All these three have descended on the Indian soil armed with
their separate missions. But it is the exotica of the East that
welds them together and transforms them into believers of the
properties of the neem tree. Neem creates for the West a new
knowledge. The rituals associated with the neem, their pathos,
irrationality, faith, ancient authority, and authenticity are
almost everywhere (excluding places like Mumbai, Bangalore) and
are found even at the ghats of Varanasi.
The western trio
has a chequered past — their lesbian and gay experiences, the
condemnation of their homosexual urges, their dramatic failures
in life after scintillating conquests. And when such a mind
encounters the ghats of Varanasi, communal blood oozing
on the roads of Ayodhya, Gandhi’s quaint self-proclaimed
poverty, beggar-boys making "the fingers-to-mouth"
gestures, Ganesh idols inexplicably drinking offerings of milk,
it bursts into "self-pitying misery made murkier still by
guilt", and it rebels. It rebels to create a new genre of
Orientalism, to block the vandalism of the West, to make itself
a sacrificial feast for the gods. Oriental appropriation of the
other is not its dream. Or if it is still a dream, it has become
more devious and subtle than the normal instruments of cultural
As the lively
impulses of the trio join, direct and indirect voices mingle
with the nightmares, rituals, and hallucinations and lead to a
great bonfire of stacked neem leaves. Andy and Pandora — the
"neem warriors" — perish in what they grandly
conceive to be an instance of the great Indian tradition of sati.
The smoke is meant to send a message of freedom to the neem
growers: "The people get the seeds or no one gets the
seeds". The mystified Jade is already dead, trampled by a
delirious crowd of Ganesh devotees.
In the bonfire and
in the trampling, the knowledge of the Orient suffers —
shifting from one surface to another, from one appropriation to
its counter-appropriation, from one Orientalism to another. It
is all a play of surfaces and surface-dreams and their
surrealistic dissolutions. To the fiery message from death the
neem tree remains impervious. "Untouched, the tree stands,
its roots burrowing deeper, its spreading branches lifting
higher against the smoke-burdened sky."