Kulasekarapattinam Dassara Festival.

Kulasekarapattinam, October 2013.

 

You want it to stop but it won’t stop. You fall under its spell and suddenly you can hear everything; so total, all at once; the wrinkles of your skin like accordion bellows, a note for every spasm, a stab with every inward breath. I was standing, as were a hundred thousand other people, and I was falling, as were at least what I thought was all of them. Who is to know and who is to care. I was falling and I thought I was going to be crushed under the feet of the hundred thousand impatient mad men until there is neither thought nor wonder left in the jellied remains of what could be then, anybody. Nothing prepares you for death; and nothing prepares you for almost death.

 

What's hardest is the helplessness. When the mob takes you over. When you feel like you've lost control of yourself, when you are now everybody. When you’re neither falling nor standing, when you’re without balance and without physics,  when you’re waiting to fall expecting to be trampled upon, when a thousand strange elbows pierce your neck, spine, shoulders and every other square inch of your flesh. Sweaty bodies, slimy, slippery, writhing and wriggling, unable to move, defeatist but fighting, grabbing and shoving in anguish and hopeless failure. When you’re a pincushion for the desperate and you drown in helplessness. That’s the hardest. A certain helplessness that only laughter can understand. There is no pain, just anguish. And there is no relief, just wonder. 

 

No air felt as cool, and if i did feel relief, I know of no other feeling as absolute, as when I found myself standing alone bare moments later, still alive, still breathing, albeit with a shortness of breath.

 

They were dressed as gods but they're not gods. Fires. Scorching flames mere inches from tortured faces. Forcing themselves to experience pain, as if penance absolves; suffering now to be saved later. Trances and temporary insanity. Death felt so close, yet so far. Somehow, I don’t fear death so much as I fear how it will happen. Religious fervor is a mad rush. The energy can rattle your bones. You don't love God so much as you sentence yourself to feel like his slave, and it feels good, like you deserve it. For the love of god. Hah.

 

It was too hot to even stand near the cinders. The sun had already burned the earth to a crisp. But, sometimes, when I have my camera in my hands, I lose a sense of primal humanness. I dissipate into energies, I stop thinking, I stop being. The mob forces your hand, feeding you with energy you know is not your own. Totality is everything I look for in experience. The trance is scary and addictive.

 

I ran into the strangest people dressed in masks stranger still. To me, masks have always been a metaphor for disguise. A veneer of pretense, should it be thought about it in ways it shouldn’t be thought about. But I ran into people who became their masks, people who let their souls shine through, people who were transformed by what they were wearing. I remain unsure if they became their masks or if their masks let them become themselves. I remember a mother who pointed at her kid and told me, "take his picture, he's my son, he is mad”. “Paithiyam-pullai”, she kept repeating. His mother laughed and he smiled. I looked at his face and I searched for sadness but I couldn't find it, so I provided my own and I felt sorry. He just smiled. I took his photograph. It makes me sad when I look at it. But he looks so happy. It tears me up.

 


on retirement and art...

Retirement is on all of our minds today, and Chennai wears its weather wisely, a brooding grey that melts into rain and catches the light as it falls upon and disappears into a film of glaze upon every leaf that breathes life into our narrow little lives within this concrete maze. After Sachin’s beautiful retirement speech brought that familiar wet film of glaze to my own eyes, the eyes of somebody who has not ever watched  a sport with any real element of passion or sincerity, I could not help but wonder why I felt the way I did. I’ve heard his name for ever since I remember hearing names, and I like his face and I like his smile and there’s something about his demeanor that makes me want to trust. And he’s going away, breaking a billion hearts while at it, and that made me sad, and a little proud. 

 

Our greats retire, our legends die, and of course, not without leaving something much bigger than their own persons behind. Their journeys are beautiful and most of the rest of us slave away at the ends of our leashes so we can partake with them upon their magical journeys; 4 extra hours of work on a weekend to afford that concert ticket or season pass. 

 

Last evening I was at the Music Academy, to enjoy one such concert. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pandit Birju Maharaj were performing together. Every year we lose a few of our greatest musicians, those whose repertoires and contributions elevated them on to the plinth of legend, living legends, as they were known while they still performed upon a stage somewhere unto their dying breaths. I remember being at Pandit Ravi Shankar’s concert at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco(oh how I miss San Francisco!), one year before his death, he was 91 years old then. I remember wondering what kind of vegetable I’d be when(if) I’m 91, as I sat in my balcony seat waiting for the concert to begin. He was carried on to the stage by two people, he sat on a platform because he could not sit cross-legged anymore, the sitar was placed on his lap, and he played a fabulous 2 hours that I enjoyed so thoroughly that it greatly bothered the strangers who sat in their seats around me. One of them asked me if I was a fan :)

 I met a husband and wife who’d been at Monterey Pop. Yes, they still looked like hippies. They were proud to have been a part of his journey, they told me. I believed them. His Bhimpalasi from that performance is a return to center for me, and I go there often. But, at the Davies, I heard a different Ravi Shankar from the one I was used to listening to in my records. This was a Ravi Shankar whose music had aged with him, whose abilities had waned over the years after a most blissfully magnificent peak, whose youth showed only in his eyes and sense of humor. This Ravi Shankar was mature, sedate, meditative, magical. It was not what I expected going in, and it was strange what we got, but it was beautiful nevertheless, and I didn’t care to think about it much after, except in fond reminiscence, sometimes stopping to brag about having been there.

 

Last evening, I was at the Music Academy, to enjoy one such concert, all over again. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, more than anybody else, is one of my favorite musicians. He’s a conscious favorite, somebody whose music I choose to listen to over others when the mood to listen to music strikes me, or the necessity to set the mood through music tempts me. Hariji is my default musician, much like how Ravi Shankar’s recital of that Bhimpalasi from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival is my default performance. But, last evening, as younger musicians shone brighter, and Hariji seemed to disappear into the background, I felt myself being gripped in a sadness that stopped often to betray fear. Look at his hands trembling, I thought. They shook violently while he played, only to stop when he stopped playing, and I told myself that he did it to achieve nuances in his tone to add beauty to his song, but it was blatantly obvious to me that my favorite immortal legend was showing signs of his age. While Kaushiki Chakrabarty delved blows directly to our collective psyches through a voice and effort that exhibited such grace, texture and dexterity in what were unimaginably long and complicated phrases, Hariji would respond with short, beautifully well-worded replies. But I could feel his struggle, his inability to give his instrument everything he’d previously gifted it with. His age had caught up to his playing, and it made me sad. But his ideas had developed, and his phrases, though short and simple, were beautiful as ever.

 

Today, as I spoke about last night’s concert, a few friends wondered aloud about why he wouldn’t just retire, being as it was obvious that he was well past his prime, and, retirement being on all of our minds today. We talked of legacy, preservation and quitting while still ahead. But our musicians don’t retire. Our artists, those who mean anything to us, they can’t retire. They continue to perform every day until the last day that they possibly can. Does an artist ever retire? I mused that the tragedy of an artist quitting would far trump that of a more restrained performance. 

 

Last night’s concert taught me something, and thinking about Pandit Ravi Shankar’s concert at the Davies Symphony, I recollect that it had taught me something too, I just hadn’t asked myself the question yet. Art mimics life and life mimics art and the duality requires that they both accept the realities of their being, the reality being that both life and art are resolutely cyclical. And these are musicians who were born with a gift perhaps, but no fruit or knowledge yet, people who made the effort and gave it their all, went to places even their masters had never seen, achieved a peak that lasted many decades, people whose ages caught up to them to end the cycle that they were gifted with, but most of all, people whose ideas never stopped developing. When you are so involved with your art, that it becomes your life, you need to see it through to the end, or you just stop living. When Hariji played yesterday, every breath was a measured effort, every note was an expenditure of a finite resource, every phrase was thoroughly considered, every nuance was a product of a lifetime of perfection, and what he produced, while not being an exhibition of technical ability or a mastery of technique, was instead, a display of honesty and genius. Every time Kaushiki flaunted and showed-off her own well-developed skill and ability, she herself being at her best yet, Hariji would move the performance slowly along, with his short, simple responses, taking the conversation to a new place every time. And I know that his presence made her more brilliant than she would have ever been taking the stage on her own. He was meant to be there, to pass his gift along.

 

What we witnessed yesterday, between two 75-year olds, still keeping at their art, was something special. It is their art, on its way to the end of its life-cycles. It is sad, but it’s the truth. The crescendo is the most impressive, but the closing act is the most important. Last evening’s concert made me feel things that so many of his best and most brilliant performances never made me feel. I felt sadness as his hands trembled, the mere visual was heart-breaking and opened me up to feel more than I ever would have otherwise. I felt fear as he ran out breath, knowing that the end was near. His music, of course, as always, was magic. A performance, truly. The best art always breaks my heart. Last night’s concert was heart-breaking.

 

It’s night now, the rain has stopped, the light has come home and the streets are empty. I wish forever were a real thing, but tomorrow exists to disprove us everyday. Tonight, a swan, somewhere, is singing its song. I wonder who’s listening.

 

a meditation on hope...

I am but a dissonant in the phrasal resolution of a most beautiful song. Decisions must be the curse of the devil upon the human condition, for nature never needs to make a decision, nature operates solely upon a cosmic whim. I wish I could too, and I probably will, since there are no right or wrong decisions– only good or bad decisions, in reflection, upon the affect of time. 

The world is cruel, wretched, and unsympathetically beautiful. If there is a draw on my heart-strings it is of that damnedest despair, whence every feather draws blood and every rose bud is bitter, where the tug is unpleasant, but the recoil is music, a bloody finger on a lute that produces the most incomprehensible of sounds. Damned am I when the day comes that my music speaks in a tongue I no longer understand. I know the day is coming, as I see more and understand less already, aloof as I have become, a stranger in my own home. Yet while the only door I encounter might be locked, and the percussion of my frantic thumping upon the hard wood frame might seem musical on the other side, the bruises upon my knuckles are of a pain that only I will ever understand. It is that pain that is music, and it is that music that is beautiful. Should I wish, with all my might, that the door be unlocked, it is not hope that I channel, but merely want. Hope is not in front of me, hope can never take the place of desire. Hope is merely reassurance: a locked room with an open window.

I am going home, and I might hate myself for it, but at least I will be home.

enough...

“I have enough”, said she,
petulantly.

“Enough?”, said he.

The air was static,
the exasperation evident,
electric.

...

She wore a thin dress,
far too thin for the cold.
Thinner still, in my memory.

Sometimes I remember more than I have seen.

He was a man with a trumpet.
He played to the tune of
a dollar bill fluttering
in his broken trumpet-case.

...

“He speaks to me”, said she.
“What does he say?”, said he.
“Nothing”, said she.
“He tells you nothing?”, he asked.
“Nothing”, she said.

I waited in the silence.
The music was beautiful.
That music punctured by her delightful drama.

“What does he say, exactly?”, asked he.
“Nothing”, said she. 

“Nothing.”
Said she.

She of that winter night. She of that dusty daze,
and frightening ways.

He was her pillar. He was her god.

...

“But you said he speaks to you”, said he.
“He does”, said she.

...

He began to pack his things.
He put his trumpet in its case,
with his money and his life,
and locked it shut.

He left his music
in the air that it was born,
to die.

...

I waited in the silence once again.

She was enjoying the silence,
just as much as she had, his music.

He gave her some money,
which she refused.

“I have enough”, said she,
petulantly.
“Enough?”, said he.

...

I once knew a man
who had had enough.

He was a man with a trumpet too,
who’d play a strange kind of blue.

He died, in the subway, alone,
with his music.

With his music alone.

She was different.
She had enough,
unlike he who’d had enough.

I waited in the electric silence.

...

“Do you hear him now?”, said she.
“I hear nothing”, said he,
petulantly.

Nothing.

What is the soul made of? What is the mind made of? What is the ego made of? What is the conscience made of? What are thoughts made of? What does it even mean to follow your heart? Can the heart think? Does the heart tell the brain what to think? Does the brain think? Or does the mind think? What is the mind made of? Does the mind consult the heart, before it uses the brain to process the language of the heart? I guess it does, I can feel it happen sometimes. It’s a little swell in the chest, the same swell that you feel in the lungs when you gasp for breath.

What is the answer? Nothing. They’re all constructs. We are taught these constructs, they are neither natural, nor obvious.

Do we need constructs? Why do we need constructs? What is an abstraction? Who provides the concretes? Is anything absolute? Are absolutes abstractions of ideals? Are ideals concretes? Are concretes ideal? 

Travel the world, they say. Find yourself. Get lost. Get drunk. Get a life. Find love. Get a job. Pray. Run. Eat. Sleep. Enjoy your coffee. Have a great day. Take care. Safe flight. They have a lot to say. These people, they have too much to say. Who are they? Who knows?

Why are we existential beings? Does existence crave validation? Can we provide it with the world we’ve created? Do we already? So what? What happens once we’re gone? Is life about finding the right answers? Or is life about asking the right questions? What happens if we ask the wrong questions? The answers exist despite us. It’s only the questions we can be proud of.

Who are you? That’s the big question, isn’t it? That’s what all this stuff is about anyway. The car, the job, the money, the lifestyle, the music, the movies, the art, the fashion. It’s who you are. Who are you without it all? Without stuff. So much stuff. Where did all this stuff come from? Who are you without your stuff? Are you your name? Just a name? Like a phone number with no phone? Are you what you do? Are you your job? Are you your thoughts? What are thoughts? Are you your choices? What choices are we left? Choice is only illusory anymore. We’re left the choice to go anywhere we please so long as we don’t leave the sandbox. Are we happy? Sure we are. I am. I’m profoundly happy. I’m happy to do it all, and I’m happy to play along. As long as I’m allowed to complain, I will also remain happy. Don’t take that away from me. It’s all I have. Besides all my stuff. And my name... and stuff.

The next time I’m asked to get a life, I might just take a life. Take care? What is it to “take” care? Is it like “taking” a life? And when you’re asked to “have” a nice day, can you just “have” it? Is it like having cake? Is it like eating cake? Can you have your cake and eat it too? Can you have your cake if you don’t eat it? They say these things. They say too many things. Don’t listen to them. You don’t even know who they are. Just be.

a meditation on sadness...

Lately, I've been chanting "I give up", a lot. To myself. I've moved on from my "I don't care" chant of old. It's progress. Backwards, maybe, but still progress. I don’t know.

I like playing with fire, so I light a candle, place it on the ledge by my window, and turn off the lights. The flame creates shadows, and the shadows whisper the poetry of the wind into my ears. It is all quite beautiful. I take my pocket notebook out of my pocket and burn it. Page after page, I feed the hungry wick of the incensed candle; self-doubt cured only by the fire's rage. Nothing is perfect, but perhaps vacillation is.

The pages burn slowly, and the ashes scatter into the night, turned shadow. Some ashes still carry the heroic orange glow of the relentless blaze, but the night stubs it just as quickly as it is met.

The fire forgives. The fire forgets. The fire extinguishes.

What was once a book full of my ideas, is now suddenly gone. There is nothing left, and I have nothing to show for what once was. Well, there is the lingering odor of burning paper, because my sweatshirt loves collecting odors. My sweatshirt remembers smell like the rain remembers first love. I remember some things I’d written in my notebook, but too little to matter. It is all somewhere within the mist of my mind though. I like retiring thoughts to my subconscious. And my subconscious never lets me down when I need it.

Slowly, an absence begins to manifest itself as an undefinable, haunting presence, and I feel the swell of life from every inward breath. I can hear myself breathe and I can feel my own body in the way that only loss can make you feel things.

The undeniable presence of this absence will forever haunt me. I have never felt anything so real, and yet so surreal. Loss has always jailed itself in the cavity of my chest, upon the ruins of my youth.

I love bringing things that don't belong together, together. And somehow, so does language, it would seem, like the people who once decided that trees will have barks. I take a photograph of the candle and I decide that some day I will pair it with its own tale, a story that only I know. I create all my work in pairs. One photograph and one piece of text inspired. But I want my work to date each other; so while I play god, I also play sadist (if they are both not one of the same agency) and I keep the soul mates apart for as long as they can be kept apart, allowing them to find each other only in desire. Yours, mine, and theirs.

There's a strength to simplicity and a beauty in the delicate. Expensive china with its intricate patterns are a beautiful sight, but do you know that feeling you get when you hold it in your hands? A little fear that it will go to pieces, should you falter? It's what makes the piece beautiful. It's what makes your heart melt. Fragility is special. The fleeting impermanence of everything is where my lust for insignificances will both begin and end. Fear of loss is the most honest emotion that I have ever felt, overshadowed only by loss itself.

My life is diluted by choice. By the choices I’ve made. On some days, it is enriched, but today, it is dilute. But I find beauty in sadness. Sadnesses are so unusually satisfying, albeit heart-wrenching, because they are so tangibly voyeuristic unto the soul– as if you can reach out and touch your own secrets, and weigh them down with a sigh.

thoughts on 'looking'...

I read something today and it got me thinking. [The hyperlinks to the articles are buried in that sentence, please find them if you are curious, and I presume you are.]

It began by getting me upset; because I think it is slanderous, unreasonably vindictive toward what appears to be “innocent perpetrators” whose gazes have been decontextualized, and lastly, rather hypocritically, a victimization of the self through careful deliberation. It is difficult for me to digest a process of looking, while taking photographs as a consequence of that looking, only to return home to call foul at everybody who looked at you while you were out looking at them. The writer of the articles has no doubt met with much discomfort in public, being as it would be the only fathomable reason to dedicate an entire blog toward “exposing the endemic misogyny of Calcutta through one woman's experiences”. I will not argue semantics, and I quite easily can, but words are meant to be used to facilitate critical thought and not to deconstruct intention, however, I will take issue with being blamed for something that I did not do.

I want pseudo-feminism to end now. It is separatist, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth when it turns into militancy(which it so often does, case in point), and it has not worked. There is a kind of feminism I admire, the autonomy and strength that comes out of the embrace of one’s inherent womanliness(some men have it too!). When that power is exercised, respect is not an object anymore, but a means. Ask your mother, she knows. Where I don’t agree with it is when it strives towards an idealized “equality”, but wants to do it through bipartisanship and division purely on the basis of sexual characteristics. At some point, we need to begin thinking as a people, and not as disparate persons, perhaps then we can address our own humanity as a condition(I hate this word, but I have none better). Might I suggest humanism?

Let me address what has upset me the most: the blatant perversion of an act of looking(no pun intended). Is it wrong to look? How is context not in question? Is looking at someone taking a photograph of you a means of sexual harassment? Am I not to look at a woman on the street?

Here’s what I do: I stare, I stare a lot. I’m a photographer, I am curious by default. Sometimes my stare is absent, where my eyes will wander and fix upon something, while my mind continues to wander. I do see faster than I think, and sometimes I need to wait for my thinking to catch up with my sight. I stare at people, at things, at signs, at the sunlight; I stare a lot, through my sunglasses, through my camera, through my eyes. Sometimes I am captive to a sight, how can I address beauty if I don’t see it? And the world is beautiful, is it not? So I stare. Curiosity is natural, and I will not repress it. Do I leer? I don’t. But I’ve seen it happen, and it is unpleasant. It is unfortunate, and it is a ways from the ideal, but it is yet to be harmful. Where a leer develops into a comment, and a comment develops into misdemeanor, it has grown from being uncouth towards being malicious. Sexual harassment is a problem, and it needs to be dealt with. But vision is not a gateway drug, sight does not lead to rape, and I refuse to watch silently as “looking” gets outlawed. If you are in public, deal with getting looked at, it is bound to happen, there is only so much in the world you are able to see before you look at somebody.

I see a problem in India that begs urgent address. Division of the sexes at a young age is a terrible idea, yet we do it all the time in India. We need to end the system of having separate schools for boys and girls, I do not see ANY purpose about it. Of course, many facets of Indian parenting needs fixing, and let me not even get into the naziism of Tamil Nadu’s engineering colleges, but starting to separate the sexes while they are still children is just plain wrong. I will not call it Orwellian, not expressly, but I am certainly thinking it, and that is cause for concern.

I am going to continue to look, your overactive imagination is your problem, not mine. I find the world too beautiful to give up sight, or to censor myself into a condition where I am forced to pretend like I don’t care. I want to look at faces and marvel at the features, I want to get taken by one that I find particularly beautiful, and I also want to feel dislike towards a hairstyle I don’t enjoy. I want to feel an entire palette of emotion, and I want to do it without being criminalized for enjoying what, to me, is the most important of my primary senses. When it comes to looking, being in public is fair game; take me to task if I touch you or follow you home(remember Sophie Calle?), but looking IS NOT sexual harassment. The world is a beautiful place, and it is ours, please do enjoy it.

*

(PS: This has more to do with the articles linked in the first line of this post than anything else, but I will mention it anyway. Photography is a wonderful medium, it is believed to be honest because it is so unflinchingly representational. But with every representation is an act of curation, and with photography, it is very simple to create a lie out of a system of truths. I do this in my own work, I create fictions out of fact. But what this means is that the truth can be manufactured, and with every edit, the loose ends are tied up just a bit more. The medium is wonderful, and I love it for all its unique characteristics, but it is important to view things within context. Lying in a poem, or in a book of fiction is beautiful, it is almost expected, and much beauty is in hidden away in the nuances of the lie. Lying in a newspaper is regrettable, and you will probably get fired. Lying in a gallery is wonderful, you say what you need to say to make your point, and people know what the truth is and what the lies are but they are confused about where the line lays and such critical engagement is the stuff of legend, I love it. Lying in a blogpost, on your website, is up to you, I will not take issue with your ability to do it, or your right to do so, I think you are allowed it. What I will not accept is a photograph as proof. Photographs are document, not proof. I know too much about photography to think otherwise.)

 

See the world with your heart. Forget how it looks. Remember how it felt.

All I want is a black cat to blame. They spoke of superstitions in those far-off places. Their doors were open but their minds were closed. Old women would curse me on the street as I took their pictures. If I were to believe them, my camera would be a repository of stolen souls. Wouldn’t that be something? Perhaps there are a few treasures in the old box, hidden where I haven’t looked.

We will die and we will not know it. And our gods are eternal, but only until the stone weathers and their features fade. It is tragic that humanity has been reduced to a condition. Our love is anodyne and our lovers are stoic; carved from an Italian marble and burned at the stake to no avail. Our price-tags are fireproof, our artists are castrated. We are yet to be challenged from beyond the grave, where our poets have gone to be free.

Poetry is a deliverance granted unto insignificances. It is why I love poetry. I am a connoisseur of the insignificant. I collect sun rays that have lost their way past a dense foliage, I collect them from the walls that they cling to, when they are afraid they might fall off. I collect spent cigarette butts crushed under the weight of their smokers, flat against the cold city floors. I collect them for they are adorned with lipstick kisses, and the weight of their sadness sinks my heart. 

I both love and hate where the world is headed. Machine-pressed, cutting-edge, gluten-free, farm-fed. I hate the word ‘organic’, it shouldn’t need to exist. Not on the stickers of my wax-polished apples from Fiji. Please leave my vegetables alone. And give me back my hand-written letters. A teardrop cannot stain an email. Marginalia is magical well past the enchantment of its own name. Nostalgia is a powerful motivator. Memory is an endless resource. Call me when the pages of your eBook are dog-eared. I will be waiting.

See the world with your heart. Forget how it looks. Remember how it felt. Pay attention to everything on the table. It is then that you might see time draped over the edge, melting, slowly dripping into obscurity. 

I like reading in the waning light. The fair pages whence the dark texts sleep, are now grey. As the sun dips into a slumber, your eyes begin to fatigue and your mind begins to wander. Then words image. It’s bad for your eyes, but great for your soul.

earring...

I found her crawling along the library floor.

I asked her if she'd lost something.

She'd lost her mind.

She was crawling along the library floor, without purpose, never searching.
A little piece of music draped gently down from her ears. It caught the light like a lover.

Imagine losing your imagination like they were earrings.

In her mind, she'd lost her mind.

watching...

The night was cold; colder still than the vacant gaze that held them strangely together. Perhaps it was the warmth of their bodies meeting in unspoken understanding like the light between two candles; a glorious golden wash floating to greet the shadows that threaten it. Confused, but cohesive. But it was each other’s blood that kept them warm. He did a splendid job of keeping hers at a petulant simmer. She did a fine job of not spilling her wine on his manicured suit, ostentatiously heavy in its fabric– thick as the hypocrisy it adorned. She sipped on the wine slowly, measuring every regretful drop that danced its way down her throat... Drops that could have explored every ugly crevice of his clean shaven face had she so fancied. Which she did; but she didn’t. She needed the drink more than she needed the satisfaction, I’d imagine. I was there. Watching. She played with the wine as it bathed her tongue and she waited as it washed down her dry throat, fighting to the bottom every honest word that tried to surface in its wake. Her tongue glimmered in the candlelight when she did speak; he watched in hatred as the crimson serpent weaved its voodoo veneer  and spit its venomous vengeance with a force so subtle that it vanished in vapor over the dry lakebed of what once was a delectable platter of vegetable vol-au-vents. She liked pastry. It was all that was right with the world. He listened with intent, but could hear nothing. She continued to flirt with her wine and he continued to pay for it. His head was a flurry of words he didn't understand. It reminded him of the unintelligible chatter of the bar. But the bar had a quality he envied. At the heart of the distinctly indistinct clamor was a voice. And it wasn’t his. He regretted it, but accepted it. He looked at her and wondered in silence as she sat there watching herself in the translucent glass walls that surrounded them. She hated mirrors. She couldn’t stand to see herself for who she really was. She knew it but it’s always different when you’re told something you already know. The mirror does. She fancied the translucence of the glass though. In the dishonest reflection of the glass walls were her dreams. Everything she aspired to. Everything she could have been. She looked in envy at the faces that stared back at her through the glass wall. The faces stared at her in envy for having a seat at the fancy establishment. They stared in envy at the gentleman in the fine suit. Envy pervaded the air like a virus. He knew it. He regarded everything with command, but he did it with disdain. He wondered why she sat there as she did. She was as wholly voluptuous as her hatred for him. She did not even wear enough fabric to conceal it. He wondered if her self-esteem was as low as her dress. He'd gotten to a point in his observation where his distractions had gotten the better of his judgement. So he blinked twice and returned to his drink. He felt his own lips move but he paid no attention to the sounds it made. They were merely sounds, he thought. He knew she hated him. He could feel her dislike precipitate in the air around him. Warm, moist hate, pasty against his oily skin. She knew he hated her. She could smell it through the thick of her perfume. Poison, they called it. The perfume, that is. She loved how it made her smell. He loved it too. It was the only thing about her that he did like. It sold for fifty dollars at the neighborhood Walgreens. About the cost of the wine and the food. He paid for it, and they left.

the moon is as near as the street lamps, tonight.

The philosophy by which I live my life, my code of existence, was handed down to me by the most fake, artificial person I have ever known. A fake persona, a ghost. That person does not exist anymore and I’m not being metaphorical, I’m being literal. I’m terrified by that truth.

It’s a simple one, her philosophy, rather obvious really. But at the time I needed to hear it, the ghost gave it to me, and it changed my life. Perhaps if I were religious, this ghost would be a god. But I’m not. This frightens me, and by as much effort on my psyche, I am thankful.

Anyway, that philosophy is mine now. And I throw it around sometimes. I hope whoever it hits thanks the ghost that threw it at them.

Today was one of those days. I heard the ocean call my name and I had to heed her call. I rode the train to Ocean Beach. I’ve always wondered about the off-white phosphorescence in the trains. It makes people look sick, almost jaundiced. But today was one of those days where I just wasn’t interested in the people. Don’t get me wrong, I love my strangers, I really do. But today they bored me. Today I did not care. I put on my headphones and let the music fight away my reality. Somewhere during my journey between wonder and heartbreak, the train stopped at Ocean Beach. It was the last stop. Otherwise, it might have been a very interesting train. “Ocean Beach”, the conductor called in a Chinese accent that betrayed a boredom drowned in alcohol. I like that name. Ocean Beach. 

It’s not a train per se, this weird hybrid that the San Francisco MUNI runs. It runs on tracks, but it follows the traffic rules when above ground, making it, effectively, a bus. So when I say the train stopped at Ocean Beach, just think of a bus parked curbside by the beach, in the dark, its silver sheen responding to the poetry of the moonlight. It was a full moon night. 

Just by the stop was a little cafe, where I stopped quickly for a hot chocolate. I carried it with me, through the dunes of sand, until I was directly facing the ocean, the city dark behind me, in the shadow of the massive sand dunes that San Francisco rests gently behind. I took a sip of chocolate, using the cup more for its warmth, than its content.

Orion was low in the sky, the way I’ve never seen it before, and I do keep my eye out for Orion because it is the only constellation I know. Every time that I trace the dots that form the hunter, from his head down to the bottom of his magnificent sword, I am filled with pride, a pride that accompanies a sense of accomplishment. But Orion was not the only spectacle in the sky tonight, the whole gang was out, the moon was full and the sky was cloudless as if dissolved in the moonlight. I was surprised at how the light from the city did not pollute the night sky, but Ocean Beach is all the way at the edge of the city, far from all the action. The air was frosty and damp. The waves crashed upon the shore without repose and the spectacle of the sound was reduced to a wet rumble from the ensemble. I missed the crisp, emotional crack of the lone, falling wave. I turned my back to the ocean and resumed looking at the stars. The moon was as near as the street lamps, tonight.

“So dark, indeed, the secrets that you keep”, came a voice from behind me. I turned around and saw the silhouettes of three people. The voice that spoke, was that of a man. I also saw another man, and a woman. He was not talking to me, or to anybody, really, as he stood looking at the bejeweled sky, but I answered anyway.

“Indeed.”, I said. “The nights are always the same, wherever you are. Everything is unified in darkness.”

“But we are walled by our secrets”, she said. “We may be unified, but we remain guarded from each other, by our own darknesses.”

I thought about that for a while. The three of them were from Europe, I assumed. I did not ask them, and I could not see their faces in the dark, but I could hear the German and French in their accents and the music in their voices. They smoked their cigarettes and listened to the waves. I could also hear the occasional car tearing through the Great Highway that stretches the length of the West Coast of the United States.

“What do you miss?”, one of them asked me.

“I miss being around”, I said. And they nodded and agreed before I could finish my sentence so I let the silence complete my thought.

I also thought about that for a while. I thought about everything I miss. I thought about what it means, to miss. “What do you miss?”, I asked the shadows.

“Oh, we miss everything, so far we’ve missed two trains and one plane, and soon we will miss the bus.”

I laughed, I think. I missed missing things for a while. Trains, planes, buses, appointments, birthdays, dinner. And so I thought about that for a while. One of them pointed to the horizon and said, “that’s where infinity begins”, and one of the others said, “or ends”.

I felt an absence that manifested itself as a haunting presence. It is a feeling that I both dread and love at the same time, I know it only too well. It creates a wound that I can then dip my quill in, drawing blood from it like it were ink from an inkwell. Inspiration, when it rises out of an emptiness, is tangible to me. It hurts, the wound really does hurt, when I draw from it. But it is what makes me happy. I missed my camera for a while, and then I pulled out my phone and took a picture.

They say that inspiration strikes. Yes it does, it strikes and it wounds and it tortures and it heals. I could feel a sneeze coming, and I really wished to savor it, so I shouted a goodbye to the retreating shadows and they shouted back as I sneezed. I watched as they disappeared past the dunes, leaving me alone once again.

“Don’t miss us”, the lady said.

​Some thoughts.

Some thoughts.

India has embarked on a journey; a large public sentiment has been born of the sheer indignity and hideousness of a story so vile that I cannot, with any conscionable rationale, bear to repeat it, even unto myself. So I will not, if even it only serves to stop-dead this noise, before a state of excess begins to work a power of desensitization into the collective conscience of our traumatized people. I’ve cringed at the sensationalism of our macabre media, and have even taken personal offense over the anti-male sentiment that is currently brewing in the Indian blogosphere. I’ve argued with friends and have, more importantly, argued with myself. I have a solution that I know will work, and I will follow it myself. It is simple.

I’ve borne witness to some infantile, ineffectual and insensitive finger-pointing. Some blame has been placed on the inaction of men. Much blame has been placed on the actions of men. This(rhetoric) is as atrocious a crime against equality(and humanity) as any cheap leer from a blithering ill-intentioned idiot on a Delhi bus. But therein lies the distinction I want to make. The condition of women in India is not pretty. Women are still oppressed, and in most households, it is the way of life, as practiced by the mothers themselves. Schools and colleges practice segregation and actively discourage the intermingling of the vastly diverse community. All of this does create a great divide, it births an “us and them” sentiment, and ultimately leads to the ill-treatment of the resultant other. But, rape does not grow out of such seeds. No disrespect can blossom into rape. Nor is rape a frustrated outburst of repressed sexuality, it is not. Rape is a crime against humanity. Rape is a shadow in the ocean of darkness, a darkness that we can neither see nor fathom, in our world of infinite beauty.

Men do not rape. Women do not rape. Monsters do. The distinction is important. These are the same monsters that dismember children and blind them, before sending them out to beg. These are the same monsters that enjoy the thrill of taking a life so much that they do it again, as ritual. These are the monsters that set off assault rifles in elementary schools and movie theaters. These are the monsters that fly airplanes into buildings. These are monsters. They are driven by darkness. Our world is full of it.

We do not see the darkness in our world, nor do we want to admit to ourselves of its presence, and for good reason. It is because our world, is indeed, infinitely beautiful. Every ray of sunshine sends our collective hearts aflutter and every moonlit night delights us in special, delightful ways. We cannot fight fires with fire. We cannot fight fires with fuel either. This is the reason I see only futility in protests and outrage. To improve the condition of women in India(or in any part of the world), it takes an active effort of the populace. It starts at the source, with the parents and their parenting, and it plays out through our time spent in schools and colleges, with teachers and friends brought up through different parenting. I do believe that time can put out any fire, and time will. The condition of women will improve, and it will take time. But it will not stop the rapes, the murders or the torture. Only love and beauty can rid the world of that darkness. I believe in the protests and the rallies, I believe in the outcries and the blogposts, I do believe that any conversation is better than an impassive silence. But I also do think that the object of such effort must be on improving the condition of human life; misplaced anger merely fans the flames.

I do not know how to identify the monsters that I speak of, nor do I know how to cure them. But, I do know that if every single one of us can bring some beauty into this world in our own unique ways, we of this already beautiful world, such beauty will affect at least one other in delightfully positive ways. And I do know that no person affected by such beauty, be it a man with a warmth in his heart and wonder in his eyes, or a woman with a soul filled with purpose and a song at the end of her lips, can ever be driven to murder, rape or any crime against humanity.

hat.

“There was the distant call of a firetruck. I did not feel distress then, but I do now. I feel like I remember more than I saw. It is not my memory that deceives me, it is my conscious mind that does. Do you hear the chirping of the birds or do you hear my voice?”

“I hear it all, but I’m only listening to you. Keep talking.”

“I was standing in front of the glass panel by a storefront. It was a shop that sold hats. I love hats. I’ve stood at that window everyday, but have never gone inside. The hats catch the sun in the evenings. They cast their shadows on the wooden shelves. How I love those wooden shelves with their golden shimmer- like the sweat of caramel in candle light.”

“Sounds  lovely. Tell me something, why don’t you wear a hat?”

“I love the sun too much.”

She was a beautiful girl. I felt quite lucky talking to her. It was a Thursday. I remember it for no particular significance. She had broken into tears in front of a stranger– me– and being as awkward as I was, I did not know what to do. So I did nothing.

I was sitting by the street, on the stairs that lead up to my house. I had made a cup of chocolate to enjoy with the evening. I don’t remember if I was reading a book. If I did have one in my hands, I doubt I was reading it anyway. I love the smell of books more than I love books. But perhaps that is a lie. 

She was walking up the hill with her cycle by her side. I live on a hill far too steep for cycling. She needed a rest and I needed somebody to talk to. We exchanged artless smiles with our practiced pleasantries. She sat next to me and heaved a sigh. I had nothing to say so I said nothing. That is when she broke into tears. 

She was beautiful in her sorrow. Fragile like a thin sheet of glass shattered by a flower in the breeze. When she stopped crying I offered her a cup of chocolate. She told me she loved chocolate but hated its smell. I was disappointed, but at least it saved me a trip indoors. I waited in the silence, hoping for it to end.

It did. And it was wonderful. She never told me why she cried and I never asked. I’ve been cried to before, this felt like I was cried at. I don’t mind being cried at. We spoke of music she’d never heard and books I’d never read. I told her of places she’d never been and she told me of food I’d never tasted. An hour went by and with it, the sun. She stood up to leave and it hit me at that moment that I did not know her name. But I did not need it because I knew her by her laughter and her tears. She had not asked me for mine.

“Did you go inside?”, I mumbled absently. I looked at her. “The hat shop– did you go inside?”

“No”, she said.

“Why not?”

“There was no door. Just a window.”, she said as she walked into the night.

 

free.

I surveyed the German countryside from the second-class cabin of an InterCity Express that was tearing through the air from Hamburg to Cologne. The foliage near my window whizzed past me in a blur of chaotic leaves fighting canola fields triumphing in a glory of green-meets-yellow. The sky seen through the rush of those trees remained as still as my thoughts. No burning rage in the engine with the power of a thousand horses seemed to matter to those that watched us from above. No human progress could outrun the clouds as they cried upon the frail shoulders of the dying German countryside. The stars blinked in mockery and the planets watched with interest. I watched as a girl’s golden hair was set ablaze by the setting sun and returned to my book when my eyes had recovered. I could smell the rain. Not every pleasure is lost to the sterility of the German railroad. Have you ever watched as the rain pours in defiance of a mighty sunshine? There is a romance that comes with those tear-filled, dark clouds. Then, there is hope in the sunshine. And perhaps in those last sips of  the wine I was drinking from that awkward plastic cup, there was the metaphor of the sunset. Had I been ten years younger and twenty wiser, I might’ve pressed my face against the cold windowpane, my eyes perplexed in curious wonder, my nose making marks on the innocent glass, my mouth bereft of sin, lost in the reverie of an unfated life. I might’ve inspired the poet in a despondent man. I might’ve coerced a song from a drama queen. I might’ve won their hearts with nothing but an unmasked face and a genuine smile. But I was ten years older and twenty colder. I was afraid of what they’d think of me if I were to show them even the slightest little bit of myself. Her hair was not on fire anymore. There were other people in the cabin too. We could see each other through the corners of our eyes, veiled by the hypocrisy of our sunglasses, too egotistic to give each other the pleasure of interest. It was that fear again. A fear of being discovered. A fear that the plastic mask of my face, built from 20-years of wearing a new lie each day, would melt away and leave me transparent. Sometimes, when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel a jolt of that same fear because I know that the hypocrisy adorning my face has no place within the honesty of my moist eyes. And when I look into my own eyes I know that I haven’t changed much- it is only my face that changes. Sometimes, unrecognizably. I once held a razor blade to my face and drew more blood than I did hair. It left a scar in the wake of a beard that nested pungent memories. Today, that beard is back and it has outgrown those dusty days. Time is infinite and infinity is just time without a tale. And every tale is veiled by the hypocrisy of those damned RayBan Wayfarers. I took my sunglasses off. I hate people who wear sunglasses indoors. I returned to my book. I always have a book with me for when I have to take my sunglasses off and I always feign interest in my books because a photographer needs to see before he reads.
 

 

I reached for my camera to take a picture of those last whiffs of blue sky before the sun was stubbed by the night sky like a cigarette. The night was upon us and as if by the hand of god and the will of the devil, I was forced to contend with what my second-class cabin had to offer me. That second-class cabin of the InterCity Express that was tearing through the air from Hamburg to Cologne, stopping occasionally to feed on people who lived in cities named after cheeses. The hot-chocolate man brought me a cup of cocoa in a paper cup labelled “Starbucks”. I must say that my heart sank a little, but I enjoyed the chocolate as I always do. The deep blue hue of the twilight sky had transferred neatly to the aging skin of the velvety seats. The cushions looked like they were sulking, and I along with it. I looked outside but I could see nothing. Oddly enough, it was too bright inside for me to see anything outside. I was drowsy with a longing for sleep. I looked at the old man with the young face and the young woman with the golden hair. I wondered what they might see if they looked my way. They’d see a boy lost in the mist of his mystic music. They’d see a book with unwrinkled pages and and they’d remark how closely it resembled my face. They’d see the pen in my pocket, a pen that I never carry with me. A pen that was only in my pocket by chance. A chance that I had not taken. They’d look into my eyes and see my blood turn cold in fear. They’d see my eyes dart away in shame and they’d see me pretending to look at the scenery that flew past us all in the darkness. But they were not looking my way, at least not when I was looking their way. I hoped that they would though as I fully submitted myself to the quiet of that moment. I prayed to my own soul that they should see me as I press my face against the cold window-pane of that InterCity Express that was tearing through the air from Hamburg to Cologne, at 330 Km/h as indicated on the screen by the exit row. I cupped my hands around my face and stumbled forward to breathe the dusky air chilled by the glass window. There was a forest in the darkness. The moon was hidden away behind those tear-filled clouds that followed us. There was a white glow that lit up the tree-tops. I longed for the shadows as I feared the darkness. There I was, a face in a window, a shadow without a face. The air precipitated with the lust of the moment as I peeled away from the poetry and returned to sulk in my reverie. Everyone on the train had resigned to a poetic slumber. I watched as their chests heaved in unison. I did not need a mask anymore, I was free.

 

having your cake and eating it too: a method

If you believe something(or believe in something) strongly enough, that, in itself, stands as a premise for bias, and that premise can consequentially discredit your open-mindedness about the subject at hand(or, often, the larger world). In other words, your mind must be closed for you to be able to actively participate in the agency of belief. This realization had dampened my spirits as a free-thinking individual, because I do not want my beliefs to get in the way of my discoveries. I like to think that I am an open-minded person, but I find myself extremely prejudiced against certain realities that I do not enjoy(or agree with). How can you be both strongly opinionated and open-minded at the same time? I was beginning to resign to the idea that perhaps I am not an open-minded person, after all. But I am extremely receptive to the new, the unexplored, the unseen, the unfelt. I am always ready for an adventure. I want to be an open-minded person.

I've spent a few nights occupied with this thought, grappling with this question of an "open mind". I have realized that my open-mindedness does not come from the possibility that I might be empty-headed or so embryonically sacrosanct in my value-judgements, that it is impossible for me to be wagered by egotism and its proclivity to endorse the superiority-complex of correctness(or being more correct than my immediate group, given a subject). It does, instead, come from being labelled a failure for such a long period of my life that the act of failure is second-nature to me and does not affect my disposition, especially when this failure is a mere deviation from the rules set by the status quo. I would hate to be a failure if I failed myself, but I don't really concern myself with any projected failure. My new method to open-mindedness is a readiness to fail, and a readiness to be wrong(which might escalate, through certain subjects that I might be personally invested in, to a readiness to be proven wrong). Innocent until proven guilty.