I had a conversation online with a writer friend about different types of stories and what it feels like to follow their trail. It got me thinking. As with most things in life, it’s never only one way.

This is how it is for me.

Some stories come gradually, are serene by nature and are like going for a walk in a park. You stroll amongst the green foliage, pick up hints of fragrances from various flowers – roses, jasmine, bitter orange blossoms, depending on the season. You might stop off to smell one of these flowers, to admire its translucent colour. That’s when you notice a perfect little bee sucking nectar and pollen, its fine wings fluttering so fast they look almost static. You’re so engrossed by this tiniest of beings, you  become unaware of your surroundings, of how big the plane tree behind the rose bush really is, how many magpies are flying above your head or whether the sun is high in the sky. You breathe in the fragrance of the rose and marvel at the bee circling it. You go in deep, observe the smallest happenings. Each detail has a message and a story to tell, and you go silent. You pay attention.

Then there are other stories that, from their creation, are full of grand sceneries, immense oceans and breath-taking mountain peaks hidden from view behind white luminous clouds. You take in the larger picture, work big, explore the story with your arms outstretched. Nothing is seen through a microscope, only through a panoramic lens. Your legs begin to ache after hours of walking about these landscapes and you begin to wonder if you’ll ever reach the end. But you persist and are rewarded when, at last, you manage to see the whole world and everything beyond it right in front of you. Some breathing space is needed between such stories. They demand a great deal.

At times I follow one route or the other. But, there are those rare and wonderful occasions, when these two very different ways of experiencing writing and the world come together. These I call my Taj Mahal stories. Here’s why.

Let’s go back to the first description. For me, a Taj Mahal story will often begin that way. I’m walking (in my mind’s eye) in a lush park, surrounded by so many trees I cannot possibly name them all – I am in the park, I cannot embrace it as a whole. I pause by a Tea rose bush, see that small bee buzzing round the budding flowers. It settles on a pale-yellow petal, its edges tinged with lilac-pink. How long has it been there? I cannot say, but I remain watching its every move for a while longer.

After some time, I lift my eyes and, to my amazement, notice that this rose is one of a million other colourful roses in a huge field full of rose bushes. Where has the park gone? I have no idea, but I’m so overwhelmed by this change in scenery which, although surprising creates a lovely image, that I raise my eyes a little higher. I see mountains behind the field and think, Hold on a minute....isn't that Mt Everest? I don’t ask why it’s there. I accept it as it is and follow it wherever it wants to take me. How am I sure it’s Everest and not some other mountain? Easy. It’s in my head. What else would it be?

Without warning, I find myself flying over the mountain. I’m swept over snow-covered peaks, feel the cold inside my nostrils, sense it travel down my body. Goosebumps appear on my skin. I study everything around me and am struck by the appearance of a cave – well hidden – but I notice it nonetheless. I stop flying to take a closer look. There is a shrine made out of rocks and clay by the entrance – a square pagoda-shaped base, painted white, leading to a bulbous dome, and above it, a long spire. My feet crunch on snow as I walk past the shrine, closer to the cave, and enter.

Once inside, I feel the difference in light and temperature with the chilly, bright expanse of the Himalayas. It takes a moment for my eyes and body to adjust to the darkness and the protective warmth of the cave. Then I wonder…is this a cave or a cabin? I am not sure. I distinguish all sorts of details I could never have even guessed were in there as I flew about the mountain, small objects like a neat row of butter lamps, their rich smell filling that small space, paintings on the walls of the cave in russet reds, ochre, smudges in black, and coloured prayer flags hanging on the ceiling. Only now do I really notice them. I walk in a little further, and realise that this is only a small room leading to something much grander – a whole world is encompassed within this cavern.

I spot some steps carved out into the stone, descend until an entire underground village, hidden within Mt Everest, appears in front of me. Inconceivable to think this was ever here! Pure sunlight shines down on the low, flat-roofed houses scattered about and on the lush, green utopia. I walk on further, until I reach a field and, with wonder, see the rose bush that I’d seen in the beginning, the bee buzzing around the flower as if nothing special has happened at all! That’s when it dawns on me – this must be the Shangri-La of stories...one that starts off small, grows huge, then takes me inwards again, only to open up to  a more glorious unknown jewel!

And, that, in my mind, is a Taj Mahal story!

In its essence, it's a large structure, even a little overwhelming at times, but it has a structure nonetheless, and logic. But there is also magic. It knows where it’s heading. Still, all the lapis lazuli, the jasper, jade, carnelian, turquoise and other semi-precious stones that, sadly, no longer grace the walls of the Taj Mahal, in my mind’s eye, continue to illuminate and decorate the building’s white marble walls. They speak to me in hushed tones. I gaze within their hidden light and see their fire.

I am grateful when these stories come to me. 

Katholikon.1

Photo: Katholikon, Gouverneto, Crete (Annia Lekka, 2008)

 

 

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