Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I am writing this in the nude by candlelight sober and alone on my 21st when the night is hot. At this moment, I don’t give a dam (not even a sandbag) when the power comes back. This is the right condition to write inflections bout my current condition. To write long and complicated dissertations about one idea one needs a library, a nice desk, a comfortable chair, and the internet. These slow days your man is feeling simple and earthy—the right state to write about an abstract, huge, mysterious, essence like humanity.
Why are we doing this? Whats the right way to do it?
Judging by the people I have gravitated towards, my feature favorite these days is humility. I love the blushing and the kind patience. Like everywhere where there is human, there is more self-centeredness than lack thereof in Kolkatta. At night walking I am cursed by drunks in the streets, several times teenagers have surrounded me mocking and laughing at my expense knowing I don’t understand there speak, and almost every shop-clerk tries to cheat me. One time on the bus a small wrinkled man tried to pick my pocket poorly, I pushed him away than one of the men who work in the bus punched him in the head and threw him out of the doorless entrance while we were in motion. (the packet tight, not like a bag of Lays chips, bus is always exciting- a few weeks ago I saw a woman have a seizure.)
Yet amongst this sorted lot, I have found some of the sweetest souls to ever cross my path. For instance…
My main process in teaching English is simply practice. Each day a different simple conversation topic is repeated over and over to each member of the class. On one specific day we were doing future goals. One 15 year old boy stood up when it was his turn and anyone could tell he was nervous by the sweat-knitted brow and the way his eyes remained peeled on the empty desk he stood over. He sat next to the window so that when he raised his head to speak (avoiding all eye-contact) the sun illuminated his dark face. In a quiet voice he whispered “my name is Vicketta Not and I will be saint.” I started laughing like a cynical fool and told him to answer seriously. With the light illuminating his entire face he looked at me directly, blushed completely, and repeated “I will be saint.”
My beloved Sanjoy as! He is the hardest working teacher in the mission, far surpasses anyone I have met here in technological literacy, is handsome with a mustache to cause any man envy, but would never admit any of this even if tortured. His English is no better than the rest, but I can always get his point for it is never anything complicated. Today he photo-shopped and printed onto a plaque a picture of me and the girls surrounded by digital flowers spelling ‘happy birthday dear shane.’ Being touched by his efforts I hugged him- he blushed while his whole face tightened around his glasses as if to say “Who me? Nonono you’ve got the wrong boy I am nothing.” He than quickly walked off saying “It was God.” I don’t know what he meant by this. When he prays his demeanor is no different than when he is eating dinner. Sanjoy seems satisfied and content with his, relatively to yours and mine, Stonehenge hard life.
I envy the satisfaction of these villagers. If I was Sanjoy’s age (30) with his master’s degree, unmarried, and working hellahard for a room about the size of two closets there would be spite, lots of it. Why once I admit the world is beautiful must I give it up? I’m not saying I want to suck the river Ganges dry, but I also don’t want to be just another supporting riverbank-- I want to flow with the living stream. I want to love a woman and be loved back. I don’t ever want to be deprived of the arts- music books, movie, theatre, or the handcrafted. Also, after a long day a drink is relaxing and a nice change in perception. I know this body is just a stream of matter continuously changing and that all the forces have been produced by food so I am not some supreme… but it’s all I got.
These days I sing. Lord knows the brutal notes I beat but they can’t resist my soul-filled hollerin’ and throw back a bangla gan (Bengali song). I am sure there is some term taught in commerce classes which would have better to use in that sentence than “throw back” but I don’t care what it is, never have, and don’t think I’m ever gunna.
Favorite Gandhi quote- “My life is my message.”
Ah, how terrible poverty is. Every time I am grinning to myself after seeing some woman worthy of a magazine cover, I turn my head and there’s a naked baby in the street, sometimes alone. There are so many naked babies in the street here. Each day my children remind that happiness is what life’s all about; and you can’t be happy if your hungry and alone.
I posted some pictures of a wonderful Bengali wedding I had the honor of attending on the “pale rider” photo album in my facebook profile and hope to upload some videos soon.
Thanks for reading…
Friday, July 24, 2009
- Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Today I feel humble and small staring into this wide sky. The sky has endless time and patience- whether I whine, howl, beg, implore, pray, or curse, it listens. The sky is impervious to everything but the truth because it is the truth- a clear (what you see is just a reflection) essence flowing forever endlessly.
Poor Barrack Obama with your weight of the world, poor Thiago Marques with your visions of grandeur. Pity be the gargantuan ego’s dreams of saving the world and everyone knowing it was him who did it. Dedicating one’s life to that overused word ‘change’ and missing the whole thing. For these ‘heroes’ the future is everything, and the hope of that abstract achievement is a living death more horrible than the deaths of the entire world he is trying to prevent. To bleed with every bleeding soul in the universe is a waste of a perfectly good clump of blood and soul. It is not your end result that will matter, it is your life that matters. The process is everything, the way, The Tao.
For every height that is gained new dangers menace us. O’ we cured the disease? The virus will quickly evolve. O’ we can finally lower the death toll with better equipment for war? The enemy will make a better bomb. And at the end of the day, we are all going to die. The essence of life has made no “progress”; truth has not changed at all from the beginning- like the sky.
Here, where side-by-side the Hindu’s move in an endless throng, I am learning a new defense system: anonyminity. On this crowded colorful bus everyone is simply trying to live. The way is endless- everything lies ahead. This here busy craftsmen does not worry about the fitness of things, about the behavior of his fellow man, or about injustice and justice but simply adapts. He flows with the living stream. Cows wander the streets because cows are as good as people; this same logic causes a majority of West Bengal to be vegetarian. My neighbor Panaan is not vegan as a social stance, but rather because most of his neighbors are and he is not so different than the goat and since he himself would not like to be chewed, it doesn’t seem right. We bow to each other here, not embarrassed or humiliated, but humble.
In a poem, Robert Frost writes “You'll wait a long, long time for anything muchTo happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud, And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.” America is a baby compared to India, a country flowing out of that Ganges that allowed the first human civilization. There is so much potential beauty in one’s life, every single persons, our duty is to explore it. Before helping any other life we must help our own because it is the eternal blessing. Once close-up those villagers the ‘hero’ is trying to save will be seen as the same as him with worries, defects, ambitions, frailties, a wanderer along the path, like yourself. From what I see, to the Hindu there is nothing certain, nothing at all except the unimportance of everything including himself, and the greatness of something incomprehensible but all-important.
If anyone has Facebook I have posted a few pictures up of the Suryapur Village-life which defined the first month of my trip. Now I live a modern lifestyle in the more urban Barrackpore and also hope to get some pictures of these means up soon. But try to see those pics because my girls are there! Every evening after my English classes I am coming here to literally sell my body, dancing like a sweaty swine for the slightest cheek dimple. My time with these deaf girls has given me a whole new respect visual stimulation and feeling, than conversation and logic.
I am inspired and disheartened by the resourcefulness of the Hindu. Eleven year old Rahuli is a beautiful happy child, but his father is a mason earning 80 rupees ($1.50) for Rahuli and his brothers and sisters. He wears the same shorts everyday. Poor boy.
Everyday I see something I have never seen before, getting more and more used to the spices, and growing more and more grateful for whatever caused me to be born in well-off New York. I went to India because I wished to live deliberately and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover I had not lived.
I will not bother you with a short composition...
Hail Nautilus Queen
climbing the hill-skull
founding a museum out of every village.
I myself amd hell-
I march on my soul up Main Street
for any brief epitome.
A poor fool,
the son of the sun
and the son of darkness
blowing my conchshell very loudly
giving my brothers joy.
Monday, July 13, 2009
The roommate (Jadeev) who I previously spoke so fondly of has dropped his veil of hospitality and exposed his scales. He now sleeps ¾ of the day, complaining and borrowing the rest. He even has the vanity of a Long Island Italian! Constantly checking that death-thin face in his pocket-size, dirty, dying mirror. While another “friend” (I use quotations because our conversations are bare-bone) has shown handsome true colors. Sanjoy has grown from hospitable to true friend proving himself truly kind and humble, not nice like it’s his job. So I wonder, is it better to overly hospitable, or honest with our desired amount of attention, time, and materials given to a stranger. This dichotomy of N.Y. and West Bengal is embodied in the difference between the treatments of sex here-and-there.
It is a common misconception that because India has arranged marriages, regulated naval-covering, and many segregation-birthing conventions between men and women (such as the wall in the teacher’s office that separates us-from-them) that men are considered superior to women. This is mostly a fallacy I’ve seen it. Women get a great deal of respect here and the fact they are separated is because their power is understood. There are countless female gods such as Kalima, the many-armed warrior goddess whose purse you would not want to snatch boy-o. When they speak the men are silent (likewater), and when they walk through the swarming market the crowds’ part for their passing (likeMoseswater). It is codes of respect for marriage (much like the codes for hospitality) that cause this silencing and room-making. The sacred union of sex is symbolized through the amalgamation of matrimony. Love here is considered a special, singular, connection of two spirits. This of course is the ideal while in reality marriages are far more political usually arranged by guardians but nevertheless sex is considered a blessing and natural inklings must be restrained to keep it so. And this control (the same control which makes hosts so giving) is effective for the divorce rate here is below 5% compared to our ugly numbers over 50%.
In me, most my friends at home, and most certainly in the boy-o’s over here with their pocket-sized unused Karma-Sutra there is an inexplicable natural attraction to the fairer sex. The irresistible female causes our whole beings to gyrate (hard) heavenward. But is this love for what’s underneath her shari, or what’s underneath what’s underneath her shari. Am I inspired each day by a warm moist spot between her legs, or a secret buried deep within her mysterious whole? The American interpretation is the more materialistic of the two while according to the Hindu’s sacred Bhagavad-Gita Krishna declares- “A person who has given up all desires who ahs given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego-he alone can attain real peace.” And it is incomparable how much more they listen and live their sacred texts than we do ours. I have not met a single boy yet who has had sex without marriage. While for the Western materialist there is no peace, forever, forever unsatisfied but a lot of fun multiplying.
I am moving to a more urban mission (where they tell me I’m more needed I leave today) to do a daytime classes and will than have to take an hour long India bus-ride (big difference) and mile walk to get here and exercise with my angels and give one more class for the college boys here before doing the journey back to Barrackpore city where theya re sending me. New experience, I welcome thee and will kiss you on the polluted air door. As you can see I am being kept very busy and living a real Indian life. So while it is true I will not see the Taj Mahal, I do not feel any tourist in a 3rd world country guilt. No matter how good the rides, I could not go to a Six Flags in a Ghana leper colony.
I lifted my head from strange fruit to hear a gecko’s call. I even live with on, it’s always naked.
I am covered in sweat but why must this Indian sun be so hospitable! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lpj6rt47JXw&feature=related
Monday, July 6, 2009
Well here I am, in the coconut tree swing of things, flung far far far away from two-car garages and toilet paper. In India there is poverty, political disorder, and most problematically a lack of jobs for their 1,147,995,904 strong. But only a materialistic, naive, cynical fool would simply label this country third world and stop their explanation here without a word about the architecture, the music, the respect for learning, the religion, the philosophies, the beautiful grace and delicacy of the women (which I would have to dedicate ten blog entry's to in order to do these goddesses justice), the colorful garments, the fresh food, the dance, the breatheinspiring landscapes, the birds, never-ending masses, the work ethic, the caste-types, the languages, the hospitality, and the general love of each other despte inequality and death.
I currently reside in a remote village outside Calcutta in the Suryapur Ramakrishna Vivenkanada Mission. I rise at 6, from 7-9 I meet the computer teacher Sanjoy to practice his English, and in the process flex my Bengali tongue. After, I eat breakfast with my fellow teachers, then for the next two hours I practice my sign language with different groups of young deaf girls ranging from ages 6-17 who joyfully practice their English, I then have two different classes of college boys training to become instructors for the deaf and blind who I teach spoken (conversational) English. After, I must get into gymnastics teacher mode. Yes, it's true, by some swing I have become the gymnastics instructor here for the girls. We mostly dance, and then our smiles dance, and then our hearts dance for the angels are attention-starved. After this, if possible, I try to get the college boys to exercise by playing either soccer, volleyball, or their preffered cricket at the village's humble field which seconds as a goat farm but due to Monsoon conditions today we will rest. I cannot be focused on my past or the end result to do this job well since I am utterly unqualified to teach and stifled by this overly affectionate Indian sun while exercising. The only way to make this extreme adaptation is through dedication to each days work and I am hoping if this adaptation is accomplished, the end result will be evolution.
I have learned that in poorer conditions exercise is forgotten. I do not know why, but if that is how I can help I will sweat until I am gas.
My roommate, Joydev Chatterjw, is the English teacher. His English is very weak and he can only speak in short muddled sentences, but unfortunately, he is arguably the best English speaker in the school and village. He has been in social work since the age of 9; he is humble, handsome, and quiet. I would like to say a bad thing about him so as to seem objective, but cannot.
In Northeast India, where I am currently extending my family, they speak Bengali. The national Language is Hindu. English would of course be vital as an outlet internationally but how can everyone be expected to learn three languages along with their other entire school curriculum when they have no-one to speak English with in childhood through adolescence. The villagers where I live are almost entirely self-sufficient and since India has been liberated from the English tongue and teeth, it has become more introverted. I am not to judge if this is good or bad because regardless of little me sweaty me, their are children everywhere; India will most certainly go.
But I must confess, there is a fear growing in my gut as I watch the Hindus' extend themselves for mine and eachother's comfort. If to be westernized means to not love your neighbor than let the devil take it. But if to be easternized means to be a prostrating sucker, than I have no time for it.
(if anyone knows how to upload pictures on blogspot please let me know on facebook or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
My original purpose for reaching for Mother India’s warm (in the most literal sense) arms was and still done out of and intense yearning for experience, but it is the type of experience desired that has been rattled into a new form like a shaken bottle of coke which transforms from liquid into fizz.
To make absolute, unconditional, surrender to experience is to break away from all comfort, save the comfort of being alive which is not much of a comfort and at times the heaviest burden of all. After an ugly and tragic affair with the New York Police Department in the months prior to my exodus I was a ghost in my hometown moving about in a vacuum, now I feel energized and more aware. When one feels low they tend to be more selfish, and so accordingly my original purposes for experience were much more self-centered than they currently are. This vacuum I had been twisting in is best described by Henry Miller in his book “Sexus” when he writes in his unique voice- “To sit down, to stop and light a cigarette, not to sit down, not to smoke, to think, or not to think, breathe or stop breathing, it was all one and the same. Drop dead and the man behind you walks over you; fire a revolver and another man fires at you; yell and you wake the dead, who, oddly enough, also have powerful lungs.” This is how I had felt in my hometown of twenty years for some time and so I reacted with a passionate rebellion supported with the incredibly selfless help of Louise Nicholson and her charity organization “Save-A-Child” and my current host and personal guru Sambamurti Venkatraman (who allows me to call him Venky Da, the “Da” means brother). And so with their help and my determination we organized this lover’s summer at the sunrise where I am to volunteer and live here at the The Ramakrishna Mission at a school for disabled young girls outside Calcutta.
The world lied before me, unconquered, virgin as our moon. There I was, take me- or stab me to death. Slice my heart, slice my brain, slice my tongue, slice these fingers, slice kidneys, the ears, the eyes. If one single organ is left I shall strive for experience and use it to drag all the sliced up parts to a plane and use them as fuel for the engine if it would bring a single particle of a single toenail to India. My previous lock-step was doomed, I was an insatiable desperado. Show me your rickshaws, bring me to your gurus, wrap me in your colorful textiles, if not I will take them all. Show India to me- I wanted to take it all for myself.
After an arduous flight I was greeted by a gigantic mass of people, huddled to together under beautifully crafted eastern style buildings, covered in dirt. Calcutta at first sight appeared a loud cramped city of ribcages. My dear friends, while this new world did excite me, seeing my brothers and sisters present before me in such a destitute spirit, I felt the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth dry up. My brothers looked hungry, the child had no hands, and I was overwhelmed. All I could do was sit on the balcony of the apartment home of Venky-Da where I am currently staying and watch the streets from above hardly able to breathe, trembling at these huddled masses.
But then Venky-Da came to me with kind words to calm the troubled waters of my mind. I expressed my fears that I would not be able to succeed here, that this city was too much for me, that because I would be working with almost all Bengali speaking people and disabled girls I would fail and contribute nothing. Venky-Da offered me an excerpt from the Bhagavad Gita- “The right is to work only, but never to it’s fruits; let the fruit-of-action be not they motive, nor let the attachment be to action.” My utilitarian attitude of gain experience and save these deprived children was wrong. It is my effort that matters. If one is afraid of failure they will never undertake great activities. We must simply dedicate our full mental and physical energy to what is best for me and others and there can be no failure or even fear of the outcome. “If success you seek, then never strive with a mind dissipated with anxieties and fear about the fruits.” This is what my gracious host calls “the law-of-activity in the world.” The future is not me, I cannot shape it, only the present moment is mine. And so my capitalistic point-system was punctured. My judgment of these Calcutta citizens as pathetic was pulverized. I began to see they are not drudging around in pathetic poverty at all, but completely alive and extremely hard at work. And so for now I withhold judgment and shall only work each day to understand this place better and experience it more honestly, for that is all I can do.
So I began moving away from my selfish motives for private experience after this conversation and realizing the importance of my work and lack of expectation. However, later that night, after a delicious meal of thin Indian pancake dipped in different sauces on top of rice eaten with our hands that was compassionately made much less spicy for my pallet, my host and guru (a Hindi word for a teacher who brings others out of darkness) showered grace-filled knowledge upon me. He explained in very simple terms that God’s creation is God. It is where we can see God and where we get everything we have from. I am intelligent and strong because of God’s creations. The less attached I am to myself, the more attached I am to God. What I can offer can only be offered because it was offered to me. The world offered all I am to me; I am a product of it, therefore the farther I move away from my ego and towards the objective world, the further I move to God. I do not wish to gain this experience for myself anymore, but rather to gain a better understanding of God’s creations objectively. The poet Carl Sanburg wrote, “There is only man, and his name is All Men; there is only one woman, and her name is All Women; there is only one child, and it’s name is All Children.” I am no longer here as Shane to enhance his world knowledge, but rather here as All Human to further experience the reaches of God’s grace and offer all I can to these disabled girls as all I am was offered to me. Vanky-Da told me of a certain Guru who called himself not by name or he, but rather “It.” He explained “rub gold against gold and there will be a reaction, rub gold against led, and nothing will happen.” Perhaps all these citizens of Calcutta living and working so close together are not as utilitarian and materialistic as I first prescribed to them and are far happier than the richest of industrialists. As I said, I withhold judgment for now but shall only work hard as I can to help, and strive to be like an ocean that all rivers flow into continuously and freely for objective experience here where the sun rises.
I am sorry I have written so little of my concrete experience in this first blog but I have been burning spiritually and swirling like a laundry machine inside and so this is what has come out. The mind is the center of activity and so its disturbance has overtaken my physical experience. I promise to describe more outside myself in future updates. I am burning each moment and have been infected by the amazing energy of this densely populated clamorous city. Tomorrow I leave this apartment for the mission; I have been welcomed warmly, warmed up to the food, and fed inspiration and courage. Another reason I have avoided expressing my impressions of India is that it is so entirely different that I do not feel confident enough yet that I can do my fascinating setting justice. Thank you for reading, thanks be to all who helped me get where I am at this current moment, and you shall here from this lover again soon.