Post 68 ‘A Second Ending’

Post 68a Post 68b Post 68c

It is almost twelve months later, and I am in a different place, the southwest of Western Australia to be exact. It’s a land of few people, these often living in scattered and isolated communities, vast wheat fields with only occasional buildings to hint at human habitation, barren railway crossings, no Tata trucks, occasional roadside litter, much faster highway speeds, and lots of road-killed wildlife. I’m on another road trip, but one of a different kind and for a different purpose, but I keep relating it to India; right from the word go. Arriving from Sydney at the Western Australian state capital of Perth, it is a taxi driver originating from India that drives me from the airport to my overnight lodging. I resist the temptation to bore him with reminiscences of my journey through the Indian subcontinent. Besides, this is his homeland now, and he also has relatives over on the east coast.

Later, in the rugged Stirling Ranges north of the seaside city of Albany, I find myself on the summit of Bluff Knoll, a windswept peak over 1,000 metres in height, a place where Nature sings with a full voice and holds a mirror to our inadequacies, and to our pretensions. Bluff Knoll is the highest mountain in the southern part of this, the most massive state of Australia. A state almost as large as India, and whose shores look southwards to the Southern Ocean and west to the Indian Ocean. Carpeted by dense low shrubs Bluff Knoll is a Mecca to tourists who, like pilgrims in homage to the vanishing natural world, make the steep, sometimes dangerous, ascent to its starkly beautiful heights, there to gaze in a circle of 360o to a landscape that pans unbroken through native vegetation, wheat-belt lands of intensive agriculture, and far-off coastal dunes and inlets. No shrine sits at its peak, no tattered prayer flags wave in spiritual acknowledgement of a Creator. There are no images of Vishnu or Shiva here, no serene Buddha or righteous Jain monk, just the occasional junk food wrapper thrown thoughtlessly along the ascent trail. Nevertheless, it tugs like the divine at the heart. For me it is like being back on the Kumbhalgarh fortress wall, for the Stirling Ranges sit like a towering citadel in an otherwise flat landscape. Their tall crags dominate the adjacent plains just as the stone walls of Kumbhalgarh do. Even the respective heights above sea level, though separated by an ocean, are uncannily similar. It is the same sense of the grand, a constant, all-pervading terrible moment of awe.

Days later I am on the coastline that stretches from Cape Leeuwin, near the town of Augusta, north to the lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste, a location named after a French ship of exploration, and opposite and somewhat south-east of India. Here the water is a fluorescent blue, yet it is a landscape subject to constant wind and where, as a consequence, vegetation is twisted and deformed. My experiences are inextricably linked by this one ocean. It is just that I am on a different shore. I search for the plastic bottle, message sealed within, that I had set adrift at Puri months earlier. I did not mention the act before as I admit it was a disrespectful exercise; what others would see as nothing more than discarding one more item of rubbish into an ocean already fully beset with humanity’s refuse, me justifying my action with the proposition that I would collect the bottle at its intended destination, some time in the future. I actually did entertain the belief that the little bottle, note inside and cap firmly applied, could find its way to ‘Oz’, Australia. I searched diligently amongst the rugged headlands and beaches; at Cape Hamelin, North Point, Cape Freycinet, Previlly, Gracetown, Canal Rocks, Yallingup, Sugarloaf Rocks; everywhere. I even wandered the southern sheltered shoreline of Geographe Bay, this named after another French vessel. Along the way I explored the giant karri forest at Boranup. There on a tree trunk, amongst masses of other inscribed graffiti, were carved the words ‘Lakshmi loves Kiran’. Believe me. I took a photo to prove it! Surely, if this later day Radha and Krishna could find their way to the distant shores of Western Australia, so can my little bottle. I sat at many a seaside place in patient meditation, hoping to sense its presence; nothing, not a sign could I discern. Maybe like some of those still-missing postcards I had sent off from India, it is trapped in perpetual transit, on a voyage somewhere, the mysteries of which I will never know.

But not to end quite here, for sometimes the ridiculous does supplant the sublime. Just outside of Perth, travelling on the last leg of this road trip to catch my return flight to Hometown, I drive through the quiet settlement of Pinjarra. Normally I would not have given this location a space in my memory, except that here I am forced to slow and stop, not by traffic lights or the bustling of crowded vehicles, but by a solitary peahen of all things; India’s national bird no less. The peahen casually ambles across the highway and enters the grounds of an adjacent school, much to the consternation of school children, and of me.

Funny place India, in the oddest of ways and when you least expect it, it just keeps coming back to haunt you, with all its contradictions; quite incredible really.

(Photo essay posts to follow approximately every week)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s