I was standing there staring at the board in front of me ‘PERE LECHAISE CEMETERY’. A burial ground for the rich and famous in Paris. I was still wondering how I ended up being here on a hot tuesday afternoon. An arrow on the board pointed out, ‘YOU ARE HERE’.
And I was thinking to myself “WHY?’
Everyone in advertising dreams of going to Cannes, atleast once in their career. And almost everyone when they do go, also end up extending their trip to cover more of Europe in as less Euros as possible. We were no different. Rajiv and I.
Rajiv, the only servicing guy who managed to make himself worthy enough for this trip of a lifetime. But Rajiv is more like the creative types. Sees good films. Listens to good music. Reads good books. And mostly speaks good english. Appreciates good food. Has an enviable collection of music. And has posters of inspirational people on his bedroom walls. For him it was genuine interest. For me, it was more of an occupational hazard for being in creative. I have always wondered why we needed to expose ourselves to such great pieces of work, for doing the crap that we do. Otherwise, maybe we’d be feeling much nicer about what we were doing.
Rajiv, for the way he was, it was a perfect way to spend his afternoon. And for me and my fucked up luck, this seemed like a perfect way to spend mine as well.
We had arrived in Paris the previous night from Cannes. And thrown our luggage at a cheap hotel, since this part of the programme was not being sponsored by the office. The only good thing was that we no longer had to bother collecting every single bubblegum bill or make the French understand that we needed food bills for the booze we drank. We were here on our own money, and all we had to do was blow it, without keeping a tab. And in Paris, all you need to do is take a cab, the metro, have a cola, some peanuts and take a piss at a public lavatory, and yes you’ve blown it all.
We made grand plans of taking a detour to Norway and do whale hunting, or hire Harleys and take off on some beer trail, or go to London and pile on some unlucky friend we had spotted on facebook. After all the google searches. After all the free reading up of lonely planets at bookstores. After all those advices from lucky art directors who had managed umpteen trips to Europe to shoot some undies indoors “Oh you must visit Cinque Terre in Italy, it’s breathtaking’……we were now at a cemetery, ya breathtaking of a different kind I guess.
All it took was one call from the office “There’s a pitch, so the two of you better get back to office.”
Ok, they were kind enough to grant us 2 more days.
So here is how we spent a good part of one of those two precious days in Paris.
It was Rajiv’s idea. Like this one visit would make up for all those places we didn’t.
I was here only because Rajiv woke up about 15 minutes before me. And blamed me for ruining his day by waking up late. And he took complete advantage of the guilt I was going through and tricked me into this. Before I knew where we were headed, I was bundled off into a metro and we were here…in front of a cemetery.
A little gate lead us into this exhibition of graves. A big board that resembled a BDA site allocation at the entrance gave us a rough idea of whose corpse lay where. We stood there, staring at the board trying to locate Rajiv’s favorite dead men.
“Jim Morrison is here.” he pointed after studying the board for about half an hour.
“Oscar Wilde is here” he pointed at the other end of the board, after staring at it for another 29 minutes, leaving just another 8 hours and 1 minute for our flight back home.
“Who is Oscar Wilde?’
“What the fuck are you saying? You don’t know Oscar Wilde?” Rajiv asked like it were the first question in the copy test for any copywriter.
“Ya, I have kinda heard of him. He writes, right?’
“You are pathetic dude. He is considered as the God of playwrights and poems.”
“He can’t be God, now that he’s here.”
“It’s not funny chooth.”
“Ok. Don’t get wild.”
“I told you it’s not funny.”
“Hey relax bugger, that one was not a joke. It just happened.”
“Shut the fuck up”
“So he wrote poems!!”
“Ya. Poems. Any student of English Literature ought to know his poetry by heart. He’s that fuckin great.”
“Ok” I tried to look as ashamed as possible. Rajiv had become a different guy ever since he’d stepped here. This should have ideally been an excursion with his classmates of English literature. But destiny had made me his companion.
I took a snap of the board so that we could use it to navigate our way through this morbid maze. And we proceeded in the rough direction of where Jim Morrison was resting. Detailed maps were on sale for 20€, but not worth it for locating a couple of dead men.
I had heard of Jim Morrison. I knew two of his songs decently well enough. ‘Road house blues’ and ‘Riders on the storm’. Oh one more…’L.A. Woman’. They were nice. I liked the first one more than the others, maybe because the local bands played that more often. But I knew that I do not qualify as a true fan unless my favorite number of his is something that nobody’s heard of. I had a rough idea of how he looked. I had seen his pictures on the walls of many advertising folks. A skinny shirtless chap who had just one picture of his in circulation, where he looked like Steve Tyler from far, with maybe a smaller mouth and of course younger. Somehow to me, most people with long hair looked like each other. I knew that he was an important man to like if you were in advertising. Even the most cynical of them found him deserving enough to be included into their drunken discussions.
But all this information wasn’t enough to make me feel for him. Now that I was here, I had to make this visit purposeful for myself. I decided to become his true fan by the time I reached his grave. I plugged in my ipod and started listening to every other number of his. Ya, the ones that only get picked up in shuffle, and last till you manage to reach the skip button. I had no time for it to grow on me. I had to fall in love with it instantly. It was getting difficult. You know…I had a (I hate the pun but)…..deadline. I kept skipping to get a quick update of his discography. Most of them sounded good. Or maybe at that time, I just had no option but to make them sound good, for my own good.
Appreciating English numbers is an occupation by itself. First you spend time in figuring out what the words are. Then memorise them. And since they don’t necessarily believe in rhymes or a regular meter, it’s that much harder to remember them. Then after that, you practise them and start to like them more. Eventually you google the lyrics only to find out that whatever you’ve been singing all along, is all wrong. You then undo the lyrics in your head and rehearse the right ones. And since you have spent considerable time and effort, you now try to understand what they actually mean. But each of them come with a unique context. God knows what! There’s a hell lot of trivia attached to every line. You then research the context and try connecting the words with the context. It still makes no sense, because it’s mostly written by the writer when he’s smashed on weed. So you need a good dose of it yourself to get closer to what the damn thing actually means. Somewhere you give up and get back to your initial interpretation of what this was all about. I know that this may not be true with most of them, but with me it’s mostly like this. Maybe I’m trivialising it, but yes, it is all about the trivia. Hindi numbers have no such problems. They are either about love or not finding love, and in case you get stuck, all you probably need is a legal drink. Nothing more.
Rajiv walked ahead purposefully scanning every epitaph on the way. And I was trailing behind getting acquainted with the man that I had to mourn for. I really wanted his death and his music to affect me. I had to get a rush when I see him lying in his grave. Because I knew Rajiv was going to get it. And his day will be made. I had to make mine too.
I decided to become a Jim Morrison fan after returning. A late Jim Morisson fan maybe. Coming to think of it, I don’t even know where they buried Kishore Kumar.
On the way I saw many other graves of kings, queens, mathematicians, actors, dentists and archeologists and taxidermists and other miscellaneous french people who seemed to have graves, sometimes as big as a three bedroom bungalow.
There was one bombshell who’s statue towered above the rest, appropriately drop dead gorgeous. One look and I immediately felt sad that she was no more. I was wondering why it should take such an effort for Jim Morrison. In my head, Jim Morrison still seemed to be the most famous celeb in that place because he was the only guy I had heard of over there. So I assumed that he’d have had the grandest cremation out here.
I fantasized his grave to be the showstopper. One that the others would die again for. I imagined a huge statue of him, welcoming you with outstretched arms, with huge speakers around, belting out his numbers, and hoped that one of them is Road House Blues so that I could sing along. I was losing it, but was imagining it in the best possible way just to keep myself motivated.
Ya, there was Oscar Wilde as well. But Morrison seemed easier of the two. Even if you don’t understand it all, you could settle with just liking the tune of his song.
We had now walked for about 3 hours. We had no clue where we were going. I kept referring to the snap in my camera, but it was as good as searching for Kakinada in the world map.
But Rajiv kept walking in a particular direction like Morrison’s spirit was calling him. The cemetery seemed endless. It looked like every famous man in the world who was dead, was buried here. I was wondering if there were a lot of creative clashes among the spirits at night. They would feel so helpless that they can’t even kill each other over it. I derived a little moral of the story for myself ‘No matter how rich and famous you may be, at the end of it you die.’ I decided to craft that better after getting a lowdown on Oscar Wilde.
We saw no human being or rather no human being who could speak English. The only ones who knew, were probably six feet under. So we walked like zombies hoping to meet someone who could lead us to the grave of grave importance.
We rarely met anyone on the way. And even when we did, it was useless. If they had the 20€ map, they wouldn’t know English. And if they knew English, they wouldn’t have the map.
But Rajiv looked like he was prepared to die searching for his grave. At every pit stop he’d give me anecdotes of Jim, just to create a mystery around this dead soul.
“You know Morrison used to pass a bowl among the audience where they could do anything in it like spit into it, piss into it, pour beer, tap their ash or do whatever they pleased”
“For what joy?”
“And he would drink it at the end of the show.”
“Why would he do something like that?”
“Fucker. That’s how much he loved his fans.”
Just like Morrison, even I found this hard to digest.
I had bought a little guide to Paris and peeked into it to see what all I was missing, sitting here in this burial ground. Thankfully there was nothing in it that I was passionately attached to. But even if there was, I could do little about it. I had no clue how to get out of here. And the only way to was to have shelled out 20€ at the beginning. I was trapped in the middle of a million crosses.
After meandering here and there, we finally found a tribe who also happened to be searching for Jim’s Soul. Thankfully they were the ones who valued their time a lot and had invested 20€ for this search. So we hung around like friendly tourists and followed them wherever they went.
And in a few moments, we managed to reach where Jim Morrison lay peacefully. Until then.
It was nothing like I had imagined. He was tucked away into an obscure corner. An insignificant looking grave with the inscriptions “James Douglas Morrison’ with a few dried up roses on the marble, and some assorted cigarettes tossed around by his fans, for Morrison to smoke up incase he woke up at night.
There was another big monument of an unpronounceable French chap that blocked half the view. You had to kind of lean over from the side to get a glimpse of his grave. You could barely read the inscriptions on it. Rajiv put on his zoom lens and took a gloomy picture in grey.
I felt cheated. I had walked the whole afternoon. This wasn’t enough for a 3 hour old fan. I started doubting his popularity. Surely his fans could have done something better after all the piss that he drank. But Rajiv looked composed. He shut his eyes and murmured a prayer. There were three other fans around him, who did the same. Between their meditations, they kept looking at each other. Noone was sure that having coming here all the way, what were they exactly supposed to do now. They took pictures of each other. In all combinations possible.
Rajiv asked one of them, a funny looking oriental guy, “You’re a Doors fan?”
I paid attention to the reply only to know if there was another idiot who was here for the same reason like me, ‘just like that’.
The chap placed his hand on the chest and said “Truly brother. Truly. Jim Morrison all the way.”
And leaned over and loudly sang a verse of his number and screamed ‘You rock dude….you fucking rock’. His voice was so croaked that I could almost see Jim Morrison turning in his grave. He then pulled out his cigarette pack and casually chucked half a dozen sticks on his tomb to pay homage.
I looked at Rajiv to see if he would follow suit. It was a challenge to his fanaticism. He took out a pack of Gold Flake Kings and dragged out seven sticks. But then it was the last pack. He took a good look and decided that he needed it more than Morrison, maybe. He waited till his challenger turned away, and quietly slid back 5 into the pack and quickly tossed two for Morrison. He was emotional, but was Indian for far too long to get carried away.
With this, I thought the condolence ritual was over. But no, we just hung around. Like people at a funeral, who just feel obligated to hang around. Nobody seemed to be wanting to leave. Like Morrison might just rise again and start giving them a posthumous performance.
So we waited like unsatisfied fans who refuse to leave even after the rock show has come to an end…hoping that the singer might suddenly get back on stage and scream ‘You want more.”
The moroseness of the situation was getting to me.
“Shall we go?”
“Don’t be so insensitive dude. Hang on.” Rajiv barked back.
“For what? He’s dead man.”
Everyone around me glared at me like I killed him.
Rajiv walked around behaving in a strange manner. I then noticed carefully. The guy was actually humming a song for his idol, who lay beneath the stone, deaf. For a second I wanted to swap places with Morrison. We had spent over 4 hours in this stupid graveyard. I was getting sick of this. I had just 2 days in Paris. In fucking Paris. The only way to come back to Paris meant winning a Cannes. Every minute was precious. I didn’t know where to go. But I atleast knew that i didn’t want to be here anymore, listening to a madman closing his eyes and singing back a song to a man who wrote it. It was like torturing him back to life.
I waited patiently for about half an hour waiting for Rajiv to finish his cover versions.
“Ok. Let’s leave.” Rajiv announced finally parting himself from the departed, and walked away from the scene as fast as he could.
“Do you really really want to go? Do you actually love his poems so much? I mean, can I not just gift you an entire collection of his poetry or whatever else he wrote.”
“You can go wherever you want to but I’m going to meet him.”
He made it seem like the two of them were going out for a beer.
“Ok man. Can you tell me a poem he wrote….like a kickass one. So that even I feel like meeting him.”
“OK, have you heard of Athanasia…..
“What does that mean….?”
“It means……..” Rajiv lead the way to introduce Oscar Wilde to his latest fan.
By the way, Happy Birthday Rajiv.