Archive for the 'Oral History' Category

Amar Chitra Katha.

Sita in the Amar Chitra Kath.
The Trailer of Amar Chitra Katha’s Saraswati graphic novel.

Amar Chitra Katha (“Immortal Captivating (or Picture) Stories“) is one of India’s largest selling comic book series, with more than 90 million copies sold in 20 Indian languages. Founded in 1967, the imprint has more than 400 titles that retell stories from the great Indian epics, mythology, history, folklore, and fables in a comic book format. It was created by Anant Pai, and published by India Book House. In 2007, the imprint and all its titles were acquired by a new venture called ACK Media. On 17 September 2008, a new website by ACK-media was launched. [Wikipedia].

A list of titles in the Indian Amar Chitra Katha comic book series shows how “Uncle Pai” began with traditional [mostly] classic Hindu mythology & how over the years the franchise has metamorphosed into a broader scope. [Wikipedia].

I learnt much of my knowledge of Hindu mythology from Amar Chitra Kath. And I’m not the only one.

A Tribute to Uncle Pai. Family, friends, colleagues & children.

I collected, read, absorbed, titles ranging from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, Shiva, Nehru, Jataka tales, many more. Subliminal education. When my children started to read I gave them ACK titles. They gave some of these to their children. All loved the books. Now I have none left. Last week I posted the DVD of Gatochkata to my grandson Dylan, My daughter says he loves it.

Thank you Uncle Pai.

Amar Chitra Kath.

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LOREN STANDLEE.

Loren Standlee left his body on March 20, the first day of spring, after a long illness. A long-time resident of Woodstock,. Loren cast a light of joyous enthusiasm, innate wisdom, inclusive love and incomparable humor upon everyone he ever met. It was impossible not to love him.

Loren grew up in Southern California in an artistic family. He learned to surf and ski at an early age, becoming a master of both sports, which he savored all his life. He attended the Webb School in Claremont, Ca, and then the University of Oregon. He left before graduating to go to the San Francisco School of Fine Arts where he studied pottery and created some of his first experimental art. In the mid-sixties, he caught a steamer to Algiers and began an odyssey of travel throughout Europe, the Middle East and the East that would last for over a year and change his life.

In Europe he lived for a time in an ancient Phoenician tower on the Island of Formentera and did psychedelic research for Sandoz laboratories, makers of LSD.  He also began experimenting with musical sound by playing his flute into empty wells for the echo effect. He then hitchhiked to India where he spent over a year traveling and meeting the great Indian spiritual masters of the time. When he returned to Paris, he joined his life partner, Ziska, who lived in Paris, and together they began to hand-paint silk, (not tie dye) which was then made into clothing and sold to the rock luminaries of the time… the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and so on. Their silk was sold at the famous Apple Boutique in London and even to the designer for the Queen of England, Hardy Amies.  While in London in the late sixties, Loren and Ziska appeared in the film “Dope”, a cult classic, made by filmmaker Sheldon Rochlin.

In Paris Loren and Ziska met Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth when the group “Gong” was founded. Loren played several instruments with “Gong” most notably the alto flute. They performed, wearing their hand-painted silk clothing, at the Museum of Modern Art in Sweden among many other venues, and numerous times in Paris. In 1968, Loren recorded music jams that he later put into the album Dreaming the Magic of Your Maya.  It is now a rare collector’s item.

On returning to New York, Loren met the poet/film-maker Ira Cohen and they became founding members of the “Universal Mutants” a very special group of creative free spirits numbering about five members. At that time Loren and Ziska appeared in yet another cult classic film, Ira Cohen’s “The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda” which has had screenings at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and around the world. Also during this time, Loren worked with the Pablo Light Show, the company that created the stunning light shows for rock groups then playing in New York. In 1969, Loren and Ziska self published their first book of poetry called The Orphic Egg. Cool Grove Press will publish their second book, The Orphic Egg II in the coming year.

And of course they went to the Woodstock Festival, sat in the rain and mud, used their “Universal Mutants” name badge to get back stage and everyone thought they were mysterious performers. It was the Woodstock Festival that introduced them to the area, which later became their home.

In the early 1970s Loren returned to India, spending almost a year there traveling and meeting the great Tibetan Buddhist masters of the time, including his root Guru, Kangyur Rinpoche. He also met Ven. Kalu Rinpoche, the 16th Karmapa, Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, HH Khyentse Rinpoche, HH Dudjom Rinpoche, and received teachings from them all. On this journey, he also met the revered Indian saint, Babaji, with whom he spent several days in Northern India, Gangotri Baba, Anandamayi Ma, Muktananda, Neem Karoli Baba, and other Indian Saints. The Tibetan Buddhist teachers he met on this journey, would guide and enrich him for the rest of his life.

In 1972 Loren and Ziska purchased land in Woodstock and later built their house on Byrdcliffe. Loren’s work in cut and paste collage began seriously in 1972, using only black and white images. Soon he began using color and his work evolved, sometimes taking over a year to complete one piece, often working on several at one time. He sold his work to collectors and it was exhibited in New York as well as regional exhibitions, especially at WAAM where his work has been included in numerous group shows including several Far and Wide Regional Exhibitions. His digital collage work was shown at the MoMA PSI and he collaborated in the creation of light shows for the group Living Color among others.

From the time their house was built to the present, Loren and Ziska hosted a number of great Tibetan teachers in their home, where many teachings were given. Loren was one of the first people to encourage bringing the Tibetan Dharma to the West. It was during a visit of the great Kalu Rinpoche to their home in the early 70s, that Loren drove Kalu Rinpoche up Mead Mountain Road to the top of the mountain where the old Mountain House was for sale.  Rinpoche got out of the car, looked around, came back to the house, called the 16th Karmapa and after a few calls was told to buy the land. That was the start of KTD.

In 1974  Loren had the idea for the now classic film: Nepal, Land of the Gods. He collaborated with film-maker and friend Sheldon Rochlin and Mike Spera  in making the film. He wrote and co-produced it as well as doing sound. Later, he was involved in hours of editing. They traveled to Nepal and spent several months filming.. Magical Blend Magazine wrote: “Perhaps the most educational film to date on the practices of the Hindu and Buddhist religions”. It has been part of Mystic Fire Video’s roster for many years.

In 1980 Loren entered the first three-year retreat of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, held in the Dordogne, France, under the guidance of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Tulku Pema Wangyal. When he completed the retreat he returned to New York and Woodstock.

Shortly after his return, he got his first computer and began a thirty- year study of computer technology that opened the doors to digital experiments with collage. Later in the 80s, he worked for Cool Grove Publishing, designing books.

Through out his life, Loren wrote rich, evocative poetry and prose, inspired especially by the French Pataphysicians, and DADA. He wrote mostly when he was traveling in the East. And he played alto flute, Native American Flute, almost any flute, masterfully.  He was a man in whom creativity flowed without ceasing and he left us all with a rich legacy.

Although he never referred to himself as such, he was a great teacher and brought countless people into the Dharma through his example. He was a ‘secret’ teacher, a true treasure of knowledge and wisdom.

He is survived by his partner, ZIska, his sister, Crispen Limacher, his nephew Robbie Limacher, and his niece Jennifer Cooper.

Loren fully inhabited himself and generously, spontaneously, non-judgmentally, loved the life he was blessed with.

~Ziska

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Klaus Schlichtmann interviewed.

Klaus Schlichtman in New DelhiKlaus Schlichtmann interviewed in New Delhi April 3rd 2012. Klaus was an early adopter of Buddhism, deciding at the age of sixteen to leave Germany & head East, which he did eventually when he was eighteen, in 1962. In 1964 he arrived at the Sanskrit University Banaras &, remarkably, obtained the post of Lecturer in German, at the age of twenty.

Here he talks about what it was like in Banaras in the early 1960s; later he made a kayak of his own construction and rode it from Banaras to Dhaka, then Calcutta to Puri. Marriage, children, study in Germany & now twenty years teaching Peace Studies (and German) and learning Buddhism & Japanese in Japan, Dr Klaus Schlichtmann is a true renaissance man. His overriding interests these days are his two year old daughter Irena & the development of World Peace & World Federation.

Listen to his interview now.

[podcast]https://theflowerraj.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/20120403-klaus-schlichtman-new-delhi.mp3[/podcast]

Publications:

Japan in the World: Shidehara Kijuro, Pacifism, and the Abolition of War. (by Klaus Schlichtmann, Asiaworld,  [2 vols.], April 2009) Amazon.com

Article Nine in Context “… limitations of National Sovereignty and the Abolition of War in Constitutional Law.” (by Klaus Schlichtmann).

Peace Studies lectures in peace (Movement for UN Reform [UNFOR]).

Photos:

Irena & Klaus (Facebook – login required). Klaus with his young daughter, February 2012.

Klaus in Banaras 1965  “In Banaras on the river Ganges at one of the ghats.”

Buku & Klaus in Banaras 1965 “At the Bauddh Kaksh, Sanskrit University.”

Tashijong – ‘Cosynook’ 1976 “I think this picture of Peter Cooper,  Ngawang Tendup, the English Lama, is in front of “Cosynook” near Tashijong.”

Rutherford, Zimels, Abrams “in Klaus Schlichtmann’s room at the Bauddh Kaksh, Banaras, 1965.”

Links:

Japan in the World: (online) read Klaus’ book on Shidehara Kijuro online at Google Books.

Historian seeks clear U.N. mandate for peace (The Japan Times 15 March 2003) “German-born Klaus Schlichtmann is a peace historian. An academic who found his way late in life — a “seeker” in every sense of the word.”

World Peace Movement for the Abolition of War.

World Federation World Government (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy).

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“Calcutta ’71” by David Tomory

‘… the freedom a certain place and time offered those who were willing to grasp it.’   Greil Marcus

People Sleeping in a Foothpath, Calcutta, December 1970The bus pulled away and disappeared into the night and left me standing by a wide empty road lined with massive old stone buildings. Some streetlights worked: yellow reflections shivered on the paving stones of the sidewalk. Wisps of mist drifted by. Like a city in a dream, Calcutta made no sound or movement. India was not supposed to be like this. I’d known my flight would be landing after midnight and it wouldn’t be hot and bright and uproarious, but still, arriving in India was supposed to be wild. It hadn’t been easy dressing for it in a Pan Am economy-class toilet. Now, alone in a pool of yellow neon light, I stood in my mustard-yellow flares and boots for one long moment – long enough for my eyes to get used to the gloom beyond and see that I was not alone. All along the sidewalk, away from the light, people shrouded in white cotton were lying fast asleep next to their cloth bundles and tin trunks.

Two in the morning on January 2nd, 1971: I can see it as I write, though the shapes and colours are sharper than they’d be on a photo that old. All around is the grey of mist and stone, over there lies the humped white row of sleepers; and the only man standing, the neon-lit person with the disordered long hair and flares and fringed jerkin and zip-up boots, is me. On the airport bus, a beat-up clangorous thing, the conductor had told me the ‘foreign tourist hotels’ were in Sudder Street, near here. He was small and dark, in frayed khaki, his hands stained by ticket ink, and when he’d done his rounds he wandered down to the front to gossip with the driver and the police guard. The guard wore a Zapata moustache and a khaki beret and had an old .303 carbine with a dark wooden stock slung over one shoulder and chained round his waist – the same World War 2 gun we’d had in the cadet corps at school. One man and his weapon, a thickset profile in the windscreen as the bus bellowed through the wide empty streets of the city. Now I hefted my holdall and set off around the corner into Sudder Street, my boot heels loud on the paving stones, but nothing awoke except an invisible dog somewhere up ahead in the dark. Here, nearly all the streetlights were out. The dog yelped once and scurried away. The sidewalk was narrow and broken and lined with sleepers, so I took to the roadway.

Sudder Street, Calcutta (date unknown).A sign and arrow on a brick wall directed me into an alley, up to a corner, and as I came up to the iron-barred hotel entrance an old tattered man got up from his string bed in the courtyard inside and let me in. On the narrow unlit stairs, as he showed me up to a room, I slipped and had to grab for his arm: it was thin under the coarse cotton sleeve, like a boy’s arm. In the morning as I dressed I heard birds singing and the room boy whistling as he swept the corridor outside with the big rush broom. Then I felt the rush of happiness I’d expected the night before. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, as the poet said, but to be young was very heaven. A crow was clinging to the window bars: with his black stare and hooked beak and important whiskers he looked exactly like my old headmaster. I laughed out loud, and the crow took off backwards into thin air. A radio played and waking noises rose up from the alley. From Sydney to this bare little whitewashed room: India at last. Nearly broad daylight now, and getting warmer all the time, but even on this new morning I wasn’t going to get the I Ching out, I wasn’t going to think too much or pore over divinations or wonder what things meant. Stay cool and on the beam, Oscar always said – and right now I bet he was sitting crosslegged on the mattress in the King’s Cross house under the graffiti on the wall that read The Wages of Gin is Breath. Your India trip is what you make it, he’d be saying. You are the guru.

Oscar’s India, as he knew it, was a wild vivid place that gave you enough rope. It didn’t judge you and it didn’t put you down: it watched while you did what you did, and if you fucked up, it just went on watching. It was indifferent, like nature. In India you were lost to the world you knew. This made the famous and very hip India trip sound a wee bit grim to the innocent audience gathered around his mattress – but in fact, Oscar went on, it was great to be lost to the world you knew. Then you could change and grow and not get stuck in the mud. Also – to descend to purely practical considerations – the cops cared not at all about dope, no one hassled you for what you looked like and no one ever called you ‘a fag’ – Oscar was American – for having long hair. Many Indians had long hair. Godmen in dreadlocks roamed the land, smoking like locomotives. These godmen were the coolest people for Oscar, they were tough proud free and didn’t give a damn, theirs was the real India – this real India being the trigger for one of Oscar’s unstoppable raps, India the land of peace, poor but good, whose ancient culture beat ours hands down in range and richness and wisdom, and which led the world in nonviolence, Gandhi having led the most dramatic and peaceful of all independence movements into a nationhood which was free of banana republicanism and coca-colonisation and – best of all – free of the Bomb.

In South America you were a gringo and in Africa you had to stay in the same hotel as the straight tourists. In China you could only go to approved tourist destinations. Southeast Asia had been coca-colonised; in Singapore they cut your hair right there in the airport. True, Cambodia had the Angkor Wat and Indonesia had Borubudur. Oscar had seen Borubudur and done incredible mushrooms there, but India had all this and more, entire abandoned temple cities that were an unbelievable hassle to get to – and therefore free of straight tourists. India, land of the free.

About now, well into his rap, Oscar would pause for breath and someone in the circle would hand him a fresh joint and he would thrust it into his wild Rasputin beard and take a deep toke, expel the smoke, smack his lips and tell us the one about Allen Ginsberg in Benares.

English learning ad + battered scooter, Calcutta c1975.

A couple of people swore they were going to India and never coming back, but I didn’t know about that. I was going there to see it and be it as Oscar had seen it and been it, you had to do the India trip like that, but afterwards I was going overland to London. I’d been brought up in New Zealand, but born in London, and that was my nirvana. The cheapest way to get there was to fly from Australia to Calcutta via Hong Kong. So far, I’d got as far as Sydney. My girlfriend, who was also from New Zealand, called Sydney the Last Homely House, as in The Lord of the Rings, because it was on the edge of the known world. Even so, after Auckland, it was pretty exotic. The first night she and I had arrived, a  genuine Italian mafioso had been shot dead in the pub across the street. Now we had a room at Oscar’s place in King’s Cross, where American servicemen on R & R from Vietnam roistered nightly in the Bourbon and Beefsteak Bar. They were still jumpy, though: if a passing car backfired, they all dived to the ground.

Down the hill in our house we were all working on New South Wales Government Railways and saving for that giant step off the edge of the known world – a step we were no way going to take without direction from Oscar the living guidebook. We looked after him tenderly. There was, you see, no other guidebook. No one else we knew had been to India. There were books, but they were for people who went there to see tourist places like the Taj Mahal. Oscar had never bothered with the Taj Mahal. It wasn’t on his map, he said.

His name for this map, mental map, was palimpsest. A palimpsest was a medieval book in which new pages got pasted onto the old pages beneath it. Thus, India was a palimpsest. Nothing ever died there or got superseded and finished up in a museum, Oscar said: it merely had another layer pasted on top of it. Centuries didn’t pass, they coexisted. On the very top lay modern India: but through this you could easily see an earlier layer, one your grandfather would have recognised, still full of life. And beneath that, layer below layer, the pattern got older and deeper and stranger and still living. On shiny new diesel trains you crossed Victorian bridges over rivers where people from antiquity performed obscure rituals, you passed temples where tribesmen worshipped stones they called gods. Entire unimagined worlds of revelation lay in wait for us, Oscar said, just as they had for him.

This fascinated and overwhelmed us. We hadn’t been away from New Zealand very long. We rolled Oscar another joint. He was the real thing, we all agreed, and to be the real thing, you had to be American. Oscar came from Montana, where a big sky opened over a big country but there was nothing to do. His brother had already gone off to be a Beat. Then when he was eighteen that same window on freedom opened for Oscar, and he leaped joyfully through it and fled to the Haight-Ashbury, to Monterey Pop, Woodstock, the attempted levitating of the Pentagon, and a few riots. But too soon the window closed again and left Oscar outside. Now he was in Australia, the last frontier, advising draft-dodgers and trying not to mourn. His time had gone, a time that hadn’t been just a time but a cause he had given himself to. The revolution had been betrayed. Charles Manson had poisoned the water. The best people had been done in by the System. And the war – Vietnam, always simply ‘the war’ – was still going on.

The world was never going to change: that was how Oscar saw it in the embattled defiant mood that possessed him now. If you’d ever believed the world didn’t have to be the way it was – sometimes he confused us by calling America ‘the world’ as the GIs did – there was no choice now but to leave it for the Otherworld of India. Oscar’s hopes for his world had been limitless, America-sized, and now he had limitless America-sized Weltschmerz.

Now I was in Calcutta while he lived on in Sydney, gabbing away to his latest disciples, a White Guru on a grimy mattress, not exactly moving on except for short walks up the hill. In the days before I’d left, I’d noticed that more and more often he was taking his embattled defiance up the hill to the Wayside Chapel, famous for its selfless ministry to the lost and the hopeless, and spending all day in a pew smoking morphine. He had to, we said to each other, he had to fly that freak flag so very high, he was American. The rights to life and liberty were in his Constitution. And more than that. He had to pursue happiness, forever.

It was less exacting for us. We too came from a lucky country in the New World – but a small and retiring one in the south Pacific where only modest eddies had ever arrived of the mighty Sixties deluge that had swept Oscar away. Somehow we felt for him, his rage for freedom. We rolled joints of coarse Aussie weed for him – for a man who had once smoked Panama Red.

I doubt if Oscar was ever in Calcutta. It had never been a freak place, only a landing for flights from the east, from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. It was a ground-down old Victorian industrial port, Liverpool without The Beatles, rich in culture but notoriously poor and short on glamour. Certainly Oscar had never mentioned armed cops on buses or sidewalks so full of sleeping people that you had to walk in the road. These had never been on his map. And neither were they going to be on mine. I’d arrived there because it was the nearest way in from Sydney, and soon I’d be gone – to Goa for the scene or Rishikesh for the godmen, but definitely to London for the summer.

Calcutta Street, December 1970.It was broad day now in my whitewashed room, and warm. Crowds were moving in the alley down below. I sat awhile on my bed looking across the room through the wooden window bars at the barred and shuttered windows over the way, at a cluttered flat roof with a tin hut on it. A man came out of the hut in his underwear and suddenly squatted down on his haunches with his arms out in front of him, supported on his knees, and stayed like that. Then just as suddenly he stood up again and went back in to the hut. Small hawks patrolled the sky. I was spaced. Everything would be new today. Oscar had said the best way to enter India was to step back and treat it like a movie: culture shock was for straight tourists. Later you could plunge in and see it and be it – but only when you were ready.

Where did India begin? In the bathroom. I negotiated the ground-level squat toilet and the rusty tin of water, I discovered a plastic scoop and threw more water all over myself, then dried and dressed and went out for a walk. Baby’s first steps. Down a short crowded street lined with canopied fuming foodstalls on bicycle wheels, and across a square where handcarts parked, I arrived at the New Market. It was a single-storey building the size of a city block, made of stone like the buildings I’d seen last night, and just as old. Our house in Auckland had been a hundred years old but these were much older. Exuberant vegetation sprouted from gutters and ledges above; down below, the walls were hung almost all over with bright advertisements and racks of shirts. Wherever the walls were bare they were tattooed with graffiti – Naxalbari Lal Salaam, Power Grows Out From The Barrel Of A Gun – and stained with red spit. Crowds flowed in and out of  many entrances in a babel of talk and hawkers’ cries and screechy music.

Nearby I found a place called the English Dairy and stopped in for some chocolate milk. There were two freaks in there, in baggy white Indian gear – for sure, it was too hot here even in January for my ceremonial velvet and leather and boots, so I went out again and bought baggy white gear and buffalo-hide sandals and a man’s sarong called a lungi, just a cloth skirt like the ones Samoans wore in Auckland, blue and stiffly new with the maker’s name stamped on it in gold. So far, so good for the first frames of this Indian movie, going into shops, feeling the aluminium coins so light in the hand and trying to understand the Indian English, lilting, scraped off the palate and driven along by twisty-wristed gestures.

I didn’t always get it. I went to look in a jeweller’s shop and the next minute I was wearing a silver earring. I’d only asked to look at them. But the sale came on in a rush, the jeweller’s boys giggling and tussling with a can of ether, the can spraying wildly at my head, the jeweller thrusting a sleeper, a temporary earring, through my earlobe. Afterwards I bought something to drink, but it went straight down my shirt front. The ether had frozen me from the neck up, and my mouth was gone; it was like being nuked by a dentist.

Somehow I found the hotel again, but it took all afternoon to get my head back. I lay on the hard little bed while the shadow of my window bars rose inch by inch up the opposite wall and the guys in the room next door argued over who got to play the new sitar first. Eventually someone won and began trying to tune up. I fitted my fat new Hong Kong headphones to my fat pumpkin head and reached down towards the tape player on the floor for the Play button. First up, Janis, Piece of My Heart. A memorial moment. I’d been been leaving the park in Sydney when I saw the newsstand: Queen Of Rock Dead.

Next morning I woke up feeling great. Bestriding the bathroom like a native, I switched to the proper earring at the cracked mirror and then went out to a hutch-like stall along the alley and bought a cheap cotton singlet with a slit pocket on the front for my tickets, passport and money – the holy trinity – as well as a yellow cotton prayer shawl with Om printed on it. Then I got the guy to unstitch the Mr. Natural patch from my leather jerkin and stitch it to the vest. Back in the hotel I stashed the jerkin away in the holdall for London with the rest of the western stuff. Transformed, an innocent abroad in baggy white gear, I set off again into the great swallowing city.

You never saw such a crowd. The sidewalk was full of people washing, eating, feeding babies and reading the morning paper; the road was full of earnest office-goers and plump housewives. Everyone had black hair. The bikes – Enfields and Czech Jawas – and the old cars and bicycles and thin cows and handcarts just had to creep along with them. This they did, patiently. Imagine the tears of rage in Auckland, in Sydney, if it was like this. I came to the New Market and stepped inside. Oscar’s palimpsest a few layers down: India as advertised, sensory overload, a low-lit Aladdin’s cave packed with stalls selling unheard-of things, stalls and more stalls stretching away in a hum of chat along aisles intersected by more aisles and on into the dim fruit-scented labyrinth. To my left, foot-high perfect cones of coloured powder; to my right, harem pants. Directly ahead, a humped bull calmly eating a banana while the stallholder beat it furiously across the buttocks with a banana stem. In my country, bulls were dangerous – though I saw the man was carefully not beating its pendulous pink scrotum. Stout shopkeepers in white with sculpted moustaches, some with red dots affixed to their foreheads, attended stately matrons in billowing saris as they cruised the stalls, each one followed by a basket-bearing coolie wearing an official big brass coolie badge.

It was somewhere in the New Market, at a stall he calls Shop No. 246, that Cal Teale came unstuck in 1970, a year before I arrived. I met him two years later in Brighton, in England, where he told me his story. It stayed in my head, was one of those stories that made me want to write a book about India one day; and twenty years later it ended up with many other stories in an oral history called “A Season In Heaven”.

‘From the moment I did that deal in Shop No. 246’, Cal told me, ‘I was meat: to be exact, turkey. I was walking away from the New Market, home free, I was walking away, when suddenly I had an idea and turned around and went back. No warning bells went off. Why not? The flaw in that idea should have been obvious, obvious. Even now I can hardly bear to think about it. Each time I do, I am the theatre audience that knows what’s going to happen next: Behind you! But it’s too late. A life-trashing experience is on its way. I go on stepping over discarded banana peels on my way back to Shop No. 246.’

He went back to the shop, to henna-bearded Abdullah, who was among other things a hashish exporter, and gave him a photo of himself, so Abdullah could glue it to one of the fake student cards he kept at home. In those days in India a student photocard got you train tickets for half price. Later that afternoon Abdullah gave the completed photocard to his boy, to deliver to Cal’s hotel; and the boy still had the card on him when he called in at the post office with two kilos of tourist-grade Nepali hash hidden in a pair of wicker stools, properly wrapped up together in parcel cloth with Cal’s home address written on it.

Next day the Customs, damning evidence in hand, turned up at Cal’s hotel, and Cal went down in chains. But that’s another story.

A year later, and my fourth night in India. In the afternoons, I had found, shops closed for siesta. At five they would open again and finally close for the night at nine. It was amazing to see then how the street noise died away and Calcutta became the night-city I’d encountered on arrival, stony, brooding, empty. Unsettling. I was pleased when the Old Student came loping into the courtyard of the Modern Lodge, where I sat in a collapsing chair. I ordered tea.

Everyone called him the Old Student. He’d been at the university, caught TB, couldn’t get a job, and had simply stayed on in his student room for years, unmolested, until a relative got him the hustler’s job at the nearby Shilton Hotel on the strength of his excellent English. His job was to lure arriving foreigners into Reception. Every hotel had at least one of these guys, most of them full of fake bonhomie and always at your elbow when you didn’t need them, but the Old Student wasn’t like that. He wore with dignity the ruined jeans someone had given him. He was straight in the sense of honest and was a fount of the sort of local lore that one day would appear in backpacker guidebooks.

He was of course a stoner, and a fixture in The Take. I hadn’t  been in there myself yet, but the sitarists next door said he was in The Take most nights, in search of the kind of high-class literature people carted with them all the way from the west in the hope of finally reading, until they discovered places like The Take and took to reading Furry Freak Brothers comics instead. The Take wasn’t really the place for Proust. It was nothing but a ground-floor dive conveniently near Babubhai’s Corner and discreetly off the street, a low-ceilinged dim room full of wrecked chairs where Indians and foreigners sat all day and night around the record player, listening to Hendrix and smoking up the dope Babubhai’s runners brought in, while Babubhai stayed put on his corner and kept an eye on things. He always sat on a waisted wicker stool like the ones that had once concealed Cal Teale’s doomed stash. Babubhai himself was a barrel-shaped grizzled old thug with no neck, a wide downcurving mouth like a flounder and a cast in one eye. The Old Student said he’d been a wrestler until promoted to street boss, overseer of minor local rackets and payer-off of cops.

The Old Student with his courtly manners thanked me for the tea and went back to his new hobby, German jointmaking. German joints were long, perfectly conical multi-paper spliffs that only Germans could make, but the Old Student’s subtle fingers would get him there one day, you felt, even if all he had for papers were the local Capstans, which had no glue on them to speak of and invariably undid when heated. He crouched over the table, bony hands working away, primping and pasting and prodding; finally he rolled the joint, inserted a cardboard filter, and lovingly licked the whole production from end to end. Now for it. To be perfect, the neat tip of twisted paper at the end of a German joint had to come away in a little cone when lit. The Old Student lit the tip, it came away, the Capstans came apart and their contents dropped into his lap. Carefully he collected up the smoking mix and didn’t even swear. All he said was, ‘I’m off to The Take.’

The other place he hung out was in the Blue Fox in Park Street. Park Street was Calcutta’s Soho and the only place in India, except for once in Goa, where I ever saw a man in a white suit and Panama hat and cane. He was coming out of the Blue Fox as I went in to meet the Old Student. He could get in because he was nicely-spoken, but even unkempt foreigners like me could get into places like the Blue Fox, because Park Street was a little foreign itself. There was Flury’s the Swiss pastry shop, there were Chinese restaurants and drinking dives, and across from the Blue Fox there was the Moulin Rouge with its windmill frontage and doorman in glittery jacket under the flickering neon.

Inside the Blue Fox I found the low red lighting and dark plush seats of the Fifties, and a late-night clientèle hunkered down over tables in shadow deep as shame. A chalkboard at the foot of the little stage gave the name of the house band: Philomena And Her Boys. The air was close and smelled of cheap cigarettes, chicken biryani and old grime. I took a padded corner seat with my back to the wall, ordered the biryani, and as my eyes got used to the dark and could see what lay on the stage, I saw a pink Farfisa organ and a rusty mike stand. So this was the Old Student’s Indian-coterie hangout, as The Take was his foreigner one. Everyone seemed to be local, young or youngish, a real Calcutta mix, I would learn over the coming weeks, of ironical artists, theoretical anarchists, armchair revolutionaries, fierce anti-colonialists, musicians with blues collections they’d got from American sailors, poets who’d met Allen Ginsberg a decade ago, disillusioned romantics, and one or two of those meditative-uncle types that I would meet later in the fiction of R. K Narayan.

From them I heard that Calcutta was a city of stone the British had built to make money in; and that across the river in Howrah, some of the giant jute and indigo factories that had made the money were still struggling on, but most had gone. Half-free themselves from the story of decline that they told, the Old Student’s friends seemed somehow both underprivileged, because poor, but privileged, because educated. Their clothes were piss-elegant or just plain tatty, but the waiters stayed polite. Protected only by class, the Blue Fox their faded enclave, they shared a beer between four and lived as the Old Student lived, in barsatis – shacks on flat housetops – or in the back rooms of reluctant relatives, or with mothers who would always feed them, come what may. They argued on and on, smoking Cavander cigarettes while the old town crumbled around them.

The radicals argued about revolution, of course: Naxalites, peasant Maoist rebels, were taking over the countryside, and now the bourgeois suburban mansions needed a Gurkha guard outside. The aesthetes argued that India would always prefer astrology to ideology and that inequality was the natural order here. But all of them said that sometimes they dropped coins into the lap of the beggar lady at the corner or into the blunted leathery hand of the leper in the park, and sometimes they didn’t. They shrugged at unchanging and unchangeable India and ignored the obvious. That’s what you had to do, to live.
I’d never met people like this, of course, in the happy isles of the South Pacific; I kept quiet and hoped they’d let me stay. It entertained them to take the callow honky dressed, as they said, ‘as a farmer’ to the Kali temple where goats were sacrificed, and to confront me with Rat Corner. The rats lived in a warren of holes and tunnels at the very southern end of the Maidan near the Post Office, across a busy road from the city’s central administrative buildings. Somehow holy and immune, they were cared for by a sadhu-cum-keeper to whom passersby contributed scraps of food; everyone watched while he fed the creatures as they basked in the sun, fat and confident, or batted paws with their offspring.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, I never planned to, but did end up spending time in Calcutta, and that turned out to be a good thing. The hard city gave no space to the wilder forms of Indo-Romanticism open to young foreigners in those days; it was never going to indulge your inner child. Self-absorbtion and peer-group play of the kind to be found in Goa and the more indulgent ashrams were not on offer. If you saw India chiefly as an enlightenment opportunity, it showed you her actuality. An Asian Liverpool still living the nineteenth century could never deliver the New Age. Apart from the opium smokers (an old tradition: Kipling’s first published story was about an Englishman stranded in a Calcutta Chinese opium den) few foreigners stayed very long in the city. Many more could be found even in the little beach town of Puri to the south.

Howrah Bridge, Hooghly River - Calcutta 1975I stayed in the city for perhaps two months: for someone brought up in New Zealand, this was the new world. But I was running out of money, and soon I would have to begin the overland journey to London, the nirvana I had been so anxious to reach. The day came, and I remember that on my last morning before taking the train to Delhi I went down to the ghats, the banks of the Hooghly river; with the monstrous roaring coat hanger of the Howrah Bridge looming above them, oblivious ascetics did rituals and washed their smalls and laid them on rocks to dry.

This was where Cal Teale came when his case was over, to do penance. ‘I’d been playing games with the toughest city in India,’ he told me, ‘and I got my comeuppance. So, daft as it sounds, I wanted the city to forgive me. A Hindu might speak of withdrawal of favour by the Goddess: and believe me, I well understood this, though at first I hardly knew what to think about the Great Mother of Calcutta. I don’t mean Mother Theresa. The worship of the Goddess, Ma Kali, well, it did seem to involve some weird dark stuff around skulls and tantric doings in boneyards. Let’s just say I was an uninitiate. So I didn’t try to understand: I simply felt I should ask the Great Mother for release. In fact, all I’d got after months of anxious waiting for sentencing was a small fine, plus a manageable habit from those interludes in Fong’s – but still, I wanted forgiveness. That was the space I was in. Influenced, I have to say, by Allen Ginsberg’s new book Indian Journals, which some angel left for me in the Shilton Hotel.

‘How are you forgiven? You propitiate the Goddess. But instead of sacrificing a goat at Kalighat, I did it my way. I cut my hair and gave away my western clothes and books, my Dylan tapes, my I Ching. I offered up my silver ring, a family heirloom that had survived the Battle of the Somme and a pawnbroker in the Old Kent Road. I crooked my arm and flung the ring into the Hooghly. Then after standing for a moment in silent meditation I stepped backwards into a fresh cowpat and fell on my arse.’

David Tomory
December 2011.

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Paul Leake & Kailash Ray Interviews I of III

Video interview with Paul Leake & Kailash Ray, Part I of III; interviewer Arthur Mandelbaum; Phuket, Thailand, July 2011,  length 19:24. Tabla Paul’s account of how he became a student of North Indian Classical music, who his teachers were and where he studied.

Samsara is time devouring. Everyone is busy and has obligations. It was difficult to find the time and a conducive place to interview Tabla Paul and Kailash Ray for The Flower Raj and for posterity.  The perfect circumstances for them to tell the stories of how they became musicians in the North Indian Classical tradition manifested in July 2011 in Phuket, Thailand.

I interviewed them with the small hand held Flip HD Camcorder. The voice behind the camera is mine, a long time friend of all involved.

The video has three sections. Part I (this video)  is Tabla Paul’s account of how he became a student of North Indian Classical music, who his teachers were and where he studied.

Part II will be Kailash Ray’s story of how he came to the sarod  (a lifetime love affair), who his teachers were and where he studied.

Part III consists of repartee between Tabla Paul and Kailash Ray evoked by the ‘audience’  member Sitar Andy, who was there at the beginning [the 1960s] as well.

Paul was still recovering form a serious thumb injury and Kailash Ray’s sarod was in need of repair at the time of the interview. Hopefully, a video of them playing together as well as more stories will be forthcoming. ( by Arthur Mandelbaum 2011).

INTERVIEW  LINKS:

Tabla Paul Leake playing with Michael Bocian (audio with images).

The Flower Raj Original Music Sampler listen to Tabla Paul & other original music tracks (audio playlist).

Tara Bir Singh – “Nepal Sitar” (Amazon USA).

The Mind’s Ear, Larry Porter Tabla Trio (Paul Leake on tabla).

Uday Shankar Wikipedia.

Pandit Kamalesh Maitra (Culturebase).

Pandit Kamalesh Maitra (Amazon CD).

Mahapurush Mishra (Magic of Juju)

Pandit Jnan Prakash Ghosh (Wikipedia).

Ustad Keramat Khan (sadly no links found).

Ballygunge (Wikipedia).

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