Be like water

WordPress asks me what new skills I learnt recently as the text cursor waits for me expectantly. Well I learnt nothing and why it’s important. For a long time now I’ve been scouring various theogonies and mythologies from the Mediterranean to the Steppe. Nothing seemed to resonate till I returned to the one tradition that provoke the most resistance in me, Daoism. Of course the inscrutable I Ching was the least comforting guide in an urgent but dreadfully prolonged search for meaning. Yet the Tao says that a vessel is only useful because of the emptiness inside. Somehow I am a broken bell that now rings and I have been having the most pleasant dreams of the last few years. I’ve been mixing a little bit of Jung’s active imagination to the mix and yesterday I saw a forest in the fall, leaves brown and sweeping downwards, the forest floor aching for someone to trod on the leaves that yearn to crack and offer music to the scene. Nature is indeed a teacher as the Tao says, but I also saw a guide in black robes, face obscured with a dry leaf, beacon me closer into the dark of the dry forest – as though the season and the empty world beneath the canopies yearned to be filled by my curiosity. Nature is indeed a teacher and my master wields a leaf.

Clean waters

I feel like I have walked into a clear stream with mud covering my feet. As I look down to really see how I got here, I wish I had seen what my journey was really like. I’ve been blogging and writing for a long time, so long that I thought I was over it. The more discomforting truth is that I’ve lost my own voice with all this writing. I could turn to the well everyday and draw up something to write about, I could read or hear something that might taste like water to the dry pallet I had for inspiration. Long into the process it was all inspiration reaching into an empty well. Much of what I’ve written is just echoes of better work and of what I liked. So much so that repetition and rephrasing became the meat on my bones, I’ve been creating an assortment of platypus like creatures just to keep publishing and farming readership for nothing of value. So after this brief reprieve, I’m going to go back to writing but actually reach for the water. I’d rather write to hear my own voice than continue with the same old nothing. I’m tempted to discard everything I’ve written so far if I’m being very honest but I haven’t taken that decision yet. For now I will rest and get a taste of my own voice.

Branching out

Every sunset when the light grows faint behind the Peepul tree, I notice a mundane miracle of little note that repeats its defiant cause on the electric lines. A branch from a now dead cactus plant was drawn in by some unknown wind and carried unambitiously to the electric wire by my balcony. Long and alone in as much as a year the branch has kept alive, with green leaves and purple flowers crowing its upward grasp, the branch has lived past its parent, hanging on by only a twig. How among the endless lines crossing the streets and the loud lives of everyone here does this little stem keep still on its tight rope? It must be akin to holding your breath and keeping a low profile, if the branch ever grew bigger or expanded in any direction, it’s fragile balance would be lost and the mundane act of survival would soon decay among all the leaves and swept up refuse on the streets.

With no Moon there is only still water

I live a strange world where the earth itself seems to disappear. Now and then I hear a bird call, a song that only birds of the Monsoon Jungles sing.

I look about for this phantom and realise that tree lines themselves are hard to find. Now and then my attention surfaces like driftwood on the night sea when I see the damp edges of world. Frogs waylay my path refusing to move out of the way of my scooter, giant snails appear in strange places – absurdly delicate targets in a precarious world.

The only conscious glimpses I steal are on rare days when I’m over the crowded lines of buildings; terraces only intrude on neighbours in this city. On rare rooftops visits I look for the moon. They say that in old Sumerian myths Nanna, the Moon God was the one who birthed the Sun God, Shamash. The reason for this unusual pre-eminence was that in the old days on the Mesopotamian marshes hunter-gathers looked to the Moon more often than they did to the Sun. It was only with sedentary lives that the Sun grew more important.

I think of how wondrously different it must have been to live your life by the Moon, to wander along the Mountain ranges and river banks of the Tigris with Moonlight as a calendar, compass and God. Often I look up in surprised to see that the moon isn’t there, that it has slipped by so quickly while city life seems so frozen in concrete sameness. These years have all felt the same, lost in the slow stream of my own thoughts and the city, I can hardly imagine the Moon transforming so quickly.

In the empty liberation that builds cities there are no more butterflies for caterpillars to turn into, perhaps no cocoons either. No wonder then that the ever changing Moon is difficult to see when the sky is overcast and blotted out. With no cycles of the Moon to sway the tide there is only still water.

Birds Listening

I had a few minutes between sessions today so I thought I’d meditate. I’ve been trying to master the “no mind state” over the past few weeks but have never managed to get beyond a minute.

The no mind state is when you consciously don’t think of anything at all- not easy at all. I decided I cut off any and all images, before I could tackle my ever descriptive inner monologue. I reasoned my inner eye and inner tongue might be easier than my inner ear My office has an absurdly high amount of eagles and other birds that sorround it, so without any thought deciding it, I sat still, eyes closed, only repeating what the birds said in my mind.

Suddenly it was not the call of eagles flying like little Joves that caught me, but love birds and other tiny birds. I don’t know the names of most of those birds, but I know from observation that a majority of them are tiny, small enough to be behind a few leaves.

Yet their calls, suddenly, were so loud, with interspecies duels and distant cries dominating my world which was now only just a wall clock and their tweeting. One after the other they would sing a tweet, waiting to hear back, and without exception they did recive a response from their own kind or from some other kind of bird. Could they even understand each other?

I imagined the evening, without seeing it, wondering about my village, then my hometown, recalling the distant dogs barking, the still silence of evenings which the sun always seemed to dominate. It felt like the birds were always louds but I never heard them.

The Russian war is a victory at home

I’m not one to engage with the tedious discourse of geopolitics often, but even among those of us curious enough to try and piece together both sides of the conflict I notice a few key take aways that don’t seem to be mentioned which I’ve written down here.

Despite the constant victories Ukraine seems to be winning on social media they are losing the actual war.

For all the exaggerated claims of killed Russian combatants that often suspiciously exceed the number of American killed in the Normandy landings, Ukraine has lost an astronomically higher amount of troops than the Russians. No reserves, mercenaries or militias can replace their legacy technology, bases and NATO drilled veterans.

If there is to be a post war insurgency, as many in the West callously imply- not accounting for how these insurgencies ruin nations- there won’t be many remants of the Ukrainian armed forces to fight it, unlike the disbanded and excluded Ba’ath party members in Iraq who made up the ranks and beuracracy of ISIS.

Considering how the war has progressed I think with hindsight we can say that the campaign wasn’t going to be shock and awe like the US in Iraq, rather it’s the deliberate advance like the Russian adopted in Syria. This time with even less bombing in the big cities. A fairly far sighted compramise since they don’t have the means or the delusions of grandeur that made the US think they could build a nation like Iraq or Afghanistan up from ruins.

This makes me think this will be a long war – probably one that extends beyond Ukraine if Poland & Belarus get involved.

This might also be Putin’s way of calling the economic bluff since there is no one who can replace Russian energy. All exaggerated claims of replacing Russian energy does not account for the fact that no one has the capacity or will to increase and supply production to that extent. Why would they do that and tank gas prices? OPEC has done so many times in the past and fairly see that they have not been rewarded. While Europe puts on a fig leaf with swap deals to hide purchase of Russian energy Putin is now going to force them to prop up the Ruble.

Many often dismiss Russia as a Gas Station mascarading as a country, quoting the plane crasher and war monger John McCain. The problem with this analogy is that gas stations are among the corner stones of modern civilization so it isn’t much of an insult. With the wheat fields that Russia now has access to, the gas station now has a farm attached -another cornerstone of civilization.

Secondly I think Putin was trying to break with the West before they were ready. This makes the many Western initiated talks before the war make a lot more sense, the attempts at deterrence meant that the West wasn’t ready yet – way to show your hand!

It also paints everything from Syria to Libya to Armenia to Georgia to Kazakhstan in a much different light- the plans to hemn in Russia were already underway. All of them have floundered so far, especially in Georgia and Armenia where Western aligned regimes have had to change their minds.

While Polish intervention might be a fantasy and Belorussian troops might only be massing on the border as a distraction – the real coup is how this imprisons all Russian Oligarchs & Europhiles within Russia to Putin’s nationalist vision. This fifth column has resisted for a long time, but now with a war their views have no currency and they can’t flee the country with their cash cows (stolen public assets) either. A true victory considering how much sway and influence these King Makers had in the 90’s – they were the ones who killed the Soviet Union and handed Putin the crown in the first place.

Completing old shows: part one

There were two Rijuls watching Haibane Renmei. One was nine years old, with little supervision, staring incompredingly at a TV screen during a late winter rain.

A young woman was at the end of the journey, as the sun set her friends gave her their last bits of advice before walking down by the shadows of a huge school building. The finality of her decision, her entire world weighing down on her and the sepia, grimy tone of the entire world was obvious to even an especially oblivious nine year old. Incidentally she had a tiny pair of wings and a halo but that was drowned out by the angst.

The other Rijul has spent a lifetime trying to put it all together. On that inconspicuous day I saw something that stayed with me forever, an ache that haunted me. Maybe it was the first time I understood art. I did the bravest thing I could, I told my mother I’d give up all my TV time, my playtime and anything else I had if I could wake up at 6 am every morning to watch the show which was rescheduled to that inconvenient time slot.

Of course it was given no thought and my proposal was rejected. In those pre-internet days I knew I had lost something immesurable. The clunky Japanese name didn’t remain either. Just an itch everything I though of the Animax channel. It drifted in and out of my dreams, in my memories. The optimistic Animax logo kept dropping in and out too.

I think seeing something like that at a young age changes you, maybe ages you- I’d recommend it. I saw many such sticky images on Animax. I wasn’t old enough but I’m certain that was a good thing.

I’m still watching Haibane Renmei, so I won’t say much else about it yet. However it has been interesting looking back at some old shows I never got to finish. Midori days was the first among these strange novelties I tracked down.

It’s about a teenager who wakes up to discover his right hand has turned into a woman. You might assume that the show is nothing but obvious jokes but besides two puns about masterbation it’s actually a deep, heartfelt, well developed story about strangers from different classes who come together to share a complicated relationship with each other.

It is a creative comedy that doesn’t get old fast, but the highlight really is how the many well rounded characters try and define themselves. In a novel feature for the genre, the pinning youngsters actually don’t get what they want and actually have to deal with failure and living with it. They actually end up changing who they are instead of just failing upwards. Did I mention it’s funny? It’s really funny in a way only something as absurd as a person living on your hand can be.

I’ll finish watching Haibane Renmei soon enough, so I’ll write a second part for this series by the end of this week.

Neighborhood lullabies

I have a neighbor who loves drinking and can often be heard singing or beating his wife late into the night. He’s a short, broad policeman with a short temper who is mostly content talking loudly and playing with his boisterous but home-bound son.

Last night he launched into a rare tale that caught my ear. It was a warm night with mosquitoes circling in earshot. As is typical for such a night a power-cut that had me trying to swat at the pests while trying to protect myself with a blanket. It was a fools’ endeavor because they outnumbered me and outmaneuvered me. In the end it was too hot inside the blanket and too pest ridden outside it. Tired and sleepless though I was, I recognised his voice immediately. On this rare night I heard him speak English and not his familiar Tamil. He was sitting, as he often does, outside his door which is built in an unusual manner- near the end of his house and not near the front. He has a narrow path from his front gate to his door and he often puts a chair out so he can sit in the middle of the path.

He was lecturing with so much condescension, that I was amazed whosoever was on the other end didn’t slam the phone down every time he finished his sentences with a smug flourish and a stretching of words. He explained that most people don’t know their “generation”. They can count back to their parents generation, to their grandparents generation at best. Beyond that they knew nothing. He however could count further. He could count beyond his great-grandparents and said he knew “all his generations”. He proclaimed his family was from Sri-Lanka, shouting the lengthy name of his village. He would fill in details in a fast paced Tamil and switch back to a English slowed down to bring as much derision as possible.

He told long tales of his grandparents, his grandmother in particular who collected so much gold that she had nothing to do with it. He ranted about his grandfathers power and his wife yelped from inside the house. He finished by calling whoever he had been talking to an idiot for trying to argue with him regarding some woman. Only then did his companion hang up on him. He went running back inside to sing with his son which continued for a time. I wondered what happened between his family’s’ Sri-Lankan wealth and his family’s current state. I also wondered how his son could do with so little sleep while I struggled to find some for myself.

At the top

The memory is perfectly enclosed, like a scene trapped in a snow-globe. My school was empty under a gray overcast sky about to pull apart in a rainstorm. A strike had been called, or was it a riot? What I do recall is that it was midway through the despised Hindi class, the third hours of the school day.

Everyone else had been taken home and the playground was empty, only four shoes remained outside the sandpit. The two of us, strangers to each other pushed each other ahead, daring and testing how far we could go. After some leap from my playmate, envy pulled at the bottom of my stomach. I looked at the sky and my watch knowing I had to best him before the moment ended.

I kept my eyes up, hyped by shrieks and laughter, cold metal bars under my feet I start calculating where the deepest bit of sand could be and tried to remember if anyone I knew had ever broken a bone on the monkey-bars. I remember jumping. Wild and shrieking as my uniform fluttered like wings into a heap of pain and then giddy, glorious victory.

False Awakening

Neither from the East, nor from the West, or even from the South comes the nights messanger draped in darkness slipping in through the curtains and glowing in the darkness.

His white coat and blue eyes settle as he steadies and prods the quilt, making his own bed where my legs part beneath the heavy cloth. Sleep takes a hold of him and I notice the coldness on my flanks. I slip away from the warm bedding and pull at the door handle. Outside is a fresh kind of air that reminds me to breath, deeply and rapidly. I start to wonder if I was breathing at all.

I place glancing caresses over my plants and flowers too early yet for dew. Even the bats are asleep and night owls don’t seem to stir, unmoving behind bright windows. I turn back and see nothing, melting, pooling into my bed. I fall and fall till I wake up with a start, even more sleepless than before. My cat is gone and a feline sized gap is pushed into my window.