Encountered In: Upper Bhagsu, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh
In the midst of putting together a series of pictures of funny-looking strangers holding up separate parts of a scrambled congratulatory/insulting message for our good pal Chris’ graduation, we spotted headed in our direction a disheveled elderly white man. Shirtless, laden with groceries, and generally exuding an air of crazy, he was the perfect photo candidate. Devon made the approach.
“Excuse me sir, would you be able to take a phot-”
“Of course, of course,” he grunted, not looking at us, “just carry this child for me [not specifying any child], you can take all the pictures you want… it’s only 20 meters.”
Without thinking, Steve swooped up the first non-Indian urchin in sight and we followed this man the 20 meters, which turned out to be half a mile into a bizarre, nondescript commune region resonant with Hare Krishna chants deep within the tattered hills of Bhagsu.
Marcello sat us down at a plastic table and left to cook tomato sauce and noodle soup in a crusty guesthouse kitchen for everyone assembled there. This assemblage was composed of “Don Juan” (Marcello’s nickname, not ours), an apparently very amorous Argentinian who had accompanied Marcello around India, and who was endowed with the most luscious coat of body hair we’d ever seen.
“Space Mom” (our nickname – note the cleverness), the mother of Steve’s luggage (named Mohendra for God’s sake), a wide-eyed perma-smiley New Age practitioner originally from Kentucky/Venice Beach but currently inhabiting an untold number of bizarre dimensions.
Adam, a 23 year old Israeli who saved up for his India trip through the door-to-door hawking of counterfeit paintings to unwitting Canadians, a craft that led to him nearly being deported and having to join his boss in setting alight all the evidence of their doings in the middle of the night, then fleeing to a safehouse. He didn’t really need to tell us all of that, but he did. So we liked him.
And a bloodthirsty cat that chased and killed a bird out of the air, despite Space Mom and the menagerie of children that desperately tried to intervene and imbue Nature with the peaceful, nonviolent qualities She’s supposed to exude.
But back to Marcello. After serving us lunch, he sat down, now only half-shirtless, and proceeded to hammer out several slightly different songs about Shiva on guitar (Listen). He forced us all to sing songs from our respective countries (he didn’t care for our rendition of ‘Pick a Bale of Cotton‘), then tried to teach Devon “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” for twenty minutes, even though Devon had obviously picked up the chord progression about 45 seconds in. Listen to the lesson
Then he yelled at the kids who were running around.
But then he told us his “story”, one covering his life’s highest and lowest points and detailing what brought him to India. The half hour he spoke was riddled with lengthy subplots, such as a five minute exchange between his frantic female neighbor and a local doctor who found time, while discussing Marcello’s sleeping pill overdose, to set up a romantic dinner date.
But here’s all you need to know about Marcello:
- In his native Croatia a few years back, he suddenly became very depressed and gave the Universe three days to explain to him through any means that he shouldn’t kill himself. It didn’t, so he climbed up to his rooftop and prepared to jump off. Unfortunately there was “a big party going on up there”, evidently blocking his way to the roof, so he didn’t. He tried again every night for the next week and, to his chagrin, this same party was still going on. (This was Marcello’s life’s lowest point.)
- This not being interpreted as a sign, he swallowed three hundred sleeping pills, but didn’t die. His neighbor ran to the doctor and ended up going out that Saturday night with him, but didn’t find any practical medical advice for Marcello.
- In a dream, he encountered Sai Baba, who told him he was the one who’d put on those rooftop parties, and that he was now living in Marcello’s stomach (alongside the sleeping pills), and to go to India.
- He then lived for three months in a room with a dog whom he talked extensively to and probably mistreated. At one point there was also a king cobra living in the room. Or maybe the dog was actually a king cobra, their conversations being philosophical enough for such transmogrification to occur, or Marcello’s story being confusing enough for us not to have understood this point. (This was Marcello’s life’s highest point.)
- In the crowded streets of Varanasi, he was bumped by a bicycle-rickshaw driver, who he then chased up the street and punched in the face.
- He’s probably bipolar.
The last time we encountered Marcello, he was about to enjoy dinner with Don Juan at a traveler cafe, he was twitching back and forth in his seat, and he was unaware that he had a giant bee crawling on his neck.