In Delhi, I met a middle aged Italian lady that had been coming to India for 15 years. She was at pains to point out to me that she wasn’t a “Friketone”, an Italian word for crusty hippies that have been growing their hair and smoking charras in India since they arrived here in the 70’s. She clearly wasn’t but with her flowing colourful clothes, she was obviously a modern day Friketone eulogising about the power of Indiahhh. Our conversation coincided with me reading Karma Cola which is a fantastic critique of how East doesn’t meet West, and how neither really understands the philosophy of the other and left me really cynical about westerners enlightening experiences in India.
Pushkar is a Mecca for modern Friketoni, emerging in the morning from their lakeside hotels, gushing with the glow of delirious contentment that comes with being immersed in the Asias spirituality. Coincidentally it’s the same glow people have when they go on holiday to Benedorm or the Gambia, and don’t have to worry about the day to day chores of life, so I’m not convinced it’s the first touches of enlightenment. I mean sure, there’s a lot wrong with the west, and developing countries have an emphasis on community and social support which deserves to be celebrated, but do you have to wear stripy trousers to celebrate it. I haven’t seen any Indians with natty locks or dressed as circus clowns.
A lady my mum befriends Gloria, is a bonafide modern day Friketone, everything in Indiahhh is wonderful, awe-inspiring, glorious. Her bright turquoise silk blouse shimmering with sequins certainly is. She’s a vegetarian because the human body isn’t evolved to eat meat, believes that Jesus was a shaman that lived in India for most of his life, and that being here gives her a openness and freedom to connect with her spirituality. I think it has more to do with the fact the only thing she needs to do all day is order another mango lassi from the waiter.
Pushkar is a vegetarian town, which I don’t mind, but I’ve been dreaming about a T-bone steak for a few days now. I make the mistake of telling Gloria who gives me a lecture about sacred cows, Karma, and rebirth. Its a fundamental western misconception that Karma is about quid-pro-quo payback, although I first encountered the word on the cover of my mums hidden Karma Sutra where, eyes bulging, I learnt about 69ers, so I can sympathise with the you-scratch-my-back-i’ll-scratch-yours confusion.
Here’s my enlightened interpretation of Karma. Karma is the sin of getting sucked into trying to enjoy life, because fundamentally life is shit, and you should try to get through it as painlessly as possible. Just endure it, and when you die you might be lucky and get released from having to be reborn. Ironic then that eastern philosophy appeals to westerners precisely because they want to be reborn and immortalised in rebirth, life is pretty good in the west. Karma is actually about not succumbing to the vanity or the pleasures life can offer because it’s pointless and just puts you a step back from the release.
I’ve noticed Indians don’t smile much. Yet they are happy. Its trite to say that Indians are poor but happy, while westerners are rich and miserable. I don’t have the stripy trousers to pull that hippy crap off convincingly. But there is a contentment which I thinks comes from this idea that life is to be endured, rather than the western idea that life should be conquered. Not being goal driven or striving to achieve, with all the successes and failures that brings, is wonderfully liberating. Just imagine it for a minute.
I watched a young rural girl, maybe 14 years old spinning a wheel on the bellows for her blacksmith farther. All day she’ll spin it, for days, weeks, months, probably years. She will spin that wheel til she gets married off. I stare into her dark eyes transfixed and confused trying to understand what ambitions she has, what she hopes for her future and what she is doing to shape them into a reality. Maybe she chooses her favourite sari when she knows she will see the boy she hopes will marry her? Maybe she day dreams about studying to be a neuro surgeon. Maybe she’s been so conditions not expect anything from life she doesn’t have any ambitions. I don’t know. But I struggled to imagine how anyone cannot have ambitions and dreams and want to do something to make them happen.
Then prison made me realise that perhaps it’s possible. First I realised I am petrified of routine. The idea that I’d have to spend weeks fruitlessly doing the same thing day in day out makes me physically dizzy and tremble. Seriously, I have shock like symptoms when I think about it. Routine is the enemy of ambition. I can see now that this phobia has impacted on my personal and professional life too over the years. Where I’ve reproached others for being staid and homely, I can now see that I was the oddball. But the thing that really threw me was that the prison was full of people who could accept that routine. Maybe through conditioning of Indian society, or maybe by their time already spent inside, they lived a mellow existence governed by routine and repetition, devoid of any weighty ambition, other than waiting for the moment of their release.
Even when I was paragliding around Pune, the first few days were frustrating because I couldn’t catch the lift everyone else was getting, then I caught it and flew for 3 hours. Amazing. But now I’ve flown that site, I don’t see the attraction of going back there. I don’t know it can give me much more as an experience or as a classroom. To go back would be to return to the routine. Next site please.
The result is that I am always throwing myself into new, unfamiliar situations. And unfamiliar situations are hard. They inevitably result in mistakes and the hassle that goes with correcting those mistakes. But I’d rather that hassle than the horrific prospect of routine.
I’m loathed to admit it, but despite my best efforts, I’ve had an enlightening experience in India, not in an Ashram, or under the fug of Bang, but on wing 15 of Ajmer Prison. I even have a mantra I learnt there; “Shanti. No stress.” I’m a frigging Friketone!