Sunday, October 18, 2009


"A writer out of loneliness is trying to communicate like a distant star sending signals. He isn't telling or teaching or ordering. Rather he seeks to establish a relationship of meaning, of feeling, of observing. We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say-and to feel- " Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought."

Letter to Peter Benchley, Sag Harbour, 1956 from 'A Life in Letters' - John Steinbeck


If an ant got into your food packet and you travelled hundreds of kilometers and he had to get down in a strange place all lost and bewildered how would he start his new life in a place where he does not know anybody, since ants have been genetically programmed to live in communities?

Or are ant communities good Christians and will they welcome him warmly and just say "Step in line, pardner!" because they remember that "I was a stranger and you took me in" (Mathew 25:35 ), and "Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, so also you do unto me" (Mathew 25: 40), and "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" (Hebrews 13:1-2) ? Have been wondering about this for years.

Jan 2004

Number Locks

A new wave of anti-Semitism alarms France, so magazines say. The Jews back in the dock. Reminded me of this novel about a little Jewish boy in America. Living with his family that has fled Europe to start life afresh. The boy has no idea what had happened back in Europe, his questions are not answered. One fine day, the Red Cross deposits Grandpa home in an ambulance. Old, senile, survivor of the Holocaust, not completely there. Always smiling, talking only to himself, living in a different world only he knew. The little boy is very curious about this mystery, but does not know what to do, he just cannot get beyond the veil.

One day at school he learns about number locks. That a combination of numbers can be used as an unlocking mechanism. He remembers the strange numbers branded on Grandpa's arm. (By the Gestapo, but he does not know that). So one evening, alone with Grandpa in his dimly lit stuffy basement room, he sits in front of the old man and repeats the numbers in a quiet slow voice, like a magician, trying out all possible permutations. Hoping one of them will unlock Grandpa, the secret world that he inhabits. But Grandpa continues to smile unseeing, talking in a strange mumble as always, lost beyond comprehension.

In the end the boy gives up in frustration. He realizes, with a feeling of suddenly having grown up, that Grandpa has closed himself in a world where nothing, not even the magic of numbers, can free him.
Dec 2003


Passing through Cubbon Park in the morning, I see men feeding crows in a mango grove. Remembered this Polish lady I met who said that pigeons make her nostalgic for home. Her strongest memory of growing up in Warsaw was feeing pigeons in the park.

Birds. They fly across our lives, unobtrusive, light, mute witnesses. They are of the earth, and of the sky. Connected, yet not connected. Roots, and freedom. Closeness, and space.

A fine balance we seek to attain, all our lives.

Nov 2003

Once in a While

Mother was agitated all morning.
A call had come from her brother Harold,
who was spoken of only in whispers
and despised by those with a talent
for never changing their minds.
But Mother loved him.

Somehow I learned that my uncle
had forged checks and spent time in prison.
And I knew he played the saxophone
in small jazz bands.

In late afternoon the doorbell rang.

My uncle stood in the hall.
A tall man slightly stooped, he shook snow
from his long brown overcoat. He had a high
hooked nose and wavy brown hair
that fell across his forehead,
and he carried packages wrapped in Christmas paper.

My stepfather signaled: disappear.

In early evening Uncle Harold
knocked on my door with a gift for me:
jazz records, the first I'd seen.

Fats Waller beaming from the album cover
is clearer to me now than my uncle's face.
"I can't give you anything but love, baby."

A mourning sax backing Lee Wiley:
"Once in a while, will you give just
one little thought to me…"

At first light my uncle was gone,
His footprints vanishing in a fresh fall of snow.

by Mark Perlberg


Yesterday, saw an Elder's Day procession on Cubbon Road. Some of the old gentlemen were carrying pink heart-shaped baloons. Like children on a picnic. The only difference being they were followed by an ambulance.

Remembered this old Anglo-Indian lady I saw the other day at K.C Das. I saw her from the distance standing in front of the shop, thought she might be waiting for someone. I was going in when she asked me whether I could help her get down the small step on to the pavement. The step was so low, I would not have even noticed it. But she was standing there waiting for someone to come and help her down.

The helplessness of old age, the diminishing of your faculties that nothing can stop. How ill-prepared you are for it, how unimaginable that one day you could be standing on city roads seeking the help of strangers. Strangers who will never see, beyond the wrinkled skin and sagging muscles, the strong, agile, fiercely independent young person you once were.

October 2003


The other day at the General Post Office, it was a Sunday afternoon, there was this crowd of poorly-dressed men crowding and jostling at the counters and preventing the rest of us from getting any work done. Was irritated and trying to find other free counters when I realized what was happening - they were apparently laborers and had come to send their wages to their families perhaps, and wanted to make money orders. And none of them could read and write, so the counter people had to write each one of the money orders one by one while these people gave addresses in broken language, sometimes repeating them many times anxiously, perhaps worrying that their hard-earned money would get lost somewhere because there was no way they could check if the man at the counter was writing them correctly.

Thought of their families far away in small villages waiting for these slips of paper.

Most of them did not even have slippers and looked rather lost in the huge vaulted GPO hall with its majestic dome and giant pillars and surrounded by the rest of us educated well-dressed confident city people.

What different worlds we inhabit, living shoulder to shoulder in this vast country.

October 2003

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Old friend, Prufrock

"...I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

From 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' by T.S.Eliot


One of them strange vivid dreams, among the many you have all the time. Where you meet this old woman, in a foreign-looking colony of people. And you go speak to her and ask her about her past. And once she starts telling you stories, her smiling face lit by the early morning sun coming in through the window on the right, slowly starts becoming younger. Golden light and youth returning on a warm gentle face. The wrinkles disappear, the cheeks fill up, the hair becomes blond and thick again, and the eyes turn luminous. Absolute magic.

It is but natural, come to think of it. When someone cares enough to listen to our stories, we become young again.
It is not age, but the weight of the untold stories of our days, that bends our backs.

Aug 2006


"What did we ever own that hadn't
the quality of seasons
their numerous dyings?"

Winter Song, Brian Patten

* * * * * * * * * * * *

It is not the growing older that bothers you, but the realization that proportionally the older people who are dear to you are also growing older and therefore more vulnerable - each time the phone rings with that long-distance tone, you freeze in terror.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
A buddhist ritual where they make an elaborate beautiful rangoli/mandala [colorful design] on the ground, and then the sand is brushed together, collected, and dispersed in flowing water.
To re-inforce one of the basic principles of life, and of Buddhism - the impermanence of things.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Somebody Else's Problem :)

"Somebody Else's Problem (also known as Someone else's problem or SEP) is an effect that causes people to ignore matters which are generally important to a group but may not seem specifically important to the individual. Author Douglas Adams's description of the effect, which he playfully ascribed to a physical "SEP field", has helped to make it a generally recognized phenomenon. The label is now widely used to focus public attention on matters that might have been overlooked and, less commonly, to identify concerns that a depressed individual should ignore. It has also been employed as trivial shorthand to describe factors that are "out of scope" in the current context.

...Douglas Adams has his character Ford Prefect describe Somebody Else's Problem in Life, the Universe and Everything, the third book of the five-book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy:

"..An SEP is something we can't see, or don't see, or our brain doesn't let us see, because we think that it's somebody else's problem.... The brain just edits it out, it's like a blind spot. If you look at it directly you won't see it unless you know precisely what it is. Your only hope is to catch it by surprise out of the corner of your eye."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Schizophrenia & the Limits of Rational Thought

"Many people have noticed that schizophrenics seem to appear in successful and intelligent families. People with a mild version of the disorder, as noted earlier, these are sometimes called "schizotypal" people - are often unusually brilliant, self-assured, and focused.

...One absurdly precise study estimates that 28 percent of prominent scientists, 60 percent of composers, 73 percent of painters, 77 percent of novelists, and an astonishing 87 percent of poets have shown some degree of mental disturbance.

As John Nash, the Princeton mathematician, said after recovering from 30 years of schizophrenia and accepting a Nobel Prize for his work on game theory, the interludes of rationality between his psychotic episodes were not welcome at all. "Rational thought imposes a limit on a person's concept of his relation to the cosmos."

The psychiatrist Randolph Nesse of Michigan speculates that schizophrenia may be an example of an evolutionary "cliff effect", in which the mutations in different genes are all beneficial, except when they all come together in one person, or evolve just too far, at which point they suddenly combine to produce a disaster.

Perhaps schizophrenia is the result of too much of a good thing: too many genetic and environmental factors that are usually good for brain function all coming together in one individual. This would explain why the genes predisposing people to schizophrenia do not die out; so long as they do not combine, they each benefit the survival of the carrier."

Page 122, 'The Agile Gene, How Nature turns on Nurture' by Matt Ridley, author of 'Genome'


Going for a walk with a dog, unleashed. He runs ahead of you smelling, exploring, marking. Far ahead of you. You are alone, yet not. Narrow country road, deserted hillsides once again being reclaimed by the night. There's just you, and somewhere ahead, a dog. You stop to hear a stream gurgle under a small bridge. And when you want to return, you shout out to him. He's gone ahead the bend in the road. And he pretends to not hear you. So you turn back and start walking. Like a lightning shot, he's turned back and run far ahead of you. And he stops to pant and look back at you. And then again you lose him in his explorations among the tall grass and the trees.

And when you finally turn in towards the house, you think you have lost him. But he comes in from among the grass, covered with seeds, happy. He runs ahead to the house. He is there first. When you turn into the verandah, he's there, with that smug look on his face - "Look, she's coming home so late." And you still want to hug him.

05 Jan 2007

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