I see the forest for the trees. That’s my default view. And often I’m lost in the jungle. But when I do see a tree it’s a tree that stands out. Until then, its forest for the trees, shrouded in luscious green, canopying the horizon. And one day in the thickets a tree stands out. You spot it. You zoom in. You sharpen your focus. You don’t know the tree. But it doesn’t matter. You’re not here to hack it down, or take it home.
(When a woodcutter enters the forest, is it only to axe down trees? What does a fish see in a fisherman?).
I’d recently turned single. I’d just begun counting my first year in the forties. I’d left a job. I’d left a family. I’d left the country too. A warped sense of desire to go homeless had been a lifelong secret, together with an obsessive fascination with, and the need to understand more deeply than I did all of life’s philosophical questions.
(As unanswered as they stand, I never tired of asking everyday ‘just what does it all mean?’).
Chance and circumstance played their parts, and imaginary freewill, I guess, on mine. Solitude had been another factor, and the beguiling call to anonymity was irresistible. Life conventional had always frightened me, with threats of hunky-dory settings.
(In Varanasi at the time, such ponderings had seemed most circumstantially valid, although true solitude on a higher calling remains a task much too frightening, for my current disposition. The corresponding view meant increasing respect, and genuine awe, of those lofty figures who engaged in such renunciation).
And just like that she’d made her own journey too, unbeknownst, to this godly city, and many other worldly ones to come, now begging this curiosity, ‘beyond the obvious, what is a relationship’? I didn’t understand her then; I don’t understand her now. We’re night and day. I’m water to her fire. She’s the mountain to my wind. We are poles apart, yet we seem to stick, in some equatorial sense. Recognition is liberation, and liberation of any sort works without force. A tree gives you shade despite itself, and if the seasoning is ripe, a tree also fruits.
(Now if familiarity breed contempt, how do you make the heart go fonder?)
Marianna was such a plant. A plant of summer, in her exuberant display, flowering foliage and ripening fruits. Yet her plant traces its firm sunny summer roots back to a rejuvenating spring, with vivid memories of the losses of falling autumn leaves, and the cautionary wisdom of winter’s stark frugal tales.
(Loss of a parent; a sibling, to the same disease will do that; although that is not to say grief triumphs, rather that it nurtures sound stock).
If I were to try condensing her seasonal qualities down to one single season of expression, it would be summer, the season of celebration, of life, undoubtedly, with the coconut as its flagship emblem.
(Not pigeonholing, but where you begin your description of anything is probably the strongest point).
We don’t know people’s stories until we get to know them better. It takes time. And is there such a thing as a love story? I don’t know. Maybe. And maybe there’re just stories, and we paint them with whichever emotion is most dominant. But universally speaking, the story is the same; how people fall in, or out of love, and still keep searching for this elusive loving feeling; where ‘reasoning’ becomes secondary to ‘feeling’.
(At his stage, reciprocal love seems most cherished, where the physical boundaries are not yet transcended, where divinity is kept hidden, in carnal disguise. Non-recognition of such a state always seems to bring the devil to the bed, and the heart, eventually breaking both).
But such love also shuns, making you a jilted cynic, but not so cynical that such a thing could never happen again. No matter how unrequited. I guess I was cynical too, though not cynical enough to reject all and any possibility. That is not to say I was looking for love, or companionship, in an obsessive pursuit. Far from it, but admittedly not far enough to be unaware of its subconscious yearning. So there it was, marooned somewhere in the bottom of my mind’s depths, perhaps waiting to set sail again, waiting for a mate, almost.
(Where does this receptivity go? Is it something like the childlike innocence of times past that now threatens you when it’s presented?)
The hope lingers, and you go on about your life as best you can limber. And one fine day, you meet, as if all of your life’s decisions were leading up to this lonesome-twosome inescapable rendezvous, wizened by your own life-lessons, humbled by every experience you’ve ever had, and prepared for yet another brand new journey that will sculpt and shape your moments.
(And really, after the many interludes, in a first, you enter it with zero-expectations and hopeless-surrender).
We’d first seen each other in a deep winter’s minimalism, on the foothills and vast swathe of plains that carpet the Himalayas, in the grand old city of Varanasi, almost as ancient and mythical as its towering massif neighbor to the north. To see each other in the sub-continent, with the world’s second largest population in residence, and some thirty-three million divinities, makes the later snippets all the more satisfying. To cap it up with some quirky bond that trusts, is brazenly brash. Leaving out traits acquired from years of habituation in what is, after all, a conniving culture, is quite remarkable. And to continue to water such a plant, against all currents and expected norms, begets a sense of stainless purity.
(With exceptions to matrimonial snags, visa turbulence, geographical disorders, impersonal economic indexes, societal sanction et al).
Thus redundant, I’ll try, not so much to shed light on the matter but to make the effort, in some vainglorious attempt, at the recognition at least, of the magic in the mundane. Now if I was a season I could almost be winter; somehow its starker nature appeals to my sense of enduring gloom, followed closely by the casual detachment of a shedding autumn, and the colossal downpour of the maddening monsoon.
(Is the wind’s home truly wherever it blows? Will the hunter learn to gather, stay put and plant?)
My memory is lop-sided. I forget details, but I do remember the outlines. If life was a form I’d remember its shape. Like the café. A café akin to a neutral Switzerland in a time of worldly war. A place of refuge, for refugees with nationalities and passports. A venue to retreat, and find kinship, amongst the many wanderers, seekers, travelers, and hunters, from the onslaught of the locals, and their locales. An irony shared by the visiting temporal-homeless, of finding the familiar in the outlandish. And this land can indeed become stranger than fiction; which is just as well, for the many drawn to its charming folly. I guess the final memento indelibly etched in one’s consciousness of this indefinable landmass is one of life itself- ever elusive just as you thought you were finally grasping a little bit of its tragic-magic.
(And for all my questioning, and philosophizing, I hadn’t seen the obvious; what happens should you meet a person who’s so unlike you yet like your own reflection?)
Back at the café where I’m beginning to feel one reason people keep flocking to this asylum is that in the end, you feel invariably better, about yourself, and your lot in life, comparatively. The insanity looms so large you find yourself returning back to your basic stability, that is not to say the natives have gone mad, only that the ebb and flow of daily life is so utterly raw, like an open wound, that sheer confrontation jolts you back to your senses. Thankfully.
(The absence of privacy is a powerful remedy in presenting an authentic sense of yourself, and your place in the universe. Devoid of a strong socially structured identity, a real face emerges, as the manufactured part dwindles).
Many have gone nuts in the process, a cautionary tale that pre-warns the traveler of the utmost need for a measure of self-control, and solid footing in some ground, to fully appreciate and delve into its sacred surroundings.
(Where the sense of loss of identity triggers a powerful reassertion with such force and ill will that the ensuing confusion manifests as recklessness).
I’d hung around the storied embankments of the Varanasi Ghats, searching for and seeking; love, peace, happiness and meaning, and what it would bring or mean, to a taste of life generally dissatisfying. In a nutshell, I was a wanderer; lost, broken, defeated, yet daring it all to come baring at him day by day, week by week, to see what might unfold, and what might not. Several weeks had passed by, and it was yet another day at the ghats, and notably, time for some coffee at the infamous café (I’m leaving out the nefarious-sounding ‘German’).
(If nothing happens, does anything happen at all? If you had a life without any momentous events, do you live at all? Why does life encourage documentation?)
There she sat. Like the rainforest. Alive. Lively. Scrumptious. Wild. Unknown. Strange. Bewildering. Beckoning. Multi-layered. Refreshing. She said she was Greek. It added to the loaded allure- the philosophers appeared in my head, together with idyllic islands, Mediterranean settings, sun-soaked seas, olives, and the fiery nature of people of her lands. The mental construct notwithstanding, the aura was one of open exclusivity.
(Does imagination ruin reality? Is reality a fantasy? Is reality real? Was Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly, or was it a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu?)
And on the bandwagon, traveling Greeks are something of a rarity, adding to the attraction, already in full expression, for she was the rich rainforest, in stark contrast to my polar somberness. But fortunately, being from Bhutan isn’t as passé as being not-from Bhutan. So that helped, for as far as populations go, the Bhutanese at seven-hundred thousand strong are an endangered species. And I’ll refrain from the urge to say it wasn’t all Greek to me. But I did, and every cliché came alive.
(Yesteryear’s Silk Road is today’s Hippie Trail. Today’s nationalities may well be tomorrow’s Earthlings. And say; sitting around a campfire, do ants tell tales about lovelorn elephants? When conversation grows a sweet-tooth it eats only sweet-nothings.)
Now that appearances had played their just parts rather well, we’d to dig deeper to see how far the roots shot, or what other faces would our polite masks unveil, reveal or keep concealing. And right now we were two octopuses, feeling each other with a tentative tentacle here, and a tantalizing tentacle there. I guess in every courtship, there’s an element of attraction and repulsion, impression and depression, where we probably part ways is when detractions and dejections far outweigh their converses.
(One must always recognize the merits of common delusions such as Monty Python's Life of Brian, singing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, and uh, of course, So Long Marianne from the man who knew there Ain't No Cure for love).
In that vein it could also be said every courtship differs, as in the age and the time in which you do the courting. My ideas of a woman, and thereby of courtship, was more of a relentless wooing in the beginning, when impatience gets the better of many well meaning men. There was a certain physicality in the wooing process, inculcated by a strong sense of impressionism, as opposed to a more earthen bound attitude. Now that I was just scaling a personal milestone of sorts entering the forties, my attitude was mellowing down to a welcome natural pace, free of anxiety and robustness.
(It helps to know you might be rejected; unwanted, and see no point in feeling the desperation, the dejection, and move on, with other so-called failures in your life).
In a woman; well, where do you begin? I won't even try. I'll just play the coward, for my own sake, and keep it safe. Alas, I'm not as reckless as I'd like to believe, and this is a subject that demands the best of men. Let's just say I’d always looked for more than not just a lover, ideally a comrade, with whom one could enter a partnership that was bound in love, loyalty and life; you might come short but you don't quit.
(But be careful what you wish for; and also be thankful for being careful in what you wished for; for they may come true without ruining you).
Finally where you stand and how you view your life no doubt influences your outlook, and I was standing on the edge; on the cusp of a brand new view, that more or less surrendered itself to the daily ebb and flow, without a center to hold onto as such, trying to take it all in one day at a time. This take can have a wonderful feeling of ease, as it comes free of stiff conventionalism. But the flipside is that it offers no future, no guarantee pointing to some future reliability, and stability. But the feeling is that it is OK. It’s alright.
The future will take care of itself, just as the past goes past itself, if one learns to trust the present. An old friend now comes to mind; who once said that’s the reason they call it a gift.
(For now, no matter how many distractions arise; the call is to stay aware of this boon. Aware of the finger, and aware of the moon; realizing that everything you ever remember in your life is over too soon).