Day 12 – heading up north

gandhiThis morning we packed up and left the ashram, and began our journey up north.

It was sad to leave Parmarth. It is a glorious place, run by wonderful people. Jennifer and I were made to feel very at home there. I’d like to come back some other time when the film is finished – and stay for a while and do some of the courses.

We drove most of the day – and as I sat in the vehicle marvelling at how calm I was, faced with the prospect of a fatal car crash at least four times a minute, I reflected on all the driving I’ve done (as a passenger) in India over the years.

I’ve been coming here now for eight years – and I must have visited the country at least a dozen times, maybe more, during that time. My longest stint here was when I directed a three part mini series for US television, shooting in Bombay for ten weeks. That was an extraordinary experience.

And then later my good friend and producing partner Anupam Sharma deftly orchestrated a series of TV commercials for us to shoot in India, which gave me a further opportunity to work with the crews here, but more importantly to get to better understand the complex culture and social mores from the perspective of someone who was born here and grew up here.

Anupam has been an invaluable resource – as well as a wonderful buddy – during my times here. We are planning a large budget feature film called DEFIANT, starring Toni Collette, based on a true story of a double honour killing. Eight years ago two young lovers eloped, and we’re hunted down by their parents and killed. (The film has a happier ending!) I happened to be in India at the time, read the story in the Times of India, and from that moment I knew I had to make the film.

PGS of course goes back much further – to 1999, in New Orleans. Yesterday I did a piece to camera at daybreak on the banks of the Ganges, musing at how that “voice” that saved my life so many years ago has brought me to Mother Ganga, to try and determine what it was. What it is. That voice.

In making this film I’ll explore intuition from a spiritual, religious, and scientific viewpoint. Apart from India it will take me to Italy, America, Hawaii, Japan, and God knows where else – because ultimately, as scary as it might sound, I AM making this film intuitively – and by that I mean I am being guided in what film I should make, and how I should make it.

That said, it will be a kick ass film. It will end up tight, disciplined, and engaging. if I may say so myself, I’m a bloody good storyteller, and I’ll be spinning a bloody good yarn.

Back to today: we stopped in Deradhun, about 90 minutes from Rishikesh, where Satish Sharma, the state’s Rupert Murdock (and the bloke who made me famous in his paper), shouted us to a beautiful Indian breakfast and very generously plied us with some more of the town’s famous sweets. Satish has been enormously helpful with our logistics, and a great supporter. And I thank him for it.

(Pictures of Satish and his son and partner at breakfast on the blog tomorrow)

Tonight we’re in Chandigarh, capital of Punjab – largely populated by Sikhs who follow the Sikhism religion – different from Hinduism. Sikhs don’t cut their hair, and the make variety are recognised by their turbans. They’re known to be honest diligent people with a strong work ethic.

They are brave, and make great guards, soldiers and warriors. They are also renown for their financial skills, and there are more banks in Chandigarh than I’ve seen anywhere else in the world, other than on the Swiss side of the Italian border, where there are three hundred different banks in one square kilometre, principally to launder mafia money.

Back to Rishikesh and Parmarth – here is an article done by a CNN journalist that’s worth a read…


i can’t post any of the shots I took today unfortunately, because of internet issues – but I want to finish with a story-

After arriving in Chandigarh this afternoon, I went for a long walk. I needed to stretch my legs and think about how the film was coming together – but then I realised that it was getting quite late, and I had to be back to work with my new assistant Ratchit. I want to put up on Vimeo an edited excerpt of the lawyer reading my chart and telling me I had to go to Dallas for the cosmic rays to deliver me unbelievable wealth.

Anyway I saw a very elderly Sikh gentleman standing by a bicycle rickshaw. He was counting out a few ten rupee notes which he had. And it immediately occurred to me that there this fellow was, making maybe $2 a day (100 rupees) – his income not dependent on his effort or diligence, but on the whims of passengers, how many he was able to get, and how much they deigned to pay him.

So much as I felt uncomfortable doing this, I went over and asked him to take me back to the hotel.

I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t like an old man cycling me back when I could just as easily have walked – and the whole thing kind of irked me – I felt embarrassed. But I wanted to give him the work.

We got to a small hill and he struggled and got the rickshaw up as far as he could, then he got off and started pushing it. That was too much for me, so I got off and helped him push the rickshaw up the hill. He was astonished that I should do this. And when we for to the top of the hill he insisted I get back on.

He took me back to the hotel and I got off and asked how much. We hadn’t settled on a price before I’d taken the ride. I asked him how much because I wanted to see what price he put on his labour. But he wouldn’t tell me. He just laughed and shrugged, as if he was telling me that it was up to me.

So I gave him 200 rupees. The fare was probably worth ten rupees at the most.

He was so grateful, and blessed the two notes, thanked the Gods, then clasped his hands in prayer and stared into my eyes and thanked me. Again I was embarrassed.

I did this – took the ride – because I’d seen him counting out his meagre day’s earnings, and I felt that the best act of kindness I could do would be to pay him well for his labour. Yes I could have walked up and just thrust the money in his hands and walked away – and yes I could have given him far more – but in his terms it was a massive amount of money, and I don’t know that it would have meant as much to him, had he not worked for it.

I don’t know.

It’s just something I felt I had to do – and even though I felt awkward at first – it I seemed to me to be a very real act of paternalism and class differentiation – but at the end I felt good that I’d done it.

Maybe in a past life I was a member of the British Raj…

(Sorry – can’t post today’s pics. They’ll be up tomorrow!)