I let my appearance go.
I let it go, as one allows a recuperated animal to go. I let it go, as one lets a spinning top go. I just watched it, objectively if you will, and watched the path it took; but most especially, I watched the way it took that path.
Drifting along Othavadai street in humdrum fashion – as is my way – ducking and dodging the umbrellas of handsome ladies studiously avoiding the sun; a violet and gold silk scarf, boxes of syrup sweets, an oversize SUV chokes a cloud of black diesel smoke. Stopping to look at an occasional street sculptor’s wares, but more precisely, to look at the steady piles of stone dust collecting around his nimble toes, and then, after observing these piles of dust, continuing to shuffle along towards the chaotic bus depot under whatever inadequate shade is available.
Shadows sharp as razor’s edge carve the pale yellow wash of a building face, the asphalt underfoot, the umbrellas bobbing along and the burning reflection from the road surface itself. The mind begins to wonder to itself just how much of this sensation of heat it can handle? Immediately, it brings to mind a great sankhara, a great reaction arising, clawing upward from the loose undergrowth of surface-thoughts like a glowing fractal, where it blossoms into indigo-gold flows and feedback loops, the pure, silent energy of mentation – like a migraine – dropping through the nerves and pricking into the skin, gnawing a painful hole down into the pit of the belly where it re-stimulates the sankhara – throbbing, pulsing and multiplying in glorious, agonising complexity. Is this – death? But, I do not answer. I am resolved solely to observe –
I watch myself pick up a free newspaper from a newsstand to use for shade, but catch myself instead leafing through the classifieds, then fascinating over the grainy photographs on the political pages, taking a keen interest in faces, mustaches, a group of Tamil women’s rights activists and their gesticulations, a local rally, corruption and a broken, mangled body. With this sharp vision I observe the way I too have layers, a hard shell. The coconut is ripe, has separated away from the husk –
Cruising along the Tirukkalukkundram road, no purpose now but to wander, to observe the sensations of the body, the reactions I have to those sensations and whatever subtleties thereafter arise during this process of burning observation, under the desiccating eye of Shiva. The acrid smell of rot combines coincidentally at the same moment a sharp pang of hunger appears, produces a conflicted response, a new impulse to turn my attention away, to distract from the reminder of death on this hot dog day in Mammallapuram…
…but I continue to observe. I continue even as I am forced into the street for lack of pavement, must now contend with the thunderous road and the murmuration of scooters and dirt bikes that appear spontaneously only to disperse again on the instant as they each go their own individual ways, off to re-form and re-group in other combinations elsewhere, at other times and in other places. Everybody is headed somewhere. Only the street dogs, (who are never seemingly impressed by anything,) casually sit roadside to this spectacle, studding an occasional, fragmented pavement with their front paws crossed, observing –
My whereabouts are as strange to me as the market street fringed by stone temples which climb upward in step-pyramid fashion, up toward a monsoon sky above the roaring seashore of the Bay of Bengal beyond, the fishing boats pitched against the littered shore, the great pancha rathas, the Varaha cave temple with its soft, undulating exterior; symmetrical columns and rough-hewn stone inviting to the touch, but forbidding still, save for the shade encased within. In my body – within my subtle body – within that shade I call myself, I carry a register of places; real places folded within so to speak, folded as baker’s dough is folded – the way distinct points and instances are continuously resolved in flux. Therefore do I sit within the cool stone temple observing myself, within. My body is hewn from stone, roughly, yes, and yet with its own intricacy, marks indexing and recording each sensation as the insight of flesh, hair, nerve, skin; each detail of the construction magnifies to infinity, a swirl of geometries happening simultaneously across numerous interlaced layers and strata, filigreed intensities provoking a trillion points of departure, should I one day ever need to get out. A cosmos which begins and ends at the entrance to my nostrils.
After a little filter coffee, watching as the lights go on and kids dart about on scooters to fetch hot meals for the family back home, piled high in steel stacking containers – vadai, biryani, dosa and sambar most likely – I watch as other ladies travel side-saddle, saris flare colour up against the crimson dusk, fierce ocean breeze blowing long black hair across their faces, wind humid to the skin, and the radiating concrete. Traffic and hard noise intensify the dustily illuminated street, the roar of commerce, the huge flows of people amid black smoke from a rubbish fire choking the already stifling air. On the ground, staring up at me, there is a scrap of newspaper upon which is a fuzzy photograph of a man. He, also, considers himself the centre of the universe. We are the same being…
…but then, and quite suddenly, a moment of arousal occurs. I have woken up. Othavadai street has disappeared, disappeared into the background, seamlessly. That place has become this place. Two experiences folded together: I am back!
Back in bed. A bed which is no longer in Mammallapuram, but in fact a long way hence. Startled into consciousness briefly, not sweetly, unsure of my whereabouts, not sure whether awake or secure in arms of sleep. Vipassana dreams are often this way; but one must stay with them, run the course so to speak, refuse to react, and maintain a strong determination –
My mouth, asleep as my reason, begins to move of its own accord as though I were continuing a conversation with the past, or with the brain-fever bird which lurks just outside my window at night, ripping apart the peace at periodic intervals;
“I once tried to merge against the background, seamlessly, but in retrospect, I was lousy at it,” I mused to myself, growing somewhat more collected and awake as I spoke, “I was so bad at merging with the background that my boss would always spot me easily, hiding down behind my desk, or crouching ineffectively behind a litter bin which barely covered the top half of one leg, or behind the cabinet door by the xerox machine, droning a dry hum loudly in my throat, partly to mimic the xerox machine, partly to mimic the sound of someone not wanting to be at work that day. I suppose there’s no harm in trying it on, even if there is no subtlety at all in the attempt, even if the boss is lumpy, even if she watches my every move; stalking her prey assiduously from behind cold looks and a smokey eye, commanding an empire of feeling beneath her fingertip – just barely under the painted finger nail.”
Getting up from bed to grab a drink of carbonated water to arouse the feeling of wakefulness further, quicker, away from this craziness in the peripheries of my consciousness, all the while muddied under the curiousness of sleep, of the deep uncertainty of even everyday things, but most certainly in the ways in which they appear. Distorted by those unsettling dreams that tend to merge, to make indistinct even the impressions from which they arise, only to vanish, or to otherwise interfere with my wakeful hours arousing an unpleasant ambivalence, pinkish-blue, creating little unlit corners, mentalities, which receive no refreshment at all. There must be a strong resolve to observe even these, and to watch oneself unfold, even in the moment of arousal…
And of my reality – if you can call it real – my reality, as I pause momentarily before the refrigerator, perhaps melodramatically as if to make a speech, or just to hear myself speak, hear the sound of my own voice and the way it decays down to nothing, like the very point of the arrow of time; and in that pointed pause, surveying what lies before me as though I were the President of the United States of Arousal ready to address the throng of press assembled most conveniently in my rose garden, somewhere just beyond earshot, just beyond accountability –
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