Penniless in Turin


Sudas’s magical story in Goa before taking sannyas.

Artwork by Sudas
‘Tunnel’ by Sudas

In Turin, penniless, everybody on holiday, still at a time when Italian cities were deserted in summer, waiting for life – through its best promoter: chance – to reveal to S. something that would make sense why he was here and not in Poona.

Quite a demand, to look for something, a sign, that would arrive by chance. But he was stoned enough not to notice the contradiction: a planned chance! He wandered about, with no inner centre to save him from the sense of strangeness that often strikes you in a city, especially on a Sunday, especially when, after a year, you return from another planet.

Two categories of merchandise had always attracted him magnetically: bookshops and fine arts, so he automatically headed for a stall in this desert; many books lay scattered about and one cover, whose title was pulsing, called him: Life Beyond Life.

“In what kind of state will I get there?” he thought, as aboard a ferry he sailed from Bombay through a cloud of hashish and weed, generously and unceasingly supplied by a crowd of Western freaks, like himself on their way to Goa.

He had escaped, one might say, from the ashram in Poona. He had not felt like wearing orange clothes, nor had he felt like putting around his neck that sandalwood necklace with the ridiculous picture of the Master. But still he had felt uncomfortable, dressed in white and reluctant to participate in the rituals of those orange-clad freaks. He had gone as far as having the Master put the necklace around his neck, but had immediately given it back to him, eliciting a sinister laughter and an enigmatic ‘very good, very good’ from Him.

Head over heels off he went with a group of friends, long since in orange and in holiday mood.

In Goa, S. never let go of a pair of heavy boots, resisting the irony of all of his friends being in flip-flops. He thought India was full of cobras, so he felt safe, despite the blasted heat.

They were staying in a ramshackle hut some twenty metres from the sea, the Indian Ocean. It was not so different from the Italian sea he knew, apart from the big sailboats with outriggers, black as if    tarred, and some big sea snakes twisting in nets with the catch, and the dolphins that one day, when he had gone swimming out into the sea, had terrified him with those dark fins carving the water, before he recognised them from their jumps – beautiful, harmless, perhaps friendly.

The hut, a few beams poorly covered with fronds, was often visited by children and adults from the neighbouring village, intrigued by those bizarre characters dressed in orange, except for the one wearing boots and dressed in white. In the evening it often happened that someone would come out of the dark and bring fresh fish from the catch of the day.

One day S., who was exploring the hinterland, arrived at a small cluster of houses and asked where he could do his business. Following directions, he found himself in a verdant clearing with freshly-cut grass. More or less in the centre stood a bizarre wooden building on stilts, similar to some beach huts of yesteryear, or to the metaphysical De Chirico.

Up a little ladder, and S. stood in front of a squat toilet about five feet off the ground. “Please, take a seat…” (he had heard as a child) was said in a castle to a diner, who was then swallowed by a trapdoor under the chair. Keeping a bit of anxiety at bay, S. managed to enjoy the scatological liturgy until he reached bliss. Also at that time, a strong feeling of liberation was pervading him, when… a strange sound coming from below prompted him to lean towards the hole in the toilet and… fuck! Right under his family jewels, a black and pink grunt was pointing at him. A huge pig, for fuck’s sake!

He did not pause to wonder why the Greeks had different definitions of time, and in an imperceptible fraction of linear time he reached the thicket without looking back. The pig did not follow him.

That evening, at dinner, crab soup. It was already dark, the sea was noisy and the stars shone brightly. The soup was delicious and everyone was silent. When suddenly a curious figure emerged from the darkness of the beach.

He looks like an American hippie, there are so many of them, handsome and with the stereotypical long blond beard and hair, but he is not ragged, on the contrary, he wears a clean white tunic, and it seems ironed! Is he mute?

By gestures he lets us know that he is hungry and we invite him to join us. Without a sound he sits down and eats. When we go to sleep, he sits in front of the fire. We stuff ourselves into our sleeping bags, inside the hut.

The patchy fronds on the roof allow a glimpse of the sky with an embarrassing quantity of stars. To my left is an Englishwoman. I had had a brief affair with her in the past, but she frightened me because of her wrestler’s physique and a hint of a beard that tends to green with oxygen. On the right is Pratiti, who had convinced me in Turin to leave for India, and on her right Subodh, an old friend from Milan. On the opposite side of the hut, three or four other friends already stuffed in their sleeping bags.

I suppose I have fallen asleep, because at a certain moment I wake up; it is late at night and everyone is asleep, but the hippie is still there, sitting in front of the fire. I sit up with a great urge to stretch.

I stretch out one arm and, I don’t know how else to say it… it stretches through the whole hut! I try the other arm and the same thing happens: it stretches out the opposite wall. To say that I am astonished is an understatement. I look at my sleeping friends and see them transformed: they are old, decrepit. I think they will look like this when they die. I am afraid. I think I’ve been drugged and, seeing the hippie out there by the fire, I feel a fierce rage.

I grab a knife I keep under my pillow and feel the urge to attack him. I manage to control myself and wake up Pratiti. “I need help, I’m scared shitless.” She is no longer herself; she has turned into a wooden madonna, big, maternal, and Subodh, peeping out behind her, is tiny, a baby.

I lie back onto my back and look at the ceiling of fronds above my nose. But it is no longer just the roof, it is a screen where the dark outlines of the beams and the leaves [probably they are palm leaves] take on the most diverse shapes, like in a shadow theatre.

African warriors with huge shields, unknown landscapes, distant epochs: a building somewhere in France a few centuries ago, where people are tortured in the basement; a stylite who shouts at me from the top of a column, “You have to accept that life is repetitive!”; a desert with strange characters from another time.

The strange thing is that, while this crazy film is running, a small green emerald figure is always present. Even when I am in a pigsty and a voice whispers, “Even a pig can become enlightened.”

As if the invasion of images were not enough, I feel a strong urge to speak, even in unknown, invented languages, a kind of glossolalia.

All this, I remember well, happened with the distinct feeling that there was a ‘supervision’ by someone, I don’t know who, but it was a reassuring presence.

Suddenly I am thrown at great speed into a tunnel. I fly towards a light that becomes more and more vivid, and I experience an unknown, wonderful feeling of peace. A voice asks me if I am ready to leave everything for the truth. I think that I do not want to leave my daughters, but also that if it is the truth, it cannot hurt anyone, I need not fear it. As I formulate this thought, the flight slows down, slows down, and I stop. I feel a strong physical pain and have the sensation of falling back into my body. I find the hut, Pratiti, Subodh. The others continue to sleep and the hippie has disappeared.

Over the next few days I am quite out of tune. I don’t speak to anyone about what happened and no one talks about it. When I return to Poona I book a darshan (a meeting with the Master) and accept a necklace, orange and so on. He gives me a Hindi name: Prabhu Sudas, which means good servant of God. I chuckle a little. Servant, me?

Translated from Italian by Punya with edits by Madhuri


Sudas (Sandro Beltramo) is a painter, sculptor and writer, presently living in Genoa, Italy.

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