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

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?

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]

Only waving, not drowning–leavetakings

A litter of small black pigs roots at the ground, they surround their mother a huge black sow.   Posed against the compound  wall, with ears pricked, two mongrel dogs, dirty white and spotted brown, look back at me.  A policy of live and let seems to infect the animals if not the humans.  Last afternoon, a ginger cat stalked by, followed casually by the same white dog, both pursuing different goals.  In the house opposite lives a skinny man, not altogether compos mentis .  A little gate leads into the apartment compound, and he trots back and forth during the day, carrying buckets of water. I wonder if there is no water connection for that little yellow house, while here in this complex, water overflows from the overhead tank without anybody running to turn it off.  These are the material contradictions that bracket life in India, marking off the lives of those with money and those without.

I travel in two days to Chennai, city of my birth, on matters of money.   Almost time for me to leave, apathy holds me down.  A week later, I  will return to the ashram.   I resist my return there,  but emotional ties force me back–the death, two years ago now, of the ashram’s founder my Swami, my Merlin (King Arthur’s wizard mentor).  A week after follows the death anniversary of  my mother.  She died 10 years earlier to Swami.  The rituals and festivals that mark  any religion don’t summon me back, but their deaths do. I need to celebrate their moving on, Swami & my mother, in spaces sacred to their now decomposed physical selves. Grateful to had Swami in my life, I have now to let him go: guru [spiritual mentor], god [avatar], friend, and shadow of my self. Even language is fraught here, veering between Indian reality and western framework.

I decide that I don’t want to deal with Swami in my writing, but he turns up anyway, often uncalled for.  In these descriptions of sundry encounters/collisions in Goa, birds, dogs, pigs, fish, his presence shadows my words. I resist t/his unwanted shape; I don’t want to search for phrases in language to sketch realities beyond words.  If, willy nilly, I hint that common and everyday sights lead me to other realities, so be it.  But, deliberate descriptions of a Merlin being, magic in daily life, mysteries of a living god are beyond me and my skills as a wordsmith.  I’m only waving, not drowning, to reverse Stevie Smith‘s tart, ironic poem,

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Put to music, sung by Tanita Tikaram (a boundary hunter herself) in her husky monotone, the poem turns mystical.

No matter those who write their experiences in prose, god is best left to poetry. The more that we speak about divine longing, the more mystery turns mundane. A crow sits on the roof of the adjoining building, looks down at me, and caws his being forth. Another crow flies by with a piece of bread in its mouth. Smoke rises into the morning air.

 

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.

 

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]