Saturday, December 1, 2012

Oh Deer!

It was sometime in the mid-nineties when I was driving my new car on a small university road from my home to my lab that I hit a deer.
My lab's building was on top of a mountain. The drive up was through the woods and the season was a picturesque Fall of rural Pennsylvania. It was before 9 AM. The valley was clear and crisp, even now all I need to do is- close my eyes to put myself there and feel the air on my face.
The morning drive was the favorite part of my day. I rolled my window down a crack so just enough of the breeze blew across my face and rustled my hair.

A few minutes before the hit I saw deer on the road. This was when I was still in the valley, where there was no traffic, when the deer suddenly came from nowhere and raced straight across the road, about three blocks ahead of me. I had never seen herds of deer come out like this. It was usual to see a deer or two at dusk, their eyes reflecting in the headlights. The herds usually stayed in the woods. These galloped and jumped on and off the roadside fences in tight lines of twos or threes, back into the woods. Awe. It was a show.
I stopped until they passed and went my way. At the posted limit of 30mph. A half mile later, I heard a thud. My car jolted. I didn't see anything. I pulled over. The front of the car was bashed up. Huh? I looked around and only then saw the deer. It took me a few seconds to realize what happened. Oh no. A lone, straggler deer.

The deer was lying on the other side of road. It was struggling to get up on its feet using strong upward jerks but couldn't raise itself up and was lying back, tired. I tentatively walked to it. The size was something I had underestimated, it was very big. The tall, strong antlers were cutting sharp angles in the air as it moved its head with the effort of getting up on its feet. I went closer. Denial and horror. The deer was looking at me as I approached. Its eye had a diffuse expression, of pain, confusion and being wary of me. There was no blood, no external injuries. 
Deer smell came from it. Its taut body gave off a powerful vitality that filled the area. Then, just like that, it quietened down. I looked away for a second for something I don't remember why and when I saw again, it was very still, its eye became glass-like with no expression. The smell and the feel were all still there. It was unreal. In less than a second it became lifeless, as I stood watching.

My car was ruined. My husband had just bought the car for me and we had driven it back from Chicago. That I got locked inside a lonely rest area in Ohio during the long drive didn't feel like a story anymore. The red car had 10k miles and was used-new (what we could afford). My old Honda had been giving me all sorts of trouble and with the winter approaching we figured I needed something that could take me up and down the mountain at day or night.
No one was in at the lab to talk to me. I couldn't just leave the deer there. I looked up the nearest police station.  I don't know why I couldn't just call, somehow I had to go there and tell somebody, file a report or something.
I called Chicago from the lab, he wasn't home. We were a long distance couple, he was working and I was going to school, living alone. Mother-in-law answered my call (in-laws were visiting).  I told her about the accident and that I was going to the police station to report the deer. She got flustered, that I was going to a police station. It even became a source of worry (it isn't safe for women to go alone to police stations in some places in India).

Fall, there. (..a lousy pic)
A policeman came to the window and took my account.
Where is the deer? he asked, genially.
Still there, I said.
He seemed satisfied. We'll send somebody.
That was it. There was nothing to do.

I hit a deer, I found myself telling anyone who came by, the entire morning. There was coffee but it did not help.
Later that morning I happened to be working with two workmen from facilities, the only two for our building. We were standing near the power supply cabinet of the floor and talking about rerouting some wiring for my reactor and I told them too, I hit a deer.

They were listening so I gave the details.
Oh yeah, it's hunting season, they said. The deer were probably running away from the hunters.
Ah! that explains the mad herd-crossing. Then they asked where the deer was.
You left it there? Didn't try to take it?
Which confused and surprised me. No? Why?
Oh, you can make deer stew, deer this, deer that, deer sausage…. they went on about a list of things from parts of body, reminding each other with happy interest and telling me. The meat keeps through winter and stores well in the freezer, they added.
I am vegetarian, I grew up like that, my parents' cuisine had no garlic, onion and even radish, I did not say. It's not that I was a stranger to meat. My previous roommates cooked meat, all kinds and forms and sometimes fish with beady eyes stared from the refrigerator. Even made faces at me. But that was fish or meat from a package. This was a deer that, err, I killed (in an accident, but still).

Oh, someone must have already taken it away, they added ruefully.
How will they ... my voice trailed.
They take it to the deer processing shop at the corner of this-and-that where they process and cut up the meat for ya.
They continued to talk about the deer. In the hallway, in their name-tagged dark blue uniforms. They were tall, burly men and I was a petite. They had German-Dutch ancestry like many in the area and were of strong faith. I must have seemed very different to them (not just in size) but it did not show at all. They were courteous and pleasant even when asked at rare times to give a hand for heavy work in the lab, which was not part of their job. So, deer-hunts and deer-meat were a way of their life.
The deer was gone when I drove back home late in the evening. A few days later I drove to the corner of this-and-that and saw from the outside, the said deer processing shop. (we did not have Google Maps at that time).

Life eats life. That's how it is, right? We eat other life forms to live. Other life forms as in animal or plant origin or both. But nevertheless a life form in one way or the other.
But here's the thing – hunting, killing and then eating an animal in the wild somehow seems... balanced. Part of natural law. Responsible living. Personal courage. Forced respect for other forms of life that feed us.
As opposed to food through faceless consolidated large-scale farms and processing facilities. From where food arrives in packets and we do not give much thought as from where and how it got to us. This last aspect increasingly becoming a source of concern for reasons of health and humaneness.
Our perceived scale of consciousness of our food sources, animal or plant, seems to play a small role for most of us, compared to our cultural and personal food preferences.

The native Indians here used every part of the buffalo they hunted and killed only what they needed. Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook) eats only what he kills, is what I have read. There must be others who follow this to different degrees.  On the opposite side, there are those who hunt only for sport and leave the carcasses to rot.
But not everyone in this overpopulated earth can have access to grow their own produce in a garden or raise their own animals in a farm or find a place to hunt or fish.  Even small, local sustainable food sources or co-ops are still a rarity and are mostly expensive.

Nature's Balance is a topic in my son's lessons at this time. Last week we read about The Return of the Wolves to Yellowstone.
It described how the wolves were hunted down to elimination by 1927, how the food chain changed and the ecological balance got upset over the next few decades. There were no wolves to kill and eat elk, so the elk population grew, they ate too much so new trees did not grow, the bird numbers went down, the beavers almost disappeared. The coyote population grew, smaller animals got hunted down and they ate too many pronghorn fawns. Someone had an idea to reintroduce the wolves. So things are changing towards a more balanced animal population numbers.
We also watched some videos of wolves hunting elk. I asked - So dear, what will happen if the wolf population at the top of the food chain goes out of control?

Or like Earth, I added later, where things are out of balance. Because of human overpopulation at the top of the food chain. 
But, I also said, we can try for a responsible lifestyle. Use only what we need. Be deliberate, close-to-ground in our choices, in our thinking. That way we are respectful towards nature and in doing so, hopefully, to ourselves., his hand on mine

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mind and Body

Say, you wake up one morning with the flu. It has been known to happen.

You call your workplace and tell someone you're not coming in. You call a friend and ask for a ride to the urgent care clinic. You want to get better soon, since your sick-leave comes from the same pool as vacation days.

The receptionist is pleasant, she takes your insurance information and asks you to wait. Mozart music is playing in the background (because the clinic's management faithfully followed a research finding that said playing Mozart in the waiting area helps patients relax). But the wait is long, your muscles are hurting, head is splitting, eyes are burning and throat is sore. You go to the counter and ask for the approximate wait time. You notice the receptionist has changed. The new person seems distracted, as if her mind is elsewhere. She is impatient with you. Sir, just keep waiting. She will be with you shortly. You feel hurt, your sickness feels worse.

Finally you see the physician. She is sufficiently knowledgeable, is competent and takes care of your condition. Prescribes pills. In the car you tell your friend- oh, man, she was good, polite, she even apologized for the wait. She was cute too.

Not once do you wonder why you should be affected by the pleasantness of the first receptionist, irritation of the second receptionist (superseding the soothing effect of background Mozart) and the demeanor of the physician (whose main job is to tend to your sickness with a trained and tested methodology, being nice is only optional).
But we know that - what we see and feel has an effect on our physiological body.
First, how would it have changed if all the people in the clinic were completely expressionless and spoke like robots? Second, would you have been affected to the same level if you were not sick and not feeling vulnerable?

Who is “we” over here? Mind or body? Mind and body? Is our mind seeing and feeling separately from the body? Or are they always together? How together?
Dennett loses his body in a landfill in “Where Am I”, a delightful sci-fi-philosophy (scifiphi) chapter in Douglas Hofstadter's and Daniel Dennett's “The Mind's I”. This chapter was written by Daniel Dennett. 
But before this incident, Dennett's brain had been surgically taken out. Dennett's former body had been working with electrodes tapped in, taking in remote signals from his brain sitting comfortably in a vat in a laboratory.
But first, right after brain-removal surgery, he wakes and wonders where Dennett is- is Dennett the brain (nicknamed Yorick) in the vat or the rest of his body (nicknamed Hamlet) sitting in a chair? He tries hard but fails to see himself as staring out from a vat.
Hamlet goes on the above mentioned top-secret assignment and gets buried in a landfill, an accident. In an instant he wakes up as Yorick, disembodied. What was difficult before happened now, Dennett wakes up as Yorick- and finds himself staring out from a vat.

A new body (nicknamed Fortinbras) is eventually connected to Yorick via electrodes and remote signals. One day, Fortinbras walks into the lab, to a big applause but finds out that a computer program (nicknamed Hubert) has been created to duplicate Yorick, his brain-in-a-vat. Yorick and Hubert are identical and one cannot tell the difference. It was even tested without Fortinbras's knowledge by flipping back and forth successfully.
Now, if another new body is connected to Hubert, he would be a super twin brother of Yorick-Fortinbras (lets call him Hubert-Viru). Then, who would be the true Dennett in this brain-body couple?

The prospect of having two Dennetts feels abhorrent to Dennett. He does not want to be his own rival for the affections of his wife. Or share his meager professor's salary with a new twin. The story continues, about the body-brain couples or if I may venture that far, the body-mind-couple states.

Far too many times in life our mind feels trapped within physical surroundings and/or limitations of the body.
Katha Politt has a book of poems “The Mind-Body Problem". The discrepancies between our feelings and doings are beautifully presented, as only in poetry. Some lines that stayed with me-

Lilacs in September
to passersby
What will unleash
itself in you
when your storm comes?

Two Cats
but because they see things as they are. Cats
never mistake a
saucer of milk for a declaration of passion
or the crook of your knees for

a permanent address. ….

The Heron in the Marsh
with only yourself as armor,
tell me, why is loss real
even when love was not?

Vulnerability or insecurity increases our perception of imbalance between mind and body. In that state, the mind has heightened awareness. Sees things in slow motion. Magnified. Vulnerability, as people in stress of any kind feel. Sometimes the most creative spurts in the minds of famous artists have been known to come while they were in these terrible distorted states of health (but with sufficient lucidity to produce the work of art).
Also, the disconnectedness of mind-body increases when one is physically sick and is hospitalized in a standard medical facility. The body gets treatment which the mind tries to keep pace with. This becomes very apparent especially after distress such as- surgically losing a limb or worse. The mind struggles to make sense of the altered body.

Some alternate medical practices take a whole body approach to treatment. Mind and matter. But a few practitioners go very far, they quote the energy-mass relation, implying we can control our body with our mind. Even the Buddha had to struggle towards this for years and he wasn't even ill!
That said, being positive in outlook does have an influence, that is as far we can go.

On the other hand, in either state, vulnerable or secure, there are times and places when we find our mind-body at peace. Some artists, though rare, have created from this beautiful state of mind.
Some such places are - by a gentle stream of water, in the smiles of children in sleep, in the deep quietness of a large tree, in the silence of warm afternoon shadows, in meditation, in music, in love. We feel a reluctance to turn away from the balance. It somehow seems we are meant to be that way, all the time. There is a pang, we don't want to return to the inevitable imbalance.

Entertainment and art - many movie plots, TV series, stories, blog-posts, popular music and some poems have a recurrent theme of
“mind-of-a-person-is-feeling-something-strong, -that-he/she-tries-make-sense-of-in-a-slow/dramatic-unraveling-of-plot/insight, -leading-to-an-aha-moment-for-all”.
Sports. The athlete or player with mind in control under duress has the edge.
It is amazing how much the mind-body balance/imbalance occupies us all. Our lifestyle, culture and civilization takes it for a lifelong ride, and we go along. 

It appears the mind-body communication is something we concern ourselves a lot but talk about only obliquely through stories and events.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Blue Moon at Newport Beach

(I reconsidered my rule about not posting personal poetry on the blog. One poem per year is not bad at all.. right?)

Shall we collect seashells? I didn't ask
For his mind was already with the waves

A man on a blanket close to me, seemingly at ease,
but why the intense look & why does he have so-much-stuff?
He then goes to stand guard in water, ah his daughters
are riding the surf

Sun is dipping, final plunge so swift
Like a woman exiting workplace at end of day
weight of waiting-children at dinner-plates pulling her
7:24 PM, her day is done

Toddler in pink frilly bathing-suit
chasing a fat seagull too insulted to move
Surely the sun is playing peekaboo with children
on underside of earth for the moon is now up on the other end

The daughters come out and walk to parking
older one giving the younger a hand with the boards,
movements so steady as when in an exercise high

I pick a few broken seashells, kick an abandoned wet-sand fort 
         War's over, go home now
Even as a baby even before he said amma he'd bring me my swimwear
as if asking shall we go to the pool?
Now chasing the waves with father as friend,
water, water, little-dolphin in water
Ayyo are the waves are getting higher
I wonder

And worry. The headstand will be good for you..
The AM yoga-instructor had showed how to, oops, she said 
Never forget to tuck the shirt BEFORE going up, hahhaha!
I walk and wait in the car, away from the dusk-wind

An old Chinese woman is walking up and down methodical
A pensive wheelchair bound man is on beach-walkway
moving so so slow. He doesn't have a disabled person's grit
A summer visitor to this beach town who met with a water accident?
The man and daughters are still getting things up into car
unmindful of the drama of sun, moon or sky hues, dissolved
In their worked bodies, each cell crooning happy

He wheels his sad chair alongside a bench facing the set sun
just as a woman comes to sit. She glances around, hi she says
with kind friendship. It's like a painting, I like to watch,
she shows the sky. Oh yeah, it's beautiful
he chimes, his face breaking with feelings
Ocean and sky giving them something bigger
than themselves to hold on to
They don't notice the moon at the back
Why would they, when the woman's smile is brighter
than the bluest of moons

Chinese grandma reaches the edge of walkway
smooths her aching joints and toils back to shore.

Do you think people are nicer here?
Surprised- it seems like it, he says, turning the ignition key,
remembering how other cars slowed for highway-lane changes
But a tourist's perspective is sometimes, only that


The other poem is here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Zola Budd

One day, when I was still a tunic-wearing-school-going girl, a photo and its caption stared out from the sports page of the our morning newspaper.
“Give me Decker!” the caption screamed. The photo was of Zola Budd. She was running on what looked like a fresh green meadow. She was barefoot.

Zola Budd had just sprung out of nowhere and was challenging Mary Decker Slaney for the 3000 m Olympic gold medal. This was in 1984 and she was 18. The Olympics came to me with this. 

Somewhere around the same time, a friend and I had looked over an issue of TIME magazine at her house. The cover caught my attention- it said something like “being curvaceous is no longer a thing, being sexy is in”. There were pictures of both types of women, one of whom I felt was too angular and mean looking. But that look was IN! Now what to do.
The hilarity was that both my friend and I were only school girls and were from conservative families. There was one difference- she was very rich and I was middle class. I remember she didn't seem intrigued in this shift of mankind's diktat on our future bodies and I wasn't puzzled enough to inquire.
It was the age when we all read Mills & Boon (on the sly) at school and fell in love with all the heroes. Then there were the usual cricket and movie star crushes. I was also slowly but surely gravitating towards Tolstoy and Tagore, at home, in my father's collection.
Somehow all these came to a head with the picture of Zola Budd.

News coverage showed Zola as unconventional and controversial. I only vaguely understood these concepts. Her picture and all the fanfare around her was in the news. But what caught my eye, I think, was her self-identity. I observed it had to do with her running. It didn't have money, looks, family, studies or romance as the source. It wasn't coming from opposition to something. It was self-made and looked effortless.

18-22 seemed like the magical age, when one can just step out of a setting and start running. Into a waiting world. Something seemed possible if one tried hard enough. But all this was still a cloud in my mind and only made sense in retrospect.

The Olympic race as you probably know, went terribly wrong. Mary Decker, a clear favorite in her hometown of Los Angeles, fell down and hurt her hip. Zola Budd, who was leading the race at the time of the fall was first disqualified for cutting in too soon and then reinstated after video viewing. She came 7th. She later said she deliberately fell back because she did not want to win in that booing atmosphere. Many years later Mary Decker blamed her fall on her own inexperience in running in a pack.

Every Olympics I am reminded of that time, the suspense and tragedy of that race and the understated anticipation of impending possibilities that the picture evoked. That things actually happen in life, not just in books.
But training and competing in sports are only a part of life. There's a peak and then life goes on. How is she, what does Zola do now? Did her sporting career add to her living skills? I looked her up on the internet with some hesitation.
She coaches and also runs. Still barefoot. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Yaksha Prashna - II

Prerequisite: Yaksha Prashna- I 

 Act 4. @Bhima comes to the pond.
Impatient with thirst, he goes to have a drink and hears a loud voice.
STOP! O Bhimasena! DO NOT drink water from my pond without first answering my questions. Otherwise you will die like your brothers!

Only then @Bhima sees his brothers. He is shaken. Then he stirs.
“I will kill you for bringing this fate to my brothers!". The impetuous prince takes a step forward and lunges towards the crane. The crane escapes and viola! the mighty @Bhima falls down dead.

Act 5. @Yudhistira comes to the pond. 
He scans the area and sees his brothers. He laments over them and then goes for a quick drink. Then he hears the voice.
O Dharmaraja! You cannot drink water from my pond unless you correctly answer my questions. Or else you will suffer the same fate as your brothers!

@Yudhistira is taken aback. But he realizes that this is no ordinary crane. These questions aren't going to be ordinary. He feels relief that his mind is clear of clutter, his new year resolution to restrict using social media to between 4-5 PM is really paying off.
@Yudhistira: Can I gleet for help? I may not know the answers to all Q's.
@quiz_Or_die: Yes. You have 3 lifelines, to one circle / one person at a time only. Use them wisely or die! 
      (Suspenseful music, spotlight on @Yudhistira)

@quiz_Or_die: Who is the friend of the traveler?
@Yudhistira: A companion
@quiz_Or_die: Who is friend of a householder?
@Yudhistira: The spouse.
@quiz_Or_die: Who is friend of the sick?
@Yudhistira: A physician.
@quiz_Or_die: Who is friend of the dying?
@Yudhistira is stumped. He thinks, one dies alone. His wealth, his smartphone, his circles, all stay behind. Lifeline please, he says. I'll call on @Draupadi.

@Yudhistira ---> @Draupadi Dupa dear, I need some help. Please tell, O wise wife, “Who is the friend of the dying?”
(@Draupadi is just bringing out the Akshaya Patra to request dinner. She is shocked at the gleet. She correctly guesses that the other Pandava brothers are harmed.)

@Draupadi ---> @Yudhistira O King, I cannot live without my husbands. No one will understand me. The beautiful practice of polyandry is already on decline..
                   ---> @Yudhistira ..Evil will surely increase in society. *sob*
@Yudhistira ---> @Yes, Dupa dear, I am trying. Right now, I need to answer- “Who is the friend of the dying?”
@Draupadi ---> @Yudhistira There is only one friend of the dying. His/her charity. The untangled goodwill that one leaves behind.
@Yudhistira ---> @Draupadi ---> Oh yeah. Like in #ff's we give.
So @Yudhitira answered: His charity. (He is right!)
       (claps from background)

@quiz_Or_die: Next round.
(And he went on. @Yudhistira finds his groove and does not take a false step. It is most impressive. The Q's of the Yaksha came in groups of 4 and so did the answers. Stuff that legends and philosophies are made of. Well until almost the end. Read on.)

@quiz-Or-die What enemy is invincible? What is an incurable disease? What kind of man is noble and what kind of man is not?
@Yudhistira feels beaten with these. This time, he seeks help of @Krishna.
@Yudhistira ---> @Krishna Cousin dear, do you know the answers? Did you hear?

(@Krishna is in his gardens at a Gleetup at Dwaraka, where they are discussing the pros and cons of 6 hole and 8 hole flutes. But he answers, unhurried and pleasant as usual. But anytime @Krishna comes online, there is this buzz, everybody tunes in and listens or interjects. Everyone seems to want something from him- men want to befriend him, children want to hang out, animals and birds want to listen to his flute, women want to love him, the sky wants to shade him blue)
(@Kauravas start listening, as does @Karna. Heck, the whole of @India starts listening). Go on.

@Krishna ---> @Yudhistira Yo cos. I say, one can give a man fish or teach him to fish.
@Yudhistira ---> @Krishna Are you pulling a 'paradigm shift' on me? *angry*
@Krishna ---> @Yudhistira LOL. Amplify the context, O even-minded King. Do not get angry.
    (Then it clicked for @Yudhistira!).
@Yudhistira ---> ANGER is the invincible enemy. Greed is an incurable disease. He is noble who desires the wellbeing of all creatures. One who has no mercy is not noble.
       (claps from background)
@quiz_Or_die ---> Last round. Who is truly happy? What is the greatest wonder? What is the path? What is the news?
@Yudhistira: Lifeline please. @Keshava again. Who else, really? Haha.

(Okay, we have to digress here. You surely noticed that the gleet went out to @Keshava. Here's the scoop- @Krishna has only one Glitter Handle but apparently responds to many ID's. How that is happening is something that @Shakuni is desperately trying to unravel. He sits on the board of a company – SahasranamaHackers, which is non-profit and their code is open source.  They apparently are very close to unraveling this matter.)
@Krishna ---> @Yudhistira I heard the Q. Dude, this crane speaks like a Yaksha who is free from the cycle of birth and death.
@Yudhistira ---> @Krishna Wut?
@Krishna ---> @Yudhistira It lives in the moment, it talks the walk with inaction in action & action in inaction.
First confused then inspired, @Yudhistira answered, turning to @quiz_Or_die
@Yudhistira: One who has no debts is truly happy. We all die one day but we think we will live forever, that is the greatest wonder. The path that is hidden in caves of our hearts is the only path. The world of ignorance is a pan, the sun is the fire, time is the ladle, this is the news!
       (applause from the background)

@quiz_Or_die: You did well, O son of Kunti. As a boon, you can get one brother back. Choose.
@Yudhistira: I choose @Sahadeva
@quiz_Or_die: Oooooh, not your own brother? A step-brother? Sure?
@Yudhistira: Yes sir.
@quiz_Or_die: Okey dokey, you get all of them back. Trick question that was.

(All the Pandava brothers came back to life and slowly rise up, rubbing eyes and confused. Also, there is a shower of flowers from the sky which adds to the confusion)

At which point, @Krishna surprisingly sends out a gleet to his circles- @PanchaPandavas Fresh lease on life, yeah? Did you hear, Xx xxX xxx xxXx? cc @Yadavas
@Nakula ---> @Krishna What sir? What did you say? Didn't get it.
@Krishna ---> @PanchaPandavas @Yadavas Hahaha. Not much. I just said  ------------------- “LIVE FROM DWARAKA, IT'S SATURDAY NIIIIGHT!”
(Lots of loud music, to which the Yadavas start rocking and as if on cue, @Satyaki takes off and dunks himself into a vat of Madira). Whoever said the DwaparaYuga isn't fun?
The Pandavas walk back to their ashram for dinner. Draupadi is waiting and is delighted to see them except for a fleeting thought- 'Sigh. 5 husbands and not one is on time for dinner'.

Don't ask me about the deer, I don't know, okay? But if you ever see a deer with a charger on its antlers, still running around, you know why that is.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Yaksha Prashna - I

(A drama adapted for Glitter, based on the 'Yaksha Prashna' from the Mahabharata)

Time ~ 800 to 5000 BC, depending on whom you ask.
Place – Deep in the forests of ancient India, by the side of a pristine pond.
Chief feature – Everyone has a smart phone and is on Glitter. That's right, what we knew as Twitter was acquired by Google in 2014. They renamed it Glitter. They have THAT then. Glitter is very similar to Twitter except it has circles.

A Yaksha in the form a crane. He is also the quiz master who quizzes from @quiz_Or_die
Pandava brothers - @Yudhistira, @Bhima, @Arjuna, @Nakula, @Sahadeva, their wife- @Draupadi,
Krishna himself - @Krishna
@Karna - The King of Anga aka Sutaputra.
@Kauravas – The 100 Kaurava brothers (yes, they share the same handle). 

Background: The Pandava princes are in the last part of their 14 year exile in the forest. One afternoon, a hermit came by and asked for help. My andriod charger got accidentally entwined in a deer's antlers, which then ran off. Please bring back my charger, he requested.
Bound by Kshatriya duty, the Pandavas put aside surfing the web and followed the deer. The deer panicked and ran off deep into the thick jungle. After a long chase, the Pandavas got tired and thirsty. Pausing the search, @Yudhistira, the oldest, asked @Sahadeva, the youngest, to fetch some water.

Act 1. @Sahadeva approaches the pond.

A crane is relaxing in the pond, laughing, for he is ROFLing to a gleet. But his mood darkens when he spots @Sahadeva.
Halt! he thunders. O son of Madri! You cannot drink water from my lake unless you answer my questions. Or else you will die.
@Sahadeva is shocked. But he quickly recovers and thinks, duh, talking crane is all is interesting but a crane is a crane is a crane. I've got to gleet about this later. Hehe. He ignores the crane and drinks some water. Boom. He falls dead on the spot.

Act 2. @Nakula approaches the pond.
(After waiting for a while @Yudhistira had sent @Nakula in search of @Sahadeva and water).

@Nakula sees the water and moved by intense thirst, takes some in the cup of his palms.
Stop! O son of Madri, he hears. He turns and sees a crane. Then he sees his twin brother lying dead. The water spills from his trembling hands.
@quiz_Or_die: You have to answer my questions before you can drink. Or else you will die like your brother.
@Nakula is shocked. The whole thing feels surreal, right out of a sci-fi palm-leaf book. He decides to go along.

@Nakula: Can I use Glitter, can I gleet the question if I don't know the answer?
@quiz_Or_die: Yes, but only once and to only one Glitter circle/person. One lifeline only, said the crane. Use it wisely or die.
       (background music starts, then pauses dramatically, spotlight on @Nakula)
@quiz_Or_die: What is heavier than the Earth?
@Nakula: Mother.
       (claps from background)
@quiz_Or_die: What is taller than the sky?
@Nakula: A cellphone tower?
       (a hush in the background)
@Nakula falls dead on the spot.

Act 3. @Arjuna arrives on the scene, sent by @Yudhistira.

Despite being very thirsty, he is cautious and is shocked on seeing his brothers lying dead. When he tries to drink the water, he hears a voice.
Halt! O Partha! Do not drink my water without answering my questions. You will die like your brothers or if you don't answer correctly.

@Arjuna: Shoot! (no pun intended). But say, can I seek help via @Glitter?
@quiz_Or_die: Yes, you can use up to two gleets. To one circle or person only. Be wise or die.
       (background music starts, then pauses dramatically, spotlight on @Arjuna)
@quiz_Or_die What is taller than the Sky?
@Arjuna Father.
       (claps from background. @Arjuna takes a bow)
@quiz_Or_die What is faster than the Wind?
@Arjuna Lifeline please. I'll choose @Draupadi

(@Arjuna goes his Glitter circle of Wives and gleets to @Draupadi).
@Arjuna ---> @Draupadi Dru dearest, quick, do you know what is faster than the wind?

(@Draupadi is back in their ashram, brushing her long, lustrous, silky hair. It is much work, she does not have help and her arms are getting tired. But she responds)
 @Draupadi ---> @Arjuna 5 husbands and not one can help me. Pray tell, when can I put my hair up again.
@Arjuna ---> @Draupadi Soon dear. My life is at stake here. Lifeline this is. “What is faster than the wind?”
@Draupadi ---> @Arjuna Whaa? Why are you being strange? Is it about another wife?
(One can say that @Draupadi is a bit possessive of @Arjuna's affections after the Subhadra episode)
@Arjuna ---> @Draupadi No, no, this is a real crisis. @Nakula and @Sahadeva are already dead.
(@Draupadi nearly faints. But being a sharp woman, she quickly reads the situation)
@Draupadi ---> @Arjuna Two answers. 1. Wifi connection 2. Mind

(@Arjuna thinks for a second and picks “Mind”. He is right!)
          (claps from the background)
{We have to digress here for a bit. You may wonder, rightfully so, if Arjuna's gleets to @Draupadi were not seen by others, even inadvertently by his brothers who were still waiting for water and relaxing with their smartphones. No, they didn't. Because a. They were bound by the dharma of Glitter and marriage – the brothers currently not dwelling with Draupadi cannot look into her personal gleets. See, how it all works out?)

@quiz_Or_die What is more numerous than grass?
@Arjuna Gleets! (excitedly)
       (a hush in the background)
And so the valiant Dhananjaya falls down dead. 

**** Will be continued in Part II. **** Stay tuned! ****
****** What will @Bhima do? ** What will @Krishna say? ** Stay tuned! ******

Saturday, June 9, 2012

My Persimmon Tree

The Persimmon tree came home with us as a plant from Home Depot when it was a year old. We planted it on my son's first birthday. They are both nine now.

It grew fast, by itself. It did not need any attention at all. The fruit came early, within 2-3 years. Since then, every Fall I have had a basket of beautiful, sweet Persimmons to distribute. “I love Persimmons!” is the usual response I get. 
But once when I decorated Halloween muffins with an orange Persimmon topping instead of the icing, the children in my son's school did not fancy it. I in turn, learned a lesson.

My co-workers had introduced me to the fruit, it is only found in California in the US, they said. Some of them had trees in their homes and had brought the fruit to work. I was hooked to the fruit. There are two kinds of Persimmons- soft or firm in flesh. We have the latter.

About two years ago I fell in love with our tree. Just like that. I was walking past it on a hot summer day and felt the coolness that a only the full shade of a tree can give. Tranquility and stillness. The tree wasn't just a tree anymore, it seemed to exude a character. Sturdy, faithful, forgiving and ever giving.
The tree is right outside my bedroom window, so every season brings a different hue, mood and meaning into the room.

Spring 2011

Summer 2011

Fall 2011
Winter 2011

Spring 2012
Summer 2012

This cycle is quietly repeated every year. Everything is on time but graceful, like a ballerina in a dance act.

This year the tree has a problem. 
Falling buds
The buds are falling off. I wonder if it is a pollination issue what with the honeybees dying off or an infestation striking at the seat of the bud. It is systematic. I need to find out more.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I once read about a race car driver who had an unusual experience. In one race he found himself behind some of the other cars and was just about to come up around a curve on the road. Instead of continuing, he hit the brakes. Hard.
He slowed down enough to not crash head-on into a fiery pileup that had happened ahead, around the bend. Approaching, he didn't, he couldn't see the pileup. Why did he brake?

Let me sleep over it, we sometimes say before making an important decision. Why am I feeling deflated now, we ask the next day after having had a good time with new friends.

When coming around the curve at maybe ~150 to ~190 m/hr, the race car driver, whose name I forgot but shall call Savyasachi Miller, saw something. Or more accurately, that the unconscious parts of his mind registered. His fleeting peripheral vision saw (as said in retrospect) that people in the stands were standing up. They were looking ahead of him, faces frozen in horror, eyes focused around the bend. They were not looking at him at all! His reflexes reacted sharply to the input. He braked, the entire sequence of input, deduction and reaction skipping the conscious analysis-decision loop.

You will know when you love a house, your gut will tell you! Our real estate agent had once proclaimed.

How can my gut or instinct know if a house is right? When a house feels right, isn't it an integrated response of a lifetime of ideas and impressions of what I think a house should look like? Maybe some ideas got into my memory when I saw pictures of houses or had been at houses of others and got stored in the good things folder. Why is it I like a room to open into the yard a certain way? Why do I like natural lighting? What is the response because of systematic social input and how is it different from instinct?
What is instinct.

When I was an undergrad and stepped out for classes in the morning, my mater would walk ahead of me into the lane, make a U turn and come back. She wanted to be the first person to cross my path and so bring me luck. It was her way of ruling out an accidental first crossing of my path by a feral cat or any other predetermined bad_luck_bringers from the neighborhood. Ayyo, yes, she had a mental tab.
I loved the way she smiled conspiratorially on her way back into the gate. But that was her superstition, her belief. Or was it her instinct?
How is her instinct/belief about a cat different from mine about a house?

Then there is the male-female difference. When a man says My instinct says..., generally respect is shown, as the said man is now understood to be not ruled only by worded logic. When a woman refers to her instinct, there is automatic suspicion of irrationality and even some expectation of theatrics. Instinctual bias of society, I may say!

Some years ago, we went on small trip to central California, to Sequoia National Forest. I was pregnant with my first and only child, four or five months into the nine. Something happened on the trip.

We stayed for the weekend at a house, a bed & breakfast/inn. This wasn't the most remote of places we had been to.
The house was a 2 bedroom country house, California style, renovated to match the present but retaining some charm of an older time, without trying to. The owners were farmers and lived in a separate house, some distance away. The farm stretched out behind the houses, lush with a grid of small dark-green plants, I can't remember the produce.
The small backyard was beyond lovely. Clever and dainty contraptions for water flow and hand blown colorful glass trinkets including a darting hummingbird were set around in a native style garden. There were no fences, the backyard led to the mighty farm, with a large culvert and timely automated watering. The kitchen window had the yard and farm for a view.

The lady of the house chatted away, the water comes from the Kings river. Wow, a desert turned into farmland. All the neighboring farmers share the water by opening and closing valves for their share of water at precise times, she explained. Amazing. We spoke of salmon, of migrant labor, of Sequoia trees. We hire migrant labor during the harvest.
She was probably in her 50's but looked much younger. Dressed in shorts and a T, she had earlier welcomed us and shown us around, the stocked refrigerator, our room and mentioned that nobody was in the other bedroom for the weekend and so we had the whole house to ourselves. Her husband waved to us from their porch, with the earthy geniality of a successful farmer. The children are now grown and have moved on, she said.
What a nice room, I had thought of the other bedroom, which was diagonal to ours, across the living room. The door was left open and I saw a bookshelf, a lamp and an armchair from the angle. There was something melancholy about the lighting and the shades of the furniture. Typical of the country, nothing was kept locked, not even the main door.

We saw the magnificent trees at the park, correlated the bark layers to historical events in India, laughed silly (I am better with dates than the husbn), drove and walked around, explored the farm. The second trimester is different from the first. The body starts changing rapidly. There is no time to lose, only nine in all, so it is understandable. And enjoyable if you are happy with the ride. Which I was.

All our parents were happy and relieved, alright, these guys have finally come around to starting a family. I had quit my job and was taking some time away for the first time ever.
Only, I was hungry so much, at the time. It seemed the spouse was tasked with continuously foraging for food for me. When he brought something, I could only take a few bites before getting overwhelmed with the sight and smell. I had to put it away and would not touch it again. My sensory system was taking in too much and was easily overloaded.

On the second day the owner, who liked to visit and chat, casually mentioned that her father when alive, had lived in the other room. The house was his before coming to her.

Very soon after, I started feeling something. It had to do with the unoccupied bedroom. The feeling intensified as the day went on and stayed even after outings.
I was feeling sadness in and from the room, as if someone suffered very much there. Not just loneliness. Hurt. It was very real and strong. I started averting my eyes from the room. That was one aspect of it.
The other was my response. Something in my mind was telling me to leave, to get away, to stay away, don't go to the room. Go away. Leave the house. There was fear and dread.

It was a not a fleeting feeling. It was a struggle. I was aware of the feeling and my instinctive reaction to it but could not consciously rationalize either. The logical part of me had no role, it didn't understand the input or the reaction.
Clearly there was the power of suggestion, my response started after the owner mentioned her father. A charming room with a history turned into something of dread. But here is the thing, I was of the world, I had lived alone, traveled alone, been in strange places, have had my earthly share of seeing suffering. What is this? I don't believe in supernatural stuff. I am definitely not psychic.
So why the feeling, why the fear? Why should I go away?

But the reality was different. The beauty and serenity of the house, garden and farm slipped away. I wasn't registering anything besides my struggle. It occupied me.
I didn't say anything to my husband, I just asked him to close the door of the other room. It bothers me, was all I said. Later, I inquired if he felt anything and he said he didn't feel anything from the room.
As the night came on, the the feelings of fear – flight intensified. I sat in the sofa, frozen, not available for life.

Then he had to step out to pick up some bread to go with dinner. I stayed behind and right away began to regret that. I moved to the edge of the sofa closest to the door. All the lights in the house were already on. Still the sadness of the room behind the closed door and.... now, an imagined figure of an old man, standing sideways with a worn out hat near the bookshelf was right there.
It seemed like it took forever before my husband came back, though it was only 15 minutes or so. Much relief came as soon as I saw the headlights of the car pull in to the driveway.
The night was long, I slept fitfully and looked ragged the next day. I simply couldn't wait to check out the next morning.

Life went on, I forgot about this incident. I never made sense of it nor did I completely dismiss it.

In the last few years, I have come to see instinct as a friend.

But you see, it comes last in importance in any situation, in civilized lives. First we seek rational analysis. Easy. Then we try match it to vibes and feelings. Easy too. Then there is instinct. Not that easy. When actually, rational thinking and feelings are subsets within our instinct. Allow me-

In any new scenario. apart from the verbal expression, an amount of non-verbal exchange naturally happens. While our logical and conscious mind is swimming in the verbal, our unconscious is busy absorbing all the non-verbal and other aspects of the environment.
It takes time for what the keenest of the unconscious observed to filter out to our awareness, into the conscious mind. But even before that the observations start carving our behavior, even while sitting in the unconscious. Here it gets tricky.
If life is unhurried, this data can filter to the conscious mind and become available for contemplation and logic. Then it has a chance to match up with feelings and actions. But it won't have a chance to float up if it is deluged with impressions on impressions from a busy lifestyle. Or we are over-educated and imprisoned in the acts of expected protocols. The observations remain below, submerged in the psyche, hardening, but quietly and inexorably modulating our behavior while we remain unaware.
I DON'T KNOW WHY I AM SO ANGRY! has been known to be said by many. Or other things like that, you can ask your therapist (and ask for a discount).

But as I said, instinct is my friend. My semi-solitudinous lifestyle sometimes allows for the dialogue between instinct, feelings and logic. It is quite dramatic when it happens. You should try, if you haven't. You'll get to say 'oh, wow', because the speed of instinct > feelings > logic & verbal expression, so we have to pause the taught expectation of acting in the reverse direction.
Usually there is some peace after this exercise because something, even something little, makes complete sense, in a full circle.

Just like how with training, the physical reflexes of Savyasachi Miller learned to quickly react to his unconscious observations and give an integrated response, it is possible in real life also to reduce the time lag and always be true to oneself. In theory. Heh.

So that seems to be it, the difference between instinct and belief.
Instinct is where at first, in new scenario, you don't know why you are feeling something. Then it slowly dawns on you, if you let it. Unless of course, you are already fully balanced!
The other is where our life-learning condenses into a belief system. Which in turn judges and evaluates. It can change with time.

My mater's views about a cat comes from a personal belief system. If I buy a handbag, my likes or dislikes come from a belief system. Or my idea of what is beautiful or ugly.
My feelings about a house waiting to be bought fall somewhere in between a belief system and instinct. While the scenario is new, giving new fodder for unconscious observations, a belief system is also waiting in the wings.

However I still don't understand why I felt the overpowering sadness from the room in the house at the trip. True, my sensory system was at a heightened state. But when reacting to food- there is a direct cause and effect. Too much aroma –> overloaded soon. There was no known cause to feel sadness from a room. In fact, the family seemed healthy, active and functional.
My response though, is understandable. My instinct was telling me to get away. It is not safe here.
But why was it not safe, there was no physical danger in the room? Only some emotional trauma from excitement perhaps, given my then state. In fact, I am a curious person and ordinarily would liked to see it to the end. Was my instinct acting in the interest of the baby? I don't know.

I'll never know why because I didn't wait for it to float up to my logic. Hey, I was busy looking for a house, okay? There were those crazy bidding wars at the time, so we never got any of the houses we instinctively liked! They were out of our modest budget.
Now in retrospect, I think I should have just walked over and asked the lady, the owner of the vacation rental, about her father. That could have ended the whole thing right there. Or not... Right now, my instinct says let it be, don't go there!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Intellectual vs. Physical

Reading Time ~ 4 minutes.

Have you ever wondered about the interplay between intellectual and physical work? Do they even go together? My recent thought was they go together, closely, like yin and yang. There, I said it.
The above was a result of a number of thoughts coalescing, the most important one being a thought-spiral that began one day last week, when my house cleaner brought along two friends. They chatted, made jokes and laughed, all the working while. They were speaking in Spanish which I don't follow so I can only hope that not all the jokes were about me.

That's the thing- (no, not me, silly!)- intellectual work seldom brings cheer. Satisfaction, pride – yes. Often times it is a solitary pursuit. Physical or manual work on the other hand, clears and refreshes the mind. A friend in grad school used to clean her kitchen, room, house and even the car before she could settle down and study for a mid-term!
Also, when disturbed by conflict some have a tendency to attend to chores. I wonder what happens, if the brain is doing some kind of executive planning to attend to tasks that can take the mind off things.
The working of the limbs and the trunk, as in cleaning, washing, sawing etc., can clear the mind, free the cerebral cortex from decision making thoughts and refresh the mind even when the body may be tired.
You may have seen images of shared manual work as in farm-work (when in good times) bringing cheer and joy especially when enlivened with banter or singing. The same effect is missing when working on a treadmill or a gym but where we may still be thinking. The body feels energized with the workout but the mind may not feel as refreshed as in purposeful physical work.

It is likely that different parts of the brain get activated in either type of work, the physical or intellectual. I feel these different areas are complementary, in a way that is both beautiful and primitive.

Usually, people with intellectual pursuits are prone to stay away from manual work. People who rely on manual work for a living, when their needs are sufficiently met, tend to stay away from direct intellectual pursuits. They generally exude a contented disposition and a certain gravity. But they sometimes, in kindness, may translate an intellectual outburst of someone in their midst into a real life example and thus make sense for all concerned.

Doing only intellectual work, only thinking, even artistic work, accumulates nervous energy. It tires the brain and the nervous system, especially if one is trying to cross-link ideas and sensations. Occasionally there is a feeling of being overwhelmed. Sure, we can write about it or talk to someone. Somehow that isn't sufficient to channel out the nervous energy. Over time it gets in the way of productivity and progress. There is also the danger of overload, life and brain getting imbalanced into a spiral-down in functionality, aided by genetics and habits.
Manual work, as in bending, sitting, standing and using the limbs towards a purpose has the effect of dissipating nervous energy. It clears the head. Something about the back-bending - the spinal cord releases energy. Like in Yoga and TaiChi. And unlike them, actual work has an ego humbling feeling, showing our place in the large scheme of things- the need to do our able share in the running of things.

Gardening works for me. I like working with the soil, with earth, the seeds and the plants. I like using the tools, watering and seeing the change. Working within greenery also brings a quietness. But this is not everyday work nor is it proportional to the amount of desk work I do. I wish it is. But on the few days I work enough, a cycle set in: hard-work, balance, good-sleep, repeat. Happy happy.

Take camping in the wild. We have to put aside our urban, polished selves and come to terms with ourselves and our companions in the same light. Away in the wild, banter and derivative longings seem vain with each passing day and moment. Surviving takes work. Our deepest self comes out of layers and finds easy expression. I once heard someone or read somewhere that the best way to know if you get along with someone is to go camping with them.
There is something about the tending to the physical and basic aspects of the business of survival that can integrate and release the whole.

There is an interesting episode in Star Trek Next Generation where Captain Picard returns home after he is rescued from the Borg. He goes home to his brother's vineyard in France. Ostensibly to recover. But he is angry, frustrated and bottled up. He trades barbs and petulance with the brother, who in turn, doesn't hold out any flowers. One day, they run into each other in the grove and have an argument which escalates into the physical. See it for yourself-

Of course, we cannot get into physical fights to resolve severe disagreements. Thank heavens we have a civil society and rule of the law. The above fight was between two brothers who knew their boundaries. It was still extraordinary and of course, entertaining.
On the other side of same spectrum, movie makers make full use of tension between a two, to lure us, the audience, into the drama. Similar stuff. Once resolved, let's say with a kiss, or more, the truer feelings of romance unfold. Love or no_love!

So what is intellectual work?
I don't think it is about acquisition of information. Tons of information comes at us everyday from all sides. It is being able to consolidate this into a knowledge base. Being able to instinctively filter incoming information using this base. Having a clarity in the resulting thought and expression. 
This stands in direct contrast to collecting or spouting reams of gathered information at a query or at a discussion. I don't know what that is called. But many of us do that!

Another aspect is one of the ego: I believe one who works to decrease the feeding of the ever-hungry personal ego while in an intellectual or even artistic pursuit, is termed wise, maybe can even be called a philosopher. Just as long as he is also doing the daily dishes and she is mowing the lawn..
Henry David Thoreau would not have been the kind of intellectual and philosopher he was if he did not build his cabin by himself. Mahatma Gandhi was relentless in his (and others!) physical contribution to running of the ashram.
Long ago, Krishna (of the Mahabharata) was known to have said that Karma Yoga (the path of disinterested work) and Jnana work (the path of discriminating knowledge) go together. Simple and elegant.

Is intellectualism an end in itself? Is physical work? What about when they are together?
Philosophies of 'stillness in action' say that one has to utilize the intellect but get past 'thinking' to 'being'. Many religions focus on devotion to somewhat get there. But interestingly, many views seem to indicate that dedicated physical work can be an end in itself.

So what are you still doing here? Go, go wash the car or scrub the stove! Go!