Thursday 13 August 2015

The love song of the dark lady VIII

Chapter 8

I sat with David at dinner. He was the only person there who I even vaguely knew apart from Galina, and she was pretty much unavailable to either of us. She’d talk for a minute. She asked the usual questions about how we were getting on, how we were enjoying ourselves, she’d introduce us to her friends, but after a few minutes there was always something she needed to do. What she needed to do fundamentally was follow the rules of the Hare Krishnas. She had to spend her time meditating, chanting her mantra incessantly and serving the group in any way she could. Moreover, the group was wary of outsiders and those who didn’t follow Krishna. It was fine if you were on the way to Krishna. People like us who it was assumed were interested and potential converts were most welcome. But people who definitely were not interested, people who believed other things were at best distractions, at worst harmful. It was for this reason that Galina had left behind all her old friends in Kaliningrad, it was for this reason, too, that she had ceased contacting her parents.

Galina was helping Vera in the kitchens and then came out to serve the food. Whether she really needed to do this was unclear, but it meant that the benches had all filled up by the time it was her turn to sit down and eat. David would glance at her and smile, but the smile he got back was pretty much all he got back.

He had made it clear to everyone he met that he was only here to see Galina. This simple true statement had been met with incomprehension by some.

“Who is Galina?” someone had said.
“You may know her better as Garudi,” said David.
“Where have you come from? You’re not Russian. “
“I flew from Scotland. I just study Russian.”
“You speak awfully well. But you’re just friends with Garudi, aren’t you?”
“I’d say that was her business, wouldn’t you?”

This sort of conversation went on frequently. He always said “Galina” even to her and only used her Indian name to avoid confusion. He maintained that he wasn’t here to learn about Krishna, though, of course, he was interested in new subjects and experiences. He saw no harm in being an open minded person and was happy to chat about anything, but that was not why he was here. He had been invited by Galina and that was why he’d come. Without her he would not have come.

I could not give the real reason for my coming and it was not plausible that I should be there to see a former student. So I had to rather maintain the idea that I was there because I was tempted onto the path to Krishna. This limited what I was able to say. I mainly sat in silence, which was my usual role, and one in which I was well practiced. Sometimes it’s much easier being a woman. People accept that you are shy and meek and quiet. Passivity goes with the role. They don’t know and don’t expect what is underneath. I have used this fact all my life. It can be the best form of maskirovka [camouflage] that exists. The trick in any battle is to get into the rear areas without them even knowing you are there.

After dinner the conversation started and it looked as if the Hare Krishna top team was ganged up on David. There were some really friendly, really kind people who I chatted to over the next few days. They had degrees from some of the better universities. They often had very good jobs in Moscow. One or two were actually academics. Outside of this gathering some of them lived undercover. They never mentioned their occasional few days away being Hare Krishnas. Some even had families and friends who were completely unaware that they also had Indian names. Likewise, Galina did not go into her office asking to be called Garudi. She did not wear her Indian makeup, she did not talk about her beliefs to anyone there. She was Galina Fedorovna. She looked and sounded like any other Russian. It wasn’t really possible socially to be anything else in Russia. For an ordinary Russian to say they were anything other than an ordinary Russian, would tend to invite incomprehension, ridicule or worse. In that sense all of us to some extent were undercover. It’s not so very different anywhere else either. There is a conformity in Scotland also, things that must be said and things that may not be said, roles that must be played, at least in public, if not always in private.

I couldn’t help David much in the discussion that we all had in the next few days. I helped a little with translation. I told him a word he didn’t know, or helped him find a Russian word that he had forgotten. But he didn’t need my help much neither with Russian, nor with philosophy. I was reminded of when I had applied for some sort of fellowship in my college. I had been presented with some of the best minds and most senior academics spread round me in a semi-circle. For half an hour and more they had asked me whatever they pleased about anything they pleased. The trick, I think, was to answer in a similar fashion. I just said what I thought was true, without thinking whether it would impress. I just let my thoughts flow and became unconscious of thinking. Rather like later I would become unconscious of grammar when I spoke Russian. In this way I could think freely without inhibition and sometimes come up with an idea that was new.  I gave reasons why I thought someone most eminent had said something incorrect. The fact that my reasons were unthought out meant that they could be rather hard to counter, for they had an immediacy and a naivety that can be the best counter to when thoughts have too long gone through the process of mediation. What else is academia than mediation and recycling of the same old scholarship? Directness and something a little surprising often leads to academic bluster. But I remained calm even if someone else became flustered. David did something similar.

He continually reiterated that he was not here to learn about the Hare Krishna movement, that he had his own beliefs, but of course he was willing to discuss with anyone in a reasonable fashion. He said that his fundamental disagreement was that Eastern religions like Hare Krishna took the person on the wrong path. They led to the death of self, indeed, that this was their goal. They viewed the whole of the ordinary world as appearance while reality was something none of us had ever seen. This he considered was an essential part of the “everything becomes one” school philosophy. For ordinary experience suggested the opposite, that everything in fact was many. His alternative was that the world we see is perfectly real. That the self we experience in our freedom is real and we are really free. But by means of this self we can reach the divine through looking inwardly and by accepting that the divine can only be reached when we accept that it is beyond reason.

His criticism was much more subtle than they had expected. He did not attack the stories about Krishna. He instead pointed out that many stories about Jesus are likewise hard to understand. We need to go beyond reason to believe miracles. So in the end, it is a choice. You can pick Krishna if you like. It is equally a choice beyond reason. But don’t try to come up with proofs. They won’t work in any case.

Someone pointed out that Jesus and Krishna were the same.  He answered, in that case why not follow Jesus? Moreover, they clearly are not the same, for the essence of the teaching of Jesus is that our selves, our souls will be preserved. So, too, is the self preserved in reincarnation, someone said. Perhaps so, but if I have no recollection of my being a rabbit previously in what sense is my self preserved? Moreover, that is not the place towards which it is all tending. The goal is to lose the self in Nirvana, rather like throwing a cup of milk into the ocean. The goal is to become one rather than to preserve the individuality of the individual.

I saw how when necessary, David’s Russian kicked into a higher level than he usually used. It was like he had a series of gears. He would not always get the grammar right, but when necessary, he could get the point across very clearly and very cleverly. Meantime every day as these discussions continued he continued to attend the services. He sang the songs enthusiastically, he listened patiently to the guru. He took part in the dance at the end with enthusiasm and then he put up every evening this extraordinary defence of his own beliefs. I began wondering what role he was playing. But I also knew that he didn’t need my help. Far from it, I was very grateful sitting beside him that he was defending so ably what I believed, too.

Each evening after these discussions, we would go back for a drink and a debriefing to his room. I was careful not to give away too much of what my role was. It wasn’t so much a lack of trust as simply following my usual practice. But as we sat drinking and smoking cigarettes in his freezing room, I showed that I was sympathetic to the arguments that he had been making, and pointed out one or two of my own which might prove useful to him.

We talked about Galina. She sometimes observed the discussions that continued over a number of days, but she didn’t take part. Sometimes she would come up to David and act in a slightly flirtatious, affectionate manner, but she never spent long with him. It was as if she wasn’t allowed to. I saw her sometimes deep in conversation with the guru and his wife. Galina’s English was very rudimentary so they couldn’t talk without a translator. The guru at times looked rather worried. I wondered if they were worried about David. In the debates no one seemed to be landing any blows on him. He had successfully circled the wagons. He was here to see Galina. He was a Catholic. What he believed was not founded on reason. Therefore, it could not be attacked by reason. He respected what the others believed, but it was not the direction he wanted to take as it tended towards loss of self rather than preservation. They charged round like Indians, but they couldn’t land any blows. Meanwhile, he picked them off one by one.

But David was getting frustrated.  The whole experience was taking its toll and he was becoming very tired.

“What’s the point, Effie? I don’t even really talk to her. I just have these endless discussions about something that isn’t very interesting.”
“I think the time may be right when you confront her with her lack of attention. After all, she invited you. You came. She owes you. If it’s a nice day tomorrow, ask her to go for a walk between the morning and the afternoon sessions.”
“I already asked her, she said she was busy.”
“Tell her that you came to spend some time with her. If that isn’t going to happen, you might as well go.”
“You think that will work?”
“I don’t know. But if she won’t go for a walk with you, you must leave or at least you must make all the preparations to do so. But I think she will go for a walk with you.”