A brief story of oneness in action
As he and Muslim and I were groveling at the bottom of a trench digging for a drainpipe - heaps of clay piled on the concrete floor around us, spray from the concrete-cutting machine splattered on the walls and ceiling - one would have been hard-pressed to imagine refined matrons getting the finer points of their haute coiffure tended to in this place, but though I might lack the imagination for that task, my friend had a clear vision of the look he was aiming to produce – and worked until he achieved it.
The result which he did achieve was remarkable – a salon with the ambiance more likely to be found in a chapel than in a commercial enterprise dedicated to the vice of vanity. The delicate shades, the sense of spaciousness and peace, the gentle music – all of it the music of our meditation master, Sri Chinmoy – the large, back-lit abstract painting that dominated the end of the room – similarly produced by Sri Chinmoy – all these touches gave the room a refined, uplifting and ultimately spiritual feeling. One just wanted to sink into one of the big white leather chairs, let the warm water flow across one’s scalp and drift into realms of peace and light.
After the salon had been open for a time, my friend decided one more thing needed doing. The back wall, below which the hair washing stands were situated, he had thought all long needed some decoration but had been unsure what. Then he worked out the answer: birds.
Sri Chinmoy had, over many years, drawn millions of birds – expressionistic sketches capturing the beauty, the freedom, of individual avian souls in flight across some inner sky of delight.
Could I paint some on his back wall, my friend asked. As soon as he asked, I saw the finished product fully formed in my mind’s eye – I just had to set about manifesting it.
I had done such things before. I had painted exhibitions-ful of paintings, I had painted signs and banners and such like more often than I cared to remember. I had a fair idea of how to go about it, but it was admittedly an ambitious project.
I photographed birds; I played about with layout ideas on my computer; I bought paint in colours drawn from the existing panting in the salon but in more muted tones so they would complement and not distract from what was there already; I hired an overhead projector in order to get the birds onto the wall without loosing any of the exact details which formed their character - sprung as they were from the pen of a man drawing from a plane I could only dimly imagine - I got a paint roller on a pole and set to work.
There are few people – indeed I would have said there was nobody – that I would want to help me in such an undertaking, but my friend and I fell to work with an unspoken understanding of what we were doing. I would stick up the paper we used to mask areas for painting; he would tape the edge into a smooth curve; I would roll the paint on; he would peel the paper away; I would catch it as it came away. We worked over the top of each other. He traced the shapes of the birds onto the wall, I painted. We worked mostly in silence with occasional words and occasional pauses to be amazed at how well it was going.
‘My friend’ I have called him, but his name was Patvakan Bayanduryan. He had been born and grew up in the Soviet Union in the Republic of Armenia. I was born in Invercargill – the southernmost city in the South Pacific nation of New Zealand. We worked side by side. What were the chances of this? Not so long ago we in the ‘free west’ were praying that Patvakan and all his family and friends would be reduced to radioactive dust and blown away off the face of our planet in a nuclear first-strike: now we were painting birds together in a hair salon in Auckland. Sri Chinmoy had named his bird drawings ‘Dream-Freedom-Peace Birds’. It seemed appropriate.
In the United States they have scholarly and supposedly serious discussions about who it was that ended the Cold War and saw the end of the communist regimes of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe – should Ronald Reagan take all the credit or should the role of Pope John Paul II be given some credence. Ah, fools! There is one man I can credit for allowing Patvakan and Barnaby to paint the wall at Sanchelli Hair Salon – the one, the only, the luminary of the north: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev.
Sri Chinmoy, without whom I would not have met Patvakan, and Mikhail Gorbachev – they are the two that enabled us to undertake this project: this project – East meets West, North meets South, Old World: New Word, Commie and Capitalist – a oneness-world family indeed.