Shifting Identities/Encounter Lasser Gold 4921 Harbord Drive

Perhaps it’s the air, a crisp chill unfamiliar to my skin and bones. Out there in the horizon, a long ring of fog had just rolled down from the heavens on to this blessed land and it stood still, watching, one amongst the Californians. Strange, the way it came down to meet the earth and watched over all. “Anu will visit me as a friend and will stay in our home at 4921 Harbord drive, Oakland, said Robin Lasser’s letter to the Indian Consulate. I am grateful for the offer and the experience it imparted.

I look at the unassuming house on a raised plot of land. Even that seemed magical, though there’s no reason why. Perhaps it’s the fog, or the cemetery amidst the redwoods, or perhaps the vastness of the sky spilling over this land, silently weaving a spell. Large stone steps that led up to the front door felt unusually familiar. Back in India, I recollect climbing up unpolished, rain washed steps that led up to temple bells that waited patiently for your arrival. The sound of the bells echoed the arrival of tired seekers. It must have all begun millions of years ago with sound waves, with thought waves, with words…the combination setting forth endless ripples. And at the summit, dazzled by the fragrance of incense sticks, the earthy colours of spices and wild flowers, and the indelible chants that wafted around an unmoving stone god, one just forgot what one came there for. Perhaps that was the intention too.

Here, at 4921 Harbord Drive, old night lamps eaten by overgrown creepers showed me the way up. Perfectly trimmed gardens always scared me with their perfection. I am greeted by a discarded metal front of a truck hoisted to life on the wall next to the stone steps. They had picked it up from the roadside during one of their travels. He applied the brakes at the ripple of a thought that cruised through his mind. The children’s eyes glowed in anticipation of possessing that which was not theirs. They grabbed it, brought it home and gave it a place to be.

Further up at the majestic tree that held in its trunk an elephant fern, I was transformed into a mesmerized mother. The mother could be black, brown or white, as long as she was straddling her baby, and her eyes lost in the child’s tenderness and infinite perfection. An old pair of boots which must have had a story to tell slept next to the broken cherub in an unused nook in the garden. An old canoe! Hey! Who are you, why are you here, rose curious questions. Oh! I’m just a sculpture! True, but… I wouldn’t know who’s even asking these questions, why, and from where they are rising!?

A shovel dressed in tar, and I feel glad, just glad it too had its time. A black stone with a spiral etched in it and a figurine from a magical ritual or so, both seated in a flower pot. No one knew since when. Perhaps even before I was born and my great grand uncle sat in his prayer room and anointed a black stone called the Salagram in a small town in India. All ancient cultures knew that stones were not just stones, especially the children knew. Now, up the stone steps and a dragon, well of course, he’s here too. And there, and everywhere. The endless loop of Auroboros, from light to darkness. At the front door to the right is the Mezuzah. Sounds enigmatic, looks simple. I don’t know it yet, and yet I know it. But it knows me, for sure. A buoy hanging like a temple bell to the side. Wizard walking sticks carved with names of those who went seeking for the dragon’s treasure. And I’m delighted it was all not just a myth. A child’s play. It is real! The dragon and its treasures and the seeking!

Inside, the Lasser Gold home was alive. It exuded warmth, the kind that arises when a house is used and seen as a temporary living space, either knowingly or unknowingly. Countless bells from different cultures in all sizes and shapes line the window ledges and I hear the primordial vibrations that set forth life in the very beginning. And the deep rooted presence of an urge for the unknown. The five dollar cd racks studded with memories and I’m at the intersection where life throws up its hands and bestows you with gifts! A large warm dining table with words carved on it, and I’m 18, and transported to a playground surrounded by friends and there’s this beginning of a game. The anticipation and the joy of playing. Finger prints and masks and mugs on the wall evoked childhood, love and care. A coir tapestry on the wall and a Menorah, and I’m suddenly hungry. Carved walking sticks and I’m a seeker again.

An endless spice rack- a presence only a chef would need, heavy iron skillets, steely knives and pots and pans and cutting boards, vinegar and wine and olive oil; coconut milk, dal, tamarind and jasmine rice, granola, peaches, pears and marshmallows, making their presence felt, and I’m stretching my hands in a yogic posture, to the left, to the right, a little bit more…feel the stretch? Feel the passion and love that it could brew? And the room without a handle where dwelt the wind that stirred the blinds alive at night. That stirred the remnants of a long lost fear after a very long time. There in that room I’m a dream. So consumed by the ones that arise from the depths, you are no more yourself. You are the room. Is it talking to you, is it alive? Are you dreaming? No, I’m scared to explore this unknown.

Ziva the golden retriever, with her stuffed toys, her rubber balls and her printed scarves, the soul of this home, pulling me down the steps by my sock and I’m a child, in the hills of Munnar, running down the tea bushes, the wind in my face, the valley rushing up to greet me. Out of control. There’s a man in the kitchen who sits on the high stool to the left near the window that watches the Magnolia. I could easily be him, or I wish I were. He wields the knife, the broom and himself, with perfect ease. And the woman to his right, she’s a walking talking, living, painting. And watching her I feel vindicated, complete. There’s a teenager in here flowing like sparkling wine, full of heart and joyously biting into a juicy peach, and I’m an open wound, I miss my son and I then know that I forever will.

The inhabitants of this house both animate and inanimate are not collectibles. They’re precious, they’re fast dwindling treasures in a world that multitasks themselves to boredom. They need to be sniffed every once in a while to awaken us from our slumber. To remember that moments are precious, that we are them and only them, if anything at all.