“In India, we are celebrating 74th Independence Day today. As we unfurl the tricolour, I would like you to use it as the prompt.“
I will probably never go to India, but India has had a big influence on my life. As recently as last year I found myself buried in a wonderful writing project because of a man from India with whom I have a conversation here on WordPress.
Back in the hippy days, a lot of American young people went to India seeking spiritual enlightenment away from the Judeo/Christian mythos of American culture. I don’t know exactly what pop-culture inspiration led them there, whether it was the Beatles, or Timothy Leary, or or or? Those were the days of Krishna Freaks in airpots trying to get people to accept free copies of the Bhagavad Gita.
Most of those who went were ten or fifteen years older than I was, a group that I didn’t know until later in my life. Some of the people I got to know had lived in India for decades and were practicing, and proselytizing, Hindus. I would need to write a book to show their influence on me, but all of them felt like friends I’d known in other lives who waited for me to be born in this one so we could know each other. I say that without believing in reincarnation (except for Lamont and Dude).
But the most important thing India gave me was an answer to a question that was tearing me apart. Sometime in the 90s I was semi-in love with a guy. One of the things we did together was visit the San Diego Museum of Art. A donor to that museum was Edwin Binney who collected Mughal paintings. My friend was a philosophy instructor which was lucky for me because, when we walked into the small room where these paintings had been hung, I had no idea what I was looking at. All I could see was their beauty and mystery.
One of the most mysterious paintings seemed to be insisting I look at it, study it and fucking GET it. It made no sense to me, but, luckily, my friend could kind of explain it to me. As he told me the story of Arjuna and Krishna, I stood there and wept.
It told me what I had to do, eloquently illustrating the horrible moment in a human’s life when he/she must break away from something or someone for his/her own good or, maybe, even, the good of the world. That something might be something they love with all their heart. The painting wasn’t a gorgeously colored Indian painting. It was light brown and the details were set forth in black lines and white highlights. It was a rectangle about 10 x 12 inches. The worlds — representing the endless repetition of incarnations (samsara?) — were set forth in concentric arcs of people working, tilling the land, selling stuff, fighting — the usual, and on the left, heading right, was a chariot driven by Krishna and carrying Arjuna. Krishna was explaining to Arjuna that the only way he could save his kingdom and his people was to go to war against his cousin. Arjuna didn’t want to fight his cousin, but Krishna explained that if he didn’t, the world would be engulfed by evil.
Arjuna’s cousin was my alcoholic brother, and I was Arjuna. I saw so clearly that sometimes life demands, a miserable, painful, excruciating sacrifice like that. I got that lesson like an inoculation.
So…I began a not very systematic study of Hindu scripture/mythology. And, some years later, when I’d had to eject the Evil X (same story) I went to my art shed and made my own Thangka of my own life from 2003 to 2008. I wanted to SEE it. In the thangka you can see Krishna, me and my dogs in my Ford Focus driving away from evil toward, well, the art shed. The Thangka is at least R rated, so be warned…
I know there is a lot more to Indian culture than these small experiences of mine, and, with Hindu mythology, I felt Shiva’s stories more than Krishna’s but these stories changed me for the better as a human being.