Why do I come back here every year? UG used to say someone offered to buy him a house here and he said, “Madame, if you buy me that house I will turn it into a brothel.” Probably he was just describing the function of any good ashram. The first time I came here with the excuse of researching UG’s life. After all it was a significant piece of his story that he’d come to see Ramana as a man of 21 years. Then too there were always a few friends from my time with him hanging around. An added benefit was the mountain, a nice place and relatively clean for India, to walk up on paths to the ashram where Ramana lived in a cave or around the entire width of the thing in a 3-4 hour hike. Now that’s not so easy since a few women were assaulted on that inner path. The other day I tried it and after scrambling through a series of diversions set up by the police, into thorn bushes, or worse, I wound up in a shitting ground. Still, you can do a lot on the mountain, lots of places to walk around.
When I land I rent a cheap motorcycle and a room or a house, also cheap, where I can write and paint. There are always some UG friends here to have a coffee or a lunch with. This time I brought a portable hammock from a camping store. That was smart, don’t know why it took so long to figure that out. Nothing like stringing it between a couple of trees and hanging up on the mountain away from all the swamis down below from east and west and lately in particular, from Russia, peddling all sorts of spiritual bullshit. I brought a nice translation of the Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga sutras this time. I ended up reading Samuel Beckett’s trilogy instead. Its such a fitting book somehow full of stories of lame bums wandering across landscapes with no idea why, or characters trapped in a room or some other ill-defined space, with voices impossible to locate, telling stories about various other characters similarly difficult to locate. It reminds me of the hopeless battles of meditation. The characters resemble the sanyasins in orange robes I see every day, scattered around the mountain, staring into space, begging for a few rupees, waiting for the next meal, growing old by the side of the road, waiting for an undefined event to occur.
During the first years I went regularly to the ashram. I bought a copy of Ramana’s dialogues, read it all over again, having read it shortly after meeting UG years back. I read with great attention then went and sat in his room or in Skanda Ashram up on the hill. I walked around the inner path many times. People told me it would enhance my spiritual life, but frankly I liked the exercise and the beauty of the mountain at sunrise. The languor monkeys on the eastern rocks were always entertaining and by the time I finished the 3.5 hour walk I was done for the day. Eventually, over the years, I lost interest in the walk, or found other things to do. Everything changes, now the police have blocked it.
The great hall was a nice place to hang out, cool off and listen to vedic chants of an evening. For a couple of years I spent time in the library during the mornings. I even made the acquaintance of a German mystic who talked about his experiences for some time. After while that lost its draw. UG was always there in the background like a faint but persistent humming. Nothing diminishes that kind of impact, its a brush fire that goes on and on.
This time I got settled with the bike and a house out in some cow fields away from the hustle of town. In the morning the light comes into the bedroom softly with a distant call to prayer sounding off, followed by the chattering of a variety of birds. Later on Hindu chanting starts off from across the fields, a far off radio or temple. Then come the sounds of neighbours passing on a bicycle or motorbike and a farmer comes to peg his cows into the field next door and across the dirt road from the house. Next there is the clanging of morning chores and sooner or later the dogs start arguing, snarling and snapping at each other until a nearby farmer shouts at them and the scramble off. Then I hear a woman yelling at a kid next door who seems to cry a lot.
After lunch with friends I usually brave the afternoon heat and head up the path past the stone carvers plying their wares from the side of the path, into the boulders. It usually quiet, abandoned in the afternoon heat, with the occasional seeker solemnly treading up or down barefoot. I dropped the barefoot business a long time ago. Now I prefer worldly sneakers, handy for climbing up into the rocks. The trees provide leafy shelter from the sun and there is the occasional breeze if you get high enough into a tree. I find a good vantage point, string up my ‘office’ and read Beckett for a while, then drift off for some time, staring up at the sky or a cloud morphing into a variety of faces over the peak of the mountain.
There is nothing like Tiru at dusk. I come down off the mountain around sunset past the people coming for the sunset show. Leaving town I head to rutted dirt back roads, scuttling between people, cows, piles of trash, children playing and a variety of vehicles until I get to the unpopulated roads and paths that lead to the unfinished ring road in the distance. At that hour the dusk blurs the colours into rich pastels.
Just before and after 6 pm the sun is a big red ball in the sky. It drops fast below the horizon fenced with tall palms, trailing a remainder of lingering glow over the flat land. In the distance you can see other ancient rock formations sticking up in a dreamy vagueness. Everyone is relaxed, and the world seems innocent at that hour. Even locals sit by the side of the road, watching the light fade, soaking up the brief quiet, the magic limbo between day and night. The mountain makes a big triangular shadow in the background, a solid beacon making it impossible to get lost.
The unfinished ring road is raised up, a platform providing high views of the flat surroundings. As a road its deliciously empty, half dirt, half treacherous gravel, with one stretch of paved road. Along this platform the farmers bring up cows from the field paths along the rice paddies and scrub brush parcels, leading them slowly back home. Women in saris wander gracefully along, with a couple of animals and maybe a child in tow. There is something of a dance to the way they walk across this scene. From the heights of the road you can glance into the little windows and doors of huts along the road where dinner is cooking. People crouch on the threshold watching or talking. Coming back across to the busy main road, I pass a man in the fully dark background, silhouetted by a bright orange and red trash fire. His expression of indifference on a face burned black by the sun glistening in the dark is haunting.
Back at the house after dark the mountain looms in the distance with a cloud of fog enveloping the peak. Above the fog which has the appearance of a whirling shroud, a few stars hang in the cold deep blues, a reminder of the infinite spaces. Nearby a man is chanting into a microphone and my neighbours are watching a tamil movie. Someone is drumming somewhere. Wind rustles the huge leaves of the banana tree plant in the gardens behind and beside the house, a breeze pulls through the house back to front. I sit and swing in a wicker chair savouring the darkness.
There’s not much left to do now but wander around the world and pass the time. I write because the surroundings keep surprising me. I have an overwhelming urge to describe this vision, my existence, to someone out there in the dark. As fucked up as it is, life is a hell of a movie.