I met her near the end of September.

It had been raining that day from morning to night – the kind of soft, monotonous, misty rain that often falls at that time of year, washing away bit by bit the memories of summer burned into the earth. Coursing down the gutters, all those memories flowed into the sewers and rivers, to be carried to the deep, dark ocean.

– Haruki Murakami, The Elephant Vanishes

Enchanted

Salman Rushdie. I had tried to read his novels before, with little-to-no success. They were a jumble, a mishmash, a no-good concatenation of syllables – a literary fury – a grandeur of meaningless and intriguing language – which were completely nonsensical mystery-junk to me at the time. That is, until we reached Calcutta. Or Kolkata, as the city of 15 million should now be called: Land of the Goddess Kali.

We did, in fact, visit a large Kali temple in Kolkata. But that is another story.

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

When we reached Kolkata – overland from Nepal – the cacophony of India inundated us from every direction and every dimension like a myriad converging freight trains of the senses. Enveloped within that mind-destroying noise and crush of sensory phenomena I happened upon a copy of The Satanic Verses. It proceeded to grip me by the the throat. Without the experience of being in India, Rushdie might seem nonsensical; When in India, he creates perfectly excellent, well-constructed arguments for the coherence of chaos.

It’s lovely to take a hiatus from reading fiction. You begin again, and it’s like all your old friends are back with all the latest gossip. The Enchantress was there waiting for me on the shelf in her bright red cover art like a seductive future mistress.

It is a story which includes the Mughal Emperor Akbar the Great, partially set in Fatehpur Sikri. Fantastical – magical realism, they call it. It is Rushdie at his most lyrical in an irresistible story-telling trance that sucks you from one scene to another. Sleep, in this grip of this kind of fiction, is irrelevant.

It is also a story of story-telling.

I feel a special connection with Fatehpur Sikri, and with Akbar. Akbar, Akbar, Akbar, you hear in India. And Jehangir, too. And we visited those red sandstone walls, some falling into ruin, others with giant wasp or hornet’s nests in their great entrance gates. A beautiful, beguiling city. Fifteen years in the building, they say, and only occupied for fourteen years thereafter, as a sudden drought drained all the life-sustaining water away and even an emperor is a slave to water.

Here is Fatehabad when we saw it.

Fatehpur Sikri

And that’s not all. After admiring the eloquent red sandstone architecture, delicate stone pierced screens and silent mosque we emerge from wandering the deserted ancient capital and – bewildered, exit the Buland Darwaza – the gigantic central great gate – and find a flood of sari rainbows and chequed shirts, sassy street girls with heavy eye makeup shoving at us and demanding rupees, performers with fire wheels, jugglers, gaily decorated fake palanquins swaying through the streets, and gangs of youths and adults shouting an aggressive, joyous, celebratory war-like refrain over and over again with raised fists marching, dancing, prancing through the streets. When we ask we were told brusquely,  Muharram.

I still don’t know what it means, and it may be hard to explain, but it felt – and was – powerful. We caught up with Muharrem celebrations later in our travels as well, but Fatehpur was where it was most heartfelt and startling. Yet surely fitting.

We were – literally – enchanted.

Buland Darwaza

I Am Fishing for God

using my heart as bait.
It is just before dawn,
the slightest hint of

pink bleeds into the
night sky. I use my
pen knife to cut the

hole in my chest,
reaching behind the
pocket of my shirt.

What a tough muscle
to pull the hook through.
The heart is astonished

to be in this other world
and trembles and shivers like
a moth discovered in daylight.

I try to calm it by stroking it
by telling it that it will all be
ok, but what do I know.

The breeze picks up and chills the cavern
in my chest. It feels good to
be empty at last. I cast my heart

across the water. I cast it again
and again. Sometimes it floats on
the surface, other times it sinks

below. Something will strike at it
that I can’t see. I pray
I am using the right bait.

The tough outer layers
soften in the water. The heart grows
smaller, more pliant.

It has become a beautiful
blue jewel. I begin
not to recognize it.

Was this me?
It waits. I wait.
The boat rocks

slightly in the breeze
lifted and lowered
by the tide.

– Stuart Kestenbaum, House of Thanksgiving

Love for Certain Work

Traveling is as refreshing for some as staying home
is for others. Solitude

in a mountain place fills with companionship for this
one, dead-weariness

for that one. This person loves being in charge of the
working of a community. This

one loves the ways that heated iron can be shaped with
a hammer. Each has been

given a strong desire for certain work, love for those
motions, and all motion

is love. The way sticks and pieces of dead grass and
leaves shift about in

the wind and with the directions of rain and puddle water
on the ground, those

motions are following the love they’ve been given.

– Rumi