The pathway to the little watch repairman’s cottage wound its way off a sidestreet. The dusty, muggy heat of a Delhi spring day lent a melancholy aspect to the mood of the approaching proprietor.
Pandit Chaghandipore had held the deed to the cottage for over half a century, inherited from his father, a watchmaker and repairman himself. Pandit (his real name was Olema) had learned the trade by his father’s knee. In his seventeenth year, however, he had taken off to the wilds to live with the sadhus. He had eschewed material gain (at least, he did while still a young man) and had returned, to take up the family business.
That, he felt, was needed, was because his father’s ailing health, and the knowledge thateven while he felt the lure of the mystic and love of God pulling at him, he could never turn from his father and mother in their time of need- of what charity would that prove, to live as an ungrateful son, in the company of monks? So he could not be a total or a “true”, “pure” renunciate, in this way.
Over time, as well, he knew he could not speak any philosphy to the world which did not involve a compromise, or a balance, between his spiritual nature, and the material neccesity of existence. He refused, for example, to wander the world with nothing but an alms bowl. For to insist on living on the good will of others was to invite sloth and non-contriibution to society. This would only reinforce the bad karma of parasitism. He would rather earn his rice and beans than expect others to provide for him. In this he was only being practical- in ways his sanyassin brethren could little relate to.
After a number of years in the shop, he began holding discussions after hours with various customers, who had come in with their troublesome timepieces, noticed the devotional photographs and paintings on his shop walls, and began making comments regarding them, asking questions, and leaving, with both their watches repaired, and the feeling that… Olema knew what was what about life. He might not have a family, nor wealth- his shop made just enough to keep afloat, and to set a side a small sum each month in a savings account- but Olema always made them feel, how should we say, but,
a little bit lighter, whatever their daily concerns, when they left.
These discussion groups grew until Olema had a number of “regulars” coming every Wednesday night. Usually he would pick some line of scripture, whethter from the Ramayana, the Koran, the Bible, or even the Zendavesta, and the idea would be picked up and walked around the circle, so that each attendee was able to speak at length as to their own interpretation. For Olema felt that every unique individual had their own ideation of what constituted God- or what was not, or whether or not there even was a God. All ideas were welcomed in the groups. Usually debates were civil, and usually, everyone who came to the discussions, again, left feeling at the least like their own opinions had at least recieved an airing, whether or not a majority agreed.
From this, then, grew Olema’s reputation, so that within a decade’s time, he had been unofficially given the moniker of “Pandit” or “Learned One” within his community, and as the discussion groups grew so then did the demands upon his shop, and so did the idea that Pandit Chaghandipore was perhaps “the best guru in the Province.” That, in a land of thousands of gurus per square mile! But he did not complain. He saw reputation for what it was- fleeting, and of no consequence other than it did allow him to keep working, both on ideas (for the varied input from the discussion attendees assured a wide variety, no less) and at the watch repairs- for now, people had begun to make excuses to bring him watches, when what they really wanted was a piece of his wisdom.
For his own part, Olema began to enjoy the work, the fine detail and demands on his memory he flet were excellent challenges. Once in a while there might be a really problematic issue, but in those instances, he would advise the customer to save for a new watch, and he apologized, letting them know that he never claimed to be able to fix every watch that came his way, only to attempt his best. Then there were cases where people had really messed up on their own, and what he was being asked to do was just not possible, because the delicate mechanisms had been ruptured beond anyone’s repair.
Somehow, it was this honesty in acceptance that some things were repairable, others not, which led his customers (at first it was his customers, but as his patience became legendary, later, it was his disciples)- to spread his reputation beyond the little store on Chandi Chowk, and out into the suburbs and hinterlands. There really were times when he preferred, perhaps, to be back in the forests, his mind fixed on the ineffable, perhaps with a chillum and a pot of chai, and another sadhu to help explain whatever quandary he held at present.
But now the words he had spoken had come to be passed along from mouth to mouth. Sometimes, a customer would come in with a perfectly good watch, only in order to ask a philosophical question. It was not in his nature to discount anyone’s motives, nor to toy with these types, when it was well within his power to send one or two home with a real put down. Put downs, he felt, were hardly in keeping with the life of a philosopher, nor one’s proper demeanor.
And it was on this muggy day in the monsoon season that Olema was to have a rendezvous with fate, in some sense, unwittingly, as all such rendezvous manage to occur.
The bell rang in the shop and he looked up. A memsahib stood there, her hair tied up in a kosher bun, holding in her hands a mud-encrusted timepiece. He smiled, nodded, and she placed it on his counter top. The woman was not much older than her early thirties, and he thought little more than “well, here is another customer to serve.”
As he examined the watch, and brought a little emery file out from his tools drawer and began ticking the mud away from the face, she began explaining the crisis to him.
Her thick Welsh accent did not deter him, he could let her speak while he made his assessments without interruption.
“My husband and I have just arrived here two days ago. We were headed out to see the Taj Mahal- wonderful place, I must say- and while we were on our way, riding in one of those little rickshaws, the clasp came undone, and my watch fell into the street. I asked the driver to halt, and, as he did so, a swarm of beggars fell upon the watch as it lie in the wet muddy street. My husband immediately got down and engaged in some struggle, resulting in his loss of fifty rupees in order to regain our possession. Anyway, at least he did not have to fisticuff his way out of that hideous mob and regain his seat- after the exchange of the money they all ran off together…
“But my watch was all wet and muddy, so I tucked it into some tissues and left it until this morning. I have read reviews of your shop, and so, I decided to bring it by. Something tells me that you have the skill to repair not only the clasp, but perhaps, you might test the machinery and let me know if there’s damage or not.”
She stood smiling as she waited. Olema had taken all the big mud off with his emery board, and now, only residue remained, and he could tell that this watch was perhaps one of the fanciest he had yet worked on. Having it in his care would be an honor, and with all these diamonds! My word, he would need to place it in the safe, when he was not in the process of deeper examination.
“Yes, Memsahib, I can see this is a most fine piece of equipment here. And most valuable. We do have onsite a facility which we can safely say will keep it secure, and I cannot give you any deeper estimate of a cost at the moment, until I am able to take off the rear cover and ascertain what if anything is wrong with the gears the crystal and all. Meanwhile, feel free to wait here-“ (he indicated a chaise on which she was to rest her tourist bottom) and give me a few minutes, could you?”
Her smile never wavered as she sat herself down, and looked around at the little shop’s walls. Olema enjoyed the various styles of devotional art and displayed a true eclectic’s eye for variety. There were Greek and Russian Orthodox icons, Roman Catholic novena cards, Hindu manifestations of Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Rama and Krishna, an entire section made up of nothing but “guru-bhajan wallet photos”, and a number of hand-painted, brush-and-ink Buddha life scenes. She was fascinated. Never had she experienced such ecumenical variety in one place and this piqued her curiosity.
“This is such a fascinating collection of religious photographs and paintings and all.
I was under the impression that people here in India are rather sectarian and separatist…”
“Ah, but, Memsahib, we are a different bird than the common Indian, in this shop.
I hold spiritual discussion groups upstairs here – in fact, one will be this evening at 7 PM.
I must invite you – if you feel that this is your cup of tea that is.” He gave a little bow, and then, took her watch back to his work table, where he flicked on a desk lamp and put on his jeweler’s cup.
He prised off the back of the watch, and saw that there was no real harm done. Everything seemed to be exactly in order, and so, really, what really all it needed was a good cleaning- the diamond settings alone would take an hour or more to get the crud from their nooks and crannies. The face itself had received no abuse, all this really meant was an exterior cleaning. She probably had not even checked it for accuracy since it fell, he thought to himself. He would replace the battery, however, so that it would be closer to true.
“I have read some Zen Buddhism and I feel near to that way of life” she told him. “Will I be welcome in this discussion?”
“Memsahib, all philosophy is welcome in my groups. We do not see evil in anyone, we only hope to find common ground and to leave each meeting with a sense more of what people deeply feel and hold as truth. No more, no less. You and your husband will be most welcome.”
“Now, for your watch, here, we feel that we can have it all set right and all it really will need will be a cleaning, and if you agree to, a new fresh battery will be provided at no extra cost…” He did, however, want to get something from the woman for the cleaning, and the jam jars full of batteries he kept ready for any occasion were never a big expense – friends of his on the Chowk dealt in such things wholesale and supplied him with plenty.
Please return in one hour, and I will have you watch sparkling fresh and shiny as the day… as the day…”
She finished his sentence for him. “As the day my husband set it upon my wrist. Yes, thank you, Mr…”
“Chaghandipore, Memsahib.” He took a business card from a little holder on the counter top, and handed it to her. She placed the card in her purse, and gave a modified curtsy, as she turned for the door.
“Thank you, Mr. Chaghandipore- I shall return this evening.”
When she left, he began his cleaning, using paintbrushes and wire brushes to clean the nooks and crannies. He took his time, making sure there would not be a single grain of dirt to defile the shining diamond frame. He buffed the case so that the glass shone, and when he was done, placed it into a snap-case with a velvet mount. Good as the day it went on her wrist, yes, Memsahib would be pleased.
He opened the safe and locked it away. She would be back in the evening, so there would be a lot of time- and many locals calling-in the hours between. He did not wish to tempt anyone with the idea that this fantastic rarity might be –perish the thought!- for sale. Meanwhile, he would go upstairs, make the refreshments for the night’s meeting, and listen for the shop bell.
Olema fancied himself a good cook, and so for this evening, he baked a tray of samosas, one of ginger cookies, and a large pot of kir. Several of the regulars were so fond of his kir they often took home a jar of it “for the kiddies”, although he knew, perhaps from their girth, that it was themselves they would indulge. He had four other customers come in, which interrupted the baking and the boiling and the cooling and the
jarring, but these were all set-asides, and work that he could tackle at his leisure.
Tonight he wanted to deal with the current crisis of philosophy, “Existentialism and Nihilism- a Modern Solution, or a Quandary?” The debate would no doubt be dominated by the young men who felt the fashionable French philosophies, as well as the critical politics, were the wave of the future. He looked into his library, but he had no such books as Sarte nor Camus nor even Nietzsche. He had read, Nietzsche, of course, but much younger, and the idea of a post-moral superman, he also rejected, primarily due to its Nazi compulsions.
Mrs. Abbryggdd had a hard time convincing her husband that she told him she would absolutely go all by herself if he did not accompany her. As an English martinet from a sometime ecclesial family, he insisted such a smatter of latter-day philosophy such as would be on the discussion board that night at Olema’s Philosophy Wednesdays.
So it was only by a stealthy manipulation of Lord Abbryggdd’s emotions, ego, and British Raj tourist too much that he could but no longer withstand the nagging. He went, dressed in his pinstripes, white puttee,s and Dan Porter hat.
They sat in the little room with four other individuals and six other empty chairs., waiting for Olema, as he was finishing the making of tea and biscuits in the tiny kitchen just of the main salon. Music played over a radio-cassette boombox on a little table by the door, which also held two incense burners, fully ablaze.
The music was Ali Akbar Khan’s. A sarod, a flute, a tabla, and violins. The two English minded their own while, as the four Indians – nor related, and of both genders- went on speaking to each other about the last week’s meeting. Would Olema be leading them into dangerous territory with tonight’s lecture? Some of the time, Olema knew that at least one of the audience would create a statement which so fully dominated the continuance of the dictating the “dichotomy of the week”, but newcomers always brought their own naivete and unspoiled perspectives. He would welcome having the English here.
The lecture on Existentialism and Nihilism was one of the most interesting roundrobins Genevieve Abbryggdd had ever been invited to hear, and it would also prove to be the most divisive thing in her marriage in due time. After stating the point, people began with their own inputs. The young Indian woman in her twenties wanted to know if tantra and sexual yoga could be considered in the discussion, but it was overruled.
“I would like to begin by asking which side of the argument you feel you want to take- which is more inclined to your way of thinking and you feel it is appropriate to live.
To an existentialist at least, there is an object to life, the purpose of which is to live it.
For the nihilist, there can be nothing got from life for nothing matters anyway, we are all doomed and for a menaing of –what” The nihilist motto is “to hell with it”, and the existentialist’s is “I hope I am doing enough.”
The little man in the red fez and kamiz said he absolutely didn’t care. He said that the arguments were moot. “All they are are examples of attitudes, not ways of life.
“If nihilism was worth anything then where is the manifesto, where is the pinnacle of Nihilist thought, where have been their schools? They do not create, they destroy. Since nothing matters there is no reason to be, to do. For the existentialist, it is to do, or to die.
I can hardly see how we can make a long enough discussion over what is so obviously a cut and dried matter.”
The little man took a sip from his teacup, cut a biscuit with his molars, and sat back in his seat, satisfied.
The second Indian woman who had come dressed in nurse’s whites and silently meditated while the others had waited for the Pandit to fishih in the kitchen, opened her eyes and said this:
“ What we are is what we are. If we do believe that to be is to be then I too say there is no use, no sense, no place for nihilism. Even if I were to consider the words of the Buddha that all is maya and a trap to attachment, I could not countenance the wanton disregard for the inner being, the ultimate degradation of all which is upright in the interior of the soul, which is this “nihilism’. How many good institutions could be founded from such nonsense? I should’t think any.”
“Very well, Kamala.I tend to agree” said Pandit, sipping on the tea in his cup, smiling at the English, and looking out his window to the darkening sky over the western city.
“I believe that such philosophies- the debauchees, the bacchanals, the infusions of Saint Anthony’s fire, all the rest, these are cyclical things which happen in societies once people have more time on their hands than they have work to do. Rarely were Indians out of work, because, there is always work for someone to do. Out caste system is really to blame for too much. But now I believe we have had a real new start. To be new. Even in our oldness.”
“Hear, hear,” said the little man in the red fez and kamiz, resting his chin in his hands, listening, thinking, interested, disinterested.
When the discussion was over- and they went on in such a fashion for the better part of another two hours- Lord and Lady Abbryggdd tipped their hats to Olema, the Lord collected another business card, and they hailed their rickshaw in silence. She knew that he was thinking, and that there was something brewing under his twitching mustache (it always did mean a storm was brewing) and she steeled herself for what would come when they were back behind closed doors.
“ That was the most… the silliest… the …. Oh, bother!” sniffed Stokely Abbryggdd, when they returned to the hotel that night. Lady Abbryggdd ordered a dinner up from room service, and as she ate (by herself- Stokely was too incensed and fuming) she considered that it might well have gone like that- for Stokely. She would have to wait until his Anglican Presbyterianed down a little bit.
“I thought it was eclectically elucidating” she giggled. “I never get that sort of thing back home! Back home, it’s all workaday garden variety garden clubs and that sort. If you have no taste for the metaphysical, Stokely, I am afraid you will be asking yourself a lot more question s about the universe than you will ever get answers for.”
“What the deuce is that supposed to mean?” he snorted. “All that is a lot of piggle-wiggle and bacon on the side.I just mean that, for myself, of course, there’s no need to ask that many questions. Things just are. What is not is not. And that, is rather simple, for me.”
“Well, obviously, Stokely, I guess you just did not get to eat enough mushrooms, or something, back in the day. Those times were very good for some of us. Just because one person can’t handle a bad trip, that does not mean nobody else can, or even that they have them. And you would be a lot less of an atheist, if you had,” she sniffed back.
“Hallucinogens? Bah! Food and fodder for little boys with big heads. I never saw anything in that Leary bunch. Belong on an Indian reservation, or something.”
“Well, I am going then again, next week.”
“What? Why? We are scheduled to be in Pondicherry next week! The subset are going to be expecting you.”
“I have a right to my mind and my own time, Stokely”, she reminded him. Their prenuptial agreement did not state that Lady Abbrggdd need be at all and every of the clan’s traditional social register rituals. Especially here in the former Raj, where they still held a little interest,, at the least, on behalf of the natives.
“Then I shall go by myself! I will not be showed up or not show up or be seat in any way in a bad light for our Indian retinue, whom we still pay good wages and who still regard us as honorable and honest!”
Lord Stokely Abbryggdd had come to India to research his great grandfather, a contemporary of Robert Clive, one of the original Raj East Indian nabobs of the 19th Century, that period of English imperial zenith and sunset. The family had lost their seat in Parliament, which had been theirs for generations, they had lost their lands and the castle (Keep Abbryggdd, in Gwldyr); they had been hounded pillar to post whenever Blimps wanted to make bones about one or another celebrity who had gone native, gone to ground, or gone to pound, in India… The Abbryggdd family was Welsh to the bone, and by coming to India to look after the trail of old Lord Percy Abbryggdd I, he would satisfy the curiousity Stokely’s father (Percy Abbrggdd; Jr.) had stoked in him at the earliest age.
To return to India and ask again, why, the reputation he had earned in India was enough to get their entire line blackballed and eschewed the royal favor for the generations to come. The more they learned about Percy, who had not only gone native, but helped to arm the Sepoy and Gurkha against the Mahouts, and the Touts, the Louts, and the Redcoats, the more they realized how well-loved he actually was in India- by the Indians, mind you, not his own nation.
And now all this bother that Genevieve puts me up against about this wise man she sees. Or what she sees in him, I do not know.
But that night Stokely had on his mind getting to Pondicherry and observing the state of decay inevitable- of the old family home there, the mansion built with East India Company and Royal Treasury money. There were always new papers surfacing, new clues that could one day clear the good name of Abbryggdd back in the Home Realms.
There would be the inevitable toddy festival, as would what happened every time one of the expatriates came to Pondicherry, all their servants take the afternoon off and the entire grounds go on an afternoon jag of bhang and toddy… the air would be thick with hashish and incense, and of course, there would be music.
And Stokely, of course, in whose honor it was being held, would have to hold his own without Genevieve at his side. He should not fare so badly. He had been through the toddy festival five times already, and to tell the truth, he liked it more each time. Genevieve apparently had enough after only her first two.
When Stokely took off the morning of his scheduled train to Pondicherry, Genevieve got up and let the windows and breeze in. She felt the air, the soft turbid droll which is Delhi in early June. She made her way, at a reasonable hour, to Pandit Chaghandipore’s shop. Making small talk, she soon moved herself into such a position that she was eye to eye with Olema, looking deeply at him, taking his hand in her own.
Lady Abbryggdd leaned over Olema, closely.
Her pearls hung down over her ample and zafdig decolletage. The scent of her English perfume (Bain Water) in Olema’s nostrils. Mingling with the perfume, the thicksmoke of the incense and her realization that now, here, in Olema’s salon, was (and would be the only) time she could have a man other than Stokely. The stocking she chose for that evening were the oldest and rankest of the lot she had brought along- the remainder of which were recent indeed.
By her standards. It would be even better to enjoy India with no underpants at all, since the weather was hot enough, anyway. She wasn’t just yet aware that the India of 1980 was not the India of 980, and a woman without underwear in this society would be a tinderbox for the average single Hindu male. For his mind, for his attention, for his affections. Such a woman would definitely be a catch! Which was why, the rickshaw they had driven the afternoon the mob stole her watch and dropped it in the mud, had been followed by just this type of Indian, in a score. Lord had driven them off, yes, but she could tell the “liberal west”had a long way to go in this part of the world. Muslim piety and Hindu asceticism had made good sure of that.
As though all the “Kama Sutra” monuments of Khajuraho were really only a blip in time, and had existed for a patient moment, and then the world had just gone back to being hung up about being naked, and about sex, all over again. For an Englishwoman of her generation to relate to the prudity of the average Indian was not yet comprehensible. Someday it might be, but not now, while Mrs Abbryggdd held Olema by the hand, and guided it beneath her skirts, he struggled to free himself form his own clothing, bottom end first.
Soon, she had off all his clothes, and as they kissed, she implored him to take her.
No, the India of 800 years ago was not the India of today, but Mrs. Abbryggdd felt assured that she could bring Olema to the modern one by the time she was done this afternoon. The Pandit did not resist. He fumbled around and found his way into her.
Afterward, she left him behind with a small envelope, with a great deal of cash in it.
Olema felt torn in two directions. On one hand, he felt he was not a prostitute, and if she were offering this money in return for the favor of his sexual indulgence, it would mean she could never really uphold the role of a chela, or even, a regular attendee. Just that the personal relationship had occurred made that a non possibility. That she would return to England soon, when Stokely returned from Pondicherry, was a certainty.
There would therefore be no gossip among Pandit’s sewing circle (which was larger, after all, than the four that had showed up to the evening the Abbryggdds attended)- and at that, Olema chuckled. He also thought of how funny it was, this little thing, about gurus and memsahib chelas and sanyassins and saddhus- they seemed to be symbiotic, and the sexual involvement had to be either the absolute most chaste, or the most profligate and promiscuous libertine, to qualify as being of integrity, and not corrupted, but either way, men were just men, after all.
He put the money in his bank. Perhaps it might make a big help for his young nephew, who was studying the sitar, and also, western instruments like guitar. If he did not spend it himself, but used it to better the life of someone else, then there had been no prostitution of himself at all. Besides, the sort of amusement offered by a delicensed woman like Lady Abbryggdd – perhaps it made every Pandit a little more worldly, a little more believable, a little more honest in the eyes of the average Indian.
Stokely Abbryggdd’s return from Pondicherry was met by a very different Lady Abbryggdd than he had left behind, of course, in more ways than Stokely could know. The trip had been something of a success- while once again, the retainers the Abbryggdd clan had left behind with orders to research and collect any documents, writings, watercolors, etchings, indeed, whatever the old nabob had left intestate mislaid around India somewhere- they had once again failed to turn up new works or papers of any sort since 1947. Stokely began to question the sense of always traveling to India after all that.
What if it all left somehow for Pakistan? They had not even considered it, how daft of them.
So when he drew himself back into Delhi and the arms of the new Genevieve, he welcomed her avid attentions. She was certainly adding on more than she generally would, which was to say, rarely if but out of some wifely duty. But now Genevieve was being… friendly.
This enough would be enough, perhaps, to soothe the irritated fur of the lion, but she threw herself upon him sexually in a manner that she had not since they first met, when they were in their mid twenties. And now he responded, with a vaguely detached, curious, and altogether observant point of view. Indeed, there was nothing he could take for granted about Lady Abbryggdd any longer- not after that night’s performance.
So the Lord Abbryggdd declared the trip to have been a success, in one fashion at least, and he returned to England and the jolly’o’s and old chaps and nick it while you cans and walked tall- a peacock, if a somewhat bewildered one. And soon she was taking herself to gynecologist’s appointments. And soon enough, their might be an heir!
An actual male heir for Lord Abbryggdd! That might fight on, in that dogged Welsh manner, for the manor and the manner born, to never say die, my goodness.
“Have you thought of a name for the little blighter?” He asked, nine months after the return from India, after the afterbirth had been swabbed, the birth certificate left blank for the fortnight, the babe swaddled and in and out of all the relative’s arms.
“I will call him Guru.” She answered. “Because he will be a guru. He will be a wise and a patient man, both as a child, and as a boy, and as a man. IT will be the world that remembers him, whether or not he cares to remember having come, at the end of his road, or not. But I know he will be bright and intelligent, like his father.”
Stokely beamed. He held the little blighter,tickled, and the little boy smiled and cooed and made sounds that one might call baby laughs, explosions of pleasure not yet fashioned into any one tongue of expression and a national or a racial language. Guru, he thought, yes, that might be a good name. Set you off from all those gadabout laddies, the run of the mill, the sawdust from the mill. Set you out a fine man, we shall.
The little boy’s eyes twinkled and laughed up at Stokely. He barely noticed the boy’s eyebrows... thick, pondering, and black.
[author's note: This story was originally posted in two parts, this is a consolidation of both]
for the full story as well as others see https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/308624
for the full story as well as others see https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/308624