Anabelle was still asleep. I was glad, I didn’t feel like talking yet. I pulled on walking boots and headed out through the fields towards the woods. The sun was out, it would be hot again, but there was a slight mugginess that made me think a storm might come soon. The grey stallion in our neighbour’s field eyed me suspiciously, swishing away flies with his tail, whilst two mares loitered further off under the lone poplar in the centre of the field. One of a pair of swans that nest by my neighbour’s artificial pond flew so low over my head that I almost ducked. Idyllic.
I felt like shit. It wasn’t even ten o’clock and I felt like getting drunk. Anabelle had cheated on me, sucking off some stranger in melodramatic revenge for an infidelity that hadn’t happened. Or at least nothing I hadn’t done anything until after I’d found out that she’d cast herself in her personal pornographic telenovela. But now the simmering sexual tension between Sofia and me really had started to boil over; after this morning it would no longer be possible to pretend that there was nothing between us. Jesus, I had a paper to write: how was I ever going to get any work done?
I’d been so happy with Anabelle. Five years. Five years during which the gravitational force pulling us together had seemed unassailable and the respect and love between us had seemed to be growing only stronger. So many shared moments: eyes meeting in complicity across public rooms; the lightness of her thigh against mine as we drank morning coffee on our porch; the familiar contours of her body under mine on our wide bed. My mind wandered back to the beginning: back to when her appearance had upended my life. Was it all going to disappear as unexpectedly as it had arrived?
I’d flown to Delhi for a three-day conference. I was presenting preliminary results from my doctoral research on the impact of time perception on impatience in mice. Our measure of mouse patience involved their willingness to delay receiving a swig of orange juice. That’s not relevant to this story; I just think more people should be aware how that mice enjoy washing down their cheddar with a refreshing glass of OJ. I digress.
It was mid-June and the city had eased into the character of one of the Inferno’s less fashionable circles. The heat marinated in the funk of the great Delhi garbage basin. Within a minute of stepping out from the airport terminal, I felt like I’d been basted in a gooey layer of grime. That endless taxi journey to the hotel: the prawn cocktail tang of fumes and rubbish in my nose, my shirt glued to my spine, the cacophony of the driver’s music, the thin arms and cavernous eyes of the beggars.
The conference was taking place at The Empress, Delhi’s oldest grand hotel. The place is a stylistic mishmash. The exterior is part gothic kitsch, part faux Mughal kitsch; the lobby is art nouveau kitsch; the grand ball room is Louis XIV kitsch; the main dining room: William Morris kitsch. There was even a basement pub, decorated in enthusiastically inauthentic Celtic kitsch. My room looked slightly like the inside of a (kitsch) Safari lodge, rustically finished teak furniture and white mosquito nets, complemented by badly embalmed animal heads. I’m not normally a fan of kitsch, but here it at least provided some coherence to an otherwise pick ‘n’ mix architectural project.
My talk was on the first morning of the conference, and it went well. Which meant I could relax for the rest of the three days. A quarter of the talks were quite interesting, half were just numbingly dull, leaving only one more quarter for true crimes against humanity – excellent going by academic conference standards. I had a few good chats in the margins and ended up becoming fairly good friends with a burly University of Texas neurologist after we discovered we were both connoisseurs of academic arse-licking: we used to position ourselves strategically in the breaks so that we could eavesdrop on the most gag-reflex inducing of the tenure tonguers.
There was a fair amount of drinking in the evenings. On the first night I got drunk on some yeasty local craft beer and woke up with a headache. On the second night I got drunk on duty-free whiskey and woke up with a broken rib, courtesy of my Texan friend who had thought it would be a good idea to demonstrate the Heimlich manoeuvre on me for the benefit of a slim, Chinese-looking Chinese doctoral student he’d taken a shine too. On the third night I got drunk on mediocre, overpriced Rioja and woke up underneath a University of Delhi Associate Professor called Swati.
My recollections of the night itself were hazy, but it became apparent that I’d probably had fun. She slapped me lightly and then squeezed my cheeks together between her thumb and index finger, distorting my lips along the lines of a cartoon goldfish. Waggling her head in that characteristically Indian manner, she demanded: “now tell me, please, when my husband returns tomorrow from the house of his mother, how best am I to explain the marks pendik escort you have left across my buttocks?” Without waiting for an answer, she reached behind herself and grabbed hold of my cock and balls in one small hand, squeezing them with increasing pressure: “but you don’t give a fuck about that, do you, you just like getting your dick wet in someone else’s wife, huh?” Just as I thought she was about to do me a real injury, she eased off the pressure and broke into a breast-quaking fit of giggles: “oh, man, but you should take a look at your face? Don’t look so scared, yaar, I’m not done with it yet!” And she wasn’t. I lay back and tried to avoid the eyes of the moth-eaten gazelle peering down at me censoriously from the wall behind her.
After the conference I had time to kill. I’d planned the trip well – you see, the conference was more of an excuse than the raison d’etre for the trip. The thing I was really excited about was a weeklong tantra retreat with my teacher Baba Hawkeyes, which was starting just two days after the conference. In the meantime, I visited all the standard Delhi sites, meditated every morning amidst the ruins and plus-sized flowers of the Lodi Gardens, and generally detoxed from the excesses of the conference. I found that I had a soft spot for the chaos of the city. Delhi has an energy to it, lithe and raw, that excites me. I don’t know whether that energy persists despite or because of all the poverty and pollution, but they seemed inseparable. I have the same feeling visiting some other third world metropolises – Cairo, Lagos and New York to name three – the feeling that something big is getting ready to happen to me at any moment, something different, something exciting, something that may or may not prove enjoyable.
I did see Swati again. Her husband was back in town, but she slipped away from work for two more sweltering afternoon trysts. She was voluptuous, sensuous, spilling into my room and out of her sari, all heavy breasts and hot mouth, flinging her purse melodramatically across the room and grabbing a handful of me through my trousers, as if to reassure herself that my genitalia hadn’t disappeared overnight. And she never stopped talking – singsong, polytonic but only ever fast: allegro, molto allegro, allegrissimo – from the moment she tripped in the door to the moment she spun back out. She was a torrent of banter, trivia and gossip, interlaced with genuinely thoughtful monologues spanning everything from the philosophical limitations of neuroimaging as a means of understanding the mind to the emotional depth lost by Western classical music due to its exclusion of the microtone shruti found in Indian classical music. Her chatter only paused when she was laughing, in the primordial pre-linguistic state that surrounds orgasm, or when her mouth was full – and even then she hummed. The effect was something like Melnyk’s continuous piano music: rapturous, but rather overwhelming.
As her arousal grew her chatter would grow more lewd and kinky. “Yes – again – hit me again – aah – yaar, your finger feels so good in me, please keep on – more like that – I can’t wait to have your cock deep in me – you’re going to take me, you’re going to use me, you’re going to fill my pussy – I need to feel you filling me up – oh, god, yes, yaar, don’t play with me – put it in, put your finger in my ass, I want you to fill all of me, darling – yes, that’s it – oh, god, imagine if Raavi could see me now, he’d die of shame; he’s so jealous, he’d kill me, he’d slit my throat (No carry on, don’t stop, for god’s sake!) – you want me on all fours? – put it in me now! – oh god, yes! – I love the feel of your cock in me – it’s so deep – aah, yes, aah – I think the head of your cock is rubbing against my womb – it feels like it might poke right through me and come out my throat – aah – if you came inside me, I’d get pregnant, I’m ovulating, you know – aah – do you think Raavi would notice? My grandma is very light skinned, I could say it was her genes – where are you going to cum? On my face? In my ass? Or are you going to be a man and cum in my pussy? Does that turn you on, the idea of breeding another man’s wife? You dirty bastard! – yes, hit me again – aaah, I love it when you pull my hair like that – am I your whore? I’m your whore! Yes, I’m your dirty slut! – I’m giving you my cunt – aah, yes, you can do anything to me – eurr-oo-eurraaa-hahuhahu – oh, god, so that’s what you’ve been thinking about? You like choking chicks or are you just trying to shut me up, yaar? I didn’t think I’d like it so much! Again – more – again! – aar – yes, I’m going to cum again, baby – aaaaaaaaar ooooooo uuuuuuuuh – oh, so good – are you close? I want your cum – I love the look on your face when you’re about to cum, yaar – yes, on my face – I want you to cum all over my face! – cum all over your little whore – yesssss, baaaaby! Gosh that’s a lot, isn’t it! – it’s all over me – I swear you should start a spa, yaar – I know women who would pay good money it – you know the Taoist queens in Tang Dynasty China…” maltepe escort And she’d be off on her next monologue, with no break, no pause, no rest for either of us. It still amazes me that she never lost her voice.
She knew about the tantra workshop. As she breezed out at the end of her last visit, still adjusting her sari back into position, she called over her shoulder: “have fun, yaar! Be a good boy and don’t let any of those spiritual slags get their teeth into you, or you’ll find yourself drinking goats piss in a cave before you can say Jack Robinson. But I hope you learn some new tricks; I’ll accept no excuses if you bore me when we meet afterwards.” She blew me a kiss and headed round the corner and out of sight. I never saw her again.
The retreat was taking place at a centre called Bacchus the Buddha. Bacchus is in the city but the contrast between the grey streets outside and the lush green and calm of Bacchus’ gardens is stark. It was founded by the followers of the guru Sri Vesara who, riding the tsunami of the 1960s sexual revolution, had basically invented the modern neo-tantra movement. Sri Vesara reinterpreted the arcane chaos of ancient tantra as a sexual path to spiritual awakening, sprinkled on top ideas from zen, the tao and shamanism, and iced it all with jargon from Western positive psychology. The result proved irresistible to us have-your-cake-and-eat-it types: the promise of spiritual growth and insight, without the need to abandon the pleasures of the flesh.
The strange name of the centre relates to one of Sri Vesara’s favourite lines – delivered countless times to enthralled crowds in his slow, mesmeric voice: somehow both resonant and snake-like – pretty much sums up the guru’s message: “the path of the Buddha…the path that leads…to purr-fect eq-uan-imity…and purr-fect peace, is one and the same – one and the same – as the path of Dionysusss, …of Bacchusss, …of af-fir-mation and joy, …of sssense-you-ality, …of pleas-ure, of the bo-dy, …of sex. The life of Bacchus with-out the Buddha…is with-out meaning…but there isss no Buddha…there isss no Buddha…without the god of pleasure.”
I arrived at Bacchus in the early evening to find it illuminated by a slanting yellow sunlight that gave the gardens something of the look of an old photograph. I threw my rucksack onto one of the single beds in a stand-alone bungalow room and headed out into the gardens. Plenty of participants were already wandering the garden, alone or in small groups, some meditating cross-legged on the ground. A larger group sat under a dark red pagoda chatting. It seemed a typical tantra crowd. There were a smattering of Indians wearing the dreamy, slightly vacant, smiles of beings who spend most of their time in the spirit realm and the perfectly pressed kurta pajamas of beings who can afford a live-in maid. The rest were Westerners, mostly long-haired and all observing the rigid dress code of individuality. You know the type, the ones who never have a job, but can somehow afford to oscillate between Bali and Ibiza in a season-appropriate manner, hoovering up endless matcha lattes and smoothie bowls, before spewing them back up all over Instagram.
I’d been attending tantra workshops for several by then, so I knew the types well, knew the conversations I would have and the strange spiritual dialect in which they would be conducted. I made my way towards the larger group under the red pagoda. At the gravitational centre of the group was a young man who I immediately christened The Unicorn. He was dark-skinned and shirtless. He looked as if he was of Indian heritage, but he was speaking loudly with an English accent and camp intonation. His thick dark hair – of almost oily sleekness – was wound into a huge, high bun. He had a long, thin, elaborately twirled moustache, which like he might have ripped it off the face of a 1920s silent comedy star. He also had a huge, sparkly horn stuck to the centre of his forehead. The effect was undoubtedly odd, but he carried the look with such nonchalant self-confidence that it seemed almost natural. I thought I’d never seen anyone who looked quite so narcissistic.
“…And I found that when I embraced my shadows, when I found a place of love for my darkness as well as my light, I was became so much more alive. My energy rose. I’d always, naturally, had a high vibration, but after that workshop, everyone noticed the change in me. They asked me: ‘what’s happened to you?’ You know: ‘is it a new diet? A new exercise regime?’ And I said, ‘no, it’s not – I’ve just found the real me, I’m just being who I truly am.’ And the strange thing was, that it was like my eyes had been opened, like I could finally see what I’d always been missing. So even though I felt so much more alive, so much more real, so much more me – I also felt something almost like sadness – yeah, sadness. Because I could feel that there was even more, even more lifeforce in me, that I’d been squelching, that I was still holding back. And I knew then, that I kartal escort had to dedicate myself to this work, I had to go, you know, deeper. I had to go all the way. So I threw it all in and…”
At the best of times my appetite for Spiritual chitter-chatter is limited. Coming from the conference – cerebral and alcohol infused – and the chaos of the Delhi streets, I felt like joining this group would risk a too sudden immersion in the deep end of the Age of Aquarius. So I changed tack and steered myself towards the remoter depths of the garden. I sat down on the grass in a secluded spot – almost its own garden room, enclosed by walls of tropical shrubbery – in front of a small pond, which was crowded with huge, white water lilies.
The opening circle would begin in an hour or so. I tried to bring myself into the right frame of mind: bringing my attention to my breath, allowing my eyes to wander around this beautiful spot, whilst trying not to get too sucked into any particular groove of thought. Bees buzzed, a dragonfly darted across my field of vision, I noticed little aches and stray sensations in my limbs, the depth of my breathing slowly increased, time past.
I opened my eyes and turned my head, with the sudden alertness that comes from the feeling of being observed. A woman had entered my little paradise on silent, bare feet. She was young, European and dressed in New Age uniform: baggy, turquoise, peacock patterned trousers; a white cut-off top that revealed acres of olive skin; and several tons of beads and bijoux. As I looked up at her, a mouth-watering smile spread across her face; somehow appearing both suddenly and in something like slow motion. She mouthed an apology, gave me a little rippling finger wave, spun on her heels in a whirl of golden air, and flowed away and out of sight. That was Anabelle. That was my first sight of her.
The opening circle took place in a huge, white tipi, specially erected for the occasion. By the time I got there the wide circle was almost complete, thirty of so people all sitting on cushions on the floor.
I found a place near the entrance, on the far side of the circle from the one piece of furniture in the whole tent, an empty old wicker chair topped with a stack of cushions. Sitting right next to the chair was the woman who had interrupted my meditation. Next to her sat The Unicorn, eyes closed and face enraptured. After five minutes or so, the flap of the teepee was pulled aside and Baba Hawkeyes appeared, preceded by a round paunch and followed by a club-foot. He was in his late 60s, with white, thinning hair, eyebrows like dark shrubberies and a short scruffy beard. He limped across the tent and subsided into his chair, exhaling like an old miner returning from a long shift. A pretty Indian girl darted up to him proffering a mug of steaming, milky tea, which he held in both hands as if to warm them against the sweltering evening heat.
He sat without speaking for a minute or so, picking people out from around the circle with his dark, piggy little eyes. He nodded at me across the circle in acknowledgement; he knew me, I’d sat in his circles many times before. At last he turned to Anabelle, putting one hand briefly on her shoulder. I see, I thought. His default, rather petulant, expression was replaced by a smile: sweet, tender and touched with sadness. It was breathtakingly vulnerable: the trusting, fatalistic smile of a terminally ill child, looking up at the brave-faced mother cradling it. Really, I remember thinking, everything he will say over the next five days will only paraphrase that look. Anabelle smiled back up at him adoringly.
He released her hand – simultaneously releasing the rawness of that public, private moment and flicking the switch of his energy to sweep the whole room up in one fatherly embrace. This was Hawkeyes’ magic, this ability to warp the energy of the world around him into the shape that best suited his purposes. It was the effortful product of a frightful intelligence – building on his early training as an actor, his years as a psychotherapist and a lifetime of emotional yoga – and to those who didn’t get too close it looked quite effortless.
“So,” he started. He immediately paused again, smiling, gazing around at the faces turned expectantly towards him. “You have arrived. You are here. You have taken your first steps, your first steps on your journey to transformation. I congratulate you.” He spoke beautifully, with a deep and effortlessly resonant voice enriched by the remnants of a Cornish accent.
“We have grown up in societies that have taught us that we are, each of us, islands of consciousness, isolated from each other and from the rest of a solid, material universe. What a dreadful idea – to never really be able to touch one another. But both the deep science of modern physics and the deep philosophy of ancient tantra have a different vision of the universe. We tantrikas see the whole of the universe – the largest supernova and the smallest quark, you and me and him and her, all of us – as the manifestation of energy at play with itself. Everything is flowing, everything is connected, it is our separateness that is an illusion, it is the smallness of our individual identities that is an illusion.