Journal Excerpt- Calm in the Naranag Valley (November 2015)

The beauty of Kashmir in November is subtle; hidden in the buds of cherry trees are hints of summer reds, and the high clouds keep the sharpness of the mountains for those with time to read them.  On the river bank, each sixth or seventh stone bears a tinge of blue, with it thoughts of the sea.  This place calls memories; the greys of bare branches take me to Haines, the vast landscapes to Northwest BC.  Still, when the sun breaks through, the land is illuminated with character of its own.

I gave Nassar the money in my shoe, all 40 of the dollars I was keeping for emergency.  In the moment I felt some hesitation- the trek has already blown my budget- but the fact is the man has made my trip.  He's given me exactly what I needed after [the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute], after Varanasi.  Already I'm glad I gave him the money.  He deserved it.

This time in Kashmir has shown me what lies past the limits of my personal greed, shown me servitude and bought deference.  I want to earn respect and comfort, I want favours done in kindness. Khaliq's doting makes me embarrassed.

Following Khaderbhai's tendency towards complexity theory: if balance is an ordering principle, then the absence of an objective good in the past might imply the presence of one in the future.  Given the right timeslice, does that principled and prescriptive kind of good exist?  And does it mark an endpoint in some interpreted progression?  The answer to the last question depends on the 'fulcrum of the universe,' if we insist on balance (doesn't every action have an equal and opposite reaction?).  Balance implies a balance point.  Where and what is it in our world?  Or, is there cold after good?

Maybe balance is not an axiom, but a consequence of the universe.  Why only one fulcrum, when all these points of view?  Maybe the universe is laying on a bed of nails.

"But now we're back at Nietzsche," said James.

"No, now we're at reality," replied the Shapeshifter.

"What does that say of morality?"

Today Ghani and I carried wood back from our trek, a beam that had been left near the gypsy houses.  We walked with it for two kilometres or so.

"Tell me," said the Shapeshifter, seeing James felt some connection to the question, "when you and five others hold a beam, what happens if only you lets go?"

"The beam stays held."

"And the weight the others carry?"

"Increases."

I played with the ideas of balance a little longer, weaving them through the personalities of my Vivid.  It was the first time in years I'd let philosophy take hold of my pen.  The calm in the Naranag Valley came without the grandiose or pressure I'm subject to in North America, and I met with a side of myself I don't often see.  The next night I stayed in Nassar's house, and Khaliq, Ghani, Nassar and I played cards.  We said goodbye the next morning and I returned to Srinigar.

Notes: I spent five days trekking in the Naranag Valley with a guide and cook, Nassar and Khaliq.  Ghani, a friend of Nassar's, joined us for several days.  Immediately before I'd been in Agra, Varanasi, Delhi, and in Sikkhim and Darjeeling as a student at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.  HMI has military oversight, and courses are taught in a military fashion.  I was ready for a break.  James Harris and the Shapeshifter are characters in my novel, Vivid.  In the story, the two of them meet for a conversation while James is in a dreamlike state, and the Shapeshifter helps with troubling ideas.  I've called the book Where the Wild Things Are for 22 year-olds.  Khaderbhai is a character in Gregory David Roberts' Shantaram.