POSTCARD#78: Delhi: I open the door and step out into the sunshine, shading my eyes from the brightness of the sun, look down for a moment, and a shadow flits across the paved stone area at my feet. What is it? Look back up quickly – it’s a squirrel running along the electric cables. I see it as it leaps into an overhanging tree branch… yaay! The branch sweeps downward with its weight and sails back up again as the squirrel leaps to the next branch and disappears in the foliage. The action suggests joyfulness, a celebration, and this is how I’m feeling right now because today, 6th July, is my birthday – 24,455 revolutions of the planet Earth since the day I was born. I’m a silver-haired old guy acting like half his age. It’s also the day I go back to UK, a happy coincidence; returning to the place I was born on the day of my birth.
Two flights to get there: Delhi/London/ London/Inverness, and 10½ hours flying time. The prodigal son archetype, you could say, but I’ve been away too long. More than 30 years living in other people’s countries. Now I’m a stranger in my own home; everything is different, just the déjà vu of it all; a familiarity I can recognise but cannot identify with. I stay in hotels and everyone thinks I’m a foreign tourist who speaks English really well. I’m astonished at being able to understand what people are saying and feel like I shouldn’t be listening. The intrusion of other people’s conversations is sometimes shocking! This must be what it feels like to be a spy – and dressed like this in these old UK clothes I’ve kept all these years in the wardrobe.
Looking through everything last night, I find an old jacket, try it on for size, it seems small, must have shrunk. Try on another one and it’s shrunk too! I ask Jiab how a jacket can shrink just hanging in the wardrobe for a few years, and she says, ah well… And these shoes! Try them on, hard enclosures seem to clutch at the feet, toes unfamiliar with the hollows in the leather they used to occupy… unwillingly they find their old places. This is who I used to be. Walk across the room, clip-clop, clip-clop, feet imprisoned in shoes, look at myself in the mirror. Who’s that? It’s me, acting the part, ‘self’ is the performance. The actor who long ago became somebody else, and forgot who he was. Inside one pocket, there’s an old plastic bag tied in a knot, difficult to undo. Inside are some British pound coins, thick, heavy and important looking. A single Pound coin looks like gold, like it came from a treasure chest and could be worth a fortune, but it’s not enough to buy a cup of coffee. We have to have handfuls of these ‘gold’ pieces just to buy ordinary things. The weight of them causes jacket pockets to go out of shape, holes in the lining.
It’s really so different from here in the East, the humble unassuming Rupee and small Thai Baht coins that jingle lightly and can buy so much. There is the Buddha’s teaching on greed, hatred and delusion, but right now I don’t want to think about anything other than standing in my Delhi doorway here, watching to see if maybe another squirrel will come running along the electric cable and jump into the trees. And somebody says the car is here to take me to the airport. This is it then, walk across to the gate, clip-clop, clip-clop, hard shoes on paving stones. My bag shoved in the back, into car and we’re off. All strength to the adventure…
“Consider the trees which allow the birds to perch and fly away without either inviting them to stay or desiring them never to depart. If your heart can be like this, you will be near to the way.” [Zen Buddhist teaching]