Mrs Berenice took photographs of each before I sent it off. Mail was an adventure in India so it was a precaution. She photographed everyone’s loot. But she spent a great deal of time photographing this head, arranging the lights through layers of transparent muslin, and adjusting the massive lense on her huge wooden box shaped camera. It took her over two hours just to get six takes. “And until I develop the glass I don’t know if any of the shots even are any good! Photography is still guesstimating. Sometimes you agnize over one shot and it totally fails! Yet you take another shot off the cuff and it turns out so wonderful but in a totally unexpected way! You don’t have to stay here as I fuss John.”
“I want to stay — if you don’t mind. What you are doing is so amazing. Your expertise. Your quiet skill.”
“Why John. You are not flirting with me are you?” she asked as she loaded a new massive glass plate into the huge box camera. I blushed bright red. I suppose I was in a way. She was an amazing woman. She dressed in her husband’s clothes which I found surprisingly erotic.
“I can’t afford to marry a bibi but that is what I am planning. Like Captain Broadfoot.” The idea had become a sort of myth for me. A way to explain…. a way to fob off questions.
“Good idea John. ‘John Company’ keeps fighting to stop widow burning. Sati. But even if a widow is saved her religion will not allow her to live in this world. Marry again. Live a normal life. And her sons do not want to support a widow. And her daughters in law absolutely do not want a mother in law around. That was why Sari got started. Getting rid of inconvenient females! And of course men being men they thought up a great angle to justify it! If the widow burns alive on her husband’s bier then her sacrifice atones for his sins so he can jump to the front of the queue in reincarnation! Nice eh? That puts all of the guilt on the woman! Doesn’t she love that bastard enough to save him some reincarnations! Burn my dear! Burn!
So every widow ‘John Company’ saves is basically abandoned by her caste and left to die of starvation, starve, or turn whore. Or find a European or Sikh to marry. She loses her caste but it saves her from prostitution. Some of us are trying to persuade ‘John Company’ to set up woman’s schools and hire the Hindu widows to be school teachers. Another more respectable way out for the poor women. But right now it is marriage to a non Hindu and lose their caste.”
“But if a Brit woman comes here and marries she jumps up or down in class too. Class. Caste. Same difference isn’t it?”
“Yes. But when Mary Glenrose married Captain MacDonald she did not lose her soul or gained a jump in the reincarnation queue even if she did jump up half a class!”
“Do the Sikhs marry Hindu to convert them?”
“No. The Sikhs have this big religious thing against bullying and abuse of vulnerable people. That is why they are anti-slavery and anti sati and anti child marriage and anti rape. That is why they also got rid of caste. They did not like the idea of Untouchables being damned for no reason or Brahmin widows burning to death just to give their bastards of husbands a jump in the reincarnation queue – and of course to keep the Brahmin caste unpolluted by remarriage! Got to keep the damn caste pure! Not that we can throw a hissy spitty fit can we! We must keep the Parvenu rich fakers here safe in their class caste fakery! Most of the memsahibs that lord it so grandly over us were back home one servant lower middle class nobodies! They seduce their way to a ‘John Company’ businessman or officer and suddenly they are duchesses! Brahmin duchesses!”
I smiled. “Yea. I got burned at my old base by a bunch of those memsahibs! Harpies with talons! Welding fans like artillery! Sailing into the room like ships at Trafalgar! They nailed me to their parvenu rich cross right royal! How come you are so different and how come I can never find someone like you not already claimed?”
Mrs Berenice smiled. “Jimmy and I were childhood sweethearts. John. Don’t worry. Don’t feel pressured to rush into marriage. You can wait and find the right soul mate. That is what love is. Really! Your right soul mate. Not a social climbing bitch!”
“But a bibi is just marrying to save herself too isn’t she?”
Mrs Berenice shrugged her head. “Ditto British girls in India. But most British girls in India are perfectly useless carbuncles! A bibi is marrying into India. A bibi is an asset. Sure. The parvenu rich fakes smirk like the bitches they are! But at the end of the day marrying into India is the only way we British have a future here. If we don’t —well —. We will end up like the Mughals. Just passing through! Now! How a about a photograph of you…..?”
“Annnd….don’t think so!”
“Afraid I will snare your soul” she said swiveling her massive camera around like an artillery gun to aim at me.
“My soul is too black to be exposed on your nice glass plate!”
“Not a devotee to the Buddha?” she smiled.
“I can’t get the tranquility part of it” I replied. “Or the idea that Nirvana is open to anyone. I guess I am just too attached to the pain of this world.”
“A Buddhist might say that pain only comes from attachment. Like those damn memsahibs! Agnizing over dresses two years obsolete in London! Gashing their teeth over wearing the same dress twice in a row! Tearing out their hair over people not dropping off their calling cards! Shredding flesh over the fact their husband is only a captain and not a major or is in ‘John Company’ Army instead of HS Army! They are torturing themselves and everyone around them about such petty and puny things! They came here to marry –ie prostitute themselves — and then turn so moral and high and mighty about a bibi native wife! They hate India! Plot how to live long enough to retire back to Brighton! And miss out on the adventure of life here! They pretend they are living in England! And get the vapors if they see a Shiva Linga in a Yoni stone. What is marriage if not sex? You can’t have love without sex. So they cling so hysterically to such petty things their souls cannot rise up. They can’t even enjoy life. And they have to make everyone else’s life miserable too. The Buddha might say that is an perfect example of Human Suffering by Clinging to the futility of human life.”
“But I am too intense and I have a black temper. And when the devil is in me I can be so damnably contrary!”
“Well then the Buddha would probably say you just need to find the way to Nirvana by another road. He was not an egomaniac like Mohammad or the Pope. He was not a ‘My way or the Highway’ prophet. In India the gods pick their worshipers. Let the gods find you and lead you to Nirvana: Paradise. But do take one thing the Buddha said very seriously! The Door to Nirvana is wide open. If we cannot go through that door to Nirvana then the problem is with us. We are still tied down to earth and the weight of tonnage of baggage burdening us so that we cannot rise up to Nirvana. But Nirvana is a wide open door!”
“I would like to rise up like a phoenix from the bier of my own damnation. But I have not met Shiva yet. He dances in my dreams. But he has not touched me.”
“Well! Half way there! Don’t worry John. Let things uncoil. Then follow the thread through the labyrinth!”
“To the center to meet the Minotaur monster or to the door marked ‘Escape’?”
“That I cannot say but I rather suspect the Buddha would say you would have to first meet the Minataur monster before you can follow the thread to the door marked ‘Escape’.”
“And what if the Minotaur monster is nought but a mirror —- in which you see the monster— which is you?”
“Intriguing thought. Why not try this Buddhist trick then John? Try to generate positive emotions instead of negative motions. You talk about telegraphy. That means batteries right?”
“Right. I am experimenting with mixing crow foot liquid batteries to generate electricity.”
“A battery has a positive and negative charge right?”
“Yes. Everyone does. In nature. Chemistry. Even magnets.”
“Ditto emotions. Emotions come charged positive or negative just like a battery. Positive emotions are love, friendship, joy, gratitude, enthusiasm, tolerance, compassion, kindness. If you kindle positive emotions you will be charged in a positive direction no less than a battery.”
“Ahhh. Yes. Well….” I replied.
“Negative emotions generate emotional sparks that affect people like static electricity in a different direction.”
“But I think I am a crow’s foot battery. As in the negative charge of the battery.”
“I was born in my mother’s house. Mother was a kirk and damnation sort. We lived in haunted houses. Really! Haunted houses! Well. Hogg Heaven was a nice place even if it was haunted. But Mother’s home we moved into when Father died was haunted! Black. My childhood was black. So negative emotions were the only emotions I could feel. I don’t know if I can project positive emotions now. I mean you don’t talk about goals. Motives.”
“A person can have a noble goal but go about it so negatively he repels rather than attracts. In fact most religions for all of their noble goals tend to go about life in a negative way. So a motive or goal or purpose in life, however noble, does not necessarily bring about happiness or kindness. So The Buddha asked people to look around and see how they are traveling down the to road to Nirvana to see if they were projecting positive or negative emotions. It is just one little trick but one I have found useful. You might try it John.”
“Are you a Buddhist?”
“I hope you find Nirvana. All of my sparks are black energy. My motives might be good. But I spit out black sparks and radiate negative polarity.”
“Well then dream of Shiva. Shiva shows his devotees how to channel even negative emotions and even violence into constructive channels.”
“I may prove to be Shiva’s most difficult student. I tend to be everyone’s most difficult student!”
“Sometimes the most difficult students prove to be the best over the long haul …….like looking into my glass lense. Look! Count to ten! Too late! I have snared your soul John! It is trapped here inside this magic box!”
“Beware developing the glass plate!”I replied. “Er you see my black soul and drop the glass and it shatters!”
Actually I had rather looked forward to seeing myself in a photograph. Looking into a mirror is not the same thing as seeing yourself as others see you. But alas the glass plate that snared my face broke during development and I never saw my face as others see me. But perhaps it was all for the best. Perhaps I would have seen my doppelganger too, my double, my dire devil in me. Then Mrs Berenice would have had to waste so many chemicals blotting out my dark twin like the photograph of little Queenie and her dead brother Rex.