I’m teaching myself to be more violent. Both for my success and a greater sense of world peace.
My models for this path are Mahandas Karamchand Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India, and Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the Catholic missionary more commonly known as Mother Teresa.
Prior to my re-education, I devoted my life to a sort of physical pacifism that coupled itself with great psychological agony — the latter which expressed itself through slowly-produced and narrowly-consumed works of art.
I might have owed my past behavior to an ideological attachment to anarchist collectivism, which I discovered through exposure to punk rock subculture, and a childhood marked by extreme sexual abuse. In the aftermath of seven surgeries on both my anus and rectum, I developed a moral duty to transfer my suffering through metaphor, or in no way at all.
It was during my travels to the East that I decided to change course.
I met a bearded, thirty-five-year-old male in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles who convinced me that his happiness was due, in whole, to a “calculated spirituality.” He had just returned from a tour of Asia and brought back with him only the most important tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism. He claimed that this collage of faith had saved his life and that it might also save mine. When I admitted that I couldn’t afford to venture outside of the country, he gave me the number of a wealthy man who often exchanged airfare for reciprocal oral sex.
Prostitution had been my first summer job during the months between my seventh and eighth grade school years, and I felt a sudden burst of nostalgia at returning to the labor. Thus, I quickly called the number and found a cock in my mouth before the night was through.
I was on my way to India the next morning and in the streets of Calcutta — robbed of my possessions — within the following week.
Depression came in response to my material loss. I spent several days sleeping, restless, in the gutter beside a clan of beggars who took turns stabbing me with a sharpened piece of bone.
An English-speaking man witnessed one of my attacks and took pity on me. He claimed that I was like the venerable Bapu, who took India back from the British without force. I said that I had never heard of this Bapu. He told me it was only a nickname. He’d referred to the Mahatma Gandhi, and meant that my resemblance to the great father had showed in my ability to take a beating.
The English-speaking man would not provide me direct assistance, such as food or coin, but he did escort me to an ashram that had been founded by the Bapu and was run by some of his surviving family.
I was fed and housed at the ashram, and taught to practice an uncomfortable form of meditation. When I showed little progress in understanding the dominant language or in deciphering the laws of the Hindu faith, I was nearly banished back to the streets.
It was Gandhi’s niece, Manu, who allowed me to stay longer. She revealed to me the first prospects of a better life.
“My uncle, Mahandas, was a great man,” said Manu, “because his days were spent teaching all that can be learned here, and because his brief and lavish nights were spent practicing unimaginable cruelty.”
I’d read some history of India’s independence and seen the 1981 film, Gandhi, starring Sir Ben Kingsley. So I was almost certain that Manu spoke in jest, but I discovered the truth when she took me into a small theatre, where she undressed herself and projected a black-and-white 16mm film reel.
“It is because I see a piece of him in you that I share Mahandas’ greater life,” said Manu. “Though, if I am blind, and you attempt to run, I shall have your flesh for dinner.”
Manu was eighty-six-years-old when she stood across from me in that projector’s dim light. Still, I was frightened that I would not be able to reach the door before she’d have her teeth in my neck. Her skin was wrinkled and leathered, like any old woman’s, but lashed in a thousand scars and stretched over muscle that resembled a tiger’s.
“Watch,” she said, and then kept the room silent as I was shown a bit of her past.
The woman in the film looked very young — like a teenager — and she laid, disrobed, beside an elderly Mahandas Gandhi. He caressed the young woman, who I took to be Manu. When Gandhi’s penis grew hard, he distanced himself and began to finger the woman’s anus. He took little time to lubricate his digits with saliva. Then he crammed them up inside his niece until she appeared as a puppet on his wrist.
Upon removal, Gandhi’s fist was full of shit. He had the first lick of it himself, and then he offered his hand to Manu, so that she might eat what he’d pulled from her. Her face went sour, but he held her by the hair with his clean hand and forced her mouth upon the filth.
The feeding went on for some time until Gandhi’s penis deflated and he exited to the left of frame. When he returned, he held a small blade, which he used to open Manu near her gut. His erection returned immediately and he spewed semen into her wound without a single tug of his cock.
Gandhi’s ejaculation was impressive and beyond anything I’d seen prior. When the film ended, Manu explained that her uncle achieved his sexual potency, like all of his power, through the practice of traditional celibacy and ritual torture.
“So the great Bapu was a monster?”
“Those who live at the ashram dedicate their lives to peace and serenity,” said Manu, “and yet they bicker and quarrel and go to sleep with lustful thoughts. But they wake the next morning and read Mahandas’ teachings and are filled — for an hour — with a sense of calm and ease.”
“Only for an hour?”
“One hour multiplied across many lives and many days. In whole, Mahandas has brought about years of world peace.”
Manu explained that her uncle sacrificed twenty-three hours a day to the cause of spiritual enlightenment, and that he maintained such hardship for the greater part of his life. In his mid-thirties, Gandhi found that he could only continue on with such extreme dedication if he were to find a balance. So he spent one hour on the night of his thirty-fifth birthday stalking a young mother — whom he murdered — and mutilating her infant girl. When the child had been cleft of hands and feet, Gandhi shuddered in delight and found his loins bursting after years of inhibition.
To protect her revered uncle from incarceration, Manu allowed herself to be the ongoing subject of his abuse. Though, she too had desires of the flesh and made a deal with Gandhi to inherit his wealth. The ashram survived on tithes and donations, and Manu was put in charge of keeping the books. She doctored them for several decades until Gandhi’s death, by which time she’d amassed a small fortune.
In the years between, Manu had developed a palate for her own flesh, blood, and feces. When Gandhi passed, she grew tired of self-mutilation and turned to cannibalism to satiate her tastes. As a result, she remained at the ashram so that she might replenish her fortune, which had been largely spent on black market, human meat.
“I am not a holy woman,” said Manu, at last. “But I see the potential in you. That is why I’ve shared such things and that is why you must find out for yourself what is true.”
There were several other administrators at the ashram who knew of Bapu’s violence. Two of them agreed that I held some potential, and so they recommended I visit a neighboring facility where I might learn more on the subject of enlightenment.
I walked towards a Catholic mission that had been built in one of Calcutta’s darkest ghettos. Amid the shadows, and not a block from my destination, I was held at knife point and asked to hand over some wares that Manu had gifted me.
My pacifist ideology remained strong for several seconds. But I thought on the lessons of Gandhi and decided to compromise in the name of self-defense. I made a quick, jabbing motion with my right hand, and struck the thief in the face. He wailed. To stop the noise, I stole his knife and began to cut out his tongue. I made my last incision in the center of his throat, where I stuffed his severed part and buried his blade. Then I wiped my hands on his shirt and continued on.
By the time I reached the mission’s door, I felt utterly at peace. What a revelation! In fact, the sister who first greeted me did so in awe. “Your eyes are like those of the Saint Teresa,” she said, and then asked what miracles I might spare.
My body endured the touch of a higher power, but I had yet to understand the workings of the spiritual realm. So I remained mute and offered only a smile.
“Just as well,” said the sister. “The grace of God is best suited to a place beyond these walls.”
The sister let me in on a secret. “You see these beggars here.” She motioned towards a room of mournful diners. “Watch their forks and spoons. They pick them up but never put them to their mouths. Because the food is plastic and meant only to aid in our Western public relations campaign.”
My silence broke. “They’re not starving then?”
“No, they’re starving,” she said. “They sit and pretend to eat, and keep their emaciated form because we ask them. And because we have their families in the basement and threaten their deaths on an hourly basis.”
I felt a sudden and profound sympathy for the beggars, and approached one of them to ask his name. He stared at me blankly and slurred several words in what I took to be the local dialect.
“It’s useless,” said the sister. “The Saint Teresa founded this mission with full knowledge of the region’s ethnic disqualification.”
“I don’t understand.”
“When word of Mother Teresa first spread across Europe, an epidemic soon followed. Millions dedicated their lives to Catholicism. The contagion spread to The United States and some other parts of the world. But here in India, where the Saint Teresa built many of her missions, not a soul was led to Christ.”
“Of course,” I said. “The way you treat the indigenous people…”
“Our aim is not to help the locals. It’s to stage a theatrical production for traveling journalists.’”
“But why the charade?”
“World peace!” the sister shouted in anger. “At least… peace in the Western continents. I had high hopes when I saw you, but no longer. Not with questions like these.”
The sister vanished into the depths of the mission and I remained in the counterfeit dining room — a pang of sympathy stuck to my heart.
Some of the beggars allowed me to touch them. I took great care in holding each of their hands. When the eldest began to cry, I believed it a result of the kindness I’d showed him. Though, after several hours, I felt a curious change in spirit. The smell of the beggars put me off and, soon enough, I was repulsed by them.
I left the sorry lot to their plastic food and went in search of the sister. Down the east hall, found her, sitting with her colleagues and gorging on a plate of seasoned roast.
“You’re still here?” she said to me. “And how sick and ordinary you appear.”
“I always thought of myself as ordinary. But sick?” I held the back of my hand to my forehead and felt no fever. “I suppose I feel different now than when I arrived.”
“Tell me… What is the reason for your visit?” The sister glared at me. Her colleagues looked up with equal suspicion.
I recounted my childhood and travels from the West, shared my experience at the ashram, and then, with some reservation, relayed the truth of my first murder.
The sister looked at me in awe. “You came here in a haze of spiritual bliss. That is why I compared you to the Saint Teresa. She looked the same, nearly always, until late in the night when she fell into a state of utter hatred for mankind.”
The sister told me that, much like the great Bapu, Mother Teresa spent the early years of her life engulfed in a fire of spiritual servitude. On the night of her thirty-fifth birthday, the Saint Teresa grew weary and neared death. She was saved only as the skies opened up and the voice of God descended to her ear.
“That is why she knew the Indians could be used to quell her violence, and the Haitians too, and other nations of Godless blacks,” said the sister. “The Lord spoke to the Saint Teresa and told her of his plan. She spent the remainder of her years building missions to house the victims of her torture. In doing so, she found peace enough to focus on her teachings.” The sister pressed her hands together in mimicry of prayer. “Twenty-three hours a day in spiritual harmony. Only one devoted to rage and slaughter.”
“But who benefits from her teachings?”
“Of course, those who come traveling… in search of answers. Like yourself. And anyone who reads her books.”
“What answers have I come by?” I asked. “Can’t anyone practice this balance of violence and peace?”
“Oh, we try,” said the sister, and her colleagues nodded. “We torture some hours and also we pray. Some hours we sleep and others we spend milling about and thinking useless thoughts.”
“I do some of that too,” I said. “Although, I’ve never prayed and haven’t committed an act of violence until today.”
The sister smiled and wagged a finger in my face. “Your first aggression was quite severe, was it not? And also your ascension to grace? We poke and we prod, but many of us here have yet to take a life, or to bring a soul to Christ.”
“But… I’m not a religious man. What do I know of saving souls?”
“How old are you?” asked the sister.
“Six years ahead of the Saint Teresa. I wouldn’t worry much. If the path is meant for you, you’ll find it. Stay here a while and practice. You’ll be fed and housed until you feel it’s time to go.”
I remained at the mission until I was able to sort out my stolen passport with the US embassy in India. During my stay, I practiced acts of cruelty — mostly at the expense of the mission’s inhabitants — and was granted a subsequent time of peace and enlightenment. Although hours remained each day in which I slept and sometimes brooded and often thought of nothing at all.
When it was time for me to return home, I did notice an increase in the length of my spiritual fugues. I’d spent many hours sitting with the beggars in the counterfeit diner. They gathered around me and listened as I spoke in free-form verse. I knew the language barrier prevented them from understanding my words, but how at ease they appeared from the sound of my voice. At the end, when it was over, I’d gone a day without sleep.
In my exhaustion, I kissed every sister at the mission, and every beggar too, and left for the airport. Only once did I ask the taxi driver to pull over so that I could flay a crippled boy’s penis and feed it to some dogs in the street.
I had no background in Hinduism or Catholicism, or any other faith. My work had been in art — both poetry and mixed media on canvas.
Before my travels, I’d used the mediums to alleviate some of my personal history and pain. After, I attempted to move my work beyond the realm of the self.
My first gallery show after Calcutta was a sudden and unexpected success. Several religious groups of opposing affiliation reported divine inspiration from my abstract oil paintings, which I’d infused with lavender and genital secretions. The secular media then secured the show’s profitability by means of rave reviews in The New York Times and ArtForum.
I kept my name removed from the press, but still received a three million dollar cut, of which I donated seven percent to charity (The Mother Teresa Mission Fund in Calcutta). The remaining funds allowed me to purchase an isolated piece of property in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where I built a luxury cabin with a large, soundproof basement.
Yesterday, I spent eleven hours — my greatest expenditure yet — broadcasting my poetry through both an open AM airwave and online digital stream. All the while, I mixed together thirteen hues of gold on canvas until they resembled most nearly the vision I’d had when speaking with God.
He’s come to me three times so far, and once this morning after I’d nailed a family of hikers to the trees beyond my back porch. The most recent conversation left me speechless and able only to write down the following poem:
I look behind and after
And find that all is right
In my deepest horror
There is a soul of light.
Christopher Zeischegg is the author of Come to My Brother, The Wolves That Live in Skin and Space, and Body to Job.