Turn On and Tune In
Recently, I contemplated doing a book on all of the western travellers I have met in India who loose their minds in their search for inner peace or “God”. They say that travel broadens the mind. May be. But where India is concerned, it may well warp it. I say this because too often I come across fellow travellers who get lost in the darkest recesses of their minds all done in the name of spiritual “enlightenment”. Their brand of enlightenment occurs with a dimly lit bulb, barely flickering inside their head. I suppose they “turned on, tuned in and switched off” – to reality.
However, one or two characters tend to turn on, and miss the channel completely. I could probably write a lengthy book on each of these characters I have encountered over the years, but for the time being, one comes to mind. His name was “Q” (yes, Q!).
I suppose that always being dressed in white is not really a prerequisite for being pure. But it kind of helps to sustain the illusion of washed away sin. Every morning and evening, Q could be seen washing his clothes, trying to get then clean or whiter than white. It was a public ritual, probably a demonstration of being white-than-white-I-am-better-than-you-mere-mortals. A cleansing of the soul perhaps? But, Q required more than soap powder and cheap white cotton garments to attain a state of purity.
Along with his white clothes, Q also sported a shaven head, except for a growth of hair at the back, which sort of sprouted upward for a centremetre or so and then fell to form a slender and quite short ponytail. As with his “whiteness” Q’s sprouting, hanging ponytail was probably meant to be a statement of his holiness; of his difference to the mere unholy ones; of his greatness in comparison to the unbelievers.
“Life is an illusion, and illusion is reality.” Q talked in riddles. He was a riddle. Everyday was the same, he talked, and I listened. Or to be more precise, he talked and I switched-off. Q checked into my hotel and didn’t leave. Three months of his tortuous ramblings about God, reality, non-reality, illusion, energy forces and…more God. In fact, he gave torture a bad name.
I don’t know what Q’s real name was but now he was a symbol. When he wrote his name it was a kind of squiggle – a symbol concocted from this or that religion, or this or that homespun philosophy. But he wanted everyone to call him Q as this, according to him, was the sound that was associated with the squiggle. His squiggle (or should I say symbol?) had some deep and meaningful significance no doubt, but I just couldn’t be bothered to ask.
Q had all the finesse of a sledgehammer. He lacked anything in the way of social skills, and just interjected wherever and whenever with his meaning of life ramblings. On one occasion, it was nine in the morning and Q began his sermon. I was too sleepy to be concerned about God being “inside each and every molecule, atom, proton, neutron and electron; every chemical inside the body; every protein and carbohydrate.” I wasn’t interested in God, physics or biochemistry at that time of the day. He was a stuck record. Every day had become the same, listening to his repetitive rants. He had nothing original to say. It had all been gleaned from some text-book or other, or some swami or guru, then regurgitated at length to anyone unfortunate to be in listening range, or too polite to tell him to give it a rest.
The thing is that if you had met Q for one day only then you might think that he was a great original thinker on a par with Plato, Einstein or whoever. But after one day, it becomes clear that his repertoire is limited. He runs out of things to say and so just begins to repeat…and repeat. That is when you realise that he is not really thinking, but regurgitating. Day two would be the same. Then, after that, each day would blend into a blur where you get to the point that you don’t know what day it is. Indeed, you get to the point where you wonder if the sun ever rises or sets and if today was yesterday or yesterday was the day before. You become trapped inside the Q time warp and the mantra never changes.
Q talked in simplistic absolute truths, but it was all based on mere relative, subjective belief. I said this to him once, but I couldn’t win. He had direct, undiluted access to the truth. He retorted by coming out with one of his classics: “It’s a relative absolutism and an absolute relativism. God is the energy force and every other energy is an illusion”. It was all so depressing; God help me. Listening to Q was as pleasurable as sucking on a bag of razor blades. Come to think of it, the pain endured by sucking on razor blades would easily be eclipsed by the monumental tedium inflicted by Q.
Q was from Belgium and had not worked for twenty-five years. He had been to India on forty separate occasions. Apparently he was on some kind of benefit or pension from the Belgian government: probably something to do with his state of mental health – judging by the state of his mental health. But there are many Qs travelling around India. None have done much work in their lives and most are in their forties and beyond. They are on permanent vacation from reality, courtesy of the taxpayer and their respective governments. Many have become self-appointed experts on life, death, the meaning of the universe, and in Qs case, physics, and biochemistry.
Over the years I have met a dozen Qs going under the name of Balance, Zed, Quest and One. Most of the time, they spew out rhetoric – self-contained truths repeated ad nausea so that thinking and real analysis becomes relegated to the realm of the ignorant. And I’m afraid I belong to that realm. In Europe they would not be viewed as the soothe sayers they think they are. In fact they would be put on a pension and packed off to India…Hold on a minute, isn’t that what the problem is in the first place?
Colin Todhunter is the author of Chasing Rainbows in Chennai, which reached No.3 in the bestseller list of India’s largest bookstore, Landmark. This piece is an extract from the book. All of the other chapters can be found in the India section of BootsnAll.