Tag : india
Tag : india
Miro can let my mouth spirit away.
His mouth is a creature of its own.
If somebody drew a caricature of Miro, it would be an enormous laughing mouth.
Miro is the heart of hearts, says Monica.
Monica, who sits in the garden at times, flirting with men twenty years younger than her. These men, in fact boys, sleep in the dormitory with him, play soccer on the beach with him, and say that he is their buddy.
I love Miro, too, I say.
Especially, when my glance follows him on one of his paths and he doesn’t know he is being observed. Or when I watch him playing badminton, and he hits the ball so hard that it echoes in my head. Or when he eats chocolate ice cream by Ben & Jerry’s and happiness sparkles from his ears. Or when he bows down deeply, grabbing hold of my head, and kisses me as if it was our last kiss.
Miro is a caretaker. Nobody can take care like he does. Not all the hostel owners and healers in this place, summoned. Maybe this is the reason for him working in my home-stay.
He makes me feel like I was his most intimate friend, although we know each other only for a week. He also takes care of all the other people. As if it was the easiest thing in the world to prepare a chocolate-almond-milkshake this very moment. Even though there is no almond syrup. He would find it. Maybe this is why we met. Because him and me, we can seek out the impossible.
Miro’s real name is Miroslav and he comes from Croatia.
Miró, like the Catalan painter, I say.
To know someone’s country of origin is indispensable if you are travelling. It is part of the Guidebook for Strangers, the unwritten atlas for all who, one day, we will call friends or lovers.
Next to the original country this guidebook also displays the mental and physical age of a person, the occupation or non-occupation, the belief in good or bad, the subsequent destinations of their trip and the zodiac sign. You can also learn about their rising or Maya-sign.
Using this guidebook assures you to discover the right country, to spend time with the right person. Harmony is important in India.
If someone isn’t shanti, I don’t read their guidebook.
So you come from Croatia, I said to Miro, my grandfather, whom I never got to know, also comes from Croatia.
But unlike my grandfather Miro is a rangy man. He can wrap his arm around my shoulder without dislocating body parts. When we walk side by side, he towers over me for nearly half a metre. When we lie in bed, his feet protrude the wooden frame. In the hammock I can curl up on him like a cat. Miro’s guidebook says that he loves to touch me.
Except for their mother tongue Miro and my grandpa have no similarity whatsoever. He is honest in word and deed, has a depth in his gaze and a hole in his heart. He says that he has to give and receive love, all the time, because he doesn’t know how long he is going to live. I find this a bit disproportionate. At our age. But in a sense, loving is important for both of us, because my heart is fallible, too.
In the case of love and hearts, the grain of truth could also be found around our mothers. Miro has three and I have a distant one. An imbalance in every respect. Or it can be found around our fathers, who are similar: tight-lipped and inaccessible, ungraspable in their emotions. Our fathers, who even learned the same trade, as we read in our guidebooks. However, one could also search for reasons in other places than our relationship with our parents.
There is this saying: Home is, where your heart is. If your heart is broken, there is a possibility that your emotional home has a few cracks as well. Maybe that’s why it is important: him and me, in this place. Alone, but somehow belonging together. Even the Tuk-Tuk-drivers know that. They ask me where my boyfriend is, when I go to the beach on my own.
I chose Miro for this time in India. I noticed it only when I met him.
To be with him is like having a birthday party every day. And by that I don’t mean birthdays that pass like the feeling when everything goes black. I mean birthday parties with petits fours and sparkling wine, the ones you leave with a little present. Miro carries his around the world, a dingy woollen sheep called Marijuana. He calls it my daughter.
I would share my present, that’s what I told him.
It’s India’s fault that I would share a man I am sleeping with. The sense of wellbeing this Indian sun creates, connects us all. Here, we call it the effortless unfolding of bliss. It would be absurd not to share your bliss in India. It is as absurd as taking a woollen sheep with you, on a trip around the world.
I would like you to tell me when you are with someone else, Miro says. By that he means that he doesn’t want to share me.
That is why I dress my words in laughter.
That is why I pretend make a joke when I say, I would also sleep with his friend, if we were not so stable.
He is my laugher. I am responsible. I cannot let his mouth become silent alongside his heart.
The rhythm of his heart is as slow as an R&B song he heard in his youth. It proceeds the beat from cell to cell, setting his whole body in motion. His arms draw circles and fall down. His knees become wide and his fingers open up to form a V. He cannot hide his past.
Je bitno, mala. This is Croatian, meaning: it matters, little one.
Miro says it often, this chorus of a Hip-Hop-song. He calls me mala, I would translate that with baby. In return I call him mali. Even though that isn’t true.
I ask quoi? and he answers toi. Always. And all that Jazz.
We create our own language in this mini-universe which will exist as long as Whitney Houston’s I will always love you on top of the Austrian charts in 1993.
We create word-games, from films, TV and songs. These can only be created by the ones born in 1985, who grew up in the nineties. When we grew up, Bill Clinton was president of the USA, they cloned Dolly and the disc-man replaced the walk-man. We were too young to understand Kurt Cobain’s death, but found sadness in his music. Later we discovered Bob Dylan, him later than me, I give him some albums on a hard-disc-drive.
We are twins of a generation.
When the millennium came, we started travelling to foreign countries, enrolled in courses at university and completed our degrees. We left the mid-twenties behind, processed our first big love and became vigilant lovers.
We have a notion of what makes us happy.
What divides us is that Miro is a war-child.
I was searching for an equivalent for these bombs. I was searching for a cure. Something to help me comprehend the unspeakable. Bombs being dropped on cities and people. The thought alone leaves me naked.
Miro brings juice to my room. He carries a cup filled with liquid dark gold.
Black grapes look like Ribisel here, he says.
And I know I have found my cure.
The Ribisel, ribes in Latin or Italian, has also an origin in Lebanon, where ribâs meant a pieplant, form of rhubarb. This plant, which also existed in the Middle East, has stretched its twigs from Southern to Central Europe. It is the least common denominator of our story.
Small black, red or white berries, which we call the same.
If you look at this history, it seems strange that we don’t have a common language, although we grew up only two countries away from to each other. It bewilders me that we have to talk English. But we understand each other through music, too.
My love for him has been hiding in music, has flown through the open windows into my parched world of writing and sleeping. Music brought him to me and ever since he stays with me.
I like sleeping in your bed, Miro sings. I like knowing what is going on inside your head, I like taking time and I like your mind, and I like when your hand is in mine.
According to the guidebook Miro has a disposition to mind-expanding relaxing substances. I consider Miro’s big toe mind-expanding. It is as big as both my big toes together.
His body is a tent for three people, in which I can fall asleep immediately. He pitches his tent whenever he sees me. He says: You have to give me a hug whenever you see me.
When I am leaning against him, exactly under the top of his tent, enveloped in his arms, I can feel how fragile he is. On the surface a few strands of hair crinkle like thistles, blown through the desert by the wind. But his legs are strong, they could carry a castle, easily.
In India, a stranger’s body is assimilated by one’s own in a second, and that is ascribed to sweat. I take three showers a day: The sweat stays omnipresent. Therefore it blends perfectly with the sweat of others. Therefore everybody wears as little as needed.
In India, beauty is but skin-deep. Nobody brings sane clothes. A few shirts, trousers, skirts, along with sandals, and you have become a hippie. Criminals, fashion designers, chefs, DJs, waitresses. Everyone looks the same. A bit shabby, a bit run-down, literally and figuratively. You cannot behold one’s story from their looks. For that reason the guidebook is so important.
Miro wears relaxation as a garment, his style is transitional. Meaning his clothes change every few weeks. Right now he is wearing a lungi, the traditional Indian menswear. He doesn’t tie it Kerala-style, he ties it casually around his hip, white with golden seam, as he likes. Like a miniskirt. This makes the Indians laugh. Korakor is written on his shirts. Heart to heart, spread the love.
Miro is a man who sells love. He roams like a hitchhiker through the galaxy, transmitting love. Or in my mother’s words: He is flying as busy as a bee, from flower to flower. He is earning money by reminding people that love exists. And he is right. The one who loves is always right. There should be a new profession, a new name for his job: The Certified Love Transmitter, CLT.
CLT also means Cognitive Load Theory, the theory of cognitive demand when we learn something new. According to this theory, the working memory has a special function for knowledge acquisition. The working memory enables us to understand a sentence with regard to content, so we can remember the beginning of a sentence at its end. It gives my working memory a hard time when sentences end with the word sex.
I created a new profession for Miro’s work, but he doesn’t need it. Miro is a wily fox in love business. He is a globetrotter with the emblem of a credit card company on his back. Via the Internet he gathers a community of love-maniacs behind him. Once bitten, there is no turning back. There is no cure for the overall, unifying, all-embracing love between humans. It is deadly for the ego. At least this is my understanding of this concept we are all one.
And Miro knows everyone. He partied with them, met them on the beach or on a train, in his café in Zagreb or on a farm in the Indian mountains. The people he knows come from Spain, Israel, France, Iran, Brazil or Pakistan. He brings them along when we have a rendezvous, after we decided we should have one. People come to our home-stay to visit him. He pitches his tent, invites them in, prepares a juice for them and talks to them. About what, I don’t know. I stay in my own skin. This is important when you mingle your sweat with someone.
Why do you have to be alone in the morning, Miro asks me.
Because I want to meditate, I say and laugh, and caress his mouth.
It is seven AM, I get myself a glass of Chai from the kitchen and ask him to leave.
I think about him, while I take a shower and sip from my tea.
Soft pink dies the tiles in my bathroom and birdcalls carry my thoughts away. Despite that, he stays in my head like a background image.
I would love to talk to him, while I am having a shower. While he would still be lying in my bed. I would tell him how wonderful it is that I met him and that he is a brilliant lover.
But there was an India before him and there will be one when he has left, and I will not give up it up. It is my temporary heart space.
In this space, my skin is my only limitation.
If he was still lying in my bed, I would suggest that I could visit him on his love-journey throughout the world, and sleep in his tent, now and then. If he wanted me to. But it is not part of our deal, it is not listed in the guidebook and I know it.
The guidebook says that every person has to follow their own map, and only in extraordinary cases, mainly without the awareness of the travellers, routes are alike.
Miro disappears to his hammock when I ask him to leave. He covers himself with his sleeping bag, thinking about everything else.
About his ex-girlfriend, for instance, whom he left a week before we met. Or about other ex-girlfriends he will meet on this leg of his journey.
Sometimes he asks me if I want to join him in his hammock. But in every country there is a zone which must not be entered. A Death Valley. In this zone, you have no place for nothing. In this zone, you don’t even have a spare thing for yourself. Miro’s hammock is such a forbidden zone, as is his sleep.
I caressed him in his sleep.
I stroked his face, his mouth, his forehead, his dark hair, and his shoulder, where a bone sticks out so exquisitely. With the soft end of my scarf I fondled him.
The full moon’s light was refracted in the waves and near the fireplace someone was playing the Tabla. In this night, we could read in the stars how fast time would pass for us.
Do you want to join us skinny-dipping, I whispered.
Why do you wake me up, he whispered.
When I returned from the liquid dark iron, which didn’t feel like water, the most precious things were gone.
Money, cameras, I-Pods, even passports. When we walked home, I told him how bad I felt because the thieves had only left our things behind. He nudged my head and disappeared between the palm trees, into his hammock. I lay awake for a long time, this night, in my ivory skin, furious about my anger, and about feeling lonely without him next to me.
Our story took its origin in a hammock. To be precise, I found my way into this first, undefined hammock. Sometimes the wrong decisions take you to the right places.
We immediately lay down next to each other, nip and tuck. Then on top of each other, like young people do, when they are interested in each other. After a few days I exchanged this hammock for my bed. To be precise, I asked him to be my room service. Since then we share my bed, almost every night.
Prior to being with Miro I slept with men who were older than me. Literally and figuratively. It is new for me to be so young.
To sleep with Miro is like a journey in the Orient Express. At least that is how I imagine it to be. It is a meaningful journey, the tracks existing for centuries. We have a destination and we reach it together, in a body. Our destination is a city of dreams. Like Paris, Istanbul, Delhi, Shanghai. We visit only the most beautiful sights, always arriving together. Therein lies perfection, I think.
The path towards our goal consists of numerous small stations. A navel sticking out, a hip bone passing by. A scratching, rubbing.
We inhale the words of a foreign language and turn them into pillow talk in our heads. We look out of a window, get lost in a gaze, and catch ourselves, by catching an elbow. We hear a gasp from an unseen mouth. We move in this rhythm, hundreds of years old, which we cannot learn but are born with.
Knees and elbows appear in the landscape like hills. Shoulders grow from arms like the branches of banyan trees from the ground. We close our eyes, while the last jerk moves through the train, and it comes to a halt, in skin and hair.
Miro knows how to look into someone’s soul. I share this knowledge now. It is wisdom, hidden within, until someone comes and brings it to the light. It is the child, pointing at the emperor, saying: Don’t you see that he is naked?
We cross our legs and let the length of an arm between our heads. Soul gazing is a dangerous game. You lose your distance, your natural protection layer. You cannot lose yourself, but you cannot reject the energy, either.
We look into each other’s eyes, until the room starts to flicker. In his pupils images are being washed up, that I have no explanation for.
You were trapped inside a wall.
Your mouth was sewn.
You perceive too much.
We are hyped up a little bit after gazing into each other’s soul. We have to have occupational therapy. I rummage around in my room, tow Miro’s things from one corner into another and the table close to the wall. I arrange my felt-pens anew. Miro leaves for the garden. To do some work. I see him running barefoot to and fro, from the kitchen to the tables, while I dust the windowsills. But there is no dust, there aren’t even windowsills, only narrow surfaces with railings attached. I put paper stars over the light bulbs, to see things in a different, in a warmer light.
I hear Miro’s music ascending from the garden. He always plays what I’m thinking. The soundtrack of the film Amélie. It is my favourite film, not only because I look like the main character. J’y suis jamais allée.
Are we going for a swim, I ask him later.
I have to work, he replies.
I remind Miro that I am entitled to mingle my leisure time with his, not only because we mingle our sweat. The benevolence of caretakers is utilized by those in need, especially if they have an agenda.
He clasps my hand when we walk to the beach. He holds on to my hip. He pinches my shoulder under his. He doesn’t leave me out.
I give him his head for his guidebook says that he loves to touch me.
At the beach we lie next to each other, our hands motionless on our stomachs. His big toe is a ship sailing the horizon. I watch his ear sparkle. Eagles turn circles above us and we throw words in between them. We talk about this moment of silence between the breaking of the waves. As if all the noises in this world were sucked into the universe, for a second or two.
I ask myself, if I could have known that I will sleep with him, when we were still strangers, when we didn’t know anything about each other. The second sentence which escaped his mouth, which I remember, was: I don’t feel comfortable in relationships.
I believe that I could have known everything, if I had listened to this silence.
In the weight of this silence Miro buys hash on the beach.
In the moment between inhaling and exhaling he vanishes into the annex of a shack. Miro gives in to his disposition for mind-expanding substances and I wait for him.
I look at plastic boxes filled with candy and chewing gum, soft and warm from being exposed to sunlight. The man selling them invites me in. He taps at a wooden shelf, which is his seat. I come to sit with this man, who wears a lie above his black shirt, in the shadow of sherbet-sachets and crisp packs and watch the ocean. I can feel his shoulder at mine. He murmurs something into my ear. He smells of clove and garlic. I shake my head and jump off his shelf. I buy my way out of this with a chewy candy and go for a walk on the wave-breakers, so the sun can cut this memory out of my brain, by flame. Until Miro’s return, two men want to be my friends and one wants to know whereabouts I live, so he can come for a visit. Once you open up for one person, you make yourself accessible for others, too.
In India you open up to people automatically, like pores to sweat. There is no reason to remain a past version of your self. The intensity of this country covers all layers of existence, the past as well as the future. The warmth and friendliness of strangers restore your faith in the good. You encounter each another with confidence and trust. This is what you learn in India. This is why I became a nomad. I feel connected to the world when travelling.
Not all those who wander are lost, Gandalf says and he is also talking about me.
The only danger is to commit yourself to someone who doesn’t belong to you. Or to do this before the right time has come. You mustn’t ignore this chapter in the guidebook, you have to watch out for it. There is a profile for every relationship.
The type of a relationship is determined beforehand, as are its development stages. These constellations are as versatile as humans. There are acquaintances, which become, seemingly without a reason, all of a sudden, even without physical closeness, intimate alliances. Soul mates, who vanish into a nirvana of speechlessness, whom you never see again. Strangers you meet again and again. Friends, which you know in an instant, of which you know they came to stay.
We were meant to meet each other, Miro says and I agree with him.
He feeds me with cake, leading the small fork slowly towards my mouth. I lick it and watch him from the corner of my eye. And for the first time I notice something unknown in his gaze. I can see it, because a friend said: I can see you when you look at her. There is a hunger in his gaze, and it cannot be appeased by a piece of cheesecake.
It is Saturday night. We meet the boys in a restaurant. We dance to an old rave-song from the nineties, jump around in blue and red light. I drink one mojito too much and hold on to the eyes of an Israeli. I see innocence in them and tell him, ata nifla’a, you are wonderful.
In this night, everything is without obligation, because we go out to party. In this night, everything is without obligation, until Miro stands in front of me on the dance-floor, and quietly says, I don’t like you dancing with someone else.
In this night I cannot hold his hand on our way home. I cannot ask him to sleep in my bed. In this night I sleep by myself.
I tell myself that I will die by myself, too, therefore I can sleep by myself.
I tell myself that I must care only about my own business, not someone else’s. I cannot put on Miro’s view of this world on like a new Sari. There is too little time. I don’t want to own him and I won’t keep many pictures of us. I don’t take pictures of Miro on purpose. He shall stay a small, living part of my temporary heart space.
On one photo you see my legs and those of two others. Like upside-down trees we grow into the sunset, arms and heads root in the sand. The tide bathes my roots and washes away flotsam, while someone beats a melody nearby. The feeling of this photo is saudade, melancholia, because my farewell of India is nigh.
Miro is not to be seen on this photo. That is why I will forget about him, someday in the future, when I look at it.
Miro and I leave my bed at three in the afternoon on a blue train. Fourteen hours from South to East. We oversleep our transit from A to B. Or, better said, from T to T. At four in the morning we jump from our plastic beds, through a sombre aisle, out of the sleeper onto a forlorn bare-faced platform in the middle of nowhere.
I buy cookies and bananas and squeeze into my bus seat, next to Miro, who falls asleep again immediately. Surrounded by natives, in the babble of the voices of a Bollywood film, we drive into an unknown future, head on head, hand in hand.
Dawn unveils a landscape like the next page in a book. As if someone drew it for us with watercolour and coal pencils. Roundly ground rocks like golden marbles. A flatland covered in bushes and trees and villages. Above us, in the dusty new sky, a fireball.
I look into the black eyes of an old woman.
I look at the child with a dirty mouth by her side.
I don’t wake Miro up.
I wrap my scarf closer around my body and watch TV with the others.
A policeman with aviator glasses is in love with a voluptuous woman. He struggles through the film, more or less successful, but very much singing and hip-swinging. The woman carries earthenware pots through a house, flashing him meaningful glances. Dramatic string music when a pot breaks. I seem to be able to understand every word in that film. I ask myself if the reason for that is my fatigue or the loudness.
Our destiny is a city from a BBC-documentary. Authentic India, as seen by. It is a place in which Shiva mutates as a fire-lingam. As a holy mountain, seen behind the roof of the street café.
We will leave this place on different paths.
I sit Miro down on a wooden panel and sip two or three Chai, while we try to find out our next station via telephone.
We move into our room.
We take a shower and sleep with each other immediately, to not lose each other’s sweat. We share coffee with chocolate-cake balls for breakfast and our curiosity for this place. The main street is bordered by cowpat and braided Sadhus. A procession passes by: Embedded in yellow and pink coloured flowers a dead man’s body is being carried through the city.
I will miss us, Miro says.
Let’s stay as long as we are, I say.
Later I will tell someone:
Miro and I climbed the mountain, which is one of the mightiest religious symbols in India, barefoot and had a picnic with European cheese and bread at its top. This picnic was interrupted by a palpable monkey.
I will tell them: Miro and I visited the Annamalaiyar temple, which is consecrated to the fire element. This temple has four towers, 66 metres high, called gopurams, and is one of the biggest temples in India. Inside a holy elephant blesses believers in exchange for some peanuts, by touching their heads with his trunk.
I bought two filigree rosewood-necklaces at the shack next to the elephant. Rosewood protects his bearer from unreal and real fears. We confirm an oath to wear these necklaces until they fall off by themselves.
In view of a volcanic god, in the twilight of our last morning, Miro slips from out of his sleep between my legs. I watch him biting his lower lip while he unwraps my sleepy body. I hear the tingling of the alarm, the clacking and clanging of dishes in the kitchen, and I see how the wind moves the transparent rosé coloured curtain at our window, while we make love for the last time.
I will tell them that I never slept as well beside anyone as beside him.
Miro, the certified love transmitter, who bears the name of a Catalan artist.
I keep my cool in the rikshaw to the bus station, as if we took a ride like any other day. I ask him casually if he wants to see me again. I expect him to say yes.
Miro doesn’t laugh when we embrace each other for the last time, in a smell of urine and deep-fry-oil. Neither do his ears glitter. That might be due to his breakfast, scrambled eggs with toast. I lean against him for the last time and let my mouth spirit away within his.
I start laughing, when we wave to each other, standing in the door of the rattly old bus.
I am laughing because I think of the Chocolate Fudge Brownie by Ben & Jerry’s, which we ate, and the reams of cheesecakes with which he fed me.
I am laughing because we danced to American Pie in my room and because he wanted to sleep with me, with a song by Alanis Morrissette as background music and I recall how uncomfortable that made me feel.
I am laughing because we held hands above the chasm between our beds, during our 14-hours-trainride. I am laughing because there was lightness between us. I don’t want to give this up.
After our separation I will go to Death Valley, to lament our being no more. Or at least that I will never meet my Miro, again.
Because we never stay the same. Because the person, whose guidebook we are reading, will be different, will have changed, in the next moment. As soon as they are on the other side of the road, reaching the next town, their next destiny. Even when you sought out the impossible with someone. It was but a part of the greater whole.
When we separated I was laughing because we had a tacit consent to be laughers.
And because Miro has a weak heart.
And so do I.
© Marianne Jungmaier, Berlin 2012.
39 hours between East and West
The crescent moon doesn’t give much light tonight. Only a handful of stars blink and twinkle above the coconut trees. But the air is warm. Like every night.
A few revellers stumbled by, on their way home. It was not quiet, where we stood, but it came as close to silence as it could. The sounds of the birds, mopeds, tuck-tucks, of hammering, knocking and footsteps were less frequent around midnight. Dogs barked and howled as usual. There was a rustle here and there, a cat appeared on a wall, crouching down, looking at me. It was just an ordinary night in Varkala.
As we drove off, the taxi slowly turning on the corner, I looked back.
Sanjay stood there, next to his moped, upholding his hand. Smile on his face. Maybe there was melancholy in his eyes. Maybe it was my own. I waved back, and he disappeared.
In town the shop windows are locked up with metal panels. Tatters of newspaper on the sidewalk, broken plastic bottles on the street. Dogs stroll around, stop and look at the taxi. At this time the streets belong to them.
Sanjay made me cry. How not to cry, when someone is looking at you in sincerity, not saying a word, but eyes speaking out loud. I couldn’t help it. It just burst out. Reminded me of a song.
And a hand to hold your throat, to stifle that crying choke.
That’s what it felt like. Crying choke.
I keep my countenance. As I always do, except for those rare moments of weakness. I perfected it. I just pretend that things are not happening.
We drive by my favourite supermarket. The auditorium. The roundabout with the golden statue and the Communist flag. We leave the dark shade of the underpass behind. The fish-market, whose smell made me sick. The other supermarket where they sell everything. Even maple syrup and capers, you know.
The taxi blinks, turns and I don’t know the streets anymore. I try hard, but I cannot recognize anything. I lean back and feel the head wind in my face. It’s getting chilly. I put on my scarf, over the head, like an old woman. Although I am sweating in my woollen Ali-Baba-pants, my long-sleeved shirt. The irony is, I know I will be freezing in these clothes. When I get off the plane in Europe.
I look around. In the corner of my eye a huge backpack, Greg sleeping in the front seat. He must be really tired, to sleep in the front seat of an Indian taxi. A crackle of plastic makes me jump.
“Sorry?” Petros looks at me, from behind the backpack, cigarette in his hand. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
“Thank God you ask, I’d give my right arm for a smoke.”
We remain silent while sucking our cigarettes, watching the landscape, the night flying by. Now and then we exchange a few words. They trickle down like the little brooks on the cliff, quickly oozing away in fatigue.
“How often have you been in Varkala?” – “Ten times.” – “Will you come back next year?” – “Om namah shivaya.”
I met Greg and Petros twenty minutes ago. Jake knocked at my door while I was uploading music to my Ipod, for the journey. Asked me if I wanted to share a taxi to the airport. With friends of his friend Michael, the mandolin player. Why not. I like that Petros is as silent as me. I just want to let my thoughts run free.
It is 2 am. Hundreds of people in front of the airport. We enter the brand-new building, which has the shape of a UFO. We check-in. Petros and I start looking for a smoker’s room, but first we have to get through security check. The woman in khaki, with a scary something that looks like a machine-gun on her waist, asks me to open my hand luggage. Because her colleague wrote two words on my nametag. I have to take out everything. Do they think I have explosive substances in my notebook? My level of tolerance is going down. I know a grim look is spreading over my face. I feel ostracised. One lighter.
I walk around to find my companions. The cold neon light is dazzling me. All of a sudden Petros appears by my side. A knowing smile. Our secret token. I think it says: I’ve been to Varkala. We stroll around, discovering the airport. Find our refuge, a small Chai shop. We sip it while waiting for Greg. The taste is sweet, milky. It is 2.30.
And then, after uncounted minutes, Greg appears, tall and shiny with his not very tanned skin, in a proper white T-Shirt and blue jeans. How come he looks so fresh. He tells us he could enter the security-check at the business class counter. His eyes sparkle, a smile playing around his mouth. “Because you’re American”, says Petros. We joke around, somewhat lost. We lose our words again. We sit down, in brand-new iron chairs. We try to be comfortable. Our flight is 45 minutes delayed. It is 3.30. Now and then a bubble of words bursts between the three of us. Now and then Petros and me go to the men’s toilet. To have a smoke.
I am so tired. Indians in uniforms, the cleaning staff, sit in front of a blaring flat-screen. They are all asleep. How can you sleep in all this noise.
At 4.30, a tinny voice states the boarding call. We walk over to the gate. Stampede. I am literally pushed into the aircraft. As I encounter my seat in the last row, there is an Indian man next to me. Brilliant. No sleep on this flight. Greg and Petros have their seats near me, but neither do they have more than one seat. To stretch out. Wait. Greg has two, of course. We conspire in the back of the plane. When I come back from the bathroom, Petros is sitting next to me. He smiles. My Indian neighbour has moved to his previous place.
I can feel the aircraft moving. Ready for take-off. I love this feeling, when it takes off. When I am pushed into my seat, gravity so heavy in every bone.
I look out of the window. Blue sky, slowly it is dawning. Blurry white clouds below. Nothing else to be seen. This is a night with no end and a morning with no tomorrow. Everything is merging.
I have lost track of time, already. I only know this flight is about four and a half hours. I wonder what time it is in Varkala, try to count the hours. What is everyone doing right now? What is happening? If it is seven am, Manu will still be asleep. If it is eight am, he and his staff will be in the kitchen. I see them preparing Uppuma and Chai. I see Guy in front of his little cottage, having breakfast, in the back of the garden, reading the newspaper, smoking a cigarette. I see Bo, getting ready for a yoga-class. She is wearing her green long-sleeve and leggings, her dark curls tied up to a knot. A tired look on her beautiful face.
Bing. The seat-belt sign is turned off. Stewardesses rushing to and fro. I bend my knees, put them on the rear side of the seat in front of me. Petros is dozing and Greg is sleeping, his chin on his breast. I take my Ipod out of my bag and turn it on, while watching the infinite blue, through this little oblong.
For every king there’s a crown, and every time I look around, I am the kin of infinite space.
I am a tired king. A zombie king. In infinite space, somewhere in the air, between Southern India and Dubai. A space without frontiers. Nothing to hold on to.
There is no use in staying in India. But where do I go to and what is this place to me?
I doze off. I am in a dreamlike state, images floating through my head. I see the balcony at Manu’s. A part of me is still there. It is tied to Manu’s Garden. Glued to its colourful painted walls, to the green branches of the coconut trees. As if I was connected to Varkala by the adhesive threads of a cobweb, connected by invisible suction cups. I see Pinky’s tremor, how her legs vellicate. I see Sujata, the woman working at Manu’s, with her mobile, sitting in the morning sun, texting to someone. The camera takes off, flies above Varkala North Cliff. Goes down in front of the last shop on the cliff, close-up from the blurred tattoo on the arm of the 13-year-old shop-wallah. I see the sky turning pink by the morning sun. I see dolphins, jumping out of the waves. I see the dogs sleeping on the beach.
A memento motion picture in my head. The soundtrack is composed by Bonnie Prince Billy.
There is a time to sing these sings, and a time to have them sung.
A time to bring the tune and a time to have it brung.
A twitch in my muscles wakes me from my dream. My mouth is dry. I clear my throat, stretch my arms, hit Petros by mistake. He shakes his head, like saying, never mind. He is reading a newspaper, his seat upright. I realize the descent has started already. Where has time gone. I must have been dozing for hours.
I wave at the stewardess. I am awestruck by the colour of her lipstick. Emirates-Red. I try not to stare at her lips, while asking about my connecting flight. She wears a thick layer of make-up. She reminds me of Delphine Seyrig in L’année dernière à Marienbad. I recall a dialogue in this film.
“I have never stayed so long anywhere.”
“Yes I know. I don’t care. For days and days. Why don’t you still want to remember anything?”
“You’re raving! I’m tired, leave me alone!”
“Miss?” She looks at me patiently. I nod. She says I’m allowed to get up early.
When the plane is in taxi modus, I grab my bag and give Petros and Greg a hug. I am grateful they were with me. I don’t know them, but they gave me a feeling of home. A feeling of consistency. And then I run off.
I have ten minutes until boarding closes. Ten minutes are enough for a big cappuccino. Lucky me, there is a Starbucks next to gate 231. I stumble down the escalator, try not to spill the precious light-brown liquid on my way. As I roll down, I see them gathering, waiting for boarding. European faces. I walk towards them. Then my steps slow down, come to a halt.
I hesitate. Something inside me shrinks. It is cold here, but it is not the temperature in this hall, that makes me shiver. There are no emotions. Nothing to hear in the sonic waves around me. I don’t know where to turn to. So I head for the bathroom. To brush my teeth. As I look around furtively, I realize I am the only hippy. There are five women around me, waiting to use the loo. They are queuing patiently, proper looking in their leather boots, high-heels, branded jeans, winter cloaks and make-up.
I look at myself in the mirror. I cannot see me. No mirrors in India. Slowly I start perceiving. And I see myself through their eyes. The colour of my hair is bleached. My eyebrows are not really plucked. My face hasn’t seen make-up for months. Eyes narrow, cheeks red. I have no deodorant with me. I don’t even have clean fingernails. My gypsy feet hidden in my only pair of socks. I spit out and dry my mouth with my scarf. Oh my, they have paper napkins here. Don’t use your scarf like in India.
A woman washes her hands next to me. Golden rings and jewels on her fingers. I look at my odd rosewood necklace. The charm bracelet with little images of angels and Jesus on my wrist. Why do I fly to back again?
I don’t care where I come from, because I care. This is what my friend Daniel said. I just have to remember this, and detach from Austria. I am not Austria. I don’t have to identify with this country. I realize there is a fear in me. An absurd fear of having to stay there.
I pretend to rummage around in my bag. I turn on my mobile. The time is set for Varkala. I don’t know the time in Dubai nor the time in Europe. Nothing is tangible in this infinite space.
As I embark the plane, I cannot look at people. But then it happens, as I stumble along, looking for my seat’s number. Eyes meeting eyes. But nobody is smiling. Six hours. The couple sitting next to me, I cannot tell where they come from. They look American, but they speak a language I don’t know. On their itinerary I can see they have many more flights after this one. I smile at them. I want them to know I am happy to sit next to them. I am grateful they don’t speak German. And then, they smile back.
I stretch my legs and wait for the second take-off. There it is again, this feeling. The aircraft leaping into the air, taking my body with it. This I love. I look out, at the skyscrapers of Dubai. I remember this woman Kirsten I met in Shiva Garden. She works in Dubai. She said, the city has no soul.
When the seatbelt-signs are turned off, I take out my notebook. My thoughts are going high speed on memory lane. With no intention and no destination whatsoever. The last text I wrote comes to my mind. I remember how nervous I was when I put it online and how grateful I am that people appreciated it. Sentences come to my mind, I write them down in the order of their appearance.
“Continue avec ta vie comme tu fais. C’est ravissant.”
“There goes another day.”
“It’s all about keeping yourself open for everything.”
“All I wanted was for you to believe in me.”
“I believe every man should have a phase in his life where he sleeps with a lot of women and goes wild.” – “I think we should sleep with everyone we meet, when it is convenient.”
Time to destination 4:30. The screen in front of me shows me where we are going. Arabian Emirates. There is Baghdad. I wonder what it looks like down there. Where war is at hand. Turkey. Eastern Europe. Austria.
But I am actually nowhere. The only thing I know is, that one door to some previous life has been shut. I just realize it in this very moment. I cannot go back to be who I was before. I am someone else already. I close my eyes.
There’s a lap for resting head. There’s the only nesting bed.
There’s the souls to cry among. For the things that don’t get sung.
I can’t sleep. I am too tired to sleep. I get up and walk up and down the aisles. I enter a bathroom and close the door. There is nowhere else to go. I stay there for a while, looking at the bottles of soap and cream. The little slots with napkins. The basin, the collapsible door. I get out after ten minutes. Now I am brave enough to look around. To look into people’s faces. Most of them are pale. Tired. Bored. Sleepy. They don’t look back.
I sit down again, push my seat back. Legs outstretched, blanket up to the nose, earplugs. I peep to the left, my neighbour is watching a film I don’t know. His wife is writing in a tiny notebook. Time passes. I close my eyes again. I can feel sleep creeping up my spine, my arms, my legs. Finally.
So I’m down and so I’m out, but so are many others.
So I feel like trying to hide, my head beneath these covers.
A hand on my shoulder. I open my eyes. Emirates-lipstick.
“Miss, did you order Vegetarian?”
I nod and take the plate. Burnt mushrooms, an undefined green, soft something in a red spongy ball. I hope it doesn’t start moving. There is chocolate cake as well, and orange juice. I offer the cake and the juice to my neighbours. They shake their heads, but hey, they smile. The cutlery falls to the floor, then the napkin. I always feel like an elephant on a plane. To boot, I lose parts of the food between table and mouth. Not that there was a lot of space. But still. I spoon the jam and ask for black coffee. I wish I could have coffee and cigarettes now. My favourite breakfast and a great film. The White Stripes sitting at a small table, scratching, silent, smoking.
Two stewardesses with a fire extinguisher rush by, towards Business class. I imagine some old American woman, maybe from New York, sitting in her chair, lighting a cigarette. And then the plane would crash down. And like in Cast away, I would survive and would have to pull my teeth like Tom Hanks, with a piece of wood. Or maybe I would die. Would be ok. There is nothing to worry about. Dying is just like being born. Our essence is unconditional love. We cannot get lost. Life is in perfection already.
And with this thought, I am on autobahn again. I remember the scene when I said goodbye to Gopal and Vishnu. Gopal blessed me. He put his 69-year old skinny working man’s hands on my head and blessed me. I could feel it. I could actually feel his blessing. And I remember the sad look on his face, when I mumbled that I don’t know if I will come back. I remember how I felt tears rising, and how I ran off. All these goodbyes were so honest. How grateful I am.
I am hit by my neighbour’s elbow. I look up, the screen says we are above Black Sea now. I put the plate on the floor, open my seatbelt, sneak off to the back. There is this little window in the door, it has a lens. I peep through it. Snow-covered mountains. Montenegro, maybe.
The mountains look beautiful, yet not very appealing. I can feel the cold coming in from the plastic. Don’t sit here, says the sign. My joints hurt. I do some stretching. Take my arms back and clasp my hands. My muscles are stiff. As I bow down, I see the legs of the stewardess walking by. She has nicely shaped legs, petite ankles. But how does she manage to walk on heels all the time? As I get up, I see Ryan Gosling, Til Schweiger and Viola Davis on the screens. I see the little bearded man from the film “Up” on the nearest one. An Indian girl, sitting in front of it, has turned it on. Right now she looks at me with big eyes. I look back and smile. She doesn’t.
Life is like the seasons, after winter there comes spring.
So I keep this smile a while and see what tomorrow will bring.
I go back and I don’t know how, but the hours pass. I write a few lines, so there is no congestion on the autobahn in my head.
I will go back to my sister’s house. Wash my dirty clothes, my dirty face, have a good sleep and get over it. Sometimes you just have to take a nap and get over it.
The remains of my belongings fill up a room in her cellar. My futon, my cupboards. Boxes over boxes with tableware, clothes, bed-sheets, blankets, pillows. Even a fridge, covered in butterfly stickers. Anything you need to make a flat cosy. Indian style, of course. I have some of the pink and orange wall paint left, if you need any.
I don’t need it. I want to travel lightly. There is a gap between who I was and who I am. I’m on a paper aeroplane, somewhere in-between.
There is so much to do when I go back. Finish the book by march. Talk about it with my mentor. Apply for scholarships. Edit a film. Maybe visit a friend in Estonia in April, go to Israel in May, to Northern Italy to this artist in residence place. Berlin, UK in July and Nice in August. By September, for my birthday, I want to be in Asia again. That means I have to write the book about India from May on. And get a publisher for the autobiography. And get a new tattoo in March. And do Yoga every day.
I look up. Time to destination 1:45. There is Austria’s outline on the screen. Vienna. Graz in the south. there is a town called Wachau. Well, this one doesn’t exist, dear Emirates. Salzburg. Where I loved and lived for many years. Long gone, a lifetime away.
Time to destination 30. World map on the screen. I see the countries the airline approaches. India. Next to it there are Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam.
I’ve been many places, maybe not as far as you.
So think I’ll stay a while and see, if some dreams come true.
As the plane is descending, it feels like this is happening to somebody else.
The machine rocks as the tyres touch the ground. I feel the weight pulling me forward. It slows down. Maybe I just keep going now, without thinking.
I watch the power lines, in the upper part of the window. They move in a rhythm, going astray, getting together again. In perfect tune with the train’s sound. Dudum dudum, dudum dudum. The woman opposite me, her face is pale, spotted, empty. She is tired, her eyes red. Her hair is randomly dyed, blonde. She holds on to her small backpack, as if it could fly away. She stares out of the window. I feel more homeless than ever before. As if I lost my identity in those colourless fields outstretching before my eyes. They are even greyer than in my memory.
I get off at Munich Ostbahnhof. I manage to get on the next train to main station. I climb stairs, up and down, my 27 kg backpack growing heavy on my shoulders. Pushing my knees down. No backpackers here. Only fancy Munich people. As I sit down, I read Munich-Vienna on the screen. Departure time 15:27.
I get myself another coffee and stare out of the window. I don’t really see anything. I just look. Everything is happening apace now, without my doing. I take my notebook and write. I lose sentences, write the wrong words, repeat myself. I start anew.
There isn’t much that I have learnt through all my foolish years.
Except that life keeps running in cycles. First there’s laughter, then those tears.
The train leaves. There is Germany, Bavaria. Soon there will be Austria. But there is no difference, really, borders are only in the head. These countries look very much the same. Tidy gardens behind carefully raised fences. Solid houses with unblemished, clean walls. Inside, there are dark, mind-numbing rooms. Rooms in which your breath is short, in which grandmothers’ clocks are still ticking.
I am so tired, I can feel fatigue in my staring.
When the train stops in Salzburg, I get up and go to first class. I appreciate this luxury, that I can use my journalist’s ID to sit in first class. I know, I don’t need it, but I want to have some peace. Maybe I am adjusting already.
We drive past my favourite lake, Wallersee. It’s surface is covered with light-blue ice. Everything frozen. Something makes me sad. I can feel it, when I look at the wan, ashen meadows, the dark-green fir forests. Big cars, rolling on solid streets. More houses. The gardens embellished.
The emptiness in this landscape is frightening. There is a regularity and tidiness in everything. But it is deserted. So rich, but forsaken by all good spirits. No people, no animals to be seen, no life. The reason is not the season.
People seem to be afraid. Now I know what my friend Daniel meant, when he visited me. He was so saddened by the atmosphere in this country and I didn’t understand. Because for me, this was normal. I feel tears on my cheeks and turn around, to look out of the window. No hearts beating in unison here.
How I wished to find my place in Austria. A home-base. I was searching for it for more than a year, maybe longer. I was desperately trying to find a little space for me. Now I realize, this country, it is not home to me. And as I write this down, I remember. I had the solution before. I just didn’t know.
Two weeks ago, Seneja asked me if I was going home now. I said, I am not going home, I am simply going to where I come from.
“Home is where my heart is”, I said, “and that means, home is where the people who I love, are. Like you, for instance.”
And Seneja, with her eight years of wisdom, replied: “Then your home is here.”
And I said, “Yes.”
I feel a bit shaky. My thoughts come to a standstill, somehow. I nestle down in my seat, listen to the constant sound of iron wheels on tracks. I look at the endless acres of rural Austria, a landscape I know so well. I feel my breath filling my lungs with air.
I know it’s almost funny but things can get worse than now.
So I keep on trying to sing, but please. Just don’t ask me now.
As I wake up in my sister’s guest room on the first day, I am shocked. I don’t know where I am. I look around, hold my breath. It is eerily quiet. I realize there is a pyjama on my body and I am buried under a thick blanket. I remember I dreamt of white dresses.
On the second day, I still don’t know where I am, as I wake up. I stare at the blanket, so strangely warm and thick. I look at the ceiling. Tears, because I simply want to go downstairs now, to say good morning and throw a smile at everyone. I remember I dreamt of being in India, and of putting an apple in the snow.
As I open my eyes on the third morning, I know where I am. I open my eyes and see my sister’s drawings on the wall. Beautifully crafted black and white paintings. I look at her cupboards, I see my postcards and little figurines I gave to her. In a picture frame there is a photo of her and me, when we were kids. She has her arm around my shoulder and we both seem to chuckle about something. As my gaze wanders, I notice a green plant on the shelf. I feel the softness of the silk pyjama she gave me, the comforting warmth of her blanket. I see a little note that has been slipped in underneath the door. I get up, kneel down and read it. Good morning sis, it says, wish you a wonderful day. Love you.
I remember my intention for India.
It was this: Take me to where love is needed.
Maybe it is still valid. So here I am.
© Marianne Jungmaier, Gumpolding 2012
29 hours of silence
As I wake up and realize my silent vow has begun, I can already overhear a conversation in my head. About what this woman said to me last night, just before going to bed. I showed a painting to my friends. She sat next to them. How come a few words can set my anger on fire so easily?
I hear her French accent again, adding a bit more acidity to her words: “It is naïve. But good. Yes, continue with painting.” And I can hear myself once again: “I’m a writer, not a painter. This is only for distraction.”
And I can feel the anger, rising. My mind comes up with sentences I wanted to say. Not directly to her face, but to my friends, speaking it out just as loud so she would hear it. “What a stupid thing to say. Naïve. Some people should better think before they talk.”
Now, the reason why this upsets me so much, I guess it is about being judgemental. Putting people, strangers, into drawers, before even having looked into their eyes. I know, I do it as well.
So here I am, still lying in bed, listening to this conversation. I hear it, in different versions, three or four times. Until another voice says: Stop it. This is supposed to be your silent day.
How can I be still when my mind is chatting, nagging, babbling, whispering, complaining all the time?
I try to remember my dream. I was in Mississippi. Because of this book I finished before falling asleep. The Help. And I can’t help but think that the segregation of “races” in the US in the early 1950s reminds me of India. And the mother of the main protagonist reminds me of my own mother. Not that she told me I am ugly. But I can remember this look in her eyes, watching me. Telling her that her own youth had gone, thus making me her competitor in the race for the beauty queen. Not that there was a real competition. Psychology calls it the “snow-white”-complex. Mirror, mirror, on the wall. I read a book about it. Since I was a teenager, I had to deal with the cunning step-mother and the all-loving mother in one person. No wonder there are voices in my head.
Stop it. Today is about being silent. We can think about it another time.
Finally I get up. A note on my door says: Saturday, silent fruit day.
Exactly. I remember. This is not only about being silent. But also eating about eating fruit only, and drinking fruit juices. I have to decide if I will have my morning coffee as usual, or if I will take this pill my friend gave me. It is supposed to keep you on the toilet for two hours. I look at it, sitting on my window shelf. Size of my fingernail, an unpleasant green. Not appealing. What will it do to me? I decide to go for the coffee. At least I know the effects of coffee. I put on a bra, a shirt. I’m sweating already. Birds are chirping, the cry of an eagle, a crow by my window, its continuous sound annoying.
I brush my hair, try to make it look decent. I grin at myself. There is no way I am not going to look like a hamster in the morning. Every day my face seems to remember the time when I was a chubby baby. Cheeks like upholstery, eyes narrow. Even narrower now, because I cried myself to sleep over the last lines of the book.
“You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” If my parents had ever told me this. Stop whining. Above all, my left eye is dealing with that infection, itching and hurting, my view blurred. Alas. I have been standing in front of the mirror for at least ten minutes and I haven’t even seen my own reflection.
I put on trousers, brush my teeth, take a little note saying “I’m having a silent day.”
Downstairs the light is dim. It is quiet, not one sound to be heard. The night seems to withdraw slowly down here. The door to the kitchen is open. How come I cannot recall her name. She smiles at me. Something with an “S”. “Good morning.” I smile back, feeling my hamster cheeks broadening. I show her the paper. She takes it. She doesn’t understand. I make a move in front of my mouth, like a zipper closing. I point at my chest. I make this move of the coffee machine, pushing the sieve down. She nods.
I go back to my room, feeling silly with that note in between my fingers. I feel impolite. I hope she doesn’t think I am impolite. She is the loveliest person, so quiet, carrying this innocent caring smile on her lips. Always giving me the impression of holding herself back, for the good of others. It is only one day. I just have to make sure I have my hands free to make the “Namaste” and bow my head.
By the time I’m drinking coffee on the balcony, my mouth is itching to say something. Anything. During my half an hour sun salutations, I go through an amazing amount of conversations I had in the past two weeks. Words and sentences pop up in my head, like a river at full flood, filled with trunks.
“How do you like travelling with me?” – “It’s not really travelling.” – “I know, but just for this trip?” – “It’s nice.” I hardly notice the sounds around me. Tuk-Tuks, mopeds, birds, peoples’ voices, the wind in the trees. There would be a lot. “You should go to see the doctor for your eye, if it’s getting worse.” “This is the best Chai I’ve ever had.” “I will shut my eyes and pretend not to see you, if you don’t talk.”
That’s what Manu, my host said. Which made perfect sense, last night. Now Ronan Keating sneaks in. “You say it best, when you say nothing at all.”
After Yoga, after lying in the heat of the South Indian mid-February-sun, my body screams for breakfast. Banana and papaya. My legs are trembling. I quickly wash my face, scribble down a note. I am satisfied with the word “please”, as I write it down.
I think of my friends who join me in this. But they only join the fruit-eating. You cannot be silent all day with having children around. I feel like hiding on their porch, to be near someone who doesn’t expect me to talk. Then, all of a sudden, I sense relief.
What else can I concentrate on. All of a sudden I can see the light on the balcony, gleaming white. The crows’ never-ending sounds. An embroidery of different greens in front of my window. A vast space seems to open up, inside me. I remember some lines I read last year. “Be still and go within. If you don’t go within, you will not be able to hear.”
God, how grateful I am to be able to write.
In the bathroom , just as I sit down, I hear a voice. “Marianne?” My neighbour. He wants me to help him with something on the Internet. Before I can even think, I hear my voice. “Je suis ici. Oh merde, il faut que je ne parle pas.” I hear him “shh” me. “Merde.” – “Shh”.
I flush, open the door. He says he’s sorry. Am I ready to go? I nod and shrug my shoulders. Maybe I should prolong my silence until nine o’clock tomorrow morning. We walk over to the place where there is Wi-fi, where I used to stay for the past few months. I don’t know how many times I will have to make that zipper-move. But they know me and they understand. It’s ten thirty. I can’t wait to go back to my room. I’m starving, again. How are you supposed to concentrate on silence, when all you want to do is say “thank you” and have some Muesli in your fruit salad.
At eleven thirty, I ask for a papaya juice. Manu, he seems to have lost his speech just like me. That’s what people do, I notice. They imitate you. He points at the papaya, whispering: “Too hard for juice.” I nod. Smiling is my only help. I smile quite often, but by now I feel like the Cheshire Cat. I shut the door. I get the feeling my thoughts become stronger, more intense, their power increases. Meditation could help me with this. I lie down, the fan blowing hot air around me, not cooling anything, the least my body.
Be still. Don’t dramatize it.
I doze for an hour. The sound of sweeping on the balcony. My Arms and legs are outstretched, so skin cannot meet skin. Every effort has to be taken not to sweat more. After a while I look on my mobile phone. One pm.
I know it’s mad to do so, but I wanted to go to the beach at noon ever since I arrived. Put on my bikini, my beach dress which hasn’t seen soap in three weeks and is stiff by all the salt in it. Take my beach towel and off I go. Through the jungle in the backyard, lush and green on either side, the wind rustling in the trees. I feel contented. Like I can do this.
As I come nearer the end of the jungle, I hear a voice. I guess that wasn’t meant for me. “Marianne!” I don’t know the voice. I turn around. Sara waving at me. I hear my voice: “Hi!” Fuck. Third time today. Why can’t I shut up? I clasp my mouth, stop in front of her, pulling my little note out of the bag. She asks me a few questions. About my trip to Tiruvannamalai. If my heart is ok. I nod and smile. I form a little heart with my fingers. “Glad to hear”, she says and puts her hand on her chest. I take the notebook out of my bag, write down “Tomorrow I talk.” She smiles, says: “And tell me everything.”
I actually do want to say more. I point towards the jungle, onto my chest, towards the jungle again. It takes her about ten seconds. “You moved. To Manu’s place.”
The heat is dense, far from beneath the palm trees, I feel squashed. By the time I reach the first restaurant, my knees are wobbly. My head spins. I set one foot after the other, pull the scarf over my forehead, feel the bag growing towards the ground, taking me with it. Music from every direction. Indian tunes, Abba, to be followed by something like Techno. I nearly run past the Tibetan shops, their flaunting colourful scarves, T-Shirts, Ali-Baba-trousers, bags saying “Free Tibet”. I make it down to the beach. I make it into the waves. I shout: “Watch out!” to the man next to me, with his back to the horizon. A massive wave is just about to crash down on him. Fourth time. Makes it ten o’clock tomorrow.
I walk back, sit down at a table at the juice place. I manage to order a fruit juice with my notebook. After waiting for it for twenty minutes, I am so grateful to see it coming, I throw a big smile and a hearty “thank you” at the waiter. He stares at me. Fifth time. Makes it eleven o’clock.
I write a few notes down, sipping this glorious yellow liquid. Maybe this is about awareness. The more I can stay aware and present, the less likely I am to open my mouth without thinking. Maybe I shouldn’t even be writing. But it saves me from pulling my hair out and banging my head against the walls. I always considered myself as a more quiet person. I’m glad to learn something new about myself. It is about two o’clock. Maybe I will make it one pm tomorrow. Just to get it right.
Back in my room, I text my friends. “This is so hard. I hope you’re not as hungry as me.” I watch the salt water drying on my dress. White lines on pink cotton. After staring at it for a while, I go to the bathroom to take a shower. Put on some black clothes, they feel more appropriate. I am mourning the loss of my speech, I tell an invisible person in my head.
I take a one-hundred rupee note and head for the fruit stand. My mind is filled with the thought of food. But I can enjoy the sun going down. The shadows start giving a little bit of a shelter. I bump into Jake, where the road turns. He says he’s oily from a massage, I give him a hug, nevertheless. After a while the fountain of words, coming out of his mouth, dies off. I make the zip-sign.
“You mustn’t talk?” I shake my head. “Is this a religious thing?” I shake my head again. “Have you taken a vow of silence?” I nod. We stand there, smiling at each other. It becomes slightly uncomfortable. He mumbles something like “take care” and strolls on. I continue down the alley. “Rooms for rent”-signs, colourful worn-down walls, verdant flowers in pink and white. I overhear a woman bargaining with a Tuk-Tuk driver. “One hundred Euros? What about 50 Rupees?” – “60” – “Ok, 60 then.” I am sure they go to town, she and her husband. Pictures of Varkala town in my head. Next thing I see is a hand searching through a pile of mangos. I cannot believe I am actually in South India when mango season begins. I’d nearly do anything for a mango. I take two, put them on the weighing machine, point both my hands at the man. “Ten bananas?” Nodding.
All of a sudden, I feel vulnerable. Three or four men standing in the small, narrow room, the light gloomy. They are watching me. I know two of them by sight. I feel naked without the ability to defend myself with words. As I pay, they have forgotten me already. Just go back home, will you.
I trot back, stuffing those little bananas in my mouth. Four bites each. The skin I throw over the nearby walls.
“Hello-how-are-you.” Moped noise getting louder. I ignore it. My head feels like it was packed into cotton candy. Congested by words. I scoff those bananas. The noise gets louder. As the moped overtakes me, I peel off the last bit of the banana-skin. I hear the voice shouting: “I-wanna-fuck-you.” Laughter, they disappear.
Now that is something new. Should’ve thrown a banana at them. I don’t like to generalize, but the waiters, hanging around in the restaurants, bored to death, they all seem to be quite the same. They are watching every female tourist with eagle’s eyes, it is obvious there is nothing on their minds except for how to get in between those legs. Any legs. And that some of them have reached their goal this season doesn’t make them more respectful towards other women. Not my problem. I sigh. My problem is a silent vow for the rest of the day.
Beach again. I’m busy with my towel, try to put it down in the wind. Next to me there is a female body, covered in nothing but an attitude and a tiny thong. I move a little further away, don’t want Indians staring at me, too. A German couple gets up right behind me. He grasps her waist, she pushes him away. “Hier darf man sich nicht berühren.” I know this line. No touching in India. Exactly. Even if the touch of the other one feels like honey on melting cinnamon-ice-cream. You are in India. And here, men don’t even look at women.
Joseph and Sanjay arrive at the same time. They talk to me for a few minutes, I answer with my notebook. I’m happy to have someone around me, scribbling down words. Then they move on to another subject, about being a teacher in self-development. I drink in their words. Not because the content they discuss is new to me. But it feels like rain pouring down. Their words refresh me. They create new images in my head, stimulate my brain cells. Take my thoughts to different memories, on unexplored paths. Should I be a teacher one day, talking to people. I realize the irony in this.
My mobile says it is past six pm. I feel peaceful. It starts working, slowly. I watch the sky. A stunning orange-pink explosion, the moon’s fragile white line becoming brighter. I want to leave. I wave goodbye, climb the stairs towards the cliff. I stop on the last bit. The sound of the breaking waves, echoed by the cliff. I adore the timbre of the crashing, the pull-back, infinite, back and forth. It reminds me of this raw force, water, that can eradicate you if you don’t go with its flow.
I realize, the slower I walk, the easier it is for me not to set foot in the trap called mindless speech. I walk on, shanty, beneath the black profiles of coconut trees, the rectangular shadowy outlines of the houses. Beneath a sky that is softly turning grey, then blue, dark blue. Still it is burning back there, where the sun has just set.
Twigs crack, stones roll, under my shoes. Dry herbs being crashed as I step into the wilderness, that is hardly to be found in this place. I remember how disgusted I felt by the sight of all the tourists this afternoon. How disgusted by myself, for staying in a place where I naturally wouldn’t go to. Or at least, wouldn’t stay at.
As if I noticed only now what place I am in. A tourist destination.
But this place is home to me, in a way. There are faces I love to see, eyes I adore to meet. Voices I enjoy listening to. There is a family I love to be with, although its members may change every week. And there are those who stay, like me, for weeks or months. Who are so familiar to me and whom I feel so close to. Their smiles have given me the feeling that I am welcomed. Anywhere in the world. And loved.
I pull the backyard door of the resort next to my Sunshine Home and enter. The jungle being too dark now, I tread along the well-trimmed bushes, the neatly cleaned paths, the polished windows. The security man in his uniform nods at me.
And then, on my balcony again, like this morning. It is eight o’clock. I’m having my third fruit salad. Steam rising from the glass in front of me, the smell of honey, lime, ginger. I light a cigarette. An urge to go online to see if something happened. Fifteen minutes later, I give in and check my mails. I pull a card. It says “ripeness”. The fruit is ripe and about to fall. Just let it happen.
Time to go to bed. I am exhausted. My body is tired. A last smoke on the balcony, and one in bed. One song before going to sleep.
There goes another day. Don’t suppose I come out to play, with you. I just sit at home, write another song, about how I wanted to.
Squeaking of a bird. One only. It must be early. It’s chilly in my room. I open my eyes. A pattern of shadowy lines and leaves on the wall, on the dark brown wooden door. The light subtle and soft. I stretch my arms, my legs. Hold the bed-sheet over my chest, feeling its warmth, the warmth of my own body still in the fabric. I roll around, feet on the ground. Put on some clothes, switch on my mobile to see what time it is. Seven am. I brush my teeth, wash my face. Smell of lavender.
All is quiet downstairs. I will have to go to the cliff for my coffee. I hear myself talking to Manu. Shut up. Maybe this is why it is so hard: I imagine having conversations all the time. Like I was preparing myself for talking whenever, wherever I am. I put on proper clothes, the only trousers and T-Shirt that give the impression they have been washed. Scarf over my head, smile at my chubby face in the mirror. I scribble down my silence-note.
The jungle is almost as quiet as me. No wind, no dogs barking, just birds and my footsteps.
“Good morning, beauty”, says the man behind the counter. I show him my note. “You’ve lost your speech”, he says. “She hasn’t lost her look”, says the customer on the chair besides me. “Cappuccino?” I nod, big smile.
I sit on the edge of the porch, the taste of cocoa on milk foam in my mouth. The warmth fills my stomach. Slowly I wake up. The beach is crowded already, as for what I can see from up here. White ladies in their bikinis, they walk around like models on a catwalk. The waves are soft, their distant sound playing in my ears. Indians shouting, playing cricket, walking in groups, stopping near the Westerners. A few loners fully dressed, in lotus seat, meditating. I say goodbye to the cliff in my head, march back, ignore the sound of kisses coming from a rooftop. Of course there is Sara. A huge Danish dog next to her. I wave. “You are still in silence”, she says. I nod. She continues to stroke the dog. I leave her, head for my room. Where I can be silent with myself.
I do Yoga for more than one hour. Time flies by, as I stretch and breathe, staying in different positions longer than usual. The sun is not as hot as yesterday. I should be silent more often. I should be more aware of what I say throughout my days. I understand the strongest desire in me is to say “thank you”. Although it feels comfortable now, not to speak. It is freeing. It releases me. Helps me to detach from the “outer world”. Truth doesn’t need words. It can be found in eyes.
I ask Manu for a fruit salad. I make a bowl with my hands and act as if I pour flakes over it. One fruit day is enough. The slices of mango, mixed with honey and rice flakes, taste like heaven. Literally. Sweet, squashy, scrumptious. I am convinced God lives in a mango tree.
It is about ten am. The street is getting busy. I walk over to my friends, after a quick shower. I knock on the door. “Come in”.
Sanjay still lying in bed, all by himself, laptop on his chest. “Silent?” I nod, show him my computer. He tells me to go on. I sit down, connect to the world, open tabs, enter passwords. He tells me about his fasting the day before. I open “Word” to exchange a few lines with him. It’s going on to eleven. His mobile beeps. “Bo says the waves are beautiful today.” I guess he and his wife are the only ones who continue talking to me while I am in silence. It astonishes me how rapidly people forget you exist, when you don’t talk. They look through you.
“I’m going for a quick swim”, he says. I write down a note, saying I’d join him, if he doesn’t mind.
The ocean is crystal clear. Sparkles of light in turquoise coloured water. Soft big waves leaping, periodic motion. The wind brings French words to my ears, only a few people go to the beach at eleven thirty. I jump over waves, hear bubbles of foam bursting. I can see seashells and a crab the size of my hand on the ground. I swim, breaststrokes, parallel to the shore. A girl screams, she stands precisely where the waves break. They hit her, twirl her around like in a washing machine. I swim back. I splash around for a while. A squeaky voice is singing in my head.
Down by the seashore, waves are bigger than normal. I ask you if I could flick around. You say, don’t think so. I just want you to believe, even though I know it’s impossible, for me.
Eagles circle above, searching for a fish to catch. I walk out with the next big wave, and sit in the sand. The water on my face dries in seconds.
There goes another day. Don’t suppose I come out to play, with you. I just sit at home, write another song, about how I wanted to.
We drive back. It’s twelve thirty. Half an hour. I think about what my first words will be. I take a shower, comb my hair, put my laundry in a box. Twelve fifty. I smoke a cigarette. I put on clothes, very slowly. At one pm I leave the house. The heat is omnipresent. Must be forty degrees. I walk towards the cliff, the Tuk-Tuk drivers “hello” me. One says “Silent day.” How come these people know everything.
The sun feels heavy on my naked shoulders. My hair is still wet, but it doesn’t cool my head. I enter the restaurant. My mobile says it is six minutes past one. Nobody to be seen. Great. I order a lemon soda, in silence. Joseph appears on the stairs. He gives me a big smile. “You’ve done it. Great.” He says it like he means it. I choke. I can’t say anything. I know I am already past it. I don’t want to speak shallow words. I feel like crying, all of a sudden. He sits down next to me. I tap on his shoulder, look at him. His eyes are green, a thin brown line around the iris. I know I don’t have to say anything now. But I say: “God be in my mouth and in my speaking.”
© Marianne Jungmaier, Varkala 2012