Monday, August 30, 2010

And the light comes and goes...

"...The Gospels, revealingly, tell us little of Jesus' spiritual formation and concentrate mostly on his words and actions. The Buddha story, by comparison, places most of its emphasis on how Siddhartha came to enlightenment - the process (which anyone can follow, even today, in principle) - while the particular details of his subsequent teachings and wanderings are often barely mentioned.

Even non-Christians may know some of Jesus' words, while typical Buddhists may know hardly any of Buddha's specific discourses. Buddha is a precedent more than a prophet; and where Jesus came to earth as the way, the truth, and the life, the Buddha came to suggest that the way is up to us, the 'truth' is often impermanent, and the light comes and goes, comes and goes, until we have found something changeless within."

Page 90.
'The Open Road - The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama'
Pico Iyer

A Teacher

"The whole idea of a teacher," he said, blue hawk eyes flashing, "is to present a reflective mirror. Not a blank surface, really, but a screen, on which you have to confront yourself. Like the moon on the water, in a way. When you confront a Zen master, what you're really seeing are not his limitations, but yours. "

"So that if you think he's strict, it's because you're guilty? And if you find him silent, it's because you talk too much?"

"Yeah, I guess. There are many ways to do it. Sometimes they just let you talk yourself into trouble. Or they''ll shock you out of your assumptions. Or they'll cut you down. Everything you think you're seeing in him is actually coming from yourself. A saint, I think, is someone who brings out the good in everyone he meets."

Page 289. "The Lady and the Monk. Four Seasons in Kyoto"
Pico Iyer


".................for memory to function well, it needs constant practice: if recollections are not evoked again and again, in conversations with friends, they go. Emigrés gathered together in compatriot colonies keep retelling to the point of nausea the same stories, which thereby become unforgettable.

But people who do not spend time with their compatriots, like Irena (character in the novel) or Odysseus, are inevitably struck with amnesia. The stronger the nostalgia, the emptier of recollections it becomes. The more Odysseus languished, the more he forgot.

For nostalgia does not heighten memory's activity, it does not awaken recollections; it suffices unto itself, unto its own feelings, so fully absorbed is it by its suffering and nothing else."

'Ignorance' (page 33)
Milan Kundera


Moby. Isolate -

Sunday, August 29, 2010


"In the mountains of Georgia, where they graze their flocks of sheep, there exists a special profession-that of mtsnobari, or diviner.

His function is to carry stray lambs back to their mothers in the middle of the enormous flocks.

The mtsnobari infallibly carries each suckling lamb to the right mother, in a flock of hundreds of animals, finding her by means of a particular "sense of smell". He has nothing to help him except the answering voices of ewe and lamb. However, if you take into account the fact that entire flock is bleating, that is clearly not going to simplify things much."

7 February, 1976
Time Within Time - The Diaries 1970-1986
Andrei Tarkovsky

After Years

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

Ted Kooser
from Solo: A Journal of Poetry, Premiere Issue, Spring 1996

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Long ago, attended a fabulous cello conert by a Swedish musician, Svante Henryson. His album Enkidu speaks of an intriguing Mesopotamian myth, represented in the Epic of Gilgamesh, perhaps the oldest written story.

When Gilgamesh, who is two-thirds god and one-third man, becomes so powerful and arrogant that his own subjects cannot bear him, the goddess Aruru whom they go to for help, creates a double for him, called Enkidu. Enkidu is a hairy man-beast, his more natural, elementary, unpolished side, which balances Gilgamesh's arrogance and acquaints him with his humanness, the side that is weak and vulnerable, but also therefore capable of kindness and tolerance.

"We meet Enkidu first in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and learn that he was created to be Gilgamesh's equal and Soul Brother, so that the young, selfish, brutish and proud king of Uruk could know the meaning of friendship, trust, courage and loyalty to become a wholer being. Enkidu's coming into Gilgamesh's life is announced by the dreams of Ninsun, Gilgamesh´s mother, who states that Enkidu will be "a strong companion, the one who helps a friend in need".

from the site:

Found this story beautifully used as illustration in this book: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him" by Sheldon B.Kopp.

"Every man has his Enkidu, his other half, his hidden self. The more he is out of touch with his double the more a man's life is an empty and unsatisfying burlesque. For one strong man who lives like a brute, there is the double of his own soft helplessness to be met. Without his weak and passive double, his capacity for tenderness and gentle touch is also lost.

For another sort of half-man who meets the world as Mr.Nice Guy, there is the danger of living a life of self-degrading appeasement. In order to become free to assert himself when he needs to, he must first be introduced to the ruthlessly dangerous double of his undiscovered rage."


"...The Piraha (of the Brazilian Amazon), Everett reveals, possess “the most complex verbal morphology I am aware of [and] are some of the brightest, pleasantest, most fun-loving people that I know.” Yet they have no numbers of any kind, no terms for quantification (such as all, each, every, most and some), no colour terms and no perfect tense. They appear to have borrowed their pronouns from another language, having previously possessed none. They have no “individual or collective memory of more than two generations past”, no drawing or other art, no fiction and “no creation stories or myths.”

All this, Everett believes, can be explained by a single characteristic: Piraha culture constrains communication to non-abstract subjects which fall within the immediate experience of [the speaker]". What can be discussed, in other words, is what has been seen. When it can no longer be perceived, it ceases, in this realm at least, to exist.

After struggling with one grammatical curiosity, he realised that the Piraha were "talking about liminality – situations in which an item goes in and out of the boundaries of their experience. [Their] excitement at seeing a canoe go around a river bend is hard to describe; they see this almost as travelling into another dimension."


" A Life with no Purpose" by George Monbiot


Alexis Zorba: Damn it boss, I like you too much not to say it. You've got everything except one thing: madness! A man needs a little madness, or else...

Basil: Or else?

Alexis Zorba: ...he never dares cut the rope and be free.

Zorba the Greek
Nikos Kazantzakis


".....The Buddha’s return is a pivotal movement, one of those rare events when the divine penetrates history and transfigures it. Like Moses returning from Mt.Sinai, like Jesus appearing in the crowd at the river Jordan to be baptized by John, a man who has left the world returns to serve it, no longer merely human but charged with transcendent power. As the scriptures record of Moses and Jesus, we can imagine how the Buddha must have shone that bright spring morning in the Himalayan foothills.

Dazzled by the radiance of his personality, it is said, people gathered about him and asked, " Are you a god?"
"Are you an angel?"
"What are you then?"
The Buddha smiled and answered simply, " I am awake" - the literal meaning of the word buddha, from the Sanskrit root budh, to wake up. "

from the Introduction to
'The Dhammapada'
Translated with a general introduction by Eknath Eswaran


"....Anthropologists found that schizophrenia is strongest among those whose ties with the cultural traditions are weakest: drug users, intellectuals, immigrants, students in their first year at college, soldiers recently inducted.

A study of Norwegian-born immigrants in Minnesota showed that over a period of four decades their rate of hospitalization for mental disorders was much higher than those for either non-immigrant Americans or Norwegians in Norway. Isaac Frost found that psychoses often develop among foreign domestic servants in Britain, usually within eighteen months of their arrival.

These psychoses, which are an extreme form of culture shock, emerge among these people because the cultural definition of values which underlies their sanity has been changed. It was not an awareness of 'truth' that was sustaining their sanity, it was their sureness of their cultural directives."

Page 387.
'Lila. An Inquiry into Morals'
Robert M Pirsig

Only to grow...

...Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and yesno,impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong;never to gain or pause,never the soft adventure of undoom,greedy anguishes and cringing ecstasies of inexistence;never to rest and never to have;only to grow..."


Walking towards Oneself

On that hot summer afternoon in Delhi, on the way to the airport, you see these men in orange robes walking barefeet by the side of the road. So many of them, one behind the other. You ask the taxi driver what this is about. He says that they are pilgrims who go to the holy city of Rishikesh [in the Himalayas] and walk back all the way to their respective towns and villages, carrying with them the holy Ganges water. Sometimes for weeks together. Barefoot. Some of them have bandages on their feet. But everyone is walking at the same speed, briskly, purposefully.

You watch them all the way. You have always been fascinated by pilgrims. And there are so many such pilgrimages all over the country. People walk barefeet to so many temples. Braving the elements. Every year.

You admire their absolute faith. And not just that - you envy them the knowledge that they have of themselves. For it is only when you push yourself to the limits, when you test yourself that harshly, that you really know what you are capable of. If you can walk barefoot for weeks in the blazing sun, maybe you are tougher than you thought? And that knowledge must surely change the way you handle life and its travails afterwards?

And maybe that is the very purpose of a pilgrimage - to show us our own riches?
Maybe all pilgrimages finally lead to ourselves?

We "educated city people" are unlikely to go on these barefoot pilgrimages. We do try and test ourselves in other ways, that somehow appear so trivial compared to these.

Are we missing something very important? Are we living on the surface of our selves? Do we lack faith, do we lack courage, have we been reduced by comfort?

Oct 29, 2006

A world without gravity

"...He returned to the clarinet, whose emotional range, from the riotous to the stately, he had not suspected when he was younger. He found a good teacher, an older gentleman, patient, intuitive and funny.

The man told Henry that the only native talent needed to play music well was joy.

Once, when Henry was labouring on Mozart's clarinet concerto, the teacher interrupted him and said, 'Where's the lightness? You've turned Mozart into a heavy, black ox and you're ploughing a field with him.'

With that, he picked up his own clarinet and produced a burst of music that was so loud, clear and brilliant, a wild storm of gyring notes, that Henry was stunned. It was an aural version of Marc Chagall, with goats, brides, grooms and horses swirling about in a multicoloured sky, a world without gravity.

Then the teacher stopped playing, and the sudden emptiness in the room nearly sucked Henry forward."

Page 20, 'Beatrice and Virgil, a novel' by Yann Martel, Author of 'Life of Pi', Winner of the Man Booker Prize

Marc Chagall -

Au dessus de la ville (Above the city) -

Image taken from Google Images. Most of his paintings are in there.

Yann Martel: "He collaborated with Omar Daniel, composer-in-residence at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, on a piece for piano, string quartet and bass. The composition, You Are Where You Are, is based on text written by Martel, which includes parts of cellphone conversations taken from moments in an ordinary day."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Anxiety, curiosity and joy

"Henry had written a novel because there was a hole in him that needed filling, a question that needed answering, a patch of canvas that needed painting - that blend of anxiety, curiosity and joy that is the origin of art - and he had filled that hole, answered the question, splashed colour on the canvas, all done for himself, because he had to.

Then complete strangers told him that his book had filled a hole in them, had answered a question, had brought colour to their lives. The comfort of strangers, be it a smile, a pat on the shoulder or a word of praise, is truly a comfort."

Page 2, 'Beatrice and Virgil, a novel' by Yann Martel, Author of Life of Pi, Winner of the Man Booker Prize

Thursday, August 26, 2010

More on the Greek Harp

New music from Clio, on the Greek Harp -


The Five Hundred Gold Pieces

One of Junaid's followers came to him with a purse containing five hundred gold pieces.

"Have you any more money than this?", asked the Sufi.
"Yes, I have."
"Do you desire more?"
"Yes, I do."

"Then you must keep it, for you are more in need than I; for I have nothing and desire nothing. You have a great deal and still want more."

Page 72. Chapter: Attar of Nisharpur. 'The Way of the Sufi'
Idries Shah

The Snowy Day

The last time I saw you, we met for coffee on a snowy day.
Outside the window of the coffee shop, the snow fell silently

& heavily, the traffic on Coldspring Lane blurred & vague,
each car a cumbersome dream vehicle plowing comically into eternity.

But there you were, real as day, drinking a real cup of coffee.
You were back from India, you had slept for two days, the coffee

tasted wonderful, you said. You had flown to a mountain monastery
to find in prayer & silence what you could not find in the everyday,

taking only a few books, a change of clothes, because for too long you
had carried your life like two suitcases heavy enough to kill you.

When it snows, everything is light & dark at the same time. Black coffee
in a white cup, the hours leaked away, until our cups were empty,

the afternoon gone. Then a kiss on the cheek, a door opening out
into the cold, & I was walking away, up a slippery snowy hill
nothing at all

like your mountain & so little to hold onto. That night the snow fell
& fell & fell, erasing every landmark, quieting the world for a while.

Later, after you died, I had a dream. The phone was ringing.
It was you, your voice, on the other end of the line, laughing

as you said, "Beth, it's Greg. I'm in the hospital. I'm not dead."

"The Snowy Day" by Elizabeth Spires from The Wave-Maker: Poems. © W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Temsula Ao

Thanks to a friend who gifted me this book - 'Laburnum for my head' - I got to read my first collection of short stories from a writer from Nagaland.

Though we see so many people from the North-Eastern states in most of our metros, I am always troubled, and ashamed, by the fact that most of us don't know enough about these fellow Indians, their rich cultures, the causes of the strife that continues there. We rarely go out of our way to discover a people or their stories.

I believe that the first step to understanding and caring for a community is listening to their stories.

Read Temsula Ao, who beats so many renowned Indian writers we know of - I am appalled that I had never heard of her before. Superlative writing, and a range that is impressive.

Laburnum for my head, a Penguin publication, by Temsula Ao (awarded the Padma Shree in 2007)
Penguin Review:

Buy it: You can buy it for just Rs.123 from Flipkart if you are in India -

Temsula Ao

Temsula Ao is a professor at the Department of English, and the Dean of School of Humanities and Education, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong. She is the author of eight books, including five books of poetry and a collection of short stories, These Hills Called Home: Stories from a War Zone, published by Zubaan-Penguin (2006).

A member of the General Council of the Sahitya Akademi, she was awarded the Padma Shree in 2007.

A nice article by her on her grandmother who lived up to 106 -

Monday, August 23, 2010

From Cindrella to Cordelia: Tales of Wicked Elder Children

Going through some Sufi Teaching Stories the other day, I am once again struck by the marked preference for the youngest child.

Have you noticed how in folk tales and old stories, the youngest is usually the truest, the bravest, the purest, the nicest one who will brave persecution and fire-breathing dragons and unkindness and will win the prince or the princess or the kingdom or the treasure or whatever in the end (with supernatural elements always coming to his/her aid), while the eldest, or the first two children, are wicked and greedy and come to a Very Bad End? All the way from Cindrella to Cordelia (King Lear, Shakespeare), mind you.

And this is not restricted to any culture - I have come across this in folk tales and stories from across the world - India, Tibet, Africa, France, Norway, South America, Russia, Canada, China, and Red Indian myths to name a few that I remember - practically all cultures seem to share this belief, irrespective of geographic location. WHY?

Have asked this question to many learned people from various places during my university teaching days. Everyone had further proof to add to the observation from their own or other cultures, but no one seemed to know WHY, no one seemed to know of any research already done on this.

Assuming that writers by and large draw on reality, is it because parents get better at parenting and more relaxed after each child - so while the eldest has to survive all trial-and-error parenting, the youngest is brought up with fewer struggles, with tested methods, and turns out better balanced?

Or is it that the youngest is likely to be more pampered more often than not, and is therefore more self-assured? Or is there any genetic reason behind this? Or are the writers not basing themselves on reality, but simply cashing in on the softer feeling we naturally have towards young ones? Or was it a simple narrative constraint - that to contrast the good with the bad, you had to start with bad, so start from the top of the sibling line? (Notice that the comparison is usually between siblings of the same gender) Or have I missed some point that is so obvious I had to miss it? (!)

But then if an elder child grows up on stories where the younger one is always better, won’t it condition his growing mind even though he’s not aware of the damage? Like years later he may realize that he didn’t fight too hard against a blatant unfairness because he somehow felt it was the way things should be, that it was somehow “right” and he didn’t deserve anything better?

Aren't these “somehow”s impressions that have been sneaked into our psyche surreptitiously, isn’t it subliminal perception or whatever?

So do these stories cause damage? And how much?

Wicked Elder Child Theory. 2004.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

An entirely different place

"".......He (Somerset Maugham) became convinced, like Zola and Dreiser, that what we call character has a physical basis, that its origin goes back to that of the individual organism, and that physical conditions, especially environment, influence it after birth.

It is very hard that a person through no fault of his own should possess a character, perverse and difficult, which condemns him to an unhappy life. Accidents of the body can shape one's 'soul'- one's consciousness of oneself, the 'I' in the personality which is me.

He notes that some novelists are evidently unconscious of the importance of physical traits and their effect on character.

The world is an entirely different place to the man of 5 foot 7 from what it is to the man of 6 foot 2 ".

From 'Somerset Maugham- A Biographical and Critical Study' by Richard Albert Cordell & William Somerset Maugham

Drifting, the Mississippi way....

On the raft, with old friend Huck...

"...We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness.

It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed—only a little kind of a low chuckle.

We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all—that night, nor the next, nor the next..."

'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', by Mark Twain

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We need more hairbonds

There is no such thing as boredom

When you are stuck in a traffic jam, when you are waiting for someone, when you are stranded on a shop verandah during a downpour with a contemplative cow who is in no mood for conversation, when the power goes off and the dog has just eaten the only matchbox, when you have nothing to do, you could Make Theories instead of pulling out that mobile phone. There is no such thing as boredom, believe me.

For example, this one happened in one of those gaps:


"For we live with those retrievals from childhood that coalesce and echo throughout our lives, the way shattered pieces of glass in a kaleidoscope reappear in new forms and are songlike in their refrains and rhymes, making up a single monologue.

We live permanently in the recurrence of our own stories, whatever story we tell."

Michael Ondaatje, in 'Divisadero'


Douglas Adams, of course.

Definition of Withdumb: A quality you possess if you hold a popular and unfounded point of view.

Withdumb is different from herd instinct. A person who possesses withdumb could achieve the condition with no help whatsoever from the group . For example, if you were the only person in Mongolia who believed in astrology, you would have withdumb, but it wouldn't be because your herd influenced you.

It's easier to cling to an irrational opinion if you know that somewhere in the world there are lots of people who think the same way, especially if those other people seem smart or authoritative.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Traffic Warning

Warning: Today evening, make sure you are not on any road leading to railway stations/bus stands – you will be run over and crushed to chammanthi (chutney) by the exodus of Mallus rushing back to Mallu-land for the pagan festival of Onam, where a pre-historic king, the epitome of good governance, comes back to life to check out the latest in mobile phones.

Once Bangalore is freed of its Mallus tonite, the Deccan Plateau will rise a few inches (we are not that heavy), and the State of Kerala will sink a few inches, leading to the Arabian Sea rushing in, bringing in that heady saltiness to the merchandise in low-lying toddy shops.

If you see any Mallus in Bangalore on Monday, they are either the truly liberated ones who have been freed from the glue that holds us together (coconut oil) or those who have been firmly chained down into the bonds of local reality because schools here are not closed for Onam.

So enjoy the heady higher altitude air for a few days, Bangaloreans, we will be back with sackfulls of benana chips and sharkaravaratti (a kind of sweet made out of shark) in a few days!!!

The yembire shall return, and heavier!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The banana trees are walking again

I measure my life not in coffee-spoons, but in banana trees.

This happens every year. On a particular Thursday in August, when I return home in the evening, and I am on this narrow road that opens out to the market place, I am jolted from my end-of-day sleepy autopilot driving by the sight of a huge crowd of small banana trees walking. And every time I think of Macbeth.

It is the festival of Varamahalakshmi, which is the beginning of the festival season here in Karnataka. It basically means that Ganesh Chathurthi is not far away. And then one after the other, Dussera, Diwali etc.

And it all begins with the scene of the banana trees walking. Which takes me by surprise every year because I have no clue which day it happens. People carry these baby trees home from the market, to decorate their god-places, along with the flowers.

And as for Macbeth..........

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

A very nice thing happened to me this morning.

My phone fell out of my trouser pocket while I was on the bike, rushing to work, right in front of Cantonment Station – and I didn’t notice.

A man chased me on the bike for some distance, just to tell me this - and when I screech to a halt, park the bike, and run back fully expecting the phone to be smashed into small pieces in that heavy traffic, or stolen, an auto driver stops and asks me if I was looking for the phone – and he points to the young man who had picked it up from the road before it got run over by vehicles, and was waving to me from a distance, walking towards me.

And so I got back the phone, intact, un-stolen, un-smashed, thanks to these three random people on the road.

There is hope for us, if such things still happen, I would like to think. Though much is taken, much probably abides.

Prose Poem Towards a Definition of Itself

When in public poetry should take off its clothes and wave to the nearest person in sight; it should be seen in the company of thieves and lovers rather than that of journalists and publishers. On sighting mathematicians, it should unlock the algebra from their minds and replace it with poetry; on sighting poets it should unhook poetry from their minds and replace it with algebra; it should fall in love with children and woo them with fairytales; it should wait on the landing for 2 years for its mates to come home then go outside and find them all dead.

When the electricity fails it should wear dark glasses and pretend to be blind. It should guide all those who are safe into the middle of busy roads and leave them there. It should shout EVIL! EVIL! from the roofs of the world’s stock exchanges. It should not pretend to be a clerk or a librarian. It is the eventual sameness of all contradictions. It should never weep until it is alone and then only after it has covered the mirrors and sealed up the cracks.

Poetry should seek out couples and wander with them into stables, neglected bedrooms and engineless cars for a final Good Time. It should enter into burning factories too late to save anyone. It should pay no attention to its real name.

Poetry should be seen lying by the side of road accidents, be heard from gasrings. It should scrawl the teacher’s secret on a blackboard, offer her a worm saying, inside this is a tiny apple.

Poetry should play hopscotch in the 6PM streets and look for jinks in other people’s dustbins. At dawn, it should leave the bedroom and catch the first bus home. It should be seen standing on the ledge of a skyscraper, on a bridge with a brick tied around its heart. It is the monster hiding in a child’s dark room, it is the scar on a beautiful man’s face. It is the last blade of grass being picked from the city park…..

Brian Patten

Monday, August 16, 2010


Cause And Effect

the best often die by their own hand
just to get away,
and those left behind
can never quite understand
why anybody
would ever want to
get away



not much chance.



a symphony orchestra.


Some people never go crazy.
me, sometimes I'll lie down behind the couch
for 3 or 4 days.
they'll find me there.
it's Cherub, they'll say, and
they pour wine down my throat
rub my chest
sprinkle me with oils.

oh, yes

there are worse things than
being alone
but it often takes decades
to realize this
and most often
when you do
it's too late
and there's nothing worse
too late.

Charles Bukowski

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Belief, the Nomadic way

"It is a paradox of the monotheistic faiths that, although they arose within the ambit of the desert, the desert people themselves show an indifference towards the Almighty that is decidedly cavalier. "We will go up to God and salute him," said a bedu to Palgrave in the 1860s, "and if he proves hospitable, we will stay with him; if otherwise, we will mount our horses and ride off."

"...When Barth (Norwegian anthropologist Frederick Barth) came to account for the dearth of ritual among the Basseri (a tribe of Iranian nomads) - or of any rooted belief - he concluded that the Journey itself was the ritual, that the road to summer uplands was the Way, and that the pitching and dismantling of tents were prayers more meaningful than any in the mosque."

Page 199, 200. Chapter: From the Notebooks
from the book 'The Songlines', by Bruce Chatwin

A language only for Travellers

Shelta is a language spoken by Travellers, particularly in Ireland but also parts of Great Britain. It is widely known as the Cant, to its native speakers in Ireland as Gammon and to the linguistic community as Shelta. Although this aspect is frequently over-emphasized, it was often used as a cryptolect to exclude outsiders from comprehending conversations between travellers.The exact number of native speakers is hard to determine due to sociolinguistic issues but Ethnologue puts the number of speakers in Ireland at 6,000 and 86,000 worldwide.

Linguistically Shelta is today seen to be a creole language that stems from a community of travelling people in Ireland and Scotland that was originally predominantly Irish and Gaelic speaking which went through a period of widespread bilingualism that resulted in a language based heavily on Hiberno-English and/or Scots with heavy influences from Irish and Gaelic.

Road Ragas

Mississippi Blues meets Indian ragas - Road Ragas, by Harry Manx:

'The Thrill is Gone' came highly recommended by a friend, the others are good too.

The molecule that helps us decide

In today's encore excerpt - dopamine, pleasure, and too much pleasure:

"The importance of dopamine was discovered by accident. In 1954, James Olds and Peter Milner, two neuroscientists at McGill University, decided to implant an electrode deep into the center of a rat's brain. The precise placement of the electrode was largely happenstance; at the time, the geography of the mind remained a mystery. But Olds and Milner got lucky. They inserted the needle right next to the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), a part of the brain that generates pleasurable feelings. Whenever you eat a piece of chocolate cake, or listen to a favorite pop song, or watch your favorite team win the World Series, it is your NAcc that helps you feel so happy.

"But Olds and Milner quickly discovered that too much pleasure can be fatal. They placed the electrodes in several rodents' brains and then ran a small current into each wire, making the NAccs continually excited. The scientists noticed that the rodents lost interest in everything. They stopped eating and drinking. All courtship behavior ceased. The rats would just huddle in the corners of their cages, transfixed by their bliss. Within days, all of the animals had perished. They died of thirst.

"It took several decades of painstaking research, but neuroscientists eventually discovered that the rats had been suffering from an excess of dopamine. The stimulation of the NAcc triggered a massive release of the neurotransmitter, which overwhelmed the rodents with ecstasy. In humans, addictive drugs work the same way: a crack addict who has just gotten a fix is no different than a rat in an electrical rapture. The brains of both creatures have been blinded by pleasure. This, then, became the dopaminergic cliche; it was the chemical explanation for sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

"But happiness isn't the only feeling that dopamine produces. Scientists now know that this neurotransmitter helps to regulate all of our emotions, from the first stirrings of love to the most visceral forms of disgust. It is the common neural currency of the mind, the molecule that helps us decide among alternatives. By looking at how dopamine works inside the brain, we can see why feelings are capable of providing deep insights. While Plato disparaged emotions as irrational and untrustworthy - the wild horses of the soul - they actually reflect an enormous amount of invisible analysis."

Author: Jonah Lehrer
Title: How We Decide
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: Copyright 2009 by Jonah Lehrer
Pages: Kindle Loc. 463-538.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,
we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the
table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe
at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what
it means to be human. We make men at it,
we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts
of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor
falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back
together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place
to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate
the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying,
eating of the last sweet bite.

Joy Harjo

Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo, from Reinventing the Enemy's Language. © W.W. Norton and Co., 1998

Joy Harjo (born Tulsa, Oklahoma, May 9, 1951) is an American poet, musician, and author of Native American Canadian ancestry. Known primarily as a poet, Harjo has also taught at the college level, played alto saxophone with a band called Poetic Justice, edited literary journals, and written screenplays. She is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and is of Cherokee descent.


"Everyone returns to us a different sense of ourselves, for we become a little of who they think we are. Our selves could be compared to amoebas, whose outer walls are elastic, and therefore adapt to the environment. It is not that the amoeba has no dimensions, simply that it has no self-defined shape.

It is my absurdist side that an absurdist person will draw out of me, and my seriousness that a serious person will evoke. If someone thinks I am shy, I will probably end up shy; if someone thinks me funny, I am likely to keep cracking jokes."

Page 104, 'On Love' by Alain de Botton

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