Saturday, May 29, 2010

Keeping vigil

by Amy M. Clark

My seatmate on the late-night flight
could have been my father. I held
a biography, but he wanted to talk.

The pages closed around my finger
on my spot, and as we inclined
into the sky, we went backwards
in his life, beginning with five hours
before, the funeral for his only brother,

a forgotten necktie in his haste
to catch this plane the other way
just yesterday, his wife at home
caring for a yellow Lab she'd found
along the road by the olive grove,

and the pretty places we had visited—
Ireland for me, Germany for him—
a village where he served his draft
during the Korean War, and would like
to see again to show his wife

how lucky he had been. He talked
to me and so we held
his only brother's death at bay.

I turned off my reading light,
remembering another veteran
I met in a pine forest years ago
who helped me put my tent up
in the wind. What was I thinking

camping there alone? I was grateful
he kept watch across the way
and served coffee in a blue tin cup.

Like the makeshift shelter of a tent,
a plane is brought down,
but as we folded to the ground,
I had come to appreciate
even my seatmate's breath, large
and defenseless, the breath of a man
who hadn't had a good night's rest.

I listened and kept the poles
from blowing down, and kept
a vigil from the dark to day.

"Arc" by Amy M. Clark, from Stray Home. © University of North Texas Press, 2010


"Do you read a lot?"

"A little. Being read to is nicer." She looked at me. "That's over now, isn't it?"

"Why should it be over?" But I couldn't see myself talking into cassettes for her or meeting her to read aloud.

"I was so glad and so proud of you when you learned to read. And what nice letters you wrote me!" That was true; I had admired her and been glad, because she was reading and she wrote to me,

But I could feel how little my admiration and happiness were worth compared to what learning to read and write must have cost Hanna, how meagre they must have been if they could not even get me to answer her, visit her, talk to her.

I had granted Hanna a small niche, certainly an important niche, one from which I gained something and for which I did something, but not a place in my life."

Page 195, 'The Reader' by Bernard Schlink.
Translated from the German by Carol Brown Janeway.

Movie adaptation by Stephen Daldry.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Towel Day :)

Towel Day is celebrated every 25 May as a tribute by fans of the late author Douglas Adams. On this day, fans carry a towel with them to demonstrate their love for the books and the author, as referenced in Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy :) :) (

See pictures and details of events that happened yesterday, world-wide -

The original quote that referenced the greatness of towels is found in Chapter 3 of Adams' work The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

"A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

— Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Is there a time......

Beautiful song and video - heard it first in 1997 thanks to our dear friend Claude, a big fan of Brian Eno, who sent me back from France with a suitcase full of cassettes.......

More info about the song, the film and the context:

"The film Miss Sarajevo is a documentary by Bill Carter about a beauty pageant held in the midst of war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia. The winner was a 17-year-old blonde named Inela Nogić. Carter traveled to Sarajevo in the winter of 1993 to offer humanitarian aid and quickly found himself in the heart of the conflict. He lived for six months in a burnt-out office building, subsisting on baby food and whatever water he could find in the rivers and sewers and delivering food and medicine to those in need."

Miss Sarajevo

Is there a time for keeping a distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day

Is there a time for kohl and lipstick
A time for cutting hair
Is there a time for high street shopping
To find the right dress to wear

Here she comes
Heads turn around
Here she comes
To take her crown

Is there a time to run for cover
A time for kiss and tell
Is there a time for different colours
Different names you find it hard to spell

Is there a time for first communion
A time for East Seventeen
Is there a time to turn to Mecca
Is there time to be a beauty queen
Here she comes

Beauty plays the clown
Here she comes
Surreal in her crown

Dici che il fiume
Trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
Giungerai a me
Oltre i confini
E le terre assetate
Dici che come il fiume
Come il fiume...
L'amore giungerà
E non so più pregare
E nell'amore non so più sperare
E quell'amore non so più aspettare

[Translation of the above]
You say that the river
finds the way to the sea
and like the river
you will come to me
beyond the borders
and the dry lands
You say that like a river
like a river...
the love will come
the love...
And i don't know how to pray anymore
and in love i don't know how to hope anymore
and for that love i don't know how to wait anymore
[End of Translation]

Is there a time for tying ribbons
A time for Christmas trees
Is there a time for laying tables
And the night is set to freeze

O lijepa, o draga, o slatka slobodo,
[dar u kom sva blaga višnji nam bog je do...]

Songwriters: The Edge; Eno, Brian; Clayton, Adam; Mullen, Larry Jr; Bono

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A comforting space

"It goes beyond just keeping in touch; as many people assert – you don’t have to talk with friends every day in order to remain close. However, there is something intensely special about being involved with good friends on a daily basis. The feeling that you not only know what is going on but actually play a role in each others lives is rewarding. There are times when I get a bit depressed thinking about all of the ‘shit-shooting’ that I miss out on with my friends when I’m not at home.

I know it must sound odd, but I guess it’s fair to say that I sometimes miss the mundane details of my friends’ lives. Even with the help of technology making communications incredibly inexpensive, unavoidable things like time differences and vastly different living environments make picking up the phone and talking about how good lunch was, or the strange characteristic of quick-dry shirts smelling pretty nasty after being wet (they do, don’t they?), rather difficult.

The nice thing about the emails I received today was that they covered not only the “here’s what’s been going on in my life for the past few months” but also more random “slice of life” things; food, fears, gripes about coffee. Moreover, when reading the emails, I could hear my friends’ voices, their inflections, their expressions, and their mood. They were almost like a stream of consciousness, where for a brief moment, I was hanging out with my friends again in a comfortable and comforting space."

The Kora

"Toumani Diabaté is one of the most important musicians in Africa. Toumani plays the kora, a harp unique to West Africa, with 21 strings.

Toumani was born in Bamako, the capital of Mali, in 1965 into a family of exceptional griots (hereditary musician/historian caste); his research shows 71 generations of kora players from father to son."


“…..But with Sparky [Charles Schulz, creator of Snoopy comics], it’s a sense of being abandoned, a fear of abandonment, that he’s talking about. When he rode the streetcar with [his mother] Dena, he was afraid that as more and more people got on at the stops, and crowded in between her and him, that she would get off without him. He struggled all his life with a package of anxiety, a sense of abandonment and of not being loved. His expression of that aloneness was continual, and in interviews he often said he felt alone—which is a strange remark for someone with five children. But for Sparky, it was a powerful myth, and very effective.

Everyone I talked to said he was fun and funny, that he loved life, but it was complicated because he’d draw close to someone and then pull away."

On Being Charlie Brown

"The American assumption was that children were happy, and childhood was a golden time; it was adults who had problems with which they wrestled and pains that they sought to smooth. Schulz reversed the natural order of things ... by showing that a child's pain is more intensely felt than an adult's, a child's defeats the more acutely experienced and remembered. Charlie Brown takes repeated insults from Violet and Patty about the size of his head, which they compare with a beach ball, a globe, a pie tin, the moon, a balloon; and though Charlie Brown may feel sorry for himself, he gets over it fast. But he does not get visibly angry.

" 'Would you like to have been Abraham Lincoln?' Patty asks Charlie Brown. 'I doubt it,' he answers. 'I have a hard enough time being just plain Charlie Brown.'

"Children are not supposed to be radically dissatisfied. When they are unhappy, children protest--they wail, they whine, they scream, they cry--then they move on. Schulz gave these children lifelong dissatisfactions, the stuff of which adulthood is made.

"Readers recognized themselves in 'poor, moon- faced, unloved, misunderstood' Charlie Brown--in his dignity in the face of whole seasons of doomed baseball games, his endurance and stoicism in the face of insults. He ... reminded people, as no other cartoon character had, of what it was to be vulnerable, to be small and alone in the universe, to be human--both little and big at the same time."

David Michaelis, 'Schulz and Peanuts', Harper Collins, Copyright 2007 by David Michaelis, pp. 245- 247

The Man in the Yard

My father told me once
that when he was about twenty
he had a new girlfriend, and once
they stopped by the house on the way
to somewhere, just a quick stop
to pick something up,
and my grandfather, who wasn't well—
it turned out he had TB and would die
at fifty-two—was sitting in a chair
in the small back yard, my father
knew he was out there, and it crossed
his mind that he should take his girlfriend
out back to meet him, but he
didn't, whether for embarrassment
at the sick, fading man
or just because he was in a hurry
to be off on his date, he didn't
say, but he told the little,
uneventful story anyway, and said
that he had always regretted
not doing that simple, courteous
thing, the sick man sitting in
the sun in the back yard would
have enjoyed meeting her, but
instead he sat out there alone
as they came and left, young
lovers going on a date. He
always regretted it, he said.

"The Man in the Yard" by Howard Nelson, from The Nap by the Waterfall. © Timberline Press, 2009.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


".....The only person who had every really asked her questions was her husband, and that was because love is a constant questioning. In fact I don't know a better definition of love."

So says Milan Kundera in Lost Letters. After the death of her husband, Tamina cannot get close to any of the men who try to woo her and is locked in her aloneness in a strange land. One day, she realizes what it is that bothers her so much about them, what it is that is missing. They are always talking about themselves, the things that happen to them, what they did, the places they went to - rarely did they ask, so how have you been, what fills your days, are you happy, what do you think of when you have that far-away look in your eyes.

So many relationships that slide into imbalance, because one person always asks the questions, and the other is too locked up in his/her self to bother.

How was your childhood, have you flown kites, are you warm, why are you sneezing, will you call me when you reach, do you beleive in ghosts, what's your favourite colour, do you know the smell of mummy-cat tummies, did you ever eat toothpaste, can you turn cart-wheels, what was your great-grandfather, can you touch the floor without bending your knees, what is your earliest memory, do you like rolling on grass, and why did that shadow pass over your face the other day when we were laughing with friends at the restaurant?


Jan 18, 2004.

Ordinary People

Walking on the road, you pass so many people. Some look confident, purposeful, well-dressed, well-maintained. But the majority appear so ordinary, wear ill-fitting clothes, unfashionable footwear, have too much fat or too little, nothing remarkable about them, nothing attractive.

But yet someone somewhere eagerly waits for this unimpressive man to come home every evening.

Someone's entire world turns around the strength of this frail-looking woman.

Someone's very purpose in life hinges on this brash youngster cutting through traffic.

Someone knows only the shelter of these old arms each time their world begins to crumble.

Someone will count hours, minutes, and weep like a child when this pock-marked face alights from a long-distance train.

Someone will cave in, crack up, and never be the same again if this one person disappears from the face of the world.

There are no ordinary people.

Drive carefully.


Arvind. Little brother from university days, dragged down by the whirlpool in the blue ocean I so loved. Who died because the warden and VC refused to give a car to rush him to the hospital. Why do you come back to haunt me after all these years, you whom we grieved with all the bitterness of youth against unfairness? Where are you now, what have you become? Do you still watch the waves tempting other young students on that beautiful coast? Do you still wander those hostel corridors resonating with youthful laughter? Or have you closed yourself in anguish unable to see the face of your mother who never recovered from losing her only child?

O little brother, did you, like Phlebas, pass the stages of your brief life as you entered the whirlpool*? Is death by water a death without resurrection, without rebirth, without hope of another chance?

Give me your grief, let me carry it for you, may your boyish shoulders bear only the weight of the arms of friendly angels....

*"Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.

Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you. "

Part IV: Death by Water
From 'The Wasteland' – T.S Eliot

Jan 28, 2004

On the road

30 Oct 03, Thursday

One morning while driving down the busy road from M Circle, I notice this man on a bike moving very slowly in the fast-moving traffic. Then I notice the tiny little stray puppy running between him and the road divider. The man was purposely riding slowly shielding the puppy and preventing him from moving left into the traffic where he would be crushed to death without a doubt. And the puppy unaware of danger so close at hand was happily running a marathon in the straight line he was forced to run in, once in a while turning to look at this funny guy keeping pace with him.

"There is more to admire in people than to despise". So says the character of Bernard Rieux in Camus' "Plague", after 9 months in a plague-ravaged city.

Goodness is all around us, though it rarely makes it to newspaper headlines.

Too late

As we grow older we develop long sight and have difficulty seeing what's near. But in matters of the soul, perhaps it works the other way around? There is a saying that God hides things by keeping them near us. In our youth, our eyes fixed on distant oases, we pass nurturing wellsprings unaware. As we grow older, we start noticing the treasures right next to us, we start valuing people whom we took for granted earlier, we recognize blessings.

But all this, after we have spent our youth chasing mirages while we let what could have sustained us wear away with our thoughtlessness and neglect.

At times, the fatted calf may be killed and a feast laid out to celebrate our return*. But at other times, the prodigal could well find that there is no one at home any more, that it is just a little too late.

Ref: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. Luke 15: 11-32 , The New Testament.

Nov 14, 2003


Sitting alone on a rocky coast one calm grey monsoon morning, watching poor fishermen cast their nets into the sea, wait patiently for hours, pull up an empty net, move to another place and try again, I re-learn the lesson: Sometimes there is fish, sometimes there is no fish.

Sometimes our hands seem too small to hold all that we have been given. At other times, all we can see is the gap between our fingers.


The other day at the GPO, 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.

Oct 06, 2003


Shattered glass,
Pieces of metal, orphaned slippers.
Every single day,
On these city roads,
Someone is jolted, brutally,
From the comforting illusion,
That accidents,
Are what happen,
To other people.

Oct 06, 2003

Down the river...

So the rains are back in the city. Which means slush and potholes and traffic jams and vehicles splashing muddy water all over you. While thinking of these irritations one monsoon morning this July, I remember reading this article in the Deccan Herald. About these Assamese parents who had to keep the body of their 13-year old son killed in the floods, in a boat, and send it down the Brahmaputra because the entire village was inundated and there wasn't one bit of land anywhere to cremate him on.

Sending your son down a raging river to be eaten by vultures and dogs somewhere.
Their faces I have never seen continue to haunt me.

Oct 08, 2003

Landscapes, Mindscapes

Does the landscape we inhabit enter our characters, define the people we become? Do mountain people know patience, and the humbling truth that you cannot control everything? Do forest people know courage, that buds break forth from ravaged trees? Do farmers know waiting, that there are things that you cannot hurry? Do river people know change, that you "step and not step into the same river"?

And in what way does the city enter us? Would we have been different people if we lived by an ocean and knew the endless comings and goings of the tide, the quietness of moonlight on water?

Oct 13, 2003

Are you okay?

A story from the Talmud, a holy book of the Jews:

"And Elijah said to Berokah, ‘These two will also share in the world to come.’
Berokah then asked them, ‘What is your occupation?’
They replied, ‘We are merrymakers. When we see a person who is downhearted, we cheer him up.’
These two were among the very select few who would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven."

We remember this when we watch 'Life is Beautiful'. When it comes to real life, what is it that prevents us from making the effort to cheer up people? Maybe the answer lies in the phrase itself - it is "effort"? Or does the I, Me, Myself motto of our times exclude reaching out ? Does our respect for other people's "personal space" cross over to indifference sometimes?

When young people in their twenties jumped to their death from high buildings on M.G. Road, what questions did their colleagues ask themselves?

Oct 14, 2003


Looking up at the blue sky and white clouds again after so many days, I remember doing so lying amid pink heady summer-smelling heather while playing hide and seek in the long evenings of childhood. If you lay very very still amid long stretches of sun-burnt grass in that hilly place we lived, the chances were that you could lie there until sunset and no one would find you. And the warmth of the dark rocks and the insects moving quietly among the grass and the changing colours of the sky and the distant sounds of temple drums and the gentle evening breeze would all make it very difficult to finally get up and go back to the group. But go back I did or I would not be part of the next game.

Long days. Yes, TV-less, computer-less long days of childhood spent outside in the sun and rain. If I had known then that the world I would someday grow up to would be so unimaginably different, so full of distractions, so full of gadgets in spite of which haste and worry would still reign, I would have spent more evenings lying forgotten in the heather, on the warm lap of the gently breathing earth, unmindful of games going on without me, alone, yet not alone...

Oct 23, 2003

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Friend, on why his relationship with a close friend cooled off -

"We tend to only remember the angry words that someone said. And we forget the person behind the words. And so we drift apart."

Of Heroes and Villains

[To my dear friend Meera, with deep gratitude. Meera, who took me to watch my first Kathakali performance, who sang those magnificent Kathakali songs for me, whose entire family is bonded by the love and rich understanding of this extraordinary art form, who opened my eyes to grandeur I did not know lay at my very doorstep. ]

To watch a Kathakali performance is to know Wonder. A true Kathakali artist does not act a character, he IS the character. At every performance, he sheds the skin of his ordinary self to become a mythical character from the Mahabharatha or the Ramayana. He is much larger than himself, he is filled with grandeur, he knows what it is to be superhuman and human at the same time. A good Kathakali performer takes you out of yourself, elevates you from the mundane, and makes you experience every emotion in the superlative, makes you traverse the entire length and breadth of every feeling.

There are 5 kinds of veshams, or make-up, in Kathakali - Pacha, Kathi, Thadi, Kari and Minukku. Pacha or green for noble characters, Kathi or knife for villains, Thadi or beard for superhuman monkeys like Hanuman (White beard), evil characters (Red beard), or hunters (Black beard), Kari or black for she-demons, Minukku or prettying-up for female characters or sages.

An excerpt from Anita Nair's novel 'Mistress', where she brilliantly weaves in the life of a Kathakali artist with the lives of ordinary people "whose minds are contained by the practical needs of everyday."

Koman Aashaan, the old Kathakali artist, speaking to his niece:

"Radha, do you know the significance of the katthivesham in kathakali?'

Ravana, Narakasura, know why these demon kings are classified as katthivesham? They are men born with noble blood in them. They could have been heroes. Instead, they let their dissatisfaction with their destinies curdle their minds, and so they turned out arrogant, evil, demonic.”


"....Sringaaram. Haasyam. Karunam. Raudram. Veeram. Bhayaanakam. Beebhalsam. You [the Kathakali artist] have learnt to identify the thought that leads to each one of these emotions and to school your features accordingly. You have seen how first the thought, then your breath, then your face resolves the process from knowing to experiencing to expressing. There is a build-up, so to say. Not so with adbhutam. For this emotion alone does not offer you a time frame within which you may work on the feeling.

For adbhutam is wonder. And wonder is immediate. It cannot be premeditated or calculated. If you do that, it isn't wonder.

That is the hallmark of wonder. A curiosity to know, a yearning to possess. And when you do, the wonder ceases. That is the nature of adbhutam. To be transient. For you will never known it again in exactly the same degree."

Book 3: Adbhutam
Anita Nair


And it is in the very sadness of things that we write essays about the greatness of public figures, but fail to spell out the heroism and spirit of our families and friends, We Just Do Not Tell Them.

How many parents whom we fought with and resented all our childhood and youth know that we now talk about them with pride in front of strangers?


I want to speak to you.
To whom else should I speak?
It is you who make
a world to speak of.
In your warmth the
fruits ripen–all the
apples and pears that grow
on the south wall of my
head. If you listen
it rains for them, then
they drink. If you
speak in response
the seeds
jump into the ground.

Denise Levertov


The old man who always sold jackfruit, every summer, at the same street corner where I I always stopped to buy jackfruit and talk to him, is no longer there.

Three o'clock

"......You do not know
The noxious smell untraceable in the drains,
Inaccesible to the plumbers,
that has its hour of the night;
you do not know
The unspoken voice of sorrow in the ancient bedroom
At three o'clock in the morning."

'The Family Reunion'
T.S. Eliot

The Berlin Effect

Der Berlin-Effekt

The Goethe Institut is having a celebration in honor of the German Unity Day [Oct 3] in Bangalore.

Reminded me of a poem from the book on Contemporary German Poetry that Juliane Stegner brought for me once from Germany. Juliane Stegner, ex-Director of the Goethe Institut, who made me feel that if Germany produces amazingly warm, human, large-hearted people such as this, it must be a fabulous country indeed.

After the breaking down of The Wall:

The Berlin Effect

suddenly in the supermarket
I am surrounded by all those
who have meant something in my life
from all levels
of memory they thaw out.
in front of the freezer I learn
that they now live around the corner
can carry my bags home for me
in front of my door we hesitate
and one of them finally says it: I forgive you.

Eva Corino


Met C on the flight from Quebec City to Toronto 4 years ago. Lover of trees and books (like me), she teaches English to immigrant kids from lower income groups, and is more of a mentor and guide to them.

She has a lovely vegetable garden in the backyard, and a tree, planted in memory of a friend who passed away. She made me pancakes with maple syrup and strawberries and blueberry jam made with her grandmother's recipe.

Told her how I mark the changing of the seasons by the arrival and disappearance of various fruits on the wayside carts. And this is what she replied:

"I also mark the passing of time with the ripening and harvesting of fruits and vegetables! I wait all Spring for the first green shoots to peek from the earth in my garden so that I can snip them and add them to my salads and soups...then the radishes beg to be picked...I gleefully anticipate the first strawberries that come in Spring.

By the time school is finished in June, it's time to go and pick those strawberries and bring them home for jam-making and freezing and, well, gorging...Raspberries get picked in huge quantities a few weeks later. We all go picking, and bring them home in buckets to process. It's difficult not eating them all in a day...with their own... Oh my! They're so sweet and delicate!

The salad days of summer progress into the sweet corn-tomato-cucumber days...then the peach and pear days....the zucchini and pepper days...We'll soon be entering the apple-pumpkin days of the year but not before I harvest the concord grapes from the back yard... and the hazelnuts that abound... and those BEANS!! They have to be picked every day; they're so plentiful!

My goodness! We revel in bounteous splendour and I am grateful."


From John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row" -

"...Only one brave and beautiful boy of ten named Andy from Salinas ever crossed the old Chinaman. Andy was visiting in Monterey and he saw the old man and knew he must shout at him if only to keep his self-respect, but even Andy, brave as he was, felt the little cloud of fear. Andy watched him go by evening after evening while his duty and his terror wrestled. And then one evening Andy braced himself and marched behind the old man singing in a shrill falsetto, "Ching-Chong Chinaman sitting on a rail - 'Long came a white man an' chopped off his tail".

The old man stopped and turned. Andy stopped. The deep-brown eyes looked at Andy and the thin corded lips moved. What happened then Andy was never able either to explain or to forget. For the eyes spread out until there was no Chinaman. And then it was one eye - one huge brown eye as big as a church door. Andy looked through the shiny transparent brown door and through it he saw a lonely countryside, flat for miles but ending against a row of fantastic mountains shaped like cows' and dogs' heads and tents and mushrooms. There was low coarse grass on the plain and here and there a little mound. And a small animal like a woodchuck sat on each mound.

And the loneliness - the desolate cold aloneness of the landscape made Andy whimper because there wasn't anybody at all in the world and he was left. Andy shut his eyes so he wouldn't have to see it any more and when he opened them, he was in Cannery Row and the old Chinaman was just flap-flapping between Western Biological and the Hediondo Cannery. Andy was the only boy who ever did that and he never did it again."

Page 20.


"You did not write about it particularly, but I do hope you have an audience for your stories – hopefully, of the attentive kind. I always felt that being able to share all that you had to share – not just to do any good, but in a general friendly way of sharing - did a lot for your health & happiness."

Dot on.


"Am really sleepy, but wanted to tell you something - when you feel you are in a really strange place, and you have no familiar co-ordinates, look at the night sky - you are bound to see the same constellations you see back home if you are in the Northern Hemisphere! I always do that when I feel I am so so far away from home. You ought to be able to see the Great Bear. And today I saw the Scorpion too around 8 o clock. So you also ought to see these same constellations in your sky. See if it makes you feel better!"

Stories: Music

And so, here's an attempt at collecting all the stories I have heard in my life. I understand they make no sense to others, but since my senility is wiping out so much of my past, so quickly, here goes, just for myself:

"When she was a kid, T says the most exciting days were when the piano tuner came home (New York). He would spend all day with his wrenches tightening things, testing the hammers, checking the tension in each string, and in the evening when he was done, he would play the piano to check - and he would play lounge music and jazz and Frank Sinatra. All of which was taboo in a house where only Chopin and Mozart and such were allowed - her mother is a Hitlerian purist if ever there was one, that's why T grew up and became a hippy and wore "beggar's clothes" in her mother's words, and wandered off to India. !

And she would be thrilled listening to this different kind of music, which she really liked and which opened up new possibilities. Her mother couldn't say a thing because it wasn't exactly easy to find a piano tuner who could also play Beethoven!

And then she played different notes on the piano for me, and tried to explain all the musical mathematics to me. I loved that feeling of delightful incomprehension.

When she was younger and used to go to this music school, she had the keys to the room where the Indonesian instruments were kept, in an amphitheatre kind of split level place, with the biggest gongs at the top and the many tinkling water-sound instruments of that region in descending order of size. She would go in there in the middle of the night, and hit those huge gongs in the darkness, which would reverberate forever, through her and beyond her, just for the fun of it. Wow.

And how the music teacher would take them to churches with those huge organs, where the kids were allowed to actually walk into the huge pipes, they were so large. She once went recording church bells in France, and would often stumble upon old empty churches inside which someone would be playing the pipe organ all by himself, the sound resonating up to the high vaults.

Cannery Row

An all-time favourite book -

"Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.

Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers, and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men, " and he would have meant the same thing."

Opening paragraph of 'Cannery Row' by John Steinbeck


The paddy harvest must be over in the fields, yet another year.

The same time last year. The fields next to Ravi's house were all harvested, or ready for harvest. Water flowing in between them, with frogs and snakes and fish, and dogs playing endless games of catch-me-if-you-can.

And small purple flowers blooming amidst all the cut paddy stalks. To each his own season.

You remember sitting by the edge of the field early one morning, assisting at these quiet transformations, these births and deaths, your clean city feet seeking the nurturing earth.

The thirst for roots made perfect sense, at that moment.

Words distort things. Press your feet into the earth, and know.

Friday, May 7, 2010


From R:

I have never learnt 'not to care', though through attrition my reactions are less acute than they once were. I think the point (as usual) is not to be overwhelmed by negative feelings, let them play out like a recording in a marked off place in the mind while our awareness continues to be on important things like flowers and leaves and the relationship of the seasons to our perception.......

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To everything, a season

Friend says, about her old friend and neighbour - "She lives in the US most of the time now, and though we do try to keep in touch - we no longer share the same experiences, the same context, so we don't have much to talk about - and when that happens, you know, one tends to drift apart...."

To everything, a season.

The Magic Number of 150

"...Then there is the example of the religious group known as the Hutterites, who for hundreds of years have lived in self-sufficient agricultural colonies in Europe and, since the early twentieth century, in North America. The Hutterites (who came out of the same tradition as the Amish and the Mennonites) have a strict policy that every time a colony approaches 150, they split it in two and start a new one. "Keeping things under 150 just seems to be the best and most efficient way to manage a group of people," Bill Gross, one of the leaders of a Hutterite colony outside Spokane told me. "When things get larger than that, people become strangers to one another." The Hutterites, obviously, didn't get the idea from contemporary evolutionary psychology. They've been following the 150 rule for centuries. But their rationale fits perfectly with Dunbar's theories.

At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens - something indefinable but very real - that somehow changes the nature of the community overnight. "In smaller groups people are a lot closer. They're knit together, which is very important if you want to be effective and successful at community life," Gross said."

(Then he goes on to give the example of Gore Associates, a privately held, multimillion-dollar-high-tech firm based in Newark, Delaware, who have been wildly successful, by using the Rule of 150 - all their plants only have 150 people - when the number exceeds that, they just create a new division, not far from the first, but yet again only holding 150 employees. There is no visible hierarchy in the group.)

"The kind of bond that Dunbar describes in small groups is essentially a kind of peer pressure: it's knowing people well enough that what they think of you matters. The company is the basic unit of military organization because, in a group under 150, "orders can be implemented and unruly behaviour controlled on the basis of personal loyalties and direct man-to-man contacts."

"Once that line, the Tipping Point, is crossed, they begin to behave very differently."

Page 180. 'The Power of Context (Part Two) - the Magic Number of One Hundred and Fifty'

From the bestseller - 'The Tipping Point - How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference' by Malcom Gladwell

The Returning Point

"Originally home meant the center of the world - not in the geographical, but in the ontological sense. Mircea Eliade has demonstrated how home was the place from which the world could be founded. A home was established, as he says, "at the heart of the real". In traditional societies, everything that made sense of the world was real; the surrounding chaos existed and was threatening, but it was threatening because it was unreal. Without a home at the centre of the real, one was not only shelterless, but also lost in non-being, in unreality. Without a home everything was fragmentation.

Home was the centre of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one was nearest to the gods in the sky and to the dead in the underworld. This nearness promised access to both. And at the same time, one was at the starting point and, hopefully, the returning point of all terrestrial journeys.

The crossing of the two lines, the reassurance their intersection promises, was probably already there, in embryo, in the thinking and beliefs of nomadic people, but they carried the vertical line with them, as they might carry a tent pole. Perhaps at the end of this century of unprecedented transportation, vestiges of the reassurance still remain in the unarticulated feelings of many millions of displaced people.

Emigration does not only involve leaving behind, crossing water, living amongst strangers, but, also, undoing the very meaning of the world and - at its most extreme - abandoning oneself to the unreal which is the absurd."

Page 55,
John Berger - 'And our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos', 1984

Monday, May 3, 2010

Vieux Farka Touré

Fantastic musician from Mali, son of Ali Farka Touré, the African Blues guitarist.

Amazing guitaring -

"Ai du" live by Vieux Farka Toure @ Joe's Pub

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