The Veggie Seller..

Paris is an old city and when you are in the city centre everything has a sense of nostalgia. My hotel too was an old building facing an open park like area called Square d’ Anvers. It had a circular staircase made of wood that made a creaking noise with every step and the rooms were so small that they ended as soon as they started. The funniest thing was the shower enclosure in which a large guy like me had to enter in the state of ‘attention’ make a swirl without spreading my arms and pretend to come out refreshed.Then there was this awkward thing about how the French write and Pronounce so differently so I had to try every version of SquareD Anvers with the Taxi Drivers to come back to my hotel ! Surprisingly it seemed all of them had there own way of saying it and finally I Had to say ‘whatever’ just take me there.

I had been in the city for a week now and was looking forward to the first weekend having slept late as we usually always did. It was a bright Saturday morning and I was lazily lying around in my room. The weather was nice which meant you could open the classic door sized french windows without getting Frozen. When I looked outside I could see a hum drum of activity. There were lots of Vans parked outside on the road and men were busy setting up temporary stalls on the pavement of the park. It was quite similar to what we had back home as in Wednesday Bazaar Flea markets. The only difference was that it was much better organised and professional.

While the stalls were being given the final touches the vans started unloading their content and setting their house in order so they can occupy the stalls as soon as they were ready. What was interesting to note that while there was so much activity there was no noise or confusion and everyone seemed to be in a relaxed and happy mood. I guessed it was perhaps a regular feature so all of them knew exactly what they were doing or they had to do.

My curiosity grew as more and more vans downloaded their merchandise. It was amazing to see the sheer variety of goods – Bakery, vegetables, meat and Poultry, knick knacks, Herbs and spices, Dry fruits,accessories, Plants, Cut Flowers, Decorative stuff, painting replicas and so on. However, loosely the whole pavement was divided into two parts – one for Fresh produce,bakery and meat which was perhaps the largest, then for Herbs, Plants, flowers and few stalls at the end were setting up for decor and Accessories.

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 my self of freshly baked croissants, fruit bread, Cheese cake and Coffee. It was the same stuff everyday but the good thing was that it was fresh ! After the breakfast I came back to my room and started doing the usual stuff to kill time – check emails, facebook updates and so on. By this time it had become quite sunny and warm so I shifted my chair along side the large window to enjoy the warmth. 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 idea. 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 a friend who worked with me and we had planned to complete some pending stuff from work plus have lunch together at the Indian restaurant. Sunil walked in with his usually cheerful smile all excited about the day ahead. Soon we opened out our laptops and started discussing about what all we had to accomplish.But with all the activity just across the window it was kind of difficult to concentrate. Some how we worked for an hour or so before we decided that it was time for Lunch.  The restaurant Au Palais Du Grand Moghol is  conveniently located around the corner and because of the customised service it offered to us regulars it had practically become more of a ‘mess’ than a restaurant. The owner Mr Gafur, a friendly old man always offered either a starter or a dessert on the house and even made stuff that was out of the menu – I mean who could boast of having Lauki ka kofta curry and besan baadam halwa in a faraway land.

After the heavy lunch, to avoid sleep we planned for a stroll and the best thing was to explore the flea market. We started from the  corner farthest from our hotel where the clothes and trinket stalls were. 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 had 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 realised that when it comes to women – SALE was the biggest leveller whether you were in the city of joy or the city of fashion. Moving on there were stalls selling fresh Bakery stuff croissants, baguette breads, Pastries, muffins, tartlettes, pies and Bagels.Let me tell you that there is nothing better than 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. Before ending our stroll we thought it might be a good idea to check out the vegetable stall and of course the seller ! I was curious to see Sunil’s reaction to the shop owner and just as I had thought he shared my surprise and excitement. Just as girls and women have a sixth sense that tells them ‘the look’ is not right, men and boys too have a common language that allows them to sniff something that is of common interest.We casually enquired the girl about some vegetable prices and so as not to arise suspicion bought a box of plums. Who would eat all that fruit we had no idea.We were particularly amazed by the confidence with the way she transacted with a cigarette in hand, the smoke from the cigarette puffs giving her an air of confidence and authority. I think it had more to do with our conditioning about women smoking in public than anything else.It seemed everyone in Paris smoked so it wasn’t really anything special.

We came back to our room and started discussing how life was so different here vs. back home In India.With the drudgery of having to work on a weekend the conversation soon drifted to working for a corporate vs. working for your own self.To put things into perspective Sunil pointed out to the vegetable seller we had just encountered.According to him She probably grew the vegetables in a farm outside Paris or bought them from an upcountry farmers Market, drove her own little truck, setup her own stall, decided the prices of the produce, transacted business at her time and finally went home satisfied after a days hard work. Her business could be small but at the end of the day she was her own boss…and she was doing what she loved or wanted to do. I argued that though it sounded quite romantic it involved a lot of hard work and thinking, even creativity. This further led to the conversation about how a typical day would be for her. We agreed that it was a lot of hard sowing growing and harvesting or even buying out wholesale at different markets and consolidating to make up the wide variety of product mix she offered. She would have to wake up quite early and by the time she reached back  home it would be late in the evening. But then the idyllic country life was any day more rewarding and healthy than the maddening city  ( which I didn’t quite agree as we were talking about Paris). Our debate had turned into a discussion and the discussion had finally yielded to a unanimous understanding that It is best to work for your own self and there is nothing like being your own boss. The grass being always greener on the other side notwithstanding.

It was evening time and the buildings around us had transformed into something magical in the soft and warm light of the setting sun. When you see all the carvings and beautiful architecture with statuettes of Cherubs adorning he corners of edifices it seems as if they were conjured up for this very moment. We had made some tea and we hanged on our balcony stretching out of the French Window admiring the lovely Paris evening. The pavement 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. Though the work timings are strictly followed in most of the developed world especially in Europe the French have taken it to another level which is great because as Indians we are scoffed at for our 24×7 strife. We are the only ones who promise on a friday evening to have all deliverables ready first thing Monday evening. The fact that Indians work on weekends and sleep only 4 hours on weekdays is now an accepted concept across the global business world. Anyways lets move on…

I pointed out to Sunil how well Organised were the stall owners , everything seemed to have a place and fitted into each other to get perfectly into the small truck. They also had separate cold compartment for meat and perishables. Our veggie seller had also finished Packing up and lighted up a cigarette as she leaned against the back of her truck. Once again Sunil commented about the glow of contentment and satisfaction on her face. I laughed at him saying you can cut the philosophical crap….it’s OK if you just want to look at her. I went inside the room to keep the cups and was arranging the workspace to finish off the job at hand. Just then Sunil called me out to the window. What we saw was surprising, interesting , saddening, laughable …..all at the same time !

A black Renault Fluence Concept had pulled up below our window and the enterprising veggie seller was talking to the fat middle aged lady 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 and handed it over to woman. The women counted the money and gave back a 100 Euros which was clearly the ‘Pay’ for all the enterprising, self gratifying hard work we had been debating about.

We looked at each other and what best explained our smiles is a German term called Shadenfreude or harm – joy as they say it in English.  It simply implies the pleasure one feels by seeing others failure or misfortune.

In our case it could possibly mean arête were not the only ones !

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 :