Just as when one spends time with another and their character is slowly revealed, locations, places and landscapes slowly unravel themselves. As mists come and go, the hills unfold before me, each day another revelation, another loose thread that I try knotting to a string of stories. Not that the revelations necessarily imply clarity. This land is filled with ancient mysticisms and stirring stories. Where do fiction and truth meet?
On the horizon.
Secrets are shared slowly here.
As I stare at the moving light, her cracked voice and cackling laughter pierces my mind again. I know she enjoyed herself and the looks she managed to provoke on my face….her eyes slanting towards me, she had asked if I wanted to know.
I lowered my eyes as I tasted the bitter tea which I was growing accustomed to. Thoughtfully I looked at her, this tiny wizened woman, slanted eyes teasing me, provoking me. Yes. I wanted to know. When did I ever pass a dare? Besides, I knew she was eager to share.
We made ourselves comfortable, taking care not to upset the few possessions she had displayed in the room. As in most homes, this room had multi-puposes. We sat cross-legged and stretched out, savouring tea and buffalo milk. Her smile widened before she fell silent and reflected back into time.
Her voice wove incidents and journeys of the past.
“All of us had to go. It was expected to leave the fields and celebrate at the temple. We would wear our best and brightest clothes, and thread jewlery in our headscarves. The young girls were especially excited to see young men from other villages….
ah….yes……that feeling is still here today….”
And she laughed, continuing, “look around you, look at these girls today, wearing colours on their faces before they have turned into women!”, nodding her head, she took another gulp of tea, making sure her audience was listening and carried on.
“We walked then. We walked from one hill to another; we knew the days because of the hills we had to cross. We knew the villages by the hills. There was always a parade of people when going to that temple over the hills, some praying already, others planning. I was young enough to dance and sing my way with the other children. But..”, she stopped as her eyebrows frowned, “that year I had a feeling that my sisters were keeping something away from me.”
I poured her fresh, hot tea and placed another soft biscuit by her cup.
There had been whispers about a visting sadu and virgin girls. Whispers in the fields, whispers at the doors. There was to be no wedding until after the sadu had left the temple and had gone back to where ever he had come from. Whispers of stories, whispers by the stairway leading to the temple.
“By the time we arrived at the temple, excitement was high in the air and everywhere villagers were pouring in. They brought gifts, live stock, sqawking chickens and roosters, coloured rice and ribbons. Smiles and laughter announced the youth arriving, while the serious elderly prayed even more fervently. It was the next day when I woke up and went looking for my sister that I heard. My sister sat with her friends outside the house and they all were talking. About the new sadu.”
Silence. She drank her tea and shifted her tired, swollen legs. I scrutinized her face, her beautiful deep wrinkles from years of working in the fields, her delicate skin and high ragged cheekbones. Where had her memory taken her? Would she return from that alley of memories?
Her body was never found….Some say it was the handsome sadu, others say she was bewitched and still lives in the jungle in a shape unknown to us, imprisoned by her unearthly beauty and impluses.”
Again she pauses, long corridors of memories, words and hearsay, bubbling to the surface. After all these years she still seemed to struggle with the word.
Sex. Sexual desire. Sexual impulses. Sexual behavior.
Was it the audacity of a young, hot blood woman, from her village, her world, imitating the behaviour of the carved dancers, inhibited, showing off their sexuality and lust, that intimidated her, now still, in her old age?
Was it the possibility of how, after leaving the tribe in the middle of the festivities, the fairest of all girls in the village, may have become the sadu’s lover?
Or….as some elders at the time repeated, the temple’s sacrifice?
There are truths which are never disclosed. The temple remained as fortrified as the fort itself, the sadu soon left the temple and the girl’s body was never found. Had she been cremated? Had her bones been pounded into dust then mixed with holy colours? Spread out to the hills and winds?
The elderly woman seemed drawn back into this time and with a deep sigh continued explaining, ” Buddhism brought the people a lot of good here but was becoming too restrictive, pushing out Hinduism and leaving it almost as a non-religion. The Hindus were not happy about this. People wanted sex to be celebrated and not hidden. They had had enough of puritanical living. ” A pause, as she stood up and walked towards the door, her eyes on the hills and beyond.
“Then came the British, then the Muslims; both trying to deafen people’s ears to the sculptures. ” Silence. A knowing smile.
She turned to us, still stretched on the floor, in the dimming light now, listening to every word, every wave of softer and louder tones in her voice. Almost a sea of tranquility. Almost a sea of assurance, comfort and reassurance. Almost.
“Sex? Those dancers are dancing for their lives, not for sex. That is what women do. They dance to live, they dance to balance demands of others, they dance to keep sane. They dance, confounding dangers and moving away from what may harm them. And they dance…for their pleasure”. Her voice mellowed, memories of dances and swirls taking her back in time.
By then we had to light tea-candles inside. Was it the flickering light, my own recent memories of the temple and it’s dark, powerful atmosphere of physical sacrifices and disturbing sexual images? I needed fresh air, to walk back before the sun set; I needed cool mists and splashes of rain on my skin. To wash away the old woman’s tales of sex hungry sadus and lustful virgins?
I don’t know. Her stories and flashbacks of the temple left my memories rambling through other fictions, other lives and passions. Disturbing passions, for these were alien traditions to many who came to visit. There was pain and violence, Death laughing as he jiggled his chains of darkness.
There was the phallus cult, the all powerful phallus, covered in red dust, red blood, red rice. Traces of fervent belief, fervent need. Religious? Carnal? Carved sex out of nature to show how natural sex is? I pinch myself for such naive hypotheses.
Perhaps it was the bloody remains, the darkening sky, the silence which echoed in the misty hills. There was the reminder of sexual interaction as part of death, sex as cannabilism – I recall Bataille, yet am disconcerned as my intellectual traditions have no place here.
I am a stranger here.
I want running water on my face and body to wash away the dark thoughts that surrounded me in the temple square. Cannabilism is not something I want to belong to me. It is not part of me.
I walk quickly, breathing in deep the green of fresh paddies, the dwindling light and red, vibrant earth.
Turning once more to the hills, to snow capped mountains beyond the mist, I ask you, where shall we meet?
Where we have always met.
On the edge of light and lightness.