Sixteen years ill. The fundamental engines of the body mind, the essential furnaces of each tiny cell now slowed to the point where this anatomy functions with just eighteen percent of its energy birthright.
The baby was wrapped in calico and slowly lowered beneath the surface of the lake. Millenia of bones and ashes had become the manifest gloop of this auspicious place, one of the five main destinations of Indian pilgrimage, - a vast pond textually formed from the tears of a grieving Shiva, with powers enough to drown out sins and make smooth the vagaries of psoriasis. It had been ten years since I was last in Pushkar, -back then it was a parching respite from the Rajasthan desert, just one stop on a whole odyssey of kohl, train tracks and the chillum's whim.
A decade down the line and lush, propagated foliage now touched the towns perimeter. We stayed in the same tiny turret of a whitewashed fortress where I had slept in 88, we walked every day at the ghats edge, befriending dogs and monkeys. Magdalena, a biologists daughter, balked at my broaching a swim in answer to the lakes cool invite, she spoke of cholera, dysentery, a barrage of toxicology ; my defence championed the firewall of the numinous - the sure redemption of esoteric immersion. Hindus and buddhists bathed in the water daily - why should disease make a companion of us ?
My body had served me well in thousands of miles of the road, but in all that journeying was the embryo of disease already in waiting ? From a frame that just worked, just functioned with no knowledge of its implicit chemistry, I am now sixteen years turned inwards not to Atman but rather the bewildering reality of mitochondrial disfunction, the krebs cycle, ATP deficiency, nutrients and methylation :the lost murmurings of carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, ribose and niacin.
But what was the catalyst ?, the point of descent ? Was it the monkey bite ?, the flu needle ?, a payback of roach slather, of some cursed viral kiss ?, rogue winds of uranium blown in from Kuwait?, the whip worms of Zanzibar?, deer mites ?, aerotoxins ? , too close to the barley crop ? too far from favour ? - the speculation is endless - all I know is that a month after returning from a years teaching in Saudi Arabia I no longer had the strength to turn a screw in a wood strut.
The shock of a body no longer functioning as it should has now become an ever present reality, and yet despite the medicos love of empirical lab reports- they deny me- I have folders full of words, tests telling of pathogens, genome adducts, huge glutathione depletion, chronic amounts of extra cellular DNA and on and on as proof as proof can be - yet the medical establishment does not flinch........ a quarter of a million sufferers in this country alone, many, many times that the world over, of lives stripped down, pared to the quick, slowed to breaking.
Thousands and thousands of miles and the joy of the turning wheel, now a 100 metres on foot is a major inflammatory triumph.
What actually happens at a cellular level in mitochondrial illness is that the normal food/ energy equation is broken and the body quickly goes into anaerobic function meaning that instead of producing energy the cells produce lactic acid- think of the most exhausting swim, run, cycle you have ever done - the collapsed train wreck physicality of that experience- well, that is happening many times a day to the blighted on the initiation of activity , be it physical, sensory or mental.What little energy the body does produce is quickly depleted and not replaced as lactic acid pours into muscles and along tendons in an expression of an all systemic pain and inflammatory response, the clockwork accompaniment to collapse is retreat to the horizontal from which it can take days or weeks to replace the tiny quota of energy, before the rapid sequence of depletion and exhaustion starts all over again.
Remaining creative is an essential spur in this predicament, it provides much needed focus and stimulation, however, the work rate is slow, very slow- my current film The Fourth Pig is now nearly three years in the making
- one day here, a couple of days there, most times fuelled by a medicated jolt to the central nervous system -
it works out at just one or two days filming a month. I mentioned earlier that the physical conundrum had displaced the esoteric, but that is not true, if anything the fraught and wretched days experienced by all sufferers, demands a reckoning with body, the self, established dogma (medical and otherwise), accrued wasteful distraction and a focus on new essentials - the joys of fruit, audio and evensong-the twilight call of blackbirds marking turf, beginning to settle before dusk; deer and pheasants rustling at one last feed before darkness, all the cracks and cries around my forest home before the whole thing makes calm for a while prior to the dramas of the night.
Pushkar Lake, India
Pushkar Lake, Rajastan