On Show– The Female Body Controlled

Sitting at the bay window in my room, I watch the heavens open up in sympathy with my frustrations–another day at the bootcamp in Kodaikanal, South India. In hot pursuit of the body beautiful, Western and Indian cultural morés and consumer values intertwine, but through that fabric of expectation, the male gaze remains a constant.

"The sculpture Bronskvinnorna (The women of bronze) outside of the art museum (Konsthallen), Växjö. The sculpture is a work by Marianne Lindberg De Geer. Its display of one anorectic and one obese woman is a demonstration against modern society's obsession with how we look. "

“The sculpture Bronskvinnorna (The women of bronze) outside of the art museum (Konsthallen), Växjö. The sculpture is a work by Marianne Lindberg De Geer. Its display of one anorectic and one obese woman is a demonstration against modern society’s obsession with how we look. “

Today–I’ve reached a state of out-of-body fatigue, where the body moves like a rag doll, every movement propelled by will.  But I duly wake up at 4 am, do the journal the trainers requested, have my weight checked, then slowly, slowly, move out for a walk. More than physical exercise, I need the company of trees, of rising sun and mountains. Buoyed by this dawn camaraderie, I return and press on with my yoga: no chants, just stretches, and attempts at breathing deep. But, there’s a limit, my body lets me know that its all it can do to stay upright.

So, then, breakfast, whereupon I hang out with my trusty Macbook downstairs, waiting for the internet and geyser to warm up before I limp up the stairs, step by slow step, for my bath.  P—, trainer guy of the beautiful bod, is concerned, questioning me if I’m still hungry; he is, perhaps, guilty about his hard nosed refusal of a second helping of lentils the day before (60 cals over although my stomach has refused the bread served).  So, hey, everything’s hunky dory so far, if I’m just tired tired tired.  Finally, I lumber up the wooden stairs to take a bath in the bathroom shared with P and K, another stress magnet.  In my room, the bay window is unveiled, blinds up, open to the sun–nobody’s out on the deck, the other client, young Rishabh, hates the sun and is resting in his room. I’ve been reassured couple of times in the last days that privacy is mine, nobody climbs the hill opposite or trains binoculars into the room.

photo © Maxim Vakhovskiy

photo © Maxim Vakhovskiy

So, peeps, dear blog trawlers, fatigued even more after bath, I sit myself down on the bed to nurse my legs with pain gel, my big brown, tattooed female body, droopy breasts, saggy stomach, love handles and all, backing the window. Lost in my aches and pains, I suddenly espy, from the corner of my eye, movement outside–men–Indians, laborers–are busy moving the pots outside the window on the deck; they’ve finished three quarters of the deck.  Stupefied, horrified, I am paralyzed because, of course, they are enjoyed that big brown female naked body—mine!  I dash for a sarong, yards away, hanging behind the door, wrap it about me.  But I’m frozen again, gazing at them as their studied movements reveal their relish. I’m glued to the door, stuck to the corner of the room. Gradually, very very slowly I make my way back to the cupboard, reach for a caftan and pull it over the sarong.

The angle of their heads tells me, “O yes, we’re enjoying the show!” So, caftan clad, I sidle up to the bay window, and finally, ah, finally pull the blinds down separated only by the glass from the watchers as I do this.  Free at last from their eyes, I give vent to my rage as I grab a black sweatshirt, pulling it down over the caftan. “Fuck this,” I scream at the door, pull it open, and shout down to K—, the trainer’s wife and yoga mistress. My fury stemmed for the moment by her abject apology and shocked comprehension, I realize that, as a woman, she understands not only the violation of the male gaze, but as an Indian woman she realizes the peculiar lechery of class underwriting that violation. Hey, but rich or poor, the male Indian gaze has a ferocity all its own.

peeping tomSilent, I proceed down those wooden stairs, and flop onto the blue couch in the ritzy living room. P—, trainer guy, comes up,

“What happened?”

Tell me,” he insists, as I protest that I’ve already told his wife and he should ask her. But, I recount the incident, rage rising to the surface as I do. P— responds, initially, with a mild apology that he should’ve informed me before sending the workers to the deck, but, almost immediately, he changes tack:

How could you change with the window open? Rishabh, (who hates the sun, like all privileged Indians conscious of skin color!) could have been outside. You should be more careful.”

Incredulous I begin to defend myself:

“But I did check, the place was totally deserted. I was sitting with my back to the window when I realized the workers were there.”

As I mount my defense, I wonder at myself. Only the evening before as we were getting ready to go out to the club for soup, P— and his wife had entered my room.

The blinds were down as it was late evening and I’d had the lights on. P— commented then,

“hey why do you have the blinds down, the view is beautiful.”

“Well, the lights are on, and I don’t know who might be peeking in through the rain,” I return in reply.

“The hill side’s deserted, nobody is out there,” he affirms.

Backing up his claim retroactively, the masseuse the previous week, had insisted,

“Keep the blinds up, nobody’s going to look into the window from so faraway.”

And as all of us knew, young Rishabh next door was totally uninterested in the deck, the joke of house was that he had to be forced outdoors for a bit of sun for his own good.  Ironically, although I had the bay window in my room, his room had access outdoors.

the fateful roof deck, my window to right

the fateful roof deck, my window to right

Anger surfaces now at myself and P–, arch jock who claims to ‘love’ women: I retort,

Don’t turn this back at me! Is the guest always to blame?

Of course, by that I mean the woman guest:

If you guys send workers on the deck, as the hosts of the program and house you fucking have to inform the occupants of the room, male or female.

My feminist self back on track, I settle myself on the couch downstairs until the workers leave.  P—, his hackles up, storms outside to be Mr. Fixit.  I lie, shivering, cold, muscles tense, for an hour or so, when I finally leave to creep into the violated room, now with the blinds down but with the willing voyeurs continuing their work outside the glass.  Heaping the duvet, blanket, and throw over me, I fall into an exhausted sleep, willing to forego lunch at the table with the Master of the house.

But, come dinner time, I have no escape.  I force myself downstairs. All the four of us seated about the table, P— looks at me and queries, kindly paternalistic smile on his face, “Everything ok? You alright?”  At that, with my gorge rising, womanist old me, throws back, “You alright?” Of course, Master Trainer’s dignity went for a toss–he couldn’t take that.  So we agreed, lets part.  “Mutual differences.” Catchall phrase.

“Get It Out of Me” by Heather Keith Freeman

“Get It Out of Me” by Heather Keith Freeman

Addendum:

After all was decided, and my bags packed, hotel room booked, I did manage to explain to P— why his paternal 34 man’s years to my 53 woman’s years attitude was so indigestible to me.

"My Body Isn't Mine" by Heather Keith Freeman

“My Body Isn’t Mine” by Heather Keith Freeman

Loving women is not the same as feeling women, being sensitized to women’s issues in an often violent, misogynist world. “Would you,” I ask him, “treat a 53 year old Indian man the same way as you have treated me?” Of course, there had been other previous incidents of the Young Master of house and gym extending his Fatherly (!) arm over me…..but the report/story ends here.

 

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Dark Female Selves: undermining the Market’s stranglehold

xenaEver notice, that as much as we’d like to be in control as proper feminist women, our emotions undermine us.  We go all soft and queasy imagining seductions that sweep us off our feet.   Disapproving though I am, of the institution of marriage and commitment, a sly self within me longs for sexual seduction replete with monogamous fucks.  Yes, my suspicions about human sexuality cast aspersions on women (and men) in committed relationships.  For that, please bear with me– my inner woman often sits and watches for a white knight to ride by (although the knight is sometimes a tough femme in kickass boots and tats, think Xena, Warrior Princess).  My inner woman seems in league with a world that’s in the process of institutionalizing gay couples whom marriage (and tax benefits) makes safely monogamous.

/www.imaginative-traveller.com

/www.imaginative-traveller.com

Tucking the fantasist firmly back in place, I put on my glasses (varifocal, naturally) to examine the world at large.  Wherever I turn, consumerism/ media/ capitalism marches hand in hand with indiscriminate sexual desire.  Looking at ads, even rifling through the newspaper, I wonder if sexuality is the underlying thrust (deliberate patriarchal metaphor there) to global markets.  There’s always a new and better model in the works, coercing us into wanting, wanting, wanting in an endless frenzy of desire.  Undiscovered gadgetry awaits us–cars, mixies, make-up, homes, vibrators.  In the name of adventure and getaway, as a reward for labor through the work year, we colonize remote cultures and beaches.  All is tech and tourism.

outsourceWe in the ‘third world’ have been blessed–we have been outsourced to.   So, to deal with Western customers, the Indian young learn to speak English with an American accent (not, however, with much grammar) to counsel the first worlders about gadgets and money instruments.  An Indian accent will not do in such scenarios:  along with jobs, and money, the young mold themselves into capitalist globetrotters.  They leap easily over oceans and histories.  Driving into Bangalore every other month or so, I marvel that the States I left in the mid-nineties has come back to haunt me in 21st century India.

Speaking for myself, I can only eat so much, play so much, fuck so much, before my appetite is sated and I turn jaded.  Some days food tastes like sawdust in the pizzerias and chi-chi restaurants of Bengluru.  The name has turned indigenous, if the city has turned mongrel.  ‘Bangalore’ the garden city of the Brit colonizers, has now become the concrete city as a taxi driver informs me in pidgin, English-Kannada mix.  We’ve recovered from the British and the thrall of white civilization only to fall prey to the racism-s and attendant -isms of making money.   Lightening our melanin [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skin_color] tainted skins, underarms and vaginas, Indian women fall into the arms of MNCs (Vichy, Dove, Unilever, to name only a few).  [http://jezebel.com/264396/indian-women-whiten-their-skin-fight-the-patriarchyShonit Biswas 1 year ago, comments, “such sexy milky, creamy, smooth, armpits…wanna lick them for hours”  Viscerally offputting remark, yes, but common sentiment voiced by young Indian men,  typical consumers of the marketed white flesh available everywhere.

As a grad student in the States, I came acrosss Luce Irigaray, feminist philosopher.  [http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/294014/Luce-Irigaray]  Reading her writings, my anger took visible shape as a Feminist.  In the binaries of patriarchal thought, white=value=rational thought=male.  Even in casteist India today, the upper caste boasts of fair skin, and lower castes are consigned to  blackness. [see discussions here– http://www.patheos.com/blogs/drishtikone/2012/04/varna-caste-system-and-skin-color-shallow-understanding-and-dubious-arguments/ and http://historum.com/asian-history/18145-were-indian-castes-based-racism-skin-color.html%5D   Perhaps today, wealth is an efficacious skin lightener, a class marker that recasts caste!

If we reflect on the binary logic of most contemporary languages and cultures, white=sun=day=virtue=light=male, and black=earth=night=sin=dark=female. Although, Irigaray sees the binaries working through Western philosophy, I find the same logic operating through contemporary Indian thought and custom.  Linked by media and market value, pretty similar logic works through different nations on various levels, although inflected by particular histories and cultures.  Its a small, small world–dictatorships, capitalists, socialists, democracies–bound together by MONEY.

The Hindus, for example, bow down to the Sun god, perform elaborate ritual namaskars, or prostrations, in His praise, and deny the Goddesses of earth and night.  [http://www.shantiyoganola.com/sun-salutations-the-meaning-of-surya-namaskara/]  In the Ramayana, sacred Hindu epic, Sita the virtuous queen–abducted by a demon and released, presumably unravished–finally retreats to the maternal bosom of Goddess Earth, in revolt against the aspersions cast on her chastity.  [I link here to Namita Gokhale‘s thoughtful analysis of the role of Sita as virtuous wife for any reader interested in that mythic Indian wife: http://namitagokhale.com/sita.html.]  For the chaste queen, the only way out is a descent into earth and darkness.Sita cries

As I sit here to type my disquiet at Indian patriarchy,  I look about me.  Men charge around the ashram dressed in whites, women sport colorful saris.  Where is virtue vested, in these sartorial symbols?  My own androgynous Merlin, my Swami suggested that darkness begat light, and not the other way about. Darkness, he hinted, encompassed all, even light nurses a seed of darkness. In my past hours of meditation, dark beckoned to me: I concentrated on following thought until I thought no more, encompassed in the warmth of godly dark.  Only Swami made sense of my attraction to the dark.

If in the binaries of logic, then, one side is devalued, must it be the associations of the feminine?  Women in the real world often embrace male rationale, rise to power, become leaders in politics, industry, commerce, or academia: Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook.  [see for eg.–http://www.nypost.com/p/news/national/women_worst_enemy_sjGvDqEhR54DfmBOsMLc9K]  And men may, in their way, reclaim the feminine, my own Merlin for example.  Our genders are fluid, shaped by our selves and our particular histories, even if our physical bodies are sexed.   So, my love of the dark womb of the earth, the vast black of Space and goddess,  must subvert the masculine–the bold seductions of consumerism, of phallic sexuality and its institutions.  Where am I headed, then?

"In and Under Water" painting by Ana Teresa Fernandez

“In and Under Water” painting by Ana Teresa Fernandez

O, but that’s a question based in the logic of patriarchy.  I refuse to journey from point B to point A, to climb higher, to progress to a GOAL….  I move in circles, I travel in mazes, I let darkness enclose my steps, I cannot know where the goddess goes.  She presses my hand, I tremble with fear and joy, I live–and, I wait to die into the dark.

Cooking! A Personal Fable of Repercussions

Days now, I haven’t been outside my tiny apartment, haven’t written, haven’t spoken to people except, of course, Shymala, the little maid who comes in to do for me.

“Why?” you ask, dear Reader, 21st century drifter through code, browser of tabs via Google, or Bing, or Facebook,mere happener upon, who stumbles through bit-media onscreen.   Whatever, dear Reader, these words are no aspersion on yourself; rather, I comment on my own inadequacies in facing down the bright Macbook screen.  And yet, when I don’t write, the days are empty, full of gloom that the monsoon skies intensify.   I have not walked, have not written, but, but I have been Cooking.

cooking_indian womanCooking again after months, nay, years, I handle vegetables and spices, wield the big chef’s knife to chop flora, fauna and fruit to create Food for myself.  Not an innocent activity, this!  Rife with ambivalence, cultural dissonances of women at the stove, making huge healthy meals for the family, while Man sits with his paper and pipe. And what is cooked, how it is cooked writes class and caste, as well as gender–here, in the ashram, in India, and in different ways all over our little glorious globe.  I have the means, so I’ve been trying out cooks, too, while cooking myself.  One cook arrives, announcing that she is Brahmin.  The pitfalls ahead loom before me–I don’t like Brahmins.  Just as a matter of principle, I’m wary of superiority complexes.

Garlic or onions induce the lower animal passions, according to the Brahmanic Hindu tenets.  Unfortunately, I adore garlic.  Onions follow close in my affections, and I’m susceptible to animal passions–much preferable to Human Virtue, in my humble opinion.   On informing her of my culinary preferences, she assures me that she will work willingly with garlic, add as many pungent cloves as I wish.  So, the Brahmin cooked for me, and on her departure, Shymala (not Brahmin) and I (mongrel mixbreed) sampled her prowess–swimming in oil, overladen with salt.  Thankfully, a medical emergency in the family prompted her exit the very next day, and I was saved from pointing out that if the Brahmin didn’t taste her own cooking, she wouldn’t know what she was cooking, horrid or ambrosial.

Sinner as I am, reveling as I do in my lack of virtue, my food choices are not regulated by moral imperatives.  More in sympathy with animals than humans, eating chicken or beef or mutton or lamb is akin to cannibalism for me.  In my dark and twisted moods, I often speculate that it makes more sense for humans to kill our own kind.  We propagate so easily that our species is in danger of overrunning the earth to the detriment of all other species.posh_salmon_  [check out Carl Sagan on the human species–http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/07/08/carl-sagan-meaning-of-life/] For years, I didn’t eat fish either,  but when a fancy for seafood beset my taste buds the last year, I indulged.  But, the taste of seafood is losing its savor:  a silver fish tumbled out out the sea at my feet, before the waves gathered it in again, while I was walking on Varca beach a few months ago.  In that brief moment, the fish bound me to its silver flashing being.

Thankfully on my return to Puttaparthi, I left choice behind as the ashram, naturally, is vegetarian.  Contemplating the vegetables that Shymala buys at the weekly village shandy [http://times-voice.blogspot.in/2011/11/village-shopping-mall-or-shandy_08.html], their succulent selves however, I am prey to doubt.  Often times, they lie in my fridge in the veggie drawer, quietly turning moldy, rotting without discovery.  Unaware of their plight, I plunge days later into the fridge only to find them decomposed.  To cook, to eat is a depraved activity, no matter what. I wish I could pluck fruits from the tree, gnaw roots salt with earth in some phantasmal alter world.

courtesy: Selvankavi TOI

courtesy: Selvankavi TOI

Perhaps alcohol is the safest bet, clean and pungent liquid that obscures the plight of the non-human world from my mind and eyes.  Coffee is another such:  I grind the beans, fill the expresso pot with coffee grains, and aaahhh, sniff the steaming brew.  Morning is expresso or should I put it the other way around–expresso, dark and rich, is morning for me, ushering in another day with no guilt.

green lentilsToday, the hard green lentils sitting in the jar for almost a year call to me,
“We have been ignored too long.  You must find something for us.  We are tired of sitting here on the shelf, unused, drying up.”
If the dialogue sounds familiar, dear Reader, you must be a woman, or at least a reader of Chick Lit, or Mills and Boon, or Jane Austen…  In the lingo of Critical Theory, we see what we have been acculturated to see.  Put simply, our eyes see what they have learned to see over time and place (not always consciously or willingly).  Oh yes, we can unsee what we do not want to acknowledge.  That green lentil needs to be married, have a fiery romance with water, finishing up a soupy garlicky dhal on white rice.

Bitterly green and resistant as they appear, I wonder if I can render them eatable.  Anyway, I lay out a whole head of garlic, small sambar onions (shallots) that I had picked up on a recent trip to Bangalore, a big juicy carrot, a crisp green pepper, and red village tomatoes.  That array makes me feel more in control, able to tackle those green lentils.  I decide to sauté a couple of fiery green chillies with the garlic and shallots, adding in the carrot, tomatoes and green pepper in that order while the lentils meet their fate in the cooker.

Hah, the lentils rebelled.  They expand, absorb all the water around them, burn the cooker.  Scraping out their charred mess, I consign them to organic waste that we use for manure.  Green lentil mess feeds the garden shrubs, not me.  Suttee, sati, was it? [http://adaniel.tripod.com/sati.htm; http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/aug/23/gender.uk1] I cook in culture, history, gender, race, class, and caste.  Caught in time, the historicity of my petty disaster points, if I may see, say, and write it, to other not so petty her/stories. Caught in my cooking, unable to do more, I live my choices as a woman in India, this village Puttaparthi, this ashram, this NOW.

Alone in the ashram room with my tattooed body, my dyke hair that I cut myself, I hear the chanting of the Hindu Vedas resound in the air.  Enmeshed, wriggling like a fish in the spiritual romance of sound, I am also part of the his/tory of violence and repression of women: Indira Gandhi, the dictator, Sita, the virtuous wife of god Sri Rama, as well as the unnamed med student raped on the Delhi bus, the four year old raped and thrown like garbage on the road.  Our choices mesh, we create willy-nilly her stories of living, violence, resistance, loneliness, and yes, sudden stupid content.

Should cooking be any less fraught, less coded, less dangerous than any other activity?  I must return to my walks, wreaking my ire on the unsuspecting, resistant pebbles, tripping over tarmac; I wreak my internal disturbances on my own fat self while glaring at the men to keep away.  I am contained by this world, though I may contain multitudes, to misquote Walt Whitman.  “Song of Myself” ends this little exegesis on cooking–

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and
self-contain’d,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
–from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman,
http://www.daypoems.net/plainpoems/1900.html

Cold! the physical toll of memory

Last night, sleep was slow in tendering its benefactions.  Perhaps my mind, by the end of the day, had turned again to worry at human interactions with my aunt and others like her.  I find that the more I try to help people out, funding their lives with mindless money, the more they look down on me.   They become the ones doing me the favor, they allow me, from their inherent goodwill, to bankroll their lives and indulgences.  Accepting the moolah, they put themselves on a pedestal. Hurt, I bark and growl, tuck my tail between my legs and remove my scrappy presence.

coldIn time, anger appears.  “Why should they get away with it?  I’ll keep them on their toes,” I vow to myself.  And so, in some part, I do, but in the doing, I tear my mind apart.  I fall ill, perpetual colds rack my body, the inhaler becomes my succor.  I recover from one attack of the cold virus to succumb to another.  Every morning I turn on the steam machine, bury my head under a blanket, and inhale hot air.  Quarter of an hour later, I reach for ayurvedic nasal drops and squirt medicated oil into my nostrils [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda].   Pain hits my teeth and sinuses, I groan in discomfort and my throat burns with the taste.  Last in the process, I sip hot lime and honey, the sour-sweet infusion counteracts the pungent oil.

The morning runs by with these rituals.   Colds have long been my body’s familiars.  In childhood, my dad’s big white cotton hankies were indispensable: held against my dripping nose, their absorbent comfort got me through my days.  Come the long awaited monsoon, my nose watered in company with the skies.  Dosing me with Erythromycin [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erythromycin], my dad was often fellow sufferer.  But, for him as well as I, after each course of the antibiotic, another cold bided its time to attack anew.

My college years in Anantapur and a decade of graduate study in the States granted me some respite.  Over the last decade, however, with Mum dying, and the peri/ post-menopausal years, I have reverted to my childhood self, clutching now not a white hanky but a tissue to my nose.tissue box  Wastepaper bins overflow, and crumpled papers decorate random corners during my worst drips. Though guilty at the waste of paper, I am now addicted to their convenience.  When my nose streams, and I can barely stand upright, the tissues are my tenuous hold on sanity.

During times of stress, I’ve noticed that the colds follow one upon another.  This month, for instance, I’ve hosted three major attacks.  Is it any coincidence that this is the month, I’ve driven down thrice to neighboring Bangalore, in order to check on my aunt who happened to be hospitalized?why-i-keep-getting-colds  [cf. blog that relates stress and recurrent colds:  http://healthblog.yinteing.com/2010/04/14/why-do-i-keep-getting-colds-sinus-and-flu/]   Aunt Devaki, my Mum’s only surviving sister was rushed to CCU in the throes of intense abdominal pain, initially suspected to be the heart, and later diagnosed as gall stones.  After a week’s stay,  my aunt recovered to celebrate her ninetieth birthday at the Old Age Home I’d placed her in.  I was summoned to take her out for lunch:  transport and treat which included her recent favorite, her cousin’s daughter-in-law.  The cousin’s son doesn’t bother to visit her.

His wife, on the other hand, is a regular attendee on Aunt Devaki, in favor because she’s of the Coorg race, fair as the Coorgs are. [check out the Coorgs here: http://coorg.tripod.com/coorgs.html]  Earlier, my aunt has been known to insist on receiving blood transfusions only from a Coorg!   For mongrel, mixed blood me, Aunt Devaki is a relic and memory of Mum’s do-gooding.  Mum was the standby of her older sister, when life didn’t go Devaki’s way.  Dearest Mumso often grumbled at her sister’s airs and graces, but she stood up for her, even when Devaki pissed off my Dad, “I have a right to come here.  It’s my sister’s house.”   Feminist in rhetoric, but parasite in substance, Devaki feels that looking after her is our duty–first Mum, now me.

Every time I visit her, I come down with a Cold once I return home.  Suggestive?  Aunt Devaki is the mistress of manipulators.  With a face whose beauty even at ninety startles people, her looks and regal presence have gotten her through life.devaki  Although nearly penniless, she has numerous servitors who appear magically when prompted, among whose midst I number myself.  Having taken her on financially, a responsibility as memorial to Mum, I am yet periodically beset with childhood belief in her gracious self.  That belief, besieged by her physical reality, doesn’t last long for adult Grie.

I have to take to my heels and run home–to my ashram apartment, the Rain tree, the increasingly unkempt garden,  timid Tippy the bitch, and of course, my watering, suffering nose.

To Sleep with Trees: a small meditation on lives & deaths

To sleep like Rip Van Winkle for a hundred, a million years…and then to wake into the wonder of a world made new.
It’s not the waking but the sleep I crave.
I long to plunge into a deathly sleep, a sleep that transfigures my nascent, waking self.
I would be a changeling, stumbling bravely through a sphere seen anew.
A sleeper who wakes not herself, but another altered eye/I.

neemtreeAs a child, I used to creep out of the back door of the bath room, out to sit under the Neem tree in the night quiet. [http://www.organeem.com/neem_tree.html] Sitting there, I would let the minutes and hours slip away, breathing in the sentience of non-human earth. Way back in the bowels of the house, caught by human anxiety, Mum would hunt for me, “Grie, Grie, where where are you?”

The faint echoes of her voice cautioned me into total still, under the leafy neem scented starlight. Though our house lay in the center of Madras, three roads bordered the bungalow:  our back yard only connected to old lady Achutha Menon’s front yard, separated by a wall and yards of shrubbery.  Mum, moreover, had planted trees all about the compound wall, cutting us off from neighboring lives.

On the ground, seated beneath the Neem, I, small Grie, shared a reality that humans, bustling about their lives, missed. Feeling the earth breathe, the insects bite and rustle, small creatures (rats?) stir about me, I touched G-O-D, unknowable mysterious process that, even then, reassured and brought me curious strength.

Years later, Mum referred to those ‘catatonic’ states of mine. She’d been worried, she said, but Swami put her mind to rest, though he counseled me not to sit alone when he sent me off to his women’s college in Anantapur, about six years down the line.

Dad had died by then, so my mind tunneled into different spaces of grief and loss, crevices disparate from my dark Neem shelter.  In the scrublands of Andhra, I discovered, at the farthermost edge of playing fields, a rocky outcrop that I could sit atop to consider the barren, stony hills.  None of the other girls ventured close, scared off by tales of surrounding graves and their attendant ghosts.  But, the quality of solitude was different: with dad’s death, complexities of adulthood came creeping over my soul, trailing in its wake, romantic fantasies, sexual infatuation, and existential confusion.

Photo on 24-06-13 at 5.52 PM #2Only now, sitting in this little semi-open patio, with the Rain tree’s [Albizia Saman] branches spreading overhead in the green company of shrubby foliage, I wake from the thrall of an unplanned two hour sleep to chanting from the hall, and feel a sudden breath from the child I was.  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albizia_saman]

Now, with Dad, Mum, Swami departed into the past–
now, stressed by a recent encounter with my ninety years’ old aunt who revels in the busy, petty minutiae of human interactions,
who still plays one human against the other,
have I woken to unspeaking child’s awareness.  Now, the little dog lies on the doorstep, a squirrel dashes from shrub to tree, a butterfly hangs from a flower, and only the gusting breeze bustles.

My father died in his fifty-third year, the earliest of my loves to depart, Mum in her seventy-fourth, and mysterious Swami in his eighty-fifth.  I envy my Dad his exit at the height of his human achievements.  Me, I’m 52.  My soul, and body, tire of interaction, I long for sleep in the bowels of the earth, next to the Rain tree’s roots.
Saman1744

Literate encounters: rural women and educated me

Deeply suspicious of institutions and organizations, but unable to rest easy with my own little nest-egg, I look around for folks I can help in any way– financially mostly, but also with a bit of personal involvement.  Here, in Puttaparthi, most village folk (even those in their thirties) are either illiterate or literate just enough to read labels with difficulty, having just scraped through high school, about tenth grade.  Exploring various definitions of ‘literacy,’ commonly accepted as the skill of reading and writing, I came upon the following by the U.N.:

“[This] view, responding to recent economic, political and social transformations, including globalization, and the advancement of information and communication technologies, recognizes that there are many practices of literacy embedded in different cultural processes, personal circumstances and collective structures”….‘Literacy’, throughout history and across societies, has encapsulated a varying range of skills and erudition, but its antonym, ‘illiteracy’, has always been synonymous with disadvantage. It is this definition that, perhaps, elucidates the concept best.  [http://www.unric.org/en/literacy/27791-the-evolving-definition-of-literacy]”

Photo: S.B. Krivit

Photo: S.B. Krivit

Even here, in rural, backwoods Rayalseema, I commonly notice all manner of villagers talking busily into their mobile phones.   Sitting on a bullock cart, jogging along with a stack of hay on tarred roads, the ‘driver’ wields his mobile phone while he urges on the skinny, underfed bullock.  Inside the ashram, too, I’ve come across maids and  sweepers chatting importantly on their phones.  I knew that they probably weren’t ‘literate’ but couldn’t figure out how they managed until a ‘dhobi’ or washerwoman wanted my phone number.

woman phoneSaraswati fished out her phone, laughed, and asked me to enter my number.  “How are you going to know that its my number when you want to call me,” I asked. She told me that she’d assign a symbol to my number, so that she’d know it was me.  Showing me different symbols, dots, dashes, asterisks, she reeled off the names behind the numbers.  Remembering symbols is impossible for me, my educated mind and memory used to the alphabet, but Sarawati had formulated her own personal code. Living here, I’ve learned not to label folks easily, even ‘literacy’ becomes an unclassifiable spectrum.  As in the UNIC quote,  strategies like Saraswati’s are part of “”many practices of literacy embedded in different cultural processes…”

Although I’m not actively searching for girls who want to study further,  I stumble across quite a few without looking, given where I live.  In Rayalseema [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayalaseema] a district that suffers perennial water scarcity, the villagers eke out a bare living from seasonal crops.  Thanks to its founder, the ashram provides free schooling, but getting into college after that is impossible for the villagers as they possess only very basic English language skills when they make through from high school.  atp-frontOffering free education, Swami’s women’s college in Anantapur nearby, is now part of a whole university.  Ironically,  the standard of literacy required is beyond the locals.  In fact, I studied for 5 years in his college, and graduated with a Master’s which got me free education in the States!

The villagers, or original inhabitants of Puttaparthi before it became a bustling tourist town thanks to Swami, depend on the infrastructure of the ashram (and its attendant free hospitals, colleges, schools, canteens) for employment outside that of the land.woman farmer   The ashram proper employs a number of yard sweepers (also block janitors), a sweeper for each block of tiny apartments.  Most of them have been around for years.  Hard as the job is, it comes with benefits, and so prized, often passed down through generations of the same family–mother to daughter/ son, or even husband to wife.  Non-gender specific, the women actually outnumber the men.  Gangamma has been doing the job for years, arriving in the ashram at dawn, going home to her house in the village for lunch, and returning in the afternoon for another stint until about 5 pm.

Technically she’s not assigned to my block, but on the ground floor as I am, with a little private garden, I’m a face made familiar through the years.  During festival seasons, especially when Swami was alive, the place gets a noisy influx of pilgrims from the outlying areas.  Out for a spree with the excuse of religion, farm workers themselves, they don’t look for toilets but search for any semi-private spot to squat and do their business, more the women than the men.  At such times, I keep a wary eye out for such offenders.   Sure enough, a couple of years ago, I found a fetid pile of human feces in the corner, under some plants. At a loss about how to clear it up, I was glad to see a trio of sweepers cleaning up my neighbor’s yard in the absence of the regular guy.

sweepersNoticing me and my quandary,  the women wished me and assured me they would deal with the mess.  Curious to see how they would clean up human excrement, I hung around.  The two who had assured me most vociferously continued to sweep, but the third, the one I was least acquainted with, the quietest of the lot, disappeared.  Returning with a cardboard carton in hand, she proceeded to flatten it and, then, neatly swept up the stinking pile and deposited it in the waste bin.  Impressed with her wordless efficiency, I asked for her name and tipped her well.  That was how Ganga (the ‘amma’ is a suffix denoting formality, i.e. Gangamma) and I came to be acquainted.

After that incident, I would run into her sweeping elsewhere while returning from my morning walks.  Always quiet but smiling, she wished me on sight.  Dark and sloe-eyed, I find her the epitome of Indian womanhood, her hair oiled and coiled up in a bun, clad in a simple working woman’s sari.  Every so often, when the irregular worker assigned to my block failed to show, she appeared to sweep out my yard, so we got acquainted over a couple of years.  But, returning after a gap of two months from my Goa hiatus, I saw her no longer until she turned up at my door, suddenly one day.  Immersed in my writing, I was impatient, and told her to return when I was free.  Only later, when my composition was done did her words and appearance hit my consciousness, prompting a wave of guilt.  Teary eyed and hair in disarray, she’d appeared to tell me that her mother had died with no warning, just fourteen days after the death of her father who’d been ailing for some time.

Artist N.S. Abdul Rahim (Kerala, India)

Artist N.S. Abdul Rahim (Kerala, India)

Kicking myself for my selfishness, I inquired after her when I came upon the other sweepers.  Thankfully Ganga showed up to meet me again, and I could hear her out.  Weeping inconsolably, she repeated that the death of her mum had been a total shock. Bedraggled though she looked,  she’d returned to work.  In the weeks that followed, her face grew lined and she lost weight in her grief.  There no way for me to console her, I could only tell her that she should watch herself, that time would heal the pain a bit, even if, at the moment of loss, sadness overwhelmed all thought.  Diffident in the face of her loss, I presented her with a couple of my own mum’s saris and some money, poor consolation.

Over the troubled course of a month, Ganga continued disturbed and weary, but slowly her face regained its old contours.  Approaching me again, she said that she wanted her daughter to meet me.  Her daughter had recently finished high school, and wanted now to go on to study for her intermediate,  a two years interim course before graduate college.  Wondering if her daughter liked studying, and if her grades were any good, I questioned Ganga, unwilling to assume responsibility on hearsay.  “She wants to study further.  She’ll be the first woman to study beyond school in our family.  Anyway, please amma, I want her to meet you.  She looks like you, her nose, her face.”

I acquiesced.  What else could I do?  I warned Ganga, however, that I wouldn’t finance her daughter’s studies completely, although I could help out a bit if I thought the girl was serious.  She smiled at me:  “I’m not asking for any financial help.  I just want her to meet with you.”  So I did.

Pramila, her daughter arrived with together with Ganga,  and two small, restless kids, one her younger sister, the other a cousin.  In India, the concept of family is rather different from the West:  even cousins are commonly referred to as sisters or brothers. Until they clarify the relationship for me, I routinely get misled and assume they are all part of one family.  Although Ganga has four daughters, one older than Pramila and the last younger, she’d brought her niece along rather than her other two kids.  Looking far younger than her years, Pramila was quiet when I questioned if she was the oldest:
“Hey Ganga, I wanted to meet your oldest daughter, the one who is going to study.”
“My eldest is at home, my family has decided that she shouldn’t continue.  She’ll stay home and look after the house when I come for work.  Anyway, her eyes are weak. She wears spectacles.”
“But, glasses are not a big deal, I wear them too.  I’ve been wearing glasses since I was eight years old.”  I assured her.
Ganga remained unconvinced, “When she was about 10, the doctors slit a stye on her eyelid.  Then, they told me that she couldn’t see too well, that she’s to wear specs.  It’s better she remains at home.”
“What are you planning for her? Marriage?”

Source: The Times Of India Group © BCCL

Source: The Times Of India Group
© BCCL

She nodded hesitantly, “Pramila’s the one whom we want to send to Anantapur for further studies. My younger brother is checking colleges now. They ask for a capitation fee* of about 2 lakhs (ie about 200,00 rupees), then we pay fees of about forty thousand.”  [on the controversy about capitation fees charged by colleges and schools for entrance in India, see http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/keyword/capitation-fee/featured/4 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitation_fee ]
“What subjects do you want to take for your major?” I ask Pramila who looks totally out of it.
Like a parrot, she responds, “CEP.”
girl studentsI’ve no idea what the letters stand for, so I ask her to explain and learn they stand for “Civics, Economics, Politics,” one of the majors possible for an intermediate degree. On questioning Pramila if these are her favorite subjects, or the ones in which she gets the highest grades, she replies in the negative. Her cousin, studying for a degree in Anantapur at present, has told her she should choose this major.
“What do you want to do after this?”
“I’ll go to TTC.”
More initials, here they stand for “Teacher Training Center.” And at the Center, what is she training toward? A degree, a diploma, a certificate? She doesn’t know. Is the major relevant to entering TTC? She doesn’t know. “My brother has told me,” is her invariable response.

Gradually, I get her to come out of the shell of wordless disinterest, goading her with questions on her favorite subjects, on the papers she written best in her exams. Pramila has given me the certificate of her overall grade in school finals, a C-, but she doesn’t know her individual grades in different subjects. Finally, she admits that she feels that she’s done best in Physics and Biology. Surprised by that, I ask her to meet me again. After she checks, she’ll know for sure the subjects she’s done best in, and I’m curious if they tally with her own estimation. Poking her further out of her shell, I prod,

“do you want to end up doing housework even after your studies? If you don’t have a goal in life, if you don’t decide where your interests lie, and just listen to your brother, or, later, your husband, what is the point of your parents spending so much money on you? You’ll be the first woman in the family to do further studies, you shouldn’t let your parents or yourself down.”

Unfortunately, without proper guidance academically and emotionally, there’s an all too real possibility that Pramila could end up later in life as a maid or a sweeper.

Graduating from an ‘English medium’ school, Pramila doesn’t speak English, not even broken English. When I speak in English to her, I’m not totally certain that she understands me. But, by the end of the visit she’s more animated, and promises me to talk to her cousin, go to the Teacher Training Center in Anantapur, and to check her grades for individual subjects. I don’t set too much store by these promises. I’m not sure how long the enthusiasm will last, though Ganga assures me her daughter will meet me again. At the last I spell out the word g-o-a-l to her, explain what it means, and tell that she has to define some goals in life for herself.

Artist: Loui Jover

Artist: Loui Jover

I’d like to help further her education, but only if she will help herself, will attempt to become a woman who thinks for herself, and works towards some (any) goals in life. Motivation is hard to sustain in her circumstances. I doubt that Pramila will come by, but pray she will!

dirty words, filthy mind, profane body–reclaiming language & god

Women porters Madras 1920s

Women porters Madras 1920s

In that never never time of memory, a decade ago when Mum was alive and Swami too, I worked at the Western Canteen, pre-dawn, mornings, afternoons, and evenings. A dog used to accompany me there, leave me to work and sometimes even appear to take me back. Pappu was my Mum’s dog, really, but she took it upon herself to assume responsibility for me.  (Who owns whom?)   Eddie, a co-worker seeing Pappu’s solemn duty, joked, “one man and his dog.” Without thought, I reacted, “No Eddie, love, its one woman and her bitch.” Eddie found my come back apt, but funny, as I did too at the moment. But, my own quip remained with me through the years: unconscious knee jerk reaction to language and its sexism.

Now, when I’m writing this blog, putting words down after a silence of almost twenty years, I find that words like ‘bloody’, ‘period’, ‘bitch’ run through my sentences. I wonder at myself that I gravitate instinctively toward words or phrases resonating with women’s sexuality. An Young Woman in Sari, Rides BicycleGrowing up an overweight child prone to tantrums, fits of withdrawal, I had my parents worrying about my mental health.  [See Mollow’s article that looks at fat discrimation even in the queer community: http://bitchmagazine.org/article/sized-up-fat-feminist-queer-disability] Getting my periods early didn’t help either, nor that I possessed a shrieky witch’s voice too loud for the surroundings.  These traits added to a mind that couldn’t take anything for granted meant that I invariably got singled out.  Trouble followed me around.

My discovery of Audre Lorde, when doing my doctorate in the States, lifted a weight off me.  Reading “The Uses of Anger” and the poems in “The Black Unicorn” and meeting Lorde herself gave me a role model. I fancied Lorde literally bulging out of the confines of white racism and academic restrictions with her big black lesbian body.  She thrust the physicality of her black, woman’s body in the midst of white anemic writing. Lorde Myself too big, too loud, too argumentative for my Indian context–the well behaved, upper class schoolmates, or conversely, the conservative, modestly hindu collegemates in Anantapur–I rejoiced to be one among the big, black women I met.  [On going against the norms of modest Indian womenhood, read http://thefeministwire.com/2013/05/walking-the-tightrope-good-indian-girls-race-and-bad-sexuality/ ]  Called “nigger” by my black friends, I learned the painful ironies of that sisterhood.

Running out of beer late one night, Jackie, my girlfriend, and I walked down to the corner store only to be told by the lone clerk that we couldn’t buy alcohol after midnight, although we knew that the cut off was 1 pm.  When Jackie and I suggested that he wasn’t selling us the liquor because we were black, the store clerk was on the verge of pushing the panic button, thinking he was about to be attacked by us.  Merely the sight of our skins signaled aggression to him.  Where then is the difference between black and brown.  Did Indian culture and upper classness distinguish me any from Jackie, my  tough black ghetto woman?

A month or so later, Jackie left me, jailed for shooting a dealer when he intruded on her territory.  I wonder if I’d been around in that park whether I’d have been arrested too regardless of my involvement or not. [For a look at internalized racism and its workings, see http://shotgunseamstress.blogspot.in/2012/10/radical-anti-racist-racism-or-rarrrrrrr.htmlanti-socialLater, while writing my dissertation, I wrote of a black/ brown/ colored woman’s, particularly a lesbian’s, “monstrously feminine” body in the convoluted prose of critical theory.  The jargon of ‘high’ theory protected me against the messiness of words, the dirt of description and anecdote, the visceral secretions of women’s cussing.

Growing up, I learned first to lisp English syllables.  Speaking the different vernaculars of Coorg and Tamil communities, Mum and Dad, educated intellectuals both, spoke fluently the language of our colonized past.  Indian English is my first language, and I now dig in the mire of its sexist, racist, and classed legacy.  I speak my woman’s self and body, not to abuse my self but to savor the curious delight of an identity too big for others’ comfort.

But, twenty years down the line, doctorate or no, class markers or no, I am yet prey to a secret guilt that I am too gigantic, too clumsy still for the spaces in which I live and write.  That these negative socio-cultural attitudes persist, internalized somewhere in my psyche, is proof of the immense power of cultural norms.  I fight against these dictates of womanliness, but in moments of self-doubt they rise like specters to haunt me.  I shut myself up in an ashram room, go for walks only at first, faint light, and speak to hardly anybody but Tippy.  Grie Verd, the my private childhood nickname for myself fits snugly into the “malformed series of noh masks” by a Japanese artist in a collision of non-white hurting(s).  Apt indeed that I find these malformed faces/ masks beautiful! [see ‘About’ page: https://quiescentbeing.wordpress.com/about/]

And what about my clumsy quest for otherness, the ache of longing for some vast awareness that  includes all, animate and inanimate, and judges none?  Any route or religion seems to demand purity, often an ascetic purity involving continual cleansing of humanness–of the dirty woman’s self and body, in particular.  But I’ve been born with a being who hinted otherwise, that total acceptance of the self and universal process leads, will nilly, to surrender.  Surrender which rejoices in just being, worship and adoration without mind,  a sense of arbitrary divinity—I am tumbling through Generation-Organization-Destruction, process, entropy, cosmic chaos, multiverses.  I live in god. I am everything and nothing—loud, big, messy, dirty, bloody, slutty, womanly, angry micro in the macro cosm.

"Venus Variation Large" Artist-Susan Grabel

“Venus Variation Large” Artist-Susan Grabel

Bloodletting I: women & our periods

A few days ago, my maid, Shymala, requested a day off.  She warned me well ahead, about five days in advance.  More and more excited as the day approached, she filled me in on the little details about the ceremony of opening a new temple in her parents’ village, just about half an hour away.  “Gangamma” is a goddess of the arid southern ghats, a water goddess, harbinger of rains if properly propitiated.   An avenging god, Gangamma hunts down the rapist chieftain of  her village who tries to molest her.  In her dreadful wrath, she assumes various guises, each more angry than the other (almost akin to Kali).  Finally, disguising herself as Palegadu’s (the chieftain’s) overlord, she lures the rapist from his hiding place to kill him.  Today, the villagers appease her fury with a jatera or festival.  They hope to calm her down that she may bless them with rain.  So in the scrublands of Rayalseema resides a woman deity who is an icon of rage against men’s misdirected sexuality.  Feminist icon would you say?

On the day looked forward to so eagerly, Shymala arrives at my door with tears in her eyes.

“What on earth’s the matter?” I question.

“My ‘date’s’ come, I can’t go today.” [check out other euphemisms for periods at http://www.mum.org/words.html some funny stuff!]

“Date, what date? Oh, oh, don’t tell me you’ve got your periods? So what, its your mother’s house. Why can’t you go there?” I’m really puzzled now.

“It’s a pooja: they are sanctifying a new temple. I can’t go because of my period, it’s not allowed,” Shymala explains to me.

“But, don’t go to the temple, just go and stay at home, in your parents’ house,” I retort.

“No, no, I’m not supposed to go the first two days of my period.”

“You mean you can’t even go to your mum’s house? There must be other women there, some maybe having their period.” I’m angry here.

“No, no, it’s a small village, I can’t go, even to the house.”

“Isn’t the idol of a female deity? You told me that it was Gangamma.”  You know, dear reader, if you’ve come this far what Gangamma the fierce represents!

“Even then, I can’t go.”

That was it, final edict.   Shymala stayed back in Puttaparthi, and all the rest of the big joint family–husband, sisters-in-law, mother-in-law (who is also her grandmother), brothers-in-law, and various assorted kids all went off to celebrate the installation of Gangamma’s idol. Yes, she left the next day to see her mum, but only after the pooja/ ritual was over and Gangamma safely set up without the contamination of Shymala’s monthly blood.

Only about 23 years, Shymala seems younger than her actual age.  As an only daughter, her parents had been fiercely protective of her, even removing her from school when she refused to continue after getting her period.  Beginning to menstruate when she was about 14, she worried about walking down alone to get to school. Menstruation is a big deal, not only for the girl, but also for her family in the villages of Andhra Pradesh, and most of India as well. Often, the event calls for public ceremony.

 Photo: "Tamil Coming of Age – Manjal Neerattu Vizha" by Richard Clarke


Photo: “Tamil Coming of Age – Manjal Neerattu Vizha” by Richard Clarke

A couple of years ago, I and a couple of friends drove into the only decent hotel on the outskirts of Puttaparthi, a Government of India Tourism enterprise.  The entire place, quite huge, was lit up with strings of lights, and we were told that they would’t be serving dinner as the hotel had been booked up for a private function.   Noticing that Ramachandran, clerk at the University, was hovering in the background, Padma, next to me, murmured,
“I know what’s going on, it’s Ramachandran’s daughter’s maturity.  I remember now–quite a few people were invited.”

What d’you mean by ‘maturity’,” I asked, genuinely at sea.

Don’t you know, some people celebrate a girl’s first period like a wedding!

“Isn’t that embarrassing? Can’t believe people still go in for that sort of thing, first time I’m seeing it. It may be a big deal, but this? Ramachandran’s only a clerk, must have spent a good bit on this shindig.”

Padma duly filled me in, at least what she knew about common hindu practices, being a Tamilian who lived in the States.  The girl had to sit, dolled up and garlanded (as in the pic), receiving well wishes and gifts from the people invited.  I couldn’t quite take it all in as I knew that menstruating women suffered from varied restrictions. The same girl, now bedecked and the object of good wishes on her coming of age, would later be outcast, banished from religious festivals, unclean because of her period.   Padma, quite oblivious of my reservations, continued with her own memories (she’s in her 70’s):

“In our big old house in Madras we lived altogether, my grandparents, their only son and his wife (my parents) and us children.  When my mother entered as a young bride, during her periods she was made to stay for three days in a large room behind the house. Even meals were brought to her separately, and the dishes kept apart because they’d been contaminated.  For three days, the women were not allowed to bathe because they would sully  the bathroom.  On the final day, the women would go to a nearby tank to bathe, then only would they enter the house. Even my older sister kept to her room upstairs at that time.  Only I was free from restrictions, growing up.”  Padma added, laughing, “I feel it was not totally negative as the women could use the time off, to relax, to sleep longer.” [see comment by Padmini in http://philobiblion.blogspot.in/2005/11/menstruation-why-is-it-so-hard-to-say.html] [compare Mari Marcel who sees the positive like my friend- http://newint.org/blog/2012/05/11/becoming-woman-india/]
August 2011, ink pen on paper. Sketch courtesy, Katherine C.

August 2011, ink pen on paper. Sketch courtesy, Katherine C.

As Katherine C. aptly writes in pithy prose, “The fact is that menstruation is a bodily function of most female-bodied persons on the globe. It has also been condemned, shamed, and ridiculed by Western and other patriarchal societies into something so dirty and so repulsive that cultural taboos against even its mere mention exist strongly right up to the present.* Menstruating women have been called “unclean,” “polluted and polluting,” and “posionous.” Menstrual blood has been said to cause failure of crops, disease, madness in dogs, and castration in men. Menstruating women have been sequestered away, forbade from food preparation, and starved. Then they were shamed, silenced, and made sport of. This is the history of the Period.” [http://sketchbookradical.wordpress.com/%5D.

Ramachandran’s daughter sitting on a float, with people invited to celebrate her first period, was an archaic embarrassment to me.  There she sat, object for future transactions of marriage and dowry, made ready to be bought and sold as a commodity while folks rejoiced. Indian women, with the red dots on their foreheads, their toe rings after marriage, and their ‘mangalsutras‘ or wedding necklaces are branded as possessions for men.  And, without any visible external markers, not even a ring, married Indian men are free to roam, no Gangamma to keep them in check these days.

Though I told Shymala to remain at her parental home for three nights to make up for her banishment, she was back in Puttaparthi after two nights.
“Why doesn’t she stay another night, and come back later in the day?” I enquire of  her grandmother who helps me out in Shymala’s absence.
“It’s Friday. Women are not allowed to travel on Friday.”
Or, as I later learnt from Shymala, they’re not allowed to travel on full moon, on no moon, and other prohibited days; but men can travel any old day. Hearing these edicts, I mutter,
“You know why women are not allowed to travel about, don’t you? Your men want to tie you up and keep you at home.”
She laughs, these restrictions are just part of her life, and she accepts her lot, albeit with some tears.

As Featured On EzineArticles

This post will continue in “Bloodletting II”

A dance through death–of non-human beings

Mornings, these days, I want to wake at 3 am, enjoy the dark quiet before the ashram about me stirs all too soon. Now, I’ve made it to 4 am or nearly so, but when the alarm shrills at 3, I fumble to shut it down. Even at 4 am, when I move to draw the curtains open, I notice the corner room opposite on the third floor. The lights are always already on. An old couple, husband and wife, they’ve redone the room and moved in to stay only about a year ago, after Swami died

So many people still wander around, as I sit typing later in the day. A boy announces loudly, self-importantly to his sisters (or are they his girlfriends?), “You must know the places here. There is the western canteen, there. There is the Swami’s room” They nod, smiling, proud of his knowledge of the ashram.

I observe all, a fat spider spinning my webs onscreen. In this heat of May, my body balloons up, and clothes that fit me a couple of days before feel constricting today. I hang about behind my locked doors in long Indian cotton gowns, which shroud the body, shoulder to foot. Yet, if I’m braless, I need a long scarf to veil me for modesty; men of course loiter on their balconies shirtless, nipples exposed.  I dress properly, pants and shirt, only early morning when I leave the flat for my walk. Even at a quarter to six, I meet other ashram dwellers walking by on the tree lined concreted road behind. I exchange greetings with those whom I’m acquainted. It is a community after all, much as I struggle with its norms.

Among those morning walkers, I detect signs of Swami’s absence. The ‘boys’ erstwhile whiteclad, now, the few who turn up are in jeans and tees. Time stretches, there is more time to stroll, to walk. ‘Darshan‘ in the big hall is not as much a compulsion now as it was in the days when Swami walked the hall. Then, people lined up early, arguing about who was first in line so that they could stand a better chance at a spot where they could catch his eye. After his accident years earlier, after the initial dumbstruck horror of his non-presence, people slowly slacked off. Used to a being who never missed his rounds in the hall, a diurnal rhythm as regular as the sun, folks had to accustom themselves to seeing his erratic arrival–first, in a golf buggy, perched in front to be visible; then later in the Prius, kulwanthallmuch worse as he’d keep the glass deliberately rolled up; and, finally, pushed around in the wheelchair almost eye level with the seated devotees.

More exposed, more vulnerable as Swami was in the wheelchair, he could not be seen from the back of the hall.  Plush as it was, the wheelchair offered him up to his devotees, a victim where once he was master.  Swami played all roles, slave or master, enjoying the ironies of  human hierarchy.  In the hands of the boys who pushed him around, he spoke in muffled tones allowing the men around him to intercede.  His gestures often feeble and his eyes distant, those about him took it upon themselves to translate his words.  Serving himself up to his devotees in a plate, he dished himself up as  an icon even before he died, with those ‘close’ to him acting as pundits. Those men in the know increasingly took decisions of their own. Doctors turned up with remedies for Alzheimers‘, Parkinsons‘, and other malaises, attempting to ‘cure’ Swami even as they prayed to him for succor, or for their own cures. A comedy of human blindness.

The urge to get a good spot in the hall, to catch his eye, gave way to the inclination for social ritual. As Swami‘s arrival in hall became hit or miss, the attendees passed their time in various ways: gossip foremost, a chance at a tête à tête with the VIPs in the front rows, a sprinkling of minor celebrities. With the menfolk, staff and VIPs, seated on the veranda, looking down through the women ostensibly at Swami‘s house, the hall offered a chance at surreptitious romance or flirtation. Life’s nitty-gritty, human interactions carried on much like the great, sinful world outside the ashram gates.

In the midst of these worldly pursuits were sprinkled the grieving, the needy, the devout. But, that was Swami‘s way, “head in the forest, hands in society.” Living in the ashram meant being put through the mills of god, to be ground exceeding fine. Rubbing shoulders, smells, and sweat with same people in the lines, day after day, morning and evening, brought out all the jealousies, the viciousness, the petty snobberies, the kowtowing. As Swami retreated, the people in positions of management came into prominence. And did they enjoy it!

My place in the second row, my identity after mum died was always suspect. Many a time, Mrs. S– the white-haired domina of seating hauled me up for snapping at the ‘security girls.’ Women of indeterminate age, anywhere between 25-60, they’d graduated from the same college in Anantapur as I had, electing to do ‘security’ duty for the perks of an authoritative seat in front.  Security, there was, plenty of it, from being checked at the entrance for contraband like books too big, cigarette lighters, pens etc to saris too flimsy, blouses without sleeves, overly visible cleavage. Mrs. S—would smile, showing her large teeth, pat me kindly, and remark, “so, are those snakes on your shoulders showing?” Ooh, we’d get patted down daily, as did the cushions we carried which had to be stitched up at the sides.

That I carried on for darshan as earnestly, single-mindedly as I did for nigh on 10 years amazes me today. But, all said, that was Swami‘s mystery, the sense of otherness he carried into daily life. The adventure of being with him while detesting the society about him kept me going. I had to tread a fine line, as everybody realized that I was there, inexplicably, under his eye, personally supervised.  I could not carry rebellion too far, I loved him too much. My retreat from the hall during the last 3-4 years of Swami‘s life came about without my volition, maybe Swami spurred me on from within myself. Perhaps, my goblin god kept his jester (me) out of trouble as the hall slowly lost its mystique and surrendered to human routine.

Swami remained without appearing in the hall for longer and longer lengths of time. He confined himself to his room. Illness, perhaps. But, with such a strange being, I wondered, even then, if the drama of his decline was orchestrated. By whom? By himself, a being who used and manipulated his physical self without a pang of regret at its bodily suffering.

Long before the decline, I remember sitting next to Mum in the front row: Swami came by, paused to make a quip about something. Looking down at his foot peeping out from under the long orange robe, I saw that all the toes were rimmed in blood. Sweeping away the robe, I examined his other foot as he stood there jesting but quite aware of my horror. Yes, the toes were crusted with blood. What human being could cut his nails quick to the veins, making them bleed, oblivious to the pain? Torturers know that driving even the thinnest sliver under a nail makes the victim scream with agony. If, in the simple act of  cutting his nails, he could be so oblivious, why should he care about the agonies of disease, old age, or death?

That distance from one’s own body is not easily achieved. The nearest I’ve come is when I’ve pierced my own ears or brows, or during the 41/2 hours under tattoo needles. In that time, while the body is cut or pierced, pain becomes an experience in itself–no different from forcing yourself to eat on a full stomach, to depriving yourself of sleep, or to be hung over, or experiencing an orgasm. Pain/pleasure, or pleasure/pain form a spectrum of physical sensation. These experiences of the body are detached from the inner self.  Perhaps an evolved being may achieve total detachment from physical sensation even as the body undergoes it.Swami sil

Who knows? I don’t even want to fathom these depths. I only know that in the 52 years I’ve been with him, since I tumbled into this world, Swami’s life has been a little too neat yet too full of paradoxes, too mysterious for any human rationales. G-o-d lies all about me, seeps into my being, what have I to worry about in this strange adventure I call life?

Of fools like me–eccentrics in a spiritual asylum

Around the corner from me lives Subramaniam.  When I sit here at my window, I see him as he rolls by, white haired, chubby faced, rotund. Although he must be at least 65 years old, there is still something childlike about him.  Mornings he sports a bed head, white hair sticking up in spikes, a look that I still (52 myself) attempt to duplicate with hair gel or wax.  His clothes are different too: for the last three days he wears the same bright red baggy pants, and a loud red plaid shirt.  With his hands scrunched up like a child’s, one finger pointing toward the ground, he is the resident ‘Idiot’, a fool, certainly mental.

Continuing to live on in the ashram after my Mum died, I heard a loud rapping at the front door suddenly one night.  Nine o’clock is late night here, particularly in those days a decade ago.  Everything had shut down, and quiet filled the place– especially so for my flat on the high road, just behind Swami’s residence.  Taken aback at the rumpus, I stood behind the door (a mesh door) and asked cautiously, “Who is it?”

“Grie, Grie, it’s you isn’t it? I know your mum, where is she? Her name is T–, your sister’s name is N–, she’s married. She lives in France. You lived at 4a/1 Tank Bund Road. Don’t you know me? Why didn’t you get married?”

“Who is it?” I repeated, wondering what was going on.

“I was there, in the D— Mental Hospital from ’73’-75. Dr. D—, your dad, he’s dead. Is your mother dead too?”

“Hey, go away. I’m not opening the door. You’ll get into trouble knocking at doors after 9.”

“I’ll get into trouble?”

“Yes, you will, now, c’mon go.”

Subramaniam mulled my words over, standing behind the door for a while, and then he left.

The encounter stayed with me through the rest of the night.  The details he remembered had touched a nerve, and I found it difficult to sleep. 

Image courtesy of Jennifer Warters

Image courtesy of Jennifer Warters

Subramaniam’s memories of his stay as a mental patient at my father’s hospital triggered my own memories of Mum and Dad.  As children, my younger sister and I had played in the grounds of our family’s mental hospital.  He remembered me, but I had no memory of him. My childhood years, except for sporadic bursts of random memory, remain a blank even today.  But, in the years that followed after Mum’s death, Subramaniam and I developed a curious camaraderie. “Take me with you when you go to Madras. Promise me,” he’d demand off and on. Those years I was an alien to the ashram community, looked at with suspicion.  Subramaniam’s memories became a lifeline to my own identity, lost as I was in no woman’s land.

Most ashram folks couldn’t comprehend what motivated me to remain, an obvious misfit, with my cropped hair, jeans, tattoos. There I was, alone in a big flat when whole families stayed cooped up in small room, a woman without work, and single. Swami keeping me on didn’t help either.  He didn’t place me in an institutional framework like he did most single women of my age–he put them to work in the school, college, or hospital. Me, he kept to myself, prohibiting me even from helping out in the canteen where he’d plunked me down earlier.feminist-comics And, he never forced external social markers on me–long braided hair, womanly ornaments, the Hindu/ Indian red dot on the forehead. Good, womanly woman I could never be, and he left me be.  Bolstered by Swami’s support, I always reckoned that social morés asked too high a price in such badges of belonging.

Eccentric alien as I was, my frequent outbursts of fury put me further outside the pale. Particularly aggravating in their holy whites, men dominate the surroundings, elevated to supremacy merely through gender.internet-dominatrix Unable to look me in the eye, the male staff talk down to women, particularly single, jobless me. My hackles rise with such treatment, especially when a few of these holy beings took to following me around. Trude, an Austrian friend and ashram habituée, joked that the ‘boys’ in white ( men anywhere from 20-40 years old)  fixated on me because  they longed for a dominatrix to spank them into submission. I wouldn’t have minded, in those years, a leather whip in hand to slash across their hypocritical cheeks!

Give me Subramaniam any day.  Staying alone in his little ground floor room, he trundles around the place, even venturing outside the ashram gates.  Leaning against the gate, mouth pursed in a perpetual pout, he watches the world go about its routine.  I’ve often seen him engrossed in a chat with the policemen who guard the sanctum sanctorum, or with sundry workers.  Sometimes they picked on him for a laugh, but mostly they looked out for him.  A mascot, god’s idiot, one of the holy fools, Subramaniam moved out of  the mental hospital into a community of spiritual seekers.  Who’s to say who is closest to god’s heart?  The VIPs whom Swami conversed with in the big hall, who lecture away to the public?  Those whom he called in for private talks?  The men who donated big bucks to ease their mercenary consciences?  In Swami’s absence, those same front men, and their wives on the women’s side, use the hall for business deals, networking, routine commerce of life.

Or, are the white clad ‘boys’, running busily on errands about the hall, are they the Elect?  Now that death deprives us of Swami‘s physical self and its attendant hierarchies of ‘closeness’, what defines the status quo?  Seated in chairs about a marble tomb, or arranged cross legged in rows by order of importance, the pious chant sacred songs and mutter benedictions.  Seated furthermost in the back are the ordinary, nondescript faithful who wait long in lines for a sight of the tomb.   Subramaniam, of course, does not enter the hall.  He ambles outside, sometimes pausing against a wall, belly out, lost in his reveries.

Abetting his vagaries, I keep vigil in my room, gazing out onto the garden, hearing the singing from afar.  Somedays I never leave the flat, or if I do I embark only on an early morning stumble.  Early mornings, I may avoid social niceties.  Subramaniam, a self identified ‘mental patient,’  Grie, a self admitted ‘eccentric’ –only a thin social line separates us.   I think I would cross that border and join Subramaniam, if I could only let go–of a sanity still holding me in line–to evolve into an Idiot other Grie.

jester2

Spiritual punk 3–to protest against death day rituals

From six in the morning, pre-dawn, sounds at once raucous and rhythmic accompany my waking fluster.  That holy din heralds a pooja conducted in the hall behind my flat. I am told the ritual will last for three days, culminating in narayanseva  or distribution of food and clothing for the needy.  The dissonant  voices chanting rites for Vishwashanthi Yagna, or ritual for world peace rent the warm morning air, air that will touch forty degrees centigrade or more by midday.  A summer of heat and water scarcity ushers in Merlin’s death day, teaming up with social ritual to make it a day to endure in fortitude.

World peace is an utopian concept to a punk like me–societies, identities, people, men, women, too much flux in life to reach a stasis of peace.  Sure enough, the morning cacophony turns into a yearning, atonal, chant, reminding me, strangely enough, of the Muslim music I heard in a Kashmiri shop in Goa.  Then too, on another morning,  the music roused a restless grief in me.  Tracing these hyper-connections through the web, I happen on Rabbi Shergill, urban balladeer, whose record ‘Rabbi’ fuses an eclectic mix of religions, music genres and communities, a meta-link for my own quests.   I offer my reader Rabbi Shergill singing the poetry of Bulleh Shah, Sufi mystic (circa 1680-1757)–

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I/
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites/
Not the pure amongst the impure/
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh/
Bulleya! to me, I am not known/
In happiness nor in sorrow, am I/
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire/
Not from water, nor from earth/
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth/
Bulleya! to me, I am not known/
Not an Arab, nor Lahori/
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri/
Hindu, Turk, nor Peshawari/
Nor do I live in Nadaun/
Bulleya! to me, I am not known/
Secrets of religion, I have not known/
From Adam and Eve, I am not born/
I am not the name I assume/
Not in stillness, nor on the move/
Bulleya! to me, I am not known/
I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?/
Bulleya! to me, I am not known/

Born in then Punjab, amidst the communal rioting between Muslims and Sikhs,  caught up in savage race riots, Bulleh Shah turned mystic seer.  His birthplace now lies in Pakistan, over the border from India, the two countries unfriendly neighbors.   Amassing a cult following in Asia, Bulleh Shah’s poem, a mix of urdu and punjabi, is sung by a Sikh who appropriates the Jewish title of Rabbi, Rabbi Shergill.  Shergill’s contemporary fusion joins east-west beats, but Qawwali yearning [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qawwali] resounds through it all.

Seduced as I am by the music and words, something in me also resists.  Is such a-social longing always male?  Hard to find songs by women that trace such anti-social, alienated, longing through time.  Merlin/ Swami was also biologically male, but I could not gender his androgynous being.  Even to use the male pronoun to describe him feels sacrilegious, reducing (in)human pixie to human species. swamiBut, he lived, he died, caught in time–of the human species he must be!  I remember now, about a decade ago, sitting in the lines for darshan, women on one side of the hall, men on the other.

Merlin makes his way down through the hall, he goes past us women first. Behind me, a voice whimpers, “Babaaaa, baba, baba…” Baba means father, and often used for all saints, men, elders [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baba_%28honorific%29]. Swami, (this word also generic title for saint!) pauses, half turns his head with its halo of black hair, an Afro,

Ba Baa black sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.”

The reply haunts me still, mocking the human urge to make god over in our own image, our society, familiar family.   Or is it sarcastic pun on his own mop of woolly black hair, “black sheep?”   Or does it echo the master/slave dialectic between god and devotee, human and animal?  Is it a subtle poke at the colonialisms of our britishized upbringing, learning racist rhymes?  This was/ is the dance with Merlin/ Swami, whirling me through hoops of my own mind.

Making these wry rejoinders within earshot, his eyes would catch mine, gleaming with laughter.   “I know, I know. What do you know?”  he acerbically asked me in another encounter, forcing me to see my own intellectual arrogance, a legacy of my doctorate from the States. Angry women, tired of being on the sidelines, turn spiritual, empowered by rage, yearning for spaces less constricted.  My own rage at the world was fueled curiously enough by such encounters with Swami–he needled me out of cozy identities, social or sexual or class. He even sent me to the States, “She has to go, she can’t be without going.” And, after a decade, he exasperated me into returning, with messages through my Mum, with piquing dreams, with frustrations at academic status quo.  So, my punk allegiance, ironically, lies in my dance with Merlin.

Artist: Saadaspeak كلام سَعْدَى

Artist: Saadaspeak كلام سَعْدَى

Osa Atoe, Nigerian Amerian, queer, punk rocker, founder of Shotgun Seamstress  zine muses,

…no one gets to say what punk is. No one owns it. And in reality, punk rock ranges from Christian punk to radical queer punk: from drunk white boys annihilating each other in a mosh pit to anarcho-feminist reading groups. These characteristics can be found outside of punk rock too, in the lives of activists, artists, hippies and other wingnuts who are not necessarily affiliated with any ‘‘scene’’ per se. Things like communal living; anti-consumerism; DIY music and art making; feminist, anti-capitalist (including but not limited to socialist & Marxist), anarchist, anti-war, and environmentalist beliefs.  [Osa Atoe in an interview with Elizabeth Stinson [https://files.nyu.edu/es544/public/WP-PA22.2-3.pdf]

For my Merlin/ Swami’s death day, I celebrate process, breath that flows through all species, that rouses the inanimate into resistance against the living, action and reaction. [about reaction from the inanimate world see https://quiescentbeing.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/watering-the-garden/ ]   “Jagath MithyaSwami insists.  In a world combining truth and falsehood, why search for absolutes?  “Love is a bridge over the sea of change. Do not build a house on it.”  Merlin’s paradox.  We search through different truths in quest of one, but that universal transcendent One rests on difference. That’s the ironic beauty of living and loving–nothing lasts.

On the Al-Jazeera You tube channel, in the panel discussion “Who Speaks for Muslim Women,”  Hind Makki reflects on Femen‘s topless revolt [for the revolt see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/12/femen-activist-protest-putin-merkel].  She points out, “Femen is asking us to choose between feminism and our faith…between our gender identity and our faith identity….the prophets were radicals, but they worked within their societies.” [Makki’s blog, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hindtrospectives/]  Questioning the relationships between their faith, Islam, their gender, their race, their nationalities, the women on Al Jazeera’s panel come to no one consensus. Watching them, I confront the mystery of faith. These women acknowledge that Islam is not one singular religion, nor is feminism a singular ideology.  Beliefs conflict even as we join together as women, or as Muslims, or Hindus, or devotees, or Indians, or Iranians, a consensus of absolute oneness is out of reach, either for Femen or for the diverse other Muslim women.

Take for example, Taquacore muslim punk, a movement that began in fiction but moved to real life.   For Malik from The Kominas his music calls forth,

the idea of a complicated Islam. It’s western Islam’s first real voice of dissent. Because we are complicated. I don’t even feel Muslim most days. I know the culture, but I’m also American so I’m informed by rock’n’roll, hip-hop and everything else. I call myself a non-denominational atheist Muslim, but what does that even mean? [http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2011/aug/04/islamic-punk-muslim-taqwacores%5D

Malik is a guy, and a Muslim, his struggle is between his music identity and his faith.  But that discomfort with where you are, that questioning, that frustration, is quintessential punk.  As always, that discomfort casts me back to  an interconnected sentience, an it-ness, breath of breath, that we humans may never put into words.  Of course, we can try. Struggling for words, I call upon punk anger, rejecting social givens.  Security, identity, family–nothing is safe, all beings, all concepts, all identities move in flux.  If the earth blows up, other stars may nurture other life.  No absolutes around me in life, jagath mithya, yet G-O-D moves through all.itrustmy guitarjpg

[http://issuu.com/raggs/docs/itmg1/1]

Spiritual punk–a tattooed woman goes home to god

Since I’ve labelled myself, or the noh mask icon on the blog, a “spiritual punk,” I’ve got to explain a bit.  As usual, I assumed that the internet would prove a catalyst, and so it does, overwhelmingly so. I found punks of all sorts on the web, Muslim, black, queer, fat, women, as well as the usual white men.  If I had any worries about using a racist term to describe myself, my fears proved ungrounded in today’s punk scene.  Punk, in fact, invites the dissidents, the outsiders, and those suspicious of social edicts.
But first, fyi, ‘spiritual punk’ is a particular strain of marijuana available online, both seeds and seedlings. All of you who’ve clicked your way to this blog, feel free to click further on Google. The strain appears particularly potent. spiritual punk-samsara seeds-fem ‘Samsara’ seeds is the secondary label: particularly apt for my blog: “Samsara refers to the process of passing from one body to another throughout all species of life. Hindus believe that consciousness is present in all life forms, even fish and plants…. Most Hindus consider samsara essentially painful, a cycle of four recurring problems: birth, disease, old-age, and death.” [http://hinduism.iskcon.org/concepts/102.htm] Wonderfully pertinent to my digressions on the interconnectedness of the universe, or on the miraculousness coincidence!

Why am I a punk? Because I see myself as the eternal outsider, who never fits in and who never shuts up about it.tatsme Mongrel to the core, I have always barked away frantically at attempts to make me toe the line. With a potato-half pressed on the back of my ear and a needle on the other side, I pierced my ear lobes diy, my eyebrow too. Though people tried to describe it as masochism, I found the piercings empowering, a protest against societies which tried to make me fit in, to homogenize my different selves into a well behaved whole (hole). I even tried piercing my tongue, but had to stop with the job nearly done; I couldn’t get the needle out through the base of my tongue. When I walked across the street to get it pierced, I found myself with a novice whom I had to direct. When he pierced my tongue too close to the tip, I got him to remove the ring and repierce me, while blood spurted all over. With swollen tongue, I walked back to my teaching assistants’ office to meet with students to discuss their writing.

Three years later, when I returned to my Swami, he never mentioned the piercings except to remind my Mum of the time I’d cut off my eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair after my Dad’s death. (I removed the piercings one by one over a couple of years with no external prompting, tired of the villagers’ naive curiosity.) Merlin’s total acceptance of my distaste for social edicts bound me to him. Never did he criticize me for my anti-social tantrums, nor would he allow anybody else, even my Mum, to do so. His absolute awareness and understanding of my self exceeded my own: Swami knew me better than I knew myself. Graced with such acceptance, I integrated my punk anger into a recognition of the chaos of the universe, of a god who celebrated entropy above social order. That G-O-D, in Swami‘s phrase, meant Generation-Organization-Destruction, with no part of the process prized above another. Process is all, the universe breathes, we die. So am I a spiritual punk. God as a symbol (sometimes a living symbol) is an anarchic sprite, the Coyote trickster of the American Indians, a beautiful, yet goblin being with warm brown eyes. Human, but non-human, more feral in his/its ways than a man with hands and feet of clay, Merlin/ Swami.

Today in my early fifties, fat and limping, I still fantasize about steel safety pins in my ears, about tattoos that crawl over my hip and down my swollen knees. Women in steel toed boots with green hair, red eyes, black/ brown skinned, still make my blood thrum, and the music–L7’s “Monster in Me” was and is the anthem to life, complete with “my lovable curse,” my Swami.

Come on over
It’s getting late
It’s time to fish
No time to cut bait
Ghoulish passion you inspire
With your kind of trouble
I’ll never tire
Monster
(monster in me)
Bring out the monster
(monster in me)
Monster
(monster in me)
Bring out the monster
(monster in me)
You bring out
The monster in me
In a world full of disposable icons
All the jokers with the phony come-ons
I know I can depend on you
Cause when we’re together,
we’re hurtin’ crew
We don’t need to look for trouble
My partner in crime, my insanity double
When life takes a turn from bad to worse
You’re always there, my loveable curse

Oh, Donita Sparks, the growl that issued cuntside, the reassurance that bad as I was, there were women to keep me company or kick my ass.  I remember a party in grad school where the white women who’d invited me began worrying I was going to get my black punk friends over to thrash the place!

Trawling the web today, from my ashram room, I’m totally psyched to discover Osa Atoe, of Shotgun Magazine. [check out her zine and music here: http://issuu.com/shotgunseamstress/docs/makingwaves01-rev1_complete, https://www.facebook.com/shotgunseamstresszine] Aware of the contradictions of punk, she still carries on the dream,

I have my own utopian fantasy of what I think punk rock should be and some small part of me feels like it’s possible, so I can’t let it go no matter how many times I get let down. Fantasies of utopia are what get you hooked on punk in the first place right? ….punk rock, offer[s] you a different way to relate–a different way to have community and live your every day life that feels more fair, honest and free. At moments, it really does feel perfect even though nothing ever really is. When I was around 19 and 20 years old, I believed whole-heartedly in the ability of the punk scene to actually be anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist, anarchist–all of these things existing perfectly inside a bubble.
Numerous people by now have made the point that punk rock isn’t as separate from the “regular world” as we’d like to think it is. Many people have also pointed out that no matter how punk we believe ourselves to be, there’s still a little piece of The Man inside us all that recreates the injustice we wish didn’t exist in the world. —Osa Atoe

neverdie

[http://shotgunseamstress.blogspot.in/2010/02/punk-rock-utopian-fantasy.html%5D

this post continues in “Spiritual Punk 2”