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I just finished performing in the play “Shiva Calling.” It is a piece that merges all the worlds, the galaxies, the star systems.  It merges past lives and folds time into itself. The Universe lives and breathes continuously, destroying itself and reforming in every moment. You believe what you perceive to be real.

Amar is going to be executed tomorrow morning. He sits alone in his prison cell at night. Or is he alone? He faces the task of believing that the path to freedom begins by looking inside. Will he believe? Or will he simply die? You know, they say you die twice. Once when you die and once when the last person that loved you dies. So I’m already dead. 

The show occurred in the backyard of a majestic historical site. The Qutub Minar. As we prepared feverishly, doing warm-ups, breathing through our nervousness, peering into the auditorium to see how many seats were still vacant, bantered backstage, the Minar and its surrounding ruins stood in silence. Witness to a time gone by. A million births and deaths. People must have gathered in the courtyard at night, just like us, to sing to the moon. To celebrate. To rejoice. To prepare for war. Belief clashing against belief, ideology against ideology.

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Time and again, they have come to me. Shiva! Shiva! To tell you the truth, I am just a simple ascetic who would like nothing more than to be left alone on his lonely mountain. Losing himself to meditation. 

Nothing is forever. Only impermanence. But we must keep playing the drama. On and on it goes. We have no choice. But, in that trap, we are free.

 

Qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham asl mein dono ek hain

Maut se pehle aadmi gham se nijaat paaye kyun?

— Mirza Ghalib

 

The prison of life and the grief of man are the same

Why should man be free of grief before death takes him?

 

Nothing to be done

I arrived in Mumbai in the morning. I always enjoy the first taxi ride in a new city. I’ve been to Mumbai before but I still count it among my list of new cities. We went inside an old building in Kemp’s Corner. We waited for the elevator, an old elevator with the sliding iron grill door mechanisms. The steel plaque declared a recognizable name. I like flats that have very little furniture. It is an ongoing battle with my mother. This one had a one-person balcony that overlooked the city from a height that was high enough to be exciting without triggering my vertigo. It was quieter than Delhi. Only the odd car would honk and that for half a second. A sense of the tropics is ever present in Bombay.

What is the relationship between a sense of abandon and a sense of purpose? Do we not need both to create meaning?

20151216_125820Mumbai Art Room is a tiny room off the main causeway in Colaba. It is packed on all sides by markets, office buildings, fruit stalls, random little houses, photocopy and print shops, cafes. Everyday, the merchandise from the surrounding ecosystem flows into the room and fuels the process of art. With everything that goes with it. The contemplation, the depth, the artifice, the ego hassles and the pretense. Stationery, printouts, idlis, chai, bobby pins, double-A batteries,  white socks, guavas.

Start a huge, foolish project like Noah. It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you, says Rumi.

The istiri-waala was a very thin man who wore a gungee and an above-the-knee lungi. He had a flummoxed expression when he held his face at rest. He worked inside a little one-room house on a high table. He used an electric iron. I had to instruct him which clothes I needed right away and which ones could wait. It is for a performance, I explained. He didn’t much care. I gave him a little netted carry bag I had bought at the Embarcadero Shopping Center in San Francisco which was meant for specifically this purpose. To carry important items of clothing through short distances. Please arrange the clothes inside this bag, I told him. He complied.

We had a day to wander about. I kept cooing about how awesome Bombay was but my co-actor kept explaining to me that I was in the best part of the city and that there was elsewhere to be seen. Carrying on with a sense of peace and contentment is a service to humanity. I will not be held hostage by a guilt about the elsewhere. There is a place in Mumbai, called Fort. It is old. An old place. We stopped by an old bakery. Fascinated. I asked for the menu. There was on old gentleman with white balding hair. Very thin and tall.

“Menu!!!” he said.

“This is a heritage hotel Sir.”

You die twice. Once when you die and once when everyone that knew you dies. The traces of the past die off, gradually. In Fort, there is a tall tree that filters the sunlight on to the metalled lane in the market. It is narrow. The lane. It is by an old Central Bank building. Underneath, a man with white hair and spectacles was taking a stroll in his khaki uniform.

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The piece I was performing in asked questions about identity. How do you say who you are? Who are you? On opening night, Mumbai Art Room was packed. Standing room only. A very pious silence. The polite seminar-etiquette of the artistic elite. There was a talk by a philosopher and some performed demonstrations by us. People asked a lot of questions and then also hung around later talking about the project. Everyone was hungry enough that no one could decide what they wanted any more. We went to a house that belonged to the curator’s friend. It was an old house. With a lot of very old furniture and chandeliers. Someone took pictures because I suspect that dim lighting looks good on instagram. All the delivery restaurants were closed. People lounged about with fatigue and exhaustion. The active exhaustion of stimulated minds. Other talks took place, many others.

Someone had once told me that there is a zen of auditioning. That the audition means everything. It is critically important. And. It means nothing. It is not important in the least. It is vitally important that you do it. But it matters not in the least whether you do or don’t. Everyone had a different idea about how long it would take to get to the airport from Colaba. It was rush hour. They were amused that I wanted to leave so early. One and half hours yaar.  They said that Indigo airlines are very co-operative. They will pull you out of security and shuttle you through. The guys standing around the taxi stand looked very concerned. You have to leave right away they said. Office ka time hai. Nobody accounted for the holidays. And of course, nobody accounted for the broken bus on the bridge at Santa Cruz. The traffic jam was a peak experience. It took three hours. The taxi driver was in shambles. He drove in first gear for an hour and a half during which we moved less than two kilometers. Are you in a panic? My co-actor asked. No. We left four hours in advance. The best you can do is your best.