Hot Thoughts, Cool Streams, Smart Brains.
The streets and dust of Delhi— India, yes, this true antipode of Western instrumental rationality. Not irrationality. Not non-instrumentality, God knows. But Indian instrumental rationality— its own funny, little form of control and decision, finalized with a nod and headbobble. What, in the bazaars? Yes, in the bazaars. Where else for finding the slightest instrumentalities? In bargaining, in the subway, fixing the lightswitch plate in the hotel room— this is where rationalities come into play, manifest, fork, and frustrate the piss out of other rationalities. Not in vaunted and presentable culture. At points, surrender is your only path. And besides, poetry begins in feeling anyway. Just order Chinese food and take in the scenery— the fetid mud and shit wafting up from the ground.
Western rationality thinks it holds the court on all rationality, characteristically. But what are its prejudices, our prejudices? On the whole, we like neat, preconceivable wholes. Perfect squares. Round numbers. Binarisms. Ideals. Easy visualization. We like, also, to impose ourselves on space, as universality, as infrastructure, as narcissism. As a plan lording over all details and local deities. But this is not always the most rational and optimal, now is it, especially when handling the floodtide of Subcontinental complexity. A billion people, whorling about in a thick mix of purplish folkways. Streets glutted with cows, rickshaws, carts overburdened with cargo, lepers, touts, wild dogs, tourists on spiritual journeys, big people, little people, brown people, browner people. This mess is under another modus altogether. A model, I realized, closer to orderings of Nature, in the locality and opportunism of its process, gap-filling and recursive. Neither Nature nor India sacrifice anything to preconception, cleanliness, symmetry, or Western narcissisms.
A large, bedazzled bus pulls onto the main road. Around it swarm cars and taxis. Rickshaws and motorcycles sputter in between. Bicycles find any remaining streams of space, as pedestrians frogger across the rush with no guarantee of survival. How else could it be? Is this not an optimum? Every cubic-inch exploited. Nested methods. India never had the luxury of a clean slate. Its logic is based on the niche, turning the niche into a domain.
Consider the orderings of Nature: how trees branch and water eddies. Now turn and observe the Hindu temple, and how its repeated, stubby geometries lend it the look of a giant tree trunk. How apartments climb like ziggurats. The electrical lines, like giant vines, knotting fifty times over any pole or juncture. It irks or delights us, but secretly we ask: why the fuck don’t they straighten all this shit out? In India, there is no sub species eternitatis, no God’s Eye View from which to impose a Plan over Space. This is a Western narcissism, and maybe something that runs deeper epistemically than the distinction between monotheism and polytheism.
We climb aboard a train in Udaipur and try to decipher the seating numbers. “The numbers have been changed,” a passenger informs us… Okay, why would they do that? But sure enough, the numbers had been changed. They had gone through and tacked up new numbers, hung lighted-signs, overhauled the whole arrangement. Only they had forgotten to unscrew the old numbers, so repeating endlessly, in every car, at every station, all across the country, an echoing chatter of “nahin, nahin, ya apka new number hai, aur va apka old number hai… da da old number da da new number da da old number da da new number…” Disambiguation happening only in the here and now, never beforehand or from above. Polytheistic civil planning. “330 million gods and godlings.”
What is the price?… Well, what is your budget?… No, a thing has a price, a value. A fixed and final worth… No, sir, I’m asking you: what is your budget?… But they’re righter. A fixed price can mean lost sales, a failure of the moment, the kairos. Hassle and haggle secure what cannot be found elsewhere in time or space… I’ll come back… No, there is no coming back… “Everything possible, always not available,” a saying Jonny recalls. And that repetition? Hello, sir. Where you from? What country? Excuse me, sir, hello.. What’s your name? Hello… A recursion, driven deep into the eardrums. An eeking-out rather than a masterplan.
All is dark. The electricity, out. Generators burn. The streets and alleys are lit by candles and headlamps. The traffic persists, though. Shit-smeared cows move through the dark crowds like silent oceanliners. Ah, these cows. These unbudging, beatifically tranquil beasts. Only a god could be that unflustered by circumstance. Maybe an exception to Zweckrationalität, to endview instrumental rationality? Maybe but not necessarily. Indian Zweckrationalität is totally local, almost monadic. It has room for other ends, other values. The cows impose upon nothing, unless they walk into a kiosk, into a locale. Then they’re shooed out with brooms or the tap of a stick. So it’s not quite as we imagine it. Qualities cannot get far enough apart in Indian to become real binary oppositions. They have to become neighbors, intertwined, spectral. Chains of being… Dogs, despised by day, rule the deep night hour. Howling in packs of thirty and forty… Monkeys leap from ledges without so much as a foreglance. Exalting in their rooftop dominion, watching the sunset together. All the species in jigsaw cohabitation.
Labor is so cheap here in India. It leads one to ask: why do signs hang diagonally? Why is there dust on my orange juice? How about a quick paintjob on the wall back there? I’m sitting here watching the storeowner meticulously arrange his sodas and mango drinks while the sink is clotted with rust and mud. It just needs a once-over. Being the biggest slob in the world, I love it of course— it fits my aesthetic— but what is this guy thinking? I continue drinking my Pepsi, the only person in the restaurant.
Two guys enter, order some lunch, and sit down at my table, in an empty restaurant, and eat without talking to me. I look around, wonder and shrug. Portraits of Baba Sai and the beloved dead bless the place— again this locale, locality, this made-holy topos. The portraits are covered in cobwebs and grime. Indians are not afraid of world-dirt. World-dirt sacralizes, even, in that if you stake a Place, rather than float in a Transcendental Space, then dust, grime, webs, oxidation, event, history— these all mark out the authenticity of the made-holy topos. And from the looks of things, every last cubic-inch of India betrays some kind of sacred past. But who am I to talk about Indian sacrality? I’ll just say that world-dirt is widely esteemed… Sadus are paid to blow smoke in faces.
I never got a good grip on Subcontinental religiosity. Couldn’t separate the scammy, shammy elements from true belief. I should have asked one of the Westerners swimming around in a cloud of Orientalism. This Orientalism is really its own code and culture, though, something beyond the pale of falsity and authenticity. The om and vishnu tees, the hammer pants, the wispy mannerisms, bliss ninniness, obligatory dreadlocks for those under thirty, freely-offered spiritual advice at guesthouse cafés. Where in Nowhere is this from? Hindu ritualism seemed almost like some rote form of necessity, like plumbing or changing tires. Hard and unsentimental. And imported spiritualisms— like the Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamsala— seemed so resolutely centered and down-to-Earth, in spite of all the gushiness of outsiders. Where did this wispiness-as-Enlightenment originate? I feel, in my heart, that it cannot be true. Real sacred wisdom would seer and stir, make anyone immediately snap out of that kind of fog. I really think these spacecake missions are purely aesthetic ventures… not that there is anything wrong with aesthetic ventures, I guess. Just the acknowledgement is missing.
The Tibetan monks were the only bunch over there that I felt I could identify with, hang out with, play billiards with. When Jonny and I started fucking around in the mud, building a “temple,” the monks would pass by and give an understanding nod that translated roughly into: nice. Or maybe: yeah, we had to do that too. And who could argue with Tibetan prayer technics? The prayer wheels and beads, putting tics and spare, radiant metabolism to holy purposes— so pleasing, even to outsiders. Paths cutting through the mountainside. Alphorns. These guys really understand. While in the rest of India, you get rats and mosquitoes, Dharamsala is fittingly infested with butterflies and ladybugs… Ladybugs, the Tibetan monks of the insect world… “Have to return to Delhi soon.” Back to children defecating on piles of trash. Roam the slums. Order a chai. Sit and brood.
Left arm hurts. Aorta feels constricted. Just great. They won’t find my corpse for another three weeks, when the smell finally hits the lobby. This is my Death. Cardiac arrest, under a twisting ceiling fan, with the midnight movie playing on… Pretty noir and melancholic… Feeling wrong and lovesick. This place is so profoundly anti-libidinal for me, in both the wide and narrow sense. I felt like a specter when I first arrived, a transcendental eyeball floating through the motion of Indian streets.
When it came, I welcomed the chills and psychotropic diarrhea. Days spent on the floor of the bathroom. An assumption of the flesh once more. An incarnation, however pale and pitiful. So many times, I find myself sitting in a hot place, next to goats and cattle, on a mountainside in Jaipur, say, scaling down the rocks, sweating, and still floating and irreal. What gives? We need an activity. We play cricket with a local gang of goonies, in the courtyard of an Udaipur temple. Unofficial rules. We wander through the markets, taking out our boredom on touts and scammers. Night falls, and Jonny and I are standing in the middle of a half-dry lake, sinking in mud. “Where the hell are we?”