Monday, September 28, 2009

I'm sailing on the seas of fate...

Sundays are good days. I wake up early every sunday somehow. With no school, no commitments to meet, no places to be, I find myself awake at the crack of dawn, watching the sun come up, glittering gold through the palm trees in the East.

This particular Sunday was better than most, a happier, mellower day than the ones in recent memory. The day started early as usual, I managed to clean my room, and my experimental recipe for chorizo con huevos didn't kill, maim or permanently damage anyone. Always a bonus. I stepped out for a cigarette, but somehow I never got round to lighting up. It was a nice day so I put my feet on autopilot like I always do for nice days, and shortly found myself outside the library. And wouldn't you know it, there was a book sale on.

I love book sales. Growing up in Bombay, some of my happiest memories are of Sunday afternoons spent browsing at the used book stalls in Churchgate. Delicately improvised shelters made from discarded plastic sheeting and bamboo poles, bound together with string, rope, wire, and glue, they stretched all the way from Flora Fountain down to the old Parsi well at the edge of Cross Maidan. Rain or shine, the booksellers would be there, setting up their wares at seven in the morning, and taking them down at nine, every night, like clockwork. I think that was one of the first places I felt the touch of probability, of the hidden workings of the world. When I visited Bombay, and book-street, for the first time, I was eight. I had never seen so many books gathered together in one place. An entire street lined with books! I was giddy with delight. My parents worked their way from shop to shop, picking out a novel here, a textbook there, bargaining with the dealers, asking them for such and such book by such author, this writer, that poet. Me, I didn't know where to start or where to stop. So I just ran from one end of the street to the other, drinking everything in, reveling in the glorious decadence of it all. More books than I could read in a lifetime! TWO lifetimes! I was the happiest eight year old on the entire planet.

When we finally moved to Bombay, I would visit book street every chance I got. I often played hooky from college, skipping class to hop on a bus to Churchgate, exchanging last week's book for another, and then catching another bus back to Girgaon chowpatty. I'd leave my body behind on the beach, and let my mind go wherever the book took it. Across the ocean, past Neptune and Pluto, backwards and forwards through time, over strange battlefields and under magical seas, living whole lifetimes in the space of one afternoon.

The annual Strand book sale was another treat. The used book stores in Lucknow gave me a taste for comics, science fiction and Agatha Christie. Book street nursed me on Kafka, Sartre, Jung and Nietzsche. And Strand introduced me to poetry. Neruda, Eliot, Woolf and Alighieri, all in one place, eager to grab my eye, feed my soul. I devoured entire volumes, whole stacks of books, and my appetite just grew. Smoker's Corner was another old haunt, that yielded many treasures, and satisfied many a mid-afternoon craving. Amidst all this chaos, my parents' personal libraries were the snack shops I would frequent between meals, having Ed McBain or Eric van Lustbader for an appetizer, and Wodehouse for dessert. And no matter how many books I read, there were always more to be had. It was heaven on Earth. A patchwork introduction to literature, but an education nonetheless.

Book street isn't there anymore. The street vendors were evicted by the municipal authorities years ago, and though you might still find a few secondhand booksellers in the area, it's just not the same. The Strand annual sale still happens at Shanmukhnanda Hall, but it's getting smaller with each passing year. I guess it's hard to compete with large bookstores like Crossword. Smoker's Corner hasn't changed too much, small enough to stay under the radar I guess, and they still carry those Doctor Who paperback serials I used to love as a kid. Time passes, Bombay changes to Mumbai, the pavements become spotless, unobstructed, and much too clean for the likes of me. Migrants do what they do best, never pitching their tent in the same place too long. Stay awhile, share what little you have to give, then move on.

But the book sale today brought all the happy memories rushing back, of a time less complicated. I breathed in the used book smell, and within moments, I was a child again, fresh-faced and eager, new-made, innocent, and desperate to read everything I could get my grubby little paws on. :)


I love California. The sun shines bright and true every day, even when its raining. And days like today make me love it even more. Of all the places in the world I could be, it's a strange and beautiful train of coincidences that have led to me being here. There was a time, not long ago, when I would have given anything to go back in time and change some things about my life. Avoided a lot of hurt, much too much guilt, and a fair amount of pain, both given and received. But looking back, putting things in a certain perspective, seeing my life by the light of this bright new Sun, I realise I don't want to change a thing.

Wherever my feet take me is where I'm meant to be, enmeshed and entangled in life's radiant web, surfing the wave of synchronicity every moment of every day, just... being. Borrowing a pretty phrase from Audrey Niffenegger, as long as there is world and time enough, I'm going to keep on keeping on. The ancient alchemists, the wanderers, the seekers, the founders of secret orders, guardians of 'secret' knowledge, were all deluded, misguided, following imaginary trails down paths leading nowhere. Every place on this planet is the center of all things. The cup that holds the water of life, the place from where everything begins. The origin.

Stop where you are, empty your mind of all conscious thought, close your eyes, and listen. Can you hear it? Can you hear the sea? From deep within the chambers of your heart, the distant echo of all that could have been, all that is, and all that will be. Like a wave crashing through time and space, swirling all around you, all the time. We're adrift on a sea of choices, an ocean of infinite possibilities, and though we can barely begin to comprehend the sheer depth of meaning behind it all, the important thing is, we can try. Come, ride the waves with me. All you have to do is let go.

...and beneath my feet, over my head, in the spaces between my ears, the waves are crashing, crashing.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Secret teachings of all ages

Strange dream early this morning. I'm working at Silk Road, and this lady comes up to me, looking very pretty, with her headscarf pulled down tight over her hair. She asks for a bowl of rice, and some cocoa beans. "The rice comes with my order, yes?", she asks in lightly accented English. Just then, the phone starts to ring. I quickly tap in her order into the system, and answer the phone with my free hand. It's Sajid, the owner, which is strange, 'cos I thought he was in the kitchen, cooking. "Hello, Joshi?" "Sajid bhai?" "Are you coming in to work today?" "...Erm, but I'm already here.." "Oh good, can you check on the rice?" Things are not making any sense. I look up to check if there's any customers coming into the store, but there's nobody there. Not a soul. Where'd the pretty girl go? I put down the receiver, and head to the back. As I lift the curtain aside, I'm confronted by a bright glowing light. I step in through the doorway and find myself home, in my bed.

For some reason I have my phone in my hand, flipped open. I lift it to my ear, cautiously, and it's Sajid again, "Joshi? Are you still on the line?" "uhrr..buh?" "Listen, if you're already at work, just make sure the rice is ready, and get started on the Chicken Tikka Masala, could you do that?" "Oh..uhm, uh huh" "Great, I'll be in around 12 or so" and hangs up. A quick look at my alarm clock (ha! some alarm clock) tells me its just past 11am. Great, I need to haul ass or I'm gonna be late for work. I strategically roll out of bed and onto the floor, landing hard on my left hip, (Yes, I meant to do that) grab my clothes off the floor and leap into the shower before any of my roommates decide to take an hour long shit. I'm showered, shaved and out the door in five minutes.

It's nice and bright outside, plenty of sun. I'm still thinking about the dream, trying to make sense of the imagery. So I empty my head and try free association. Cocoa beans, coffee beans, stimulants for the mind. The rice comes with her order. For some reason I'm thinking of a bowl of salt. Like the pagans use in their rituals, to symbolise the Earth. A saucer of salt for a magickal disc. The material plane with a pentacle drawn through it. A bowl of rice, a saucerful of secrets, pink floyd! The cover art for that album was designed by Hipgnosis, purveyors of fine art and 'hip', secret knowledge. Much like a dream conveys hidden knowledge from the subconscious mind to the dreaming self. Six degrees of separation and we're back full circle. Interesting.

Full circle, like the rim of a bowl, like a great big ball of fire, up in the sky. Fragments of a stolen lyric run through my head. "Little by little, the night turns around". There's a change coming. I'm on the wrong track, barking up the wrong tree. I need to change my trajectory, chart a new course, reset the controls.

Halfway down the street, passing by the library, there's something else in my head, a poem I seem to half-remember from somewhere...

The thread in the hand of a kind mother
Is the coat on the wanderer's back.
Before he left she stitched it close
In secret fear that he would be slow to return.
Who will say that the inch of grass in his heart
Is gratitude enough for all the sunshine of spring?

Suddenly, Champu (#12)

These are the ongoing chronicles of my roommate, Chimanlal Champu. Boldly going where no man has gone before, or indeed, should ever go again.

[Champu on... water bodies]

Anirban : When I was a child, I went to swim in a river.. the current was so strong, it almost dragged me along with it..

Champu : How come river has current dude? River is surrounded by land, you must be swimming in a lake!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insomnia-Alcohol-Hallucinogenic-Painkiller Fun Time

I've been having some trouble sleeping. A few weeks ago, I fell quite ill. Ever since I got better, I've been staying up all night, only sleeping at dawn. So last night, I decided to try a little experiment. I decided to drink myself unconscious. Not a very good plan, in hindsight, but that's hindsight for you. (Funny word, hindsight, brings to mind a vivid image of being confronted by your own arse, having just pulled your head out of it.) Seven in the evening, and I'm loading my liver with Jager shots. By eight, I've tossed the shot glass out the window, and I'm hitting the bottle straight up. Ten o'clock and I've polished off what was left of the six pack of Guinness I bought last weekend from Safeway (that club card gets you some great deals!). At this point, I'm well loaded, but still not sleepy. So I bust out the thinking pipe, and read a few research papers. The tedium wears on into the watches of the night, but the gates to the realm of Morpheus are yet fastened tight against me.

I pop a couple Vicodin, and settle down to watch the season premiere of House. Ironically enough, House is in rehab, and though the opiates makes everything nice and fuzzy, its somehow still not enough to get me sleepy. Its time to bully my mind into submission. I settle down into bed, close my eyes and pretend to sleep, but you cant bullshit a bullshitter. I'm wide awake. And relaxing my body is just making things worse, my mind is running rings around itself, like an overexcited puppy on a mixture of coke and meth, digging up ideas and memories long buried and humping every tree in sight.

(No, I couldn't think of an analogy for the trees. I'm not a genius aight, or I'd be getting published in seven different bloody languages and have my own personal coterie of bitches instead of posting on a blog that nobody reads and lying awake in bed at 5 in the morning and wondering why I'm alone and where my life went horribly wrong.)

This is ridiculous, I think to myself, grab my jacket and cigarettes, and head out the front door. Then I head back in, put on some pants, and head out again. The night air is cool and refreshing, and my head clears up a little bit. My mind begins to slow down, and I'm beginning to feel pretty good. I feel even better after I accost a passing dumpster and introduce it to what I had for dinner.

When I turn around, there's a huge cockroach on the pavement blocking my way. Its as big as my thumb, cross my heart. My first thought, catapulted right out of my limbic brain, is to kill it. But then I'm a higher mammal, see, I can think twice before I do stupid things. (I said I CAN think twice. Sometimes I do stupid things even though I know they're stupid in advance. Told you I'm no genius. Though I DO share a birthday with Isaac Asimov. My claim to fame!) So I decide to let the poor bastard be, and step over him very carefully. My heads spinning just a little bit, and the stars are making alarming patterns in the sky, so I decide to have a bit of a sit. Good call too, 'cos this is the point at which my legs refuse to obey me or carry me any further. So I float along back to my stoop, and light up a cigarette on the way. When I get there, there's someone waiting for me. A gigantic cockroach called Phil. I know he's called Phil 'cos hes got one of those white tags (with blue borders) pinned to his thorax, "Hello, I'm PHIL". This is a rather disturbing turn of events. Phil is, well, gigantic. He's sitting on my stoop, a cigarette dangling from his lower mandible, and scratching his abdomen distractedly with three of his five claws. And then he turns his comically tiny head, and fixes me with his beady (I know they're technically 'compound eyes' but his head was so damn tiny they looked beady to me, k?) little eyes.

"Well, look who decided to show up" Phil says to me. "Who, me?" "Yes YOU, ya ninny, who else is hallucinating at three in the bloody morning around here?" "Oh, yeah, ha ha" I manage a weak laugh. "Siddown man, you look like you're gonna fall down. Remember survival tip number 15? Works for epic drunks too." So I pulled myself upto the stairs and sat down next to Phil, a peculiar feeling of unreality washing over me. A few awkward moments passed. "So.." I attempted feebly. Phil eyed me askance, with some disdain. (Or so I think. Its very hard to interpret the emotions off a cockroach.) "Yeah?" "So... how's it going?" "Oh well, you know how it is. Just the usual. Surviving, y'know?" I nod in agreement. "Yeah, I hear you." Another few awkward moments pass. "So.. you're some kind of figment of my imagination huh?" Phil shrugged. "I dunno, I'm just here cos they said you had some questions for me." "I do?" Huh. This is news to me. And who are 'they'? "Yessir. Apparently you do, so ask away, and I'll do my best to give you answers, and we can both go to bed, yeah?" "Oh, well, sure."

A beat.

"Um. I cant really think of any questions right now." Damn. "Oh that's okay. I'm a figment of YOUR imagination remember? I probably already know what you're gonna ask." "You do?" "Yup, just gimme a second" Phil takes a long drag on his cigarette, and blows the smoke out through every single trachea. (It looked very impressive, and I think he just did it to show off) "Oh wow. That one again?" he shakes his head in amusement, and looks at me with what seems an awful lot like condescension. "er..i guess.." I have no idea what he's talking about. "Dont worry mate, the answer's a resounding yes. Just hang in there." says Phil, and slaps me on the back. He's pretty strong for a six foot chitin based insect, 'cos I almost lose my balance, barely managing not to fall. "Er, yeah, good to know..I guess" I still haven't the faintest clue what he's talking about. "See, the thing is, you already know what you have to do, you just need to go ahead and do it y'know? We're quite a lot alike, you and I." "We ARE?" What could I possibly have in common with a gigantic cockroach? "Mmhmm..we're both survivors, in our own way, and thats just the beginning. Don't even get me started on the metafictional possibilities this represents..hehe", Phil chirruped, pleased with his wit. "Wow, I guess I never really saw it that way", I said, even though I didn't quite see it yet. "Anytime, man, that's what I'm here for, in a way. To help you see the world from a different angle. Geddit?", he said, wiggling his antennae. I nodded weakly, trying very hard to follow. Phil nodded to himself, and stubbed out his cigarette with a flourish. "Well, guess that's that. I'll be on my way then. Be seeing you", his voice sounding like he was fading further away with each word. "Oh, um, okay sure, yeah" I managed, surprised at the abrupt exit. I mean, I was just getting used to this whole being-granted-wisdom-at-3-in-the-morning-by-a-gigantic-cockroach thing. "Oh and by the by, that other thing, I wouldn't worry about it too much if I was you." he said and actually winked, no mean feat for a creature with no eyelids, and then just sort of.. disappeared.

I sat on the stoop for a while after that, just getting my bearings. What just happened? It was pretty clear I'd just had a very vivid and disconcerting hallucination, but what did it mean? Am I a cockroach who's dreaming he's a man or is all that Kafka I read back in school coming back to haunt me? Maybe the Universe is trying to tell me something. Or maybe I should just lay off the alcohol and the hallucinogenics for a while. Bleh.

I stand up, finish my cigarette, and look to the East. There's just the slightest hint of dawn. The most ineffable feeling of inner peace and well-being bathes me, like a warm glow, and just like that, I know its all going to be just fine. Sometimes all the answers you need are what you already know.

I'm off to bed. It looks like its going to be a beautiful day :)

Surviving the Streets (#2)

Always, ALWAYS acknowledge people you know, even if you've only met them once. A smile, a nod, a tip of the hat goes a long way. What goes around, comes around. 'Cos loneliness is worse than hunger, worse than sadness, worse than anything dreamt of in your philosophy. And you might have friends now, but when you're all alone and one step away from the edge, an unexpected smile could save your life.

Suddenly, Champu (#9)

These are the ongoing chronicles of my roommate, Chimanlal Champu. Boldly going where no man has gone before, or indeed, should ever go again.

[Champu on... the joy of yogurt]

Champu : Dude, you can only truly appreciate curd after eating ass-burning items
Me : ... (!?)
Champu : I'm serious dude! The feeling you get after burning your own ass, and then soothing it with curd... *sigh* ...awesome...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Riding The Bus

Its late evening on a Friday night, and I'm just off my shift, enjoying a leisurely smoke at the end of day's play. This random guy comes up to me and says "Hey, bro. You got a dollar for the bus?" Instinctively, I shrug, and spread my palms outward, universal gesture for "Wish I could help you, but this recession's been hard on us all, especially us starving student types. Whaddagonnado?" But then I remember I've got some loose change in my pants pocket, and the guy looks like he really needs the money, so I arrest him with an upheld finger, while I fumble around for the 75 cents I do have to give. He palms the money, dips his head in gratitude and disappears around the corner. The wrong corner. The closest bus station is round the other side of the block.

The streets have their own language. A hidden alphabet, a lingo, a code. Its a knack you pick up, how to communicate complex ideas via a shrug of the shoulder, a tilt of the head, an incline of the left eyeball and a quiver of the right nostril. I can go through some days without opening my mouth or uttering a single word at all. The semiotics of the sidewalk. And like every language, each speaker imbues it with a little bit of himself. There's a multitude of dialects, a glorious cacophony of voices, a miscellany of inflections and tones to choose from. The same idea can be referred to in many different ways and by many different names, while retaining its quintessence.

Like the 'bus'. The bus that goes nowhere. Sometimes, if pressed, the aspiring passenger will reveal that the bus goes to San Francisco, sometimes Fremont or Sunnyvale, but more often than not, the furthest the bus gets is the nearest liquor store. Or the closest fix.

You think I'm being cynical. But when you sit on the same stoop on the same street every Friday for a whole year, and the same people come up to you every time, and ask you the same question, its kind of difficult not to get just a little bit jaded.

In the Ramayana, there's this really clever bit about a shape-changing demon called Mareech. The demon acquires the form of a beautiful golden deer, captivating the senses of Sita, so much so that she begs her husband Rama to catch the deer and bring it back for her as a pet. Rama, prince-in-exile, is an accomplished tracker and hunter, but the golden deer is much too fleet, and eludes even Rama. Long enough for Ravana, king of the demons, to abduct Sita, who is left unprotected and vulnerable, while Rama chases the demon Mareech. Eventually, however, Rama sees past the illusion, and slays the demon.

The parable uses the simple metaphor of the 'golden deer' to indicate the folly of being captivated by the material world. In the end, Rama uses an arrow, much like the magickal Sword of Reason, to 'kill' the demon, thus destroying the illusion.

The bus that goes nowhere, like Mareech, is a thing of hope. The golden deer, fleeting promise of a better tomorrow, always JUST out of reach. If only I could have another dollar for the bus, I'd make everything right, just one more dollar to get all my shit back together, to make it through the night, to make it to the morning of my tomorrow. Just one more dollar, I'm telling you man, that's all I need.

But you of all people know how it is. Another day, another dollar. Just one more rung to the ladder, and one step closer to the edge. Its a hole that never ends, a bottomless pit into which you can fall forever. Fall long enough, and you forget you're even falling anymore. Round and round the circle goes, where it ends, nobody knows. When you're lost and far from home, its kind of hard to get a grip, or to summon the will to break out of a comfortable rut. Easier said than done, and all that jazz.

Funny thing is, a dollar is a dollar is a dollar. You could invest in a decent fix with a dollar (if you know the right people, and speak the right street-jive), or diversify your portfolio with some liquid assets to help you get through the night. Or you could see that dollar for what it really is, see all the potential condensed within it. If you want it to be, it can be a doorway that can lead to anywhere. Even home. Grab it, hold onto it, and stop falling. Take that dollar and get on the bus. The real bus, the one with wheels and a driver and a destination. Ride that bus through the night, until you see the sun shine down. And you just might find yourself in a better place than you were at before.

(For DollaRapper, BlueBaglady, AngryOvercoatGuy, BugEyeWanda, and all the rest of the downtown gang. May you catch your bus, and may it see you home.)

Surviving the Streets (#15)

If you haven't eaten any solid food for three days, and feel like you are going to fall down, you probably are. Sit down.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Suddenly, Champu (#35)

These are the ongoing chronicles of my roommate, Chimanlal Champu. Boldly going where no man has gone before, or indeed, should ever go again.

[Champu on... mixed metaphors]

Dude, sometimes I feel like a frog.
Like a frog in a pond, you know?
And the ocean is so green!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Freedom of Speech

Right, so this one's about blogging. I haven't been able to sleep for a few nights, and the insomnia pixies have been visiting me fairly regularly for the past day or two, messing with me in broad daylight at times. As a result, I find myself trawling the web night after night. Mostly I just find sweet FA, but sometimes I come across something cool, new, and useful. I'm pretty sure the people who read this blog fairly regularly (yes, all three of you) read other blogs as well, besides posting on your own. So this story might be familiar.

Its pretty damn awful to realise that what we take for granted is a privilege much prized by some, and each day is a struggle to stay connected, to stay online. Each post a subtle thumb of the nose at the establishment.

So I'm adding one blog from each country mentioned in the report to my blogroll. Right under my beautiful mugshot. Right hand side of the page, ya just can't miss it.

So get clicking. And together, we just might change something. Lets make each hit count. Vive la revolucion!

Edit : And of course, in my revolutionary zeal, I overlook the simple fact that not every blog on the intarwubs is en Anglais. This is going to be harder than I thought. 'Cos google translate..well.. sucks. But I'll be putting them up soon as I find 'em. Right, then, as you were.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Suddenly, Champu (#19)

These are the ongoing chronicles of my roommate, Chimanlal Champu. Boldly going where no man has gone before, or indeed, should ever go again.

[Champu on... pregnancy]

Dude, did you ever notice how girls become fat after marriage? I think its because of sexual intercourse...