Thou Art That—The Upanishads

Yet another flight to the potty—stalled—in time. I drop off my three-year-old (my car in violation, blinkers might ward off the meter maid). Inside, some little deva girl purls down the slide—only to ramp her teeny bottom on the floor. Her eyes float up, pigtails twitch and wisp…and arched over her like a sky god, my former colleague Doug. His daughter almost rivals mine in cuteness. It’s been three years, I ask, has he wound up his novel yet?

Between classes (permed and modern-dance-upstate Jennifers, an odd violist named Celeste) catching smokes, he’d float some sixties scene, soon to be subsumed into his grander text: the TV war, student strike, the day B52s bombed the hell out of Cambodia. And in the Chapel Hill lecture hall, no students, just the professor, eyes locked-in on his notes. All to avoid the patchouli pair screwing in the front row. Remarkable dangle of spindly kama, mounded limbs, improbable entrance, unsappable vigor, impressing even as it disgusts, the soon to be emeritus. An Ur-act of protest, Doug said, these kids will never know. His manuscript’s surpassed a thousand sheets! So much multiplicity, I think, why writing is so perilous.

Whoever sees manyness in the world sees and meets with death I want to tell him. Too late, I’m driving off, the Katha Upanishad, gridlock, rogue cabs. I buck my way cross-town until my carburetor sticks—stalled again. It’s ninety-six outside and homeless men converge, drawn by disruption to the red dust of the intersection. One whose shadow-boxing incarnates imagined vermin—limbs lank, head awobble, he exits Rite-Aid—I’m sure he spent the night fouling the entrance.

In Narayan’s The Guide, a picaresque hero, always scrambling to keep afloat on the surface of the floating world, who barely ekes out a living guiding tourists, finds himself in a fix. He seeks refuge in front of a village temple, and decides to act the holy man. He lets his hair mat long and fasts on offerings left by villagers, pleased that their locale is graced by such a Siddhu. But when there is a drought, he is expected to fast it to an end, and young and old alike line up to watch him waste away, so they can quench themselves on his self-catabolizing holiness.

What a feast the homeless here are finding, mauling for doughnuts and patties, discarded and half-noshed. And that one rapping at my windshield, he might be willing, I think, to lick it clean of bugs for the buck I do not have. Or is he only blotting the nectar trickling from his lips? Yes, yes, my deepest apologies, Professor Sharma, I mistook you for…I see you’ve got your visa and your tenure. And by the way, Professor Sharma, how far are we from Benares, how far from the enjoyment of heaven, delicious food, the company of young women, fine clothes, perfumes, garlands and sandal paste.







Photo by Daniele on Flickr