I loved the simple elegance of my hotel, an ancient harveli mansion wrapped around a paved courtyard where a fountain played beneath a handsome tree. From this haven in the chaotic city I would stroll Old Delhi’s medieval lanes and be enchanted time after time. I felt quite at home – it reminded me of Mombasa’s charmed Old Port.
Trying out my infant Hindi, I would stop and be measured for a flowing kurta shirt here or buy a sarong there, which reminded me of the kikoys I wore back home in Kenya. I had been sacked for walking bear-chested down Mombasa’s main street, even though many of us wore kikoys on our days off, the new director fresh from London thought I was letting the side down. That sordid man was responsible for turfing me out of my homeland by contesting my resident-status and cancelling my locals-work-permit, hence I had ten days to quit the land I thought I would never leave.
In Old Delhi’s chai stalls and minute restaurants I would discuss philosophy with red bearded Muslims, white bearded Hindus, shaven headed Jains or wild-eyed Tantric priests dressed in black. Everyone agreed God existed, that is, apart from me. They told me nothing could possibly exist without His existence. I argued and laughed with the flaring enthusiasm of a young man inspired to seek Truth.
Upon that issue we all agreed. There Must be a Truth, but defining it or understanding it…well that divided us once more. Being inclined towards a natural view of life, I have always taken the animal world as my Bible. An old Yogi smiled and said Hatha (or physical) Yoga was based on observations of animals, which is why the postures had names such as Cobra.
The Muslim felt Hinduism was too stuck in nature and ought to lift itself towards the eternal Truth that Allah proclaimed through his only prophet.
The Jain stated non-violence, even in shunning negative thought, lead us to Truth.
The Tantric guy thought they each ignored the senses, which made us human and the understanding of which lead us to the Truth.
Hearing the prayer-call, the Muslim rose to go. He was joined by the others who wished to pray with him. They stood in the mosque’s courtyard where a saint lay under marble attracting hundreds of worshippers of all religions every day. I was glad to be in a country where many religions existed side by side. I sketched the scene in ink, decorating the page with the Hindi words a small audience threw out for the items appearing on my paper.
In my novel I attempt to convey the Zen-like qualities of pure yogic discipline. My agnostic hero is charmed by Hinduism, but finds his own way through its confusing mazes.