I hadn’t realised that the guru had finally stopped speaking, so lost had I become in not listening, until he stood up and picked up the drum that was beside him. His translator wife stood up beside him and looked at him expectantly.
I don’t know what conclusion he had arrived at as I had spent the past hour and more thinking of other things. I played the role of the interested person who was there to learn, but it was just like any other undercover job, my thoughts were my own. Just as when I had sat in the Marxism-Leninism lectures, just as when I went to the Komsomol meetings, I silently thought of what I wanted to think about and paid only enough attention so as to stay undercover. Silence was my weapon of choice. But I was used to the role. I had been undercover my whole life. I remember gazing out of the window in school thinking my own thoughts, but when my teacher tried to trap me with a question, I would always know the answer.
Everyone began to stand up and so I stood, too. There was a look of anticipation. They had all sat so patiently, they had listened devoutly, but it was for this moment they did so. The guru began to sing the mantra and beat the drum. He started what was a sort of pied piper conga routine. Everyone followed, joining in the words ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna’. The rhythm got faster, the singing more ecstatic. People ceased to be aware of their surroundings as they lost themselves in the music. It was quite intoxicating, much more so than mere alcohol.
In order to play my role I, too, had to at least momentarily go with the flow. I always favoured a more or less method form of acting. Part of me would become what I was supposed to be. If I had to pretend to be a communist, then I would in part became a communist, just as Marlon Brando tried to become Terry Malloy when he played him in ‘On the Waterfront’. Only by becoming a washed up former boxer could the actor convincingly play someone who once had a chance to be a contender. In the end, it’s the only way for me to be persuasive in the role. It needs to not be a role. This is especially so if the role goes on for years. If you don’t become it, you’ll always slip up somewhere along the way. So as I danced and joined in the singing, I became a Hare Krishna devotee, or at least a part of me did, while the other part looked on. To understand a problem you have to understand it from within. It has to be your problem, touching you personally. The abstract approach to the problems of philosophy and theology is deadly dull and produces nothing of interest.
As I danced and sang, at least for that short time, I became one with this group of revellers. I forgot who I was and it was as if I could see myself fading away in the face of all this oneness. But still I was only the actress who had worked herself up to the state where she felt her hands were such that nothing could wash away the blood. She was one with the role, but it wasn’t as if she actually was going to go out and buy all the perfumes of Arabia. I still could look on myself acting and yet there were moments during these bacchanalian dances when I became drunk without drinking. I saw how extraordinarily powerful it all was. It was fun. We’d been sitting patiently. The others, too, must have been bored. Maybe that was the idea. Anyway, they’d all been concentrating on difficult concepts, trying to understand their guru, who didn’t exactly make it easy. Perhaps, that too was the point. The basic philosophy behind his views is relatively straightforward to explain, but I don’t think he wanted to explain; he wanted to make everything complex. In the end, he wanted to make everything dull, so that then there would be this release. He had been building always towards this. Suddenly, there was no longer any need to understand. Now there was only the need to feel.
I saw Galina lose herself in the ecstasy of the dance. Her face swooned. She reached a peak of emotion. It looked as if she had never reached such a peak in any other way. She was dependent on no-one. This peak she could reach by herself. She ceased to follow the guru as did many others eventually who moved to their own inward music always chanting with their minds and with their mouths ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna’. That was all there was in the world. Just that mantra endlessly repeated. They lost themselves in the chant, and I think they thought they were glimpsing eternity. Who knows, perhaps, they were.
The song drew to a conclusion. The guru slowed down his dance and came to a stop in the midst of us. At this point we all simply murmured the mantra and the curtains around the Krishna idol were closed, the candles put out, and like Bagpuss he went to sleep. It took people some time to come down from the high. No wonder they banned alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes. What need had they for such drugs which could only inhibit this intoxication.
I saw David looking blank. He, too, had lost himself in the revels, but I wasn’t sure what role he was playing or whether he had a role at all. I snapped him out of it.
“Let’s go for a cigarette,” I said.
When we were outside I asked him what he thought.
“I couldn’t follow much the lecture, but the dance at the end was quite fun. Rather like losing yourself in the music when some sort of techno rhythm keeps pounding.”
“Is it what you expected?”
“To be honest, I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I wasn’t even completely sure that Galina was a Hare Krishna.”
“You know now. I think she wants you to be one, too.”
“I’m not sure she knows herself what she wants. There is something between us, we’ve been writing for a long time, but I’m not sure what it is. I flew here to find out. It was a gesture.”
“You have no interest in Hare Krishna?”
“No, none at all, I’m a Catholic who rarely goes to church, but I know what I believe.”
“All the same, be careful with these people, David. It’s powerful stuff.”
“I saw that. You kind of feel something in the dance. Did you?”
“Yes. We all felt it. It’s why we must be careful.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“About Galina? It’s not easy. She only seems concerned at the moment with the Hare Krishna stuff. Let her talk to you about it. Show interest. Talk to the others as if you are interested. Why not? It is interesting. Find out, but very gently stick to your own beliefs. Don’t concede anything. Tell everyone that you are here to see Galina. But that you’re happy to find out about something important to her. Take that line when you speak to her. But try to get her alone. I don’t think she wants that at the moment. But find a time when you can go for a walk and then make your offer. Say what you’ve come here to say.”
“Just like that? I’ve made hints, of course, in my letters, but she doesn’t always pick up on them, perhaps they are too hidden.”
“Believe me, David, she knows why you are here. Why else would a man fly all the way from Scotland to Moscow? She’s used the fact that you love her to get you to come. So no more hints. Get her alone sometime and tell her how you feel. Make her an offer. Surprise her. It may just shake her out of this.”
“Why are you here, Effie?
“I’ve known Galina for years. I haven’t seen her for a while. She’s a sort of friend and I wanted to see what she was up to.”
We went back inside and saw that preparations were being made for dinner. I didn’t expect anything much different from lunch. I wasn’t disappointed.