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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Cooking! A Personal Fable of Repercussions

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

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

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

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

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

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

courtesy: Selvankavi TOI

courtesy: Selvankavi TOI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

sand–a poem against the self

Image

sand

follow up to the ‘Spiritual Punk’ posts.

Original image is by Paul Kozal, “Cypress Mist” [http://www.westongallery.com/kozal_paul_pages/kozal_paul_16x20_1_weston_gallery.htm]

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]

Windows, and looking in–tourism and social identity in India

Funny, Emily Dickinson, that strange 19th century recluse, frequently pops into my head when I question my increasing reluctance for human company. I spend most days quite alone, lonely at times, content other times, but needing to come to terms with my reclusiveness. “Sunlife Residency” in Varca, Goa, is quite a big complex of apartments. With my ground floor apartment situated in a corner where residents (passing or permanent) of another block have to cross, I am the target of curious stares. I sit out on the little patio in order to get best dibs at the erratic Internet reception, and so my bent head receives those glances.

cropped-photo-on-10-03-13-at-5-07-pm.jpgSome come up to chat like the Kashmiri, Fayaz, with his beautiful wife, Mulammal, and cuddly Haziq, their baby son. Melodious, the sounds of all those z’s. The humans live up to their names. Mulammal is tall and fair with a noble Persian nose, soft spoken, and hesitant in her English syllables. With her head wrapped in a scarf and her salwar kameez (shirt and pajamas), she harkens back to those old Hindi movies my mother used to watch– Nargis, Nutan, the mystique of their presence.

Fayaz drives a silver Nano (Tata Motors‘ coup as the lowest priced car in the world), and approaches me with no hesitation. A businessman, as most seasonal Kashmiris are in Goa, his manner denotes savoir faire. “Come, visit my shop in Mobor, next to Cavellosim- ‘Exotic Gems’,” he urges me a few times. Hating jewellery shops, and wishing that Fayaz would notice my utter lack of ornament, I hesitate. But, he, as are most people here, is curious about the rent I pay. The usual response to my reply is “but noooo, that is toooo much, you can get a much better apartment for less.”

Most of the income, in Goa’s tourist economy, comes from renting rooms and apartments to tourists. Indeed, I drove around different neighborhoods, asked residents in their gardens, and discovered every other person had a room to rent. So, the curiosity about rent is constant, creating much havoc in my judgement until I learned to go with my comfort zone. If I am gullible, and can’t bargain beyond a point, so be it. The curiosity is also about how I am perceived–single, in relatively roomy one bedroom serviced apartment, with a car in tow.

Driving back from Margao (the biggest town in south Goa), I notice a huge black hoarding with yellow letters that shouts, “Exotic Gems, Mobor.” Earlier, staying in Luisa-by-the-Sea, an upmarket, swish collection of villas set in a landscaped gated enclosure on the River Sal, I noticed that the boundary wall to this exclusive property was set with a line of posh-ish shops. In the main, they were occupied by seasonal Kashmiri traders (there October through May) who returned to Kashmir for the summer and monsoon months. One trader, in particular, remains with me, an older man in traditional attire (jacket and cap) who played atonal but stirring Sufi music early morning, and opened up to me when I requested that he replay the music when it ended. “Muslim music,” he told me, while my friend hunted busily for a 34DD bikini top….

Goa is no exception to the rest of India, where Muslims, even those indigenous to the place, are looked on with suspicion. Being Catholic here ensures an automatic acceptability. I fit in quite easily, and can pass as Goan if I wish to, with my features, and skin color, and dress. My mongrel self, coming from Catholic and Hindu parentage, fits into no real class or creed. Too much emphasis either way and I feel constricted, hemmed it, paradoxically bereft of a god. Even the ashram society, unable to process a philosophy which compared religions to the fingers of a hand joined at the palm, moves increasingly toward the Hindu in ritual and belief. The true God, different peoples insist belongs only to us, to us, and by this insistence they define their identities.

This is the ultimate irony of a spiritual society; perhaps ‘societies’ by their nature thwart the longing for god? Perhaps, it is the misfits, the outsiders, the wanderers in the desert who can truly devote their lives to longing?? So Emily, dear Emily, the outsider at the window who knows that entering, belonging, cannot bestow identity or security–

I had been hungry all the years
My noon had come, to dine
I, trembling, drew the table near
And touched the curious wine.

‘Twas this on tables I had seen
When turning, hungry, lone,
I looked in windows, for the wealth
I could not hope to own….

“Nor was I hungry; so I found
That hunger was a way
Of persons outside windows,
The entering takes away.”
“I am Nobody, who are You?”