“No, listen. It’s not like that. Let’s not fight.”
I looked up from my Kindle. The girl at the next table was saying that to the young man with her. He’d risen. She got up after him, and they went to the door and out, and when they stopped on the third step on the stairs outside I relaxed, seeing they’d returned to calm conversation.
It’s Christmas, a time to settle quarrels. I’ve been long assured that. I’m glad for that concept, having given offence to so many people through my life. I imagine them forgiving me, and I relax, and look to the year ahead with the best intentions. This Christmas I’m reading Ramana, and I was at 29% of the book at Starbucks when the young couple broke my concentration. I have picked up Ramana after finishing Eckhart Tolle, after responding to his insistent prodding toward the Timeless Now. Tolle has my gratitude. Only, why did it take me so long to get around to the Power of Now? I’ve had to grow so much to get to the concept. But that’s all right. The past is not real, as Tolle argues. Only the moment on hand is real. At any rate, that American writer has brought me round to our own Ramana Maharshi, whose like message precedes Tolle’s.
There at Starbucks, in pauses from reading, I noted that decorations for Christmas were muted. In a basket by me where I sat, there was a short bunch dry green grass, only so thick as my wrist, and tied to it were globules finished with shiny red paper. There was another basket of the kind by the bar counter. On the merchandize shelves six feet from me, two small cartons with mugs in them were tied one with a red ribbon and the other with a blue one. On the door was the customary wreath, made of the same grass, the same red balls. That’s it. I looked outside for the red Christmas lantern. They didn’t have one. But they hand a stand-up banner on the steps, in Xmas-red and white, with an exhortation on top: Unite in Good Cheer.
Why are Starbucks skimping on Christmas? Are they reflecting a general mood? Are they speaking the sign of the times here at home? In these ghar vapsi days?
A group of four took the table the boy and girl had vacated. There was a woman in black among them, who was blessed with a generous volume of voice and a matching disposition, and she laughed and spoke both at once, and all the time. I couldn’t hear the men in the group. The lady spoke of food. She laughed on the subject of food. Punjabi food. I haven’t seen many people who speak of food with love and laughter in such large and equal measure. I commend the lady for her disposition, but I was having trouble reading on account of her. She was loud in her laughter which when it peaked rivaled a star soprano’s highest. I remembered Tolle just when I thought I’d had enough—an approach he teaches. In a situation like I was in, you surrender to the present moment and allow your consciousness to fall on the irritant and the effect it is having on you. Consciousness will flush the pain clean off you.
I went back to reading Ramana. In short periods I looked up and attempted self enquiry, just as Ramana advocates it.
The long celebrations of Christmas have always bored me. If traveling in the West during the time, the boredom has been intense. For, in Europe and the US corporations invoke Christmas from November on, and feed you myriad gift ideas and shove the celebrations in your face at every turn. Christmas trees reach the heights of the atriums where they’re installed. Colored lights and streamers and other Christmas paraphernalia cover commercial streets and shopping malls. Being of another faith, their public fuss takes my mind straight through to the spreadsheets and powerpoint presentations that have worked out strategies to wring greater sales during this Christmas over last year’s. Being an outsider to the scheme, I cannot see Christ in the Christmas of the corporations. The celebrations on the street follow me through to the hotel lobby, and they take the solitude out of my room. I wonder at the stamina of the Europeans and the Americans who can take a two-month long celebration of a festival on this scale. But of course, they are in the warm, tight, loving embrace of the corporations.
There at Starbucks, how the lady at the next table was giggling! And the pace of her speech—it was so fast. She was speaking in English, but she delivered it with inflection and accentuation that followed her native Hindi. Tolle recommends a technique that dissolves irritation and returns you to the present moment. You observe the silence beneath the sounds assaulting you. You seek out the silence that envelops and subsumes all things round you, which silence extends outward as well, all the way to the skies. I looked out the cafe window. Up above, it was blue and bright in the December sun of Bangalore, and rightward of me the sky was covered in a film of very white cloud. It was all very good. I did discern the silence. I was on my second cappuccino that moment, and at the end of the bottle of water that always accompanies my coffee.
It struck me that Starbucks were going easy on Christmas in more than their decorations. The music coming down from above was jazz. Herbie Hancock. Not Jingle Bells. When Herbie Hancock was done and John Patton came on, I heard him out and changed my mind about Christmas 2014. I decided I must go to a Church somewhere, and listen to hymns and carols. And say “Merry Christmas” to someone, anyone. So I went out and drove to St. Mark’s Cathedral, which is a nice presence on the corner of MG Road and Lavelle Road. I see it daily on my way to work, but I’ve never gone into it before. They had plenty of parking in their compound when I drove in. They weren’t singing when I walked in, but the nave was most becoming, there was a differently done manger out front, and a large black turkey was on the lawns, flashing the fan on its rear to a large white goose. I took pictures. I shot the building, the aisle, the altar, the doors and the windows and the painted glass in them. Done shooting, I sat in the pews, and picked up a little book: The Book of Common Worship: The Lord’s Supper. It opened at page 4, where the First Commandment jumped at me.
I closed my eyes. I’m game for any command on a good day…