|Life Amongst the Refugees from Shangri-La (Part II)
||[Sep. 13th, 2006|02:36 pm]
There are certain spots on this earth where, by sheer virtue of the environs, all of the drab gravity of our mundane adult lives dries up and falls off giving way to fresh and sensitive skin. Within Nature there are many such locations and I have even been to a few cities capable of evoking such wonder. At these moments and in these places we are able to sense the wide-eyed child that resides in us still, an echo of a long forgotten world. Under these, the rarest of conditions, we can almost believe in magic again.
Gazing out the window of my office, I am struck by the vision of a mythic looking valley splayed out before me. It is preternaturally lit by the heavens like the Promised Land in the Torah. All of the various greens are so vibrant and the vista so sweeping that I feel like a child who has been plopped down in the middle of a toy train set that has been so cleverly constructed by Lucas’ crew that it appears seamless.
Behind the valley is the jagged maw of the highest mountains in the world. And situated far above the valley and underneath, above, and all around the little concrete room where I write these words, is this little village that used to be an escape for British officers who couldn’t take the heat of the Indian plains. Now it is home to a people who have also used it to escape; to escape persecution, assimilation, and worse.
It is a bit strange that these people, these heartrending stories that pass by me on the street and serve me chai, are also primary contributing factors to what a friend recently referred to as the “specialness” of this place. But paradox or not, the magic in this place is as palpable as the salty scent of the ocean breeze when you first arrive at the beach. Every week I meet travelers from every corner of the globe. In the midst of the typical banal conversation, questions about the length of one’s stay inevitably arise. And time and again the answer is the same. Despite having precious little time allotted for traveling throughout this vast country and despite their original intention to stay in this little village for a matter of days, they find themselves unable to leave. Days turn into weeks and it is not uncommon for people to expend the better part of their days in India in “Little Lhasa”.
For my part, I am happy to confess that I have found a small way to contribute to the enchanting spell of McLeod Ganj. Every Monday evening, in a little café built especially for travelers to this area, I host a talent show of sorts called an “open mic” night. There is no actual microphone, nor is there alcohol, a stage, or other accoutrements typical of similar events in America. But people show up in droves and the talent that comes through the door every week is downright uncanny. For about two and a half hours, every Monday night, I am steeped in a festive milieu of international cultural exchange as people do everything from sing and dance to share personal poetry to perform recitals of traditional folk songs or folk lore. There have been South African tribal hymns, Hindu dirges, and Israeli, British, American, Australian, German, and Russian rock songs. There have been Gaelic myths, African tales, and spiritual sermons. There have been cheeky poems and dodgy jokes. And there has been music and music and more music.
It is a real joy to witness these events and I am extraordinarily fortunate to find myself in the position of Master of Ceremonies for the third time in three years. Countless people have approached me with raw gratitude and expressed how much these Monday nights have contributed to their experience here. It is something of a special night in something of a magical land. Oblivious to our differences, we all leave the café as wide-eyed children who might just dare to believe that anything is possible.
( more pics hereCollapse )