Fat Angel by Jatayu
The author, who uses the Pseudonym “Jatayu,” did his undergraduate work in India and England and is now a Ph.D. student in Boston. Supping at the “overflowing caldron of a million personalities,” he reawakens the qualities of mind that he had forgotten, and is humbled by all that may be.
There is a long take in Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou when the protagonist and the girl with whom he is on the run are reclining on a beach by the moonlight. The camera stays on them for a while, then slowly pans away towards the beach, and onto the sea – one slow motion, from the low ebbing waves towards the glittering water in the horizon, then skywards, finally settling on a bright, glowing sun.
In this single take, the genius of Godard was revealed to me. It was one of the most intensely exciting moments of my life, one in which I was, as Deadheads would say, in “the zone,” that normally inaccessible expanse of my mind. I might add that I had smoked a joint just before watching the film. It dawned on me then, as it does every time I smoke weed, how incredibly powerful this plant is, and how beautiful the spaces are where it allows me to roam.
I am from India, and am currently a graduate student in Boston. I had my first joint in my hometown of Calcutta – a clear summer night, slightly cool – at my friend’s house in the northern part of the city. Much of this part of the city has its residents living in two or three storey buildings very closely backed up against each other, so that passing from the terrace of one to that of another is easy and a good way to pass time among young kids with nothing much else to do. It was on one of those terraces that I was initiated.
My friend had built me up for the trip – evidently, his introduction to weed had also been recent, and he was literally overflowing with excitement as he described to me what he had “seen”. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I guess that’s how everyone is before the experience. I took a few tokes, and wasn’t quite sure for a while what the big deal was about – nothing much seemed to change around me. The sky remained dark and not full of “mysterious lights” as my friend had described, and when my friend asked me to get off my perch and walk about, I was able to do so without much difficulty.
But a little while into this exercise, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t quite sure how long I had been walking around on the terrace. And then it hit me. Not a discrete event with a start or a stop, but a slow oncoming and a sustained rush. Sweet, painful, bright streaks of lightning from a cloudless, moonless space – a barrage of 2001-Space-Oddyssey-like diffusions of light, multicolored, morphing shapes before focusing into pointed shafts of energy. Before long, we were downstairs in his room – I had brought along a live Grateful Dead CD – and I just about managed to put it into his player and press the play button before collapsing onto the bed. For a long time, I lay awake, twitching all over to the rhythms of “The Other One”. That night, I heard many sounds: ancient, primitive sounds, eastern strings, the drone of a sitar, the grooves of a bass drum. Rejoice, rejoice, I had no choice.
That amazing experience in Calcutta put me in a whole different zone – I could never have imagined the vistas that those few hours of music and hallucinations would open up for me. I could never have dreamt that my mind could be so powerful, so keen, and yet so elastic, so inclusive, and so boundaryless. It was a life-changing discovery, so much so that my relationship/experience with weed became almost quasi-spiritual.
I am not one to smoke a joint and head to a nightclub. I prefer to tune into some music or watch a film, and anticipate the staggering insights that follow. For a long time, I confined myself to the world of the Dead and its many cousins, but recently, often with the help of weed, I have broken new ground – Electric Miles, funk, trip-hop – all beautiful explorations emanating from the confluence of 60s acid rock and jazz. It occurred to me that all music has a history, and it is too easy to judge a particular form of music without appreciating the tradition to which it belongs. It is a humbling experience to realize that things that I have earlier brushed off without so much as a good listen have suddenly begun to grip me as interesting.
Similar awakenings have come to me in film appreciation – the first time I saw Pierrot Le Fou while stoned, I experienced multiple epiphanies (was it a coincidence that at one point the protagonist looks straight into the camera and begins to philosophize about Joyce?). The film opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities of the medium that Godard had chosen to work with. How different is it from static art? How demanding is it of the viewer? And how exhilarating the realization that filmmaking can be so cerebral, and yet so instinctive at the same time. This is what Huxley must have meant when he spoke of “suchness”. More importantly, this is what artistic expression is – something that cannot be second-guessed, something beyond judgment, something beyond words. Yet we are forever trying to find words to give voice to our ignorance, reducing our incapacity to grasp to the escapist dictum – what we don’t understand must be not worth understanding.
This same dictum lies at the heart of the layman’s attitude towards cannabis and other hallucinogens – not so much a fear of the unknown, as a willful denial of the possibilities, cloaking an ignorance born out of a fear of the law. To the uninitiated, I cite its more miraculous effects on my mind. Often this is hard to pull off without sounding “abstract” or being told to “keep it real”, but isn’t that what it is precisely about? Defying our traditional concept of reality, trying to get past it, attempting to inhabit other spaces, equally real, and much more potent, to describe which, words are much too inadequate. Perhaps this is it – the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The mind is a wonderful thing, an overflowing cauldron of a million and more personalities, and language is too ill-equipped to describe the creative forces that take shape from the interactions between these numerous “selves” – the use of marijuana is but one attempt to comprehend, even “experience”, this interaction, and to understand better who we are, and what our place in this universe is.