Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Amma plays the Hammerstein.
By Catesey

34th st between 8th and 9th ,on the island of Manhattan is,on a good day,worth avoiding.it’s fairly uninspiring,, what with the quiznos, the loews 34th complex and assorted non descript office buildings. Fine,if you’re lined up outside the manhattan center/hammerstein ballroom, as thousands of us were, you do get to gaze at the storied new yorker hotel and the top part of the empire state(the best part). Amma is playing a gig here.she’s on at 7(no opener).it’s 4.30., the line is already down the block.it feels like 102 and the negative thoughts are up and running. And this is meant to be about love, of self and others.

The building itself is the perfect venue for her. Turning 100 years old next year(i.e.the building),oscar hammerstein 1 built it to rival the metropolitan opera,by offering cheaper seats for the ordinary new yorker.it was later sold and became more of a vaudeville house.the hammerstein is now a major cultural venue and boasts (supposedly) superior acoustics and full on remote production facilities to carry live events.

There’s more than a little shtick going on as we wait. And it is all very ordered. Devotees run around making sure there are 2 separate lines, each line then divided in to a another 2 lines. There are placards held aloft…”first timers”/”special needs”/”everyone else”…if you’ve never been hugged before(I heard someone ask…”do you mean ever,by anyone?”) you get a green dot and moved into the priority line. I was liking that, but the dot wouldn’t stick to my shirt or my chest so I stuck it on the middle of my watch face.not the most practical solution, but now when I am late for stuff I will always think of amma.

….some of the people wranglers, all of whom were wearing special coloured sashes,were, how to say it,annoying, esp the guy who continually walked up and down the various lines gently swatting people with his (holy) water bottle asking for “a real aisle,please” . ok so we are in,the shoes are off,and there is good AC.i am feeling the love a little here and it only gets better…from nowhere all these people start coming round offering all kinds of snacks and drinks.chai guy!! Samosas!!

Nothing to do now but wait to line up(again) and get a real token for your place in the hug line. There is a complicated procedure to get everyone out of their seats and onto the main floor(the hammerstein is as big as your average broadway house.3 balconies, boxes,etc. tho the main floor is carpeted.note to self. Next time you feel like a hug, bring socks). Astonishingly, I am seated a couple of rows from the stage,right on front of the action. Pretty much a house seat, and I swear I don’t know anyone in the cast.

We sit for some time and with little fanfare amma comes out and takes her seat. Silence……much lighting of incense and candles. Passing around of individual containers of holy water.(only later was it announced that it is best to not drink the water immediately but keep it for future times as it is holy and full of special power.oops). She then speaks for over an hour, stopping for translation. Much of it is very amusing.and thevoice!deep, gutteral, melodic, powerful.impressive. Chanting.meditation.lots of discomfort and cramping leg muscles.i felt bad for those closest to me, as I was adopting all kinds of strange poses to lessen the diccomfort.…..more announcements about how to actually line up.

it is said that this will go on all night, literally.she will hug everyone.(I heard it estimated that she was going till 10.am.). what to do now but wait….and shop. There are tons of stalls selling everything you would expect. I feel I am back in India,tho I don’t remember nagchampa being the equivalent of 130 rupees.(more like 12 ) The full on dinner downstairs is apparently fantastic(it is.$6).and so you wait.and watch. So many people to look at. Lots of kids with parents. Some familiar faces.The live music is beautiful, and yes, those acoustics are indeed superior.

I was in the 700-800 range of tokens and soon enough(the whole thing was easier than expected) I’m sitting feet from the stage.on deck ,so to speak. Amma sits in a beautiful square roofed tent- like space, beneath a gorgeous golden umbrella.flowers and silks everywhere.she has, as announced, changed into a brilliant sari.she is wearing a george clinton like multi tiered silver crown,and has so many people around her, not just us folks waiting our turn. Tons of handlers, all of whom seem to have carpal tunnel syndrome, as they are all wearing that protective wrist thing you can get at target.

Before I know it I am being asked my native language, I am kneeling before her, and I am told(pushed) to lean in to her chest. put your hands on either side of her. It is very warm and she smells very nice. . I breathe easily and she mutters something three times . it seems very loud and powerful.soothing.my skull kind of reverberates with her voice. I am pulled back,and there is some sparkling eye contact.someone shoves a piece of wrapped chocolate in my hand and what appears to be a withering petal.(is the chocolate sacred.when can you eat it. I almost have a larry david moment trying to clear up the timing of the eating of the chocolate). I am ushered off the stage.next!

I hang out for a bit, feeling rather happy and peaceful. This woman is truly amazing. They had shown a long video during the build up,and there is considerably more to it than just the hugging….housing projects, health care, childrens’ services, disaster relief. All kinds of humanitarian stuff.It goes on and on, as does she……

I consider staying for the entire session, but soon give up. Before I know it, I am waiting for the A/C train with a bloody change to the F to brklyn. It’s past midnight. The trains are not co-operating. It’s hotter down here than on the street,8 hours prior. People look miserable. New York fuking city, indeed. I drink some holy water. Hungry now. I eat the chocolate.

--------MDC. NYC 7/19/05

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:02 AM

    this guy is great...