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

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Buffalo Boy II–Chapter 3

The Mother – her real name was Helen Schmidt – was born and raised in Flint, Michigan to Pentecostal parents.  Her father had a small congregation but she had to live the American Tragedy and like Clyde sing with her parents on street corners.  She hated the ridicule, the exposure, and the deep sense of embarrassment.  She wanted to shrink, to recoil, to disappear; but was forced by her father to sing hymns in praise of the Lord and to recite the psalms. 

She had a beautiful, angelic voice which and a crystalline voice which made every passerby stop and listen.  Her father quickly saw that because of his daughter more people came to him and to listen to the word of God.  Shortly thereafter he had her read passages from the Bible at his church.  There she found she liked the sound of her increasingly powerful and persuasive voice.  As she grew in confidence, she saw the rapt attention on the faces of the faithful, and added even more energy and power.  The pews of her father’s church were filled every Sunday.

The Mother publically gave credit to her father for her spiritual awakening and maturity.  Without him and his patient guidance she never would have risen to such heights in the eyes of the Lord and in those of her congregants.  This praise, however, was for public consumption.  She knew that if by accident of birth she found herself at the pulpit, it was by force of character and pure will that she became an ambitious and determined leader.

She gave credit to two other influences.  The first was Tamora, Queen of the Goths and later Empress of Rome.  During high school, a touring Shakespeare troupe had played Flint, and her English teacher encouraged the class to see whatever production they were putting on.  For some strange reason it was Titus Andronicus a generally disparaged play considered either one of Shakespeare’s worst or at best a parody or send up of Marlowe’s Tamburlaine.  Helen was entranced by the character of Tamora who to her was a strong and determined women.  It didn’t matter that Tamora was the most evil and bloodthirsty of Shakespeare’s characters, urging her sons on to rape and murder among other crimes; Helen thought that she was masterful in her manipulation of her husband, the Emperor, her plotting to achieve her ends, and best of all her silver tongue.  A woman like that could sway thousands to her own ends.  No matter that she came to an unceremonious end.  She could just as easily triumphed.

The other influence was an itinerant preacher who made guest appearances at various Pentecostal churches in Michigan.  He owed Helen’s father a favor, and preached at his church.  He was magnificent.  He was passionate.  He was powerful and convincing.  His voice rose and fell, became stern and judgmental, then softened to a warm, welcoming purr.  She could see the fear in the faces of the congregation, then tears of joy as he read towering verses from the Bible. 

At Bible college she honed her skills even more, and built up a religious repertory to fill her sermons.  She left school with no doubt that she wanted to be the greatest religious orator in America and the most successful businesswoman.  She knew that there was money in religion and with her gift, her talent, and her shrewdness, she would achieve both ends. 

She moved up the scale from apprentice to pastor of ever larger churches; and in 1972 found her true calling.  She preached at a church which welcomed an inordinate number of Vietnam veterans, wounded, disaffected, lonely, often desperate men who were looking for solace, community, and comfort.  She was attuned enough to the tenor of the times to know that the old style religion was changing, and that people were open to new ideas, new religious icons, new spiritual experiences.  She began to introduce the ideas of non-Baptist leaders.  Gradually she introduced Old Testament prophets, Hindu gods, and Muslim imams.  As she saw the hunger for this expansionist view of religion, she wove Jesus, Buddha, Moses, and Siva into a spiritual quilt, embroidered with folk tales, stories from the Ramayana, and Biblical allegories.  The seeds of the Church of Spiritual Renewal were sown.

ii

The Mother was greeted at Bombay Airport by Mr. Shah, Buffalo Boy, and a contingent from Mathura.  As she stepped out of customs, Shah namaste-ed, bent to touch her feet in the traditional Hindu sign of respect, namaste-ed again, garlanded her with red roses, and said, “Holy Mother, you are in Mother India now.  Welcome, and may the Elevated be praised!”.  Buffalo Boy knew that he had learned his lines and his role well.  The Mother greeted Buffalo Boy indifferently.  He was irrelevant, a minion, a lackey, at best a facilitator.  Shah was her counterpart.  From her research she knew that he was from the family of Shahs who built Bombay, who had money and influence, who, because of his lineage was respected by politicians and businessmen.  She knew of the reach and extent of his family properties – the textile mills, vast agricultural holdings, and of course his ashrams in Poona and Mathura.  She had no idea that Shah himself was as wacky as a circus clown, irreverent and illogical, and a pervert.

The Mother – Helen - knew that the Shahs were devout Hindus, conservative Gujaratis.  When she read about the Jains, a Gujarat-based, ultra-Hindu sect which forbade its members to kill any living thing and insisted that they wear masks to avoid inhaling and killing insects and sweep the pavement in front of them to preserve the life of any crawling thing.  She already saw in her mind’s eye how she would incorporate Jain saints into her pantheon and depict them devotionally and respectfully walking in their white robes and masks, sweeping, sweeping.

The Mother was dressed in her blue robe, cut by a couturier with elegant, flowing lines.  It was accented by a simple garnet brooch and a matching ring.  She wore her hair up, combed to accentuate her natural curls, giving an angelic effect.  She was the image of confidence and beauty.

She was surprised that the hundreds of passengers flowing around her barely gave her a glance; but in her boning up on India she overlooked the fact that: 1)  Bombay was Bollywood and used to striking, angelic beauty; and 2) nothing was too weird for India – a fact that she would come to appreciate in her week in the country.

Shah escorted her and her entourage (ordinary, plain lackeys – Helen brooked no competition) to the long black limousine he had arranged.  It had frigid air conditioning and most importantly darkly smoked windows.  Shah wanted to avoid the sights and sounds that had so frightened and disgusted Buffalo Boy’s mother.  He would keep the A/C on and the windows up until they had passed the pestilential Potters’ Colony, the shitting hutment dwellers along the side of the road, and the foul stench of excrement, rancid goats, and a bilious low tide by the Mosque; then open them when they reached Malabar Hill, the long sweep of Breach Candy, and Colaba.

Helen and her coterie would be lodged at the Shah ancestral home in one of Bombay’s finest neighborhoods.  Shah’s own apartment was simple – enough room for him, his wife, and three boys – and he was reluctant to leave for more spacious quarters because of the pull of ‘woman who does it with dog’ and easy proximity to the Cages and Trust Me Street.

The family residence was a magnificent example of old, wealthy Bombay, everything teak, mahogany, marble, and polished brass.  Spare and austere in the conservative Gujarati brahmin style, but with a simple beauty.  The Mother thought that it was too spare, for she had grown used to a Southern California excess which she incorporated into the tone and style of the Church compound.  Her colors – magenta, etc. – said it all about her taste, and the common rooms cluttered with paintings of the Elevated, striding, Lenin-like statues, rugs embroidered with purple fringe, frescoed ceilings were as far from the clean, austere lines of the Shah home as possible.

“Only one thing”, said Shah as they entered the hallway, “Please take off your shoes and whatever you do, do not put feet anywhere but on the floor.  After last visit of a foreigner, Baba-ji had to purify entire residence.  Priest came in, did ablutions, burned incense, said ancient prayers, opened windows to let out unholy emanations.  It was like extermination of roaches, bad ferenghi odors and emanations.  Please don’t be offended.  Just watch your feet”

Buffalo Boy gave Shah a warning look, but he was just warming up.

“I have many ashrams and temples, Holy Mother”, he continued over tea. “All have been sanctified by God, all proudly bear the Shah name, and all are run like business.  We Gujaratis built Bombay.  How? Small places, small money; then big places big money.  In our Hinduism we believe that we all had former lives; and it is a revealed fact that the Shahs were great pharaohs of Egypt, princes of ancient Indus civilization, and kings of France.  OK, so textile mills may be come down from Versailles and Mohenjo Daro, but context, Mother, context.”

As crazy as this rant was to Buffalo Boy and just another expression of Shah’s wacko mind, Helen saw its possibilities.  She was a true businesswoman, Type A, always refining and perfecting her business model.  It would be easy to weave in themes from Ancient Egypt and the Indus Valley civilization into her liturgy.  Why stop with the Elevated?  The pharaohs were gods, after all, and so was the Sun King.  Already her trip to India was paying dividends.

“In our religion”, said The Mother, “we believe that there is a unity of historical revelation; that the spirit of the ancient gods, blessed be upon Them, resides within us all; and it only takes the right invocation, the right convocation to release their emanations”

“Yes, of course”, replied Shah who had just invoked the theme of emanations and who had told Buffalo Boy that the holy emanations of Vishnu made their way from Mathura to Shahnagar.  “Emanations.  Very important.  But some emanations can be bad, like foul shit smell from hutment colonies or putrid gas emanations from human body.”

“All emanations fold into the One Great One”, said Helen.  “A pure blending of good and bad to create a pure, complete, perfect emanation”.

The two biggest bullshitters Buffalo Boy had ever met had found each other.

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