A stroll along an urban road...
The Auckland Sri Chinmoy Centre is hosed in a long building straddling two roads, 65 long paces from the front entrance in bustling Karangahape Road to the rear entrance in a small side street, a favourite locale for film crews shooting commercials and scenes for TV soaps and dramas. Everyone calls Karangahape Road 'K' Road'. Its a melting pot of cultures – Asian, Polynesian, Indian, Caucasian – and for three nights of each week when it's nightclubs are open all night, it teeters on the roughhouse and seedy. But it's an interesting place – I walked around the other day with my spectators cap on, wrote a few notes to describe it to you...
You might start at the east end of the road by the Baptist Tabernacle Church with its fluted Byzantine columns, a huge monolith towering over a sludge of irredeemably ugly office blocks. On the courtyard in front of the church a nativity scene gone astray, Joseph's son a bald shop doll swaddled in grey wrappings and lying in the arms of a very unmaternal Mary. Around them three larger than life mannequin shepherds crowd beneath an anachronistic striped umbrella, looking not wise but apprehensive, gazing not at the infant Jesus but out at the street chaos of another age. There is a pathos though that still makes it work – their innocence and vulnerability, and the sense of hopelessness that what they represent could even dent the hard indifference of this banal world. An unholy wind of grime and street flotsam tugging at turbans and robes.
Past a coffee shop, a bank, then at my local deli I buy two Christmas cards. "What do you want from Santa?" I ask the familiar face at the counter. Flowers she replies. "I'll wish for a big bunch of flowers." Her brother had lived in America and sent her flowers every Christmas, promised he would every year of his life. "When they stopped coming one year I knew he had died even though no one ever told me. I just knew."
K' Road is a short road only half a mile long, but all of life is here. You pass a ragtag mix of gift shops, pre-loved clothing boutiques, sushi bars, not one but three tattoo parlours, a men's smart clothing store – a last besieged outpost of conservatism with it's rack suits and starched shirts – then coffee shops, Turkish kebab restaurants and dollar stores where you could buy a coil of rope, a hammer, a pair of plastic jandals, a picture frame and a mirror for only five dollars. You don't need any of this stuff but at these wildly low prices shopping is compulsory and you know you can find some use for this bric-à-brac later.
Outside the Third Eye gift store a rumpled man sits on the pavement and sells Nepalese silver, grey faced, a hard life of survival. Inside young people crowd around Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Indian deities in jade, black teak, brass and stone; around saris, lapis lazuli jewellery and tables of bright clothing shipped from the Orient.
Strains of music – next door is the K' Road ballroom and couples moving to the excitement of the tango, the men in black, women in colourful satin, high-stepping, bright cheeked, elated by the electric passions and beauty of the dance.
When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.
The staff wear floppy Santa caps, draped tinsel and goofy reindeer antlers – one has wings, more large beetle than angel. Balloons, give-aways, Santa is coming at three. I recognise a person from my meditation class trolling through a Lonely Planet Guide to Italy and I ask her, are you going to Europe? When even strangers move away our own peregrine-heart longings stir, the unlived lives twitch, then you catch yourself. You weren't so happy in those wandering days, idiot lost, taking refuge in perpetual motion, riven with dreams, existential pangs.
A man hovers near the bookshop door, hopeful of compassion, a cup of dull coins, gravel voiced – "Got any loose change bro?" Next door in the Asian food court the sounds of the tango are drowned in the babble of a hundred diners crouched over noodles, curries, Thai dishes. Caramelised brown ducks hang in rows, windows steamed up, stink of food. Outside, you nearly bump into an intellectually handicapped man, a simpleton's vacant grin and florid cheeks, leading a blind man by the arm protectively, himself so helpless in the hard maze of life. They stop to listen to a girl playing a guitar, a Bic Runga song, "Precious, precious thing, you are the thought that makes me sing", clap their pleasure, the blind man banging his cane tap, tap, tap on the paving stones for encores. She sings sweetly, eyes closed, a private inner audience – and I remember Amit this morning after meditation singing me a Hindi song. I had asked him, what does it mean? "If you chant ten million slokas you'll obtain one dhyan. If you do ten million dhyans you'll get one samadhi. But if you sing one song soulfully to God, He will be even more pleased." My guru, Sri Chinmoy, would agree. God loves the tender heart of a singer.
At the far end of the road you sit in a café and order a drink, watch the unfolding of the morning. Peering through the clear tea glass that reflects a prismatic world, you see shadowy two-dimensional figures sliding around the side of the glass, veering away into an elliptical world of illusion. And the illusion now of everything accelerating into fast forward, the flow of humanity speeded up, la fourmiliere humaine, the human ant-hill, stick-figures scurrying in quick-time, frenetic, robotic tiny steps. A bus stops, disgorges dozens of human ants, abruptly leaves. Through this looking-glass days pass in moments, shops emptying into night, clouds in bas-relief swollen from reflected city light, yellow against bruised purple of night, fast scudding. And dawn again, suddenly it's flood of light, everything filling up with frenetic ants, clouds racing away to horizons of dawns and dusks, generations passing like seabirds across oceans. And imagining all this here without you, no 'I' left, peering into the void at shadows, the illusions of illusion itself.
Putting aside the glass, returning now to real time, meandering again back to recomposed faces, past dancers of the tango moving to the rhythm of unheard music; past sick, beautiful, happy, unhappy; buskers and their songs and pleas; the boutiques and dollar stores; past the bakery and the importunings of the poor; the pre-loved clothing shops and coffee bars, billboards of rock bands, tattoo parlours, graffiti'd walls; and now into a K' Road arcade florist, bright multi-coloured blooms stacked high and jostling in yellow buckets. I select a big bunch of white and yellow lilies that will last as long as any flowers do and ask the florist to deliver them to my acquaintance in the deli on the first day after Christmas. She promises to – an anonymous card will simply say "Merry Christmas from a Kiwi brother".
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When I heard the first notes of the song, I was completely amazed; how could something that beautiful exist on earth?