Flowers and pencils


A delicate memory from Pune, by Sudas.

Arancio rossastro by Sudas
‘Arancio rossastro (Reddish Orange)’ by Sudas

After accepting initiation from the Master, i.e. after ‘taking sannyas’, S. bought orange robes and flip-flops. A few days later he even ventured into the tall grass along the riverbank, a couple of blocks from the ashram. And yes, in those parts he had often found long whitish filmy strips abandoned by some snake at the time of moulting.

He grew to love the place, and it did not bother him that there were sparse remains of an ancient cemetery. In addition to the scattered chunks of limestone, that must have made up the tombs, incongruously white in the grass were femurs, tibiae, and other bones he could not name. Perhaps it had been a Christian cemetery, although no symbols could be seen to identify it.

A little further on, a ghat, where ablutions are performed and corpses cremated. Along the river, a few women washed saris, and laid them out to dry, releasing beautiful colours. The saris are about six metres long: one can imagine the effect of dozens of these pieces of fabric stretched out on the rocks…

Indian women. S. once followed with his eyes one of them as she picked up the dry poo that cattle leave on the road. In an impeccably-wrapped sari, which was draped over her left shoulder, the woman gracefully bent over and with an elegant gesture picked up the doughnut of dung, placing it with the palm of her left hand onto a pile, which she then carried away with an elegant feminine gait.

During his years in India, S. had often changed accommodation, but he remembered with particular joy a dwelling in the grounds of the villa of a wealthy bourgeois couple where he had lived for about a year.

The small house consisted of two rooms: in one S. lived, and in the other lived an Indian couple in the service of the owners. The husband was a gardener and the wife was at home looking after a baby, just a few months old, whom she massaged for hours with perfumed oils. The pleasure painted on the baby’s little face and the love that animated his mother’s gestures were an unmissable scene, whose poignant sacredness abundantly compensated for the poverty of the lodging. But S. remembered something else that he associated with tenderness, in that year he spent in the servants’ quarters, a location that was moreover quite consistent with the name given to him by the Master: Prabhu Sudas, servant of God.

Often, when he got up in the morning and went out to stretch his legs, S. would find flowers, a little plant, a pencil, small gifts laid on a stone in front of his door. One day, as he got up earlier than usual, he spotted a figure hurrying away through the bushes and disappearing into the large manor house. It was the beautiful Lady. Her husband was a career military man, and she was often lonely and sad.

The discreet ritual of the gift was the only conspicuous sign of a liking for her tenant and, although S. did not spare himself of fantasies, nothing else happened. It was a relationship that elsewhere would have been called ‘nineteenth-century’, made up of smiles, flowers and pencils.

When S. left for Italy, both knew they would never see each other again, but the relationship had grown into a feeling of affection, respect and complicity, and it left S. a little sore. A little.

In reality, S. was not very well versed in feelings, which would burst into his life much later. He knew about emotions, about feelings, but – how to say? – he was always in a hurry; he didn’t hang on to things, let alone relationships. From time to time it seemed to him that something unusual was deeply invading him, but he was a master at getting rid of it as soon as possible.

However, this did not prevent him from watching with astonishment, and perhaps envy, certain people who appeared to him to be endowed with something more than his own sensitivity, and spoke to him of feelings as if they were particularly enduring states of being, full of a strength and fragility that they did not reject – on the contrary, that they invited to manifest, and cultivated with love.

Here! S. felt, suspected, that he was not so very capable of loving. In a broad sense.

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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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