Tao

Published online by M Global

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And so it occurred to me that the place of our birth does not always bare refuge for the soul. A hunger waxed and waned in me to move through landscapes that evoked my creative spirit and stimulated my glands to release a sebum not of disdain for my external environment, but of delight. Australia is where my earthly citizenship belongs but the depth of history, which I longed to gorge myself in until my hunger became faint or another evolved, did not reside on the scorching bitumen or within the mirages that beamed above. The flora and fauna, although comforting and familiar, did not quench my thirst, but further entrenched creases into my brow as I squinted towards a sunburnt horizon. The evolution of species could not be transcribed by Alfred Russel Wallace until a bout of malaria shook and shivered his frame into a new perspective, paralysing his body in depth of thought, as circuits of the brain altered course, consequently providing enough evidence for fellow naturalist Charles Darwin to publish The Origin of Species. And I inturn questioned, how could I ever evolve in intelligence and physicality if the conditions which surrounded me did not also change, if they did not send me into fits of awe and wonder. I was destined for evolutionary corruption if I did not seek new lands. Henry David Thoreau suggested a man who does not work does not need to eat. Excess of any kind erodes the being. Excess of comfort encumbers the fault lines of the intuition, severs the electrical circuits of internal dialogue. Numb, one becomes an organism controlled by manmade signs rather than the internal compass which points true north.

A recent diary entry:

I trudged up the bitumen gradient, past lemon trees and a rooster, past a farmer on his tractor. My skin turned a warm red as blood vessels expanded and contracted in the midday Majorcan sun. I scrambled up the rocky sledges of my mind, all the while the transparent, ultra-blue Mediterranean beckoned me from down below. “Why are you up there?” I heard it say. “I have to take a look, I have to see what rests beyond common sight,” I called in response. The birds tinkered like delicate chimes in the trees and the wind moved throughout the Tramuntana mountain range in a sweeping whoosh. I reached an intersection and placed a metaphorical bet with my own mind: heads or tails? No coin was flung in the air, but a force moved me to the right and onwards towards Escallences. And as I continued along the open road, questions circumnavigated my mind. What is truth? Are these white stones beneath my feet honest, placed here by the hands of man? Or am I lending myself as an instrument to society by following the path they produce? Will love bind me to this earthly plane or set me free, the purest emotion of them all, as advocated in the holy texts of history? What life am I in now, is it my first or is it my last, or do I float somewhere in between in the womb of life?

But one cannot simply depart familiar shores and expect to undergo a bout of reprogramming. One must go alone. And in the same way an extended period of silence and meditation encourages the soul and the mind into a state of non-reactory observation, so too does the act of wandering through foreign landscapes alone where the spoken tongue is not familiar, thus forcing one to enter into an immediate and deep conversation with the internal. And once one has superseded this, perhaps they will experience something far more profound. The complete and utter feeling of aliveness, whereby the cells tingle and vibrate and the mind is clear and sharp. If life is sweetest closest to the bone, as Thoreau proclaims, than of what great benefit is it to neglect the very experiences that cut through the flesh of materialism and leave us raw and naked, exposed in entirety to the skeleton of life? In the dense cities where I frequently live, teeming with hustle and bustle, overpopulation and annihilation, there is minimal trace of the cartilage that formed our bones all those centuries ago. One is not awoken by the call of a rooster; one does not see a farmer ploughing his field by hand; or a baby lamb eating alongside its Mother; or a donkey grazing in a dry riverbed. Our veins are parched from substance and meaning.  We’ve paved over the pulse of existence, impoverished our own sense of being, and solidified our own destiny in a cauldron of illusionary structures of control.

Menicus said:

“There was once a time when the forests of the Niu Mountain were beautiful. But can the mountain any longer be regarded as beautiful, since being situated near the big city, the woodsmen have hewed the trees down? The days and nights gave it rest and the rains and the dew continued to nourish it, and a new life was continually springing up from the soil, but then the cattle and the sheep began to pasture upon it. That is why the Niu Mountain looks so bald, and when people see its baldness, they imagine that there was never any timber on the mountain. Is this the true nature of the mountain? And is there not a heart of love and righteousness in man, too? But how can that nature remain beautiful when it is hacked down everyday as the woodsmen chops down the trees with his axe? To be sure, the nights and days do healing and there is the nourishing air of the early dawn, which tends to keep him sound and normal, but this morning air is thin and is soon destroyed by what he does in the day. With this continuing hacking of the human spirit, the rest and recuperation obtained during the night are not sufficient to maintain its level, and when the nights recuperation does not suffice to maintain its level, then the man degrades himself to a state not far from the beasts. People see that he acts like a beast and imagine that there was never any truer character in him. But is this the true nature of man?

Is this the true nature of man? Is this the true nature of society and human existence? As we reach into the pocket of life searching for the key, the words of the Tao Te Ching can be heard in the passing wind:

Of fame or life,

Which do you hold more dear?

Of life or wealth,

To which would you adhere?

Keep life and lose those other things.

Keep them and lose your life:

Which brings sorrow and pain more near?

Microclimates

I hear the slaps from the hands of Gods proceed across the sky. A warning or a welcome? Rain pisses down, lightening strikes, thunder bolts, transparent worms lay still against the wet, marble tiles. I threw my coffee back, a thick black medicine, washing my dreams away. Beside me the fire cracked, moaning with desire. I stomped through puddles, a barricade to our bus, lost but soon found.

Small Child at Breakfast

I sipped the tea and suddenly missed my father. My mind sways through the emotions of being present and content and feeling anguish towards facets of returning to the West. A pendulum, left than right. His teeth are already incredibly eroded. I examine him as he examines himself in the small, pink mirror he holds in the palm of his hand.

Bạch hổ Hoạt Lạc Cao

My head lay on the pillow, slightly propped up by my elbow and forearm that acted as a pillar beneath. The tiger balm that I had momentarily ago rubbed into my shoulders, dabbed on my temples and beneath my nose had begun to sink deep into my skin. The intensifying heat a symbol of recognition. A remaining mosquito darted around the room, it was almost impossible to keep them all out. Somewhere, someplace, a tiny crack must grant them entry. I'd written a realisation in my phone at breakfast and I reflected upon it. A faint headache still troubled my mind. I had assumed it was dehydration that was the instigator, yet being reminded of the inclusion of MSG in the local food made me point the finger elsewhere. I wondered of the clothes that were being stitched and sewn together someplace near or someplace far. Would the money be worth it? I was slowly accumulating materialistic items as my travels progressed, torn as I am between wanting to rid myself of desires and excess and yet adorn myself in tailored threads, leather shoes and handwoven bags. The two worlds I have long danced between epitomised by this very scenario. I thought of the old coins that I'd let swim between my fingers down in the Old Town while the setting sun offered it's final shards of light which penetrated paths between the bustling tourists and Old French colonial buildings. The scent of raw seafood which lay open in baskets on the sidewalk had dominated the air. Vegetables in every colour provided a rich and diverse contrast to the natural toned, hand-woven baskets that hung from the roof of a stall on the opposite side of the esplanade. Glimpses of a river revealed itself when granted the opportunity. An ever-flowing fixed object, reflective of the incessant stream of thoughts in my stationary mind. Water, large masses of it, have always held the ability to keep me grounded, just as the ocean had successfully achieved the previous day. Perhaps it's rooted in my up-bringing, but I can only think it has this effect on most people no matter their narrative.

Bạch hổ Hoạt Lạc Cao (White Tiger Balm)

Arrival into Saigon

12.00 The flash of a foreigners camera feels like an electrical strike as the rain pounds down outside.

12.30 A food buzzer relentlessly beeps.

12.45 She shoves chopsticks and cutlery still dripping wet into plastic baskets of varying colours.

13.00 The handshake by the elderly woman plays out in my head over and over again.

13.15 A man to my right is served a steaming plate of small crustaceans. He sucks at one and a string of goo that resembles melted cheese elongates from his mouth attached to the shell he holds out in front. "Tissue?" He asks the young Vietnamese waiter who stands in blue gum boots, a red and white checkered shirt and trousers, holding a menu as a child beginning first grade would proudly hold their school hat.

14.00 You look very militant the Italian had observed. Are you here modelling? Have you been to Milan? Have you been to Italy? You look like my friend Laura, yet you are not. Can we take a selfie? I suppose my reluctance to answer his questions only encouraged him to ask more, "do you speak English?" Yes, I finally responded. Yes you can take a photo with me. Yes I've been to Italy. Yes I am a Model. No, I'm not in the military, but I will hurt you if you hurt me. The last line didn't leave my lips, but my mind attempted to decipher his coded intentions. The stall owner ushered us on wards and a thunder strike broke our line of conversation. He spun it is his favour in an attempt to continue to hold my attention. "Army Hannah get out your gun, quick it's war." I smiled at his attempt. "Go forth Army Hannah. I'm with the Australian," he proclaimed. "In Italy we don't fight. Peace and love." He paused and reflected. "Except food, we fight over food." I grew bored of the pleasant small talk. I was travelling alone for a reason. I brought the conversation to a cul-de-sac, turned around and walked away. "Let me know when you are in Milan. I'll whatsapp you..." His words drifted into the atmospheric rush of noise behind me.

16.00 I posted two letters from the royal post office, Ho Chi Min stared down upon me. 45, 000 she typed into the calculator and spun it around so it would face me. I bathed the stamps on the skin of the wet sponge before sticking them on the resigned space of the post cards. She pointed to a blue basket, I tossed them in and progressed towards the entrance, negotiating a path through the barricade of people. "She's rather tall isn't she", the overweight American observed.

16.45 Lemongrass and peach iced tea wets my throat. The beeps persist. I sit overlooking another construction site. Infrastructure is obviously booming.

19.05 I was the first to leave the red velvet seating. She called my name. Disbelief halted me. I turned to see her standing before me. The hair of Brigitte Bardot in the attire of Patti Smith; we embraced. "Have you eaten?" "No, should we?" "I know the perfect place. It has an old elevator, you will love it." She affixed the flash to her Canon AE-1. I affixed my khaki cap with the iconic red Vietnamese star stamped on the front. The traffic flew passed her back. The Opera House stood proudly in place behind mine. She took my photo and our journey began.

Arrival into Saigon.

Primavera

But what of the clouds that salute equality with their greyness. What of the wind that licks at the leaves with a strong hunger. What of the ocean that's turned brown and wild. And what of her heart that's unsure of itself.

La Dolce Vita

A 23-year-old girl concludes writing in her diary words to a man who occupies a quadrant of her heart. She intends to brush passed artworks admiring the gallery’s exhibitions. She purchases a ticket, but a corridor entices her. A loud speaker pierces the sullen noise and announces the showing of a film. She knows nothing of its nature. She descends three levels, following an intuitive trail. A woman hands her a brochure and informs her the film will be three hours in length. Her stomach is empty; her mind’s curiosity seeks nourishment for them both.

‘La Dolce Vita’

Starring Hannah McDougall

Black and white, the film is Italian. It’s 1960s Rome and the camera stalks Marcello as he journeys in a fruitless search for love and happiness. An hour or more passes quickly, her mind victim to the abyss of foreign dialogue. She resonates with the female protagonist ‘Maddalena’.

A ten-minute interval arises and so does she from the darkness of the theatre. Dim lights and a trail of shuffling bodies lead her through the double doors. She steps out into the bright walls and marble floors of the gallery, reminded of reality. She considers moving onto another scene, she wonders of her close friend, she writes to him…

“Tonight?”

He responds instantly, “Are you coming?”

“What time and where?” She inquires.

He doesn’t respond as quickly as she’d hoped. She passes again through the double doors. The theatre lights dim once more, she’s floating in the darkness of limbo. Her phone vibrates, the male protagonist moves from the screen of the cinema to that of her mobile phone. She cancels the call and stands immediately. Reaching her fingertips out lightly, she beacons her fedora hat that occupies the seat beside her to join in her departure. She returns the cancelled call; his voice closes the space between them.

“Where are you?”

“The gallery”, she responds.

“Walk out onto the front steps, we’ll collect you.”

“Okay.”

“What are you wearing?” “Actually it doesn’t matter, I’m sure you look as graceful as usual.”

She hesitates, but accepts, swallowing her doubts as she moves through the gallery towards the entrance. The large wooden door frame surrounds her briefly, a bordered moment in time. She steps out of one Italian film and into another. She leans upon one of the four, tall sandstone pillars, her gaze cast outwards into the neighbouring park. She hears a shutter blink, she turns, her eyes meet with those of a man, but his words capture her first.

“You’re as beautiful as my daughter”, he takes a breath “I had to take a photo of you.”

She wonders of the photograph that resides inside the metal casing as she exchanges small words with the man. She considers asking to see, yet resists so. She gifts the stranger her own reflection. She moves, trying to settle the ounce of anxiety swimming through her veins. ‘Are they actually coming’, she ponders. ‘How long will they be?’ she wonders. She plucks her shoulder from the pillar and perches on the handrail of the stairs, her feet dangling in the heated breeze. Two women immersed in a rainbow puff of flowing material waft passed her. They appear as two characters from a play.

“You look like a sculpture yourself sitting there. You look beautiful.”

Their words settle her. She thanks them and smiles. They’re gone from the setting when a familiar voice calls her name. An arm coated by a maroon, silk sleeve waves in the air. She follows its command. They embrace.

“You look beautiful”, he assures her.

“I’m in scuffed converse shoes, I need a tie!” She exclaims.

Another man opens the door of the car, penetrating their banter. She slides onto the leather seat; his suit jacket and Ferrari cap greet her. The men strap their seat belts across their chests and resume their conversation. He looks at her in the rear view mirror; she’s suddenly apart of their universe.

The car becomes still beside the pavement, all thee characters ascend from their doors. The younger male fixes a yellow tie for the older male while she watches in fascination from afar. She wonders of the day she will adorn her neck with such. An air of conversation follows them down the street as they wave to fellow guests who drive by. The older gentleman explains to the younger characters the profiles of each guest – a fast tracked education in social elitism. They bypass the women crossing names off a list and proceed up the sandstone stairs and into an obscure scene boarded by faces reflected by gold-rimmed mirrors, shards of chandeliers and a constant flow of champagne. She peers at her feet floating on a sea of antique carpet. Waves of human energy sway passed her gently. He stands beside her, an island of familiarity within an unfamiliar sea. Conversation and introductions proceed; topics of art are muffled by opinions on politics, overlaid with insights into property development and inquiries into genealogy.

“You look too exotic to be Australian”, a jury of three Asian women announce to her.

She drags herself out of her own thoughts, lost in questions beyond theirs. He brings her back to the surface with his statement.

“Let's go outside, I need a cigarette.”

They ascend the multilayered, manicured garden. A tennis court boarder to their left, a hedge to the right secures their isolation from others eyes. He lights up, she reclines on her elbows; their outlook is bright, a harbour of dreams lies just beyond sight.

All are seated on their return; they await the male performers arrival. She applies pressure with a brush of her fingers on the keys beneath, the piano responds. His mouth is ajar, Italian opera fills the room. They sit content, legs cross than uncross, their heart full, wide smiles breech their faces. The clock behind dimes in rhythm, she taps her foot, a man turns his head revealing his right profile. She brings her foot to a halt. The music sews in and out of the humans, binding them together in the fabric of existence.

The night continues on wards, locations change. Rain falls gently as the wander passed bars, pausing occasionally at traffic lights. Like a stage set created for a film, they explore each corner and every light and every shadow before moving on wards. She eventually slides back off the leather seat, bidding goodnight to the suit jacket and Ferrari cap. She lays a single kiss on each cheek of the gentlemen before closing the car door on her goodbye. The credits of the film begin to roll as she takes her final evening stroll and lays her head down to rest.

Buying Time

I fell into conversation with a native of Sri Lanka, his pseudonym was Sugar. The boys were interested in the herbs he dealt, I tried to hide my disinterest within the haze of smoke that encompassed the table. I watched as small droplets of sweat peeled away from the skin of condensation the glasses of beer wore. A hushed orchestra of bartering played out around me, “how many grams for this many rupees?” Across the courtyard a mural of Shiva stared down upon us.

“She’s angry”, he said. He inhaled deeply, small red ashes ignited in the veil of night's darkness and the sizzle of burning paper ended the passing moment. His brown eyes darted from Shiva’s to my own. His eyes were familiar, but than again, so were his red gums, a commonality of the locals. “In 2055, the world will end.” He’d won my attention, but I didn’t award him with a reaction. “The 29th Buddha will return, bringing forth ferocious winds, rain and tsunamis. Some men living in nature will foresee the end of the world and move to higher ground. They are the good people and will be saved.”

There’s a prophecy that the peoples of the Amazon and Andes hold close to their heart, it’s that of the “The Eagle and the Condor”. The prophecy postulates that the Eagle people, those that live primarily through the mind and are materially rich will reach a peak in their capacity and be forced to come together with the Condor people, those that live from the heart in communion with nature. They will realise they are each other. However, this transition, acknowledged as the change from the ninth pachacuti to the tenth, will bring with it tsunamis, huge climatic changes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. In this way, Pachamama (“Mother Earth”) will humble all her creatures.

“The land wants to tell you what’s going on. What’s it trying to tell us, for its sake and for the entire countries sake?” These questions posed by Australian Desert Expeditions lead wanderer Andrew Harper and the man who would later extend a welcome for me to accompany their crew into the Australian Simpson Desert struck a cord close to my heart. If there’s anyone who spends enough time listening to nature so much so that they could predict when to move to higher ground to survive Shiva and Pachamama’s ferocious awakenings, it's Harper. I wandered with him and his twelve camels for ten days from the East border of the Simpson Desert towards the West, following the salute of the sun. I became an amateur, but passionate Cameleer. A student to the 800kg creatures and a student to the land. I allowed wisdom delivered by those who’ve read the country to rest in every crevasse of my skin with the grains of the golden sand that adorns the landscape.

“The Australian Desert represents a huge percentage of the Australian continent in area. Forty-five percent of the Australian continent is estimated to not be surveyed by Australian scientists and ecologists. So it is important to actually find out what’s going on out here. What’s living here, what use to live here, what’s living here now that may be impacted by climate change, by fire, by the impact of man and invasive species. And unless you know what’s going on in the country than you can’t manage it. And the only way to know for this particularly area is to get out here on foot and have a look around," Harper says to the camera as he perches upon one of the one thousand, one hundred sand dunes that sprawl into the red-hued horizon.

I held the cold, grinding stone to my cheek, its smooth surface enforced by those who had come before. It wasn’t the first Aboriginal artifact I’d come across, but I felt a preference for it. “I’m sorry”, I said and gently laid the stone back down in the dry riverbed from which it came. But sorry just doesn’t quite cut it anymore. The phrase is thrown around as readily as a cigarette butt to the gutter. The question is, where to from here?

Should we sentence all Australian citizens out into The Simpson Desert on expeditions to awaken their senses and evoke that connection to land that has surely been severed, just as the convicts were shipped to Australian shores as Britain’s prison system was at the brink of exhaustion? Or do we rely solely on the efforts of a small few to collect the information we need to change our ways, such as those ecologists, scientists, artists and nature enthusiasts that accompany Harper’s annual trips? Religious or not, there’s a force that deserves your devotion and it’s the land from which you were born and land into which you will retire. We’ve wrought her of her possessions to sustain an idealised understanding of what it means to be a productive civilisation for a period with an expiry date that has long been and gone.

And so I ask you, dear reader, would you rip limbs from your own Mother? Starve her of the very nutrients she needs to sustain basic life? Would you plough through her lungs, bulldozing the branches of her ribs? Mine the riches of her heart? Just because there isn’t blood on your hands, it doesn’t mean you’re innocent. The red soil is running through the hourglass quicker then I think we, as a collective society, care to realise. “How many grams for this many rupees?” he asked. “Sorry there’s nothing left”, she said. And with that, Pachamama told the sun and moon to rest, they would not rise again.

For more information on Australian Desert Expeditions click HERE

Just Kids

I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.

We threw the final bags in the back; there was an unintended theme of leather and a palette of beige and brown.  The unlocking twist of a wine bottle lid and the smooth engine igniting occurred simultaneously. We drove into the full moon. The stars shone bright, the rain fell hard. We retracted the sunroof and reclined in the back seats. Red wine stained my white shirt. Rain droplets blessed our faces. The night was young and so were we.

I receded into the music of my imagination.

“It’s 11:11. Make a wish,” she said in her sweet tone. I wished for all the wishes to come true.

He picks the locks of her dreams with her own hairpin.

“Grab your camera”, she called from afar. She was the Queen of the crisp white sand castle. “Here you take it” I called in response. The sand hugged my limbs. She shook her head. I rose reluctantly and placed my poncho on to cover my bare breasts. “Is Jai doing something profound?” I inquired. “He has a habit of doing that.” I ascended the dune, following the shadow of her trail and descended down the other side. There he lay, side-by-side with a Kangaroo. Japanese tourists photographed him from a distance. I raised my camera and became one of them.

I had wondered why I had dreamt that, but then again, why do we dream about anything?

He leaned forward and lit her cigarette. She wore a leather jacket with the USA flag tattooed on the back. Together they gnawed at corncobs, together they stoked the fire. His lungs called out, he coughed. She squatted by his side, observing. Black socks, black Birkenstock's. The fire surrendered, the wood ignited. Smoked dates stuck to their foil nest surrounded by a fortress of red wine glasses.

Stay calm was the message telegraphed from his pale blue eyes.

I sat cross-legged on the dark volcanic rocks. A symphony of frog croaks played out around me. I closed my eyes and was transported. The wind blew her blonde hair. She held a bottle of Shiraz loosely in the palm of her hand. The silhouette of two surfers bobbed on the horizon. The sky was a burnt orange hue. The ferocious wind whipped at my back. A black turtleneck and bikini bottoms would grant me warmth only for so long. The crackling fire would beacon us back. I took her hand. Home was one direction. Yet the wind blew another.

It occurred to me as the morning light flooded the small dining area, that without a doubt we sometimes eclipse our own dreams with reality.

It was quiet yet so very loud with thoughts. The scratch of a match being lit. The clouds came back. A butterfly danced in my right peripheral. “Blue or purple?” she asked. Her fingers glided through my hair, two braids emerged. The sun returned. My book cast a shadow on my notepad. I scrawled the word Euphoria.

Perhaps I should be concerned why I have conversations with inanimate objects.

“I feel like a cigarette,” she said. I handed her the vintage tin collected at Bombay’s thieves market. Hit the road jack and don’t come back no more, she sung. He caught my eyes. American Indian. He wore a national park t-shirt. Who was he? It was an innocent car chase between a silver Mercedes and a black Lexus. We took a left down a dirt road. The sun was fading fast. He was beautiful. His eyes were locked on the road. Mine were locked on his.

The compass was old and rusted but it still worked, connecting the earth and stars. It told me where I was standing and which way was West but not where I was going and nothing of my worth.

They sat, eyes shifting from cards to competitors. Quick sips of wine before slamming the next move down with force. The scented candle intertwined their auras. They rubbed the melted wax into their skin.

We didn’t stay long in Saint Laurent. We went seaside but the turtle reserves were off-limits.

You can’t take it all too seriously I thought. The moment you do you sell your soul to the devil. Three dolphin’s backs breached the ocean surface.

Yesterday’s poets are today’s detectives, limping exhausted into the sunset.

 I turned the coarse pages with my fingertips. The ocean crashed into the shore thunderously in the near distance. A barricade of native bush land divided us. Page 141. She returned from the sea. Her hair was wet. Her hands were cold. They emerged together. They pried the final speaks of sleep from their weary eyes, induced by a night plagued by mosquitoes. They poured coffee. I heard the keys rattle. He left.

The Ghost of a flea, what was William telling me.

I wedged myself out from beneath the weight of pillows, blankets and his sleep-ridden body. The fire still crackled. I’d visit the moon before I gave into sleep. I turned the final page. Good night Patti, it’s been a real pleasure. I gently enchanted him out of the depths of his abyss. Come on Darling, let’s go to sleep.

I salute you, Akutagawa. I salute you, Dazzi. Don’t waste your time on us, they seemed to say, we are only bums. All writers are bums, I murmured. May I be counted among you one day.

 

Death in the Desert

Hanging upside down the chicken squawked, extending its arms out wide, wired in defense. The sun caused its shadow, eloquently defined on the bare sand canvass beneath us. I had hoped all the blood rushing to its small head would place it in some elated state, its quietness suggested such. An empty riverbed would make for a place to rest. The syllable of "ch" was commanded three times in a trained attempt to encourage the camels to fold their gangley legs inwards and kneel down to the sand for our disembarkment. Such proud, nonchalant creatures; I could feel their eyes roll into the back of their heads as they bowed down, chewing and munching loudly in the process. We unpacked, unsaddled and the four of us walked over to a nearby tree. The men knelt down, the pocket knife flicked open smoothly as per design, a moment of silence and a prayer spoken before the sharp metal met its neck and blood squirted, a single speck on Mata's white singlet before draining out into a small pool accumulating within and staining the sand. The skin was pulled off, the feathers offering no resistance. I had prepared myself for horror, there was none; there wasn't a single tear shed. We returned to the campfire as three. Chai was served, I lay still thinking, staring up into the blue abyss above while goats meandered around me. J was in my distant vision tuning the guitar, the riverbank walls serving as a backrest, the sun a blanket of warmth over his bare chest that longed for its familiar love. The curry was prepared from scratch, as was the chapatti; the two complimented one another when their creation was final. My curry contained the liver. I shared it with the other two knowing what nutrients rest in this organ. I suppose someone consumed the heart. We carried on after lunch. The vast desert landscape our playground. We passed through gypsy villages where water troughs existed for the camels to quench their sure thirst and wells to quench ours. Children with dark kohl boarding their eyes emerged from the veil of dust that hid what lay a kilometer ahead; we would hear their cries for rupees before we saw them. We would hold our ring studded hands high as they wafted around our bodies looking for something loose enough to pry. Their hisses made me yelp inside. I knew they could suck from me whatever it was they wanted, so I lowered my gaze and held my camel close.

We spiced our chai with camel milk opium that evening. Perhaps that's what caused the campfire smoke to coil with such art, or the stars to glisten and speak with such intensity, our dreams wild as a result. I played with children among a rock bed when I saw my first tiger appear by our sides, they weren’t concerned and once I realised how natural it was, nor was I. I laughed at the thought of others journeying on safaris to view such creatures in their natural habitat when they are right here in front of us all along. As I turned back a lion leaped over us, its paws offering a sound as they met the ground. Its mane soft and thick. While I was meeting such beasts in my dreams, J was attempting to calm a tall, slender, dark gypsy woman that had journeyed from the horizon into his. Mata was offering a desert man chai and assuring him we knew our place out here. Three days passed, time elapsed, the sun rose and set and chai fuelled us. Wild female camels roamed freely and this made for tough terrain when our young male camels smelt their pheromones rising with the heat. My camel would froth at the mouth, he was tied tight, but he sought escape when we rested for tea or food. He did, we chased him, we caught him, he was punished and it broke my heart. I washed the dishes in silence, I was pissed off, I didn’t like the way his legs were bound with rope forcing him to hop and fall with each attempt to walk. Come afternoon we chewed on more camel milk opium crystals, they looked and tasted like small cubes of brown sugar, but that bitter ending taste reminded you of the contents. Its effect was never immediate for us like it was to Mata; it emerged only subtly in our dreams. Synthetic drugs hold no integrity in my eyes, but those born from nature do and I am open to what heightened understanding they can grant me, achieved in my opinion, through respect of their purpose rather than abuse.

Mata offered to take us to his village, but it was a journey too far. However, when “three hours to my village” suddenly turned to “one hour” there was ground for discussion. "What should we do J?” I called to the side, yet I was met by murmurs from a shadow of J’s former self swaying side to side behind me. We had no bearings, distances were determined by sand dunes or windmills and time by the sun, how could we have known what voyage lay before us. “Alright Mata, one hour, if only it will take one hour, then to your village we go.” In that moment Mata set the camels into a gallop and gallop we did on wards, short cutting through tall cactus fields, I had to flick my legs one side then the other to avoid scraping against their vicious spikes. Everything was spiky out there; everything was in defense against its harsh surroundings. One hour felt like many, many more and what pain we felt. We weren’t sure we could go on. Unlike a horse, no rhythm can be formed when riding a camel. It’s an awkward gait at best, let alone when set in galloping motion. I switched between yoga poses, stretching my thighs and re-positioning by bottom, but it was bone on bone. Mata stopped to take a phone call, J groaned in pain, I knew it was worse for him than I, J being of the male sex. But hell, I couldn’t go on in this state. I pulled J and his camel up alongside mine in order to pass the pocket knife between our hands, then gave slack to the rope and let them fall back into the shimmering landscape of sun and sand behind me. "DO NOT gallop the camels without my word Mata, understand?" I'd hoped he heard me over whatever conversation he was engaged via his phone. The wounds on our feet were struggling to heal, let alone an implanted knife in my groin. I slid the pocketknife between my skin and underpants, cutting vigorously until the material gave way and then I proceeded to cut the other side. I smirked with delight as I pulled what was left of my G-string out, shoving it in my boots that hung freely from the camels saddle and passed the pocketknife back. It felt invigorating to be free of such a layer, particularly in such a conservative culture. “You better wash my knife!” called J. “Fuck off!” I responded. Had my underpants continued to rub anymore there wouldn’t be much skin left to rub come the end of this seemingly epic voyage. Skinny kids, bony arses and camels ain't no easy ride. We collapsed into a meditative state until I finally accidentally dropped my camera cap and it just so happened to also be the point to “ch, ch, ch” the camels for the final time and walk the remaining distance into the village. A train of deer leaped before us, their hooves delicately kissing the sand. Vultures the size of humans supervised the carcass of an adult goat, yet it was a small puppy that gnawed at its remains. The gypsy children came running all dressed in white. A kite designed from a single plastic bag drifted aimlessly in the wind of their sprint. They snatched my Akubra from me as I drew close, the mother placing it on her child. It looked ill fitted against their dark olive skin and colourfully pigmented clothes. “Come come rest,” Mata requested. We plonked ourselves down on a woven mat and then I lay. The exhaustion was overbearing. Mata's Mother, like all intuitive Mothers must have seen through our guises and brought us a tennis ball size of something sweet. We divided it among ourselves and consumed. Masala, sugar, milk, oil, my mind wasn’t registering the spoken ingredients, but the taste buds were satisfied. Chai followed, I could feel my body come alive again, like a fleeting electrical shock that awakens all cells (I’d had plenty of those in Sri Lanka using electrical sockets exposed to the ocean elements). We were told to choose a goat for our lunch but a life needn’t be spared for our stomachs this time. “Just chapatti, please.” We ate, rested, sat, the women braided my hair and attempted to dress me as one of their own as I chopped potato’s with a swiss army knife and tried to see through my eyes that weeped from the heavy smoke caused by the burning of cow dung. I took the appearance of a purple Mother Teresa. We had no idea of our coordinates, but a jeep was on course to find us. We all sat side by side in the section of shade the roof granted, our backs against the mud and sandstone hut, our feet bathing in the sun. The children pulled old shoes by rope, goats drunk from the shared water can, women my own age nursed babies on their hips and sewed clothes, we sipped more chai and the mind felt as desolate a landscape as that vast sandy mirage we’d come walking on in from not so long ago.

The Indian Rails

Old men squat to shit. Small shanty clusters are lost among a sea of rubbish. Two women adorned in patterned pashminas, both varying shades of red, stand out against the dry, dusty backdrop. They converse, one of them spits. A boy leans on a window encased by a brick building, his malnourished frame exaggerated against the stern structure. He soaks in the morning light, does he have one leg or two? Another orange-haired Indian, it bewilders me. I can't photograph or film this, my camera stays still on the blue leather booth that was my bed last night.

Kailash

It’s awfully hard to sleep when there’s an assault of the senses happening all around you, even when it’s half past midnight, you’re fatigued and there’s a small castle of pillows and blankets seducing you to give in. So I devote this piece to the man behind the wheel, the man with my life in his hands (yet another one) as we speed past elaborately painted cargo trucks one after another, hitting the brakes hard as the front wheels lightly touch the ‘rumble strips’ (multiple speed bumps) that were non-existent until the headlights illuminated their form. When I first met Kailash the moon was full, it was a Saturday. It’s been exactly a week unintentionally and as I lay my head against the glass side-door window, my feet on the other, I see the moon has lost half of it’s whole. The stars have presence due to the lack of electricity. Eccentric Hindi music blares from the speakers, I’m thankful I have the entire backseat to myself so I can rest my head a distance from the elated beats and sprawl my limbs out long. Sleeping seems a far off phenomenon in this environment. Kailash is a rebel without a cause. He likes driving Westerner’s, not because of their nature, but because of their ignorance to Indian road rules. He overtakes left, he overtakes right, I can’t understand Hindi but I can understand expressions and he’s got attitude. At first I was taken back, but ever since we hummed Om together in a sacred cave during a brief lull between the on slaught of tourists (trust me, it took me by surprise) I’ve felt we have an understanding of one another. Perhaps because I’m always sitting in his rear view mirror and he’s watched me from afar. Perhaps because I tease him for chewing tobacco and my humour has finally eased it’s way into the heart of closed Indian man. It feels like we’ve made a multitude of stops since our departure a young two hours ago from the ashram for reasons I’m unsure. At one stop we exchanged tools with a young boy, I think I saw him return into his clay hut with a screwdriver of sorts. Then there was petrol, but that one I’ll let slide, it’s an 8-hour drive after all and we all need sustenance, including the vehicle. Tea break was next, heated using a hand-blower encased in clay to ignite the coals that would heat the masala tea, served hot in a short glass with the glares and questions of inquisitive young Indian boys. They blew me kisses once the boy’s heads were turned; the flattery wore off weeks ago. I had inquired with Kailash why our man making tea had disappeared into the far corner with the sieve; “anything is possible in India Hannah.” I think there was a misunderstanding between our dialects; I assume the man returning from taking a piss in the open was whom Kailash thought I was referring too. We had a flight at 5.20pm, I figured we’d be in Mumbai by then, but until then I’d just being reclined on the backseat conjuring up stories, finding humour in the roadside signage “God praises good drivers” “Be late but don’t be late” “Time is money but life is more valuable” and waiting to see what comes first, sleep or another sporadic pit stop. I’m placing my bets/rupees on the latter.  

Tapovan

We slipped in and out of sleep during the 9hr commute to the ashram. Hunger had long given up. Our throats were dry from the dust, lips course from the wind whipping at our faces and hair knotted from a combination of the two. We stopped for food, but the extensive menu had no appeal. We allowed Kailash to order for us, our only input was “spicy.” Our taste buds had enthusiastically adapted to the local cuisine, our craving for chili boarding on an addiction. We could have greater vices I suppose. We washed down the curry and Nan with tea, of course, and chewed fennel seeds as we paid the bill. By our next stop the full moon had risen. Bombay’s city scape of high risers was replaced with a landscape of flat desolate plateaus and vast monoliths rising in the distance. The dust fractured the light and it lent a romantic lens to view our surroundings through. I’ve always felt more comfortable in a wide-open space than a congested one; I could feel my energy shift. We weaved in and out of colourful trucks carrying various loads. Trishaws built for four passengers carried twenty. We sped past vineyards and villages. Our speed approaching 100kms an hour with no seat belts, yet death never felt close, not even when we almost met the semi trailer head on. There’s an understanding among the traffic, an unspoken language. You place your trust in the local driver and in the use of the horn. Hindi music kept us savvy until the tires came to a calm. The indicator flashed left and the car headlights illuminated the front gate, Tapovan. Fairy lights flickered among the trees; excitement still lingered within our fatigue. We succumbed quickly to sleep, but we’d arrived. We’d arrived at Tapovan.

Full Moon Rising

It wasn’t our intention to leave for the family ashram on full moon, it just so happened to occur that way. We entered into it blindly, yet confidently. We paid our due bill at the Carlton, said our farewells and threw back the final sips of our sweet black tea, the glass still warm on my fingertips. Kailash was awaiting us downstairs. He knew what lay ahead. We sped out of Bombay on empty stomachs; there wasn’t time to eat that morning. The early hours were spent at the Police station filling out a report for my stolen bag the day prior. The officers made me chuckle, it was all too casual to be taken seriously. My report was lodged among discussion of the cricket and offerings of tea and coffee. I wrote my statement by hand and they proofread it, slowly, their English not strong. The chief officer complimented my writing and with a smile of pleasure said “you write a good police report, you want to be a Police Officer?” I laughed. “Because I can arrange that,” he said. I laughed again. Becoming a Police Officer was one career prospect I hadn’t considered until that moment, let alone in India. “I find your uniforms very charming, I think I’d look good in one, perhaps someday, but not today,” I responded. It was his turn to laugh. My report took time. A pleading man was dragged through the room; he held his hip in pain. The next time I saw him he was unconscious, being carried out the front doorway on a stretcher with a thick stream of dark, red blood emerging from his mouth. A Hindi woman sat in the booth next to me nursing a child with tears trapped in the rims of her dark eyes. She was searching for something within mine, but I had nothing to offer her. Finally, two thin pieces of paper with the scenario was stamped, stapled and handed to me. We walked out the door, sighed and hailed a cab.

Thieves

It was the first time I’d allowed myself to appear clean, really clean, in 55 days. I didn’t necessarily want to dress that way, in fact it felt contradictory to my environment and I questioned it more then once before walking onto the street and into the day. Yet, I was meeting with my modelling agency and some care ought to be considered when undergoing a business encounter, at least in my opinion. I must have stood out like a 6ft golden-haired cash sign as I wafted through the marketplace, the ‘thieves market’. The streets laden with dust and cow dung a stark contrast to my crisp, clean ankle length vintage French collared dress, black and white stripped and 70s inspired. A black pashmina hung loose around my shoulders and a small bag hung from its material straps around my wrist. Were they following us from the moment we stepped out of the car? I mean, in retrospect, what the fuck was I thinking trying on men’s trousers within a predominately Muslim marketplace in the outskirts of Bombay. I’d found a somewhat hidden alleyway protected from public glare to slip the pants on to try for size, but they too had found the perfect pocket to corner us and cause a scenario that would unfold gracefully into the palms of their greedy hands. The shouting wasn’t real, the reason for their shouting was certainly not necessary, but at the time, in their foreign language how could we have known. Our vulnerability and its harsh consequences were self-induced. I knew it was gone before I could even look. The scarf that had hidden it was removed and the wooden box that had cradled my bag by my side, empty. “Please God, this can’t be so, don’t do this to me, not right now.” Despite my somewhat atheist beliefs, in times of desperation I always find myself asking for assistance from some higher power, I suppose that’s how most find religion. It’s been a pattern of mine since the time of my parents divorce when I use to pray for them to stay together, it didn’t work of course, nor did it on this day. And so there I stood shaken, a fortress of curious men surrounded me. Tears rolled down my face, one for the loss of a large sum of money, another for the photos and videos of new-found friends stored on my phone and a third for the letters to loved ones that will never be read. Life’s funny with its irony. I lose some of my most materialistic possessions the day before I leave for an ashram. The people bit the hand that would feed it abruptly and without hesitation. I would have invested all that money into their culture, into those that were hungry for it, but it was snatched from me prematurely. It was a blurry-eyed departure from the antique marketplace; my eyes remained wet with sadness and anger for sometime after, as did the adrenaline that resided in my muscles. I can only hope all the financial worth in that bag finds its way into the lives of those I romantically daydreamed about as I journeyed further North. Among the bumper-to-bumper, beep-to-beep commute I heard a whisper - welcome to India.

Denied

We’re young, we’re naive, we missed our flight to Mumbai. No Sir, no Madam, you need a visa to board this flight. We walked out the hotel and dropped the room card at the vacant desk, we rode a tuk tuk, we walked through security, the tickets were printed, they almost touched my hand. He ripped them up, gave back our passports, we turned around, rode a tuk tuk, picked up our room card still waiting patiently for our return and walked back through our room door. It was 4am when we departed; it was 5.30am when we returned. The sun had still not risen. We fell back asleep and woke with the light. Perhaps it was all just a dream. A costly dream at that.

Foreigner

You ask my name, where I'm from, whether I'm married and do I have children. I know what you're doing, I know what you're thinking. You sit with your legs spread wide pushing up against my thigh. You look at me with hungry eyes, that you hide behind a red-toothed smile. There's three handles yet of course you choose the one above my knee, oh how subtle of thee. I tuck myself beneath a blanket of luggage, but I feel you peel it back with your gaze, it's too early for this bullshit, there's still morning haze. Does your four-armed flashing God at the head of the bus approve of you? A child occupying his Mother's knee stares at me from across the aisle. What does he see, what does he think? The bus hounds down the highway, beeping, braking, beeping, braking. My hair whips at my face. I make my escape and stumble to the back of the bus where other females reside, a life-vest of femininity among a murky masculine sea. I sit frustrated, staring down the aisle. Heads turn, I feel you all, like a swarm of crocodiles waiting, wading, beady eyes hovering above the head rests. You tell me I'm special, that you'll never forget me, you think I have power, you try to impress me. I don't care for your assets, your cars, homes and gems, I can't grant you citizenship to my homeland. No I won't come stay with you. I want to climb out the window, but I push through you all. The door is so close when I feel your hand brush with pressure high between my thighs. Your oblivion is staged, but my anger is not. You think our contrasting skin is some excuse, you think our differing genders is some game. You honor the cows to which roam free, but you're void of respect for someone like me. I escape the bus and fall into familiar arms. He removes the black soot from my face, but your behaviour selfish man, is a unforgettable disgrace.

Kissing Bitumen

We met in the surf; his board had a rainbow under wash. He spoke softly, he moved graciously, he cared little for how many waves he could conquer. I asked where he was going for dinner, he responded with a statement, “you’re welcome to join.” I didn’t answer yes immediately, though I knew I would go. He told me his parents were stiff, so I asked whether I should wear shoes. “Of course you should, you’ll be on the back of a motorbike.” I could have argued the contrary; instead I slid my sandals on for the first time in weeks and adjusted to the foreign feeling. I tucked my kaftan between my thighs and slid on the back of the bike. I was conjuring up this story when the bike hit the bitumen. I lay unscathed on the opposite side of the road to what we should have been travelling on, the motorbike that should have met us head on was humming in neutral gear a meter or so away and the tuk-tuk driver that had carelessly forced us there remained seated, leaning out to admire his doings from a distance. I dislodged my foot gently pinned, picked up my rouge Birkenstock and walked somewhat out of harms way, a dozen brown, masculine, Sri Lankan eyes locked on me. I moved my tongue in my mouth, I could feel dust grit merged with saliva from the conversation we were engaged in while the world flew past us in the form of buses, trucks, tractors, families of four on one motorbike, stray dogs, cows and Buddha statues tall enough that I was forced to arch my neck back to observe their entirety. There was an unpleasant taste in my mouth and unease to my step when the 60km coastline stretch finally came to an end and we cut the motor. Perhaps it was resent, or perhaps it was because I’d just danced delicately in deaths front garden. I walked down to the sand and starred out to sea, it churned like my stomach, the afternoon wind had risen. The clouds hid the sunset and I tried to hide my dread about the return ride home under night’s veil of darkness.

New Perspectives are Golden

I’m sitting in my favourite organic cafe in Bondi, I’ve just been gifted an extra pumpkin nori roll for the price of one and I inquire why. “Because you’re tall and beautiful,” he responds. I wish the waiter good karma, take both rolls and fill my pleading stomach. It’s this same appearance that merited me with a well-paying job this weekend, but even more so, merited me with the opportunity to challenge the attachment to my own bodily form and surrender to two different identities over the course of two days. My face and body became the canvas for someone (who it became known to me through the sheer awe and appreciation that resonated from within his audience’s faces and reactions) is a somewhat renowned American makeup artist within the industry. I had brief feelings of anxiety when my Agent explained to me what this particular job would entail. “You’re body will be painted completely gold” she had said, “but you’re looking fabulous and you’re confident, you’ll be fine.” The fear I carried wasn’t related to lack of self-confidence, it was more correlated with the concept of spending an entire weekend in a hall of people and events solely existing to celebrate makeup – you know, that artificial paint people use to hide behind (I’ll be frank, I don’t even own foundation).  Nonetheless, I decided to let this weekend be a psychological experiment on myself – let go of your ego and let go of the attachment you have to your physical form were my thoughts. Instead of facing a team of over-the-top, eccentric and egocentric makeup artists (the ones that give me an instant migraine), I faced one of the most open, philosophical humans I’ve encountered. The way we fell into ease together was nice enough, but it was when he began to describe makeup that I realised the depth and substance owed to an art form I’d so long readily dismissed. He spoke of his fascination from a young age about using shading to turn a 2D circle into 3D and how over time he came to apply this technique from paper to the face, from pencil to makeup. This craft allowed him to create illusions, to change and challenge one’s identity. Initially, such a craft was merely a way to make ends meet (having left Texas at a young age due to his “punk” ways), he always lived with female friends and so self-taught, makeup on side to dancing, became one of his outlets to get by. Yet, it was when he described to me that his body is simply a vehicle to channel a creativity coming from a higher source that I became really engaged. He spoke of an endless amount of information existing for us all, and if you’re open enough, it will flow through you and be expressed in some form or another, “like alchemy” he said. He was adamant though, that one’s craft is not theirs to own. “We should not seek to be rock stars”; it’s not a talent you should become attached to. It flows through you; you are a vessel. The same metaphor I apply frequently to the relationship between the soul and body. My thoughts are that my body is simply a tangible carrier of something within me that is intangible and it serves its purpose solely in this particular lifetime; how many lives I’ve had before or to follow hereafter is too profound a subject for me to realise, yet experiences I’ve had serve as glimpses that this concept holds much truth. Perhaps what he speaks of is the soul. When we say something comes from the soul, are we not suggesting it’s being expressed from something deeper and more in tune with life than we can realise? I think so. It required me to take on a different character for this change in disposition to occur; a change in identity gave way to a change in perspective. A change in disposition not simply in regards to makeup, but something beyond life's "skin deep" exterior. It is experiences like these that have me grateful for the paid performance that is my “day job”. To be honest with you though, I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life.