An inspiring moment on a roof terrace
I visited India for the first time in the year 1987. If I recall well, it must have been in the months of November-December.
I stayed for a short while in a small village around 140 kms from Hyderabad, with a family who invited me to enjoy a part of my holidays with them. These kind people, with whom I stayed for a week I believe, introduced themselves to me as being Roman Catholics from lower middle class. Means, father was an engine driver and mother a teacher in a local school. They had two daughters and two sons who were all still studying. Therefore, you could say that in comparison with most of the other villagers, they were in good doing. Something you could see, for example, on the two-storey property they owned and lived in.
What I liked the most about their house was the big roof terrace. If you can imagine how hot it could get inside the houses built with brick stones, of which the walls absorb the scorching hot sunrays in daytime, to breathe them out again at night. You will most probably understand that it was for me pure joy and relief, to sit there in the late afternoons or evenings with a cool beer, overlooking the village. And it is about what happened on one such evening that I want to talk about here.
During my stay with them, there were very rare moments that I, for a while, could be all by myself. My hosts saw it as bad behavior on their part, if they could not accompany and guide me through out my stay. This honest or maybe not so honest, after wards seen, hospitality, suffocated me and there were moment that I almost begged them, without sounding offensive, to leave me alone.
And, so it happened, close to the end of my stay with the family Lazarus, that I got the roof terrace for a couple of hours to myself.
To avoid the attention of around thousands or more different kinds of flying and crawling insects hovering around the only bulb on the terrace, I sat down a little distance away from the light source, on a creaking metal folding chair.
Except for a few dogs and a couple of noisy black haired pigs, there was not much movement to see on the mud road below. It was already quite late, after nine, so almost dinner and more importantly, television time. Indians in general eat their dinner quite late in the evenings I noticed, and you can say the soaps and Bollywood movies on television is one of the basic necessities in the lives of Indians. This way they are not much different as the rest of the world population, I believe. What however surprised and amazed me, is that there are more houses without attached bathroom or toilet than without a TV set and this, I am not saying in a manner of speaking.
That said, I sat there sipping my cool beer, counting the few stars left visible in a moonless night sky.
Suddenly all the lights went out, something not so uncommon through out India because there are, for one or the other reason, quite a lot of power failures plus they have, on more or less regular basis, what they call load shedding. In the region I stayed there was no electricity for let it be from 5 minutes to 2 hours, 4 to 5 times a day and with a little bit of bad luck it could even stretch for half a day or so. In principle, I was already well aware of this phenomenon, nevertheless it stayed, especially at night, taking me by surprise.
I stood up from my chair and looked around. As far as I could see, in the deep dark moon less night, I could not sight one single light source, and with the exception of the wind blowing through the bushes down below, a few barking dogs in the distance, there was no sound to be heard.
I looked up, searched the sky for more stars than the few visible but they where all hiding behind invisible clouds. I smelt the air of mud and rotten leaves and most surprisingly, I felt an enormous pressure on top of my head and shoulders as if the whole universe leaned on me and I got something what you could call a revelation maybe or something in that genre.
The whole experience started slowly fading away by every candle I saw being lit in the gardens, on the roofs tops and inside the houses. The youngest son of my host too contributed in spoiling my encounter with infinity, in a manner of speaking, by coming upstairs with a candle and putting it next to me on an other metal chair. To be friendly and to keep me company, he himself sat down in front of me cross-legged on a small carpet he brought with him while everybody else sat in front of the TV downstairs. We passed the time by chit chatting a little bit about everything and nothing.
Later that night in my room lying on a bed with a paper-thin mattress, watching the ceiling fan turn, I tried to recall the strange experience I encountered earlier that night. Never in my life did I find myself in a situation in which I felt being completely handed over to the elements. Even when this remarkable experience did not last much longer than half a minute or so, it left such a deep impression on me that I could not stop thinking about it.
God knows why but I suddenly began to imagine how our poor ancestors, the cave people, must have felt on a moonless night like the one I experienced. For them it was not a simple power failure but an ongoing reality.
Because I did not feel sleepy at all, I put my pillow against the wall and let my back lean on it. I visualized myself being a cave man with a sleeping disorder sitting wide awake at night on a rock somewhere in the grasslands of Africa. I have never heard of stars, planets, comets, galaxies, let alone of a big bang theory or for my sake, any other theory. I only sit there and see what I see, hear what I hear.
Being a stone-age fellow, especially in cloudy weather without moon, when the nights are darker than shadows, knowing that you could be attacked and eaten by everything a little bit bigger than you, including your fellow primates, must have left regularly some brake thrusts in your under pants, in a manner of speaking.
What must have gone through the frustrated mind of this simple creature who was always in search of food, always on high alert for danger. What kind of images did he see in the shadows of the deep night? How did he explain the strange sounds of the grasslands or forests? What kind of visions did he see in the dark grey clouds passing above his head? What did he think about the natural phenomenon of fireflies or lava spitting volcanoes?
Being a primate who could analyze and was therefore fond of finding answers or solutions to the thousand and one questions he encountered on the way through his surreal world, he must have been quite a busy fellow.
For his survival, it was seemingly not so necessary that the solutions he fantasized together stuck with the facts as long as he believed that they benefited him, one way or other, to help discover and survive in his environment. And if he also figured out that it was helping him to get somewhere higher up in the hierarchy of his tribe, then he hit, as a surplus, a bull’s eye, in a manner of speaking.
I imagined, lying there bathing in my own sweat on the mattress which was harder than the concrete wall I sat on that afternoon, that a cave man or a woman alike, with a bit of flexible brain, had an inexhaustible source beyond the horizon of reason, where he could find anything necessary to give his life some meaning.
So that morning in 1987, while the early birds were performing their morning glimmering repertoire and young girls rubbing the steel pots with a mixture of sand and water, the way they wash dishes in the villages in India, I came to the revealing conclusion, that modern civilization most probably found, its cradle in a strange village. A place populated by a tribe who were, softly said, slightly uncommon.
It must have been a village inhabited by a hodgepodge of men, with some mental disorder like epilepsy, paranoia and schizophrenia and a gang of junkies who found their stuff like fermented fruits, herbs, mushrooms etc. easily in the wild. These fellows, with here and there a cracky brain cell, who fed on hallucinating chemicals, and were unable to differentiate between reality and illusion, the so called first breed of high priests. They could have easily seen, in the sun an upper being, made from the moon - an evil night creature, from fire flies – ghosts hiding in the forests and in the clouds they saw families of super beings who threw lightening, thunder storms, rain and hail on their poor prehistoric heads.
In trance and with help of their imaginary super beings, whom they fearfully worshipped, they raised war against every living creature which crossed their path, ruled ruthlessly and unforgiving and used their power to crush everything that showed a spark of common sense.
And like I said this all started with one human like ape, sitting on the top of a rock, watching the night sky.
I could be wrong because I am not a scholar but anyway I love my theory.