smoke and silence

Smoke and silence

 Two Israeli girls came up on the roof
and sat near Kalimbaba and his friends

The men had already been sitting quietly for some time
Now and then
one of them would utter a word a two
in a low voice,
and occasionally they would prepare a chillum
and pass it around
Sometimes Vishwa would quietly chant a mantra,
and a pair of djembes lay nearby

 The girls took turns
glancing nervously at the group of friends,
and one of them took to staring

They did not speak to each other
or to the men,
and when the chai that they had ordered arrived,
they decided to leave it untouched
and go away

 Too much silence for them

 It must have made them feel uncomfortable

 Maybe it was the mantra

 Or Vishwa’s beard

 Or Dominique’s lungi

 Or the feather in your hair

 Maybe they were afraid
of what the drums might do

 The men fell silent again
and continued
to listen to the birds
and enjoy the view

 ♫ ♫ ♫


the pear room

The pear room

 The apricots and plums
had almost finished
and the pears were just beginning
to ripen

 Plum season didn’t last long,
said Kalimbaba

 Yeah, it was way too short

 Those plums were good

So were the apricots


 I think some of the plum trees further up the hill
still have plums on them

 Maybe we should take a walk up the hill

 Yesterday as I was walking home
I saw an old woman with a basket full of plums
She must have seen my face light up
because she stopped and gave me a handful of plums
And she wouldn’t accept any money

 Dude, you lucked out

 Yeah, man
Did you follow her home?

 No, man
I was in a state of bliss
Those plums kept me immobile for at least ten minutes

 A plum goddess she was

 Man, those pears look good

 Yeah, I love fresh pears

 Me too

 They should be ready soon

 I’ll ask the owner of my guest house
if he has any pear trees

And so Kalimbaba and his friends
for some pears to appear

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 A couple of pear farmers walked by,
each with a basket full of pears on his back
Some children nearby saw them
and rushed over to take a pear each
out of a basket

 Go away!
Don’t take our pears!
said one of the farmers,
but the children paid him no heed
and ran away with pears
and with smiles on their faces

 Kalimbaba decided to follow the farmers
to see where they stored their pears

 It didn’t take long to find out
because just a few houses further down the path
the men disappeared
They had entered a large building
and Kalimababa got the entrance just in time to them
reach the end of a long corrider
and enter the last room on the right

 Kalimbaba went inside the house,
peered inside the room
and discovered that it was full of pears!
The entire floor was covered in pears
and in some places the pears piled waist high

 The men had begun to unload the pears in their baskets
and Kalimbaba asked them
if he could buy a few

As many as you like,
said one of the farmers

 Forty rupees a kilo,
said the other

 Kalimbaba offered one of the men a hundred rupees
and the man then began to fill Kalimbaba’s bag
with freshly-picked pears

 Thank you


 And then Kalimbaba went to find his friends
and share his good fortune

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 These pears are delicious

 They’re great

 Where is the pear room?

 It’s just over there,
in that purple house

Now we know
where to get pears

 The friends then continued to eat
pear after pear

♫ ♫ ♫

 The next day Kalimbaba returned
to the pear room
to buy a few more,
and then he went to his afternoon haunt
and shared them with his friends,
first peeling away the poison
that the farmers had applied

 Pear prasad,
said Viswa

 Pears are great,
said Dom Baba

 Long live pear season,
said Ajay

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The following day Kalimbaba went back to the pear room,
but all the pears had disappeared

 They’re gone,
he told his friends
The pear room is empty

 The farmers must have taken them to the market

 We need to find a new supplier

I’ve seen pears in that room over there,
the one with the metal door that rolls down,
but the door is almost always closed

 Let’s take turns keeping watch
When the farmer returns,
we’ll ask if he has any pears to sell

 I’ll take the first watch

 And I’ll take the second

 And so the four friends arranged
to keep a lookout
for the elusive owner
of the second pear storeroom

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Has the pear farmer turned up?

 Not yet
No one has even glanced at that door in passing

 It’s been a few days
Maybe he took them away
and sold them during the night


 We need to find another source

 Just then Dom Baba came along
smiling happily
and holding a half-eaten pear in his hand

 I just came across some more pear farmers,
he said
And I bought three kilos



 Right on!

 Dom Baba handed out pears to his friends,
and then they all ate in silence
for a while 

♫ ♫ ♫

 I wonder when the apples will be ready

 The ones on that tree over there look pretty good

I can’t wait for apple season

 See that room over there?
The one with the green shutters
That’s where they store apples


 We’ll have to keep an eye out
for apples

 They should be ready soon

 Freshly-picked apples are great

 They’re the best

 Almost as good as pears

 Maybe just as good


 And so the four friends sat
on the balcony of their afternoon hangout
eating pears
and waiting for apples

 ♫ ♫ ♫



 Kalimbaba wandered
from place to place
and from space to space

 He traveled with little money,
never knowing
where he would eat or sleep

 As the sun approached its zenith,
he arrived in a new village
He walked to the square,
sat down on a bench
and in silence observed
what was going on
for a while

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Some birds landed
in a tree nearby
and began to sing
Kalimbaba listened to their song
for about half an hour,
and then he took out his kalimba
and began to play

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The birds listened
for a while
and then they took off,
only to return soon
with gifts in their beaks
They brought a key
and a dark blue feather

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Kalimbaba thanked the birds
for their songs
and for their gifts,
and he offered them some sunflower seeds
Then he placed the key in a pocket,
put the feather in his hair
and set off on a walk
around the village

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 An old café
in a quiet corner of the village
called to him,
so Kalimbaba went in and sat down

 There were a few low wooden tables
and some soft purple cushions,
silence streamed
from the stereo speakers,
and a painting reminiscent
of Picasso’s blue period
hung on a wall

 Simple and elegant,
an oasis of calm,
the café was a place
where a few vagabonds
and some of the local characters
to drink tea quietly,
speak mindfully
and enjoy moments
of silence

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Kalimbaba asked for a pot of tea
and then observed the scene

 The tea arrived
after a while

and it was excellent

 After he had
a few cups of tea,
Kalimbaba took out his kalimba
and began to play

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Your music is very soothing,
said a man at another table                    

 When I listen
to you play,
my mind withdraws
and thought subsides,
said another

 I have plenty of room for guests
If you need a place
to rest and sleep,
you are welcome to stay in my home
offered an old woman

 Your coat looks a bit threadbare, brother
I have more than I need
Come by sometime and choose one

 Thank you, friends

 Try this pie,
said the owner of the café
The plums are from a tree out back

 It’s delicious
Thank you

 Kalimbaba ate
the piece of plum pie
savoring each bite

 And then he began to play

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Your money is no good here,
said the owner
when Kalimbaba tried to pay
for the tea and the pie
Come again anytime
Your music is medicine
and we’d love to hear you play again

 Thank you, friend
Kalimbaba then took a beautiful seed
out of his seed pouch
and offered it to the owner

 Plant this seed
in a place that gets lots of sun
and soon you’ll have plenty of shade,
beautiful flowers
and delicious fruit

 Thank you

 And so it went
wherever he traveled:
When people listened to his music,
their hearts would open
and they would give
whatever they had
that they felt he could use:
a coat, an old guitar or a meal,
a smile
or simply a gentle presence

 And once he was offered
a bit of land
Some villagers built for him a dwelling,
planted some fruit trees, flowers and a garden nearby
and told him that this could be his home
whenever he was around

 Come with me,
said a girl
There’s something I’d like to show you

 And so they left the café
and walked
to where a spider was weaving
a sublime web

 It’s beautiful
Thank you
for showing it to me

 And then they watched
as the spider wove
for a while

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Can you show me the way
to the old woman’s home?

 She’s my grandmother
I’ll take you to her place

 And then they walked
to the grandmother’s home
in silence,
listening to the birds sing
along the way

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 It’s a beautiful room
Thank you

 I have more rooms than I need
You are welcome to stay
as long as you like
And in the room across the hall,
the one with the purple door,
you’ll find some old instruments
that haven’t been played in a long time
Feel free to have a look
and take anything you like

 Thank you, ma’am

 The two women then left Kalimbaba alone,
and he went about creating an altar
with some pretty stones and pine cones,
some feathers and flowers
and a few other things
that he had found in nature
along the way

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The girl had come up for a visit
while Kalimbaba was having a look

at the musical instruments

 There are some very nice instruments here,
he said

 They belonged to my uncle
Nobody plays them now
I’m sure they would love to be played again

 These djembes are beautiful

 My uncle used to play them for my grandmother
She loves to dance,
especially to the sound of drumming

 Do you play an instrument?

 I play the piano
We have one downstairs in the music room
And I play the violin

 The violin and the djembe
go very well together

 Shall we play tonight
at the café?

 I’d love to

 My grandmother is preparing dinner now
I’m going to go and help her
Please join us in about half an hour
Afterwards we’ll go to the café

 I’ll be down soon

 And then Kalimbaba continued
to look at all the instruments
and chose a few to bring along
to the café

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Dinner was delicious
Thank you
I also enjoy cooking
Perhaps tomorrow
you’ll let me cook for you

 With pleasure
Our kitchen is open
to all who like to cook
Let’s head down to the café

 And so Kalimbaba, the grandmother and the girl
gathered their instruments
and headed down to the village

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 This tea is excellent

 It’s my grandmother’s secret blend
She has a large collection
of herbs that she’s gathered,
and whenever we come here,
she brings a special mix
made just for that particular evening
to share with everyone
Your grandmother is pretty cool

 Shall we play?


 Kalimbaba then took out two djembes
and began to quietly play
one of his favorite rhythms

 The girl took a seat at the piano
and soon began
to play as well

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

 Someone had begun to sing Thumbakkam
and a few others had joined him
Then the grandmother got up
and began to dance
and soon a few others
were dancing as well

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Kalimababa and the girl
began to play louder
and faster,
and the dancers flowed
with the rhythm

 The singers continued to chant

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

 and eventually everyone in the café
was singing and dancing

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The musicians began to play slowly
and quietly again,
as slowly and quietly as possible,
and everyone sang

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

 for a while 

♫ ♫ ♫



 Ajay was on the edge
of singing Thumbakkam with his friends

 For more than a week
he had been hearing it sung all over town,
and each day
the number of people singing it had increased
until it seemed that he was the only one left
who wasn’t singing it

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

They’re singing it again,
he thought
I can’t escape it
There’s not a place left in town
where I can sit without hearing that mantra

 Ajay resigned himself
to having to listen to Thumbakkam again
and then he sat down near his friends
and began to feel the vibe
of Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Ajay didn’t want to sing Thumbakkam
He had resisted all week,
but something inside him
was urging him to give it a try

 There had been a few other signs
that he ready for a change:
He had begun to carry a feather the week before,
and he had been seen kneeling at the temple
and caressing a djembe
He had even been seen admiring a chillum,
but he had yet to smoke one

 Viswa, Dom Baba and Kalimbaba
continued to chant

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

 and Ajay could feel the vibration
of each bija,
each seed of sound,
and soon he could resist no longer
and began to sing
along with his friends

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

♫ ♫ ♫



 The sun was beginning to set,
and Kalimbaba was playing one of his favorite rhythms
on two of his djembes

 Viswa listened for a while,
and then he began to chant
a new mantra

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

  Dom Baba soon joined in,
and after a while Kalimbaba stopped playing
and began to chant the new mantra as well

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 It has no meaning
It’s just sounds,
said Viswa
It just appeared

 The three friends then resumed chanting, smiling and laughing
for a while

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Let’s go to The Chillum Den
and share this mantra
with our friends

 Good idea

 And so they went,
Viswa, Dom Baba and Kalimbaba,
to vist some friends
and chant for them

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 That’s a powerful mantra, man,
said Mandeep
I could feel it strongly

 It took me to the edge
of somwhere and nowhere,
said Oli

 That night when he went to bed,
Kalimbaba could still feel the vibrations
of the mantra

 And the next morning when he woke up,
he felt as if
he were on a mushroom trip
He went to the hot spring for his daily bath
and there he met Viswa and Dom Baba

 Hey, guys
I can still feel that mantra

 Me too

 I can as well

 Let’s chant it some more

 And so they did
They chanted their new mantra
while sitting in the hot spring

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Over the course
of the next few days
the three friends often chanted the new mantra,
both when they met
and when they were alone

And soon the whole village singing

 Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

throughout the day,
and the level of conciousness among the villagers
reached a new high

 Thank you, Viswa,
said some
for sharing your mantra with us

The mantra arrived
on its own,
inspired perhaps
by a bit of drumming

 Thank you, Kalimbaba,
for inspiring the mantra

 I had nothing to do with it
Thank the Africans
for creating and sharing
their wonderful rhythms with me

 Thank you Dom Baba,
they said

For what?
I caught it the same as you
It came flying through the air
and took hold of me,
and it hasn’t let go since

 Let’s chant

Yes, let’s

And then,
as the sun began to set,
everyone in the temple square
began to chant

Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They-ey
Thumbakkam Thumbakkam They

 ♫ ♫ ♫

a new inspector

A new inspector

 A new police inspector
had been posted to the town,
and one day he got in his jeep
with three of his men
and drove to the end of a road
in a nearby jungle in Kerela

 We’ll have to walk from here, sir

 How much farther is it?

 It’ll take about an hour
to get to the village, sir

 We’ve got to let those tribes know
who’s in charge around here,
said the inspector

 Yes, sir
Right you are, sir,
replied one of the constables

 Lead the way

 Yes, sir

 And so the men set off
on foot
to pay a visit
to one of the remaining tribes in the jungle

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Is it always this hot around here, constable?

 Yes, sir

 These mosquitoes are ferocious

 Yes, sir
Quite ferocious, sir

 And there sure are a lot of ganja plants around here

 Yes, sir
I think they’re native to the region, sir

 How much further is it to the village, constable?

 We’re almost there, sir

 Then the men fell silent
and continued on their way

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 After a while they came upon a settlement
and saw a man sitting alone

 Hey, you
Come here

 The villager remained immobile,
so the inspector walked over
to where the man was sitting

 Are you deaf?

 The villager looked at the inspector
and said,

 Do you know whom those ganja plants over there belong to?

 Their mine
Beautiful, aren’t they?

 They’re illegal

you’re insane
Everything in nature
has a purpose
and a place

 According to the law in Kerela . . .

 I am the law around here

I’m the new inspector in town
and I’m in charge of enforcing the law

 And what right do you have
to be on our land

 The state of Kerela
has invested in me
the power to do as I please,
and now I am going to have to take you in

 Let me put on some clothes first

 The villager went into a nearby hut,
and some time later he came out again,
this time wearing his chief’s costume
and carrying a large drum

 The policemen stood dumbfounded
as they stared at the chief in his ceremonial outfit
complete with jangling bells
and a large feather headdress

 The chief began to beat his drum,
and within minutes
all of the men in the village had arrived

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The chief allowed the inspector and his men
to soak in the shift in power,
and then he spoke

 Tie them up

 The policemen protested,
but they realized that they were outnumbered
and outspeared,
and soon they found themselves bound
to tall poles that appeared to have been made
for just that purpose

 You won’t get away with this,
said the inspector
I’ll have the lot of you thrown in jail
Just wait until I come back with reinforcements

 It’s nap time now,
so you’ll have to be quiet for a while,
said the chief

 I’ll talk as much as I want

 You have two options:
If you like,
you can voluntarily be quiet while we rest,
if you prefer,
we can gag you

 The inspector reflected for a moment
and then chose to remain silent

 We’ll talk more later,
said the chief

 He put a bit of cow dung
in each policeman’s hair,
and then he and the other villagers
left the policemen to roast
in the hot sun
and attract flies
for a while 

♫ ♫ ♫

After a couple of hours,
the villagers began
to reappear

 Some of them brought out a large brass cauldron,
hung it over a firepit,
filled it with coconut oil
and made a fire underneath

 They don’t still boil people in oil around here, do they?
asked the inspector

 I don’t think so, sir,
replied the constable
I’m pretty sure they stopped doing that a few years ago

 My grandfather used to bury policemen
up their necks near an anthill,
said the chief,
and then he would put a bit of honey in their hair
Do you see that anthill over there?

 He pointed to a nearby anthill,
where four men were busy digging holes

 And my father preferred to burn them at the stake

 What do you usually do with them?
asked the inspector

 Have you ever tried tree frog poison?


 It’s great
It kills within seconds
Fortunately we’re all immune to it
because since we were toddlers,
our mothers have given us a drop every year
We put it on the tips of our spears and arrows
Would you like to try some?

 No, thank you

 There are quite a lot of things
that can kill a man
in the jungle

 Yes, I’m sure there are

 You see,
we don’t like foreigners coming on to our land,
land that we have lived on for centuries,
and telling us what to do

 We’re not foreigners

 Do you speak our native language?


 Then you are a foreigner
And you outsiders have been rapidly destroying
everything you set your eyes on,
whereas here in the jungle we maintain
the balance and flow
The less of you there are,
the better off the planet will be

 If you let us go,
I promise we’ll never come back

 I wonder if that’s true
I’ll consider your request
Meanwhile I’ll let some of our cobras
keep you company

 The chief signaled to one of his men,
who then opened a basket,
took out four cobras,
and draped one around the neck
of each policeman
The cobras greeted the policemen
and then made themselves comfortable
The policemen felt very uncomfortable,
but they chose to remain
as still as possible

 The chief then returned to his hut
and stayed there
for a while

 ♫ ♫ ♫

said the chief,
shall I set you free,
or would would prefer to spend the night
with the cobras?

 We’d prefer to go home

 And never come back?

 And never come back

 If you ever come here again,
I’ll call a tiger
and invite him to eat you
Or perhaps I’ll ask an elephant
to stomp on you

 I promise we won’t come back

 And it seems that the air
in the tires of your jeep
has gone missing
I suppose you wouldn’t mind walking
back to town

 We wouldn’t mind at all
You can keep the jeep

 If you hurry,
you can get out of the jungle before dark,
which is when the wild boars come out
Ever been stabbed by one?


 Hurts like hell

 We’d be happy to leave right away

 And never come back

 And never come back

 The chief nodded to a group of his men
and they untied the policemen

 Thank you
May we have our shoes and guns back?


No problem
We were thinking of getting new ones anyway
we’ll be off then –
with your permission, of course


 And so the policemen
slowly made their way
back to the road,
trying to avoid all of the thorns that covered the path,
thorns that they could not recall
having seen that morning

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 I don’t think they’ll be coming back, Chief

 I think you’re right
Go put some air in the tires of the jeep
and then park it in the cave
where we keep all the other ones

 Okay, Chief

 And then chief
and the rest of the villagers
celebrated the departure of the police
by smoking a bit
of Idukki Gold

 ♫ ♫ ♫

a japanese party

A Japanese party

 At one of the Japanese settlements
a few friends had gathered
for an evening of song and dance,
food and drink
and conversation

 From a distance
it was impossible to tell
that something there was going on
The stars, the moon, and a few candles
illuminated the meadow
and the stream nearby

 Musicans played their instruments
or sang
just loudly enough to be heard;
some people drank hot sake,
and some had it cold;
and those who smoked
smoked the finest quality charas or ganja
one could buy

 In low tones people conversed
listening to others
complete their sentences,
and then allowing
a moment of silence
before adding some words of their own

 ♫ ♫ ♫

Would you like some tea?

I would love some tea

 A gentle girl
poured some tea
into a cup
and offered it to Kalimbaba

It’s delicious
Thank you

 He drank his tea
enjoying each sip,
and when he had finished,
he took out his kalimba
and began to play
and flow
with the others

♫ ♫ ♫