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Me, God and Jerry Seinfeld: spaced out in India

Colin Todhunter

I got the impression that he thought he was a living God. He was lost in space.

"So, like a bull, my feet are sunk in the soil, laden under a yoke?"
Freedom laughed at my self-assessment. She was a twenty seven year old from Sweden who was extolling the virtues of astrology. Freedom had suspected that I was an earth sign by my inability to develop much empathy with fellow travellers in India who are on their own personal spiritual quest. She wasn't blaming me, I'm a Taurus - apparently I can't help it! I plough a deep furrow, with eyes fixed on the ground in a field of my own making. But if I was trapped down on the farm, there were enough people around me who were floating in the clouds.

Like many other travellers, I have been to numerous holy places steeped in mysticism where yoga and meditation courses abound. Unlike other travellers, however, I had never felt any compulsion to indulge in a spiritual quest for inner peace (or whatever it is they search for). You can spot those who do with their talk of "karma", "energy", the "previous or next life", "enlightenment", and of course "ignorance" - the state that anyone who doesn't share their views lives in. For them, everything in India is "magical' or "special", and nothing is mundane or ordinary. I have nothing against western travellers in India who seek "the truth", but more than a few fall overboard, and drown in their cocktail of cobbled together beliefs. They are masters of the metaphysical mindgame. Certain chemicals in their brain become rampant, devouring any remnants of sanity.

I had been talking with Freedom in the courtyard of Broadlands Lodge in Chennai (Madras). Broadlands is a crumbling traveller’s institution with a tree-shaded courtyard. Peeling paint and dilapidation are its hallmarks. It usually has more than its fair share of eccentrics in residence at any one time. After Freedom left, Rudy came and sat in the courtyard.
"Don’t say that, someone might hear you!"
All I had done was repeat to Rudy what he had just said to me. If he said it, then why couldn't I? There was no one else around anyhow! He told me that he had given away his passport and everything else that he had once owned as part of his spiritual quest. I had repeated this to him in disbelief. He was a disheveled figure wearing a traditional lungi wrapped around his legs. I gave him the address of the French Consulate here in Chennai.
"They will deport me and I don’t want to go home. I want to stay in India for five years and my mind is now just about to approach a higher state of consciousness".

What could I say to that? What could anyone say? He had nothing, but felt that he was about to gain everything. The next day, I watched him stand outside a shop with outstretched arm, hunched shoulders and begging for money. He reminded me of one decrepit dogs that roam the streets of India. There was nothing 'magical' or 'special' about that. He thought that he was walking in the light, but was merely fumbling in the dark. Not long after Rudy left, another traveller came. Duke was an American in his early twenties. He had long hair and a dangling pointed beard and spoke in a kind of spaced-out (or is that drugged-out?) Californian drawl. After a couple of minutes I decided to break the silence by introducing myself. "You have just disturbed my puja, but I will forgive you this time as you were not to know". He was a fortress of arrogance.

Two other travellers came and sat. Duke was now holding a broadsheet newspaper in front of his face. He suddenly lowered it, said something, and then hid behind it once again. His comment was, "You never know who you are sitting next to in India. I am famous". The others didn’t react. Duke’s comments and newspaper mannerisms continued for the next ten minutes. The newspaper was probably some kind of cosmic shield protecting him from my scepticism or should I say, "bad karma".
He told us that he was famous throughout India, a swami, and highly respected by all other holy-men across the sub-continent. It all had something to do with his previous life, state of consciousness, or whatever it was he was rattling on about. Duke loved to talk about himself. Each comment seemed more absurd than the previous one. Then he peaked: he told us that he was the fount of all religious knowledge and that Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Vishnu and Shiva all worked through him. Apparently, all of the "Ascendant Masters" (Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha etc) were in personal touch with him. He was a legend in his own mind, and talked a lot about “living” and God. I got the impression that he thought he was a living God. He was lost in space.

He was an inspiration to the two other people present. Paulo and his girlfriend, in their early forties, had been listening intently without saying much. Paulo, an Italian, had been combing his grey beard throughout, while she (French) had been smoking cigarettes through a three-inch holder and occasionally adjusting the black beret, which sat on the top of her head. Visually, they were striking.
Paulo looked at Duke. He told him that he actually WAS one of the Ascendant Masters! I looked at Duke. He seemed baffled - even insulted, as it was clear that Paulo hadn't been in touch with him. Paulo was a prophet, no less. He began talking about a revelation that his guru back in France had told him about - although he couldn’t reveal it to us. It was something about gloom for the future of humanity if people didn’t mend their ways. No surprise there then. Paulo was on a quest. His task was to encourage people to turn toward God. Paulo’s face had a constant, pained statement - no doubt as a result of the magnitude of the revelation and the enormity of his mission. He thought that he had the monopoly on suffering. It hung heavy on his shoulders.
His girlfriend then exploded into life. She was scary and ranted that people think too much and rely on the misguided assumptions of science. She said that science cannot explain everything and it is, "The spaces in between thinking where God exists". Spaced-out thinking I thought to myself - that explained a lot! Really I didn't have a clue what she meant, but I certainly wasn’t about to contradict her. I didn’t want to put my foot in “it”. But not really knowing what “it” was, I decided to say as little as possible.

I was thrown back into my chair by the force of her conviction. She told me not too think too much, and to have faith in what is unknowable. I disagreed but nodded in agreement, wanting to give the appearance of not being in a state of "ignorance". She was obsessed (or should that be possessed?). The more she talked, the faster she became. And the faster she became, the louder her voice was. She persisted in repeating herself - as if I was incapable of understanding the first time (maybe she did believe I was "ignorant"). Her voice gradually developed into a screech. She transformed into a screeching parrot before me.

Paulo and his girlfriend rambled on (and on) about God, existence and emptiness, citing dead philosophers from the yellowed pages of yesteryear. The courtyard in Broadlands didn’t seem to be a fitting place for them. They needed a grander setting. They were more suited to the Parisian Left Bank of the 1950s, he with his beard, she with her beret and both with their talk of being, nothingness and the bleakness of life. A Dutch guy called Balance joined us. I don’t know from where he got his name. Maybe he had once been in a state of equilibrium, but he had definitely tipped over into his own fantasy world. He was hyper. He was non-stop. Every thought in his head was verbalised. Within the space of five minutes he dominated the gathering and talked about thatched roofs in England, gardening, anarchy, trekking and, of course, God. I couldn’t keep up. He was an encyclopedia of trivia. He had previously been a Hare Krishna devotee, but had fallen by the wayside.

He recounted the time he had left his body and had floated through the Parbati Valley in North India, and of the instance when his leg had been broken in Holland, but still managed to cycle to the hospital despite it hanging loosely from half way down his shin. The doctor said that he was not going to treat him as he was drunk (Balance - not the doctor!). So he got on his bike and cycled to the next hospital with leg dangling freely in the night air. I could have put this guy on stage. He was the Dutch version of the American comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. Like Jerry, he didn’t tell jokes as such, but just had an endless repertoire of anecdotes. Unlike Jerry however, who deliberately tries to be funny, with Balance it was unintentional.

Perhaps if I lifted my eyes away from the ground, then I could float with these people. A bull gliding through the air. And pigs might fly. But they were all drunk on their own homemade brands of self-delusion. They were not so much concerned with living, more with the dead. At times, it was like talking to the living dead. Rudy was looking for God. Paulo and his girlfriend had found him. Duke actually thought he was God. And Balance had found him, lost him and was now trying to find him again. I wasn’t even looking, hadn’t lost him, wasn’t trying to find him, but was supposedly surrounded by him everywhere.

Maybe the courtyard in Broadlands was not actually a courtyard at all! Perhaps it was THE farm. It suddenly dawned on me that Freedom had been right. I was indeed trapped. A bull in the farmyard from hell with an eternity to look forward to of trivial anecdotes and screeching parrots.

© Colin Todhunter email:

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