(photo from very thankable unknown source)
By Jason B.R. Maxwell
Reader’s note; Names in this story have been changed to protect individuals. Yet all events are true…
Gina Mercuzio looked like the dark free gypsy Sam White admired. Sitting cross legged with a perfect posture on a Turkish pillow in the St. Andrews market chai tent, her long braided black hair was dancing as her deep true laughter took Sam’s attention like moth wings have gravity. She had such earthy skin and a long yet elegantly rounded face which changed so much with all the flow of her conversation. But it was her eyes, that dark certain something beyond, opal born of some inner calm yet with sparks of fire. So when her friend went to get another cup of chai and she started rolling what obviously looked like a joint, Sam took her chance. “Hey do I know you from somewhere?” Sam said with a smooth smile. “Hey maybe, I was told I have an old soul so it’s entirely possible” - the fire had been sparked. Sam and Gina talked and talked as easy as breezes play with gum leaves, swirling great cosmic subjects into experiences of destiny and past lives and then switching to gems and the resonances of certain stones. Yet as Gina mentioned a party, some deep continental part of Sam started to move. She had heard of de’ja’vu, but this was it, she had been here before. It was the spokes of the sun streaming past the rainbow canvas of the tent, just like that, it was the tribal tattoos reaching a joint towards her, just like that, it was the way Gina blurred the rest of the world, became so immensely focussed, so intensely high definition…. It was 1979 and the purple smoky haze of the sixties had settled in all the right pathways, valleys and oasis’s of existence in Australia. Yet for Sam, the adventure of other existences was stirring, waiting for their wings to open…
“Are you an artist Sam?” – the live mandolin and djembe music was loud, Sam’s back was turned -talking to poet friends she had met before- yet she heard Gina’s voice even though it was barely a whisper... “Yeah I guess, how’d you know?” “Well, it’s the jewellery you wear, its beautiful and so unique, especially this piece…you make it yourself don’t you?” -Gina’s heavily jewelled arm graced up to touch her ear ring, a black oval of varnished blackwood with a silver snake dancing through the space.
After the tarot cards were scattered, after the dancing spinning fires, after the DMT with the bent psychologists, the goldfish-stall-owner and the unemployed, the cyclone of that nights party brought existence home again. And Sam was excited. In the dawn crystal air, as she drove the Kinglake tractor across the red clayish dirt of the spud fields, there was a new purpose, an intuition, an electricity in her dreamings. It was India. That rich, vibrantly entrancing word. India. Gina had offered a free ticket and accommodation as part of a business trip, delivering jewellery and buying gems and clothing whole sale from Ragisthan. “Delivering Jewellery?” Her boyfriend puffed, “to India? Sounds abit suss to me Sam…” “well, I don’t know… , Darion said she’s legit, she’s got connections...she goes over all the time, she’s coming here to buy a few ounces, we can trust her, we’ll ask her about it if your that paranoid, but its India Mark! A free ticket to India, I’ll get a chance to see the Taj Mahal, see Bagwan Ragnish, I’ll find myself Mark… and get some real materials to work with, imagine if we didn’t have to work on the farm anymore, imagine if I earn enough to get a studio...”
In Delhi it had just finished raining. The monsoon rains had started to brew its thick intoxicating soup in the air. Yet for now it was not yet putrid, not yet mature, and as the plane doors opened the heat hit her like a fresh steaming wall. Fredricko, the short stocky ‘other traveller’ who Gina had twirled into her ideas of the gemstone trade, pushed past with a smile. “Wow… warm like a womb Sam!” and it was, the womb of the eastern culture laying out the way to her new life. Gina greeted a tall man in a long black Turkish tunic who laughed down into his beard. She spoke a few Indian words to him and she gave him all our bags and they jumped in his beat up three wheeled car to get to the Motel. After they settled in, a night of smoking and revelry began. Sam and Fredricko were told to not worry about their luggage. That the jewellery was delivered and the customers were happy. This gave them a sense of pride. A slightly edgy unsure pride, considering they didn’t even see what was in their ‘luggage,’ but it was a pride none-the-less. They were smoking hashish, strong bloody hashish, unlike any hash Sam had ever smoked, why question? The slithering smoke relaxed her more than anything she had ever experienced. The world blurred again, but this time Gina wasn’t there, no one was, the world had disappeared and she was warm, content in herself, her own Indian universe. The next day they got train tickets to Ragisthan where they would buy gems. While Sam was waiting at the train station she experienced her first form of culture shock. It was a muddy naked man, a sadhu, or holy man, who was just standing there, still as a statue. What shocked Sam further was that everyone was just walking past him, women, children, just walking past as if he really was a statue. The next day they arrived in Ragisthan and then it was on to a hotel called the Ever Green. Once they got to the hotel Gina met a small, toothy-crooked-smiling boy called Suja who was the most polite and well-spoken little man Sam had ever known.. “Guud afternoon maadem … you stay with me -no problem - I will translate for you hapilly…” Suja was Nepalese. There was a light in his eyes, a dawn light, all of a sudden the blur that was in Sam’s head stopped. The next day Gina took Sam and Fredricko shopping. A glimmer of the warm friendship they all shared back in Australia appeared as amethysts, star rubies, agates, tigers eyes, quartz, and all manner of lush nuggets and perfectly facetted stones dropped into their hands at the cheap, lavish Bazaars. They had done it, they had made their creative fortune in India.
“Hey mem saab look…” the light was a lucid golden sunset, Suja was in the Ever Green courtyard under a tree spinning a rope… No, spinning a snake, no, a rope… Yes, definitely a rope…
The blur wasn’t gone for long. The blur returned as they smoked again and again, ‘celebrating’ their sudden fortune in long, silent starings and music. But where was Gina in this comfy haze, this new Hotel womb? She kept disappearing, crossing over a cultural bridge that over time, Sam and Fredricko began to mistrust. “What were in those bags we carried Sam? Have you seen those people she’s been hanging out with?” “I don’t know Freddy, it’s Gina, you know, the mystic? Quite frankly I don’t want to know. I’m happy in my karma that way… And hey, just because they look shady doesn’t mean they are.” It started getting hot. Really hot. The thing about Ragisthan is that it’s in the middle of the desert, the hot staring middle eye of India. 40 to 45 degree Australian days don’t come close to the baking, brain frying Ragisthanian heat. Drowsy sleep came easy. Sam’s new life was constant as a mirage. Yet as the heat rose, Sam vaguely became aware of a tension between Fredricko and Gina. From time to time she heard them arguing, and it sounded like the shoutings from some distant desert war. Then one day, as Sam came back from the pool, she saw Fredricko, forehead against the Hotel room wall with a mango lassi in each hand, mumbling to himself… “The golden haze … can’t escape the fire… the gold… the golden trail of blood… mara and the gold it kills….the haze of gold it kills!” And then he dropped the milk drinks which gashed onto the floor like thick, yellow blood. The next day the mad yet handsome sunburnt Italian was gone. Now the Motel was a lonely oven. Gina was barely anywhere to be seen.
“O by the way, can I have another ten thousand rupee for the opium err I mean hashish, you’ve been smoking?” -like a monster in the darkness, Sam realized she had been smoking opium. But she reasoned, monsters weren’t real now, were they? “Sure…” she said weakly, handing over the notes. From that moment onward, the monster had control. Gina made sure that only dreams and the hookah’s nozzle kept her company as the money kept leaving Sam’s wallet. And yet in that hot oven, they were magical dreams, dreams of kaleidoscopic, multi-armed gods and goddesses telling her things, showing her great rainbow visions with whispers. And then walking through rainbow archways, rooms where floating spheres of light came through the eyes of lion headed men and women… Sam woke one morning and the blur receded in that same way it receded the day she had met Suja. The sun streamed through the white dancing curtains, and there was Suja, smiling, yet staring at Sam from the corner of the room with fiercely piercing eyes. Suddenly the ticking clock, the noises from the next room, the flicking curtains all slowed and another world came to her, Suja held up his arm, comically jutted out a finger and said “mem sab… I’m going to show you something…” and then he rose, cross legged, rose three foot clear from the floor.
From there things began to sink into darkness. Because of the monsoon floods, she heard rumours of a break out of cholera in Ragisthan and Sam was sick; conjunctivitis, dysentery, the nauseous blur it seemed, was never going away. After a heavy smoking session to numb her pain and nausea, she fell into a drug induced coma and experienced the height of a near opium overdose, she knew it was so because she had felt herself leave her body, and yet she didn’t think it was her body, when she looked down, it was someone else in the bed.. When the drug left her, out of mercy or a sudden lack of interest from Gina or both, she had been in that bed for two weeks. She suddenly decided she needed to go to the toilet since that’s what normal people did, wasn’t it? She collapsed from the effort... When she finally made it to the mirror she got a major shock, the person on that bed WAS her. When Sam first went to India, she weighed eight stone and yet now, from a period of three months, she was five and a half. After this revelation, reason came back to her. She told herself, it was time. She couldn’t stay in the hotel with a money hungry parasite feeding her opium…
As Sam left to go to Bombay by train, she felt lighter, as if she was leaving an old part of herself behind. On the way, the train stopped after the rain at sunset. The smell in the air was alive. It was all alive. Sam feared the floods had swept away the tracks. But as she looked out she saw everything was fine. Suddenly she saw the snake charmers, fully tribal and proud, walking across the tracks from one endless sand horizon to the other, their oxen and their curved swords at their sides. She realised then that that was power, for true power comes with freedom, even the trains were transfixed…
“O no sorry mem sab, all we have today is daal, japarti and rice, nothing but daal and rice, O an chai yes, we have chai, it is very nice chai, yes very nice…” with daal, japarti and chai in front of her and her blurry Bombay world, a cow stuck its head through the window a few foot away from where she was. She gasped, but then she also felt blessed, she knew these creatures were considered blessed animals and she could suddenly see the peace in its large all seeing eyes. Unfortunately in the confusion, her new silver bracelet had been stolen. She reasoned that she probably fed someone’s family for a few days, so it wasn’t all bad. Even in her state she knew she was still a fairly wealthy westerner. Every day she saw slums and filth, how could she complain? After this experience she slowly wondered out onto the street and for the first time she started feeling happy, still sick, still blurry, but happy. Street performers, a husband and wife were building a huge clay dome over the husbands head. A dome nearly a full foot thick over him as he was laying down. When she went back three days later, he was still there, head in a clay bell in fifty degree temperature, with no air holes in sight. It was then she reasoned it was time to call her boyfriend. She was no street performer, she was sick. Without any health services she felt she could rely on, she needed advice… “Go see Gensi Lansing, he’ll look after you…” This was Marks friend who was a Buddhist priest. He had an ashram, a holy place, in Bombay. She was saved. It was like a palace, an artist’s white marble palace, with pillars and wide open windows where cool breezes whispered about compassion. The happiness she felt as she left the restaurant unfolded now like a lotus. They had the antibiotics, they had the food, the water, it was all kindness, totally free and safe from the snakes poison that was chasing her on the street. So the blurry world started receding, making sense. Yet she knew she had found the place for her wings to rest, and there was a way home…
After a quick trip to get her Gems back from Ragisthan with Gina nowhere to be found, the Federal police interviewed Sam at the airport. Gina Mercuzio was a drug runner and they were hot on her trail. She had been importing blocks of hash to Australia, hash made to look like bits of wood fixed behind doctor’s golden name plaques. They went through Sam’s suitcases, her handbag, her everything. They weren’t going to let Sam get on the plane, not until the very last minute. But all she could say was what she knew, that she had no idea where she was, who she was, she was invisible in that culture. But all Sam craved now was her own culture. Where things were known to her and monsters were visible at the very least. On a stopover in Indonesia they gave Sam special medicine for malnutrition. When she arrived back in Australia, Mark walked straight past her because he didn’t recognise the body that was now wondering in a new spiritual happiness. She had glimpsed at power. She had realised that her spirit was changed at a fundamental level and there was now truly more to this world than what was seen or talked about in books or reason. That with freedom, we could do things that defied logic, that skipped the A+ B that always equalled C and reached into a deeper area of the human psyche. A psyche that led beyond a segregated mentality, a world where the true artist existed, and with a pocket full of gems...
White, Sam. Interview on India. Interviewer; Jason B.R. Maxwell, 2014. Recording.