Friday, July 01, 2005

Tales From Middle Earth 6: Mind

Cut to Islamabad last week. I am sitting at dinner with two young friends discussing spirituality. "Do your friends think you're freaky when you discuss these things with them ?" "Oh, yes. Definitely" they reply in unison. There is a disconnect in modern Pakistan when one confesses to being "spiritual" or "mystical." Despite living in a country with a strong spiritual tradition, most modern Pakistanis find it difficult to relate their spirituality to everyday life. I am not speaking of the citified fundamentalists or the new age "amreekan returned" sunflower seed spitting variety of people. Just ordinary people with an interest in matters of the soul.

Back to Bhutan. The soul melds brilliantly with the life that surrounds it. There are significant reminders of Buddhism all around one. From the saffron robed novices and monks to phallic symbols on walls to monasteries around one. Yet the connection between faith, people and territory is so seamless that there is a sense of perfect unity at work. As with everything there are downsides. The Buddhist emphasis on the sanctity of life means there are hordes of stray dogs everywhere. And flies. The Californian chef smiles when I mention the profusion of flies in the dining room. "Nothing I can do about it" he shrugs. Oh yes, there is no fly spray on sale either. I had to improvise a fly swat with a stick and last month's GQ.

One early morning I stray into a monastery. The novices are not unlike Pakistan's madrassah children. The kids gather around me and we conduct a disjointed conversation in broken Hindi. I look up and see an older novice staring at me. I blush and look down. And then up again. This has to be the most photogenic monk I have ever seen in my life. I walk through. He follows. I take pictures. He knows he is being photographed but pretends not to notice. Eventually the tension within me rises to a pitch. I break the ice. A conversation ensues. I tell him he is good looking. He looks confused and shakes his head. Did I offend you?" I enquire. "I am a priest. These things do not matter to me." For a moment I feel suitably chastened - cut down to size. I see him later walking down the city centre, entering a shop. Damn. He does look like Brad Pitt in the right lighting.

On another occasion I stumble into another monastery. There are dozens of penises painted all over the walls. Dozens of them in wood hanging all over the place. Nonchalantly, I assume the air of a man who can tackle a couple of hundred dicks without batting an eyelid. "What do these mean?" I ask a priest. "They're meant to ward off female demons" he replies. "Ward off? Wouldn't female demons be attracted to these?" He looks at me as though I've lost the entire novel, let alone the plot. Who could possibly be interested in these ghastly things? Pricks. Dicks. Cocks. More than anyone could ever want. I get a free dick to carry home as a souveneir. I am petrified of Pakistan customs and find that it fits snugly into my Nikes. A size 11 dick.

My spiritual reverie comes to a close. It is time to pack and leave. I feel a deep sense of sadness. I haven't really done a great deal in the last few days. Before I left, I asked a Nepalese friend what I should see in Bhutan. "You don't have to see anything specific. It is so beautiful that everywhere you walk, there's something to see." Her mantra proves itself. Many days later, I am unable to respond properly when I get banal questioning thrown at me. "So what did you do? What did you see ?" "Nothing really." That is not the truth. Bhutan has entered my soul. And it shows no signs of leaving in a tearing rush.


Blogger Sin said...


Oh my.

You weren't kidding. He IS good-looking.

1:56 pm  
Blogger say what? said...

I wonder what they would do to ward off male demons :D

12:04 am  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Yes. He is good looking. Coincidentally I kept running into him wherever I went.

TDH: I don't even want to go there :)

3:22 pm  

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