peace characteristic of our essential self that, one way or another, we have managed to obscure. The simple physical position of being cross-legged, not essential but a good place to keep your legs, with your hands folded in your lap, is of great significance, although there is no mention made of this in any texts on the subject, as it allows the body to recharge its magnetic field. As an impassive witness, watch the thoughts that arise in the mind, look at them as they tumble across the screen of your mind’s eye.

Just like the movies, and it’s for free! Do not resist or fight them, just observe, let them exist, after all they have their own reality and the right to exist too and, then, when you realise that they are part of your mental make-up and nothing extraneous, rather than following after them, let them go on their way, because if you do follow along you get attached to them, carried away and removed from your inherent peace of mind.

As I said, contemplation is a different game, you focus on the individual thought, isolate it and define it, allow it the chance to “be”, which is not what one generally has the time or inclination to do. Afford a close look at those thoughts which cause suffering in ourselves and subsequently to others. When observing these thoughts (e.g. he dared take my parking space!), it would be good to learn how to investigate their nature and characteristics as precisely as possible. This is insight or right knowledge training (vipashyana in Sanskrit, vippasana in Pali) where the emphasis is on discerning investigation and analysis (did I really “own” that parking space?) while maintaining one-pointedness without distraction. As you practice and cast the net wider you observe that your obsessions only exist within yourself, in your own mind, generally due to a desire (I was set on parking there): emotions such as anger, fear, doubt, stress, greed, jealousy, etc. all causing mental suffering that can be cured by meditation. Meditation paves the way for a clearer understanding of these things, letting us look calmly at the cause of our sadness, depression, despair or whatever, where they come from and why they exist. So, once you see the cause and find the attachment you might have for it, you can do away with it or at least whittle away at it. Turn your attention inside and look at the cause, develop the understanding that it is a creation of your own ego and once the cause revealed, it will probably cease to exist. It is the nature of the mind to flow in a continuing succession of ideation. Just focus on the reality of the individual thought without any attachment to egoistic notions of “mine-ness”, “good-ness”, “bad-ness”, have no judgement. Do not try to repress the thought and so hurt yourself, concentrate on the ultimate reality of its existence and your mind will not chase after it, and then you can let it go or rather, it will go of its own accord and you will find yourself in a very pleasant state. The discursive thought processes simply arise and dissolve in the mind. Gradually, in the midst of all the chatter, you may intuit a pervasive presence, felt and interpreted when back in the “normal” world as a void or absence, this may be fleeting but can be prolonged. That is consciousness.

As the Dalai Lama says "Whether we talk of the transformation of consciousness or of the introspective empirical analysis of what occurs in the mind, the observer needs a range of skills, carefully honed through repetition and training, and applied in a rigorous and disciplined manner. All these practices assume a certain ability to direct one's mind to a chosen object and to hold the attention there for a period, however brief." I would contend that consciousness does not transform, it cannot, otherwise you would need another consciousness to recognise that the first had transformed into something else, regressus ad infinitum, it is simply your impression of it having done so, but otherwise, well said!

As a child I had a recurring dream, rather nightmare. To start with there is nothing but an infinite field of white, pure uninterrupted, velvety light and suddenly, black spots appear and spread, invasive and consuming. I used it in reverse. My mind cluttered with thought, each requiring action and jostling for attention, the black invaders. They are entitled to their existence – but elsewhere, not on my patch! Move on, nothing to see, like a policeman at a traffic accident. The whiteness of consciousness gains ground and sometimes wins.

Something else I learned at this stage also became a permanent fixture for many years in my life, a pyramid, a scale copy of Kheops’ pyramid made of light cardboard that I could fold up and slip into my bag. Hindu monks generally grow their hair or cut it off, the idea being to scare the feminine species away – well in those days! I preferred to shave, but shaving your whole head is easier said than done. I used a cut-throat razor that I kept under the pyramid, which maintained its edge and still believe it was the best investment ever (Christine – my first wife - and my two eldest kindly gave me a present of a beautifully made wooden pyramid for my 45th birthday). I recently learned that a pyramid not anchored into the ground is more of a danger than a benefit, one of the specific frequencies generated – which is probably responsible for the realignment of the metal molecules – accumulates and becomes volatile, whereas if set into the ground, assimilation of the frequency is complete.

Perhaps the hardest thing to learn is the need for no desire. Innocence or simplicity and sameness are the ideals, if you intend (read, want) to maintain equanimity, even wanting happiness is an obstacle, because you are happiness. I was taught from an early age about boredom and how to fight it with action and activity. I now learnt how to cooperate with Nature and listen to the inner voice of the subconscious or conscience. In other words, to find harmony in whatever is. It is an attitude which can be worked out quite conclusively in logical discussion with oneself. Some would say that such an approach is fatalistic. Not so, it is far from passive because you have to bring to bear all one’s faculties to detect the workings of the ego which over time has acquired the belief that it is separate and in control of its little domain. It is a hard fight, continues to this day and will probably carry on so long as the body holds! There is no point asking, as our western education would encourage us to do, why, because that would also be a circumspect view of the ego and probably reinforce the surrounding screen. There is no one answer, it is an intuitive process, unique to the individual. What I really am is no different from the Cause, which can only be one, so the dualities of cause and effect are due to erroneous understanding and conviction. Intellectually I grasped this immediately, it is the practice that is proving a little tough! Listen and have faith!

It was a period of frequent near-depression and elation, experimenting and meditation. People tell us that self-realization is what life is all about, I would agree with that but they do not tell you about the intense and constant effort. The rewards of meditation are phenomenal, the moments of unity – when there is only Consciousness – far outweigh the doubt. My monastic name, Chidananda, means the joy of consciousness, and it is definitely what I revelled in! I am sure that without the guidance of Bapuji it would have been a long, hard struggle. As it was, it was a long, hard struggle, but accomplished in gentleness and calm. He was an excellent psychologist, suggesting attitudes, alternative ways of approaching issues, reinforced with literary reference taken from the Upanisads, Gita and elsewhere. A constant process of hearing/reading, contemplation and reinforcement. All in the most easy manner, I would ask if he felt well enough to talk and if so, he would answer my questions, often showing me that the question was not quite precise or broad enough in scope and carefully prepare the mind-ground, so that I could understand, explaining when necessary but more often guiding so that I did the enquiring work which he would then check to ensure my comprehension.

Eighteen months of listening, examination, verification, clarification, concentration, contemplation, reading, consolidation and gradual conviction. He led me with immense patience, observation and firmness. Someone who suffers more or less constant pain is not in the same world as those of us lucky enough not to be, and they seem to have a capacity to feel or perceive more. He showed me so much compassion and affection, and was on the constant lookout for my spiritual and material well-being. There were often times when conversation was not necessary, a look, a touch, a smile, we were very much on the same wavelength.

Especially in India, people would invite me to their house to feed me, often a great experience because I had learnt a little about cooking Indian food and could therefore make wise comments on the merits of components and combinations; but mainly because in Gujerat, where I spent much time, the food is plentiful, varied and very well prepared! Being sensitive people, they would ask me first if I ate my food spicy, not recommended in most yogic practices, to which I would reply that I preferred to eat with little chilli pepper. Sitting one day on the floor with the men folk of my host’s family – the girls would always eat separately and after the men – my dish of dal (lentils) was placed before me with rice, veggies and condiments, the colour of the dal was orangey-yellow. It was only when I had helped myself to some rice and was picking up the dal in my cupped fingers, that I knew something had to be done. My cuticles were burning and I also knew that there would be an explosion if I put it into my mouth! I asked for some milk, which was placed before me, poured it into the dal, still it was burning, so asked for a little sugar, again, it was placed before me. It was edible but horribly hot. The colour of the dal eaten by the men was red, and they were indeed, large, robust creatures. I wonder if one can ever get used to such internal heat.

The time came for my novitiate to end. On Sunday, May 20th 1973 or the third day of the month of Vaishakh 2029 of the Ashokan calendar, I was given a new name, Chidananda Tirtha, cut my sacred thread around my shoulder as well as the topknot on my head and donned the ochre-coloured cloth. A few weeks later I took off to India, by myself with ticket paid for by Suresh. My intention was to find a Sanskrit teacher and the rest would hopefully fit into place. Bapuji had given me a few addresses and written a few letters to tell monk friends that his disciple risked showing at their front doors, and please not to throw him out!

My first few days in Bombay were a rude but probably salutary awakening. You are just another stray monk, mouth to feed and asking for a place to sleep. In the Hindu tradition, a monk can ask a temple or ashrama (monastery) for, and will be given, lodging for three days, food depends on how wealthy the establishment is, sometimes you fend for yourself. I don’t know if this 3-day “rule” was left over from the British era, I suspect not, but we always say the “guests are like fish, after three days, they stink!” My first night was spent in a dark, dank hole in the wall beside the main gutter of the ashram, I took off to a temple just down the street from the very luxurious house I had stayed in the year before with Bapuji when we had been guests of the brother of Vijay Thackersey, one of India’s celebrated cricketers, a scion of the wealthy Bombay textile family. A simple abode, clean, noisy but devoid of rats! They let me stay for several weeks. From there I scouted around – to no avail, for a suitable school, visiting the Chinmayananda centre, he had been the disciple of Shivananda, a friend of Bapuji’s in Rshikesh. This was the epoch when westerners were discovering Indian philosophy and Indians were responding in their inimitable fashion. Setting up schools with all kinds of programmes but not yet charging excessive amounts of money or behaving badly, Rajneesh (later Osho) was setting up shop in Poona, the eternally sixteen year old Balyogeshwar was soon off to the US to spread the word. I lasted five days with Chinmayananda.

The next option for Sanskrit-learning was to the north, Rshikesh and Hardwar, where the Ganges spills into the immense plainland on its journey out of the mountains towards the eastern seaboard of the Indian sub-continent. So, off I headed, with a few stops in between to see what life had to offer.

My guru’s guru, Dadaji, - grandfather, had been a hatha yogi most of his life, but had come around to the intellectual approach of jnana-yoga and had been ordained by Swami Rama Tirtha. The latter was an extraordinary mathematician, who became a most renowned monk in India for a short period because he died at 32. Dadaji had an ashram on the banks of the Narmada river near Bharuch. I jumped on a train in Bombay and went to pay my respects. We got on famously and I stayed a few days, he encouraged me to stay and even found me a retired teacher who was delighted to take charge of a keen young student. But I had already made plans for the north and we agreed that if they did not work out, I would return.

Back on the train with a stop at Mount Abu in Rajasthan, a volcanic formation rising from the surrounding desert, an oasis of rare beauty, a major Jain temple site, a palace of the Maharani of Jaipur and my guru’s eleven-roomed ashrama. All the rooms were rented out and there was considerable hostility when I fronted up to see if there was anything to be done. So, I enjoyed the sunset from on top of the hill with the vast stretch of desert at my feet and the following day, kept on trucking!

So on up to Hardwar, where I drew a blank, as was the case in Rshikesh. What I found as regards Sanskrit-learning possibilities were not suited to my required way of learning. I did not need to become a scholar, all I needed was to learn how to read. In Hardwar it was, however, the opportunity for me to meet the abbot and good friend of Bapuji, who would later be my host for a year or so, and to discover the majesty of the Ganges. The water was so clear you could see fish at a depth of several metres, and they were big. I had been a vegetarian for several years now and my body had changed its texture and odour, but it could not get over the extreme cold of the water’s temperature. I think that since having frostbite on Dartmoor a few years before, I never could stand the cold. My first visit there must have been in December and I would bathe – exaggeration – I would jump in the water and of its own volition, the body would jump back straight out. It was cold! The ashram of the abbot was huge, with a stretch of the Ganges on the property. Looking up to the hills, you could see the eternal snows, so it was perhaps surprising not to find ice cubes. Come April or May the water was bearable, but more of that later.

The next stop was Benares, where I had an introduction to a delightful Bengali monk who kindly put me up in his ashram and showed me around the town. The Kashi Hindu Vishvavidyalaya, the main Sanskrit establishment only taught in Sanskrit, so that was a non-starter and the teachers were very orthodox, you learnt Panini’s Sanskrit with the memorisation of the 10,000 verses or nothing at all! Not a very flexible bunch, as I was learning slowly. The town is the epitome of India, smells, noises, sights, tumbling through a kaleidoscope of street scenes. The funeral and wedding processions, the elephants, camels, naked fakirs, garish fabrics in the tailors’ stores, all set in a tasteful style of architecture. Splendid temples that you will only discover if you follow the worshippers hurrying along with their offerings, magnificent steps reaching down to the broad, lazy river which is (or was) only built-up on the one bank.

Benares or Kashi is the town where all devout Hindus would like to die, because you are sure of a much better round next time if you are burnt there and the ashes go in to the Ganges. If you are sufficiently wealthy and can afford enough wood – as it is used up at a clipping rate and for years now it comes from many miles away – the body gets thoroughly burnt, but many people cannot afford it and the result is what you can expect, as happened to me on several occasions when I lived in Asi Ghat, the last station downstream in the town, when you are bumped by a half-burnt corpse when taking your morning bathe. I was to learn that the Ganges passes through extensive deposits of uranium in the upper reaches of its passage through the Himalayas, making it free of bugs of all kinds, for many miles. Perhaps it was my conviction that this was the case, but in any case I never caught hepatitis or any other nasty.

Some years later again at Assi Ghat, but this time staying with a delightful Indian from Hyderabad, Bhaskar, who lived just next door to Nik Douglas of Tantric Hinduism fame. Bhaskar had come up with the superb idea of a silk weaving project and had decided on the Persian Book of Kings as the inspirational source, when I met him he had a picture of two fighting camels, very much a prototype but with an incredible wealth of colour, blues, golds, browns and red. As costs were running over dramatically he was about to give the project up because it had taken six months for four weavers to produce a magnificent weaving which still had imperfections. He sold it to me for two thousand dollars in order to pay the weavers. Some months later, I gave it to my brother as a belated wedding present, I think it was one of the finest pieces of art I had ever encountered and enjoyed for a while.

Anyone who has not travelled by train in India needs the Freeland Indian Train Manual – Ten Commandments. To avoid all disappointment in not finding it at your favourite bookstall, here in its entirety is the content of this essential travel aid:

1/ To avoid not finding somewhere to sit, do not stand on the same platform as everyone else. When you know at which platform the train will stop, move over to the platform opposite. When the train pulls in, run across the tracks, having first made sure there is not another train passing, and jump in, either through the doors or, even better, throw your bag up into the luggage rack and climb in through the window up on to the luggage rack and lie down. If it is a long journey you are about to start, the luggage rack is the most comfortable as you will be able to lie down extended. This is the best way to obtain a comfortable place. If someone has already taken the luggage racks, repeat the above process and throw your bag on the seat and then climb in. Better to be seated than standing. If you do have to stand, know that physical proximity is not a problem. There might be a problem if you are tall because you are to be leaned against as a prop.
2/ Do not let appearances fool you, the floor looks clean now, wait a while. Never lie down on the floor under the seats, especially on the floor near the latrines, even though that may appear to be the ideal bed-space. I did it once and for a few hours the following day, no one came near me, I had a clearance of several feet around me, I was left in relative peace but the stench was quite overpowering! The plumbing on trains requires some revision and the jury is still out.
3/ If you are an affluent soul and are travelling in a first class compartment, not something I ever did as a monk, but did subsequently and found this to be very sound advice. Never let anyone into your compartment, even if the voice on the other side of the door says that it is the station master, do not believe them unless you can see the person in their uniform through the window, and even then, beware, he may have his family with him! If you do open the door, you will lose the entire benefit of travelling first class. For the Indian, hawking, eructation, flatulence, nose-picking, ear-cleaning, eating with the mouth open and asking the same four questions1 are all standard behaviour. Of course, should you find this harmonious, ignore my advice.
4/ Do not travel on the roof or hanging on to the windows from the outside. There are many low bridges and an untimely stretch standing up will delay your trip. There are also many wires, some of which carry high voltage.
5/ Never eat sweetmeats bought on the platform or anything fresh that has been exposed to sunlight. You are guaranteed to eat and probably acquire more than you paid for.
6/ If you are a monk, you are entitled to keep silence and people will respect that. It is definitely an advantage to be considered and not just on the railways. Touch an Indian and it bursts into noise. They are difficult to stop talking because they are genuinely interested and want to discover all they can and discretion is not a strongly held social value.
7/ Keeping your head covered when travelling by any means, except plane, would be sensible. Bed bugs, lice and fleas abound and they like the hair of the head.
8/ Do not drink the water from the lavatory basin, you do not know who has been on the roof.
9/ Know how to squat if you need to use the latrine. Do not leave valuables in the pockets of your trousers, they can slip out and away.
10/ If the train does travel fast, do not stick your head out of the window, betel juice does not travel far.

Enough nonsense, although I would seriously recommend most of the above.

Back on the road again and a return to Bharuch in Gujerat to see what could be done there. Unfortunately, Dadaji had died between times and I arrived in time for his funeral, and to meet a number of Bapuji’s family, especially two university professors from Baroda, who were most interesting and communicative. In retrospect, I think it was the welcome and encouragement given by the family members and other well-wishers to my being there and possibly staying to study that killed the chicken in the egg, so to speak.

Dadaji had introduced me to an obese sannyasin (monk) who was going to take over the ashrama and its management on his demise, which he knew was imminent. This gent had been a homeopathic doctor and he spoke of setting up a dispensary, but my gut feeling was that he was only too happy to have laid his hands on a very good deal, substantial library, many buildings, a temple and a large tin trunk full of cash. I had seen this trunk - and it was full - on my first visit, Dadaji had given me five one-hundred rupee notes before leaving for Hardwar, as well as a very valuable blanket shawl made of the hair from a Kashmiri goat (pashmina), incredibly light in weight but incredibly warm. I had really appreciated it in the Himalayas when the temperature often dropped below zero, no other cover was needed to stay warm at night.

Unaware of the approaching storm, I threw myself into my studies and was very content to have at last found a stable routine again to apply a more structured form to my daily life. For several years I had practised hatha yoga which is the natural accompaniment for what I was doing, after all, you do yoga so as to get your body in such form that it does not cause distraction when you meditate. I had learnt from many people, especially the kanphatas (split ears) in Hardwar, with whom I practised and was quite proficient. The breathing exercises I am sure are largely responsible for my good health and I had been practising breath-control since the age of eleven. Experimentation with breathing can lead to all sorts of interesting experiences, whether it is the cause or corollary, I don’t know, but levitation, cessation of mentation were some of the manifestations.

Making myself useful in the library by cataloguing all the books, of which there were several thousand, working a little in the garden. I spent most of the time by myself, the other monk rarely appeared. The day he did was my downfall. Some three months had passed and he suddenly accused me of stealing the Kashmiri shawl. Of course I could prove nothing and in order to put an end to the intense animosity, I gave it to him. Not satisfied with this, he then accused me of stealing books from the library and trying to usurp him. That is when the penny dropped and I cleared out three miles down the road to a small temple where the priest, whom I sometimes chatted with, kindly gave me a roof for a while. I should have done so three months earlier, but one lives and learns.

The two weeks spent in the temple down the road was a big step back in time. The villagers were intrigued to have a paleface monk in their midst and they would crowd round to watch me eat, meditate, doing my ablutions. Never a dull moment! I would officiate – read, sit and watch – at the temple rituals, much to the priest’s delight, so everyone was happy.

This was not a permanent solution and something called me back to Bombay, where I was just in time to meet Bapuji and Suresh coming in from Africa.

Bapuji needed treatment for his second cancer and it was to be radiation and chemo-therapy. We put up in the flat of a budding Gujerati author not far from Churchgate. A tight squeeze but most of the time was spent in hospitals and waiting rooms. When he was admitted to hospital for treatment I accompanied him to ensure his every need and run any errands or massage his aches and pains. There were quite a few visitors and one frequent one, a spinster or widow – I did not enquire too much – but it became quite clear that three was a crowd, when they would disappear into the bathroom! I would take off in complete mental disarray at how this could possibly be “normal” monkish comportment. He never spoke of it and I was too shy to broach the subject. I judged him, and not very favourably. Whatever! Sod it!

His reaction to treatment was extreme, terrible burning and pain. Once back in the author’s flat, I helped him attempt suicide by preparing capsules with codeine, however he omitted to eat before swallowing them and of course his stomach rejected them. You can imagine my surprise when he woke me up in the middle of the night, I even asked “What are you doing here?” before forcing him to drink salt water and getting him off to hospital for a stomach pump. The treatment was curtailed and he needed a good rest to try and regain some strength.

Suresh arranged a car and driver and off we went up through Gujerat, staying in some splendid princely palaces along the way, to Palitana. The home town of another guru-brother, Himatlal Trivedi, a very accomplished ayurvedic doctor, who rented a house for us so that we could be at ease and he put Bapuji on a diet of goat’s milk only. The effect was excellent, no more pain. After three weeks of goat’s milk and nothing else, Bapuji rebelled. Himatlal told him that if he stopped now, he could not remove the cancer which he believed would be possible. He refused, saying that he was going to die anyway and he did not want to die with the taste of goat’s milk in his mouth, or something to that effect. Himatlal and I were devastated. He had become a good friend during this time and I was fascinated by the workings of ayurveda. He was a very accomplished practitioner. It was enough for him to look at someone’s face to say, with precision, what they had eaten that day and the day before, his diagnosis was accurate and his knowledge of the Indian pharmacopeia extensive.

Palitana was not the right place for a Hindu monk, however, it is a Jain stronghold and just outside the town is one of the religion’s main pilgrimage sites. I was often stoned when taking walks on the outskirts of the town and took to exercising on the roof of our house to avoid bumps on the head. So, it was time to move on again.

Back again to Bombay with a stop in Cambay to say hello to several other disciples, and for me to scout around for a possible teacher, whom I found down the road from a family who was very happy to lend me their large abandoned house which I shared with the local monkey population. I soon learned to keep my things under lock and key because they must have come from a studious dynasty, Hanuman’s no doubt, they would pinch everything including books! Talking of Hanuman, a sub-hero from the Ramayana, the king of the monkey tribe that helps Rama regain his wife Sita after she is kidnapped by Ravana, the Sri Lankan demon, there would seem to be some basis that the characters in this epic are parodies. Like everyone else, the Indians are xenophobic. They say South Indians are of Dravidian origin, whatever, they are very dark-complexioned and wear their dhotis with a tail, and not much imagination is required to substitute the man for a monkey. The Aryan with his subservient tribesman.

My teacher in Cambay was an elderly Brahmin, very orthodox and not really prepared to teach me what I wanted, but we muddled along and I think progress was made. In any case, my reading was improving by leaps and bounds. I had been memorising the 702 verses of the Gita by heart and repeated them every day, all grist to the mill. Cambay was a backwater and had no libraries or university, so the occasional visit to Baroda or Ahmedabad was needed to consult or research. Although the backward way of life did have its rewards.

This is where I met a Sufi, a Muslim holyman, who introduced me to the esoteric side of Islam and the beauty of Persian poetry. We met out of view of the townspeople, although it was never possible to be totally out of sight in India. I earned quite a lot of criticism for hob-knobbing with Muslims but would explain that the only way to try and bring people around to the right way of understanding was to know the way they thought. That worked and it was only the fakir’s departure that caused our discussions to come to an end. Another bone of contention was the fact that I visited the sweepers’ quarters. The caste system in India is strong as you know, but the disdain and revulsion that they have for Mehtars (sweepers or scavengers) is intense. I used to visit them in their huts which were impeccably clean and tidy. They were so honoured that a sadhu would deign to enter their hovels, they were often in tears. Simple folk but very endearing, intensely poor but, as so often happens, with large families, very loving and happy with their lot. They were a great lesson in being content with what you get.

Word came that Suresh had died in Zambia. For Bapuji and I it was clear that he had simply stopped wanting to live, he was too enamoured of the pure state of being, why mess around and the natural outcome had arrived. Bapuji wrote to me saying that he did not have long either and would like to see me before. He also mentioned that the pain was starting again and insinuated a repeat performance of the codeine might be a suitable option. Cambay was the opium centre of western India, whole stretches of the region were given over to poppy production and I had no problem in buying a tola, 10 grammes or so, of opium.

In the Jain tradition, and perhaps others elsewhere in the world, there is a final sacrifice that can be made after very careful consideration and maybe even permission from a superior instance (preceptor). Your own life is to be used to achieve an objective, if that is accomplished, then there may be circumstances when the physical entity is no longer necessary. It is easy enough to find out whether one has the right to do so, fast for forty days, on the forty-first, the body falls. If you are not meant to die, someone or something will manifest. The Jains take a more progressive approach, cutting down on portions of food and reducing the substances eaten, until such time as the body sloughs off. A matter of conviction.

Down to Bombay and a few days with Jagdish Parikh, a friend who I had originally met on a railway station. He had been so insistent on helping me that I finally realized his intention was pure and unmotivated and despite my reticent reaction we became good friends. A retired engineer, very well read and keen on Vedanta, we had long discussions far into the night. Jagdish told me that I was crazy to take opium with me on an international flight because if caught I would go to jail, monk or no monk! I gave him the stuff and thought nothing more of it.

It was a sad time, especially as Bapuji was no longer on form, so the cohesion he had created in the family was wearing thin. He soon went into hospital and despite asking the doctor to administer an extra dose of morphine, it took several weeks for his suffering to end. He had moments of lucidity interspersed with delirium, I slept in the same room and often had to extricate him from strange hallucinations. In one of those instances of clarity, he looked me in the eyes and said, “I hope your faith will hold, my son.” I was too moved to say anything and spent a troubled night. Even now, I believe I can say in reply, “There have been ups and downs, but the conviction of there being nothing but pure consciousness is still firm. I am safe.”

Yashwant, Suresh’s brother managed to obtain permission to bury Bapuji out in the bush. A sannyasin, unlike other Hindus, is buried rather than cremated. The two of us buried him in a large hole dug by some African lads. Another poignant moment seeing the cold grey flesh disappear under the red earth. Before he died, Bapuji had given instructions for arrangements to be made to take care of my financial needs. I was only vaguely interested in these things and merely remembered the name of the person in Bombay who would provide for me should I need the wherewithals.

Back to India with Suresh’s ashes in a bronze bowl that I had been asked by the family to pour into the Ganges. I headed up to Cambay, gathered my type-writer, books and kamandalu (water pot) and trained up to Delhi and bussed on to Hardwar. Swami Atmananda, the abbot of the ashram which was to be home for the next seven months, gave me a huge room to live and work in. I took Suresh’s ashes down to the river, at the point of a spit and prayed him on his way never to return.

On the way back to the bank across a new bridge spanning a hundred yards of a finger of the river, I was roused from my reverie by a little girl screaming. I ran over to her as she was being attacked by a monkey, grabbed the wretched beast by the scruff of the neck and base of the spine, he was as big as the ten-year old girl, and threw him over the bridge into the water below. Monkeys don’t like water so hopefully he associated the biting of people with water and will give up that nasty habit.

Ashram life was stark, the food dismal and my room very cold. For months I had lived without money and did so for several years, relying on the need being fulfilled when the time was right. It worked very well and meant that you can concentrate on other matters. My immediate physical needs were gradually satisfied, someone gave me some cash one day, enough to buy a water-heating element so I could bathe in the luxury of warm water at the hole in the wall of my room. I made a habit of shaving my face and head, as I said with a cut-throat razor, in an effort to keep the bugs out. The bugs had nothing to eat, like most of India, and it took me some time to find out where they came from. It was a struggle, which I won, to stop them eating me. They lived in tiny holes in the whitewashed walls, the only way to get at them was with a matchstick, and crush them in their holes. The alternative methods of asking them to move out or eat something else apparently didn’t work, so I precipitated their evolution! The weather got warmer as the months went by, so there remained the matter of food. I took to helping out in the kitchen which served the hoi-polloi – obviously me included. The cook did not put salt in the rice or dal, so it was quite unpalatable to taste and as we rarely saw any vegetables, it was the bare essentials. Whenever anyone laid any money on me, which happened quite often, it would go into salt, veggies and fruit.

The population of the ashram was limited to myself, visiting monks and sadhus. There is a structure to Hindu monasticism, as established by Shankara in the 8th century. Shankara set up centres (pitha) in the four corners of India and ten names or insignias were attributed to the acolytes of the philosophy he so brilliantly propounded. Govardhana (Puri in eastern India), with the names Aranya and Vana; Shringeri (Karnataka) with Saraswati, Bharat? and Puri; Sharada (Dwarka in western India) with Tirtha and Ashrama and Jyotisa (Badri in northern India) with Giri, Parvata and Sagara.

The structure is quite loose and so probably quite difficult to manage with all sorts of political infighting but that was definitely out of my league and of scant interest. Historically, the monastic order’s life was complicated by the Muslims who sometimes (and vice versa) caused problems for Hindus, especially when the country was ruled by the Mughals, which led Madhusudhana Saraswati, an orthodox monk in this tradition, to strike a deal in the 17th century with the shudra (lowest caste) and the outcastes. Such people are not allowed in the Hindu system to study the Veda, so the idea was to teach them Hindu dharma and the epics in exchange for their military service to protect Hindu holymen. It still operates today, the nagas, ash-covered, hirsute and naked babas are the most flamboyant features of the large festivals where the Hindus gather. The nagas were frequent visitors to the ashram as the abbot, Swami Atmananda, was a major player in the hierarchy. Listening to their stories made you realize that the gap between imagination and reality is very narrow. They lived very bizarre lives, in the forests, on the roads, most of the time in altered mental states brought on by hashish, datura, ganja and sometimes opium. On several occasions, especially during the kumbha mela, I sat next to nagas, who told me, in all seriousness, that I could not be a sadhu if I did not smoke dope.

As already mentioned, money was something that came and went when needed. It must have been in April, when everyone had packed up after the kumbha mela. Like in most parts east, you leave your shoes outside before you enter a dwelling, my room was no exception. Out of a morning to run an errand or some such, I found only one shoe. Probably a dog had enjoyed it for breakfast, but one shoe is like three cylinders, you don’t go far! The tarmac surface of the roads was so hot at midday that it bubbled and barefoot for three weeks in the hottest time of the year in India was the time to learn a new form of physical meditation. It involved absorbing the heat through the feet that were burning, up into the legs, talking to the blood that carried its heated components up to cooler parts and back down again for a warm-up. It seemed to work well until the heat got to my intestines because sometimes I had to walk some distance as the ashram was a few miles out of town. It was agony. Whenever it was really needed, money would turn up and indeed it did, enough to buy myself a new pair of leather sandals and smile down at a happy pair of feet!

A letter arrived for me one day from Father Leon Jungblut, a Jesuit anthropologist whom I had met some years earlier in Bombay. He was planning on compiling an encyclopaedia of Hindu sects and wondered if it would be possible to come and stay with me at the forthcoming kumbha mela in the company of our mutual Kashmiri friend, Motilal. I went to see the abbot to ask if my anthropologist friend and colleague could come and stay but he said no as there would be no room in the ashram. When I told him there was plenty of “room” in my room, he said of course but you must keep on with your studies and not be disturbed by the proceedings! Matter settled. I wrote back saying welcome but no dog-collars or signs of Catholic paraphernalia. They would have hung him without any compunction, there is no love lost between Christians and Hindus. I had to get quite angry with him as it turned out, because one night he was doing his sacrament or whatever they call it, when someone entered the room thinking it was their quarters but quickly exited probably not understanding what was going on. Damned if some priest was going to spoil my show!

From the time I started studying Sanskrit, I had been keeping notes of terms found in the books I read or referred to, where they occurred and their nuances in meaning. Bapuji had compiled a small lexicon of Sanskrit words explained in Gujerati which I used as the base for what was to become quite a large volume, in English. The traditional study of Vedanta requires substantial additional knowledge as one was expected to be able to argue one’s case in logical discussion, this required a solid basis in: Nyaya (the Indian system of logic), the rudiments of Vedic ritual, Manu Smrti (law books), the epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana), Puranas (Indian mythology), Shaivite and Vaishnavite traditions, the basics of the other five Hindu philosophical systems, several schools of Buddhist thought and Jainism. Interpreting words used several thousand years ago to impart a sense in this day and age was what I was trying for.

Now that we are on the subject of Buddhism, a little grist for the mill concerning the purpose of Vedanta in comparison with that of Buddhism which is, I believe, of interest. The Buddha said “One thing I teach, suffering and the end of suffering...”, whereas Vedanta can be resumed as the search for one’s Self, “Who am I?” I personally find it hard to accept that an answer to the purpose of life can be found outside of oneself in the phenomenal world. Now, though it is debatable that suffering is caused by events occurring uniquely in the outside world, they are indisputably subject to mental interpretation – the origins of which depend on experience, therefore the external world, so that amounts to the same thing. So, how can one accept suffering or its ending, both external factors, as being a starting point for investigation? To eliminate metaphysics, as the Buddha did, is perhaps expedient but neither honest nor truthful, he says man has no soul. He is right, but not for the same reasons Buddhist exegesis proclaims. I say the soul has the man. The physical is the extension of the spiritual, not the reverse.

Hardwar exploded for a period of three months from a town of about 15,000 total population to a metropolis of 5 million people. Representatives of all the Indian religious traditions, save Buddhism and Jainism, came to the kumbha mela festival, so as to purify their souls by jumping into the Ganges at a propitious moment, this celebration occurs every three years in four different localities in India and is orchestrated according to the stars, although there are at least two accounts of the same story in the Puranas.

My host, the abbot being the head of one of the bigger gangs of sadhus, rode on an elephant in the major processions. What better way to add to his hubris than to have a white-skinned attendant on the back of his elephant. Of course, I got the toughest job, keeping the flies off His Eminence, with a solid silver, yak-tail whisk that weighed at least four kilos, no way would the other attendant, holding the parasol upright placed on the floor of the howdah, change roles. Some uncharitable thoughts went through my head after a number of hours, especially as we had fasted for at least a day before the auspicious moments determined by the astrologers. The ride would take us through miles of countryside and town, an endless line of nagas, sannyasins, carts drawn by garishly decorated bullocks, horses and elephants in their full regalia, preceded by the fiercest of the naga-soldiers, swinging their swords, one in either hand, as they danced along clearing the way through a huge mass of humanity that craned their necks to get a glimpse of what could be seen. We were showered with flowers, bank-notes, I even saw a couple of babies fly over the tops of heads, to be gingerly caught by the naked nagas. God forbid that anyone should bend over to pick up any of the cash, feet and curses would fly! The monastery was filled with sannyasins, affiliated by lineage, from all corners of the continent and numerous pilgrims.

The members of a monastery would be invited en bloc for lunch at one monastery or another, and this hospitality would be reciprocated, consequently I made the rounds of ten or so large ashrams, sitting down to lunch with five thousand or so other guests, to eat copiously as they were vying with each other to show their largesse.

This was the ideal setting for Father Jungblut to start his research into sects, beliefs, doctrines, etc. We made a cohesive team; the incognito priest spoke good Hindi and several Indian dialects, he could ask personal questions of monastics while inviting them for tea or a meal; Motilal could ask across the board questions and I would ask doctrinal, more theoretical questions. There was a natural bias from the Jesuit of which he was fully aware and he allowed Motilal and myself to add our grain of Hindu salt, so our discussions and conclusions were quite broad-minded. We all had tape-recorders, allowing us greater flexibility, although their use was sometimes refused. This was the opportunity for me to discover a number of home truths that were very disconcerting for me, the monk.

The Hindu law books clearly state that you are born a Hindu, you cannot become a Hindu. If you are born a foreigner, mleccha, you stay a foreigner, until a more fortunate birth! Some monks applied this to the letter, refused to speak to me and encouraged others not to do so. It hurt, but for the encyclopaedia it didn’t matter, we sent Father Jungblut to get the low-down! This was also when I discovered that at least 80% of my monk colleagues had taken the cloth to feed themselves. Bapuji had always told me that wearing a uniform was not necessary, it was the way of living that mattered. When in Rome...

The extremes to which the Indians go in order to see God, or achieve their ideals, is beyond the average imagination. Some examples that I encountered on my travels will better illustrate this. My first encounter with a sadhu involved in self-mortification was on my first trip to Benares as a soldier, I went to visit Sarnath, the site where the Buddha gave his first sermon, on the way a group of half naked men were walking along the road. One fellow had a rock hanging down between his knees, attached to his testicles. I was not able to question him but was informed that he was practising tapas, austerity. Someone who I got to know quite well during the Hardwar period, showed me the scar where he had cut off his own testicles, he was so proud of his determination and courage. When questioned as to why he had taken such an extreme course of action instead of overcoming his sexual drive, he told me that his guru had recommended it. Obviously, these cases are the exception but if the courage portrayed is a reflection of the degree of faith, it is a remarkable witness to man’s capacity to believe.

Two other instances at the kumbha mela were equally noteworthy. A man who decided to sacrifice his arms was sitting under a tree, raised above his head were the two bone structures that had once served as limbs, completely atrophied and a deformed mass around his shoulders. I asked him if he had seen God, and he replied “Not yet!” came the optimistic reply. Another fellow had sacrificed his legs, and he was still in the process of accomplishing the act, a sight that was not easy to look upon, as all the flesh was massed around his feet and he had tied his arms to a tree branch so as to stay standing. He was clearly suffering hard. A harsh sight.

Father Jungblut decided to restrict investigation into the modern gurus to those immediately available. When we went to visit Guru Maharaj Ji, the eternal 16-year old, we were brought around the back of his huge ashram and given immediate access to the presence, his brother replaced him when he was absent. As foreigners have more to offer, they apparently had priority over the hundreds of poor people, queuing in the sun at the front of the building. I found it difficult to condone the excessive gifts of the desperately poor hill-people, dressed in rags, giving their two-rupee notes to the factotum, not even allowed to put the money into the hands of the brother of the object of their veneration, Balyogeshwar. I know that I often told people who wanted to give me money that I had no need for the moment and would ask them if they did not have a more worthy object in mind, their daughter’s wedding, an old parent who would like to visit Benares and then ask them to make a contribution in that respect. My innate sense of injustice was sometimes hard to govern! We even went to Dehra Dun one day to meet the teacher of this particular guru, he was not very flattering concerning his academic capacity let alone his personality. It crossed my mind on a number of occasions to go with a potential flow and set up as a popular teacher, the opportunities were there. Keep on drudging was my advice to myself and I am glad I did not sell my soul like that.

The time in Hardwar was the first time I came across Sikhs as a religious entity where they were very present at the fair, moving about in large groups or in convoy. They were armed to the teeth, shotguns, swords, pistols of all sorts, .303 rifles, BREN and general purpose machine guns, very tall and well-built, proud bearing and fierce-looking. Somewhat taken aback when seeing a foreign intruder walk into their encampment asking to meet their chief, I was well received, especially when I mentioned my grand-father had served with Sikhs in the Indian army, perhaps that is what gained me access to the number three in the overall setup. A very courteous, urbane and eloquent man who was only too delighted to explain whatever we wanted to know about Guru Nanak’s message and teaching, but very oblique concerning politics – we had asked about their need for so much armament.

Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister at this time and had declared a state of emergency to calm the furore concerning the charges of electoral malpractice levelled against her. I was totally unaware of this and not in the least concerned, however, what was very alarming for all of India’s sadhus was the fact that the police were rounding up wandering monks and throwing them into labour camps, to crack rocks to make roads. There had been many reports and witnesses of this, enough to make us very wary when on the road. I wondered if there was not some relationship between the Sikh’s attitude and the prime minister’s unfeeling acts. She was doing a number of things that displeased many people in an effort to gain points, with the Chinese for example, when she invited the Dalai Lama to move with the Tibetan diaspora down to the mountains of Mysore. She forgot to mention the mountains were covered with jungle, the Tibetans died by the hundreds – perhaps thousands - from TB and respiratory problems. Whatever, she met her end some nine years later at the hands of her own Sikh bodyguards in revenge for the attack she ordered on the Amritsar temple.

I had never managed to find a Sanskrit teacher in Hardwar, so had continued learning by myself, very occupied by the compiling of my wordlist and its research, in addition to my meditation and yoga practice. So, when the time came to say goodbye to so many of the participants of the great feast of the last three months, there was seemingly little to keep me there, especially when a Canadian I had met recently invited me to accompany him to Dharmashala for a darshan (blessing) with the Dalai Lama.

What an impression the Dalai Lama made! No doubt, as for millions of other people. We had been given an audience to meet him, four Americans, my Canadian friend and a Hindu monk. Everyone in turn offered their scarf, when my turn arrived, I extended the scarf and as Hindu custom would have it, I knelt to put my head at his feet. He grabbed me by the shoulders, saying “No, not between us monks”. I was so taken aback, I was silent for once! He sat and the others asked their questions. One of the Americans said he was breaking his vow of silence after six months as a gift, whereupon the Lama asked him if his mind had kept quiet during that time, “No”, came the hesitant reply. “Then why did you do it?” An abrupt style but good lesson. Another American asked “Have the Tibetans been exiled from their country because you kept the dharma to yourselves?” a very leading question which if answered by yes or no would have put the spiritual and secular leader in a spot. With the briefest of hesitations, he replied “I don’t know, I don’t know!” and burst out laughing. It was quite infectious and we all joined in. What an astute man to have seen through the double-edged question and avoided it with the greatest of tact and gentleness. I loved him instantly.

Whilst in McLeod Ganj I met an American, Bruce Burger, a psychologist with a great heart who had given up his university-teaching activity to come to India in search for a sense to life. He invited me to join him in Goa where he was headed to spend Christmas and New Year.

Compilation of the Sanskrit-English wordlist was complete, and a friend of Father Jungblut, Professor J.Gonda from Utrecht University, kindly agreed to write a foreword, so I thought it best to finalise it as it was, rather than continue tweaking away at it. I was looking for somewhere to hide away for three weeks, to finish the typing. I mentioned this when in Bombay and Jagdish very kindly offered me his house in Poona, with a lady who would cook and care for me, and in passing said “This belongs to you” as he returned the tola of opium. The three weeks were very intense, often working through to two in the morning. Eating opium has much the same effect as smoking it, taking effect later but lasting proportionally longer. The impression of clarity and finer cerebral perception was quite specific and I found it most useful and enjoyable.

Chapter VI - A freak for a season

When I reached Goa, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to find and was quite bemused that such a large group of people could get away with such blatant sexuality, use of drugs and nudity without being taken to task. The Goans were probably reeling from the shock of the invasion, but finding themselves that much wealthier for their hospitality and perhaps more prepared to accept the strange behaviour of their Christian (aren’t all white people Christian?) brethren, they acquiesced gently and with remarkable grace.

The freaks, as the hippies liked to call themselves, came from just about everywhere in the world (primarily Caucasians, some Asians, North Africans but never saw any black Africans), from all walks of life, but all seemed to share the same hedonistic, life-for-the-instant values. Generally, a very loving and caring bunch of youngsters determined to try another lifestyle.

There were some really very fine people there, holding on against hope of maintaining the underlying value of love and harmony but like all things, at all times, change happens. The main reason was perhaps the influx of a new breed of freak (some seriously criminal elements, mules, more materialistic than spiritual) bringing in their brand of fun. The dope-dealers were not lacking, some wealthy, some poor, some crooks, some honest, mostly long-haired males, even one German girl whose body-guard was an ex-Gurkha officer, she must have been especially trusting as the man had managed to crash into a stationary junk on the sea in Penang while he wasn’t watching where he was water-skiing! Ouch!

Everyone went by a soubriquet and it was not very cool to question about past life, so things were maintained at a relatively superficial level. The drugs brought their own specific personality to the mix. Heroin and its exclusive superiority, cocaine with its paranoia, hashish with its torpor, the mellowness of cannabis, opium with its reverie, acid and its visuals, alcohol and its obliteration. Fortunately, to my way of thinking, amphetamines were rare in those days.

As in any society, certain figures emerge at the top of the general consciousness. In this group, it was generally the most-outspoken, the most colourful, the charismatic, the cool dealers. Bombay Brian, a former US Marine, had been around in India for a number of years and was the main coke man. Outspoken, short-fuse temper, cynical but a kind-hearted man if you got on the right side and amusing, insomniac and lover of cigars. Blind George, blinded by a white phosphorus grenade in the Korean War, he had a remarkable capacity for a blind man – his choice in women. I never saw an ill-favoured girl on his arm, it may have been because he could afford some expensive habits with the pension Uncle Sam was giving him, but I have good reason to think that he sometimes saw very well! Blue, Harold Friend, the gay New York hairdresser, organizer of extravaganzas, lover of the refined and exquisite. There were a few older freaks, but only one who, to my knowledge, had made it a permanent life pattern, eight-finger Eddie. Living between Kathmandu and Goa, Eddie had a good reason to have opted out from night-club life in New York, his wife had put a contract out on him and it was not healthy to stay around, so he hit the hills (I cite Eddie). He was an amusing, straight-forward soul, no delusions, the father-figure to many younger people and protector of even more young women. A good man. Mary Oberne, Mother Earth to so many. Sadhu Tom, a very gentle American coke dealer, dreadlocks and a permanent twinkle in his good-natured, blue eyes. Feni Joseph, the resident alcoholic, German and serious guilt-complex that he drowned in the locally brewed gut-rot, we all chipped in to keep him in his habit and occasionally get something solid down his throat. Many others whose names I don’t recall but who made such a colourful caste for the next three months or so.

I went with the flow accompanied by Bruce, my partner in the discovery of this latest adventure, dropping acid for the first time in four years at the full moon party, smoking a lot of grass and hash, several girl friends, a pierced ear and a fine moustache worthy of a Mexican horse bandit. Flitting between the multiple worlds of Goa was a surreal exercise for the former recluse, but I soon got into the swing of it and eagerly listened to the diverse and prevalent music, conversations till far into the night, sessions of backgammon and parties.

If there ever is a reason or cause for anything in the world, it strikes me that drugs were the cause of the demise of the most important aspect of the hippy movement. Humans strive after perfection and joy, we generally mistake the two for satisfaction and copulation. Altruism, unconditional love of fellow humans and beings, sharing of whatever one owns – the ideals of the day – are simply not compatible with the use of the majority of mind-altering substances. One loses the plot. I almost met my maker after at a party when Sadhu Tom kindly offered me a line of coke, I sniffed it into both nostrils having forgotten that my moustache was decorated with aluminium glitter, the effect on my brain was, to put it mildly, startling!

The fever lasted for ten days, delirious, drained of all substance, my weight dropped down to 39 kilos – one big smile was all that was left! An angel took care of me, Gail Szidak, she had just broken up with a rather heavy-handed English dope-dealer and being a maternal soul she took pity on me, miserable bag of bones. She nursed me back to health and one thing led to another. We were soon lovers and I allowed her to guide me into some rather strange ventures. Bapuji had bequeathed me a bank account that had been transferred to my name, for use in emergencies. That seemed to be the case because money would have to be wisely invested if we were to continue on our chosen way as both Gail and I liked our bourgeois luxury, food, good hash, comfort and music. I don’t think I would have made a good hippy! Gail took me in hand and reintroduced me to my new world, dressing me in normal clothes, because I was still in my two pieces of saffron cloth.

An initial drug deal, for that was the new line of business, with a seriously sick Dutchman ended badly. Pistol to my head with said Dutchman threatening all sorts of dire consequences, and I hadn’t even got out of bed, let alone shaved! We ended up with half of our investment, 500 grammes of heroin, which we then managed to sell in Bombay. What a farce! An English friend, the Major, finally took it all off our hands, for a song, but the damage was done. He became addicted and never recovered to my knowledge. I went totally blind for twenty minutes while walking down the road in Bombay, the result probably of smoking heroin, whereupon I stopped using it. I got off lightly, overall bad karma! Our next venture went smoothly, running opium into Europe, to be taken on to the US by someone else. Gail left for Hungary to visit her grandmother.

I took the opportunity to meet up with my family again. What a homecoming! My mother and Ivan were very gracious. Off to the tailor on Saturday morning to rent a morning suit as we were invited to a big society wedding that afternoon. Gail joined me a week later and we plunged into British society life; rounds of cocktail parties, Ascot races, visits to friends, the summer scene. The life of prodigal son did not suit me one little bit and I was only too pleased to climb aboard a plane back to Bombay, armed with cigars for Bombay Brian, gin for John Phimster, an English friend living downstairs from Brian, bacon and camembert for Father Jungblut!

I was perfectly content to be managed and directed – is that a life-trend? The next plan was to run hash into Sydney, where an Australian friend, Marie, had the necessary contacts, and rather than working for someone else, we would do it all, like big boys and girls. The Major took care of the bags, because that was his chosen specialty and he was very good. The time arrived and Mr and Mrs Clean got on the plane to fly to foreign parts once more. To Sri Lanka where we stayed at the Galle Face hotel, a splendid palace overlooking the sea south of Colombo, down to Singapore to stock up on cassettes recorded with whatever artist you wanted, the pirate industry was thriving even in 1976! Then over to Jakarta and train to the east end of Java, the trains were very civilised, timely and although crowded, orderly, a change from India. Denpasar for a few days, to acquire motor-bike driving licences and get the feel of Bali, before moving down to Sunset Beach, next to Kuta.

We waited several weeks for news from Marie but nothing came, so Gail left for San Diego to look after her thirteen-year old daughter who was starting a new school, leaving me to the very hard life of Bali. Many of the Goan crowd had moved down there as it was on the “freak-circuit”, Goa, Bali, Mykonos, Ibiza, Kathmandu, so it was a continuation of the party with some fun new friends. By that time, I was living with a Balinese family after downgrading accommodation to avoid using the capital tied up in my bags.

Kayu Aya lies at the far end of the beach which was home to Kuta and Sunset Beach. There was a resort designed, I believe, by Jorn Utzon, of Sydney Opera House fame, and built by artisans from numerous Indonesian islands. Each house had its own specific style and form, truly spectacular and luxurious. The only problem for the owners, until Oberoi bought it years later, was that there was no licence to operate, so the Minister of Tourism’s cousin was caretaking, and as he was not getting paid, he rented the villas out to freaks for an average 7 USD a day. It was one more tough day in paradise.

There was a host of things to discover in Bali, with its special form of Hinduism, the dances and rituals that were more in the domain of magic, the cock-fighting, magic mushrooms, volcanoes, the silver and wood carving, to name just a few.

My interest was taken with cock-fighting for a while. Traditionally, it was the only way for the men to earn money in Balinese society, which although slowly changing, at that time, still held true. The atmosphere at the ground was intense, the priests busy officiating, making an offering in the arena and on the specially prepared altar; the owners and handlers (not necessarily the same) wandering around the arena trying to find a match before agreeing to fights involving lengthy discussion, then talking, massaging and breathing courage into the birds, which are rearing to go, aggressive and sometimes inspired by spirits of another sort; the public, inspecting the birds, hotly discussing the merits and faults of the protagonists, money exchanging hands as the punters made the rounds just before the fight started. A specialist would gingerly tie the five to six inch long blade to the cock’s left (generally) spur, razor-sharp and pointed, a steady hand was needed. The two handlers enter the ring with the birds, hand over the central bet, agreed upon between the two owners, each matching the same amount, often with contributions made by spectators. The central bet is announced to the public, a sign of the owners’ confidence in their bird, then the secondary betting starts with yelling, gesticulating, notes being waved, a complex system of betting but involving a lot of noise and waving of hands. The chief referee, the decision-maker, enters the ring when he thinks the betting process is complete and signals that all is ready. Silence.

The referee and side judges squat down, the handlers release their birds. A flurry of feathers, the flash of steel and at the first stab, the handler asks the referee to stop the fight. Efforts to revive the bird often work, with a time limit of thirty seconds and the fight resumes. A round lasts about thirty seconds, the time is kept using coconut shells, it appeared that a half coconut shell takes ten seconds to sink in a bucket of water, with  three shells being used. The time-keeper sounds the gong after thirty seconds and if the cock cannot stand, it is over. The winner taking the central bet from which he pays the handler, the fighting fee and the blade-attacher. It is often over fast. Almost inevitably, the first bird to jump in the air would win, the blade would penetrate deep enough to touch the heart and it would be on to the next fight.

Unlike in Mexico, where they use a curved steel spur, and the birds tear themselves to pieces, in Bali the fight is frequently over in just one round due to the stiletto-like blade. The dead bird is given to the winning owner, the blade leg is chopped off and blade returned to the attacher. Generally, its blood is spread around on the ground nearby to appease a certain form of ghoulish spirit. Debts are paid instantly in a shower of cash thrown into the ring. The money involved is substantial and was often the cause of ruin for some unfortunates.

One day at a fight, I had bet on a white bird that everyone took to be the outsider, I think even the owner hedged his bet against his own bird, because when the white cock won, the owner was so dismayed he asked me to take the bird in payment for my bet as he didn’t have enough cash to meet his debts and I had won against all odds. Such was his disarray that I felt sorry for him, accepted and returned home the proud owner of a cock. He lasted two more fights and earned me enough money to live comfortably for a few months, thanks to help from some local lads who thought it was fun to have a white-skinned supporter for a white cock, they taught me a lot.

Balinese dances are primarily based on incidents from the Indian epic, the Ramayana. There are tourist performances, well orchestrated but often rather stilted and pointless without the real purpose of moral instruction being fulfilled, and dances for ritual purposes which are for the Balinese. The locals knew that I was interested in their culture and would keep me informed of any events of that nature.

A village nearby had recently been troubled by some seriously mischievous spirits and the decision was taken that the best way to exorcise them would be with the kris dance. The whole village had been preparing for several days, especially the young men who were to dance, fasting to obtain maximum effect for the purification. The propitious time arrived and the village assembled around the selected area, the musicians in their corner, an open space for the men to dance and move. The music is monotonous, building up in pace and then slowing, always the same rhythm, the men dance, not very artistically, but mill around holding the long kris daggers, with the characteristic curving blade, held to various points of their abdomens. They gradually become more animated as trance takes hold, assuming different manifestations, some dance wildly, some turn on themselves in circles, and almost all put increasing pressure with their arms on the dagger, with skin glistening in the lights and veins standing out. The music builds up again and one of the men fell face down, holding the kris to his stomach at ninety degrees, as he landed on the ground, the kris rebounded out from under him and flew several metres through the air and hit the floor. The man stayed prone, the other dancers started winding down, the music abates.

Intrigued, thinking the kris may be made of something other than metal, I walked over to where it lay on the ground,, as I bent over, an old man nearby said very roughly, “Don’t touch!”, “Not to worry, tuan, I am just looking.” It had the tinge of steel, the blade was quite old with the lizard-skin spotted effect, it looked real to me but what do I know? The priest came over and started his incantations over the dagger, because that is where the village-invading spirit was now located and he could dispense of it more easily.

The religious ceremonies were extravagant and costly affairs, involving the whole village, family and all kinds of hangers-on, often lasting days so people had to be fed and housed. It was all done in a spirit of conviviality and fun. The thread of tradition runs constantly through all their daily functions, despite the throng of permanent tourists, year-in, year-out.

I cannot leave Bali without mentioning a wonderful experience of their food. Whilst attending a funeral at Ubud, I started a conversation with a Balinese man and we came round to the subject of food and that it was not easy for a foreigner to discover truly authentic Balinese cuisine. He told me that a few hundred metres away was the former cook of the King of Ubud, who would be happy to cook for a party of people, and even accommodate them in her guesthouse. After the ceremony I went there and told the lady of my encounter and interest. She said she would be happy to prepare meals but for at least ten people as there was a lot of preparation and there was much more fun to be had if it was a large party. I think I stayed with her four or five times after eating the most exquisite dinners consisting of ten or twelve different dishes at each time when she fed twenty or so hungry hippies. We paid 50 US cents each!

As there was still no news from Marie in Australia, Gail had started enquiries from San Diego and in a conversation we had on the phone she told me the sad news that Marie was dead. In fact, it transpired that she had been killed by some Sydney gangland characters unhappy at her trying to muscle into their drug territory, she had been found in the harbour, her feet set in a concrete block. Not knowing anyone else in Australia or anywhere else for that matter who might want ten kilos of hashish, I decided to fly to Europe, on the same “safe” route as before and try my luck in Switzerland and perhaps Denmark where I had a few contacts.

A stopover in Singapore was needed to catch a plane to Switzerland, I hadn’t realized that laws had become quite extreme concerning drugs since the heyday of my time in the army there. Now, it was the death penalty for possession of heroin. Fortunately there was a Swissair flight available after a few days.

On arrival in Geneva a chance encounter with an American girl led to an unexpected, unplanned stay of two weeks there. I only knew one person there who might have been able to help me offload my cargo, but he wasn’t there! So, off to Denmark, which was a non-event as my contacts were in the same business and had just returned from India. I saw a lot of Germany from a train window on the two-way trip. It is very flat.

The word had got around in my absence from Geneva that there was some good quality dope available and the queues outside the door at my American friend’s flat scared her so I moved to another friend’s house, a Corsican. Perhaps all Corsicans have a soft spot for the criminal underdog, she was no exception. A side trip to St Gall to meet a friend from India was a very strange experience, St Gall goes to bed at seven at night, perhaps to watch the box or study the Bible, but they even close the watering holes. I spent one night there without any business achieved.

To Zurich, which was an eye-opener. A very cosmopolitan city where I was treated with great hospitality and kindness. I met a Swiss dealer specialized in Indian art by the name of Ulrich von Schroeder and his wife Heidi, who gave me a bed for a few days. The highlight of my travel to Europe, Uli had just acquired an 11th century Chola bronze Nataraj statue. It was phenomenal to see and examine such a rarity at close quarters and even have it witness our games of backgammon, although I don’t think it brought me great fortune!

Another newfound friend arranged a small flat for me in the centre of town, my main customers were a visiting American basketball team, they played quite well even though very high, perhaps that was why. A Swiss friend asked me to join him driving a car, for garage delivery, down to Venice, I leapt at the offer having never visited Venice. The moon was full the night we arrived, an Italian friend from Goa who had an albergho wined and dined us and gave me some acid. Venice is a marvel, but in conditions like that, I had a Carnevale all by myself!

Time to move as all the hashish was sold, goodbyes to my Corsican and American friends in Geneva and back to Bombay. It was a natural sequence and probably the right time to start a more legal form of activity. Gail had told me that silver, ivory and silk were all the rage in Los Angeles, so a few visits to the silver bazaar in Bombay formed the stock for the next venture. The bazaars in India are often organized as elsewhere in Asia by theme, gold, silver, spices, flowers, etc. Bombay was no exception but at that time had a wealth of ethnic silver-work.

Concentrating on Rajasthani belts, bracelets and ankle bracelets made of silver, I selected some very intricate, fox weave chain work with delicate motifs. The average age of the silver in the market was a hundred years or so, but there were some amazing samples of older and monumental pieces. One day, my favourite silversmith took me upstairs in his shop and offered me a throne made of solid silver, similar to the Shah of Iran’s peacock throne in pattern, and probably copied by and for a Maharaja. My baggage allowance would not allow that so I declined! Ivory was also plentiful, bangles, chokers, bracelets, some carved, dyed and inlaid. All these artefacts were mostly the possessions of simple farmers, they loaded their womenfolk down with silver and ivory as a sign of their wealth and also to have a more readily tradeable asset.

A farewell dinner with Bombay Brian, Monika and Eight-finger Eddy and off I flew to Bangkok. A few days buying Hmong and hill-tribe fabric. Ikot work is, to my mind, the acme of achievement in the fabric field, tie-dyed thread, woven into cloth in such a way that patterns are produced, series of animals, temples, people, one inch square, requires immense precision yet made on hand-looms by girls who never quite made it to school. I had a ticket to Vientiane and Luang Prabang but a very strong intuition made me change destination for Hong Kong. On the plane the following day, 30 April 1975, I opened the first newspaper I had read in a long time, Saigon Falls. What a fiasco, all those lives wasted so Henry Kissinger could score another point on his dance list getting into bed with the Chinese, as Christopher Hitchens might have artfully put it. Not that there would have been any danger in Vientiane but a lot of likely administrative hassle and very limited chance of travel to the provinces as I had intended.

Hello Hong Kong! Hello brother! Three weeks of fun catching up with army chums, Bill Nash and Norman Marsh at the Godown Nightclub, water-skiing and backgammon to help pay my way. My brother had moved here in 1972 and was now a very busy ship-broker, with little time for play. Perhaps my outlook is warped, but I had always found Hong Kong to be full of people whose sole interest was making money, and devoid of any other grace. That impression was confirmed once more.

Money is the transferable fruit of our labour. It is clear that without all the advantages that money buys not much gets done, but is that really what is necessary for our happiness in life? As always, harmony is the key. If you do not have enough money to pay for essentials, then peace of mind is sacrificed, so the essentials are examined to find what is not essential. At the other extreme, when you start worrying about losing money or how to make more, peace of mind is lost. Similarly, devoting one’s life to making money is not the way to find peace of mind, but at the same time peace of mind can be upset by not having money. Find the balance!

The communist store on Nathan Road sold a broad range of articles from Mao’s little Red Book to thermos flasks, but of greater relevance for me, a good supply of quilted silk jackets, highly decorative, reversible and hand-made. So, a good stock of jackets went into my burgeoning bag and I was set to leave. Not that I felt any qualms about using illegal substances, there was however a change of heart concerning their commercialisation. I had seen a lot of unpleasant aspects in the whole business of dope-dealing and decided to stop. There was too much greed, envy and jealousy to be worth its while. In the short time that it had been my chosen profession I had lost two friends. Not quite the sort of simple living Bapuji had in mind when he told me that wearing a uniform was not necessary!

My last night in Hong Kong had been a short one and as I dressed hurriedly in the morning, I threw my cram (50 grammes of hash wrapped in two condoms) into my underpants and rushed to the airport. There was an unscheduled stopover in Seoul and all the passengers had to get off the plane. I had slept all the way and was woken by a hostess telling me to go and please wait in the transit lounge. Off I go, a little bleary, to find myself being frisked by a Korean security guard. He put his hand between my legs, silly man, and leapt back with his pistol out, shouting in what I presumed was Korean, but sounded more like he had a very sore throat, whereupon a police captain came over, speaking excellent American. “What have you got between your legs?” I looked at him with a look of anguish and said in a very low voice, “Captain, I have a terrible problem with my balls, you see, they swell up and become very hard as your man just discovered. I am off to the States to have an operation.” He looked pained and said “Good luck!” and waved me through the gate. When I found the lavatory, the cram went so far up my colon, it took two days to come back out!

Customs were cleared in Hawaii and again lady luck was smiling because I had learnt whilst in Hong Kong that ivory and Chinese silk had just been put on the banned import list for the USA. The customs-man picked up a towel roll consisting of ivory bangles wrapped around some silver belts, “Shoes?” he asked, “Yes, sir”. “Enjoy your stay!” And over to Los Angeles, where Gail met me and immediately took me off to a “Tupperware”-type party to sell what was in my bag. All the silk jackets went that same day.

There now started a domestication-effort on the part of Gail that took me some time to realise it was simply not my cup of tea. Living in La Mesa, an egg-box suburb of San Diego, flea-market on Sundays to sell the fabric and silver, a VW bus (reminiscent of hippy days) and one person making plans for the future. I fell in love at the first opportunity with another girl just to break out of the rut. Out of the rut, out on my ear – as I deserved, and out on my own. What a relief! I was not ready for slippers and the 8 o’clock news – yet!

1 1. What is your name? 2. What is the purpose of your visit? 3. How much money do you make? 4. What country are you coming from? Not necessarily in that order.


About the Author

Born and bred in the UK, Christopher Freeland contracted the travel bug early and what a wonderful age it was. Translator (Sanskrit, French), author, radiesthesist, he now lives in Chiangmai, researching and still marvelling at life.

Rating: Not yet rated


No comments posted.

Add Comment

You do not have permission to comment. If you log in, you may be able to comment.

More in this Category

1: Monk for a season and freak for a while

View Options & Stats

View PDF | Print View
Total views: 14373
Word Count: 15802
Submitted: Sun, 15 Apr 2012 Time: 2:58 AM