Here and there
When I was roaming around India many, many years ago – too many as a matter of fact which is why I have lately been considering a third trip to that huge and astounding country – there are a few memories which are always there, in my head, without me having to conjure them up. One of these apparently indelible and enduring images is reflected quite well in the photo which accompanies this JuicyLesson.
This photo is taken from the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album, commonly referred to as the Untitled Album or Led Zeppelin IV which was recorded in London. It hit the charts in 1971, and was soon after acclaimed a critical success (Wikipedia). This album includes the immortal Stairway to Heaven, a rock anthem if ever there was one and probably the most oft-played tune from this or any other album, as well as other famous cuts like Black Dog, Going to California, and Rock and Roll (Wikipedia). Guitarist Jimmy Page, drummer John Bonham, singer Robert Plant and keyboardist and bassist, John Paul Jones really had it together, didn’t they, whether you get off on their music or not. I never was a huge Zeppelin fan until I discovered or re-discovered their music when I was much older … (I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now)…and more ready to listen it, the great and long lead breaks giving one the time to digest and reflect, think, ponder, whatever. That ripping guitar riff in Stairway to Heaven never ceases to surprise and amaze regardless of how many times one hears it.
Now back to the album cover. It reminds me of the grizzled, beautiful old Tibetan man I saw in Dharamsala in northwestern India. Many Tibetans ended up there after fleeing their native land on the heels of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, beginning in the late 1950’s in the aftermath of the Chinese takeover of Tibet. Census data estimates put the number of Tibetans presently living in the diaspora to be approximately 150,000, with about 90,000 living in India with the rest disbursed throughout Burma, Nepal and Bhutan. (Wikipedia)
This old Tibetan man in this region rife with Tibetan refugees was trudging, seemingly aimlessly, around the dusty village streets hunched under a huge bundle of wood much like the guy in the photograph except the real-life bundle was slightly larger – believe it or not – than the one in the album cover photograph. I got the feeling then over forty years ago and get it now that the wood was not for any specific purpose except to keep the old man humble. It was his burden, plain and simple. Kept him down, as it were. Kept him hunched under this fairly substantial bundle of branches. Never got close enough to look into this guy’s eyes but I am sure they had light in them.
The light in the eyes of Indians and Tibetans calls for some elaboration. The one time I experienced this phenomenon in the west was at an airport where people from India were just deplaning. I guess living in the west beats the light right out of you and fast, too. As Joanie Mitchell sang “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. We Hippies have become convinced that Tibetans are the highest people on earth and I have no reason to doubt the truth of that belief.
To wit: I somehow found myself cold and hungry in a monastery of Buddhist monks with nightfall rapidly falling. I vaguely remember one of the monks making known the challenge which I had to confront: they wanted me to ask a good question or I would have to leave. I had, by this point, given away all my stuff including my passport as well as all of the few hundred dollars I had on me when I arrived in India from Pakistan. I was broke, cold and very hungry. I wish I could remember what I said but I ended up with a sweater and a nice place to sleep that night at least. I must have had something to eat as well. I kept the sweater as a reminder of what had happened. I have since lost it though but I remember that it was grey and white.
Another time I was led to the top of a hill by some soldiers and told I had Gandhi’s soul, quite something for a still wet behind the ears Jewish kid from Montreal and England. They must have been taking the piss out of me.
Finally while walking in some fields I consciously and purposely stepped in some cow manure. (I still remember the sound and the sensation associated with that act.) Next thing I know a beautiful and graceful Tibetan woman in a purple dress seemed to just materialize, taking me by my arm and leading me away from the field. She then knelt down and washed my feet.
Just because I spent three months in a psychiatric ward upon my return from this, my first trip to India, doesn’t make these stories any less true. I know what I know and remember what happened very well. Dropping acid in Amritsar on Guru Nanak’s birthday, in retrospect, was not the dumbest thing I ever did.