Excavating Company: After the Surgery

For those who live alone, without family, but with some friends–

went in for an arthroscopy [keyhole surgery on my right knee] on Thursday, ten years after the original injury. I had gotten so used to pain that neither myself nor the people around perceived it any more–pain had became a ghost companion for a decade, almost invisible to myself and those about me. But un/fortunately, the young doctor, whom I finally consulted, rewrote perception. I had to allow pain to assert its presence, make its existence known.Arthroscope

Almost immediately after I see the young doctor, I go in for surgery, spend one night in the hospital, and become dependent on the goodwill of others. In the process, my childhood heroes, women whom my mum had held up as exemplars of goodness, prove Mum is always right. Padmasini checks me in, discharges me, takes me home, messages me with offers of help the following morning–all the while denying that she does anything out of the ordinary.

Other friends spend the night, keep me company, but once home, I’ve myself. Being home after surgery, finally, alone, I have to struggle to throw off the habit of dependancy that hospital and enforced attendance have induced in a day. Even to answer a phone call induces stress, to move, sometimes to get up, to reach for the bloody tiny machine.

And, just as I get home, after the long process of discharge, getting my stuff together, struggling down hospital stairs, into the car, and up to my room, a friend calls. Trembling, anxious, tense [even with the good Padmasini by my side], I don’t want to answer. But, seeing the name, and grateful for her help in spending the night with me in the hospital, I pick up, intending only to let her know I’d call her back. cartoon-mobile-phone-rage-faceBut, oblivious to my panic, she continues the call, informing me that I have to call the lunch delivery guy. In my panic I yell, “PUH-LEESE, I’ll call you back!”

So, I call back after awhile when I’ve rested a bit, only to find the phone left ringing unanswered.

Yes, she did call again to inform me–“she’d call back”–which she hasn’t so far. Oh the problems of social interaction, with psychological games, when I must contend with my own resistant anxious body and mind! Moving around is a matter of judgment, as I must monitor my knee, make sure to sit down each time with my feet up, not to stand. When the phone is left elsewhere, I make a decision to lower the legs and answer. When well meaning friends call to ask “how are you? I’ll drop by sometime,” I’d rather be left alone.

And yet, last evening, when another of my childhood heroes, Kalpana, called to tell me she was coming by, despite taking her son to the dentist, despite having to see her sister in hospital [also admitted for surgery], despite nursing a horrendous cold, I am overjoyed. Pain and Panic vanish.

So, as I question throughout life, what makes the difference? What sets apart one human interaction from another? Is it the depth of emotion? Is it love versus social interaction? Is it the authenticity of the self? And, how did/ does Mum know so far back in the past??mum knows best

So–I bumble, stumble, through life and living, affection and hurt, human and social interaction….pain imperceptible, not of the body so much but of the mind, ghost companion at my side.

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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.

 

Monks of the Body Beautiful

I sit here in another’s space, blue couch, and busily ornamented, textured white walls–outsider’s space in which I decide that, after the gap of more than a year, I must write again.  On Facebook today, I happened upon a post that suggested that writing = thought.  I would qualify that writing=responsible thought.  If I take the trouble to put words onscreen or on paper, I hold myself accountable now and later.  They may come back to haunt me.

Living in another’s house, on a fitness program, or whateverelse, all paid up, is a peculiarly ambiguous venture.  You pay to abdicate control over yourself –you relinquish your habits and philosophies, store them on a safe shelf in the home you  leave.  You may or may not use them again when you return fit and re-shaped, another self.  As as my project takes place in India, the rules and expectations are left unvoiced but obtrude suddenly at unexpected junctures.  I am left to stumble about, bring my middle aged, overweight, body and mind into the upmarket dwelling of a young, fit couple.  To clarify, I have embarked on a fitness bootcamp for a couple of months (ideally), in Kodaikanal, a small hillstation in Tamil Nadu, South India.  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_boot_campboot campThe fitness program is run in the house of the trainers, a small but exclusive dwelling in a gated community and cannot cater to many residential clients.  Currently we are but two, Rishabh, a young chubby man about town from Mumbai, India’s largest city, and me, from an ashram in an village of Andhra Pradesh.

P—, our trainer, believes in what he does, his particular philosophy of body and mind, and expects you to follow him without undue questions.  At 34, he is proud, justifiably, of his toned, beautiful body, and his attractive, slim wife who is 6 years younger.  And I, a middle aged, 53 year old, funky, bisexual feminist, have to negotiate the undercurrents.  Often I realize K— the wife will say or suggest something, only to withdraw her ideas in the face of her P—‘s disapproval.  K— is thin, fit, rather overzealous about her weight and her house.  As I’ve been there in my own OCD of cleanliness, I cannot help but recognize the symptoms but reap the benefits of the attention to home, decor, and appearance.

The irony here is that the couple appear thoroughly westernized, a paradox of young India:  P— dresses in top of the line sports clothes, wears thirty thousand rupee designer sunglasses, K— models Abercrombie and Fitch figure hugging clothes.  p n k[check out the controversy over that company’s policies– http://www.businessinsider.in/Abercrombie-Fitch-Refuses-To-Make-Clothes-For-Large-Women/articleshow/21136601.cms] The ‘westernization’ or ‘with it’ exterior however does not penetrate skin deep: husband and wife are products of Indian sindhi conservative culture.  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sindhis_in_India]  P—‘s mother handed over her precious son to the willing hands of his young wife who now caters to his needs, while maintaining her body, a not uncommon role in India.  P— finds any suggestion of fat unappealing, un-hot.  The couple, please note, are almost white skinned, as are most of the Sindhi community, so naturally the label of ‘un-hot’  extends to cover the darker skinned denizens, the majority, in fact, of the Indian sub-continent!

They are proud to announce they do not want children.  “We are going to be monks, renunciants,” K— tells me.  P— confirms, “We are without desires, our lifestyle is only temporary.”  buddhist_monkOf course, I find the discouse seductive.  The couple are into Vipasana meditation and K— has just returned from a month’s training in the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala for her advanced yoga instructor’s certificate.  The spotless house and vintage furnishings with the requisite fittings and physical comforts, all western amenities, are, as I mentioned earlier, equally enticing.  I note the delivery of  a Bose mini speaker system for the gym, the huge flat screen tv that dominates the living room.  In fact when I turn on the lower end channel, P— chides me, “hey, which channel are you watching, dude, go for the HD.”  His subscriptions are only to  the premier channels that offer high definition tv.

He is dedicated to the body.   The discipline necessary for a beautiful bod–hard training and conditioning, restriction of food–is full time, obsessive, a yoga in itself.  And charming K— teaches us yoga, chanting the mantras and re-telling buddhist fables to the other ‘client’ here, the young boy of 23 from Bombay, privileged, wealthy, and overweight, but totally submissive to P—‘s will, uber guru of fitness.  The three of them are a little thrown by me, the overweight ashram dweller who has a tattoo, dresses a little too street–a single woman who lives in an ashram but cannot take mantras or chants.  No brand names for me, but, obviously I must be okay in the pocket to be able to afford the plush bootcamp.

Young Rishabh, the Bombayite, quizzes me one day when we are having dinner tete à tete, with K— and P— out on a dinner date:  “how do you fund yourself?”  I reply that I live on the proceeds of selling my house, on the interest.  “Do you have investments?”  he probes, “how do you spend your time in the ashram?” And I account for my day to day schedule.  The problem with me is that I am not easily quantifiable, I do not ‘fit’,  my freakishness is both my strength and a dilemma for the others.  Ah, new India, now almost a fascist Modi India whose values rest on the Rupee, the bank account, and the body that money can buy all the while vociferously reaffirming an ancient misogynistic culture.  [http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/gupshup/modis-new-india.html]  The Monks of the 21st century.

 Liu Xue Hybrid Sculptures


Liu Xue Hybrid Sculptures

 

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

FAT comfort: wrestling with the image police

What’s happened to you, you’ve ballooned!big wonder woman

The ‘tactful’ remark greeted my hesitant foray into the garden after a self confinement of nearly 5 months in my apartment.  On venturing outside, I was only too aware that the garden lies in the epicenter of the ashram, subject to the sundry looks of passers-by, self advertised spiritual seekers. Ironically, the comment had issued from one of the longtime residents, hardly a slim woman herself.

The community had gone through an upheaval with the death of its founder 5 months earlier, and we were still reeling from sensational revelations of hidden wealth, silent immediate thefts by the managing council, and speculations about the true date of his death. [see for eg. http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/more-gold-found-in-sathya-sai-baba-s-ashram-in-puttaparthi-116432http://www.ndtv.com/topic/sathya-sai-central-trust; ] Unable to socialize, gossip, or add to the rumor mill, I’d shut myself up in my room. But, my room lies in the eye of the storm, behind Swami’s erstwhile residence, itself next to the big hall of worship where the 12 day death rituals were conducted–I could elude none of hysteria.

I’d lost the three of them over them over these 50 years of my life–Dad first when I’d just turned 15, Mum next, four years after my return from the States, and now, Swami two months into my 50th year. Menopausal, hurting with grief, I couldn’t take the socio-spiritual hubbub. So, for five months, I stayed within my little apartment. A box really, but one Swami had personally gifted to me just two years before he died. A prescient talisman, the room was simultaneously my protection and an object of envy, a double on the ground floor occupied by a questionable single feminist when whole families occupied a single.

How did the time of self immuration pass? Times of depression or great grief are periods of hibernation for the soul. The body may ache from lack of exercise, but the spirit needs silence and solitude to nurse itself back into human interaction. Menopause, lack of exercise, over-eating, all played their role: I knew I’d ballooned up.

But, still mentally vulnerable, that unthinking comment by a sista, a self-promoted white sari clad seeker, triggered my angry response, “Hey, you’re not so thin yourself. What gives you the fuckin’ right to comment on others?” Of course, she was righteously offended, unable to comprehend my anger or its cause. To her way of thinking, the remark was merely a casual joust, to me it was an insensitive blow to my already shaky psyche. I’d had to summon up my willpower and courage to go outside, into the glare of human interaction. Perhaps I unconsciously sought the friction of social intercourse that the scar tissue of ill-healed grief might toughen up?

Anger has always been my defense, armor to withstand the blows of the world. angryblackwomanWhere other folks cry, I scream. I throw tantrums. I used to break glass and crockery, tear up clothes, smarting from social hurts I couldn’t explain even to myself. “You’re oversensitive, you read too much into things,” friends and acquaintances advise me. But I’ve never been able to figure at what point sensitivity crosses over into the prohibited area of over-sensitivity.

Unfortunately, in order to be a productive, socialized, civilized human, this knack of differentiation is a pre-requisite!

Patch (for sale) by artist karapassey

Patch (for sale) by artist karapassey

Fat is chain-mail too, a sheath both defensive and aggressive. [on a life changing book, see http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/04/09/fat-is-a-feminist-issue-2/ ]  Right from childhood, I’ve been plump, overweight, at one point even labelled obese by the school doctor, a family friend.  I remember my mum outraged by the word, “obese, what a word to use.  She’s not obese!”  So, the very first time I heard the word, it was an insult, an affront to parental nurturing.  Looking up the word, I took in its connotations and cringed.  That was the beginning of fat guilt:   I was the culprit in my obesity.  My mum consulted our family doctor after that report about my ‘obesity,’ and he put me on a diet.  It didn’t work.

Obesity, however, didn’t come in the way of my activities.  I played throwball, basketball, netball, even tried hurdling.  Inclined to sports, and addicted to swimming, I continued stubbornly overweight.  And obese I grew up–through my troubled teens, my father’s death, my college years in Anantapur, through grad school in the States, and my return to India and the ashram.   It took my Mum’s death to make me lose weight.  I walked miles each day, worked out frenziedly between times sitting in the big hall for Swami’s darshan.  Appropriately enough, that was the time my sexuality made its presence anew after a decade of dormancy. I wonder if such sexual hunger at time of loss is a reaffirmation of life force, the urge to the species to continue to propagate its kind.

Crossing the forty watershed, I looked much younger than my age.  It had nothing to do with weight, however–I’ve never looked my age thin or fat.  angry black womanNow, at 52, I still don’t look my age, fat though I thankfully am.  Looking young, to me, is more trouble than its worth. I’d rather look my age if not a little older: youthful looks often encourage patronage, particularly by the men. I still suffer from the occasional male follower, at a stage when sexuality is more trouble than it’s worth. How did I regain my weight and recover the self I’m most comfortable with? [see a wonderful post on self image: http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2010/01/feminism_and_fa]  A torn knee ligament which the aches and stiffness of menopause only made more painful, Swami’s death–the last of the trinity I love–and the accompanying depression/ grief.  So here I sit, typing these words, too big for the world as ever.  I’m out of the agoraphobia of intense loss, go for regular walks early morning, work out with weights, but I’m a big mama.

After 52 years of being obese, with a skinny interim of maybe 5-6 years, I have at long last learned to rejoice in my big self.  Too large for the social spaces I’m in now, and spaces like academia that I moved in earlier, I am the right size for me.  Men can’t easily talk down to me, either physically or intellectually, nor do most women. [see also– http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/oct/11/gender.society ] Thin socialized women find me unsettling:  loud, big, and rebellious, unable to conform.  I make my friends uneasy, as I really have not much yen for company.  My solitary self does not revel in too much interaction.  [on singleness today, see http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/05/09/going-solo-klinenberg/http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/04/16/120416crbo_books_heller]. Most comforting now, I’ve begun writing again, taking up as much space as I want in words and letters.

I spread myself easily: I am fat enough for comfort.

A woman and her bitch: an INDog and I

A scared little dog decided, one day some five years ago, that I was the one to feed her.  When she turned up in my tiny front yard, she was skin and bone, her dugs hanging down, her ribs all too visible under the skin.  As with most female dogs who were not spayed, she ‘d given birth somewhere, hidden her pups nearby, and gone out to forage for food.  Less than a year old herself, she was an awful sight.tippy1

What instinct led her to me, I can’t fathom.  Frightened of the big bad world at large, loud noises, even the sound of a dropping leaf, she ate ‘Marie’ biscuits’ from my hand, shying away if other folk came too near or dogs barked too close.  That behavior hasn’t changed.  If anything, she becomes more worried when people walk into the garden.  As the garden lies in the heart of the ashram, I cannot fence it about though it is ringed by a row of concrete planters. For Tippy, however, this openness makes for an anxious feeding. Constantly on the look out for other dogs, she runs at first bark to take secondary refuge under a red mini-van yards down the block.

Abs not ME!!

Abs not ME!!

I’ve always been quite companionable to dogs: “Hello, how are you today,” I greet any stray on my way.  Merely an acknowledgement of co-existence, I ask them how the world is and themselves. Most dogs respond, staring at this stranger, me, with the expressive dark eyes common to the breed. Sometimes they even follow me about for a while. Indeed, there have been a few dogs who have taken my greeting as a sign of uncommon friendship, jumping on my shoulders and attempting to lick my face. Such exuberant outbursts leave me worried about hygiene as I am a believer in washing my hands after canine contact. As with my interactions with my own species, humans, I’d rather a quiet, occasional camaraderie with no expectations on either side. Mostly, this approach works well.

At a juncture in my life, when any attachment seems too much, Tippy is a one off for me. She’s not really my kind of dog. I’d prefer a more confrontational bitch, a more muscular female, less the pretty dog she’s turned out to be. But, I must admit, when cornered, Tippy snarls and fends off the biggest prick among those who set on her. A particular set of noisy, boisterous barkers claim my garden as part of their territory unfazed by my shouted invectives. At sight of Tippy, they give chase. She can turn on them abruptly even if she’d rather hide.

When I set about driving them off, unfortunately, Tippy is the first to run, though recently she’s hung about, and watched their retreat. In the last couple of days, I mutter away to her as she sits in the yard outside my window, and my mumbled nonsense seems to calm her down a bit. Anyway, she’s definitely healthier.Photo on 02-05-13 at 11.15 AM #3

Tippy chose me, and I let myself be chosen. Now, I’m caught. Thankfully, she’s been seized and spayed sometime after her first overture to me Although she turns up on three days and disappears for the next three, I know she will return. Sometimes, her absences have been as long as ten days, but she re-appears eventually. The day I returned after my three month sojourn in Goa, she bounced out of the bushes, as startled by me as I was by her. I refuse to ‘own’ Tips. She is not my dog, much as I worry about her. In her own timid way, she asserts her independence through her regular absences, through her cautious approach, through her darting escapes out.

As my unwanted attachment grows, I find her beautiful–dark brown eyes ringed with black, short light brown coat fading to a blonde ruff over her neck. Not one of the elect, pure-bred kindred, she belongs to the ubiquitous ‘pi’ dogs that populate every Indian city and village. Wondering what strain these ‘pi’s had descended from, I googled them the other day, my usual resource when I’m at a loss. I’d assumed these dogs were mongrels like me, composed of a mix of different breeds. But, I’ve no company here. I learn that these dogs are a domestic breed, as distinct as any of the pedigreed breeds.[http://indianpariahdog.blogspot.in/search/label/articles] “INDog” is the label now officially recognized for these dogs. On the definitive site for the INDog project [http://www.indog.co.in/], the breed is described in detail, and archeological evidence given to prove that this dog breed was the first to be domesticated, despite the insult of their nickname. ‘Pi’ the label from my childhood is actually short for “pariah” a tamil word for the untouchable, scavenger class in India.

Interestingly, the scavenger class extended to comprise these dogs, looked down upon as the lowest of the low of dogs. No self-respecting Indian of the upper and middle class would own one of these in those days. A pure-bred Lab, Pom etc. signified status, much like cars, watches, or even the schools we attended. But, the INDog is gradually coming into its own [https://www.facebook.com/pages/INDog-Club/]. Though not recognized by any “Kennel Club“, the breed is ironically admitted to the ‘primitive’/aboriginal breed of dogs. Racist classification of the human species bleeds over into the labels for dogs. More ‘civilized’ perhaps, the Western dogs can lord it over the primitive breeds!

Wikipedia cites Gautam Das who is part of the INDog project–

 Indian Pariah Dog Club logo

Indian Pariah Dog Club logo

“The type represents one of the few remaining examples of mankind’s original domestic dog and its physical features are the same as those of the dogs whose fossil remains have been found in various parts of the world, from very early remains in Israel and China to later ones such as those found in the volcanic lava at Pompeii, near Naples in Italy. In India these were the hunting partners and companion animals of the aboriginal peoples of India. They are still found with the aboriginal communities who live in forested areas. Since these dogs have never been selectively bred, their appearance, physical features and mental characteristics are created by the process of natural selection alone. The INDog has not been recognized by any kennel club although similarly ancient or ‘primitive’ dogs have been recognized such as the Azawakh and the Basenji both of which are also sighthound and Pariah…. It has been recognized by the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society (PADS), a worldwide grouping of enthusiasts which is based in the USA. It is extremely alert, very social dog. Its rural evolution, often close to forests where predators like tigers and leopards were common, has made it an extremely cautious breed and this caution is not to be mistaken for a lack of courage. They make excellent watch dogs and are very territorial and defensive of their pack/family.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Pariah_Dog]

Chacha ChaudharyEven in Puttaparthi, or the outlying villages in Rayalseema, I’ve seen the Indian pariah sitting proudly in the little courtyards before the small houses, standing up to bark fiercely if an unknown comes too close. [On Chacha Choudhry, the comicbook villager, and his dog Rocket, see http://topyaps.com/top-10-indian-comic-book-heroes/]   But, I’ve come across a number of dogs with their ears cropped, and often their tails as well. I asked my dhobi (laundry woman), Saraswati once why the villagers did that. She replied earnestly, “Dogs listen to our secrets. They hear our whispers and family problems, and carry them around the village. So, we have to lop off the tips of their ears. Otherwise, it’s not good for the family.”  Cut off the dogs’ ears the villagers might, but the dogs receive as good a meal as their children.  Last year, Saraswati’s son carried their dog in his arms to the animal hospital in the neighboring village when it refused to eat.

I’ve seen INDogs herding groups of sheep and goats being taken to graze, nipping at their heels to keep them in line.  In Chennai, my friend Ganesh is in the process of training Mani, the street stray, to sleep within the compound. Now, Mani duly scares the courier boy, though a large coterie of his friends tempt him with biscuits to get him outside Ganesh’s gate. Perhaps Tippy turned up in my garden to keep me socialized, a borderline human.  It takes a woman her bitch to keep her womanly…?

Barbara Shermund. I'm Sorry! between 1945 and 1955.

Barbara Shermund. I’m Sorry! between 1945 and 1955.

 

fat, bad, and witchy: a woman seeks god

A sinner, that’s me.  Always in trouble, always pulled by stuff that is often termed ‘bad.’ But what’s life without a bit of vice?  As long as you’re not really hurting other people, that is.  Living in an ashram as  I do, I run into narratives, stories of changing for the better, a progress toward goodness.  The Goddess and her consort know– whenever I hear these meta-tales of ‘evolution’ toward moksha, nirvana, heaven, a better life…etc I need a good long drink and a ciggie, if not a fuck.  Drugs, yes, done those, loved coke, but it doesn’t have a hold on me these days, and grass, too mellow.  All the last including sex, however, involve too much preparation and judgement: unfortunately, nowadays, I’m too lazy to take the risks I did when I was younger.

The implicit evaluation in “O, you’ve changed,” impels a mad rush of fury:  I want to beat someone up.  Can’t do that anymore, I’m not fit enough, unfortunately, but the urge remains.  I ‘m comfortable with the demon under my skin now.  Of course Swami it was, gazing at me long and deep,  who declared, “She’s good only….but, who will know?”  That acknowledgement led me to believe in myself, in my weird anti-social ache for otherness.  Earlier, through my childhood, I had always believed myself to be a bad person, given to anger, always questioning, always restless.

feminism-2bWriting this, I realize I’m glad to be–the middle-aged, menopausal, overweight, aggressive, limping, intellectual, hot-headed dyke I am.  Forget the trials of my twenties and thirties, when despite my anger, I still looked for understanding, needing beauty to complement my brains.  After my Mum’s death in 1999, I took to walking and working out in order to get the grief out of my system.  Though I  tired my body out, tears were always a hair’s breath away, as was temper.  Anyhow, for the first time in my life, I was thin, and beautiful.  A dab hand at make-up, attending darshan in the big hall at that time, I became the cynosure of all eyes, female and male.  But, much as my hormones danced and I enjoyed the lustful looks, my anger kept pace. Beautiful women may enjoy being objects of desire, but  my toned body and made-up face nursed an angry genie.  Follow her around and she’s liable to shriek a curse, or take an iron rod to your legs, and I’ve done both!  One arrogant boy in white, one of the chosen elect, close to Swami, drew my ire.  “You fuckhead,”  I said, and punched him in the chest.  Walking away, I turned to have a gander, and there he stood, with his hand to his chest, stunned. Now with Swami’s death, holy N— spouts religious clichés, and hopes for a top slot in ashram management.

Anyway, my brief spell of fighting fitness came to an abrupt end while semi squatting to lift weights at home.  With a loud pop, my knee ligament tore.

Take Up Space by Heather Keith Freeman

Take Up Space by Heather Keith Freeman

Misdiagnosed, the knee has never recovered, and is prone to swell and hurt.  Menopause followed up the injury, and I’m back to my bad ass overweight self.  What a relief!

What are my vices?  Not many, small ones but reassuring.  Long, cold gins and tonic whenever I’m out of here in the summer, and in winter, my staple, “Honeybee” the Goan brandy that lives up to the promise of its name.  Reminds me, I’ve got to drive down soon to Bangalore, while smoking a Camel toward a pizza and g-&-t.  Not far, a hour and a half away.  I live a life with G-O-D, yes, but I want to burn out fast, reach an explosion of stars and hear the anarchic laughter of space.

Being with God, for me, is the ultimate here and how, a sense of absolute oneness with a chaotic cosmos:  laughter and rest, where nothing in this world, the good, bad and ugly is taken seriously.   “If you really want to, you can be one with god in the blink of an eye.  It’s simple,” my Swami repeats endlessly.  Yet, spirituality becomes an exam, with grades along the way–visions, inner voices, yogic powers;  in any religion, people judge, evaluate and label sister worshipers.  I cannot bother with the rest of the community about me, only G-O-D, process without end, a journey with no goal.  For this absurd  love–of nothingness, formlessness, and journeys nowhere–I give you “Ithaca” by C.P. Cavafy, another outsider, civil servant and closet queer in Alexandria at the turn of the 20th century.  Sean Connery reads with background music by Vangelis who did the marvellous soundtrack for Blade Runner.

“….Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don’t in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn’t deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you’ll have understood what these Ithakas mean.”

 

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”

 

Leaky bucket days–life dripping down

“Water not only moves around a rock, it actually moves through it,”
Larry Fleinhardt in Numb3rs

An eccentric genius, Larry is a physics professor who cannot get his ‘self’ together. In certain aspects of his life he is highly organized and anal retentive as, for instance, in his food habits, he eats only monochromatic foods. But, Larry has his anarchic  side as well; he sells his house and, now, beds down wherever he feels unthreatened.  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0888290/   The episode opens with Larry scurrying out of a steam tunnel, bedding in hand, watched surreptitiously by a Senior Professor.   Although he has been offered a space in Charlie’s garage, he moves out after a few nights, preferring the tunnels.larry Larry’s is a more borderline personality than Charlie Epps, the math genius who, though he may have commitment problems, lives in his own house albeit with his dad. Watching the show at night, having had a few pegs of ‘Honeybee’, that wonderful Goan brandy, I sense Larry in myself.

So far the day has been a leaky bucket, my resolve to write, my good humor, have both dripped out through the hours. An all too familiar mood of futility and desperation flows in instead.  I hear my own voice, shrill, high, and loud, berating the service people who delay the car’s return until the afternoon.  The heat today  is like an unwanted blanket, it presses down and renders me numb and nerveless.  Aware that the world is at odds with me, I don’t want to move.

Sure enough, my voice hits the heavy air again like a harpy’s. I shout at Francisca, the housekeeper, who forgets to bring the sticky tape I need to mend a carton. And, I am constantly on the phone to the service people who whine,
“we are bringing the car, just now, bringing the car ma’am.”
They have now been bringing the car for four days.
“Brake pads are worn down, ma’am, we don’t have a driver, ma’am, the car is in the body shop, ma’am.”
Sung in inimitable Indian cadence, the refrain drums through my head. The customer will never be God here, s/he has to grateful for any favors done.

My harangue, in response to their ditty, removes me to another time and place–the ashram of two years ago when its founder died.  The note of hysteria that inflects my voice summons up those days:  Swami dead, people, pilgrims, gawkers, and thieves bound together in the sweat of mass emotion.  Me, in my tiny flat, I cower amid the thick of things, hidden behind my walls but I witness all.putt  I don’t venture outside, but my room rides the gusts of hysteria and hypocrisy. My apartment is a ship, battered by a cyclone of mourning.

I lock myself forcibly inside, and attempt to eat myself into immobility. My legs lock up.  They ache because they have nowhere to walk. [FYI:news video Devotees mourn death]  Today, two years later, the legacy of locking myself in for eight months endures, physically and mentally.  I write to release myself from that immuration within doors. Physically, I am free, I have the means to move where I please–to be in Goa, to meet folks, to walk on the beach.  But every so often I feel the weight of  those mental shackles.  I allow myself more latitude now but grief still bears down on my mind. I will not move out of this room in Sunlife Residency today, although my voice beats at different doors.

Scrunched over my little MacBook, I hear a scooter start up, and Shalini, my neighbor goes by with her year old son balanced in front of her.  She looks up and waves, plump, with shoulder length black hair, large dark eyes that crease up when she smiles. Her round face, as well, creases into goodwill. In her black skirt and printed blouse, she looks the perfect mum.
“You must have heard me screaming,” I tell her, “horrible day, guess how much the service cost?  Thirteen thousand rupees.”
“Ooh,oh, my Gawd!” she exclaims.
“Fuck them. Ba-a-ad day.”
“Yes”, she agrees.

I’ve been bled dry.

 

Hungry sharks–queer encounters in Cavelossim

Ten days into my stay at Luisa-by-the-Sea in Cavelossim,
Photos of Luisa by the Sea, Cavelossim
[This photo of Luisa by the Sea is courtesy of TripAdvisorI decide to get some lunch more suitable to my south Indian palate, so I venture into ‘Sagar Kinara’, a Hindu restaurant that offers a variety of cuisines. No sooner do I enter and look around for a table, a woman hails me, “Hey there, are you alone?  Come, join me, lets have lunch together.” Surprised at her chumminess, I take her up on her invitation.  Skinny, white, blonde and about my age, she’s a little inebriated, but that doesn’t put me off.  I order a gin and tonic to catch up with her.  Plates of shrimp, dhal, rotis, litter the table, but she merely picks at the food and begs me to share.

Sandy tells me that she lives in Goa, but is really from Scotland. She questions me about where I’m staying, and remarks that she owns a couple of apartments, one, indeed, in Cavelossim.  “Would I like to see the apartment?” Renting out those flats provides her with income, but she’s still short of cash.  The information given with bitterness,  she begins a rant about Goans being crooks. Why then, I speculate to myself, did she invest in property here, particularly as I know there are restrictions on foreigners owning property in Goa? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/3351813/Keeping-it-legal-how-to-buy-safely-in-Goa.html

A few years ago in London, she and her friend buy a “Vogue” magazine in order to check the advertisements. Interested in applying for a job as a train driver, her friend knows that the London Underground  has advertised in “Vogue” for women subway train drivers. In that same issue, Sandy coincidentally sees adverts of property in Goa, probably with pictures of the sunny coast, and quaint Portuguese architecture. The prices, to western eyes, are low despite being quoted in sterling.  Just having sold her house and with money at her disposal,  she yields to impulse without even having set foot in Goa.

On arriving here, as to be expected, Sandy is disillusioned as the construction is way behind schedule. Now, a few years wiser, sitting in ‘Kinara,’ downing a couple more beers, she mutters that the other owners (all expats) and she are involved in a class action suit on the property developer.  Syllables a bit slurred, only picking at the prawns before her, Sandy mutters, “don’t trust Goans, they’re goin’ to rip you off. Le’ss go, le’ss see my flat. I fix’d it up nice. I ‘ll hav to clean it up, but com n see.”

We need to visit the rest room first, and as I take my turn, Sandy pays off the waiter.  I force money on her on our way out, followed by curious smiles from the staff. Surprised at the car, Sandy worries about my driving on the narrow winding roads along which the local buses, taxis, scooters hurtle along. We make our way back to Cavelossim, and to her flat which lies in a complex fronted by expensive looking shops. As we get down, she greets two men at the gate effusively, only to receive reserved nods in return.  On the first floor, her flat is carefully furnished with attention to detail, but the tenants have obviously just moved out.  Sheets to be washed are piled up in a corner, the kitchen counter is grimy with food debris.

“Who’s gonna clean all this up?” I ask.
“I’m the maid, I come in twice a week to give the place a once over.  No money, I need the rent.”
About her tenants, she snaps, “Those people were strange, they moved out soon.”  [mumble, mumble]
I puzzle over Sandy’s life– she’s so short of money that she cleans the flat herself. Labor here is a little more expensive than in the ashram, but to hire a maid is still cheap. Though I notice her outbursts, I initially put it down to her being a bit sloshed with beer, but begin to suspect she is as irritable with her tenants.
“those Russians, they come in and think they own you. Those Russian girls with older men, see how young they are?  Whores, and most of them underage.  I called the men downstairs for help when a Russian man abused me.”

She wants to go out for dinner but I need to get to Luisa-by-the-Sea to leave the car.  Besides, its still too early.  Once in the villa, I get out the gin, and Sandy hits the bottle.  She gets expansive: “When you walked into Kinara alone, I thought, that’s unusual, an Indian woman on her own, walking into a hotel. I just had to call you over.”  Recounting her various relationships, she glosses over any reference to gender.  I call her on that, “so was your partner a man?” My gay-dar has picked up the omissions, though she looks straight with her longish blonde hair.
“My partner was a woman. She died.”
Sandy rambles on, “I’m a dyke, its hard being a dyke in Goa.  There’s no gay scene here at all.  My hair was very, very, short earlier, like yours, but I got fed up of Indians calling me ‘uncle’. Don’t you get called ‘uncle’?”
“No, maybe ’cause my boobs are big.”
“Hey, you telling me I’m flat?  I got boobs, see.”
Looking more closely at Sandy, I notice scars on her shoulder with red welts trailing down her arm.
“I fell down the stairs and my shoulder joint got broken,” she explains too glibly.

Later, after more gins, she confides,  “A Goan family in Colva, my neighbors, threw me down and beat me up.  They threw boiling oil on me, ‘tell anyone, and we’ll see that you get beat up even more.’  Whom can I tell?”
I am horrified by her tale: the red welts and white scars are palpably real, but I also suspect that there is more to the beating than she lets me hear. Unwilling to delve too deep, and wary of her mood swings, I let her story be.

We go out for dinner, walking down the main road and looking about for any suitable restaurant. Deprived of choice, we head down a narrow lane that ends in a restaurant on a jetty, on the River Sal.
hungry sharkThe place calls itself “The Hungry Shark,” and we see quite a few diners, all whites, the women dressed for dinner. As we walk up to a table in the corner, the guy at the next table smiles and winks at me.  I stare hard at him, picking up the vibes of a foreigner-local interaction. Sandy, on the other hand, is loud; she joins her hand in an Indian namaste and walks up to the couple’s table. “Hello, how are you, we’re here for dinner. Is this a good place?”  The woman is reticent, but the man, perhaps in his forties, dark haired and sunburned, starts up a conversation. He discloses that they’ve been coming there every year for the past three years.
Sandy responds, “what’s a white woman to eat here? There’s nothing on the menu. Give me dhal tadka, kya?”
I order the Goan prawn balchao, which arrives too vinegary and sears my tongue.

Seated with my back to the dark waters of the River Sal, I look toward the interior of restaurant.  Three men cluster around a pool table, two browns and a white. The white man has an young girl draped over him. From northeastern India by the looks of her, with narrow uptilted eyes and high cheekbones, she can’t keep her hands off the man, older and stocky though he is. The pair intrigue me, and I point them out to Sandy.
“Of course she’s a whore. Look at him.”
Her comment rings true.  Oblivious to the girl’s caresses, the man is absorbed in discussion.  All three men pay the girl no attention, and yet she is striking with her exotic looks and flamboyant dress.

The restaurant, despite the Brits dining at the brightly lit tables on the jetty, darkens and takes on a more sinister hue.  I am unable to finish the second gin and tonic.  Sandy, on the other hand, wants a shot and insists that a genuine bottle of tequila be brought to the table so that she may examine the label.  Genuine though the bottle look, I wonder if the contents are diluted.  But, the shot is brought, and Sandy downs it, orders another.  At long last, we request the bill: it is a hefty sum.  Splitting the amount, Sandy runs short of cash and I make up the difference.  When we question the alcohol noted on the check, we realize that the place serves no small pegs–every time we’ve ordered liquor, we’ve been served a double.  “The Hungry Shark” is a monster alright!

Tottering with all the pegs she’s put away, Sandy blusters about not having enough cash on her as we walk back through the dark lane.  “Forget it, no big deal,” I say, but my reassurance falls on deaf ears.   Midway between her flat and my studio villa, my own temper flares up.  I’ve had enough of her.
“Fuck you, Sandy, I’m off.”
“Can you reach home safe?” she questions.
Her concern is genuine. She looks ludicrous, hardly able to stand, worried about me.  A visceral empathy with her–her contradictions, her mess of memories, the violence of her interactions–almost undoes me, but I move on. To the studio, and to bed, and the relief of solitude.

I never see Sandy again nor do I attempt to. Strange fish, stranded on the shore, belonging neither to the Indian seas nor to the tourist reefs. For the space of an evening, Sandy and I, both women and both misfits, overlapped in our common shadows; then, we swam away in separate currents, fashioning our different selves.

 

Snakes of the sea–a catholic-hindu mongrel on the beach

“Le hasard, c’est peut-être le pseudonyme de Dieu quand il ne veut pas signer. [Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not wish to sign his work.] —Théophile Gautier [http://www.phraseculte.fr/phrase-culte-hasard-theophile-gautier-18.html]

I never knew who wrote this until right now when I trawl the web for writings on coincidence. These words, like so much other literary miscellany, jitterbug through my mind at odd hours, waking me up when I need to sleep. Coincidence rests in the realm of the miraculous.

Surfing the net a few days ago, I read that sea snakes are common to Goa‘s seas.[http://indiamike.info/india/goa-f23/sea-snake-t180518/#post1493182] sea-snake-in-goa-beachhttp://indiamike.info/india-images/pictures/sea-snake-goa-beach The very next morning I see a dead sea snake coiled up on the sand at low tide. Today again, I enter the beach at extreme low tide, walking onto exposed black sands, and I notice on my right, just about a yard away, a sea snake. Only, this snake is alive, opening its mouth and attempting to make its way back into the sea. I watch it for a while, wanting to help but queasy all the same. As I make my way along the shore for my morning stumble, the thought of that stranded serpent remains at the back of my mind. On my return, about an hour or so later, I look around but see no sign of it. Hopefully, the snake has regained the sea.

Coincidence? Perhaps, but also a sign from the god that follows me about, a whisper from the universe,

“You are not alone, detritus on the shores of life. The snake and you, god holds you both equally, process without hierarchy.”

Evolution or not, the plankton on the waves, a dense frond of seaweed on the shore, inanimate sand and animate human foot, we are interdependent, we create G-O-D together. Shell studded beach, star studded sky, neon studded cities, will I learn to hold these together equally? If my prayer is listened to, what about that breathed by the cockroach I spray with Baygon? At unprompted moments, this catholic breath blows through my being; at others I am empty, washed clean, like that spiral shell on the beach.

Yesterday, I had to take my blue Jazz for service to Verna. A long drive, but I follow my friend, Gerry, in his little red Zen to the service center. Leaving my car there, I hop into the Zen, accompanying Gerry as he does a few errands. Then, we drive to his house in Orlim, where the carpenter and his assistant are replacing the tiles on the roof. They remove the red terracotta tiles one by one, then, they clean and replace each: their activity writes a poem in color, labor, and sunlight.

Underfoot, the black dust from the tiles sprinkles the mosaic on the floor. Inside the kitchen, Preethi is at the stove, busy with an Indian breakfast delicacy, pooris. Deep fried, true, but ambrosia to a hungry person. Gerry has a headache which he attributes to a hangover from a peg of vodka drunk the night before, but we, Preethi and I, are sure that the pooris will prove a remedy. Sure enough, the headache vanishes, and he holds forth on his projects for the day. Standing up to leave, he remarks casually that he’ll see me later.

“But, Gerry,” I hesitate, “should I come with you right now, otherwise, how will I make my way back?”
Surprised, he looks at me: “Ah, no, you’ll have the car, so you can leave later.”
“What car, do you mean you’re handing over the car to me?”
“Yup, keep with you in ‘Sunlife Residency,’ you’ll need it to go to market, or beach.”
He mutters, “I prefer the scooter to move about on, any way. What traffic in Margao, you know.”

His unforced kindness bowls me over. My interactions with others over the past few years have been fraught; his simple goodwill renews my faith in our species. Preethi pipes in, “keep it, keep it. You use it.” She’s got a lot to do after Gerry’s departure—-wash the dishes, sweep, dust, and mop the house in the aftermath of the roof cleaning. As she moves round to the back to free their two enormous blonde Labradors who have become entangled with each other, I follow to see pails and pails of clothes soaked for wash. Freed from his chain, Tyson jumps on me, tongue lolling to the side. I push him off, fearful of my legs. Meantime, Bruno, still chained, starts wailing.

I take my leave, not wanting to get in the way of Preethi’s chores. Outside, the small house faces a vista of fields, the neighbor’s place is well beyond a banyan tree. Gerry and Preethi have cleared the ground about the house, and planted decorative shrubs. To protect the emerging shrubs from the depredations of the dogs, Gerry’s brainwave is to circle them with upended, Tuborg beer bottles. Everywhere I look, those beer bottle butts wink greenly back at me. The Zen is parked facing the narrow dirt track that leads up to the house, making it easy for me to maneuver it over the rubble.

I start the car which is in first gear, but, before I get it to move, the clutch jerks and the engine cuts out. Under the grinning gaze of the tile cleaner who is watching me closely, I try a couple more times. No go. Finally, I raise the engine in frustration, and the tiny car moves down the track. I am off in Gerry’s car but it is a tense and jerky ride until I get used to it.

Anxious though I am at driving a vehicle so different from mine, a sense of felicity envelops me. Later, the same evening, I visit my neighbor, Shalini, to genuflect before the icon of Mother Mary in her living room, decorated with a crown of electric lights above and a burning taper below. Mother Mary travels from house to Catholic house in Varca. (Every local church sends their particular Mother Mary from house to house in their neighborhood). Each home welcomes her, keeps her for 24 hours, and celebrates her visit with fireworks and prayers. I am blessed.

So, I consecrate my private togetherness with god and the vast anarchic totality of Being. For now, a divine, fugitive order of coincidence directs my steps. Tomorrow? Who knows? Certainly not me.

Low tide debris–moving beyond intellectual strife

“In proportion as [a person] simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude…,” Thoreau, http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/03/13/tarkovsky-advice-to-the-young/

At the age of fifty-three, a friend works on a degree in Law: he is finishing up at a university only about 200 kms south of where I am now. The courage of his endeavor amazes he, that he puts himself into school alongside the young, that he leaves his wife in Chennai to stay in a crummy hostel. I invite him to Goa when I first get here, fearing perhaps the loneliness of my undertaking. Unfortunately, Ganesh cannot make it.

But later, two months into my stay, when I recover my cellphone after leaving it in the car, I see five missed calls, all from the same person. I call the number to hear Ganesh on the line: he has to return to Belgaum on work of his own but is thinking of coming up to see me. With only a couple of weeks remaining here, I tell him to hurry up. He suggests that it maybe a good idea to come up at the end of my stay and travel back to Chennai with me. “Alright,” I agree, “it’d be good to have some company on the way back. We’ll be on the road 15 hours.”

Next morning, I wake in the pre-dawn. (I wish I could regain this habit of early rising–earlier on, in the ashram, rising in the dark was as unforced as walking.) By the time, I’ve done my various waking bodily chores and drunk my coffee, it is seven in the morning. At the beach, my body refuses to move but the sea soothes both mind and muscles. Extreme low tide exposes black tidal sand, compacted by the water, and it takes me a while to get to the sea.

The scene reflects my mind. I have a sense of scraping bottom. Words and people feel extraneous to being, and that I have made it out of the apartment is accomplishment enough. As I move further, my body eases up and I walk the same distance as the day before. Turning back however, fatigue washes over me. Back at my place, I realize that I have done too much. In that weariness, doubts about Ganesh’s visit grow.

I call him up to voice my hesitations, and curiously find camaraderie in his response:

“You’re just about a year younger to me.  Both of us in our fifties.  You know, we’re not young.  I also was thinking,  I need time in the morning to get up, go to the bathroom, get myself together.  If we leave at 4 am, it’s a long long drive.”

His doubts ironically reassure me about his company.  Now, I’d like him to accompany me, but he will only confirm his arrival once he reaches Belgaum.

Leaving Goa will not be easy as I’m in a liminal space, uncertain of what I am, what I want in life. Existing in the ashram, I had fashioned a single goal: emptiness, a vessel to be filled with god. To keep the mind empty is difficult, it entails cultivating detachment. Detachment from material desires or ambition is not too hard for me as I have always been skeptical about goals that drive people on.

To publish, to prove one’s intellectual worth, for example, holds no intrinsic meaning. Even as much as we value literary effort, the printed word is constantly displaced by digital images. Is this necessarily tragic? Before written/ printed texts came oral recitation with each performance revising the one that went before. Think of the ballads, or the many cultural epics in song. Those religious texts have added to and been edited after their Original spoken ‘Word’ (if ever there had been an original singular text!): the Koran, the Bible, the Vedas. As for literary texts, all are constantly re-inflected by patriarchal and cultural agendas in each new reading. Literary scholars make a living arguing over which interpretation is more relevant. Having a printed text does not ensure that meaning is simple or singular.

While writing this blog today, I am prey to the vagaries of the internet reception: a couple of times, my draft disappeared and I had to write anew. Each time I faced a blank screen, I typed in a different version, my meanings in flux. With no control over this text, I am free from Authorial pretensions. Easily cut-and-pastable across the web, my Signature dissolves in a jumble of code. And in similar scramble, I move to create meaning in my life, wanting nothing, and believing that nothingness is enough.

Having fled here, to Goa, I discover that this apartment is also ‘home’ to a self who once again begins to put words on the web, limping in text, mind, and body. In this little patio, marginal space, I create myself anew as I look up at the different greens that define the trees, as a bird whistles, another whirrs, and a crow caws. The onomatopoeia of words with the world is in sync with me.Photo on 10-02-13 at 1.16 PM
This self is solitary, it desires only to reflect on connections through the universe, none profound, none profane. I have to “learn by going, where I have to go.” Roethke’s lines run through my days, after Goa where? I will not worry, each ‘home’ will have its own learnings.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close behind me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lonely worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air;
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

–“The Waking” by Theodore Roethke,http://allpoetry.com/poem/8498751-The_Waking-by-Theodore_Roethke, http://www.317am.net/2012/02/i-wake-to-sleep-and-take-my-waking-slow.html [the second link discusses if poetry should have any one ‘interpretation’ or not]