Of Guppies, Big Fish and Ponds, Large and Small I. Awareness
India was a trip. Oh, what a trip. We met up in Delhi with my friend of thirty-some-odd years, after thirty-some-odd years of threatening to meet up. I am one regretful soul for not taking the trip back when. Back when I was at the beginning of my flirtation with the East. Back when I first discovered Krishnamurti, Jack Keroac and Chicken tikka masala. Back when. Before I was a yuppie, I was a hippie a yippie, and a guppy. Still am. What do I know of Big Fish?
It came as quite a surprise when I met my friend’s friend, the Big Fish, in Delhi. My friend came from India in the early 70’s, the year of my initiation into transcendental meditation. That’s when we met. She was chasing a dream… a guy, that is, in the form of a little Indian Chief of Medicine whose family rejected her lower-caste status, even though she was a doctor. But that’s another story.
In this one, my old pal introduced me to many of her old colleagues from college in Old Delhi. This particular woman, whom I will call Verna, became a rather prominent interior designer in India. A BIG FISH.
Who could ever guess that India, in relation to the New World, was such an insular place; a small pond? Surely not I. Nor Verna. Despite the few honest to goodness world- renowned Indian celebs - think Ghandi (Mahatma or Indira), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar and Norah Jones (Norah Jones?), outside that country few “local” celebs ever become American household names. I mean we all know Mother Teresa and Bollywood, but when’s the last time you heard the names Shabana Azmi or Madhuri Dikshit (Dik-Shit,and that’s no bull shit)? Ya, I thought so.
Verna was eager to tell me her life story, an appealingly poignant tale of survival. When she suggested I read her memoir/play, I was flattered and excited to entertain the possibility of a unique production back home, in my own little Big Apple theater, the theater of the guppy, aptly named “the cell.” Visions of the Indian community danced in my head in the form of a full house enjoying the pageant of puppetry and paltry players acting out Verna’s story. Fantasy, after all, is my forte, and this story was really great fodder.
“Send me your script,” I advised. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Several weeks hence, I arrived home to find her sparse script. Sparse may be too kind a word. In fact, it was hardly a script at all, but barely an outline with a few sketches of potential scenes.
“Okay,” says I, to my staff (of one) who, having read the script, also optimistically imagined a tiny diamond in the rough. “Let’s see what we can do.”
We shot off an email to Verna proposing a modest, preliminary reading. Imagine my surprise when Verna’s name-dropping response included Radio City Music Hall, India’s Miss Universe (India’s Miss Universe?), a famous American director and a host of Bollywood stars!
The barrage of email continued despite my pleas. “Stop! Hold on. Who do you think we are? Who do you think you are?”
I was face to face with a great Indian Princess who expected to become an overnight Queen. Not the first, I might add. Maybe there was a time I had such dreams of my own. Who doesn’t? Illusions. Delusions. Whatever. I was always prone to fantasy. That’s what makes me write. But still, I am a guppy. To a guppy, all fish are big. Suddenly I felt a deep understanding of the common human quest for greatness and immortality.
My trip was illuminating. The history, the beauty, the poverty. The cremations, the orphans, the lepers. The Ganges. The flow. The sheer National Geographic of it all! Life’s largeness, smallness, meaning, and meaninglessness. It was all there. But I had to come home to understand where I had been.
Maybe I should have liked to take that trip thirty-some-odd years ago. Maybe I would have found something I’d been searching my whole life to find. Maybe not. What does it matter? Verna is a Big Fish. I am a guppy. What does it matter?