Shadenfreude

Hotel D’ Anvers is an old building facing an open area called Square d’ Anvers, which I was never able to pronounce right. It was a bit frustrating when I had to try every version of Square D’ Anvers with the Taxi drivers to come back to the place! I could never get it right and finally I had to take out the Hotel’s business card and point it out. I always got a stare back from the driver as if to say – what the hell were you even saying!

 

Paris is the city of romance and when are staying near the Opera love is pretty much in the air. My hotel itself was quite a masterpiece. It had a wooden staircase that made creaking noises with every step to announce your ascent or descent and a lift which had room for just one person and a suitcase. The rickety channels of the steel mesh grill from a bygone era did little to instil confidence amongst the hotel guests to go for the contraption. Most of them including me, settled for the stairs. The rooms at D’ Anvers were so tiny that they ended as soon as they started and the shower enclosure only allowed you to enter it in the state of ‘attention’, make a swirl below the running water without spreading any body part and then pretend to have come out refreshed. But the central location and the friendly staff made up for all these little inconveniences. A free breakfast of bananas, croissant, cake and coffee added to the lure for those with limited budget.

I had been in the city for a week now and was looking forward to the first weekend to rejuvenate my sleep deprived self. With no stress of work the next morning I did sleep without a care. I woke up feeling like a bird on the wing – raring to soar the clear blue skies. It was a bright Saturday morning and I was lazily lying around in my room. The weather was sunny which meant I could open the classic French windows without getting frozen. I peeped outside and saw that there was a flurry of activity on the pavement across the road. There were a number of vans parked on the road and people were busy setting up temporary stalls on the park’s pavement. It was quite similar to what we have back in India – a sort of flea market that comes up on a set day of the week. The only difference was that it was better organized and looked more professional.

While the stalls were being given the final touch, the vans started unloading their content and setting up merchandise in order so they could occupy the stalls as soon as they were ready. It was interesting to note that while there was so much activity there was no noise or confusion and everyone seemed to be in a cheerful relaxed mood. I guessed that the flea market is a regular feature all of them knew exactly what they were doing or what they had to do.

My inquisitiveness grew as more and more vans downloaded their goods. It was amazing to see the sheer variety of merchandise – bakery, vegetables, meat and poultry, knick-knacks, herbs and spices, dry fruits, accessories, plants, cut flowers, decorative wall art, painting replicas and so on. For the ease of shoppers, the whole pavement was broadly divided into three sections – one for fresh produce, bakery and meat which was perhaps the largest, then another for Herbs, Plants, flowers and lastly a few stalls at the end were being set up for accessories and decor.

By this time I had started to feel a bit hungry and realized that the on the house-in house breakfast served by the hotel would get over in another half an hour or so. I took a quick shower, changed my clothes and feasted myself of freshly baked croissants, fruit bread, Cheesecake and Coffee. It was the same stuff every day but the good thing was that it was fresh and it was French! After the breakfast, I came back to my room and started doing the usual stuff to kill time – checking emails, Facebook updates and so on. By this time, it had become quite sunny and warm so I shifted my chair alongside the large window to enjoy the Sun. I noticed that the stall right in front of my window was getting ready too. There was a van parked next to the stall and they were unloading crates filled with fresh vegetables pumpkins, cauliflower, carrots, tomatoes and lots of leafy greens the names of which I had no clue about. Just then I noticed something unusual, the girl setting up the stall was not somebody you would identify with being a vegetable seller!  With her looks, she was more suited to be a model donning haute couture than to be selling veggies on the street side.

I was in this semi-thoughtful mood when someone knocked on the door. I was waiting for Sunil who worked with me. We had planned to complete some pending work then have lunch together at the Indian restaurant. Sunil walked in with his usual cheerful smile – all excited about the day ahead. Soon we opened out our laptops and started discussing what all we had to accomplish. But with all the activity just across the window, it was difficult to concentrate. Getting up slightly to have better view Sunil asked me “What’s going on here? Looks like some kind of flea market.”

To which I replied “That’s precisely what it is my friend. One of those Wednesday bazar’s in India only the crowd is from Paris not from Paharganj”

Sunil grinned and said “I can see that”

He had perhaps seen the vegetable seller who had fired my imagination but given our “professional” relationship, neither of us wanted to give in to the frivolousness.

We somehow worked for an hour or so then I declared that it was time for Lunch. With so much happening around it was becoming difficult to concentrate on work which both of us wanted to avoid anyway. The restaurant Au Palais Du Grand Moghol was conveniently located around the corner and because of the customized service it offered to regulars it had become more of a mess to us than a restaurant. As we entered the restaurant, the owner Mr. Gafur greeted us with full gusto. It’s always good to see a hum watan in a foreign land he used to tell us and on top of that we were his paying customers.

“Khushamdeed! How are my Indian friends doing today?” he said.

“Oh, we are doing wonderfully. If we were any better you would see four of us instead of two” I reciprocated his enthusiasm. Sunil looked puzzled at my ingenious response.

Before our casual banter turned into a Mushaira, Sunil cut short the conversation “Gafur Sahab I am starving. Can you quickly give us some food?

“I knew you will be coming. Have some wine and Papad. It’s on the house. I am making Lauki ka Kofta which is today’s special and then there is also badam ka halwa at the end.”

Sunil came a bit closer to me and whispered “Are you sure he is an Indian? Mujhe to Pakistani lagta hai. I was reading somewhere that they always pose their food as Indian cuisine else no one would walk in”

“I don’t know and frankly I don’t care as long as the food is good. Let’s say he is a Hindustani that will take care of it.”

“That’s another debate but I am too famished to think right now. We can discuss these matters once my stomach is full”

“Yeah right” I smiled as I opened and poured the Bordeaux for both of us.

To avoid sleep after the sumptuous lunch, we decided to take a stroll. We agreed that the best thing was to explore the flea market. We started from the corner which had the clothes and trinket stalls. It was interesting to note that a couple of stalls which were selling Euro 2 clothing had the maximum crowd – all of them women! They were all shapes, sizes, age, economic class and all of them seemed to have a single focus, how to get hold of the best as quickly as possible from the heap which looked no less than a treasure island – at least to them. I pondered that when it comes to women – SALE was the biggest leveler whether you were in the city of joy or the city of fashion.

Moving on there were stalls selling fresh bakery stuff – croissants, baguette loaves of bread, pastries, muffins, tarts, pies and bagels. Let me tell you that there is nothing like freshly baked French goodies especially if one has a sweet tooth! At street smart prices we certainly had more than what we should have all in the garb of just tasting. As we came to the end of the market Sunil said:

“You think we should check out the vegetables also?”

“Vegetables or the seller of vegetables?” Just as girls and women have a sixth sense to know if someone is taking undue interest in them, men too have a common language that allows them to sniff something that is of common interest.

Just as girls and women have a sixth sense to know if someone is taking undue interest in them, men too have a common language that allows them to sniff something that is of common interest.

I was the one to take the lead. Having seen her first it was my moral right to have the first interaction. “Are these fresh?” I said pointing towards the tomatoes which even had the green leaves on top of them still intact.

“What do you expect her to say. No Sir, these are actually from the time of French revolution. Of course, she will say they are fresh”

“Arre Yaar that’s what my wife asks when she buys vegetables. I don’t know anything else to ask”

“Why not? You could have asked if they are red or white or blue.”

“Aha someone is having real fun. Your turn buddy. But I wonder why she didn’t answer me?”

“Quel est le prix des tomates?” Sunil asked the girl with a grin on his face.

“Combien en voulez-vous? She asked pointing at the placard with price.

“Deux”

Holding her cigarette skilfully between her lips she began to measure two Kgs! Now it was my turn to laugh.

“If you tell her we wanted just two tomatoes she would surely know what we are up to. Don’t think too much about the four Euros and just admire her good looks. You will perhaps never buy vegetables from such a lovely lady again in your life?”

Both of us started laughing as I handed over the five Euros. I gave the one Euro coin she returned to Sunil “Here is your memento. When you grow old you can tell your grandchildren that once you bought tomatoes in Paris”

On our way back we decided to dump the tomatoes at Mr. Gafur’s restaurant. He was both surprised and happy to receive the gift. We never told him the story but pretended that it was out of gratitude for all the free wine we have had at his restaurant.

We came back to our room and started discussing how life was so different in Europe vs. back home in India. Sunil started off by saying:

“Do you know they are demanding a 32 hour work week in France?”

“Demanding? I thought they already had it. I have hardly seen anyone working on Friday anyways”

“They want it to be official. And also that bosses cannot write emails to employees on weekends and expect an answer”

“Wow. That’s something. In India, it looks like bosses park all the work for the weekend only.”

“But honestly I feel work can be done and still you can have a lot of time for yourself. It’s not that they are starving or their economy is in pits”

“Public my dear public! How many people do they have in comparison to India? When the resources are scarce there is bound to be a fight for survival. From the time that we are born, we are accustomed to standing in ques.”

“Haha, I think it’s in our DNA now. But we will never stand one behind the other. There will always be multiple lines and a fight that who should be the first”

“Survival Instinct. You are afraid that by the time my turn will come it will be lunch time and the window will close”

“Hmm. I get it. That’s how I have always felt myself but that doesn’t mean that one should break the line”

“The desperation is more when it’s about survival and its display crude if one is uneducated. You would have noticed that people are more disciplined on airports”

“Not really. But ya, they can hide their eagerness better. I think even after being educated or getting a good job our insecurity never leaves us. It’s deeply embedded in our mind.”

To put things into perspective Sunil pointed out to the vegetable seller we had just encountered.

He said “Just look at the girl we just met. She probably grew the vegetables on a farm outside Paris or bought them at a Farmers Market, drove her own little truck, set up her the stall, decided the prices of the produce, transacted business at her time and pace and would finally go home satisfied after a day’s work. Her business could be small but at the end of the day, she is her own boss…and she was doing what she loves to do.”

Mocking him I put forth my argument “Let’s get the record straight – we didn’t meet her, we were checking her out. And I am sorry but there is a lot of romance in your story. You can’t just generalize and say that in France or in developed countries everyone is so enterprising and just loves what they do. They have a certain freedom and quality of life that comes with more money but I don’t think the strife goes completely away for them.”

To accentuate my point I added “Let’s take your model turned veggie seller for example. It must be a lot of hard work sowing, growing and harvesting or even buying out wholesale at different markets and consolidating the assortment to make up the wide variety of product she was offering.”

Sunil became pensive at this point. “I agree. She would have to wake up quite early and by the time she is back home it would be late in the evening. But the idyllic country life would be any day more rewarding and healthy than this ruckus of the city.”

“You should write poetry my friend. Are you sure you have not fallen in love or something? Idyllic country life!! And dear this is Paris we are talking about. I am happy losing my mind here than slogging out in some desolate farm in the countryside.”

Sunil had by now reached out for the bottle of Merlot sitting on the nightstand. I had picked it up yesterday at the neighborhood Carrefour store after ogling at their wine collection for some 20-25 minutes. We could never have such excellent and inexpensive wine collection in India that too at a supermarket. Pouring the wine he continued:

“But you would agree with me on one thing. There is nothing like being your own boss. It doesn’t matter if its big or small but you should own your business. Only then can you work with real passion. That’s the bottom line.”

“Totally agree. To the spirit of enterprise!” I said raising a toast.

We gulped the wine as if it was a shot of Vodka. Instead of romance, I could feel frustration in the air.

As evening approached, the buildings around us transformed into something magical in the soft and warm light of the setting sun. The carvings on pillars and the cherub statuettes adorning the edifices seemed to have come alive in their full glory. To relish the view we moved up to the balcony stretching out of the French window – it was no doubt one of the beautiful Paris evenings we had heard about. Meanwhile, the flea market had started to wrap up as it was going to be 5 o clock soon. France has socialist leanings and it is quite evident in the way they work.

We were admiring how well organized were the stall owners, everything seemed to have a place and fit into each other perfectly to go back into the small trucks. Our lovely lady had also finished packing and lit up a cigarette as she leaned against the back of her truck. At that moment she was a picture of confidence, of someone who controlled her destiny – however trivial it may look to the outsider.

Sunil was totally enamored “Boss can you see the glow of contentment and satisfaction on her face. That’s the real thing”

“You can cut the philosophical crap. It’s OK if you just want to look at her.” I laughed harder than I should have. The wine had perhaps done its job.

I went inside the room to keep the wine glasses and was arranging the workspace to finish off the job at hand when Sunil called me out to the window “ Looks like our friend has a visitor” He said when I joined him at the balcony. A black Renault Fluence Concept had pulled up below our window and the enterprising veggie seller was talking to the fat middle-aged woman occupant of the car. It looked like she was explaining something to her. Once the brief conversation was over she took out a bundle of currency notes and handed it over to the woman.

The women counted the money and gave a 100 Euros back to her.

Me and Sunil looked at each other in amusement. What best explained our smiles is a German term called Schadenfreude – the pleasure one feels upon seeing others failure or misfortune.

It possibly meant we were not the only ones living insipid uninspired lives!

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KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY – True to his own spirit..

I had just wrapped up work and was ready to leave the office early when  my client asked me “So Raj you fly back tommorow.Right ? I don’t think you got a chance to see any of Paris. I am sure you want to at least see the Eiffel Tower before you head back home”

“Well yes I think I can surely use some sight seeing” I said ,all the while packing my stuff quickly into the laptop bag. “You can take your time Raj,Paris  is the city of night. We don’t sleep that early and you will find most places open late into the night.Where are you planning to go?” This was precisely the question I was trying to avoid as I did not want to lie to the client at the beginning of what is termed as a ‘ long lasting relationship’ in consulting parlance.

“Well I am heading for a cemetery and I am afraid it will get closed by the time I reach there.So  I just want to hurry up” I informed with a stoic expression on my face so he doesn’t think what a whacko he had hired. “A cemetery ? the whole world comes to Paris to see the Opera, the museums, the Champs Elysees,the Theatre and you want to go see a cemetery?” I just smiled at him and let it be for I knew it will be difficult for me to explain to him that it was my wish of 15 years to go and place some flowers on the grave of Jim Morrison – rock star, singer, poet, philosopher and an enigma that has touched my life in more ways than one.

The client must have thought that I had some long lost relative of mine buried here in Paris and I would say he was not too far from the truth ! The good thing was that I could leave the place fast.

A friend had advised me to take the metro as Paris traffic could be bad at peak hours but I was not too confident of the signs which were mostly in French so I preferred a cab. As I later realized this was a big mistake .I had managed to explain the cab driver in broken English that Pere Lachaise was a cemetery and therefore it closes by 6 PM so the good guy tried his best to either beat the traffic or to drive as fast when there was a clearer patch but I guess our recklessness was no match to Jim’s. We reached the gates as they were getting closed. In the true fashion of a fan I pleaded with the security explaining that I would be going back to India tomorrow morning possibly never to return and this was my last chance to say Hi to Jim in his resting place but although they were quite polite they did not let me in. The discussion ended when one of the guys who could manage little bit English said ” If I let you see Jim , I have no job” !

Desperate and disappointed I started walking down the path along side the walls of the graveyard. There was a friend with me and even if I was talking to him my thoughts started to wander and the lines ‘they are waiting to take us, into the severed garden’ started playing at the back of my head. I realized how cold and lifeless the evening was and how dead were the people on both sides of the wall separated by an event , a possibility that was so far away and yet so near you could almost reach out and touch it like Jim did. I tried to recall the rest of the lines and then when I had almost given up they came to me like a gush of the wind that blew to me from the silence of the tombstones like a rustle of leaves of a pleasant evening. It made perfect sense as I recited the poetry to myself standing there in the midst of all the crushed bodies in the metro- a jumbled mass of sights,smells and sounds :

They are waiting to take us

into the severed garden
Do you know ?how pale and wanton, thrillful

Comes death on a strange hour

Unannounced, unplanned for
Like a scaring over-friendly guest

you’ve brought to bed

Death makes angels of us all
And gives us wings
Where we had shoulders
Smooth as raven’s claws

No more money, no more fancy dress
This other kingdom seems by far the best
Until it’s other jaw reveals incest
And loose obedience to a vegetable law.

I will not go
Prefer a feast of friends
To the giant family.

On the plane I kept thinking about how Jim’s life was different.And one thing that I could surely conclude was that his life was really an enigma, an intriguing tale of someone who wanted to push the limits and test the bounds of reality but fell short of attaining  Nirvana when he was almost there. As many would not know Jim was always one of the most gifted student in his class. He devoured a large amount of literature at a very early age and used to quote philosophers such as Rimbaud in his school days. He was deeply influenced by writings of William Blake, Fredriche Neitzsche and other European philosophers.His poetic style reflected the writings of Jack Kerouac who was the originator of the beat generation of poetry in American literature. Jim’s cryptic lyrics had a close resemblance to the spontaneity in Jacks work especially as seen in his book on the road.

Another aspect of Jim’s life was that he renounced his family as soon as he moved out of his parents house.He did this in spite of the fact that he had a very normal childhood except that his father being in the navy was away from home for long periods.Not that this renouncement could be directly attributed to his worldly detachment but it might be interesting to note that severing all ties with the family is an integral part of taking sanyas in the hindu spiritual tradition.Even at one time when his mother flew in all the way to New York where he was having a concert he deliberately avoided meeting her. This could be just one of his eccentricities but it does qualify for him to be a recluse if not a saint.

All 3 members of the Doors were followers of Maharshi Mahesh Yogi and Ray Manzarek encouraged Jim many times to take up meditation.At his insistence, Jim once even paid a visit to Mahesh Yogi to see in his eyes ‘whether he was happy’ After meeting the Yogi Jim admitted that he had seen perfect happiness in his eyes but for himself he preferred the shorter and quicker route to ecstasy.Jim even wrote a song for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi which he performed at one of his later concerts.

If non possession and detachment to worldly objects was taught by the Buddha  I would say Jim Morrison was his biggest follower. It is amazing that while his life was filled with acts of debauchery and extreme recklessness he never had anything he could call his own. He had no tendency to hoard – either good or bad.His wardrobe was limited to a pair of Jeans and his Leather pants and may be a some shirts that he wore with them.He would go unwashed for days on end moving from one place to the other never bothering about who would shelter or feed him. He had no permanent residence or anything that could be called a home for most part of his life. Being the legend that he had become in his lifetime he never carried any money on his person.He had no bank account , no wallet no nothing may be just a credit card which also he used to forget here and there after the drinking sessions.

Pamela Courson could be considered as close as he ever got to something called a relationship or a girlfriend but even with her he never bothered to have any kind of  mutual understanding. While both felt they were in a relationship at some level they were apart most of the time and Jim made new friends everyday with whom he ended up sleeping most of the times.Whether Pamela was OK with this or not only she would know but it doesn’t seem she made a big deal out of it.It is rather interesting that only Pamela was with Jim when he died in Paris and she buried him at Pere Lachaise along with two other friends.She joined Jim by his side 3 years later.

There are many other anecdotes from Jim’s life like his going to the desert to find the lost souls of the dead Indians, his concerts in which he experimented with his ability to control collective consciousness of the crowds, his poetry which had life and its meaning as the central theme and so on. He even named the collection of his poetry ‘Wilderness’  suggesting his longing to be with himself.

Whether or not Jim Morrison was a saint I can’t say but  from the above one can clearly make out that all the ingredients were certainly there. I think somewhere along the way he got it all mixed up. He had a heart that probably was closer to being a saint but he had a mind that evoked the evil side of him when he lost control because of the confusion inside.Curiously, the combination drove his spirit towards testing the outer bounds of  reality from which he never returned.

Writing this post on Jim I am reminded of Ghalib and what he says about himself :

ये मसाइले तसववुफ ये तेरा बयान गालिब

तुझे हम वली समझते जो ना बादाख्वार होता…

These matters of spirituality and your take on them O Ghalib

We would have thought of you as a sage, had you not been a drunkard…

On my next visit I did visit Jim’s Grave. Here are the memories :

I would leave you with this beautiful song that’s been converted on you tube as a tribute to Jim :