Friday, June 30, 2006


An innocent white line painted across the pavement divides, in the famed Wagha border, Pakistan from India. It is possible to speak about these countries as different entities only from 1948 onwards, when the former British India split up in three independent states, when the former British India split up in three independent states including the mentioned ones and Bangladesh. In the case of Pakistan and India, the “Partition” had a religious background, and the newborn countries found themselves edging battle almost from the beginning over the bordering northern region of Kashmir, whose valleys are populated by Muslims in a ratio of 92%. Even if the Wagha border is way far from the red zone, one would expect to find the parsimony of two nations that guard each other as wounded snakes. Instead, the two wedding clad officials stuck at each side of the white stripe chit chat fluently and are even happy of having their pictures taken. More significantly, both border corps merge each afternoon in a border closing ceremony where the choreography comes to symbolize them. Ironically, the Pakistani secret services continue to fund a petty terrorist attack scheme in Srinagar and Jammu.

Some meters on the other side, with a new stamp on the passport, a boar welcomes me into the “largest democracy on Earth”, undoubtedly referring to the figures rather than to the magnitude of such representation. Personally, when crossing the magic line I realized that I wasn’t arriving to Real India, the physic substrate of statistics, but to the concept India, to the remote lands where the first books –the Vedic scriptures- were written, to the mist that threaded Sanskrit – mother of almost European languages. Through millennia India has worked as hidden sender of wisdom, as a supernova whose energy reaches us well after its conception. Knowledge was for some time an endemic creature of India: while Europeans were sharpening their axes someone near the Ganges was designing the intricacies of chess. Moreover, the idea that the universe is a mere illusion to our minds unfolded from local sages centuries before Descartes and Schopenhauer started to crawl. The umbilical cord may seem invisible today, but quite a few people suspect that Jesus himself studied Yoga and meditation in India during his uncharted days. On the demon’s side, and racist as they were, the Nazis ended up excavating their origins in the Himalayans, as attested by several SS led political archeological expeditions poorly portrayed in the film “Seven years in Tibet”.

Having listed these attractive connections, I must say my first steps in Amritsar drove me back from the Concept India to Real India, where slow, obese, elder cows block for minutes the fishy stream of rickshaws that no traffic lights could punctuate, and where unworried men and women find comfortable sleep in walk paths and roadsides. Temporarily, attributing the excessive spontaneity with which life occurs in India to an unconsciously professed nihilism seems pushing things too hard. Overpopulation may explain the issue, if less charmingly, more accurately.

Busy with these thoughts I made it to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab’s premier cty. All travelers on East to West traffic had informed me of the possibility of lodging for free in the fabulous temple of the Sikhs. Introducing the Sikhs: opposed to the ever calm Hindu, Sikhs considered violence necessary to defend themselves from invading Muslims. Sikhism spiritual life centers on the Golden Temple, an extensive complex of temples and ashrams aligned at the shores of an artificial marbled edged square lake in the center of which, and linked by a catwalk, lies the bright, golden laminated, main shrine. With the rhythm of religious music (gunbali) as a pass maker, thousands of pilgrims, some arrived from as far a field as the US or England (where rich Sikh communities reside) walk around the lake day and night. Telling an Hindu from a Sikh is really easy. The later are reluctant to cut any of the capillary emanations of the body, which results in Afghan like beards, and cover their hair with a unique turban called padgi. Theoretically, they all should carry a curved knife by the side, thank God just for decoration these days. One of the temple guards, for example, parades himself proudly dressed in neon orange turban and deep blue one piece garment, as he discretely dispenses stick beats to those falling asleep during prayers. Coming from the chromatic sobriety of the Muslim world I have the impression of having swallowed a hallucinogen

Seated cross legged by the lake I was approached by a young guy dressed in a brown shaggy gown. “Excuse me… are you a saint?” “Negative. Why do you think so?” – I replied. “Because of your dreadlocks!” Rajan was a graduated from a Philosophy College in the South of India wandering in search of enlightenment. He had been crossing India by train in all conceivable directions for over three months. Before getting the point that I was hitch hiking for pleasure, Rajan suggested that, looking like a saint, I could use the trains for free. For I moment I overlooked the possibility, and smiled at the idea of adding a saint ID to the passport and the fake student card. We spent many hours discussing about Hinduism (he, speaking; me, learning) and the veil of Maya… “Today people believe too much in the propaganda of reality” – commented Rajan as we looked for our place in the temple where 40,000 portions of food are served daily, attesting to the Sikhs vocation for hospitality. There were around 300 people in the room, aligned at both sides of a carpeted way where colorful servants passed by, refilling each plate aerially and almost without breaking the march. As food is served all day round, also teams of men and women can be seen ringing tones of onions at any time while, in a similar premise, a similar bunch wash and pile hundreds of metallic dishes. After each banquet, another party, armed with buckets and brushes, storms in. With an un Asian degree of precision the room is ready to welcome new hundreds of anxious dinners a few minutes later.

After feeding ourselves we continued our conversation lying n the garden’s grass. Reality was unsubstantial; we had reached agreement on that point. I tried to remember what I had done on a random date, say July 16th, 2005. Impossible. Even if it didn’t evidently transcended, chances are that day I woke up with a feeling of urgency, hopes and programs. No track however of July 16th, 2005. Vanished from the wheel of cosmos. My wise friend prescribes local Hindu medicine (seldom used by Hindus tough): “Mindfulness of each second, grain of rice or smile. Avoid chains of actions with long term sense. But enough philosophy, let’s go for a good plate of water” And his exclamation was correct and literal, amid such frugality it was possible to talk about a good plate of water, as reposed over a desk by a pious Sikh. Rajan had successfully rescued me from Real India. I was floating in th Concept India again.

I knew that hitch hiking out of a large Indian city meant exposure to unwanted offers from rickshaws drivers. The first ten who opted to park their hellish machines by my side (thus blocking the sight corridor between me and the coming cars) benefited by an early and unfruitful attempt of cultivating patience. Number eleven, instead, saw his rickshaw stolen by the hitch hiker. With a puzzled passenger in the backseat, I pedaled 500 meters to a much quieter location, much to the driver’s surprise, now half a mile distant and shouting. Excluding this initial stressful scenario in Amritsar, the rest of the trip to Dharamsala, en the Himalayan foothills, was a swift concatenation of private air conditioned cars and local “Tata” trucks, which come with Shiva altar as factory feature in the center of the windscreen. Fleeing the tyrannical heat of the plains I bypassed Dharamsala and made it to McLoed Ganj, formerly a hill station for the India residing British aristocracy, who quickly discovered that no fan was enough to cool down Delhi n the summer months. Being McLoed Ganj synonym with Tibetan exiled government (which includes the Dalai Lama) the character of the town is no less defined by the presence of hundreds of hippies from 5 to 80 years of age, embarked altogether in a different sort of exile. When I arrived, the sundown was already limiting my curiosity. Only the following morning would I start to navigate the labyrinthic network of searches which is McLoed Ganj and the Kangra Valley.

No comments: