The second part of the build up to disaster.
Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to war we go. We: a quartet of merry pranksters gaily skipping and toting a picnic basket of epicurean yum yums up and up a mountain path, toward the line of control where Pakistan and India growl and utter threats at each other.
Ahava is walking ahead of me; I study and admire the casual, jaunty jalopy bounce of her buttocks. Nir takes up the rear behind me. We are seeking an alpine meadow, an alpine meadow carpeted with little blue flowers where Ahava and I shall frolic as naked as web cam cherubs crushing those pretty little flowers like pretty little Palestinians under the thrusts and throbs of splayed and sweaty limbs.
Life is beautiful. Life is grand. The sound of music and little mountain birds going tweet, tweet, tweet gladden my black, black heart.
As we clomp heavenward we pass young girls—bright eyed and bushy tailed little women yet to be stomped by life’s vicarious disappointments—and old women—sere, Allah’s promise of relief their near future joy—hunched under heavy thatched baskets crowded with vegetables bound for market, supported by tump lines pressed into their foreheads. Goats and sheep, contently chewing cud like chubby cowboys, stare stupidly at us like chubby New Jersey cowboys. Squat, stone buildings that I assume are shepherds’ shelters are scattered helter skelter here, there and pretty much everywhere.
By and by, a little more by than soon, we are no longer passing worn out women humping their wares down the mountain or sheep or goats. Even the birds have twittered away. Well, good riddance to them.
In my rucksack is packed my painting supplies. I envision perhaps an ode to Manet’s Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe with not one monkey faced Parisienne tart slurping discount Beaujolais in the buff, but two mighty fine Jewesses, my Jezebels. Alas, the alpine air is chilly. Far too chilly for carnal romping. … sigh.
Ahava, my ripe, juicy temptress, as sweet and lush as a late summer mango, selects an alpine meadow with a mighty fine view of the Siachen Glacier. A blanket is unfurled and fluttered over lupine pansies, smothering them. Nir clatters and roots in the picnic basket and sets about the routine of preparing lunch: hummus and falafels and şakşuka, a tarty aubergine and tomato meze; excellent for dipping slender fingers and naughty toes into and licking them clean.
Ahava and Rive wander off to tip toe daintily through Taliban poppy fields while I, an ever studious and exceptionally well-disciplined bard, beetle purposefully over a hillock in search of a subject to paint.
I encounter a shepherd’s stone hut that would make for a lovely oil sketch, but perchance something better might be yonder. I venture a little yonder and as I crest the cusp of a steep slope I spy a convoy of military trucks and a tank all spruced up in blue camouflage paint. ‘That’s interesting,’ I think, ‘I’m pretty sure the Indian Army uses green camouflage.’ And a moment later, as the Rupee drops, I also think: ‘Perhaps they are Pakistani troops.’ Oh well, it is no concern of mine. I am a tourist.
Perched atop a large boulder, a squint eyed lizard lording over a splendorous territory of crunchy insect snacks, I squeeze out my paints onto my faithful palette, plug in my ear phones, select The Doors’ Greatest Hits on my iPod, and embark on a toe tapping frenzy of pushing color.
Mine is an additive-subtractive process revealing greater meaning with successive layers of paint, like fluttering veils falling from the loins of shy belly dancers onto the laps of meditating bhikkus, that are scraped, flued and otherwise tortured until a mystic connection with the cosmic gluepot, the sticky ether that unites all the flitting quarks of the Universe into a singular harmonic correspondence with that Godhead that twists and binds our energies together with people we would rather not know. Om Mani Pahdme Hum. Amen the Thunderbolt in the Dark Void.
An hour or so boogie woogies and cha cha cha’s with the timid, wall flower minutes. The seconds step outside for cigarettes. Dark, bullying cumulus clouds gather in sullen, delinquent packs, flexing their tattooed biceps, readying to clobber the bejesus out of fluffy cirrus wisps that cavort freely and carelessly in the cerulean heavens, goosed now and then by sparkling peaks of Himalaya joy boys, while James Douglas Morrison ululates, for the umpteenth time, on and on about eternal bluesy lives of woe nourished by greasy fried chicken steaks betrothed to hard, unyielding corn bread.
A shadow soughs over me and my scattered tubes of paint and brushes. Has Ahava stolen upon me to bestow syrupy kisses onto the tingling nape of my neck? A sharp CLICK! reports behind me. … O’ Ahava, you naughty wench, is that the liberating snap of your trousers? I turn with flickering serpent’s tongue licking forth from puckered lips, tasting the air for honey dew drops … hello … what’s this?
Captain Singh, bristling with commando indignation, and four baby faced soldiers with levelled rifles, eager to unleash the Republic’s fury, demand to know what in the name of Kali I am doing.
‘Painting a picture,’ I, perhaps too testily, reply.
‘This is a restricted area,’ Captain Singh retorts. ‘What is that?’
‘I’m painting that shepherd’s hut. It intrigues me, you miserable philistine.’
‘Your composition is all wrong and the color is weak and ineffectual. I’m a graduate of the Mumbai School of Fine Art,’ Captain Singh declares while hooking his thumbs in his grenade laden belt. ‘And,’ he continues with the beaming pride of an art school graduate with a job, ‘that is an army bunker.’ He sweeps his hand airily over the rubbled landscape like an imperious Caesar assigning hard labor to an indentured servant. ‘Indian soldiers spend the night on guard in these bunkers ever ready to blast sneaking Pakistani bastards back into the foul, stinking wombs of their rutting, hyena mommies!’ Captain Singh trembles with patriotic ardour. ‘They will shoot you, you know. The Pakistani army is everywhere here.’
‘Șakşuka cannot boil! It will be ruined! You have to let me go … please release me!’ Nir’s indignant protests can be heard well before he, delicious Ahava and sultry Rive appear, captured and frog marched, by another company of Indian soldiers and presented for the summary judgment of Captain Singh.
‘Shoot them,’ Captain Singh commands. ‘Tee hee,’ he giggles, ‘I am only kidding.’ Captain Singh’s eyes narrow and harden like orphaned oatmeal porridge as he appraises his collection of prisoners. ‘You are Israeli, yes? We always know Israelis when we see them. And so do those Pakistani bastards born of filthy whores who copulate with packs of mongrel dogs!’ Captain Singh trembles and gestures wildly. ‘You are foolish. Very, very foolish Israelis. Nobody likes you. The Pakistanis certainly do not like you.’
‘I’m not Israeli,’ I helpfully chirp. ‘I’m a …’
‘Quiet. You delinquent.’ Captain Singh pauses; a delightfully fragrant scent borne by the Himalaya wind entices and tickles his wrinkling nose. ‘Is that Șakşuka? I love şakşuka.’
‘It’s ruined, you know. You can’t let şakşuka boil!’ Tears of culinary tragedy stream down Nir’s pallid cheeks.
‘Perhaps it might still be saved. Quickly! Quickly!’ Captain Singh commands, ‘To the şakşuka!’
Released from human bondage, Nir bounces like a Gaza bunny wabbit, Taliban poppies and minefields be damned, to salvage what might remain of the şakşuka.
‘It’s gone! All gone!,’ Nir wails, piercing the ancient melancholy air with the haunting loneliness of the deathbed ridden who only now realize that it is too late to be what once they could have been.
‘It is those Pakistanis. They are scurrilous blighters! Always sneaking into India to do mischief. We shall hunt them down and save the şakşuka.’ Captain Singh strikes a handsome pose, backlit by the dim yellow ghost of the midafternoon sun. A thunderbolt, scripted by a harried and savagely underpaid writer (um, donations are always welcome. ‘Tis the Season, ya know. See below.). A fat cold rain drop splashes upon my forehead, anointing me.
‘Before I let you go I must insist upon your honor that you will not speak about what you have seen here. These …,’ again, Captain Singh imperiously sweeps his hand gathering all of the decrepit, dank bunkers, ‘are secret. We are the northern guard of India.’
‘I promise,’ we mumble in incoherent unison.
‘You are free. Now go.’
We hesitate. Freedom is a frightening spectre.
‘Go!’ Captain Singh commands. It is an impolite final farewell; a lousy way to end a cheerful camaraderie.
We clomp down the mountain trail, evicted from the light, back into the mournful vale of petty humanness, toting the secrets of India’s might. I turn and look back, the heavens have lowered in dark boding furls; the Himalaya peaks, sharp and unforgiving, are scratching the asses of angels.
Stay tuned. Part 3 is coming soon!