From Copenhagen to Byron Bay: An Energy Crisis and a Tale of Two Women
“They possess mystical energies and can help to focus your karma”, April was convinced that the crystals and gemstones I had bought here in India had qualities that went way above and beyond the laws of natural science. She was a twenty-year old spiritual healer from Byron Bay in Australia. I had been to Byron Bay. It was a hippy hang out where much talk was of cosmic forces and “energy”. A while ago I would have treated any notions of “energy” with my usual cynical disdain as the ramblings of a madwoman who had spent far too much time in India – or for that matter, Byron Bay. But now I wanted to believe because this had been a life-changing trip at a time when I thought life-changing trips happened only to other people.
The first week in late October was spent mainly lying on my bed in Chennai (Madras) staring up at the rotating ceiling fan. That was to become a regular occurrence. It felt like the end of a trip, never mind the start. I didn’t really know why I’d come back to India and was suffering an “energy” crisis from early on. Gazing at the fan didn’t help. The stale air wafted around the room, reminding me just how vacuous and hollow things had become. The ceiling fan was sucking me into a spiralling vortex of self-pity. Some people call it a mid-life crisis. Maybe that’s what it was.
So I decided to leave the city, and soon found myself sitting on a stone floor in a village house, sipping sickly sweet tea. Sanju, the hotel owner where I was staying had taken me to meet his sister. Asha was studying for a degree, spoke good English and was loyal. After fifteen minutes of hard sell he turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” I knew what he meant, “What do you mean?” I replied. “Do you want to marry?” he said. She was nineteen. Her mother was one year older than me. I knew nothing about this girl, her aspirations, or personality. This did not matter to Sanju. “In India first you get married and then you work these things out”, he said with amazing casualness. She was beautiful – the option of months of possible loneliness ahead or a hasty marriage and years of probable regret? I opted for the former and headed back to Chennai to lie under the fan.
New Year’s Eve came and I found myself in the hotel reception reading a daily newspaper. Someone sat next to me. She was stunning! She was Scandinavian!! But she looked so out of place, and not like a usual backpacker. It was as though she had come straight from a bar in Copenhagen, dressed in denim jacket, jeans, a tight fitting top and carrying a red shoulder bag. She probably had. She worked in one. She was in India to do research for her studies in social anthropology. We shared something! I had been a social researcher for ten years. We also had another similarity – a mutual distrust of the notion of “energy” and anyone who talked about it endlessly and said they felt it everywhere they went in India. Those people had obviously lost their grip.
We hung out together as travellers do and during a warm January we became friends. But I lost my footing and fell. I couldn’t stop falling. The rate of acceleration was frightening, and before I could apply the brakes I had fallen for her. There was a slight snag however – the small matter of that thing called “chemistry”. For me there was plenty, but for her there was none. At school wasn’t chemistry something to do with reactions and energies? So I did believe in “energy” after all! I just didn’t know it. I needed to meet April in March to show me this. There were also a few other little difficulties – a big age difference, diverging outlooks, and us having almost next to nothing in common. The fact that we were both preoccupied didn’t help either – I with her and she with herself, resulting in her complete failure to appreciate my superb qualities as a human being. Apart from all of that, things were going great.
Now to a normal person these things would have been major obstacles, but for someone barely clinging to the edge of reality with their fingernails, they were merely minor setbacks, which could (and should) be ignored. Then it struck me – in my desperation I had become just like Sanju with his utter disregard for compatibility! Anyway, we bonded – in opposition. I gave everything but she wanted nothing, and I exuded passion while she displayed indifference. I couldn’t stop thinking of her. I was obsessed. The more emotion I gave to her the quicker it drained away. She was a porous pot of a woman.
She knew how I felt. I told her. Splatter!! That was the sound of my heart sinking to the floor, exploding on impact and her trampling all over it the instant she told me she didn’t feel the same. Mere rejection wasn’t going to stop me however. I wasn’t about to return to the hypnotic stupor of the ceiling fan so easily. I clung to the desperate belief that if she REALLY got to know me then I was sure she would change her mind. I cared about everything she did. Increasingly she seemed to care for little for anything I said.
So the ceiling fan scenario returned. I dreamt of it when asleep and gazed at it when awake. Most of the time I didn’t know whether I was awake or asleep. I entered a black hole of ceiling fan syndrome. She absorbed every bit of “energy” I gave. Or maybe it just rebounded. Perhaps she was both an absorber and a repeller at the same time. She was an absorbent repellent!
It was time to make an undignified exit. My crisis was all too rapidly getting out of hand. I escaped to Jaipur, over a thousand miles north in Rajasthan. Distance was to be my salvation – out of sight out of mind, but by that stage I was already out of my mind. That’s when I met April. She was no absorbent repellent. April was a leaking radiator! She leaked warmth and radiated “energy”. April was advising me about buying jewellery to sell back home. She told me that certain stones could answer questions put to them when dangled on a piece of string. I asked for a demonstration, but my request bordered on absurdity. She had to “programme” the stone and that took a lot of time (and “energy” no doubt). I wanted to believe in the hidden power of crystals and gemstones. I needed a vitamin.
April was frightening – in a nice sort of way. She was a heady mixture of Byron Bay hippiedom and Indian mysticism, and spoke of being at one with the eternal vibrations of the universe. I didn’t quite know what that meant but it sounded impressive. She talked of witches being burnt at the stake for their knowledge of unseen “energy” and how to unlock it. April was a 21st century child, but I got the impression that she yearned to live in that long lost age of mystical energy and witchcraft – without the stake-burning of course.
April was young and wise, and talked of a higher force and how people had lost touch with its energies. Without it we are nothing and merely exist in our own self-perpetuated ignorance. I could identify with that! April also talked of people you meet who just drain away all of your positive energy. And I certainly identified with that!! She was inspirational with her talk of hidden energies and forces, and the astrological powers of amethyst, garnet and a dozen other stones. This was the gospel according to April, who incidentally was born in March.
So I started my own import export business dealing in – you’ve guessed it – semi-precious gemstones! It was a major life change. I had never sold anything before. I began my trip in crisis, turned into a gibbering wreck, and ended up in May thinking of April, newly “energised” and selling stones. The whole thing felt like a bad dream in a hardware store at times with its ceiling fan vortex, porous pots, leaking radiators and absorbent repellents. I travelled from the coldness of Copenhagen, to the warmth of Byron Bay without ever leaving India. Maybe April was right all along and a higher force had been at work. Perhaps “energy” does exist. If it does, it’s a powerful thing!
The writer is the author of Chasing Rainbows in Chennai