Over the last couple of years I’ve been paying my way by working as an audiovisual technician, doing sound and lighting for big events around town. On the very last gig I had booked before leaving for India I walked into what looked like a relatively straightforward job; tear out a small installation from a temporary event space, take down a few chandeliers, put it all on a truck, no problem. Within 5 minutes of starting I sliced open my finger on a piece of metal, not much more then a paper cut, but enough to send me off to the bathroom to deal with it. When I returned from the bathroom, one of my coworkers, an experienced carpenter and stage worker, was clutching his hand. It was bleeding from 2 little wounds in his palm. Apparently he had stuck himself rather deeply with a wood staple. His shock was brief and he gruffly taped up his palm with electrical tape. I quietly remarked on the coincidence of the 2 events but thought little of it. We returned to work.
Not 10 minutes later, we were taking down the chandeliers, thin metal frames with 10 or 12 glass globes affixed to them. The lead hand was passing them down from a temporary scaffold and we were packing them in boxes lined with thick pads of styrofoam. Suddenly from right behind me I heard the buckling of metal, followed by a loud crash and the clatter of broken glass. The railing of the scaffold had collapsed and our lead hand had fallen 15 feet sideways into one of the full chandelier boxes. The chandelier was destroyed and most of the fragile glass globes shattered. Luckily, the styrofoam pad had broken his fall and he walked away with a few cuts. If he had fallen anywhere else…
Synchronicities tend to be reported coalescing around a major perspective-shifting event. They seem to attend, often preceding, major traumas, powerful mystical or psychedelic experiences and abrupt life changes. I’m not saying that what happened to me was an omen. At least I hope not. I think it’s more that life on the edge of expectation takes on the logic of a dream or a story. Perhaps we merely become sensitive to patterns we otherwise take for granted. Perhaps we merely become unusually concerned with meaning and apply it where it doesn’t belong. As someone skeptical of the primacy of what we call the material world I’m not sure the difference is important to me. It is not the job of matter to ascribe meaning to things. That’s what we do. The etiology of the effect the energies emanating from the domain of our imagination into the material world have on matter is a mysterious question, especially where other people are involved. I expect it is more subtle then we commonly assume. States of profound organization emerge from chaotic events and no doubt an abrupt perturbation in circumstance can cause these organizational paradigms to shift.
In any event, I have given away most of my material possessions, placed all of my work engagements and artistic projects on hold, moved out of my, admittedly tenuous, lodging, said goodbye to my friends and family and, at 31 years old, have hopped on a one way flight to India with the intention of changing the details of my life.
Now I’m in Delhi planning my next move.
I remember Delhi smelling like coal and cowshit and rotting fruit, but I had forgotten the even more prominent smell of Paan. Betel nut, caustic lime and the strange Indian chewing tobacco. It hits your nostrils, acrid and dense, as soon as you leave the terminal. It mixes with the smog and hangs thick in the air all over the city. The memories it evokes are dark ones.
My first few hours in Delhi, a rite of passage as anyone who’s been here well knows, went about as well as a 2am arrival with no hotel booked could be expected to go. The cab drivers here are as smooth as silk and they have their little grifts down pat. At 2am when they know you don’t have a plan they’ve got all the cards in their hand and they squeeze you for whatever they can get. So I spent a bit more then I had to on a cab and a hotel. Not the end of the world. Last time I flew to Delhi my arrival went much worse.
It was similar timing but I was a skinny 21 year old who was green as hell and the cabbie knew it. As soon as the van pulled out of the airport his buddy jumped in beside him and they proceeded to drive me around in circles while the meter ran. I kept demanding to go to Paharganj, the seamy, neon-tinted armpit of Old Delhi near the train station where most backpackers post up while they’re passing through. They claimed with a big grin that there was a great holy festival in Delhi and all the hotels were booked, “Not a single hotel in the whole city, but we’ll help you out my friend! We know just the place!” I kept insisting that they just take me to Paharganj. “Don’t worry sir.” The more riled up I got the more relaxed their tone became. “No tension. Everything OK.”
They took me down some side streets into what, at the time, I thought was a horrifying ghetto, but what I now understand to be a fairly middle class neighbourhood in central Delhi and corralled me down some stairs into a “travel agency” that looked like it had been thrown together earlier that day. There were 2 more guys in the travel agency and they got me into a windowless room and started going on and on about how there were no hotels available in the city but they would give me a 4 day trip in a private car to Agra and Jaipur, 2 places I didn’t want to go, for what, even then, I recognized as an exorbitant fee. They threw a contract down on the table in front of me and handed me a pen, their previously affable manner turned to hardened glares. I was scared shitless. I almost feared for my safety enough to go through with it but at the very last minute I kicked out my chair grabbed my stuff and stormed out into the street. I hailed another cabbie, who tried to pull the same kind of bullshit on me, and I ran away from that one too. Finally I had had enough. I found another cab, drove back to the airport and got on a plane to Bangalore.
I know now that those guys were just hustlers and not violent but at the time I had no idea. India has some harsh lessons to teach you if you go into it expecting everything to be love and light and Dharma and Shakti. Because the venomous blood-spattered serpent-witch Kali is the other side of Shakti and she’ll take everything you have and leave you a burnt out husk if you’re not prepared.
At the end of the day getting ripped off an extra 10 or 15 bucks because it was 2am and I was too tired to argue seems downright acceptable compared to that.
I’ll harden my haggling muscles in the days to come.