This is the last of a five-part series. So you're recommended to begin with The Sack of Iraq (Feb 17th) and read upwards...

AFTER DINNER, we all moved up to the terrace for "Bam Bholy smokes" as Ron liked to call it. Katey was the only one not lured by the resinous scent of fresh Malana cream. Katey, the Amreekan, had been in India long enough to understand randy Hindi jokes. She, like Rita and Udo, had been around the hills more than anyone of us. One night Katey said she was Ma Tunananda.

It was a rare moment, when Ron wasn't asked to step in to translate a joke into English English.

"She who finds bliss in eating tuna," Ma Tunananda explained like Osho had in his name-changing heydays. Ma Tunananda stayed in one of the outer cottages at Khim's. She also owned a Bajaj scooter that she rode, helmetted whenever she felt the urge to get away.

Ma Tunananda found bliss in getting away.

I too was getting away.

I was on a loser's vacation. I had taken a year off from work. To "chill" and clear up my head.

We took the leopard's roar to our beds that night. It was loud and echoey. Hagar, who'd been a drill seargent in the army thought it was in some kind of pain. When Hagar first told us about her army duties we laughed. She didn't seem made of the same stuff as a drill seargent.

Sometimes Sundar would add some lime juice to the bananas. Why he did that was a mystery to us. Some days, the Banana Pancakes had a limey tang. Some days they were limeless.

It was really that simple.

That was also the simple logic of war. Iraq in 2003. Afghanistan, 2002. Both video wars were brought to us by 'bold and fearless' embedded cameras. Through a reality show called 'Smoke 'em Out Wherever They Are'. A US Army Production. Shot entirely on location. With local extras.

Water was a problem in our Pancake Paradise. A water-carrier arrived panting in the dark hours of the morning to fill up our supply tank for the day. Khimda never let us feel the trouble he had to go through to keep the taps running.

The war brought with it three more Americans. "The Rainbow People are here," Amit rushed to inform us when he saw them descend the hill with their backpacks. There were two Rainbow women and a rasta-haired Rainbow man with a nose ring. The Rainbow people were on their way to the higher reaches of the Himalayas for a Rainbow retreat.

The Americans were from Jackson, Illinois. And this was their first trip abroad. Ridley, the saree-clad, had her head shaved, Mohawk style, and dyed pink. She used our slide-table for sticking magazine pictures on diagrams she had drawn.

Ridley had a taste for the bizarre. It didn't take you long to see that, once the smiley shock of her appearance hit you like cameraflash. She held her hands over her meals as if willing the food from rising. "It's called reiki," she told me when she caught me gaping at her.

Autumn "as in the season" also had long blond rasta hair. The heat and dust of the plains had entered her stomach and were whipping up a storm. But Autumn had the Rainbow spirit. She, like us, liked the Banana Pancakes. Autumn also had the gift of seeing irony in food. A bee once dived into the honey of her Banana Pancake. "You can't take it back, Honey," smiled Autumn as she spooned the bee from the honey, "It's human now".

Joe was an unlikely Rainbow man. He had a face that hosted smiles like a waiting room hosted train-catchers. He seemed like someone knocked over badly. Whenever we switched on the war on TV Joe'd turn himself invisible. But once his embarrassment caught on with the rest concessions were made to Joe's invisible, feet-gazing presence. The TV was left on mute and Joe, to his own devices.

Ridley also read tarot cards. Her pack was made of Indian gods and goddesses. Autumn was mostly laid up in bed, nursing the storm India had whipped inside her.

The Americans had arrived at a bad time. The war was their cross. Made in America, from the strongest Texan teak. They had voted for the war, in a funny Rainbow way.

Our table parted like the Red Sea whenever the Americans trooped in at meal times. There were those who were silenced by their arrival. And those who couldn't stop quizzing them about the war.

With the TV bombs began Juhi's labour pains. She began delivering when much of Iraq had been penetrated. It was a premature delivery in doggie time. Hagar had taken over the arrival of the pups. She had delivered several goats and elks at the kibbutz. Amit, the fighter pilot, was her deputy.

Juhi delivered three blind and hairless pups that cried in soft doggie wails. Three others had died in utero.

Khimda said Juhi had gone into labour because of the leopard. Ron said, it was the honey moon. Hagar blamed the pots and pans. But Juhi looked relieved as she hungrily licked her surviving pups. Each lick of soft hairless puppy skin saying 'thanks' to the big dog in heaven.

*FINIS*
THE TIMELESS art of waiting and the honey moon, Khimda told us, were a deadly mix. They had the power to rob your eyes of rest. Sometimes for days. They had the maddening power of Comrade Joshi's words.

The day the war started we were waking up from such an unrested sleep.

When Hagar announced the war on TV, Ron spat out loud globs of contempt. Into our ears. "It's a wank," he said louder than his usual. Ron's hands were shaking as he forked the soft turn of his omelette.

Ron usually liked to save his anger for himself but the war had peeled some dried wound inside him. Ron's comment made us look deep into the cheese and tomato whoosh of his wounded soul.

"Wag, you mean Wag the Dog? Ya, it's a bloody Wag," repeated Shivputra with the smugness of a soothsayer. Ron's angry mouth was full of egg, cheese and tomato. But Shivputra was beyond doubt, visibly pleased at having arrived at what was in his yoga school understanding of things, an interconnectedness of all life.

But he had got realisation of the wrong kind.

Shivputra was Norwegian, with residual eyebrows that had once been blond. He also had residual hair that used to be blond. A lot of things about Shivputra were residual too. In his language, he was named after Hodur, the blind and gullible son of Odin. Shivputra had lived and worked in asylums, rehab clinics and old age homes in Oslo trying, with the desperation of a struggler saint, to get a grip on life. But the blind and gullible son of Odin had been dealt a bad hand.

Shivputra's father had been a decorated 'mil-tree mann' in post-World War Norway. He was later attached to the UN. His father's job had taken him to parts where the world bled in perennial streams. His father had been a peacekeeper and a UN presence through much of his military career. But at home peace had always been in short supply. "After a point, I couldn't take the beatings. So I left home when I was 17," Shivputra told us one night, by the fire.

Shivputra was in India on a Yoga Visa. I didn't know such a thing existed but Shivputra showed us his passport. He'd just come from Bihar after stretching and sweating on yoga mats for a month at the Bihar School of Yoga.

Shivputra confessed to us his fondness for words one day. He had a voice that endlessly hemmed and hawed before entering the ears. His hearing too took the longer way home. "I've sin it too, I've sin it too," continued Shivputra giving his head a shake of bitter irony and understanding. "A great film. A great film," he said pushing the first bite of Banana Pancake into his mouth. "Dustin Hoffman was excellent. Too fucking excellent."

Ron did not protest. He'd grown used to Shivputra's messed up 'fondness for words'. Ron was the only one who didn't like Sundar's Banana Pancakes. Ron was British but he didn't feel the part. Age may have had something to do with it but we weren't sure. Ron's travels had taught him to say 'You are probably right' to every argument that sounded to him flat or inappropriate. But he was 62 and much-travelled. Part of his genes were imported too. From across the English Channel. Ron was half Czech. "What women!" Ron said while telling us about his family. His mother was not, in his own words, a great beauty. She was British.

Ron was the only one who was struck by the 'miracle' of the war coming live to us. "For our generation watching a war meant being in it. We had to hide in shelters. Now they stare it in the face. On TV. The fear's gone," said Ron, as he fiddled with the burnt gravel of his eaten toast.

Ron was the drawer of conclusions. He was our summing-up guy. He had long been a seeker of the occult. Maybe why he was the keenest to go beyond the colour whooshes.

"This is a bit like the Templar killings," said Ron after Hagar announced the war.

The night before the war descended black and white on our TV a leopard had come out hunting. We were within the radius of its roar. The forest was slowly waking up to the predator's hunger. The hill was slowly turning into a battlefield. They were banging pots and pans to scare the beast away. But pots and pans were not going to stop it.

Khimda told us how the villagers kept their cattle indoors because of the leopards. Sometimes they did this at the cost of their own comfort.

We had been sitting on the terrace, talking about the lives we had left behind. The sounds, first the leopard's and then that of the pots and pans stopped our conversation.

"We should light a fire," said Amit. Amit's suggestion died young. Like the flicker of a matchstick. Amit like Hagar was Israeli. He was from Tel Aviv.

His "city of fear". A city where you didn''t know whether you'd be home for dinner. "When they made that siren noise, it was like okay, now you take out your gas mask and run and hide and... just do something!" he said frantically slicing the darkness with his hands.

Amit flew fighter planes when not travelling. When not flying he was travelling. He was a frequent flier to places to he'd read about.

That year Amit decided to fly Air India.

It was his big break.

At Khim's Amit's daily routine had SLEEP written on it in a slow and langorous scrawl. He slept through the day on his mat in the clean air of our Himalayan refuge. He'd seen much of the colour and the people of India, getting off Sleeper Class bogeys and poring over glossy India books.

Rita and Udo's cottage was unusually quiet the night the leopard came. We guessed they must have 'slept with the bottle'. It happened whenever Rita and Udo got drunk and opened their backpack of memories. Rita was a teeth maker in Berlin before she was bitten by the India bug. Udo had flitted from odd job to odd job until he finally gave up trying.

He'd met Rita in Goa 15 years ago. It was a love, bittersweet like chocolate, that kept Rita and Udo together despite the many nights of 'sleeping with the bottle'. Rita talked fondly of the teeth she had made, back home. "Now, they have machines," she said, "we used to make art." Rita had a job that she could remember fondly. Udo just remembered the la-la-land of his first real love. "She used to be another person then," he said one morning after a nasty duel with Rita. Rita had the bite. She could make a big man like Udo crumble.

Rita and Udo had done Osho and a few others. They had pretty much milked the holy cow dry. They liked Osho but not his "people". "He was wicked, and so much fun," Rita said. Even in their penury Rita and Udo were the proud owners of an ageing Matador van.

Although it had seen better days the Matador was still game for the winding and treacherous hill roads. The leopard had come upon us suddenly. But Rita and Udo had been better prepared, perhaps with a hunger louder than the leopard's animal appetite.

More…
Comrade Joshi could see his voice on TV. "See," he told Amit and me once when we paid him a visit, "Do you see that.. how it is going. Now Bill Clinton will hear it… How? I think I can tell you people… Although it's very advanced technology… You see this here," he said holding a centimentre of space between his thumb and forefinger, "It is a transmitter. And one like this is fixed below his table in Oval Office."

Comrade Joshi was a seer. He could see things others could not. "He is fully mad now," Khimda told us after he left that day.

Khimda warned us about Comrade Joshi's madness. He said it could be very attractive. A strange thing to say, but that was Khimda. Comrade Joshi, Khimda told us, was a second generation Communist. Then somewhere in the late Eighties Comrade Joshi lost the war against the Capitalists. Soon after, he lost his mind to the bourgeois boobtube.

That was his release. His glasnost. His perestroika. And it happened slowly-over the years-inside a small dingy outhouse of his huge ancestral bungalow. On top of a hill. Through a TV.

The night before the war we'd seen the full moon. It was an unusual honey colour. It came up suddenly from behind the hill like a huge gas balloon escaped from a child's hand. And then it began to melt slowly. We could see the honey moon turn into vapour, the vapour into air, and the air into tiny drops of the moon. The melting moon settled on exposed surfaces: on leaves, on grass blades, on clothes and hair. And then we went up to the terrace. To say goodbye to the honey moon. It was a sight none of us had seen before.

The honey moon, Khimda told us, did something to wild animals. It made them come out of their lairs and hunt. It made them seek out other animals and prey on them. When they found these animals they pounced on them and killed them. The killing helped them deal with their hunger. Their fear of dying. Their fear of the honey moon.
Khimda was a mathematician. That night when we sat on the terrace saying goodbye to the melting moon Khimda was playing his flute. The only man-made light we could see were reefer-dots changing hands and mouths. Light, floatey music swirled out of his reed like smoke rings.

Khimda had let out a genie.

And he had us hooked. There had been talk of war during the day. The signs had been building up. Our small and sleepy world was suddenly going to war.

The smoke rings broke Khimda's heart, punctured his soul and tore out of his lips like newborn butterflies.

Khimda had two sons. Partap, the younger one was a soldier. He had gone to the border to fight for a piece of his country. But his guts failed him when the first shots were fired. Two swift wounds seared through his stomach before he fell to the ground, dazed and bloodsoaked.

The news of the incident was broken to Khimda on a piece of telegram paper. The details came in later with the 'martyr' as the dead are known in the Army. Partap had strayed too far into the line of fire, the officer explained as he handed Khimda the remains of his favourite son.

Khimda's arithmetics didn't let him mourn Partap's loss for too long. He brought home his sister's son. This way he still had two sons. Sundar, the magus of the Kitchen, and Rajesh, his deputy at the griddle wand.

Rajesh had come to Khim's to replace a photograph. A grinning boy-soldier draped, daily by Rajesh in a circle of frail red roses and plastic straws. The picture was the last taken of Partap before he left for the war.

Wars were always wars, Khimda used to say. Because wars had no names. Or addresses. Khimda believed, they all came out of one giant whoosh of fear and hate. And they only spelt loss. How could you give your loss a name, Khimda told his family. Wars were wars. They only spelt loss. Names were unnecessary for them.

We were behind the world by a day at Khim's. Newspapers reached us a day late. We had a PC, but it took hours to go online on days there was power. But we had time, in its strange, mutant form. Sometimes it moved fast, sometimes like the slow-moving dust of a beaten track. What we call real time came and visited us sometimes with the news breaks. The rest of the time we floated in a soup of sounds: of deafening silences, of Hagar's self-help guitar and of Khimda's killer flute.

It was a time when we didn't need much. Before us were these huge chocolate-chip peaks. Behind us, the green and brown hills grinned and waved at us with their sun spots and pine cones. We made fragrant fires from twigs and pine cones. We heard Hagar and Amit sing Passover songs at night. We exchanged stories from our past. We navigated the hills on foot. We breathed in and we breathed out and didn't wonder why.

The TV, with its black and white shadows, brought us back to the world and its wars. Khimda's TV had no cable. But it did a good job of breaking news to us. And teaching us the timeless art of waiting.

Not over yet…
Hagar was the first to arrive. She came tender-fried just days ahead of the war. She had been sightseeing in the southern states. She had been to 'Modoorai' and 'Hydra-bad' and 'Who-blee'. She had grown tired of the questions that came with straying from the pack. Alone and female. 'Hello darling, where are you from?' 'Baby, where are you going?' 'What are hiding between your legs, foreign whore?' She had grown weary of those questions.

She just wanted to feel the cool air on her face and the sun on her feet. This was her time of rest and dreaming.

Hagar began at the bronze of her Medusa hair and ended at the black tips of her painted nails. In between was an Army-hardened hour-glass of dough colour skin. Hagar was 5 feet. She came to Khim's in a guitar case disguise. She lugged it on her back and it made her look taller. The guitar was her travelling mate. Without her guitar Hagar was like a Babushka doll down to her last self.

Hagar was Israeli, single and on a mission. She'd lost her glasses on the way to the hills. With them she'd also lost a way of seeing. She didn't mind not seeing things as things. She'd begun to see the patterns in the whooshes of colour that moved around her like fish behind frosted glass.

Hagar was a student of sound. She was also a self-help fanatic. Her small, custom-made rucksack had in it two self-help books. The books were part of Hagar's mission. One self-helped her with Hindi, the language, and the other with pulling strings.

Something about her sudden retreats from conversation told you that she wasn't all there. Hagar's sudden silences told you of the sorrow she'd secretly felt at losing her other selves. Losing them to her country. The hate it had expected her to hold inside her. Black and raging hate for her neighbours. Her semitic sisters in the occupied land. "We're not expected to sympathize with them," she said one day. Hagar was a Kibbutznik. She had in those growing up years in a kibbutz become an adept in the art of sharing.

She had seen Yitzhak Rabin fall. She was there when a law student emptied into him the sum of all his fear and hatred. She was tiny cadet waiting to shake her Prime Minister's hand. They were all celebrating peace at a Tel Aviv peace rally. Hagar had seen Rabin's killer walk past her. In jeans, T-shirt and skull cap. "He also killed something in us," Hagar said.

She had very clear memories of that day. The breeze was faint like a dreamer's breath. Rabin had been walking around shaking hands, on his way to the podium. Then two shots were heard. "It was like a wave. We heard 'Bang, bang' and then people were screamin. We knew somehow what had happened. I didn't remember any dry eyes that day," she told us.

The loss of glasses had changed Hagar's view of people. For once since her army days she didn't have to bother about the politics of Us and Them.

Hagar was the first to see the breaking news. "I think it's started," she said narrowing her eyes. Searching one by one our colour whooshes for reactions. She said 'it's started' as if she'd just announced a film.

For a moment it felt the Banana Pancakes would lose their magic.

COMRADE JOSHI came to Khim's especially for the war. He had a TV at home but he liked an audience. Like in a cricket match. His TV was also mad like him. Sometimes it worked. Mostly, it didn't. Comrade Joshi was a grand orator. Once out of his mouth Comrade Joshi's words could travel to the ends of the earth. He spoke to Bill Clinton. Daily. Through his TV. He also spoke to his wife, Monica Seles, daily. Through the TV.

He whispered his daily messages into the muted speaker of his obsolete Uptron TV. As Comrade Joshi spoke into his TV his words mixed with the throbbing static of his blank screen. Then they tangoed with the dots inside the screen and waltzed through the cable wire, into the T-shape of his antenna. From the antenna the wind carried his words to distant lands. To wherever Comrade Joshi willed his words to go. Comrade Joshi's words were like notes musicians willed to rise from their music sheets and enter their instruments, and then fade into the ears of listeners.

Still more…
THE TV was breaking news. Bombs were going off on our screen. It was 2003. We were in Iraq. Homeless. Away from people we knew well. We were watching tanks and men in camouflage take over a country already in ruins. Live.

We were like warriors in a mad videogame.

We were also in Almora. At Khim's Guest House. Ron, the Brit, had a name for it: Crank's Ridge.

The dinner table at Khim's was like a slide. If you sat on the wrong side of the table, plates, cups, spoons were drawn to you. Sliding, in very slow motion, towards you.

Khim's was built on a hill. The hill had a fault. The fault was filled up with bricks, cement and self-taught masonry but all that could not level the fault. But you only felt it if you sat on the table's wrong side.

Somehow I was a regular at the wrong side.

People came to Khim's to mend themselves. The Banana Pancakes were part of the mending. Sundar, Khimda's son, was the magus of the kitchen. He made pancakes on his tava-pan.

He turned the tropical fruit and flour into white pigeons and said: voilà. And he served them with a bowl of mountain-fresh honey. Each pancake held in its tender-fried fold the smell of fresh banana, sliced neatly into coin-shapes.

Sundar's pancakes were our allowance during the sack of Iraq. We were prisoners of war without even knowing it.

Most of us were between destinations. Some others were breaking long painful journies to nowhere.

Continues…
The blue
toothpaste
and
coffee-ish
smell
of arrival.
Success
in blue
money,
crisp
comfort,
living a
costly life
in hard
cash.

The blue
icing on
the annual
candle-cake
sweet, solidified
and loopy,
sky-writing
a future
somewhere
blurry
and
dark green,
illuminated
by a patch of
psychedelic
grass with
peacock-blue
roots
shining in veins
of cracked earth,
browned
under the
travelling sun.

The blue
evening sun,
hungry,
like me,
entering
the moon's
sea of
tranquility
to trawl
its depths
and steal
words and
meanings like
'Comfort' and
'Somnambulimia':
sleep
walking
and not
eating,
and
coming
out
iridescent
and
blue-quoted
the
next
morning.

The blue
air
sickness
of sitting
somewhere
hidden,
window seat,
hoping for
an oblique,
colour-coded
glance and
some blue
eyed
sympathy
in return
of
a
smile.

Or
a
feast
of blue
vein
cheese on toast
with melting
butter and
a remote
control,
pressed
green to
pause
holding
something
precious
or insane
or a
mocking
face
regarding
the past
with
liqiud
modesty.

The blue
bitch of
a yellowish
life,
captured
in stark
naked
detail
by
technology
on tiny
pixels:
weekend all
sold out,
lapped up
by eyes,
and ears
and
sometimes
the
radar
down there.

The blue
silverscreen
of memory
now
become
grainy with
age and
constant
misuse;
gone
yet there
stored
in crushed
paper balls,
uncrumpled
at will,
read and
smiled at
from
time
to time.
Good
time.
Bad
time.
Blue
time.
That's the stained glass Sun Temple

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As an art practitioner I work in a variety of mediums, what you see here are glimpses of my many creative projects. If you like or feel strongly something here please don't forget to comment

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