MidSummer Wreath, with the Colors of Sweden

MidSummer Wreath, with the Colors of Sweden
MidSummer Wreath, with the Colors of Sweden
Welcome!! Swagat, Dumela, Valkommen, Jee Aayan Noo, Tashreef, Bula, Swasdee, Bienvenido, Tashi Delek. Thanks for joining me.....

Saturday, August 19, 2017

As They Bloom

The following pics were taken in the neighbourhood where I live.  Within in a matter of days, or we can even say hours.  It is amazing how nature just bursts open every summer!!

And even though I have been meaning to take videos of it, I have not been able to.  I need to learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not....and what are the activities where time should be devoted. Taking pictures and noticing these flowers takes the least amount of time...so here they are...

Ah, the neighbours have this cherry tree.  Do you know how many times I have simply stolen a bunch of cherries. This one, I keep an eye on!!

I notice them every time I go grocery shopping, waiting or them to ripen...and ah, how sweet they are.

See....not sure if it is because they are truly delicious or simply  because they are stolen!! Ha, ha...

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Scholar and a Simpleton

Scenes from Veer Bazaar!! Our Thursday Market

A woman purchasing new clothes for Lord Krishna

God's Goods!! Lord Krishna's Birthday is around and new clothes for him are in demand!! Hindus keep a shrine at home, usually treating baby krishna like a real prince, their own son, who must be bathed, dressed and fed everyday!! You can buy everything from his bedding to his swing to jewellery and outfits!!

Aloo (Potato) Tikkis (Cutlets)! 

Colorful, and not so expensive!

Ever since I was a child, I had two prominent dreams.  

Dreams, usually mean something that we have a passion for, where we would want to see ourselves.  In realising our dreams, we also arrive at a place where we can joyfully serve the world. 

First dream, even though I could not label it, was to be a story teller--a dream reflected in my love for painting, making cards, writing, filmmaking, acting on stage and for video and journal writing.  

And the other dream was to be a part of an intellectual community.  Scholars fascinated me.  They 'thought' for a living.  Even though I could not specify it when I was young and even though PhD for me was a detour, I was always swimming in ideas.  Why did we come here, what are we supposed to do with our one precious life, why do we not treat others with respect, or simply treated others like we would like to be treated, isn't kindness the best value? All these questions haunted me. Yes, I say haunted because they were hardly ever discussed in classes, there were no courses on it.  

But, lucky for me, I could reflect on many of these things from being a part of Indian community.  The answers to these questions were embedded in our daily talk, 'you must walk in other person's shoe to truly understand what one feels, words are like arrows once shot cannot be taken back, so use them sparingly and wisely, use them to lift and not bring people down, make sure your behaviour is something you would want your younger siblings to emulate.'  

And the best advice given to me by my mother, 'If you hear someone gossip, take a deep breath, take seven steps back, turn around and come home, we will have a cup of tea and talk about how there is much more good in the world than bad.'

I was known for that, 'not ever gossiping' even when someone hurt me, used me--for the longest time (until one day I snapped, --will write about that later).

The other kind of questions that I asked were 'the impact of things (media, culture, ideology) on us and people, concepts and ideas on us'

In that context Scholars, which in India were merely 'educators' were those I thought had the highest of values.  They thought about the deepest questions that humanity had to deal with and in that they lived the value system, and preached what they lived.

Or, so I thought.

Upon my initiation into academia, which I still find much more rewarding than any other profession, I found out it was riddled with the same issues. And why not? After all, it was made up of the same unit---a human.

Where ever there are people, there are problems, became my maxim!

There were professional jealousies, anger, petty arguments, competition rather than collaboration---and always a need to 'promote oneself'.

But, even with all that, I have survived the hardest of conditions because of 'teaching'. It allowed me to combine story telling, performance and ideas.

However, this past semester a few things came together that brought me back to the same concept, that unless 'people' have a 'purified' consciousness, wherever they go, they will take their problems.

Professions are not noble, it is people who are, or are not noble. Some professions like being in the Police may attract certain kinds of people, but professions will remain true to their aim only if people remain professional and true to the aim of serving.

Earlier this year we,--me and a few senior scholars, sent out a proposal for a panel to a leading conference. It got rejected, which is understandable.  But the problem was that the two of the three reviews were excellent, while one was really negative.  To top that, the negative reviewer wrote in grammatically wrong, non-sensical english.  We requested for a review of the final decision, which lead to an exchange of somewhat 'strong emails.' The sad part was that the head of the said division, even though talking to two renowned scholars, talked as if he was talking to undergraduates.  When confronted with facts and some strong arguments, he simply backed out of taking an action, insisting that we must accept the decision, without acknowledging that there was something amiss with one of the reviewers.

That made me think much.

When I was attending the conference, since I had other papers that were accepted, I ran into several top notch scholars, as is always the case.  One such scholar I met through friends. We hung out at a reception, but within a few minutes, it became obvious that this scholar was too self assured and had little respect for other scholars, especially women.  This in academia--in an area like cultural studies, where gender studies is a major area of study.

Still unsure of forming an opinion, I stood around, sometimes laughing at the jokes, sometimes feeling uncomfortable at the pokes at young female scholars.  It was late that evening, when this particular scholar started to get really nasty in commenting on how women were dressed, how much skin they revealed and how silly they looked while dancing when slightly tipsy.  That left a bad taste in my mouth, and I kept wondering about academia and its 'nobility'. 

After all, I belonged to this community.

About 24 hrs later while sharing my disappointment and disgust with the friends who introduced me to the scholar did I realise that this scholar was the head of the division of division we had interacted with.

Some friends said, that we must judge scholars by their scholarship and see what a high position this person was at, considering how young this person is.

Something I absolutely disagree with.  

After all, I am from India, where we were taught that if you were standing in front of your parents, teachers and God, you must first bow to your parents, for they gave you your body and brought you up, then your teachers who brought you into knowledge and then God.

Teachers are higher than the Gods!!

But should that apply to those who behave as pubescent boys?

But of course, I let it go, for such is the world and we live in Kali Yuga --the dark age, where character and high values are not truly valued.

Until, two weeks ago.  On a thursday market, our regular veer bazaar.  It is a market 

set up for 'not so rich people', where things are sold by those vendors who cannot afford to rent a shop, and move from locality to locality every week to sell their goods. About 70-100 vendors put up their stalls every week on thursday evenings for about 6-8 hours.  What can you buy at the veer bazaar? Everything!! Well almost.

Utensils, pots and pans, stitched clothes, loose fabric, table mats, table cloths, hair accessories, plants, incense, spices, crockery, shoes and slippers, make up, costume jewellery, stationery--pencils and notebooks and erasers and sharpeners, books, festival related items that are sold in the season, fruits and vegetables, and our favourite various kinds of prepared foods...e,g. salads, and spicy snacks, both hot and cold.

Everything sold there, except food, ---which is simply delicious (didn't say healthy :(!!), 
is usually of an average quality .  Needless to say it is frequented by not so rich, and the middle class.  Although in the recent years, even the middle class has been abandoning it, with the exception of the food stalls.  True to their snobbish nature, many english speaking Indians call it the 'thursday market' rather than the 'veer bazaar!'

It was on a thursday Market two weeks ago, that I went with my camera to take pictures.  Two young boys to my side started nudging each other and speaking loudly, intending to get my attention, 'Hey, show your best face, you are being photographed'.  

'Not to worry, I just want to get pictures of the beautiful fabric, not you' I said, and shook my head.

I am older now, and can command a certain kind of body language that keeps street romeos and trouble makers at bay.  The teenagers giggled and joined their hands to imply 'touché!'

I walked ahead, inching through the crowded market. I could not get out of there fast enough--it was hot and sweaty, and my bare forearms were likely to graze against someone else's --and I was tired from the day.

After a quick purchase, I turned around. As I was walking past the same fabric shop where I had taken a picture before, I heard the vendor yell at a young boy, 'Are you not ashamed of yourself for using swear words around ladies' He then pointed him away, 'Get out of here and do not stand next to my shop. I will not have you disrespect the ladies at my stall.'

My body, as if thunderstruck, froze, my heartbeat slowed down, and I exhaled a deep sigh. 

A man who may or may not have a high school diploma, much less a college degree, not only proudly claimed a value that truly respects women, but also in his anger and chiding the young man gave him something to think about.  Whether or not that man heeds it, it will ring in his ears for a while.

And then I thought of scholars I know, who have no issues using 'F' words, even MF---and yet call themselves feminists.  Most of the swear words are related to a sacred act that creates life, and often are related
 to demeaning women.  They are used so often that now, we do not even think much of it.  As a classmate from India in my first semester in the US had said, 'F word is a verb in the US, you cannot complete a sentence without it.'

We have no qualms about using words such as 'bXXXX' or 'MF' or *Fxxx' --and yet we claim to be kind and respectful to women.

Post Nirbhaya case, the much talked about rape case in India in December of 2012, India--especially Delhi is called the rape capital of India.  Documentaries are made, articles are written.  But somehow, stories such as these, from a simpleton, which are many more than the rape cases are not spoken about, nor written about--certainly not by any scholars!!

I thought back to the scholar at the conference, his way of talking about women, and thought about this simpleton, who will likely not be known beyond his family members and possibly some customers --will leave no legacy of articles or students who take his work forward, will not be interviewed on TV channels, will probably die before his dream of owning a shop becomes a reality--and yet had internalised a value system that can only contribute towards a civilised world.

According to an 'intellectual' the vendor is an illiterate, who the intellectual must theorise about, and explain to him his own world.  The intellectual will write about what he thinks, how he may be the man who does not 'respect women's , how these are the people who want a male child for an offspring, how these are the people who abuse their wives, but will never acknowledge the savagery that lives in his own heart and how disconnected he lives from the role/purpose of the profession he represents.

The intellectual will discuss with other intellectuals over an alcoholic drink or an expensive cup of coffee, how these illiterate people need a representative like him/her, and yet never realise that his/her life remains distanced from those he/she claims to write about, except in a study, in an artificially created environment for 'an eventual publication.'

The scholar and the simpleton, shall never really cross paths in any truly meaningful transaction, except when the latter can be of some use to the former.  Yet, the scholar will continue to make a living claiming that he/she understands the simpletons!! The scholar will the famous one, the simpleton always either researched or forgotten (except election times). 

(That evening I came home and listened to this song--Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye to Kya hai (english subtitles)--What if we even attain this world (fame and other coveted things of this world).  The song was part of an award winning film about a poet who is not recognised while alive.  HIs opponents fake his death and stage a memorial, where he shows up an sings this song (typical bolllywood style). The song is profound, and speaks much of our double standards. You can know by the expressions of the actors who is who, the opponent, who is also married to the poet's ex-wife, who left the poor poet for a rich man (the opponent), the young girl-friend who is simply relieved to see him and the poet himself who sings with disgust and disappointment written on his face.  By the end of the song he is moved out of the hall, for he has said too much. 

Only Bollywood can turn profound wisdom and pain into poetry! Here the scholar IS the simpleton, but because he is not 'successful and rich' he meets the fate of a simpleton! 

This world still divides people into scholars and simpletons, intellectuals and illiterate, the famous and the forgotten, refusing to acknowledge how their abilities bleed into each other, how they complete each other and how scholars, intellectuals and famous people live off --simpletons, illiterates and forgotten!!

That whole evening I was quiet, trying to ask myself, am I still a simpleton, or have I lost it in trying to be a published scholar?  Can I maintain the simplicity, the innocence while continuing to sharpen my mind? Can I be a simpleton and a scholar at the same time?

Have I achieved one dream and lost another? Become a scholar --too obsessed with publications, and given up the joy of story telling?  Do I consider one better than the other?

Can I be both a story teller and a scholar?  Can I be both a simpleton--who listens attentively to stories and a scholar? 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6m8iy7Wx4ZE  (yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye) 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Meet Mr. Young & Wise!!

Yuvan (Young) Vivek (Wise) could be another name f
or this Prem (Love) Babu (Gentleman).  I made him cross the street and stand under a street lamp to get this picture, since old iPhone does not have a flash. Notice the sweat around his neck.  And then think of the wise words of this young man!!  Richer than the richest people in the world!

Its a thursday and we have our legendary Veer (thursday) bazaar!!   So, its a ritual to there and have Chole Bhatures.  We avoid many a times, since it is not the healthiest of meal, but the vendor in our Thursday market is very famous.  

I have two stories from thursday market (this time around, otherwise, I have many stories from Thursday market).  But this happened today!! 

Mom and I were returning after our little visit and two small bags filled with snacks--when I flagged down a rickshaw puller.

'Bhaiya (brother, as we call them), we need to go at the end of the road, about 60 meters'  He smiled and stopped.  A young man of about 20 years.

I whispered to my mom, I won't come with you, I will walk.  I do not want to burden him.

'How much?' we asked.

'Ten rupees' he said. 'About 15 US cents'

My 'Mom's knees hurt and she had had her walk for the day.  I preferred to walk.

Mom insisted that I get on the rickshaw as well, as she did not want to go alone.

Less than a minute later when we got off, I patted him on the arm and said, 'You did a kind thing.'  Usually rickshaw pullers can decline if it is late or too short a run, since they do not make a profit.

'Oh, I always agree when I see someone in need.' He said with a casual smile. 

'Dhanyavaad, Thankyou I nodded.'

'Where are you from?' I asked, as I always do, because I genuinely care about where they come from, what they do, how they make a living. 

'MP-Madhya Pradesh' (central Indian state)', he said.  

And then he answered my follow up questions.

'We own land in the village.  All my siblings work on the farm.  I come here for a few months and then go back to join them when more work is needed on the farm. I studied a little, but I know much about farming. I live near the metro station.'

'Nice, will you please promise to help my mom, whenever you see her, sometimes she has a hard time finding rickshaw puller?'

'Oh, I will always. I do always, whenever I see an elderly person.'

And then, he turned towards my mom and said, 'And do not even worry about money, the man above gives us a lot, and will give us a lot, so long as we have the blessings of elderly people'  (In Hindi, the word for elderly is something that will translate into 'big' --'bada' not old, but big, and is used with reverence).

I patted him again on the shoulder.  'Beta, (son), what is your name?' I asked.

'Prem Babu' (Love--Gentleman)

'Arre Wah, Oh wow', I said.  But you should be called 'Yuvan Vivek -Young and Wise' I thought!

As we walked inside the house, I thought to myself, THESE ARE THE PEOPLE THAT MISSIONARIES WANT TO CONVERT TO CHRISTIANITY AND BRING THEM TO LIGHT.' (They usually target poor working class people).