Two hundred years after the Poet John Keats wrote his Ode to Autumn my September back in London feels like an echo of his words. He called it the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, on a Sunday morning walk on Hampstead Heath I am kicking though the fallen leaves like an eight year old. The sun is bright but has lost the strength of summer, it’s rays are warm but already the first wooly hats are appearing on the heads of the walkers on the Heath and winter coats are being brought out from the backs of wardrobes.
The beauty of Autumn which Keats had mused over in his Hampstead home would soon give way to cold dark winter, he had the good sense to head to Rome – o.k. he croaked there from Tuberculosis that had started in England, but that’s not the point, even birds – the swallow for instance with a brain the size of a pea would be heading south for winter, if a bird brain could do it then so could I. Why spend a winter in London when there was sun and sea waiting for me in Goa?
On my last evening in London I head out for dinner, my journey takes me through the leafy streets of Queens Park. It feels like borrowed time, the evening warmth a swan song of summer, the open house windows, the sounds of domesticity and family life playing out in the twilight, TV screens flicker behind lace curtains with Saturday night game shows, male & female voices are in conversation, laughter is carried on the evening breeze, children babble away, I check myself one more time, what do I feel? The sounds of families settling down for the evening – is it nostalgia or just a recognition of how those family evenings feel, something like that for sure, but I am heading somewhere else, it’s time to go.
Back in India and I feel free once again, I recognised that this of course was nothing more than my own thoughts making it appear thus, I was no more free in Goa than London, it just felt that way, as if somewhere on the flight path the cares and attachments to the past flowed away with the vapour trail of my plane.
I head back to the same Yoga School as before, each class I gradually began to move my mat from the back of the hall where I had always sat at any yoga class, first just a place or two forward, then with the weeks closer to the front. Eventually I begin to get to classes early to make sure I get a prime spot right at the front. The classes are always exactly the same, ninety minutes of the same routine, at times I thought it was just boring this repetition but I then began to realise that though the practice itself did not change I was. I had not noticed the change in myself, perhaps because it was such a gradual process, but one day it dawned on me that I was now able to do asanas that before I had groaned and struggled to achieve. Forward bends where once my hands reached down only as far as my shins and only then with accompanying grunts and groans now saw me able to place my hands flat on the floor, back bends were now such that my spine felt like it could curl and bend like a bloody snake effortlessly, I liked the way it felt and I liked the way I felt.
I even started taking extra yoga classes in the afternoon at other yoga schools up and down the coastline. Ever mindful of the need for balance in all things and to avoid becoming too healthy I continued to head out early each evening, to watch the sunset, drink booze and on occasion to lust after women.
One of my favourite pastimes late into the evening was to hop on my scooter and to head out onto the evening roads, these by night were empty, the breeze on that bike was a glorious thing, to escape the heat and the thickness & stillness of the night air. On one particular stretch of road I would pass through a section of forest, at night there’s a tree that only flowers in the darkness, I still don’t know its name, but those flowers are the most heavenly scent I’ve ever found.
At my Yoga class one day there’s a new face, a woman, now there were probably new faces quite regularly, but this woman, I don’t know, I can’t help but stare. There is something about her I find really attractive, what is it?
The following day she is as the class again, I hold off from taking up a mat and wait til she finds a space then I occupy the mat next to her. There is something going on here, I look at this women and think wow, beautiful.
She seems close to me in age, she has long dark hair & big brown eyes, a strong nose, what do you call that, aquiline is it? – an Italian or mediterranean look, she is slim and she clearly has done plenty of yoga. It takes me until the third class to pluck up the courage to talk to her, leaving the the yoga school it’s a few hundred metres walk through some woodland to a little clearing and a spot where we park up our scooters. We talk along the way, she is from Frankfurt, on holiday for a few weeks, she speaks English well, I ask if she’d like to go for breakfast, yes she says, she knows a place just down the road. We hit it off immediately, over the next few days we beach together, we spend evenings out, I sit on her verandah in the evenings and she plays me music whilst we drink a beer or two and watch sunsets.
Though German by birth her parents are Persian on her Dads side and European on her mothers. She has the kind of laugh that begins deep down in her belly and then just kind of erupts from her lips, when she smiles I can’t help joining in. I am smitten.
As these things sometimes do one thing leads to another, I however instead of being a passionate hot blooded male regress into twelve year old spotty teenager mode, with the accompanying level of awkwardness. Heading home after a late night with her I can only wonder what it is with me and women, there are plenty of women that like me, but I am not interested in them, the ones I like I just don’t like enough and then when finally I meet one I really like & I go to pieces and fail to rise to the occasion. I am doomed.
My friend from Frankfurt heads off for a couple of days sightseeing. I am looking forward to her coming back, I mull over the fail night, of getting a second chance.
I get this aching kind of feeling deep down in my stomach that I remember from years before when I was a teenager, with the first girl I fell for. Is this puppy love all over again?
Then the day she’s back she whizzes past me in the street on her scooter.
She has returned with extra baggage, on the back sits a young guy, but not just any guy, he looks like the kind of chap that is taking a break from working on a Bollywood movie, in which he is the star.
I text her later in the day: Welcome back! Saw you with a friend on the back of your scooter, is he a friend or a friend friend.
She replies: A friend friend.
Oh Bollocks, I am truly gutted, then I check myself, to be honest It’s fair enough, the bloke is bloody good looking, what would have happened if roles were reversed and I had met a drop dead gorgeous girl on my travels, would I have been happy to have her on the back of my scooter – of course I bloody would.
I reckon that I have two options, go to my default – employ my finely honed lack of emotional intelligence & give her the cold shoulder, say fuck you, if you are not interested in me then I am not interested in you and skulk off like that spotty teenager.
Or, there was another option – did I like this woman – hell yes, was I happier for knowing her than not knowing her, yes. So how about this once just letting it go, what’s the worst that could happen?
Mr. Matinee Idol swans off a couple days later, he probably had a new film to do, my friend and I hang out for the rest of her holiday, she has a great collection of music on her phone and she downloads a playlist for me. One track, not really a song at all, more spoken word with a soundtrack hits home to me, in it’s words I recognise myself and for that matter many other people, people battered by their experiences, trying to move forward from them, and there I begin to see that what’s important in life is not what happens to you, we have no control over luck, or fate or karma or whatever words you may choose to use for the surprises that life tends to spring on us, but what we do have power over is how we come to frame and think of those life events, we can make walls of them that block our way or doors that open onto new possibilities, we can see ourselves as the victim or the survivor or victor, as winner or loser, the only difference is in how we use our thoughts and that makes all the difference.
Forgive me if I am stating what others find obvious, but I found this little short of a revelation, two years after the end of that one relationship that still after all this time it meant so much to me, I had travelled the equivalent of once around the world, to escape my past, but I still carried some of it with me, however hard I tried to forget, the feelings of worthlessness and pain with which I had set out with had grown quieter and lessened, I had moved, but not far enough, there were still scars that hadn’t healed. This I loathed – there were people the world over facing real problems, my petty issues over one failed relationship were no more than an indulgence, first world problems that were not problems at all, not a wall preventing me from moving on, but a door to be opened and stepped through. Why hadn’t I made my way through? I felt as though I was almost there, but still it eluded me.
My friend headed back to Germany, as a parting gift I gave her a Tibetan singing bowl on which I had the words of the track she’d shared with me inscribed around the rim.
India would not be the last time I would see her, but for now I had places to go, people to meet, ideas to be confounded and mistakes to be made and all of them were waiting around the corner for me.