Excerpts – Geneva Diaries (#11-#15)

Letter #11

ALL THE SONS OF GENEVAEMIGRANTS TALE – PIRATES – DONNER PASS

12/07/09

Dear Roger,

There is much excitement all around, and we seem to be in the center of it all. Geneva is celebrating its annual festival L’Escalade, where the Genevois repelled a surprise attack on the night of December 11th, 1602, by the Duke of Savoy, Charles Emmanuel II. who was forever eyeing rich and independent Geneva. The Genevois legend goes that a mother of 14, poured a cauldron of burning soup on Savoyard soldiers which roused the citizens and helped foil the surprise attack. The Genevois returned victorious and remember this momentous event, I think symbolizing their essence, an innate desire for liberty, by drinking hot vegetable soup, a passionate run through the streets of old town by young and old (which passes almost by our home), mulled wine and not so mulled cheering. We joined the crowds and cheered the spirited runners, bought our chocolate cauldron, drank vegetable soup and hope to end the evening with a couple of bottles of wine!

Do see Tara below racing up the mountain in the 33rd Course de L’Escalade in Geneva:

Hugs,

Purnima

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Dear Purnima,

I’m still haunted by the ending of Hard-boiled …..  Such wonderful, evocative prose and sense of nostalgia. I was shocked that he decided to stay in The End of the World, but then again, she had recovered (or better yet, he had recovered for her) her mind.  In a way it makes sense, but then again . . .

Now I’ve tackled the beautifully written Trois femmes puissantes by Marie NDiaye.  She won this year’s Goncourt Prize for the novel and also set off a storm of contention with her remarks about why she chose to move to Berlin shortly after Sarkoz’s election.  She said she hated the coarseness and the climate of fear inherent in the Sarkozy administration.  Her remarks prompted a rather ridiculous call on the part of a majority deputy in the National Assembly for recipients of literary prizes to be held to honor some nebulous “duty of reserve” when making statements about France and/or its political regime.  I loved her response when she said that she still stood firmly behind her earlier statement and that the suggestion of a “duty of reserve” was nothing more than an excellent example of what she had been referring to.

Glad you enjoyed the Escalade with all its overtones of hot soup (Quasimodo used boiling oil).

A tête à tête Thursday at 12:30 sounds intriguing.

Tendres bisous,

Roger

Dear Roger

I was also shocked when I read about this reaction to Marie NDiaye and the expectation that she is no longer free to express as she has been elevated to this “highest of literary podiums”, what a clever way to restrict speech, enforce censorship!

How about censorship as our topic for Thursday?

A long long letter is brewing…

PURNIMA

Dear Roger,

I do hope the eye operation went off well… All the better to see me with???

As you know, I have taken my time to meet all the glittering ghosts of Geneva, but there are a few I would appreciate being introduced to, and the one currently topping my list is  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (and I can’t think of anyone better than you Roger, to make the introduction). I have kept the card to the gallery Espace Rousseau right here in the Old Town, but await the right moment for such a momentous meeting, will you join me?

The current (minaret blowing) events that have taken Geneva by storm, in my mind, propels this son of Geneva right up and center.

Rousseau:  The goal of government should be to secure freedom, equality, and justice for all within the state, regardless of the will of the majority.

How I wish to meet him, dashing, handsome, brilliant… he could be the one!

However, I found my adulation coming to a abrupt halt upon reading Rousseau’s response to d’Alembert’s article on Geneva where he  very critical about a theatre in Geneva, citing its adverse impact on the morals of the citizens, fervently conveying that there is no place for it in this city. “OHH..”I plead, “but the theatre is the essence of me, don’t let me down!”

 Then,  I scrolled down through his letter and read his views on women, it left me gasping;  in his letter, his response to d’Alembert’s Article on Geneva, he suggests that women produce the only gossip, and the moral decay of men, women and children. He states that though men have their vices, like drinking, they are far less harmful to society than women’s vices. He argues that the presence and authority of women in public spaces corrupts the male youth, turning them effeminate and void of patriotic passion. Oh you MMCP’s (medieval Male Chauvinist Pigs!). Another chap off my list for sure!

And talking about male chauvinist, I have the grand daddy of MCP’s tied around my neck! Thank you for inquiring, but the situation has just gone from bad to worse over the past year that we have been in Geneva. We only communicate via email if at all, and every time I get fuming mad, I write down a list of choice words that I have scanned from the the Oxford English dictionary to describe him. It ‘s incredible fun, a MUST share! 

His choice of words for me however, cannot be put down in legible print, shocking, horrifying,   mortifying! My only response is to embrace the persona that he has created of me in his mind and with his words, and strut the streets with a swagger, a sexy mini and a cigarette (cough, cough). Which brings me to our conversation of a couple of months ago where you mentioned that Geneva had reburied its favorite prostitute and social worker, Catin Revolutionaire,  in the Cimetiere de Roi right next to Calvin, Jean Piaget and Candolle! Did you know Roger, that this revolutionary whore, Grislidis Real  was a dedicated social worker and a talented writer who devoted herself to campaigning for the rights and dignity of the sex workers (it’s ironic that a service as much demanded by society and thus in existence across ages and cultures, is the one that is most reviled and degraded).

See Grislidis laid to rest in the Cimeterie du Plainpalais next to Calvin and Candolle (Don’t miss me with Gris):

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/g1e7ezxzoku8l2s/AAA1XhTDexu-F6IY3CgiWLCta?dl=0

Grislidis, the name itself comes from Boccaccios loyal and patient Griselda, the victim of an inconsiderate and brutal husband who permits the Devil to test her resolve. In my instance, the Devil has eyes of brilliant blue (and is French of course). Je ne lui resiste pas!

 I thought since such shocking words were being leveled at me, why should I not assume the persona of the grandest and the greatest of all the whores to strut the streets of Geneva. So, in my mind, I became Grislidis Real (yes, the other persona being Tocqueville), but then something bizarre and mysterious happened, I found that the persona that I was wearing on my mind “the greatest whore in christendom”, was being reflected in the eyes of the people I passed on the street! This was impossible, I was certainly loosing it, how could anyone READ MY MIND! But, there it was, day after day, especially when I wore a particular coat “The Big Black Rapper Coat , with the …..”). I have never had so much attention from so many men from across the age spectrum. The plain girl whose ponytail was always being pulled, has turned into a SEX BOMB in Geneva, all by using her imagination… wow! But then I sensed that it got lewd and lecherous, people had started eyeballing me, there was even a decrepit old man (at our notorious neighborhood park) that stuck out his tongue! I did not know whether to laugh or cry, so I ran! I found that the city that sported posters all over to an exhibition called “Stigmates”, was really reflected in the eyes of its people. So, I ran and I ran and I ran…

And I found myself back in the cemetery right next to Calvin.

 2009, as you know is John Calvin’s quincentennial year, but, this is a special year as not only is it Calvin’s 500th birthday but its (my absolute all time favorite) Charles Darwin’s bicentennial! There has been much talk about the father of modern theory of evolution Vs the father of liberty. The war of the world views. I see no conflict, but surprising parallels: Calvin, this brilliant theologian, this man from Geneva, certainly a revolutionary of his time, challenging the current norms and dogma and proposing a novel idea (Roger, do correct me. have I grasped it right?): predeterminism, that life is pre ordained, we are born with “game plan” and thus there is no sinner and no sin, all we can do is to do our best to make this life the best resting spot we can make it and of course the controversial idea of the pre-selected/the chosen few. Thus with these ideas he hoped to further light the path, to get a step closer to understanding the world we live in which led to the Reformation. Similarly, Charles Darwin, a brilliant evolutionary biologist, who first described biological evolution with natural selection and whose “On the Origin of the Species” transformed the way we see the natural world. His theory that all life is linked by common ancestry threw the norms and ideas that formed the base of society, that the world around us was the result of divine creation, into a tailspin creating a revolutionary, a pirate! Darwin was aiming to free the human mind from these shackles and light up the mind using reason and science, whereas Calvin, on a similar journey wished to free the human mind and soul through the path of reform, religious and structural changes which he believed would bring us closer to god, spirituality and freedom of the soul and spirit. Thus one took the path of science and the other religion to reach the same goal, to free the human mind from the shackles of dogma!

But in this cosy corner of our graveyard, I see a bony hand being raised…Candolle! Yes, let’s not forget Candolle, a brilliant botanist and yet another luminous son of Geneva whose theory of Nature’s War, the warring of species and resulting evolutionary pressures probably lit the spark that culminated in Darwin revolutionary theory of Natural Selection. Of course, many loopholes to Darwin are “religiously” cited: brain development being one of them, which has not changed for millennia… have we reached the end? I always respond with: Perhaps our brains have reached that full potential (in any case, as we discussed, memory and storage are being kept outside), that perfect size where we can not only eliminate ourselves but everything else around us for eternity, so possibly, its time for the heart (metaphorically) to grow instead, to grow in empathy and feeling for our fellow humans which WILL give us humans the needed evolutionary advantage. What do you think Roger?

So much more to say but I have to be up in time for breakfast!

Good night.

All The Sons of Geneva: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ebift7zjxpa06y7/AABz_GKUCWnf6N9nglfnHKrta?dl=0

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12/07/09

Dear Purnima,

Wow, what a wonderful way to greet the day: I love reading your dazzling gyrations into history where you blend science, religion and sex into a mesmerizing concoction that leaves me weak in the knees.

I think your initial fascination with J.-J. Rousseau is quite understandable, but you were wise to probe his darker side as well.  He was truly one of the precursors of literary Romanticism and one of the first to write about the I, the ME, and proclaim loudly to the world the “I am important, my subjectivity can be the object of literature and the way in which I write about ‘me’ is also reflected in the narrative structure of my essays and novels.  Something we must be forever grateful for.  But on the other hand, he was indeed a MCP and a reckless and neglectful father to his children.

Your treatise on Darwin and Calvin, both moving toward the same  goal from differing viewpoints was inspired, but I still must take exception about Calvin.  While he may have wanted to free the individual from the accepted dogma of his day, he, nevertheless, created his own version of restrictive rules that defined what was acceptable behavior and imposed penalties for those who failed to view things as he saw them, like being slowly burned at the stake for daring to differ with his vision of the universe ! ! !  Need I say more. I find Darwin ultimately a far greater liberator.

And yes, the eye surgery went very well.  It’s really amazing when you think about it, but at least I can see very clearly now with both eyes, indeed, all the better to gaze longingly into your own penetrating, enticing and bewitching eyes.

And what persona will you adopt on Thursday ?

See you then,

12/18/09

Dear Roger,

It’s great to get your mail all the way here in India…a thread, a continuum of my life in a land far far away!

The other fascinating revelation traveling from Europe to Asia has been, the unique impact of culture and faith on language and the way it subtly, so very discretely moulds the user and the way he or she perceives the universe ( I would LOVE your feedback on this). English and the latin tongues with their Christian references, Sanskrit based languages with their Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist references, Urdu with its Islamic references, Persian with both Islamic and Zoroastrian references (this is the most fascinating of all stories which we need to fully explore, as it ties in with “our” Indus Project: the same three boat-full story, fleeing religious persecution to reach the shores of freedom, India).

Coming back to you mail, I would love to learn more about this offshoot of the Swedish Pirates Party that has anchored itself on your shores, what’s the core idea? Regarding the policing and enforcement of cyberspace, as we discussed, the current system of “Earthy Laws” are inapplicable, as there are no acceptable systems for monitoring and enforcement. This space needs its own monitors, legislatures, and enforcers. And as you know, this is the space where Pirates rule, and the only way this space can be organized is if there is a consensus among the pirates, a honor code (no, I didn’t intend to steal dialogue from the Pirates of the Caribbean…but I can’t think of a better reference from pop culture).

And talking about governments and their monitoring, their systems and their policing…spins me round and round, right back to places and people i wish to forget. Roger, I still find the impossible to remove stains of  the pomegranate. Granat Fatal, remains with its distinctive hue upon my lips. Donner pass, the road i took to my ski lodge innumerable times over all those winters in California, a place where over a century and a half ago California pioneer emigrants who (like us) journeyed in over the Sierra Nevadas to make it to California, instead found themselves trapped and snowbound in this cold inhospitable place. Their story of survival and rescue of course has taken mythic proportions but my mind often wanders back, back to The Emigrants Tale, to the grizzly piece about the Donner party and  their consumption of “the food of the dead”.

The Donner Party: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Donner-party

I thought it was a turkey sandwich, how was I to know that there was a finger in my Hamburger! Perhaps, the glares, the stares, the shifty glances from under upturned collars, that greeted me as I walked park Bertrand, perhaps the eyeballs that appeared to spring out from hooded cloaks seeming to inquire all the time “was it crunchy”,( to which i responded with an…eeeooow…please get that eye ball out of my face!) was a response to the vivid stain on my lips, on my body. For the longest time, the menu card at restaurants seemed a perpetual nightmare: finger fish, the fingers seemed to jump out and pull my nose, chicken breast (please no more body parts), leg of lamb and the list is endless! And then of course, there is the well known local restaurant just across the Palais de Justice, that I pass everyday on my way downtown, Au Pied-de-Cochon, or in English translation(perhaps not everything should be translated into English), Feet of PIG… I am still trying to reconcile with the palatability of that!

In bed in delhi nursing a cold, time to reconnect with Murakami!

Do keep writing and stay in touch. See you soon.

Geneva – Au Pied De Cocon:


Letter #12

Big Macs – Geneva – Met Maya’s Dream , Tocqueville US Penitentiary System and Minors Kids Apps – Dire Straits

11/21/09

Dear Roger,

I have been yearning to write to you, but what do I write about this very grey, dull, uneventful week that “Flu”. Yes, multiple bouts for the kids and listless, unproductive, house arrest for me!

Unfortunately, this week that meant no more French classes for me. I had started to enjoy jumping up in the morning getting myself ready and organized bright and early, and scampering down through old town past Bourg de Four, where of course I paid my respects to Servetus, past the Palais de Justice, across the charming cobbled streets of Vielle Ville, often late for class and to the ringing of bells of the Cathedrale St. Pierre, down the hill to Rive carrying my little bag from the Met all the way to Ecole Migros. 

As I clutched onto my Met bag, I felt I was not only skipping down the charming streets of old Geneva, but was adding part of another fabulous city, another exciting place, another favorite piece  to this mix: The Metropolitan Museum of Art  and New York! During my years in New York, I lived very close to the Met and find a trip back to NYC incomplete without a visit. On my last visit, I stumbled upon a wonderful sculpture placed at the end of the South Asian sculpture section, a magical Gandhara frieze (1st – 3rd AD) of Queen Maya’s Dream. This frieze depicted one of my favorite stories, the conception of the Buddha to be. In this story Queen Maya, who had been married for 20 years without a child, is often portrayed lying down attended by her maids while she has a vision, a dream. She dreams that she is visited by a white elephant that strikes her right side with his trunk and enters her womb resulting in the divine conception of prince Siddhartha who is to later become the Buddha. it is a beautiful story and a truly magical dream…a dream which I too dreamt as baby Dhruvum came bouncing upon my lap. The only difference was that my story involved an exotic Japanese fantasy (much to tell…)!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art-The Dream of Queen Maya:

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/38117

My picture of the Gandhara sculpture- Queen Maya’s Dream:

Talking about Dhruvum, this was his birthday week but since everyone was recovering from the flu, it was low key. We decided upon lunch and his much awaited skateboard.  Whenever he has quizzed me (which he does repeatedly) about my favorite foods and places we should eat at, I have always responded with the standard: no fast food, no junk food, yucky this and that (a long list of his favorite places). My favorite food list extended to (not his first choice) sushi, barbecued eel, grilled meats, tofu and even foie gras. But this time, he with his usual persistent spirit, dug deeper and finally managed to crank open my deep dark closet… and there it was hidden in the far recesses, an act of complete denial…yes rolling and laughing with all its double patties and triple buns, dripping with mayo and with pickles sticking out of its teeth: a Big Mac! He came out into the daylight and said, ADMIT IT, ADMIT IT, I exist and YOU know me WELL. Now come on and take a big juicy bite. I guess 17 years is a long time and I have collected much of America, even unknown to me, in my closet. So exposed and embarrassed i quietly accompanied my son to Macdonalds on Rive (which looks like no Macdonalds outlet I have seen before, rather like a posh restaurant) and inhaled my Big Mac and fries in complete silence. 

In this dull, dull, dull, grey weather, I have mulled over some issues, embraced some personas and counted down to my trip back to India!

Talking about America and personas, since we have covered sex in our last mail, shall we “Talk a While ” about the law? Yes, the person featured in the arts section of the newspaper that captivated me was Tocqueville and his journey to America in 1831. At first I looked at his photo and thought that the high collar and ruffled white shirt would look good on me as well, then I gazed at the mirror and thought that that particular determined look was naturally me. Of course his journey to America, his interest in prison reforms, his description of the system of Houses of refuge which were very effective for dealing with the issue of juvenile delinquents, and his keen insight I just lapped up and could not surf enough of. He and Beaumont had specifically journeyed to study the US penitentiary system, the new system in NY and Philadelphia, and its application to France. In fact, his research of the US penitentiary system apparently served as a model for many of the other evolving European penitentiary systems. This is an area I have thought about a lot, maybe we can chat about it one day over coffee and cake. But what is ironic, and what disturbs me, is despite being so ahead of the curve on a broad spectrum of legal matters and the penitentiary system(not excluding the fact that Tocqueville mentions a vibrant egalitarian democratic society, a first in the world of those times), today the headlines bleat “Imprisoning children: Sentencing children to life without the possibility of Parole”. 

Yes, a reality of America today! The very fact that children, who are meant to be sheltered and protected by society and state, are subjected to such barbaric and unconscionable laws not only violates the eight amendment,  prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment but also violates some core/universal human right (which all members of a civilized society should aspire to adhere to) by subjecting these vulnerable persons that are not only under the guardianship of their families but society and state but dependent upon them. For me, its alarming to see this issue come up repeatedly (where juveniles are repeatedly tried in adult courts and sentenced to adult jails). Its appalling to find that the judicial system does not appear to draw the pivotal distinction between child and adult, a point that should have been drilled into the cranium of the law makers if not by their law school professors then by the cultural and social conditioning that there are a set of laws for adults and one set of reformative rules for children under the age of 18. This particular article cites the case of a 13 year old boy sentenced to life without parole for a questionable sexual battery case, shocking, just shocking! 

A child under 18 is generally under the guardianship of his family, society or the State. And, since often, these juveniles are either neglected, abandoned or abused, the onus of their welfare is even further upon the shoulders of society and state. How then, can this very society and state which should extend itself to protect these children, actually impose such unconscionable sentences upon them. Where is the onus/ liability of society/ state? 

In fact, in many states (including California)in the case of domestic animals, even where the owner or one who has custody or control over the animal is not negligent and the dog causes harm or injury to another person, the owner is liable for the injury inflicted, its a case of strict liability. If we (society) are able to craft and impose such strict rules in the case of guardians or owners of domestic animals, do you not think that society or the State must take some of the liability of injury caused by its wards, who are often these vulnerable children and not on the flip side use its authority and power to subject these very dependent vulnerable souls to terms of life. Bottom line, there are rules for children and there are rules for adults and since the children are under our guardianship till they attain adulthood, we have to ensure that the laws that govern them help to further ensure their safety and protection. I have felt very passionately about this subject for a while, What do u think?

Now finally my computer has spoken (in its sonic spaceship voice) that its 3 AM and I must not trouble u any further. So, good night and sweet dreams (of white elephants and Big Macs)!

Purnima 

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11/21/09

Dear Purnima,

What a delight to discover yet another wonderfully poetic and stirring treatise from you so early in the morning.  I don’t have time to write much right now, as we are leaving in about 30 minutes for our 4 ½ hour jaunt to the Ardeche.

Dreams about white elephants sound enchanting, but I can’t say the same about Big Macs.  I loved your evocation of the recesses of your mind and the juicy, dripping with mayo monstrosity lurking there.  It’s amazing at times what we must suffer to make our kids happy.

And staying up until 3 am !  But you appear to be all the more eloquent during those twilight moments after the bewitching hour.

« In this dull, dull, dull, grey weather, I have mulled over some issues, embraced some personas and counted down to my trip back to India! »

Could this by chance be part of your TOP SECRET disclosure ?

Can’t wait to see you on Tuesday.  I can actually be there shortly after 12 :00, if that would also work for you.

Happy Sunday.  Hope you got a bit of sleep.

Roger

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Dear Purnima,

Hope you are ok and that you had a good weekend and found a better place to sleep ! ! !

It’s appears that winter has reared its ugly head already.  I’m ready to head for Spain again and you’re probably feeling the same about leaving for India.  I hope we can at least have coffee before you leave.

Take care of yourself,

Roger

Do you know this newspaper in India?  A rather interesting article about it in Le Monde

11/30/09

Dear Roger,

It’s good to hear from you after a very difficult week. Perhaps its the lack of sun, perhaps its November…BUT in all probability its the same old story that refuses to end!  Just trying to keep myself together till I get home.

Thank you for forwarding the article, but gosh, how do you expect me to read this after just two months of Ecole Migros! I know you gave me a fabulous foundation in French to build upon, BUT STILL… this is too much. You are serving a crane a tempting meal on a flat dish, how could u!! 

See Panchatantra tale below (with a parallel in the Aesop’s Fables):

And there is more…

Dear Roger,

Interesting site, thank you for the intro. I have pasted below an article that might interest you. Once again, a journey to a place where the core rights that form the basis of our legal system and civilized society which are challenged in times of crisis: Right to Legal Representation (6th amendment Rt. to Counsel). I would love your thoughts on the subject, hope the dessert is not served in too tall a glass!

मुझे आतंकी का वकील कहा गया

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Touché

Dear Purnima,

How cleverly wicked you are!  The glass was so deep that I could hardly see the bottom of it, let alone savour the contents.  Are you suggesting that we both owe each other a translation?

Although the text is in French, a language that you read very well, the pictures themselves are what is interesting in the attached photomontage.

http://www.lepost.fr/article/2009/11/09/1782478_sarkozy-n-etait-pas-a-berlin-il-etait-partout-ailleurs.html#xtor=RSS-30

Bisous,

Roger

Envoyé : mercredi 24 février 2010 07:37

Objet : The New Age Mantra: Hardware for Nothing and Apps for Free! Dire

Straits – Money For Nothing

The New Age Mantra: Hardware for Nothing and Apps for Free! Dire Straits – Money For Nothing

Dear Roger

We are enjoying Crans Montana it’s sunshine wonderful slopes and

magnificent vistas but miss your company this morning as I sip my

chai and await for “the lazies” to alight. Tara turned ten yesterday,

a Big one, double digits now u know.

In order to get a breather I have allowed all gadgets on board,

iPhones, PSP’s, DVDs and with this deluge of applications and software I

have discovered a whole new dynamics, a new age and fast evolving

system of economics that is going to leave attorneys and institutions

befuddled. The young ones preteens and teens are being wholly DBS

completely sucked into the virtual area, the free apps invite them to

play and with each level and intensity of participation they are able

to redeem their virtual efforts/ virtual money with benefits from the

real world like songs and games and god knows what! How does one

follow this revenue trail, where is this effort  generated to be

attributed accumulated and taxed! Hahaha( or hohoho and a bottle…)

have we finally found a way to outwit the establishment?!?

I would like to share this one clip, a part of my youth in a land far

far away, which was a part of the cookie that led the way our way to

u, to Kalifornia!

Check out this video on YouTube: Dire Straits – Money For Nothing

https://youtu.be/wTP2RUD_cL0

 See u soon

PURNIMA

LETTER #12B- WHO WE BE 

TOCQUEVILLE – ANARKALI – BIRBAL

22/11/09

Dear Roger,

This visit to India has reminded me of Tocqueville’s epic Journey to America which he undertook with Beaumont in 1831 to study the prison systems in America. This particular excerpt from a letter upon his reaching Montreal on August 23rd, 1831, struck a particular cord within me which I wished to share:

“I am astonished that this country is so unknown is France. Not six months ago I believed, with every one else, that Canada had become completely English. In my mind had always stuck the returns of 1763, which gave the French population as only 60,000 persons of French descent. I tell you that you can’t dispute them their origin. They are as French as you and I. They even resemble us more closely than the Americans of the United States resemble the English. I can’t express to you what pleasure we felt on finding ourselves in the midst of this population. We felt as if we were home, and everywhere we were received like compatriots, children of old France, as they say here. To my mind the epithet is badly chosen. Old France is in Canada; the new is with us. …”

Roger, I get a similar sense, that there is something unique, something universal about expatriate communities, they somehow cling and hold onto the customs and traditions of their people at the time of embarking upon their journey and pass on this piece of cultural knowledge to their children, somehow frozen in time, just so that there be some cultural connection, some continuity. This is a particularly prevalent phenomenon of the vast Indian (south asian) diaspora that has found itself everywhere from the coasts of Africa, across the US and to the remotest islands in the last couple of hundred years. And, this group, this diaspora  has fervently held onto its food, dress, culture and customs regardless of the generations or thousands of miles separating the group from its ancestral lands, customs and habitat. Thus, similar to Tocqueville, if I were to visit any of these communities, and there are many even within the US, I would have a similar elated reaction to find my own people so far away from home, but realizing at the same time that they are a people whose ancestors came from India, and even though I am from the “Old country”, I would have to mirror Tocqueville and say, Old India is in America, the new is with us

And all this I realized from myself, and my this trip back home, to India. I find I myself am stuck in time, clinging and grasping onto everything Indian. Trying to inhale the culture (and tons of dust particles), the food, the sounds and smells and transfer all this excitement to the kids…(if you heard their reaction, in their Yankee accents, at my every gasp of reminiscence, this would be a comedy series). But back to Tocqueville, what a truly astute observation, which applies with equal relevance today!

So, in order to fully immerse myself back into my home, my culture, i decided to spend every moment i had to spare (and I have had many as I have been sick sick sick), watching old Indian movies and some new ones. Since we were on the subject of the pomegranate last, I decided that the most appropriate movie would be the one about the legendary Anarkali (Anar is Persian for pomegranate and Kali is flower, pomegranate-flower). The tragic love story of Anarkali, a court dancer, with prince Salim, son of the great Mughal ruler Akbar which is beautifully picturized in the old epic film Mughal-e-Azam. The Mughals as you know were were a formidable tribe from central Asia which brought Bengal to Baluchistan and Kashmir to Kaveri under one administration: Babar, who was descended from both Tamerlane and Ghenghiz Khan invaded India(by invitation from the Lodi court), and established the Mughal empire in India. Through the Mughals there was an intermingling of Persian, Central Asian and Indian culture resulting in a vibrant expression of art, literature, architecture, customs, traditions, dress, food and language that was uniquely Mughal, uniquely Indian. This film made almost 60 years ago. This time and this much beloved love story is of a court dancer who falls in love with the crown prince who desires to make her his queen, she is buried alive for such a transgression. Anarkali is played by Madhubala, the epitome of Indian beauty, the one image every woman from my world desires to emulate as i did when i was growing up and especially saw myself as her in this particular song (Jab Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya – youtube), do check it out. Anarkali was from Lahore, the ancestral home of my maternal family. Yes, they settled for many millennia in the rich river fed plains of the Punjab not far from the shadows of the Shimshal WhiteHorn many universes away from its alpine namesake Weisshorn in whose shadows we find ourselves today (a part of the Ice Mommy Tale).

Trailer of the movie Mughal-e-Azam

Anarkali’s Tomb Lahore:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_of_Anarkali

Since we are on the story of the Mughals, I must introduce you to Birbal, one of emperor Akbars nine gems (or Navaratnas in Sanskrit). He was renowned for his wisdom and wit and this collection of stories reflecting his escapades where he has to balance the truth and justice with managing the ego of the emperor form a corpus of the much beloved Indian children’s stories. My favorite one is of the “Khichidi”, a gruel of rice and lentils. Here, through this tale, Birbal conveys his message to the emperor of the emperors error and injustice not in words but in a small theatrical production (as words might mean his loosing his head) and succeeds in not only conveying his point but also is able to secure a reward for the wronged party (the best advocate). This is something our 9 and 90year olds  would enjoy.

Akbar and Birbal -The Tale of the Kichdi

Back to the Anar, or pomegranate, a fascinating fruit, (a fascination heightened by my personal connection/consumption, as mentioned in my last mail which led me to this journey),  which I found is represented in various cultures of the world. However, this fruits origins lie in Persia and the Himalayas from where it journeyed to Egypt and held an important position in the homes and the lives of the Pharaohs depicted in wall murals of the burial chambers, sculpture and artifacts as it symbolized life after death, apparently king Tut took it into the after life with him. Greek culture from the ancient times to the modern is replete with its representations. The previously mentioned myth of Persephone and Hades found in red and black pottery, wall murals, mosaics sculpture and art in every form has some representation of the pomegranate. The Zoroastrians, Pre-arabicized Persians (the ones that reached the shores of India many hundreds of years before the Mughals), regard the pomegranate as a symbol of fertility and eternal life. The pomegranate is found widely represented in India and especially in Mughal art in all its forms, miniature paintings, sculpture, inlays and carvings and of course in jewelry, textiles and adornments which are worn and used in India today. And, Roger, since the story of this fruit is so intertwined with my culture, I took it with me to California and covered my Thanksgiving table with this fruit that signifies abundance and prosperity in my culture so that I might lend a piece of myself and my origins, my roots to our table.

Of course, as we know it was not to be…Anarkali, the beautiful red pomegranate blossom was converted to Anar-Kali, the fierce and formidable form of devi as mentioned earlier, wearing a garland of skulls, the devourer of demons! Thus in fantasy, I find I am unable to retain my petite feminine form, the masculine fits best whether it be Ekalavya’s sacrifice of his thumb for sage Drona so that his student Arjuna be forever the best marksmen archer, or Tocqueville with his keen eye intellect and curiosity Journeying to America. All I know is that the great sages of the Vedic pantheon stand above me (shaken from their meditations from the rumor of the pomegranate – High Treason – one that compels reality to merge into myth) chanting verses from our ancient and most sacred text the Rig Veda and I suspect disguised in a long white beard Oppenheimer stands among them…

Hope to hear from you soon.

Good night!

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Dear Purnima,

Ah, dear old de Tocqueville.  He was amazingly perceptive in his analysis of American democracy and how America differed from Europe.  And his analyses remain really quite relevant today.  For one, he pointed out that Americans were singularly interested in amassing vast fortunes through hard work and individualism.  It would certainly appear that, at least for a certain element of the ruling elite in the United States, getting rich by any means whatever is the primary directive in the game of global Monopoly.  

But all of that is quite apart from your own particular observation about expat communities and their retention of cultural norms and traditions from the “homeland”.  That was certainly the case for the first and part of the second generation of my Scandinavian ancestors who migrated to the States.  They retained, as a means of holding on to that which they had left behind, a lot of the culinary and dress codes.  But in many expat groups, the younger generations often find such collective demonstrations of who they really are quaint and even embarrassing because they single themselves out as being different from those they have chosen to live among.  My grandparents didn’t ever teach my mother to speak Danish because they wanted her to blend in with the rest of the American children.  And that is true of many immigrant groups.  I wonder if those ethnic groups with very strong ties to their countries of origins and who have managed to impose stringent patterns of behaviour based on some kind of religious or mythological credos are not able to bond more closely the upcoming generations to the old cultural values.  Is that what is happening to you right now in India, or is it a reaction to having spent the past year in Switzerland trying to adapt to life among the Protestant fence builders who would much prefer that even the rabble from Annemasse – just across the border – remain away ?  We certainly don’t want anything as radical in our little paradise of a country as mosques and minarets.

I’m sorry you have been so sick.  I hope that you soon feel better.  The only positive thing about being sick is that you have time to read, watch old movies and think !  I loved your references, once again, to pomegranates and the fascinating, gyrating swirls of mythological patterns you are able to weave through your emails.  Are you sure you have never red Tom Robbins ? (I really must get you a copy of “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”).  I must admit to my near total ignorance of Indian cinema. I did check out Madhubala on youtube, and you are right.  She is a stunning beauty).  You’ll have to throw some more titles at me.

The cold snap and snow that hit Europe last week (minus 10 in Geneva on Saturday) have given way to much warmer temps and rain.  It is a bit more comfortable now, but I must admit that I really liked the snow and the crispness of the cold.  It really felt like winter and Christmas, but now it will be a green Christmas.

Tomorrow is decorate the house and Christmas tree day and begin to make some of the many dishes that will make up our annual Christmas feast.  It’s truly a multi-cultural event with a melange of French, Danish and American food and customs.  I guess you are right.  Even I, a fourth generation Dane, still love to have the traditional Danish rice pudding dessert on Christmas Eve and put real candles and other Danish ornaments on the Christmas tree. 

I hope you get well soon and have a wonderful Christmas.  How widespread is Christmas celebrated in India ?  There aren’t that many Christians. 

More very soon.  I’ve got some more Murakami sexual delights to share with you.

Love,

Roger

Jan 6, 2010, 1:31 PM

to Roger

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Dear Roger,

On this one day of respite in a month-long head spinning hectic swirl of activity, I find myself sitting down with a paper and pen trying to recap the adventures and experiences of the last three weeks. But before i can proceed any further and put pen to paper,  I must  fully respond to your last email and add to all that is so often left unsaid about expatriate communities and their experiences…as I am undergoing these experiences currently and in REAL LIFE.

I find, that the struggle of expatriate communities does somewhere boil down to the issue of identity and how the world perceives you, The one thing I have noticed across the globe is the unique impact of cinema in the moulding of this identity, and I wonder if we actually in someway mould ourselves to the images that cinema projects of us. This i have discovered is a special phenomenon in the Indian expatriate communities, where the first generation tries to introduce themselves, their background and culture to the young ones growing up in a world very different to the one they left behind, which is when they discover that  Indian cinema is the one platform of universal appeal drawing bridges between the (old world boring) first generation and the (assimilated Americanized) next.

I grew up in an environment where there was very little television (unless you wanted to know the morphology of bugs that were infesting the wheat crop) and that too in black and white. We watched Indian films on Sundays to generally find peculiar characters we could mime and mimic. However, the world of cinema (in fact the entire audio visual world ) has jumped aboard Starship Enterprise (the sole highlight of our televised youth) and entered into another dimension! Have you seen Avatar???

The impact of cinema is so all pervasive, I find, whenever i mention that I am Indian, I have taxi drivers in Las Vegas of Ethiopian descent breaking out in a jig shouting Mother India, Mother India (one of the oldie goldies of Indian cinema) and entertaining me through my trip by singing songs from Raj Kapoors movies. An immediate connection develops, a sense of knowing and belonging a camaraderie. New York taxi drivers (coming from south, south-east, central Asia ) of course, have historically excused taxi fares upon finding Madhubala (you have to have some of the look, some of the tragedy, some of the charm) in the back seat. Then of course there is the delightful Eritrean at my favorite store in Geneva who knows me well as I try out yet another coat that I am unable to afford and she graciously indulges me as she hums the tune from Haathi Mere Saathi. Yes, the direct translation of Haathi Meera Saathi is Elephant my Companion, an superhit of the seventies starring Rajesh Khanna, the superstar of the seventies and my mothers heart throb as Rock Hudson was my grand mothers heart throb (she is still in denial about his death). Elephant, My Companion is NOT a movie about your spouse as it might appear to your ears, but a charming film that captures the essence of a time when I was growing up in India.

Haathi mere Saathi – Chal chal mere saathi    

6 min – 14 Jan 2007

 As a person of Indian origin, wherever i travel, all the way from Las Vegas to Geneva across northern Africa and south east Asia to the Fiji islands, Indian cinema seems to be painting my people, my world (a world I left behind)and creating connectivity. My personal connection somehow did peter off at Haathi mera Saathi, as I left India many eons ago. But, today I feel, that I must stay in touch I must put my children in touch, reconnect, ironically with the very medium I grew up ridiculing. A medium that forms the most direct connection with persons in the most remote corners of the globe and for nomads like us, that moved from continent to continent, this form a core of our identity.

Roger, surprisingly, while I was in California, I found this identity recognized by extra terrestrials…yes, from those across the borders, and received a barrage of telepathy telling me that in the Americas, yes, in the Americas there existed a replica of me, a unique expatriate community that reflected both my northern and southern heritage, both Punjab and Pondicherry…Toronto was calling Tocqueville!

Perhaps one day I will visit…

But today, is a day to mull and so you might hear from me again before sundown.

Hugs,

Purnima

Nov 22, 2009, 7:44 AM

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Letter #13

Goa and the Rickshaw driver, Madhubala in Manhattan, The Crane and The Magical Lake

12/24/09

Dear Roger,

Greetings from Glorious Goa! Sun, sand, surf and gooood smoke, a constant 30 degrees…it could not get better!

I absolutely have to bring u to my universe, this little Indo-Portugese haven on the west coast of India, even if it is for a brief visit.The food fresh out of the ocean, is spicy and just divine.The Goa prawn curry has your name written all over it! I find myself surrounded by palm trees swaying in the breeze, chilled out folks (many remnants of the hippy happy 60ties and 70ties),  a landscape dotted with charming old whitewashed Indo-Portugese homes, quaint churches with their distinctive Indo-Portugese art and architecture beaming me back in a flash to a corner of my living room in Geneva, a part of us, a part of India, with our own sculpture of St. Francis from these very shores that adores and adorns our home. Roger, you would just fall in love…the language, the food, the architecture, coloring every niche of these surroundings with the imprint of Vasco Da Gama’s famous adventure in search of India (while our buddy Columbus decided to take the “other” route, his famous shortcut to the Beach)…and a vivid reminder of not just having Arrived but so intrinsically having contributed to the Story of India…a saga that continues!

See pics of Goa pasted below: 

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/3p07tzxyfdpsq66/AAB0H51Avt4BO2zpbBe2U_j3a?dl=0

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/travel/destinations/chapora-fort/ss24872079.cms

I was thrilled to read that you enjoyed following my trail as I journeyed back to old Indian cinema and my reference to the Indian movie Mughal-e-Azam. I was even more excited to find that you loved Madhubala, and the youtube clip of the song Jab Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya. If you permit me, I would love to continue on this journey with you and perhaps through this introduce myself to your universe, a universe that just does not “Understand us” (Oh, how I love Jay-Z…he too speaks for me!).

If you remember, I shared a special moment, a glimpse of the all elusive “romance high” during my last trip to Manhattan. It was a stormy night, I was caught in a downpour clutching onto my precious Armani purchases on 5th avenue, when I saw a charming smile, a welcoming face that invited me to jump into the rickshaw with him. Yes, it was a rickshaw, and i was being driven down 5th avenue during a rainy stormy night by the most charming college student with twinkling bright blue eyes, a sexy foreign accent and a charming smile! I am not quite sure what it was that made me jump into that flimsy rickshaw and allow him to cycle me through maddening traffic down mid manhattan, but that is what we are all searching for isn’t it…that something special that cannot be explained? It was confirmed at every red light when he turned back to peer at me through the plastic sheet that separated us and continue telling me about himself and his life in manhattan. The smile the twinkle were irresistible! Fourteen blocks  later, he deposited me outside my apartment, held out a large warm generous hand and helped me out of the rickshaw. I did not want to let go, and neither did he…but life is poignant and ironic and we said goodbye. He turned around as I did to look at me for the one last time, thinking of what it could have been…

You have to see me as Madhubala in Barsaat Ki Raat(the stormy/rainy night)! do check the youtube clip:  Zindagi bhar nahin bhoolegi woh barsaat ki raat ek Anjan Hasina se Mulakat ki raat (I will never forget that one stormy night, meeting a charming stranger on that rainy stormy night – Barsaat ki Raat).

https://youtu.be/Hw3Cy3wVg0I 

Of course, me being me, I could very easily have played the male poet part in the same movie!

will mail soon!

Hugs,

Purnima

12/28/09

Dear Purnima,

What a delight to awake to such a tantalizing evocation of a tropical paradise complements of Vasco Da Gamma.  Those visions of palm trees swaying in a tropical breeze and quaint houses and churches sound like pure and unadulterated escapism for those of us who are surrounded by snow covered peaks, stormy, windy, sub-zero weather with the threat of snow on every weather forecast and tales of avalanche tragedies flooding the airwaves.  I will dream all day long of the possibility of a flying carpet that could whisk me to the other side of the  planet to partake of that enticing Goa prawn curry dish.

I just realized the danger of painting a too negative portrait of the climatic conditions in Geneva: you may not ever want to return !

I’ll definitely check out the other youtube clip.

You did write earlier about your rickshaw adventure through the streets of Manhattan, but not in quite such vivid detail.  Do you understand fully  the allure of your exotic beauty, of those deep and bewitching brown eyes, of the intelligence and wit that excite and attract rather than repel.  It is no wonder that young rickshaw drivers and tapas masters fall under your spell.

I’m reading Murakami’s “South of the Border, West of the Sun” right now.  It is a delightful and evocative first-person narrative of a young man who meets up again with his childhood friend and soul-mate after many years of flailing away in Japanese society looking for something that will bring him true happiness.  It’s a more straight-forward narrative and far different from “Hard-Boiled Wonderland …”  At one point in his life he is dating a young woman for whom he has a certain degree of affection, but not that something special, that je ne sais quoi that jumps out and grabs you when you least expect it (he likens it to listening to jazz.  You go to clubs and listen to all kinds of music, some of which is rather mundane and unexciting, but you keep going back and spending countless hours listening because there is always the chance that you will be fortunate enough to enjoy one of those very special moments that sweep you of your feet – like a Keith Jarrett solo concert in Brussels).  At one point in his relationship with the young woman – they haven’t even slept together – he meets her cousin.  She is not a raving beauty, but she has that certain something about her that makes him aware that he just has to sleep with her, and he senses that the attraction is mutual.  They soon embark on a purely sexual relationship of mad, passionate love-making.  They scarcely exchange two words, but as soon as they meet on each of their assignations, they immediately tear each others clothes off and fall to the bed where they spend hours on end in fulfilling each others pent-up desires.  They don’t love each other, but they have this overwhelming physical, almost mystical, attraction to each other.  It reminded me of a delicious film I saw several years ago (I’ve forgotten the title), but it was about a man and a woman who met each Weds. afternoon in a London suburb where they made love.  They knew absolutely nothing about each other and spoke very little, and the male character’s world is turned upside down when she fails to show up one Weds. afternoon.

Enjoy the beach and the warm, sunny weather.  I’m terribly envious !

Tender hugs,

Roger

1/5/10

Dear Roger,

I never did manage to read Kafka on the Shore; there were far too many distractions on the Beach. Apart from the sun, sand and sea and Goan curry, there was the incredible Sunburn Festival, an annual three day music festival (a Rave on the beach) where we danced for hours non stop sandwiched by the “raving” crowds; a beautiful eternally flowing bar that spilled onto the beach right into our glasses; many, many indulgent massages with a view of the blue and an ideal idyllic New Years eve on the edge of the shore, with friends from what feels like a life in the past, around a little light, with music, a guitar and champagne. Excuses, excuses, excuses, I know But what wonderful excuses, just a book of my own!

Back to your story of Wednesdays and meeting a friend and soulmate, do I notice a hint of nostalgia, a connection from the past, a story of your own? I would love to get a first person account of that. I suspect there are many many books lurking, waiting to be discovered.

I am glad you enjoyed Madhubala in Manhattan. What other place in the world would you get the misty monsoons of Pondicherry mixing so beautifully with the Blues of the Urals… adding to the magic of 5th avenue. As we spoke, and he shared his story of a journey from a little village in the Urals to mad Manhattan (in that very foreign, very seductive accent), I felt that the little rickshaw had grown wings and flown high up into the sky somehow transporting me to a place in the Urals where he belonged. We seemed to have laughed, joked and toured the world returning 20 blocks downtown back in Manhattan. What a fabulous adventure, a story I will not forget. See below an artwork that captures the moment- Over the Town (Vitebsk) by Marc Chagall:

https://www.marcchagall.net/over-the-town.jsp

But, talking about books, I have as always, picked up a bunch of books for the kids on Indian mythology, history, and ghost stories (to be read on a snowy night around the fireplace in Geneva) told by by an Englishman (born and raised) in India, who best connects the pieces of my India, my past, the familiar names, the familiar places (Mussoorie, Simla and the hills), of chikoo (an incredible Indian fruit) orchards and Indian experiences, ironically, through whom I hope to introduce and connect these places and experiences to my children. In the midst of all this, I found lying in a stack the much searched for, Tintin in the Congo…a story begging to be told!

Two more days and I will finally be packing and on my way back, but I have the incredible pilgrimage to share with you before then.

Will email soon.

Warm regards,

Purnima

Hi Roger,

Did you ever watch Avatar, the new age love story? I went with a bunch of friends but they just did not seem to connect. It looks like my generation or perhaps my group of friends, in their 30ties and 40ties have missed the boat!

 I went to see the movie with absolutely no clue of what I was about to encounter, and even after seeing the movie it took me a day or two to fully assimilate it. It started as what seemed a hotch-potch of Jurassic park adventure and Sci-fi with the usual alien looking being suspended in amniotic fluid… I jumped to the usual conclusions and just switched off. It was somewhere midway through the film that I realized that we were witnessing a revolution in cinema, not just with the fantastic effects and technology but a storyline betting on a complete change in perception of the cinema viewer, or another type of cinema goer. This was not a sci-fi film, and certainly no jurassic park, but a warm touching love story. A much desired and much repeated theme in a new context. Here the hurdle between the lovers was not one of race, ethnicity or even species, but as I saw it, it was the unique and topical conflict of today, a conflict of realms and realities. The two existed in different realities, and in order for their love to be realized one had to give up his reality, this world and merge completely into hers. How often is this issue faced by the generation of today who spend so much of their time in the virtual world, who essentially are abandoning life in the world that you and I know to merge and live in another. What would be their dream but to design a perfect world, a perfect life and a perfect partner and subsist there for a while, for now or perhaps find a corridor as the hero did and subsist there for ever.

Do watch.

Hope to see you soon!

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Dear Purnima,

When I was a teenager, I was fascinated by a series of novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan.  He wrote several books that dealt with a secret and hidden world in the interior of the earth.  If I remember correctly, they were called Tarzan in Pellucidar  and Return to Pelucidar.  I was really intrigued by the idea of a new and different realm that existed within the confines of the globe.  He also did a whole series about space travel – John Carter on Mars – where the protagonist was able to transport himself to the planet Mars by the power of his thoughts and will.  It was a fascinating series.  I wonder if Avatar wasn’t a little bit inspired by the Pellucidar series ?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pellucidar

Dear Roger,

It was also my parents 44th anniversary today and I unknowingly spent the day going through old photos especially those of their wedding. They were a beautiful couple, I can’t imagine what my mother has had to go through all these years without him around. He died at 48.

The photos also reminded me of him and his passion for birds and bird calls which I was forced to memorize and repeat(part of his general love for nature), and in particular his fascination with the Siberian Crane that used to visit India, and a sanctuary (Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and Sultanpur) near home every winter. There was always the anxious anticipation, the scanning of news reports on the migration of the crane and the flurry of excitement when the first crane after its unbelievable long migratory flight from the icy tracks of Siberia came to winter in lush green India and touched down on Indian soil. I always compared this to the love my father had for my mother whom he jokingly called a Siberian,( and I continue to do so as you will realize when you experience a winter in her subzero bedroom). The black and white photos of my mother at the time of her marriage and especially one poised near the lake would lead anyone to believe that my fathers dream and desire took human form and came to live among us, had babies and now is slowly dying.

I really do wish to share these memories and have attached a photo of the crane. Do you recognize her?

The Crane (mom) gazes longingly at The Magical Lake 

The Eyes of The Siberian Crane (mom)

See you soon.

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Purnima


Letter #14

Spiritual Journeys, Adventures in Switzerland, Vamana, Jatayu, Tirupati, Servetus

1/16/10

Dear Roger,

We last left off in Goa, the Indo-Portugese paradise with swaying palm tree, blue beaches and white washed churches. At that time, despite Murakami lying besides me, I opted for Dawkins whom I relished but could not complete as (and for a change) many real life adventures lay awaiting. So, leaving Dawkin’s (The God Delusion) incomplete by my bedside, I left Goa for my much awaited spiritual quest.

I travelled from Delhi to the state Of Andhra Pradesh on the south east coast of India. This journey to the south, to my paternal heritage, which was accompanied by the vivid and familiar sounds of my grandmother’s slender long fingers playing the Veena to the music of M.S. Subbulaxmi in the background, to the much revered Hindu Temple devoted to lord Vishnu the preserver (part of the Vedic trinity), a much revered temple and pilgrimage site called Tirupati.

 See below the sculptures that adorn the journey up the Seven Hills to the temple of Tirupati:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/tkv8o1s47di3io5/AADczBQmJYXDdEMWsKVKK14Ta?dl=0

See below what looks uncannily like the sculpture the smiling Cheshire Cat…for where Alice goes Chess follows:

As I may have mentioned to you earlier, my journey from Dawkins and The God Delusion to the spiritual journey was seamless and each piece was enjoyed in its own space. As you may have heard me say before, for me, there has never been a conflict between science and spirituality as I have seen the very religious, the agnostic and the budding atheist (moi) existing harmoniously, side by side in my own household. A place where physics and mathematics, history and literature was discussed interspersed with melodic Sanskrit poetry and verses from the Vedas (often recited from sheer memory),  recreating in our own little living room, 5000 miles away, some of the brilliance of Balliol. 

And so, searching for my 101 answers, I embarked upon this journey down south via air and on foot, all alone (me and my ponytail) up the seven hills to the sacred site of this ancient temple. This external journey, this arduous climb, reflected the spiritual journey/quest within. I was hoping that concentration, silence solitude and an immersion in the symbols (and spectacular sculptures) of my culture would bring me a step closer to resolving the turmoil within. As I passed each landmark, each vibrant expression of my culture, history, mythology, I searched the symbolisms and the stories to better understand and interpret my predicament. I passed the larger than life, 30 foot figure of Hanuman (the monkey god) or “pawan putra”, the god of the wind and prayed that he shelter and protect me as he sends favorable winds in my direction for the journey beyond. See sculpture of Hanuman below:

https://images.app.goo.gl/aXLHPr1ovVmFKwf46

The sculptures, and relics of ancient art seemed to come to life cheering me on my way. I passed the exquisite sculpture of Vamana, the fabled diminutive (dwarf) brahmin, and had to pause and stare at the unbelievable handiwork of the sculptor, so perfect was his work that the world blurred and the story unfolded…King MahaBali, the ruler of the grand and beautiful land of Kerala, the just and honest king, the epitome of virtue, much loved by his subjects was not content with being the ruler of the earth and the netherworld and desired to conquer the heavens. The petrified gods fled to Vishnu (the preserver and the patron deity of Tirupati) and begged for help (imagine gods begging for help?). Vishnu realized that despite King MahaBali’s great virtues, the king had been overtaken by the greatest vice of all, the ego, and returns to earth in the form, the Avatar, (yes, the origin of our cyber realities can be traced bak many thousand years to Vedic mythology) of a diminutive brahmin. In Indian mythology we have the gods and the demons playing out their theatrics similar to Greek mythology, but we have a third element, the wily brahmin, who comes in the most simple and humble form and whenever he appears, he inevitably wins the day.  For it is he who wields the pen and it is he who writes the story…(heh, heh, heh). 

Back to the story: King Mahabali had invited all the scholars or “pundits” of the land for a great ceremonial sacrifice or “havan”, upon the completion of which, as was customary, each scholar received a generous gift. However, when it was Vamana’s turn, the king found that he had an empty treasury and was unable to offer a gift. Vamana, the diminutive “pundit” feeling very much slighted asked for three paces of land, one he could cover in three strides. The king, despite being advised against it, and looking at the diminutive form of the brahmin (the diminutive form is representative of the relinquished ego, which of course in our culture portends immeasurable power) laughingly agreed. Vamana then grew gigantic, blocking the sun and the skies, in one stride he took the netherworld, in the second the earth, and asked the king where he should put his foot for the third. The king recognizing his folly and being the good and virtuous king he was, kept his word, and offered his head for Vamana to rest his foot. King MahaBali was pushed down into the netherworld, but Vishnu recognizing his virtuous qualities made him immortal offering to let him rejoin his people on earth once a year post harvest (which is celebrated in Kerala as the Onam festival). This diminutive form, this relinquishment of the ego, was the piece I embraced and charged ahead with renewed vigor and enthusiasm ready to take on the world.

However, my vigor and enthusiasm was short-lived as the next (mis) adventure loomed. As I  embarked upon the climb through the forests up the seven hills in the late afternoon, my taxi driver who dropped me at the base, looked at me ominously nodding his head (I find I do the head nodding quite a bit myself, veddy veddy gud) and said that it would take at least 5 hours to get up and that it would be dark soon. I said veddy veddy gud and thanked him. I was a quarter of the way looking around at the beauty of the forest, the lovely deer and disregarding the looming posters warning of hyenas and other wild life when I found a woman pacing my step. A decoy. She asked me where I was from, upon hearing that I was from far away, she proceeded to ask me if I was traveling alone to which I smiled and replied “YES”. I think I need an official name change to D-O-N-K-E-Y. She laughed and rolled her head back, that was when I saw the fangs. She was none other than Surpanakha, the demoness that harassed Rama during his exile in the forest and had her nose cut off, the sister of the demi-god king Ravana, the story that instigated the grand epic Ramayana! She conveyed my situation to others along the path and I found myself being harassed by (her demon brothers) as I walked up. It was getting dark, the forest seemed to be closing in and my nani, maternal grandmother, appeared in my vision. My nani, a no nonsense, steely and determined woman, with a face creased with lines of wisdom, was a woman who saw the fires of Partition (of India) first hand, as she had to flee home land and loved ones, secure infants and family, and rebuild all from a handful of saving (as they left Lahore for India). She in my mind embodies common sense and that seems to be the one quality I missed every time I had the option of selecting my choice of gems/attributes (bookworm adventures)I desired for this lifetime. Commonsense seems to come in the “Kullar” or  rustic earthen cup which this Indiana Jones never picks. My holy grail always appears to be in the cup that promises eternal youth and beauty, the diamond encrusted cup, with the promise of everlasting love. But this time the “Kullar” was flung at me by my grandmother and I folded my hand prayed fervently and ran as fast as I could up the mountain. They couldn’t possibly harass a pious pilgrim with a ponytail, could they??? I also envisioned lord Buddha (who is an avatar of Vishnu whose doorstep I was visiting) resisting the stones and calls as he went from village to village with a begging bowl. The music from the temple atop the mountain floated down and suddenly I found the sky overcast and Jatayu, (the nephew of Garuda, a mythical bird representing speed, strength and prowess found in both Hindu and Buddhist mythology and in the art, architecture of numerous cultures across south east Asia) with his wings spread at my feet. Jatayu is remembered for his noble and selfless act of devotion to Rama and Sita in the Ramayana as he attacks Ravana the demon king as he is abducting Sita and sacrifices his life in the bargain.

See Jatayu below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jatayu

Jatayu Nature Park-Kerala:

 In my instance, Jatayu whisked me off my feet and flew me through the forests, the seven hills and deposited me at the last gate leaving me the last 50 steps to climb. Everyone was shocked to see me up the mountain in 2 hours instead of the five looking as crisp, clean and new as when I left; the driver rolled his eyes in disbelief and asked me if I had flown up, little did he know…

The final adventure of course was the next day when we visited another even more ancient temple (completely unplanned for) called Kalahasti.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srikalahasteeswara_temple

 A temple a little over two thousand years old, mentioned in Sangam literature and even supposed to have been visited by Sankaracharya. Kalahasti is a Shaivite temple (dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer, and a part of the Vedic trinity) and renowned for the famous Shiva lingam (sacred phallic symbol) also dedicated to Hanuman the son of the wind god or Monkey God; his presence being perceived in the lamps of the inner chambers which seem to flicker without the presence of any wind. The living temple, the richness of its art and sculpture, the sense of being one with my culture was more than I could have asked for in any one trip. 

The temple is also renowned for the deity that represents the consort of lord Shiva (Parvati), and as I proceeded into the dark inner chambers, I saw the very pale outline of what appeared to be an ancient priest, almost one with the temple. The priest shone the lamp into my face smiled knowingly and declared that I had Rahu Rog, I was being chased by Rahu. Yes, the same Rahu of our last few correspondences, the demon that tyrannizes the heavens and periodically swallows the moon (ironically, Purnima means full moon in Sanskrit!). The priest then performed a little prayer on my behalf and chanted some verses but looked at me gravely but sympathetically as I left the inner chambers. I then found myself embraced in the inner chambers of the main deity, the Shiva Lingam, and while the young priest performed a prayer for the worshippers, the high priest in the distance, completed his rituals in front of the main deity. It was when the high priest turned around at stared at me standing right in front from the inner recesses of the chamber, that I thought I saw a sea of emotions and a flicker of recognition (yes you may contribute it to the incense or my legendary imagination), it was as though he was looking at a child from his ship, a sparkling child, one that was forever hanging from the look-out tower, raising yet another false alarm that India was here!  I was after all a child from his community, and I saw him slowly retreat into the shadows as his head bent down. 

The vision of the high priest receding into the darkness with the bent head stayed with me all the way back to Delhi and it was much later that I recognized where I had seen it before…The Cigogne, The story of the Crane!

It follows…Do you wish to hear?

Goodnight.

Purnima

The external journey was truly reflective of the journey within, with the culmination in the inner chamber in the presence of the deity, the deity within.

————————————————-

Dear Roger,

This is the last and final story, I promise!

You have to hold my hand as I jump back and forth between Geneva 2009-10 and Geneva 1553: The trial of Servetus. The Spaniard whom I mentioned in my earlier emails was tried by the Genevan Council (under questionable issues of jurisdiction as it cannot be inferred that the crimes he was accused of were committed in the territory of Geneva and denied legal representation despite several requests), convicted of heresy and burned at the stake here in Champel.

Darkness seems to have fallen earlier than usual, the day seems abruptly curtailed. As I peer out with bewildered fascination from behind my sofa onto the main road in Champel I hear crowds stomping through the street carrying burning lamps above their heads, holding pitch forks and axes. Then I look again and see bundles of greenwood neatly tucked under their arms as they get ready for the burning at the stake of the blasphemous Servetus. However, the alarm has been sounded and Servetus is missing, so the crowds are scouring the streets searching for him, searching for me! 

That is when one of the little kids sees a ponytail peeking out of the grand window of my living room and a familiar eye. He is heralded as a hero and I am clasped in chains and brought before the city council for my final verdict. This is when Farel comes onto the scene and says, “Purnima, all we are looking for is an admission”, “just say it”. In the original version, Farel requests Servetus to recant so that a less severe punishment might be imposed, but Servetus sticks to his ideals but begs for a more humane end and not that of the burning at the stake. But here, 500 years later, and to Purnima who so embraces the revolutionary essence of Servetus, Farel poses a different, yet similar question, and asks for a confession instead of a recantation. Farel says, “Purnima, all you need to do is just admit, for once just admit, that YOU ARE AN ALIEN”. “No, absolutely not”, I respond, and hold onto my position. Thus Farel sees no option for me but the burning at the stake and that too with GREEN WOOD…a slow painful death.

As preparations are underway,  I am overcome with grief and struggle to find my voice. Someone says, “she is trying to speak, say something”, and Farel once again turns around to me as I gather my tear chocked voice and ask for one last final wish. “So, you want a last wish”, he says, “sure, what is it, a phone call, a cigarette, a txt”? “No, no” I gasp, all I want is my …”what”, he says? “My, my, my…my lipstick”, I respond with my last breath. Yes, that’s all I asked for, that’s all I would have asked for as I envisioned my body floating up to the heavenly abode…how could I have met Him without any lipstick!?!

The following day of course I ran into Globus and ensured that I did not run out of Dior(D)rama for the next 500 years!

A final goodnight.

Purnima


Letter #15

 Hafiz and Rosnard

 1/28/10

Dear Purnima,

Just when all but the highest piles of snow on either side of our driveway had melted, everything is white again this morning.  I must admit that it is incredibly beautiful, but it always makes driving interesting.

Saw a wonderful film on Serge Gainsbourg last weekend, Serge Gainsbourg: une vie héroique.  Although I’m not much into pop music, I do remember very well several of his big hits, and seeing the film + a great documentary on TV (France 3), Serge Gainsbourg et les femmes, I have a much more profound respect for his artistic sense and his enormous talent.  There were, of course, numerous contradictions in his life, but he had a real knack for writing just the right song for the right up-and-coming starlet at the right time.  One of the things I have always appreciated about him was his sense of provocation and daring, often very subtly, to poke fun at the social norms of his time.  His great hit, and the one that really made him very rich, was a song he wrote and recorded (twice) in the late 1960’s – once with Brigitte Bardot (she made him promise not to release it) and then shortly after with his new girlfriend Jane Birkin (which was released).  Je t’aime, moi non plus was, without being crass, extremely suggestive, and it was promptly banned in many countries and put on the Vatican’s index.  Every time I hear it I get quite nostalgic in thinking back to my very first torrid love affair with an English woman who loved the song.  Another of his really risqué songs was one he wrote for a young singer who was totally innocent and overly-protected by a dotting father/manager.  It was called La Sucette (Lollipop)  She was so naive that she didn’t realize that the song was really a thinly veiled reference to oral sex.  The eventual realization on her part really threw her for a loop.  And I remember how much I loved his reggae version of La Marseillaise, a song that enraged the conservative right in France.

(my addition: https://youtu.be/GlpDf6XX_j0 )

Stay warm.  Hugs on this cold, wintry day,

Roger

On Jan 22, 2010, at 9:15 AM, “Roger Stevenson” wrote:

Dear Purnima,

It was delightful to see you again on Tuesday.  It had been far toooooooo long !  You were as radiantly beautiful as ever, and seemed really upbeat.  All those massages and chants on the beaches of Goa were definitely good for you.

I’m a bit puzzled trying to interpret the two lines of Hafez you sent.

Another attempt at getting unlost in translation:

“That beautiful Shirazi Turk, took control and my heart stole,

I’ll give Samarkand & Bukhara, for her Hindu beauty mole.

O wine-bearer bring me wine, such wine not found in Heavens

By running brooks,  in flowery fields, spend your days and stroll.

Alas, these sweet gypsy clowns, these agitators of our town

Took the patience of my heart, like looting Turks take their toll.

Such unfinished love as ours, the Beloved has no need,

For the Perfect Beauty, frills and adornments play no role…”

Interesting that in the version you sent it was “his” dark mole, and in the version above it is “her” beauty mole.

Connaist-tu la poésie de Ronsard ?

Roger

Dear Roger

The translators (often persons from your universe) superimpose their world upon ours and so you and I read the translations posted, the photos published and words printed! I have often wondered why photos of men from my universe appear with a particularly startled expression with curly black hair protruding from every orifice ( i later realized Its an art form to set off a fire cracker before the photographer says  “Say Cheeze”).

As I understand it, the verse goes:

If only my beloved would take my heart in hand; 

For that beautiful one with the dark mole,

 I would relinquish the wealth of Samarkand and Bukhara in whole!

Here Hinduyash does not mean the Hindu spot but represents the dark beauty spot on the face of the youth (Hindu represents the people of Hindustan with their darker skin). And of course, it the Shirzai Turk was a “him” and not “her” as the “angrez” translated. My translation of the verse fits me, and my story perfectly!

Will tell u one day…

The Birds of Asia: Here is a pic of a charismatic northern bird, The Siberian Crane of my story with the dark mole. See pasted below my maternal grandpa Shourie from The Punjab:

Dear Roger,

I loved both the youtube clips and especially his reggae version of La Marseillaise. Very cool, very sexy. Its amazing to see how he managed to challenge norms, provoke, and poke fun as you said and do it in such a sexy sophisticated manner. I can see absolutely nothing crass or vulgar that can be attributed to either one of the clips, unfortunately unlike many of our modern day rappers (whom I have bouncing on my iphone) who often cross that line!

I have a clip to share as well, a dream from my youth, where my beloved is so smitten that he is questioning whether I am the full moon or the brilliance of the sun… whatever I am, I am beyond compare. Such is the love  i was seeking and I find myself in Shrek II painted in the unmistakable color :GREEEEEEEEEN. Alien Green!!

Do see  youtube Mohammad Rafi : Chaudvin ka chand

Pls help me to find the one who fits into that achkan (coat).

See you soon!

Dear Roger,

I have been feeling the same way, anxious about not ever hearing from you or speaking to you again! In fact, I took the hallucination to another level, and thought that What If you were just a figment of my imagination something I conjured up, a best friend with whom I can chat, be clever, be foolish and drink a lot of coffee. And, then i received your last email, and heaved a sigh of relief…you see I’ve grown accustomed to your face, accustomed to your smile, accustomed to your ways…in this very short while.

I have also joined a gym close by to battle these cold grey winter days…And then of course there is “the lovely bird with azure wings, and song that said a thousand things, and seemed to say them all for me”: A Love Story.

I am off to Paris on the 9th for two days, veryyyyy excited about it. I also hope to practice some French, and finally but most crucially hope to find the markers for “The Holy Grail”!

You do know that I have been on a lifelong pursuit of understanding the idea, exploring the concept of privacy, which, as we have discussed in the past,  is getting more alarmingly relevant in this technologically accelerated universe of ours. And, in my opinion, should form the core, the fulcrum, the basis upon which any legal system that is to be relevant in this world is to be built. The French, somehow so intrinsically live, breathe, and represent this idea that it appears to be enmeshed in them and their culture. Which makes my journey to their heart soooo attractive. I am convinced somewhere within its alleyways lies the Holy Grail!

Hope to see you very soon in your charming ponytail and desigual coat. Give my love to Barcelona!

Hugs,

Purnima

Dear Purnima,

What a terrible hallucination.  Reduced to a figment of your imagination !  And how could you ever think that I would never write or see you again ?, and a nice allusion to George Bernard Shaw and Lerner and Loewe !  Not bad.  I, too, was relieved.

It’s lovely to wake up each morning to a clear, blue sky and temperatures that are somewhat clement.  I checked the weather in Geneva last night, and it still looks pretty cold and wintry.  At least you have filled your life with both some old and new activities.  Glad the level at Migros is more to your liking, and I’m envious about your upcoming Paris adventure, holy grail and all.  It’s really a magical and fairytale-like city for lovers.  But as far as our discussions of privacy in our technologically driven society, I’m not so sure that you will find your long-sought-after Holy Grail in Paris.  Unfortunately, I think France is fast becoming a security conscious, fear ridden place where CCTV cameras are sprouting like mushrooms in the urban decor, and where the possibility of eavesdropping in on our phone, email and even personal conversations is increasingly likely.  One of the truly intriguing aspects of the Lisbeth Salander character in Millennium is her ability as a computer hacker to intrude into information systems and manipulate them.  The is also a citizen of “The Hackers Republic”.  She and her fellow hackers can crack nearly any computer system they want (at least in this fictional world).  It’s a fascinating and yet murky world, but I can’t help but wonder how much of this fantasizing isn’t really very close to the reality where Big Brother will be able to pry into the private lives of anyone, at any time.

Off the the central Mercado for some fresh fruit and vegetables and great cheeses, followed by a tapas of two for lunch.  Wish you could join us.

PURNIMA VISWANATHAN

Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Published by Purrnima

Travel Writer - Art Blogger - CyberSmurf

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