"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Buffalo Boy II–Chapter 2

i

The Church of Spiritual Renewal believed that the end of the world was coming, just not for them.  They built a warren of underground shelters, fully equipped them with lighting, plumbing, refrigeration and stocked them with enough peanut butter, tuna fish, pork and beans, and Spam to last for two years.  Of course after the coming nuclear exchange the earth would be hot for a century, but The Mother toned the science down and said that through prayer and divine intercession (God would never closet his chosen people for too long) the land would be fit for rehabitation after two years, maybe sooner.  The Scissors People would repopulate the earth with a new, purified, and sanctified race.

The Mother had not envisaged a total nuclear holocaust – her revelation dealt only with the mutual annihilation of America and the Soviet Union – but the more she thought about it, the more convinced she was that in this increasingly interdependent world, the incineration would be global.  Her phalanx of evangelists would not only spread the word of The Elevated, but would prepare the new faithful for the coming Armageddon.  She dreamt of great earthly temples far more ornate than anything in California.  They would become  places of ecstatic worship and spiritual strengthening, preparing them for their eventual emergence into The Light.

Eventually she would build subterranean Gardens of Babylon, elaborate fortresses no different from the wonders above.  Theirs would be a  unique world, sublime and mystical.  In her dream of dreams, she saw a world of magnificent architectural wonders, physical expressions of the beauty and muscularity of her religion.  Her priests would be cloaked in gold raiment, serving her like a queen of Pharaonic Egypt and she would be bejeweled with the finest stones of the East.

India, with its rich cultural and religious history, its own pantheon of The Elevated from Siva and Rama to Guru Nanak, the Apostle Thomas (who, legend had it, found his way to the Malabar Coast, establishing Christianity far before the Portuguese), and of course the latter day disciples of Mohammed, would be the ideal place to create a spiritual convocation of these holy men.  The Mother had always been entranced by Hindu worship.  She loved the bells, the incense, the flowers, offerings, music and mystery.  It was all very celestial.  Buffalo Boy would go out not only on an evangelical mission but an architectural one.  Scissors would become known worldwide.

Mr. Shah liked the idea of building the first Scissors Center in India at his ashram.  “Already very holy place”, he said.  “Mathura is the birthplace of Lord Krishna.  You can call him Vishnu if you like, doesn’t matter, one and the same god, extreme holiness.  Mathura not far from this place, his emanations can be felt in my ashram, ripples in the water of my tank.  More religion is better.  Lord Buddha visited Mathura, left his own emanations, now more ripples in my tank will be coming.”

Buffalo Boy’s homecoming to Shanagar was a festival, and the townspeople combined elements of all Indian holidays into one.  They organized a parade with dancers, drummers, and snake charmers, organ grinders and bear-tamers.  There were floats with images of Buffalo Boy surrounded by clay buffaloes; others depicted him as a kind of Baby Jesus, lying on his back in a manger surrounded by buffaloes; and still another placed a full-size statue of him, buck naked, dreadlocks, and smeared with dung on the prow of a boat.  Buffalo Boy himself rode in an open Ambassador, and as he passed, the townspeople showered him with flowers, garlanded him with jasmine and roses, and offered him sweets.  The music was orchestral – all tubas, bassoons, trumpets, and cymbals – and loud.  Banners welcoming Buffalo Boy festooned the parade route.  Welcoming speeches droned on by aldermen and farmers.  Even the policeman who was one of the crew who lassoed Buffalo Boy, trussed him up, and stowed him in the back of the pickup gave a tearful speech.  The prodigal son had returned.

Buffalo Boy was choked up himself as he climbed the dais, bowed his head to receive more garlands, and took the microphone.  He was overwhelmed with emotion; but he remembered his holy mission and spoke of the Elevated, the power and glory of Guru Nanak, Siva, Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and Padre Pio.  He spoke glowingly of The Mother and her vision of world unity through prayer and vigilance; and of the Church of Spiritual Renewal which would be opening soon to all.  He spoke with a simultaneous translator like those who accompanied Billy Graham and Jimmy Swaggart.

There was a restless silence when he finished. 

“These dummies have no idea what you were talking about, my dear.  Guru Nanak is dummy saint of stupid Sikh truck drivers.  These people are Vaishnavites and don’t give a shit about Siva or Jesus H. Christ.  But don’t worry.  Enlightenment will come to them. I will see to it.  I am businessman.  Just you wait and see”.  

When Buffalo Boy stood once more by the green scummy waters of the tank, saw the disrepair of the ashram building, and the spare, desiccated fields nearby and thought of the tepid response he had received that afternoon and the cautionary words of Mr. Shah, he felt a wave of panic.  What had he taken on?  How could he ever realize The Mother’s dream? 

“Not to worry, dear”, said Mr. Shah. “I will give you instant faithful.  There are always faithful to be rounded up.  No need to wait for dummy villagers”.  Shah knew that the Bombay Municipality was carrying out periodic roundups of beggars and street people.  They carried out their pogroms in the middle of the night, hoisted their booty into the back of army vehicles, carried them to the countryside, and dumped them in far-flung rural towns who were then supposed to care for them and put them to work.  The Government was careful to spread the burden equally, scattering the beggars throughout the state, never dumping twice in one place, if possible.  Shah asked the Bombay Municipality to please spend extra for petrol and send next shipment of fuckers to Shahnagar.  He would take care of them. 

A week later, Shah called Buffalo Boy from his room in the ashram.  “Come, see what I have done.  God is already working his miracles”.

Outside, crowded around the tank were the New Faithful – the most recent arrivals of beggars, addicts, schizophrenics, pavement dwellers, and Gypsies from the streets of Bombay.  It was a wretched, sub-human bunch.  The beggars were blind and mutilated.  The Gypsies filthy, twitchy, and restless.  The schizophrenics wild-eyed and railing.  The homeless ragged, hungry, and skeletal.  “See….see!”, said Shah.  “God has provided.  OK, OK, maybe some are not Bollywood material, but desperate conditions always lift eyes up to heaven; and a few rupees help soul on its way.  I have taken care of material wants”.

Children are Precious was a charitable organization which received cash donations from the United States.  Shah had leaned on the government to lean in turn on the American organization to provide food-for-work – that is, the sordid Bombay lot would refurbish the ashram and for their labors get food.  Buffalo Boy would have a captive audience for his evangelism, and the poor and disinherited would eat.  Initially the Director was reluctant because the proposition seemed iffy.  He had been in India long enough to have been fooled many times by promoters of charitable programs who always managed to take his food, his money, or his staff.  Shah was yet another greedy Indian with a silver tongue.  

“I am very sorry”, replied Shah.  “Very sorry indeed, for your reasoning is flawed. I get nothing, Church gets nothing.  Only people get something ad perpetuum continuing stream of religious pilgrims, reformed beggars meeting God. State benefits from purification of Bombay also”.

ii

There of course was no way that a totally dysfunctional group of Bombay lowlifes was going to actually do physical labor.  To start with, half of the adults were maimed and had been begging since childhood.  Their pimps knew that there was value in blindness, stumps, severe scarring, or deformity.  Beggars were everywhere, on every street corner, in front of every restaurant, waiting by churches, aid offices, and car parks; and the pimps knew that even taking into consideration foreigners’ mutilation hierarchy (some gave only to the blind, the worst affliction they could imagine; others only to maimed children; others to those half-people who scooted around on mini-skateboards, propelled by their hands), begging was a good business. 

All of which meant that once the pimps learned that their beggars had been removed to Mathura, they quickly followed and stole them back.  Two days after the start of the food-for-work program, over half of the workforce was gone.  Once the Gypsies had stolen what they could from the ashram, they too were gone.  They made a thievery run through the crowds at the train station, pickpocketing and robbing enough to get them back to Bombay.  Which left the pavement dwellers, too scrawny and feeble to do any work, but grateful for the food. 

“I have fucked up”, said Shah.  “I should have been knowing that Bombay scum not even fit to clean scum from my tank.  Bloody buggers.  Good riddance”. 

Buffalo Boy was not totally discouraged, and once his trunks came from California, he busily tried to transform the ashram into a pukka Scissors church.  He hung pictures of the Elevated in the halls, common rooms, and refectory.  He hooked his tape recorder to speakers borrowed from the panchayat, and loaded it with devotional music specially selected by The Mother.  He painted the walls all magenta, violet, and chartreuse – colors that signified spiritual elevation.  He removed all pictures of Ganesh, Hanuman, and all other animal figures or representations, for The Mother said that animals were waiting repositories for the devil and his evil archangels.  He arranged the pamphlets and brochures sent from California.  Of course he would eventually have to translate them into Hindi, but even so they stood on their own.  In bright purples and magentas, each of the Elevated stood strong and tall – a bit like Lenin in Soviet iconography – proud and visionary.

When all was ready, he turned on the motivational tapes, and the music spread through the town.  He had his translator record a welcome – “Come to The Mother.  Come to the Church of Spiritual Renewal”.

He played the music and the recorded message for three days.  He distributed pamphlets in the market and at the temples.  Still no one came.

“Dummies will never come”, said Shah.  “Ashram will remain a wreck.  Spirituality will remain at low level.  Fuck the bloody buggers.  Let’s go to Bombay. Lord’s work can wait”.

iii

Shah installed Buffalo Boy in the guest room of his house on Malabar Hill – the infamous room which had been Shah’s lookout perch to see ‘woman who do it with dog’.

“I am no longer interested in such things”, he explained.  “Nothing wrong with doggy style, mind you.  I have just moved on.  No more sheep or chickens”.

“Moved on to what?”, Buffalo Boy asked.

“People”, he said.

That night the driver dropped them at the Cages, Bombay’s seediest but most diverse area of prostitution.  Everything you could ever want was there.  Men, women, boys, girls, all of whom would do anything for a few rupees.  The area was called the Cages because the prostitutes waited in small rooms open to the street except for vertical wooden bars painted in loud, garish colors – just like the women.  The street was crowded with young men cruising the Cages.  The smell of dope, incense, and the exhaust from motor scooters was thick and sweet.  It was the period just before the monsoon, and the air was saturated with humidity, still and heavy.  The men walked silently and expectantly, and the women waited, hips cocked, hands on the bars, breasts exposed.  It was eerie and frightening. 

Buffalo Boy was inexperienced sexually.  His madness had overtaken him early in his Peace Corps stay, the years with his parents cloistered and alone.  All his energy was taken shaking his animal demons.  The years with The Mother were more social and relaxed.  The communal life and camaraderie generated from a common belief in the Elevated were important asexual means to mental stability.  There was an aura of virginity about The Mother, cultivated and carefully nurtured to suggest the Holy Virgin.  Paintings of her all showed her in flowing blue robes, angelic, beatific expression on her face, a quiet, confident repose in her body.  Nothing sexual.

“You want some pussy?”, asked Shah.

Buffalo Boy stammered and mumbled.  “What? I can’t hear you.  I asked a simple question.  You want pussy?”.  The answer was yes, but not here.  Not with these sexless, intimidating women.  They all had a raunchy born-poor, pimp-beaten toughness.  “Or maybe cornhole? That is next block.  Don’t be shy, my dear.  Too much God is no good for you.  Maybe you should have fucked The Mother – a real motherfucker”.  Shah howled, coughed and spat.  “Real motherfucker.  Religious pussy.”

They strolled along Desai Street, turned on Peddar Road, and went down a narrow alley.  “This is called Trust Me Street”, said Shah.  You pay flat rate and fuck whatever comes from behind curtain.  Here I have fucked pussy, asshole, fat ladies, big fucking moonlighting Sardarji truck drivers.  Best bang for the buck.  You want to try?”

“No, I’ll pass”, said Buffalo Boy as Shah ducked his head into the narrow passageway and disappeared.  He was the only white man on the streets, and waves of paranoia came over him.  Not only were his spiritual moorings become unhinged, he was afraid for his life. India was no longer the peaceful, pastoral existence of ten years ago, but an aggressive, hostile place.  He wanted to run. 

Shah said nothing the next morning when they met at breakfast.  He invited Buffalo Boy to come with him on daily rounds of his Bombay temples.  He checked the books, the inventory, the musical instruments.  He lectured the chowkidars, hectored the chief priests insisting that revenue was down and should be up.  “Up, up, UP!”, he yelled.  “I am running a business.  Yes, spiritual business, but still business.  Temple cannot run on prayer unless prayer is for money.  Tell faithful to pray for money, good-for-nothing fucker”.

A week later Buffalo Boy got a call from The Mother.  She was coming to India with her retinue to see the new Church headquarters in Mathura.  “Don’t worry, dear”, said Shah when he saw the look on Buffalo Boy’s face.  “We will put on great tamasha.  All smoke and mirrors.  It will look like you have converted hundreds of stupid Hindus.  Leave everything to me”.

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