Magical Mystery Tour – a haibun of India

Early one March morning I step from my door into a chill spring day. Flocks of birds are gathering, swooping and swirling in hieroglyphs overhead. I lock the front door, adjusted the bag on my shoulder, wave to a neighbour and stroll through the well known streets to the station. The smell of strong coffee hangs in the air. This walk leads to India.

bright morning so clear
new day, new way, a journey
i walk with no maps

The train takes me onward to board a plane on a long-haul flight. Beyond the Black Sea I am crossing a desert at night. It all looks so empty down there below. It stretches for miles and miles with barely a light to shine out. The hostess hands out peanuts and warm damp facecloths as the Germans and Afghans start to argue in the seats behind me. They can’t agree on a price for porn. By the time the flight circles across the ocean to avoid Pakistan, it’s a fight.

a patient woman
dividing warring nations
just part of her job

i see only stars
a dark sea moves beneath us
i await the peace

At last I see India spread out beneath us, a planet of coloured lights. Pink, gold, green, red and blue lights in circles, stars and winding snakes wink up from rooftops and roadways. It’s a magical sight in the black velvet night. The plane sinks slowly lower and lower. I see palaces, rail tracks and slums as the heat rises to meet us.

city of beauty
brave delusions, illusions,
mandalas of light

Leaving the plane we enter an underground concrete hall, a subterranean world of passports and guards. At the airport exit at last, surrounded, encircled by a throng of staring faces and out-stretched arms, I smell the thick blue smoke of burning oil mixed with incense. A thousand taxi drivers want my fare to Delhi. I deliberately choose the worst car. I have my reasons. We bounce along over pot holes into the back streets and empty markets of Paharganj, near the train station, where I wake a porter in a cheap hotel and find a welcome bed for the rest of the night.

asleep to strange sounds
i am flying and falling
starlight into dust

I wake to the cooing of pigeons outside my window and the blaring of truck horns in the streets. I look out onto rooftops full of colourful washing, carpets spread over walls and women crouching,cooking. A secretive cat slinks past. I go out into the day of the crowded market, seeking breakfast and find an elephant. I have never met an elephant face to face in a street before. It’s ears are painted in patterns of pink and yellow. The man who rides it tells me to give the elephant a coin in the flat palm of my hand. The elephant gently takes the coin and passes it up to the man. I buy the elephant a banana and pass that too. The elephant eats it, gives me a long serious look and moves on.

the elephants trunk
three tender probing fingers
in a grey skin glove

I wander on into the bustling city. The traffic fumes, the scents of spices and the noise besiege all my senses. I pause at a second hand bookshop and buy poetry. I see children living in gutters beside street stalls festooned with flowers. I pass out coins and gather a crowd. Too surrounded I have to hurry away. I am bewildered. When dusk falls I find a tea stall by a temple away from the noise. I share tea with a sadhu and a peaceful white cow. The cow has kohl outlining its gentle brown eyes and a necklace of marigolds with a tinkling bell. I become lost in its eyes. It is as if we had met before in some other time and place. The crescent moon hovers above the temple.

my doorstep one day
now far away from my home
the journey begins


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