Between this and the last newsletter the world changed! Personally, one minute I was excited to be releasing a program I'd been developing for over a year, and the next I was managing the postponement of some beautiful projects.
Perhaps I've been conditioned to thinking that the world's most consistent refrain of plague, war, famine or displacement resides in history books or black and white photos. Even I, a sometimes student of history, still harboured a childish whinge that this isn't 'fair', as though 'fairness' is a law of nature, which of course it never has and never will be. We strive towards a 'just society', or try to, or pretend to, safe in the knowledge that hell will freeze over before it happens. That's one of the truly frightening realities of this virus - things might really change.
I am holed up in the far west of NSW with my dog Ralph and caravan called Boris, built in 1949. As a yardstick of the recent century this old caravan was almost definitely built by people who experienced the Great Depression, possibly the First World War and definitely the Second. If they survived the Great War it might have been to contract the Spanish Flu, which killed around 60 million people. Boris was stored in a shed for decades during which the world experienced the conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Korea, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan and all the others that didn't rate a mention or which I have forgotten. Most people, at most times, suffer terrible calamities, and some suffer them for their entire lives. In the Land of the Free children langush in cages at the border and families are locked up for years in off shore detention centres right here. Talk about Lock-downs.
But there is something unique about this pandemic. In the past, possibly with the exception of the Spanish Flu, people could cling together; men could bask in the reflected heroics of Bradman; families might sing around a piano at night. People knew each other and talked over fences in back alleys. Neighbourhoods were a thing, a communal organism that absorbed grief and fears, sometimes minimising it and sometimes escalating it. Mind you, they also hid things together as well. My Dad told me that in Surry Hills, the working class Sydney Catholic area in which I was born, you could hear the sounds of women being bashed on a Saturday night when the pubs closed, and no one, including the parish priests, said a thing.
I spoke to my Indian driver Dilip Yadav a week or so ago. He drives a tuk tuk, one of those the horrible vehicles that guzzles petrol and farts noisily around India and much of Asia. He is a Muslim man from Kandahar, and like millions of others has moved to Delhi for a better life. He created that better life as well, securing a little flat with his wife and 2 children in a nicer neighbourhood where his kids are safe.
I spent the Holi Festival with him and his wife's family in a slum neighbourhood in Delhi where Dilip's mother-in-law lived. Holi is that festival where everyone gets smashed with coloured powder, and I think I got smashed more than most. The opportunity to throw stuff at an old white guy was too good to resist. It was good-natured but fairly intense. Of course, being a complete idiot, I embraced everything, including the dancing, which they found hysterical. I don't take drugs but certainly did in my youth, a lot, and with the hypnotic music, trance-like dancing and air shimmering through the sun full of red, blue and green powder, I went into a soft flashback state.
Anyway, Dilip has lost his tuk tuk, his livelihood and has been thrown onto the street to where he and his wife dragged their bed and belongings, and where his family have stretched a tarpaulin under which they now shelter, and in which they are bound to stay by the strict Indian lock-down laws. That's a husband and wife and two boys inside a plastic shelter in an alley way. Now get this. When I asked how he was he reprised Ned Kelly's- 'thats life' . His gaunt face, rectangled into my iPhone screen, cracked an heroic smile that betrayed his deep stress, concerned and scared as he is for his family.
I doubt he is more or less stoic than other Indians. He is just stating a philosophy that views life as a collection of good and bad. As a low caste Indian he's used to the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune'. He has no expectation of a life without deep injustice.
When I open my laptop each day, my screen saver displays another image that tells an Indian story that is good for me; psychically, spiritually, emotionally, deeply good for me. I've not tired of it yet because, unlike a picture of the Kardashians, it seeks to encourage 'less' rather than the bottomless 'more'. It promotes gratitude rather than envy or avarice. It allows me the prospect of living with nothing.
This man is a Sadhu, a religious Hindu man. Now there are a lot of fake Sadhus in India who bleed tourists eager to grab a photo or a trite blessing. This guy was real. Everything he had in this world was with him. He was doing his daily wash and devotion by the Ganges River which included a Salute to the Sun - and man look at that body.
He looked at me and saw that my camera was focused on him and gave the most beautiful smile. Just for a moment and it was gone. He walked over to me and broke a banana in two, giving me half. He wasn't just giving me half a banana, he was giving me half the food he owned in the world.
I think that simple gesture is why travel can actually work. It is those moments, and the rare connections into another way of thinking, that just might enable me to take solace while holed up in the outback in an old caravan; and be grateful for the shelter, the food and the beauty I can access as I walk around the farm on which I am staying.
My greatest sense of loss at this time, and the thing that gives me most grief at night, and dread in the early hours, is for the tours I have postponed. The designing and developing of programs is my greatest joy. Without them both my business and I are in limbo, and I feel a deep sense of aimlessness.
But really, it's 'just life', and I've plenty of bananas.