So I have to fly this mucky muck over from LA for a screening of my film. Not only did it cost me 60 grand to shoot, but this bigshot has to be flown over to view it. ‘We love the reel’. Jesus. ‘Be great to see the film.’ Another two grand. The film’s only twenty minutes long. I should get a real job. But you need bait to go fishing, so ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ and blah blah blah, I find myself on the internet booking this studio mid shot a Premium Economy ticket on my Amex; a real come down for him, believe me, he let me know he was doing me a big favour not traveling Upper, or to be more precise his PA let me know that this was not part of his ‘usual itinerary’, but he really wants to see the film on the big screen…
One of the bullshit parts of my job is having to watch short films directed by bullshit commercials directors who think they are the next big thing. They have great reels for sure, but where are their big ideas? Usually their films are just so much wanna be LA bullshit. A sexy girl, a suitcase of cash or coke, a seedy motel room in a bum-fuck nowhere town and perhaps an old Indian guy full of wisdom at the gas station. Thousands of times I’ve had these films on my desk. Who do these idiots think we are? They want a three picture deal because of what exactly? The film came out, the girls tits were in focus? This is America already, rundown hotels and bags of stolen money? But I watch them. It comes with the territory. Junior VP of an ex indy movie company trying to punch at studio weight. So I find myself being flown to London, hey my boss won’t pay, so at least it’s a free trip, to see a short film directed by somebody I never heard of, but at least it’s a different type of script, he sounded nice on the phone, comes with a few OK recommends, on Virgin Premium Economy. Nice. Ish. There are some other people I need to see in town anyway. Yet as soon as I check in I smell something funny, I smell a fucking rat. That’s funnier than it sounds, bear with me.
Booking the flight I come across the drop down option box for meal preferences. I click. There are sixteen options ranging from vegetarian/vegan to Kosher to Hindu to Gluten free to Muslim. There is also an option which simply reads ‘Jain Meal’. What does that mean? Something strange for sure. So you know what? I find myself clicking it. Fuck him! American cunt, let him eat Jain. As soon as the flight was booked I couldn’t take it back. A wave of anxiety hit me, I felt the sickening emptiness you get after sending an angry/drunk/true email. There was no postman on his collection round to chase after and beg. The irretrievability of the web is terrible. I sat there empty and knew that I was just another chip on his shoulder Englishman always prepared to bite the American hand that might just possiblly feed him.
‘Everything’s fine sir, your special meal preference is all booked in, go right ahead and board.’ Special meal preference? What? Has this English director cunt somehow googled that I like Osso fucking Bucco? Or booked me champagne and Blinis to make up for the premium economy faux pas? I doubt if that’s possible. Anyway I let it pass and get on the plane. Actually the new Premium Economy is nice, more leg room, leather chairs, great in-flight service, I mean who in their rght mind would ever pay out the thousands extra for upper class? For a narrow flat bed. But I see them all up there, turn left at the door or up the stairs and straight ahead and they don’t just look like corporate guys, on the companies coin, there’s also the once in a lifetime tourists, retirees doing London/Europe/LA in style, men and women sitting Kitty corner to each others Upper class bays, or cramming themselves into the stall seat at the foot of their spouses flat beds, clinking cheap champagne cocktail glasses at whatever goddamn hour they get on the plane, paying way over the odds for fizzy wine and disco music. Fuck them. I sit back, drink some OJ and read Variety.
Jains. A weirdo Indian sect? They have to be more than a cult to appear on a Virgin Atlantic drop down option menu. Branch Davidian isn’t an option, although what would that have stipulated? Waffle house? Jack in the box? Why is a sect not a cult, what’s the difference? At what point do either of these become a religion? Is it just a question of numbers, is that what gives belief validity? An extreme branch of Hinduism perhaps? Not knowing what this means bugs me. I google it. Jain Dharma. It’s full name. An ancient pacifist/spirital religion that believes in the equality of all life, non violence and freedom of belief. Their central symbol is a simple swastika. I repeat that awkward sentence to myself. A simple swastika. Doesn’t sound right to my European sensibility. The possibility that his word, that shape can have any anterior meaning than the obvious. So I’m intrigued, I want to know more. Didn’t Jack Kerouac once write a book called the Dharma bums? I have no recollection of what it was about. Jain’s? Can’t have been. Most Jains are strict Vegans. Hence the meal option. At least I have an idea now what my American friend is going to get to eat. Hahaha.
Dinner is served. The hostess stands in front of me holding a tinfoil covered meal on a tray. ‘What is it?’ I ask. ‘The Jain meal sir, as requested.’ The words ‘Jain meal’ could have been anything, she had no idea what they meant, they contained no meaning for her and you could hear this absence of meaning in the cadence of the words as they sat in a sentence between ‘The’ and ‘sir’ and ‘as requested’, where the rest of them had context, meant something. Instead of saying I didn’t order a Jain meal, or that there must be some misake, I’ll eat anything etc. for some reason I asked her what was it again. ‘Your Jain meal’ the hapless girl replied. She was stuck and I wasn’t going to help her. ‘I have no idea what that is, what’s in it?’ ‘I don’t know sir’. ‘Well I’m not going to eat something if i don’t know what it is.’ She peels back the tinfoil to reveal a risotto, porridge type sludge. Neither of us are any wiser as to what it is. I look up at her. ‘It gets specially delivered onto the plane sir by outside caterers.’ ‘So it could be anything?’ I say. We’ve come a long way from a Chicken or Pasta option, but nobody seems to have learnt anything. The hostess turns towards the galley and shouts. ‘Mike do you know what’s in a J meal?’ He shakes his head and turns back to serving his customer the filet mignon on a bed of potato and chicory mash. The Jain meal had now become the J meal; it has been tamed, coralled into an abbreviation, and I was just a pain in the ass passenger. the meal had been pacified; One of many, one of a sequence of possible meals to serve, the A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I or J meal. Or did I just mishear her say Jain. These long flights extend and complicate our thought processes.
Jains had a big influence on the beliefs of Ghandi. The word means victors. Those who can liberate themselves from their bodies, therby achieving the perfectibility of man. They are also the most literate group in India and the most philanthropic. They run lots of free schools and hospitals. They believe in karma and karmic reincarnation being based upon what we each do in this and every life we lead. Einstein once said he wanted to come back as an Indian Jain. Their word for bad karma is ‘paap’. Like when we say something is pap, ie rubbish. How on earth did that get into the English lexicon? I cancel a meeting in order to read more about Jains.
There must have been some mix up we agree, the J meal was taken away and they gave me a left over linguini vongole, although how wise is it to eat shellfish at 35,000 feet above sea level? I snooze and wonder about the film I’m going to see. A dark rural tale of guinea pig farms and animal rights extremism.
Strict Jains wear veils not out of modesty but in order to protect insects from flying into their mouths and getting killed. They don’t even eat root vegetables because so doing destroys, eradicates a whole plant. Apples and stuff that drops or can be picked off plants and trees is OK. Their monks brush the ground in front of them, not out of vanity but in order to protect small animals or plants from getting walked on. This image is weirdly moving to me. The screaming animal rights protestors in my short film have an unlkely ally in these Jains.
Unedited sequences of bad action movies, which is what I call the dreams I have been experiancing lately, leave me with a headache and a sense of not having had enough sleep. The hostess places a tray infront of me. ‘Your special breakfast sir.’ I get served before everyone else. Its like I’m an embarassment, or what I eat is, or that they are scared of me. Like a food terrorist. The disgusting porridge/broth that no doubt awaits me under the tinfoil another two finger lickin’ good salute to American, western values. Eat this buddy! I’m fully awake and sit up in my chair. The Jain breakfast. You gotta be kidding me. Again I ask them, ‘What is it?’ Again she says she has no idea whats in the J meal, that it comes onto the plane direct from the outside caterer. ‘Isn’t that a security risk?’ I ask, gingerly peeling back the tinfoil. She blinks slowly and goes and gets me an orange juice. I notice the swish of her tights and crane my neck to see her visible stocking line. Nice. Now you dont get that on US air, nor would you want it.
Jain thought has cross fertilised with Sikhism, Hinduism and Bhuddism for over a thousand years. It underpins many of their beliefs, as it predates those religions to the sixth century. The Jain ethical code is simple yet very powerful. Non violence, truth, non stealing, chastity for monks and non possession. Or in a slight bending of their ascetic values, non-possesivness. Individual believers can attain salvation by passing through nine levels, nine ‘Tatvas’ of Jain belief. Every birth, every reincarnation is aimed at being the last when the spirit can transcend the body and they achieve true Mohksha, realisation of the souls true nature. Again a strange resonance with English slang, ‘Tatva’ reminds me of Tat in the phrase ‘tit for tat’. This for that. What if some cockney sailor or soldier went to India during the days of the Raj and became friendly with a Jain monk? Now that would be a great movie. I stay at my desk and continue my research.
We land. Just as I’m about to get off the plane the hostess who served me gestures me into the back. ‘It’s about the Jain meal sir. They’re Indians, vegetarians, like a cult I think.’ ‘There must be a lot of them for their food preference appear on a Virgin booking form.’ At that moment the penny drops. It must have been that English fucker. An example of the famous English humour. Or the fact that he was pissed at having to shell out a grand for my flight. I’m sick of English dicks who travel coach to LA and think they are saints, or as I can say now Jains.
‘Sweet Jain’. Forbidden love under the Raj. A lowly British subaltern falls in love with the teenage daughter of a Jain businessman in Lahore. Maybe I’ll pitch this idea to the yank coming to see my film. At least he’ll be aquainted with their food. It’s funny that Jains are amongst the wealthiest of Indians, despite, maybe because of their asceticism. That’s the difference between non-possession and non-possesiveness I guess. And you can say anything you want to about them, what they believe and they won’t try and kill, defame or abuse you. Now that’s scary. A religion that is so self-confident, so assured of it’s beliefs that whatever you say or do to it doesn’t elicit a response other than the continued preaching of its beliefs and extending an understanding of yours. Think about what that means. Jain philosophy states that ultimate salvation comes by shedding Karma. That’s when you release yourself from the shackles of worldly existence, into a universe which will never cease and was never created but has always been. There is no God, but this universal spirit, that by our own actions we can contribute to. By achieving Siddha. When we become like gods, in fact the Indian panoply of gods, Siddhhartha included, are revealed as metaphors, examples of those that have succeeded in the pure release of their individual spirit, the final shedding of the human veil. How on earth Guinea pigs can do this I don’t know, but the fact that they can in Jain world makes me smile as I watch the opening credits to my film roll. A packed house, hands grasping complimentary drinks.
Two seats back that yank is watching the film. I hope he enjoyed his flight.