From the counter at the front of his hardware shop, Sudhir’s eyes vacantly stare through the passing traffic. A look we have seen so often here. A man in the abyss. Our arrival nudges him to consciousness. He rubs his eyes and recognises us from two days ago.
“It’s crazy out there.” I blurt as we stumble in. Our nervous systems are in tatters after the chaotic journey. We sit opposite Sudhir at the counter. He seems resigned and he shakes his head. There is a sadness with him. A sense of futility. My comment seems to have prompted something.
“It is crazy.” He replies in time. He inhales slowly, still climbing from his brain-death. But he fixes to talk. Collette and I both sense we are about to get more than we came in for. We lean in to listen as he talks:
Inexcusably disgusting, brown paan spitting. Incessant and mindless beeping on the roads. So loud as to drive you crazy. Atrocious levels of selfishness displayed by drivers; cutting in, nudging out, forcing through, stopping for a chat, awful parking. Black stained diesel skin. Animal shit all over the place. Thick black smoke from plastic fires. Open sewers. Emaciated, lost horses. Cow, goat and monkey saliva dribbling from the drinking water taps in the street. Litter strewn without care. The ‘putrid’ Ganges. Ill repair. Chaos. The impromptu frustrations of a shop-keeper. Most of which we had struggled through during our exhausting scooter ride to reach him.
Collette is asking questions but I’m finding myself zoning out. Just like Sudhir. I see all these things here in just the short time during my stay. Imagine how this is for the people who can’t leave?
Sudhir talks beyond what we can see in front of us and goes into Politics, schooling, the police and the military. He refers to the articles in The Times Of India, which rests on his desk and he circles and annotates a picture of a Bollywood actress who has crashed her car and died. “What waste is this?” All to vent and share the problems he sees. He is a frustrated man. Unable to solve the problems of the world around him. “But I look within myself “ He says, “And I think, what is the right thing for me to do?” We buy a pot of gold paint to finish our wall-art and we head back into the fray with the impact of Sudhir’s words still jangling in our traumatised brains.
At the other end of our scooter ride, the scene is different. Collette paints the final golden beam of light smashing into the heart of a hummingbird taking flight. I paint a gold star in the sky above a butterfly and a shree, holy cow. We have a kiss. We meet our grinning hostel owner, Atol upstairs in the café. He is all glee-d up at what we have created. Atol has excitedly Whatsapped his son who has asked if we can paint another wall of joy. He pays for all of our materials, we get a discount on our room, an offer to paint another wall and an invitation to tea. Swizzo.
While drawing the wall, many people introduced themselves and said they very much appreciated what we were doing. Praise for what we were doing came in various ways and from people of different countries. It was heart-warming to see the positive impact that a random act of creativity can bring to the world around us, especially in a place that seems to be crying out for positive impacts. As much as we have the ability to spread crap, it seems we can also spread joy.
In his devastating book, ‘Straw Dogs; Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals’, John Gray paints a despondent picture of the world and the human race, which, up until quite recently, had haunted me to the point of depression. Not a, lying in bed unable to move depression but a depression nevertheless, one that tainted a lot of my efforts with an ultimate nihilism. I would recommend never reading the book, unless like me, you have a penchant for masochism. Thankfully, a different perspective is presented by Alan Watts, which seems to sit well for the ultimate nihilist in me but also allows a temporary lightness for my condition.
“The existence, the physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. That is to say, it doesn’t have some destination that it ought to arrive at. But that it is best understood by the analogy with music. Because music, as an art form is essentially playful. We say, “You play the piano” You don’t work the piano. Why? Music differs from say, travel. When you travel you are trying to get somewhere. In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest. And there would be composers who only wrote finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crackling chord, because that’s the end…
Same way with dancing. You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room because that’s where you will arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance.
If we thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at that end, and the thing was to get to that thing at that end. Success, or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.”
So what is the right thing for me to do? Me and Col bought a pot of gold.