Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Lotus Haze

Odysseus removing his men from the company
of the lotus-eaters [via Wikipedia]
My eldest son is a big fan of the Percy Jackson novels. The stories are set in the modern era heavily interwoven with ancient Greek mythology. Last night, the kids and I watched a recent movie based on the book The Lightening Thief. In the story, Percy and his friends are on an urgent quest to return Zeus's stolen lightening bolts to him; if they fail, the Gods go to war, and the world will descend into chaos and darkness.

There's a scene in the film, where the characters wind up in Las Vegas in a fictional place called the Lotus Casino. The characters are repeatedly offered lotus cookies which, when eaten, put them in a euphoric haze divorcing them from any concerns of their quest. When they finally snap out of the haze (based on divine intervention from Percy's father Poseidon), they realize they lost 5 days. The story is based on the Greek myth of the Lotus Eaters, where a race of people living on an island of North Africa consume narcotic lotus fruits and flowers causing them to perpetually laze in peaceful apathy.

This morning I couldn't stop thinking about this story. Like many, the world of ancient Greek myth and how it relates to my personal daily experience often feels ancient and distant. The modern world, steeped in rationalism and a generally monotheistic world view tends to dismiss these lessons. We can feel so evolved, confident in our hardened monotheistic, agnostic or atheistic stances. I think its easy to look at this world of goat men with a complex pantheon of quibbling deities and dismiss it all as being simply fanciful. While its true these stories are not "realistic," I think many of their lessons have simply morphed -- perhaps influenced by, perhaps evolving independently, but always taking on the vocabulary of their respective traditions. For example, within my own Sikh tradition, the lotus eating world is referred to as maya, or the illusory world; its the one we're mostly steeped in. We pre-occupy ourselves with the mundane, materialistic and pleasurable while often dismissing the more important work of world improvement -- things like the elimination of poverty, war, and suffering --  as too distant, naive, or not possible.

So I started asking myself, what are my lotus cookies? Am I in a laze of peaceful apathy? Then I realized I had just spent an hour of my morning thinking about real-estate. Not to knock anyone who thinks about real estate, I actually think its quite important for folks who need a home or earn a living from it, but for me, well, I don't -- its just a mentally lazy distraction. I also started thinking about the hours I laze away doing things like: dinking around on my ipad, obsessively reading the news, twiddling with my phone, and facebooking or twittering.


Sadly, I realized the list is quite long. So, after this reflection, I had an overwhelming urge to start my day with a non lotus eating activity. Doing something "world improving" feels so grand and abstract. I wasn't quite sure what it could be, so I decided to just write up these thoughts in the hope that someone somewhere might benefit. And now, I leave you with the clip from the movie that inspired this post.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Embracing the Other

My mind has been racing non stop ever since I learned of the tragic Sikh Gurdwara shooting in Wisconsin. This evening I've been thinking about two things in particular. The first is the idea that someone could be so deluded by hatred for an "other", meaning someone different, or outside the mainstream, that they would feel the need to shoot them. The second is the extreme suffering my fellow turbaned Sikhs have been experiencing across our nation.

What struck me about the latter point, after reading the many tales of horrible encounters, was that I do not have similar stories. Like 100% of baptized Sikhs, I always get pulled aside at the airport for extra security, and I certainly have stories about being glared at, followed, or stared at by someone frightened by my appearance, but in general, these tend to dissipate as soon as I flash  a smile, ask how their day is going, or break the ice in some similar fashion. I also notice these negative things usually don't happen in Seattle, or at least my bubble within Seattle, and in general, are not something I would classify as serious or threatening.

As a little background, I only became a fully turbaned and bearded Sikh two and a half years ago, and for almost a year of that time I was out of the country. So I was not with a turban in the virulent wake of 9/11, nonetheless, it still strikes me as curious.

This evening, I had a thought. Today was Seattle Night Out, a Seattle tradition when we block off our streets from traffic, break out the barbecues, and chat with our neighbors. Its a wonderful way for the community to get to know one another.

So while enjoying a lovely evening with my neighbors, it struck me that we Seattleites are extremely, perhaps abnormally, comfortable with the notion of the other. The other, as in -- the one that is different from the main stream. As I looked around, I noticed a few neighbors with colorful tattoos, a lively gay couple with two sweet children, and an ever helpful male neighbor of mine, who happens to have fluorescent purple hair, neon blue nail polish, and black and white knee high horizontally striped socks. And as always, no one, not even the "normal" folks really noticed any of this as this sort of thing is  quite common in Seattle.

I believe Seattle, in a way, acts as a magnet and sanctuary for "others." So then, given all these "others," I suppose its only reasonable that a Sikh turban and long beard doesn't get noticed much either -- after all, its just another other. And perhaps if the shooter had been exposed to more "others," his heart might not have been filled with such hate.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Typical Day in Preixan

Wake up in a cozy log cabin at Sidsmums, meander into the kitchen, brew some coffee, eat some breakfast, remember what time it is, and most importantly, give George, our fearless protector, a scratch on the way out.


Realize we are late for the bus. Very late. Then run, run, run.


Past the beautiful house with the colored pots.


To the bus stop. Then wait. Wait. And wait some more.


Later, find something spectacular to look at, like a 13th century castle.


Then, while meandering through narrow ancient alleyways, notice something, anything, perhaps even a bottle of olive oil resting on a shelf, and remember... that lunch is required.


Stroll to the nearest market and get distracted by color. Lots of color.


Then pick up a baguette, some brie, some olives, and even, some anchovies... and walk. And walk. Until a place appears.


Like along the river. Cool down. Swim. Lie. Read. Chat.


Then, finally, as the sun sets, stroll back to Sidsmums, and share stories of the day with fellow travelers.

Friday, August 06, 2010

You Get Me Stamp Fical

I was lounging on a bench at Luxemburg Park here in sunny Paris watching the kids play. A rather twitchy South Asian looking fellow walks toward me and the following conversation ensues:

Twitchie fellow (TF): "I just got out of jail man, I just got out of jail."
Me: "Really. That must have been terrible."
TF: "No, no. Definitely it was not terrible. Most definitely not. It was very nice. Very very nice. These policemen of France are very pleasant people."
Me: "Uh, wow. I'm glad you enjoyed prison."
TF: "You know I just come from Sri Lanka. Look, look at me, just look!"

I look over and see his arms covered in what look like deep knife slash wounds.

Me: "What happened to your arms?"
TF: "I was the prisoner. The Sri Lankans... You know Sri Lanka, you know them? I was in prison for two years, two years, can you believe it, two years..."
Me: "Are you a Tamil?"
TF: "Yes."
Me: "Is it bad over there? Is the war really over?"
TF: "Yes, yes. Very bad. It is very very bad. Look at me, I was in prison for two years. Look what they did to me. Are you Sikh? You look Sikh? Do you speak the Sikh language?"
Me: "Yes. I speak Punjabi."
TF: "You know Sikhs, you Sikhs, you are very good peoples, you are very very good peoples. You'll help me. I know today is my lucky day. This is my most lucky day, my most lucky day. I have met you. You are very good person. You know I have been sleeping in this park for 5 days. 5 days, can you believe it? It is a nice park, I like France, they are nice people. These France police were very nice people. I need stamp fical. You know stamp fical, you know?"
Me: "No. I don't know what a stamp fical is. What is it?"
TF: "I came on a boat, you know I came on a boat just 10 days back. I came very long journey, very long, very very long. So much ocean. So much water. So much."
Me: "How did you get out of prison, did you escape?"

TF nervously looks over his shoulder, then he looks up at the sweeping tree canopy hovering over us, then back over his shoulder, than at me.

TF: "Yes I escaped. I escaped. I ran away. I found the boat. Today you have helped me so much. I am so happy today. Today is the very best day. My best day. You have made me very happy today. Very very happy. Come, lets go."
Me: "Where?"
TF: "You come with me, we get stamp fical. Come lets go, you'll help me. Lets hurry. Come."
Me: "But I don't understand. What is a stamp fical?"
TF: "Yes yes. I know what is stamp fical. I know what it is. Today is the best day. You are very good man."
Me: "I'm afraid I can't help you if you don't tell me what stamp fical is."
TF: "You are very good good man. I know what is stamp fical. We go now."

After going around in circles for some time on the stamp fical issue, I stand up and slowly start walking away.

Me: "Its been a pleasure meeting you. I have to go now. Good luck getting your stamp fical."

TF looks defeated, and walks away slowly, as I call out to my kids.

Addendum: So for those of you wondering what a stamp fical is, I don't really know, but I have a theory. After writing this post, I started searching around. I think TF perhaps meant to stay "stamp fiscal" or "fiscal stamp" which might refer to a fee for an EU asylum application.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

La Recoleta Cemetary in Buenos Aires

I started making this video back in February when we were in Buenos Aires. I had basically given up on making videos for the web because its difficult to secure license rights for a decent soundtrack. But then, thanks to my friend Amanda, I found out about Moby's very cool policy of making some of his music available for budding filmmakers on mobygratis.com. I'm not really a budding filmmaker, more just a guy with a cheap video camera that wants to share stuff with the world who really really really requires a sharp soundtrack. In any event, I got approval from Moby to use his great song titled Papa in this short. All footage was shot in La Recoleta Cemetaria which is an amazing place chock full of glycerine embalmed Argentines and funky tombs galore. Needless to say: great imagery to sketch and paint from -- you might recognize some of our hands and work flashing by. So, crank up your headphones, expand to view on a full screen, and enjoy.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Holy Bat Trees Batman

One of our regular past times here in Chandigarh is to sit on our veranda at night and watch bats fly over our house. There is a steady, graceful procession of very large bats ( each about the size of a healthy ground squirrel ) every night from around 8PM until 9PM. They always fly from the west over our coti to the east, with one bat departing every minute or so. So for the past few months we've wondered where they are coming from, where they are going, and why they always fly east, and when, if ever, they fly back. While all of our questions remain questions, we recently stopped by Pinjore Gardens on our way home, and found an even more odd piece of information. I always assumed bats lived in caves and other dark places. Take a look at the photo below though. There were far too many to count -- relaxing, hanging from nearly every branch in a large, very exposed tree. These, at least to my untrained eyes, look just like the bats flying over our house. Any bat-ologists out there that can shed some light?

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