Nov 2, 2010

Sand Off Your Shoulder

"Greetings brothers!" I shouted across the barbed wire.

(This is how I address squads of Sri Lankan soldiers.)

I strolled into the middle of the dusty provincial road and leisurely went around the end of the barbed wire and into their checkpoint. I, tromping around this obscure checkpost located in a backwater even by the local standards, wearing bright orange cotton pants and a ragged t-shirt depicting the Aztec calendar, was probably not among the things they were expecting to see that day. Judging by the surrounds, I would guess they were accustomed to seeing dust, shrubs, the occasional buses (whose infrequent schedules they had memorized in their boredom), and the odd cow whisking its tail as it ambles down the narrow ribbon of tarmac. The officer among them shifted from his leanin'-post to speak to me.

"Hey brother," (my greetings ignore such brutish notions as rank) "can I ask a question?" I carry myself so smoothly I can walk right into Sri Lankan Army camps without being stopped and chat with the garrisons. The officer said yes. "Brother, you know how far it is to the desert beach?"

"Walking?" he asked.

I took a slow look around. The breeze rustled the leaves of the tree above us. In the distance a single goat hobbled, bleating, across the road that disappeared into the gleaming mirror of a nearby lagoon. "No, brother. I am waiting for my helicopter. Can it set down here?" The soldiers exchanged suspicious glances.

"Sir, we don't have any place for helicopter here." He was telling the truth. The only airborne things that ever set down here were the funny-beaked birds that perched on the poles of the barricades gazing intently into the dust in hope of sighting a crab.

"Oh? Well then how far walking?"

"It is five kilometers on this road and then you must turn and walk to the left another two kilometers.Sir, you are not having helicopter?"

My answer to his question was really more of a response to his first statement. "Fuuuuuuuucckkingg balls" I said.

I was already quite well out in the middle of damn nowhere and a 14km round trip on foot (to a point which was itself several miles from any real town) put something of a wrench in my plans. I was on the far north coast of the Jaffna peninsula, not far from the Sri Lanka's northernmost point, and I had planned to kill a day by visiting a particular rural temple and then moving on to this desert beach. Nope. "Aight brother, here's the plan: guess I'm just gonna have to walk back to the temple over there and wait until some kind of vehicle comes by". With a nod of my head I said my farewells to the gathered soldiers, walked back out of their camp, and along the quiet, shimmering roadway from which I had come.

I stopped when I reached the temple I visited earlier, the somewhat-famed Vishnu temple at Vallipuram. It's the island's second-biggest temple, and I had intended to go inside because apparently it marks the spot where Vishnu incarnated himself as a fish and I was really hoping to see some psychedelic Hindu fish imagery. As it turned out, I found myself (again) in the sleepiest damn village I have ever seen. I knew it would be modest, but I was surprised by just how somnolent it was. The entire village consisted of the temple -a charming tile-roofed affair with a nice stone tower and a large wagon-house- , two grocery stores, and about ten houses clustered around a sandy clearing in the scrub. Vallipuram was formerly one of the greater towns of the Hindu north (hence the relative grandeur of the temple) and its name means "Sand City" in Tamil. Since the town's populace, or what traces of it I could find, consisted of four priests sleeping on the threshold of the temple, a few grocers sleeping in their stores, and a coconut-seller sleeping in a plastic chair, I propose that the community's name be shortened to the more accurate title of "Sand". Detecting no evidence that anything was ever going to happen there again, I decided it would be prudent to sit by the road and keep a vigil for any vehicle out of the place. As it turned out, the wait was so long I even made it past the horribly pretentious first chapter of the Salman Rushdie tome I had been uselessly toting around unopened for the past few days after encountering the second extended metaphor about the Flow of Time in ten pages. I briefly wondered what Mr. Rushdie would have to say about the passage of events in Vallipuram, then realized I was trying to imagine something that would give me a headache. The threadbare web of events in Vallipuram, as noted author Mr. Ghostface Buddha would say, are like goat droppings in the sand:  scattered, dust-speckled, undistinguished, often involving sand flies, and so insignificant you wouldn't even collect them for burning.

 As the wait wore one, things somehow became even more dull. I remember even the village cow which had until then been the only moving thing in sight giving up on finding something to do and relaxing into a bored sleep. When something with the natural curiosity of a cow exhausts an area's capacity for intellectual stimulation you know the place has a serious deficiency. The rest of the day was so slow I can't even write about. I've been sitting here for quite a long time just trying to think of one more sentence (a sentence about anything) that wouldn't be so dull as to embarrass me as an writer. I have failed.

There was sand.

Also there was scrub.

But some places just had grass.

I'm going to mail a ransom note and a photograph of 27 bound and gagged Barbie dolls to the office of Kim Jong-Il.

The sky was blue.

Photo Gallery Update

The Ghostface Buddha Photo Gallery is now COMPLETE, proudly boasting some 7700 photographs of all the places in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka where Ghostface Buddha manifested his presence this past year, 1 G.F.B.E (2009-1010 C.E.) I have finally finished captioning and sorting all of them. As you will see, they are now organized by Indian state (or other country), and suborganized by town, and arranged alphabetically so you don't have to squint and scroll around the page cursing "WHY THE HELL IS PUNJAB NEXT TO GUJARAT?!". I would say it's the least I could do, but you don't want to test my capacity for idleness.


Oct 29, 2010

Let's Call It A Year?

Well, dear readers, once again we come to an important moment in this blog. I am writing now to announce something that may have been gnawing at your suspicions for some time as events have been unfolding, like when you're watching a cheap film late at night, but you missed the opening credits, and while you watch you slowly become more and more attuned to certain idiomatic expressions and turns of phrase, certain well-worn elements of plot, and you begin to realize that the film is almost certainly going to be a softcore porn, and the amply-endowed heroines are going to offer each other their breasts at any moment, and you wearily reach for the remote because, goddammit, you were actually hoping for an moving but accessible drama about sisterly bonding.

This is one of those moments; albeit a non-erotic one with nary an ounce of silicone in sight, where I announce what many of you have probably concluded: this blog, and the tale of Ghostface Buddha's journey in the kaleidoscopic mindscapes of southern Asia are soon coming to an end. No, this is not the last post. In fact, I have another one almost finished sitting in my 'drafts' box, and one or two little things down the line, but this is my last cable from the front. Aye, in but hours' time I shall be taking off from Colombo's international airport, and soaring brainlessly over the Arabian Sea, putting the patience of Royal Jordanian Airways' flight attendants to a mighty test. Since I have to, y'know, pack and shit, I have to leave this computer and sign off from the crappy realms of Indo/Ceylonese cyberspace one last time.

Keep reading in the next few days, when I'll be delivering a number of posts from American soil about my last adventures in Sri Lanka, at least one of which directly compares Sinhalese pilgrims to a woman's menstrual flow.