If Rose were a rose, she'd be a velvety apricot rose with a creamy center, edged in dark peach.
She's from California, now living in Brooklyn. A writer and editor. Jewish. Smart. Sensitive. A perfect companion on this auto rickshaw excursion to the tribal villages North of Bhuj in Kutch.
As we bounce along a small road, we ply each other with question. I want to know about this thirty-year-old's life in Brooklyn. After ten years living abroad, I want to know about the states.
She wants to know about my life as a sixteen-year-old runaway in NYC in 1964.
Our rickshaw driver and guide is Bharat - a tall strand of spaghetti floating in pressed blue jeans and a precisely ironed long-sleeve gray shirt. He's minus a good bunch of teeth, but makes up for it by sporting huge tufts of hair curling from the lower outside of both ear lobes. From the back of the rickshaw he reminds me of some sort of mythical goat man. His hair is cropped short - a color usually referred to as 'salt and pepper.' One long strand dangles down the back of his head, indicating that there's been a recent death in the family - his hair just growing back after the ritual head shaving that leaves the head slick and bald except for a strand of hair at the center back of the head.
"Did you ever see The Velvet Underground?" Rose asks as we buzz through country that could be somewhere in America's Southwest. Maybe New Mexico, or Arizona, or somewhere in Nevada.
Visions of New York's Lower East Side suddenly flash before my eyes. Long forgotten memories pop out of a dusty file cabinet in my brain like a scene from an old favorite movie. Only it wasn't a film. It was my life.
"On the night of the opening of Andy Warhol's 'Exploding Live Plastic Inevitable' I was walking back to my one room, cold-water flat on East 8th St, when I bumped into Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky. I had met them at poetry readings at Le Metro Cafe on 2nd Ave. Peter kept inviting me over to their apartment. I showed up on a Saturday morning. Allen was eating pickled herring and rye bread and asked me to join him. Anyway...Peter invited me to join them for this big opening of Warhol's 'disco', so I tailed along. Since, I came with Allen, people there thought i must be someone important and let me in for free after that. It was a great place to panhandle. I'd hit up a few people here and there before leaving and always got enough money for the the next day's food."
"Did you get to know any of the Velvet Underground," Rose asks.
"Well, I knew Niko. She was always lamenting the price she paid for her beauty." (I adopt a husky German accent.) "'You don't know what it's like. Women hate me. Men are afraid to approach me. I am always alone and lonely. Heroine is my only friend.'"
Rose laughs. "Yes, that fits exactly with her music."
The rickshaw pulls into a small village of white-washed mud huts. My brain catapults forty-eight years forward from the ragged streets of the Lower East Side to the dusty lane of this tribal village in Kutch.
I leave my large purple shawl and sunglasses in the back of the rickshaw and step out into the welcoming smiles of a group of Rabari people. The women wear a special blouse with brightly colored front pouches for the breasts. It ties with two sets of ribbon in the back. Their ear lobes have huge elongated holes from which dangle heavy gold earrings. Around their necks they wear their marriage necklaces--a gold toothpick, a gold ear wax remover, and a rectangular gold locket containing a special prayer hang from a thick black cord.
Bharat emerges wearing my sunglasses and my purple shawl rakishly wrapped around his neck. He leads us to an open room where one man dressed from head to toe in off-white, sits at a hand-made loom weaving a tapestry. Rose and I watch as he slowly, patiently maneuvers threads and various wooden implements, creating an intricate design.
"All in his head," Bharat tells us. "Interesting?" "Good feeling, Madame?"
We assure Mr. Hairy Ears that it's very interesting and that we feel good.
He repeats this refrain throughout the entire day like some kind of a mantra. "Interesting?" Good feeling?"
This leads me to picture Mr. Hairy Ears in bed with his wife. I can see them having sex. Mr. Hairy Ears repeating "Good feeling wife? Interesting?"
Children surround us. Smile bashfully. They sit near us. I sit opposite the oldest and most open. I begin a patty-cake game and soon each girl wants to play with me.
The day slides between past and present. Between tales of me, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky marching down 5th Avenue playing finger cymbols and chanting 'Hare Krishna' (Allen and Peter had just returned from India) to tribes of people making hand-made laquered wooden goods, stitching incredible embroidery with hand-cut glass sewed in.
We stop for lunch in another village. While waiting for a woman to cook our food, Bharat starts massaging my feet.
"Good feeling, Mam," he asks as he expertly presses his hard hands into the right places on my feet. When he finishes with me, he moves on to Rose's feet.
A women emerges from her hut with metal plates of steaming food. Rose and I sit cross-legged on a charpoy and enjoy home-made chappatis with dal and aloo.
The day is filled with "good feeling," everything is very "interesting," Rose is a perfect companion, and Mr. Hairy Ears turns out to speak every dialect of every tribe and be a font of knowledge as well as a wonderful foot masseur.