Tag Archives: truth

…and all she puts her attention to

She sits there in the middle of street, apparently oblivious of who’s ahead of her, who’s behind, and who’s waiting to pass. Tiny in size, enormous in pluck, the kitten sits there, waiting, watching. Watching something on the far left side of the street. So completely focused on the object of her attention, ignoring the traffic around her that you think she’s going to run out of luck on this busy Bazaar Road in Bandra’s main market. A rickshaw attempts to maneuver around her, but there’s no way to do it without driving into her – she’s sitting right in the middle of the narrow street. The rickshaw stops, waiting a few seconds for her to get with it.

A cyclist from the other side, a delivery man whose bike is overloaded with grocery supplies, barrels through, seeing the kitten almost too late. She does not move, does not flinch, she does not even turn her head. Her attention is elsewhere. The cyclist swerves to his left to avoid her and crashes into a bhajiwala (vegetable vendor) and his baskets of produce outside D’Costa Bakery.

Abhey, laudu, tujhe cycle chalaane aate hai kya?! – Eh, dickhead, can you even ride a bicycle?” shouts a pedestrian who’s jumped out the way just in time. 

The delivery man’s bicycle is now entangled between baskets of beets, cucumbers, eggplants and other vegetables. The groceries from his cycle are now littered on the dirty, mucky road, bags of dates, dried apricots, figs, cashews and almonds distributed among the fallen veggies.

Yeh kya kiya tune?! What have you done?!” the incredulous bhajiwala asks the delivery man. “Tune mere poore din ke dhande ki maa-behen ek kar di. Kaun lega abhi yeh kharaab bhaji?! – You’ve screwed my entire day’s business. Now who the fuck is going to buy these dirty vegetables?!”

Baba, sorry, yaar, woh billi thi udhar aur main baas…brother, I’m so sorry, that kitten was there and I just …” the cyclist’s voice trails off as he gathers himself and points to the kitten sitting in the middle of the street.

Arre, billi, filli! Yeh billi toh yahaan ki hai. Tu kahan ka hai!? Aankhen hain ya button?! – Kitten, fitten! This kitten is from here, where the fuck did you come from?!” the bhajiwala shouts, eyes popping out of their sockets, his voice strained. “You have eyes or buttons?!”

Saala, bina dekhke, cycle chalata hai – idiot, without looking, he’s riding a bicycle,” the bhajiwala continues with disgust, as he returns his damaged produce to the now rearranged baskets on upturned milk cartons. People gather around the bhajiwala, some others help the cyclist with the fallen groceries, among them a helpful passerby who samples the figs, asking disingenuously of the delivery man, “Wow, are these figs? Delicious. How much are they?” The hapless delivery man shakes his head and indicates to the passerby to leave it alone, he’ll take care of it.

Through all the commotion, the kitten is unmoved, its gaze locked onto something on the left side of the road. Finally, the rickshaw honks, tentatively at first, then a little more assertively. The kitten ignores the first horn, then gets up and without looking at the rickshaw, calmly walks to the side of the road in its own time.

The Queen of her life...

The Queen of her life…

At the side of the road is a scooter, and a footrest onto which the kitten lifts itself. It’s going somewhere with a purpose, its body crouching forward in hunting mode, still focused on the far side of the road, away from the fabric stands.

...and all she surveys

…and all she puts her attention to

There are no chicken shops here and the fish market is quite a distance away. But something on the left side of the road is of utmost importance to the kitten, enough for all of its energy to become one with it. It doesn’t matter in the least that neither you nor I know what that something is. It is enough right now that the kitten knows exactly what it wants. And, as it is wont to do whenever you call its name, the universe has rearranged everything else in response.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

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The sounds we make, the stories we share…

The sound carries from the street below in this suburb of Mumbai, all the way to the top of the sports club, to the second-floor men’s locker room where I am. The rhythm of a one-sided conversation traveling upward – something about a car – reveals an aural pattern rich in its display of class and status. Little boys in the locker room, intrigued by the events unfolding outside, head to the window to watch. A woman of high social standing is loudly berating a lower-class man – a parking attendant with the club. His voice can barely be heard , the woman will not let him get a word in. He’s subservient, patient and accommodating. Patience with the rich is the key to his future.

In the locker room above, an older man tells a little boy, “See there? See what’s happening? Women always create tamasha (drama). Always.” His voice gets throttled when he says the word always, as though another part of his anatomy is being throttled. A couple of other men in the locker room laugh and nod in agreement.

The woman’s arms are gesticulating, her right index finger accusing the man. She’s furious that the valet wasn’t able to retrieve her car in less than five minutes. She yells at him in Hindi, “I almost missed my appointment because of you. You know how long I had to wait for this appointment?! I’m telling you for the last time, you keep this up, we’ll see if you have a job tomorrow. Understood?!”

Fifteen minutes later, the public scolding continues. The often hostile, sometimes matter of fact condescension of the upper classes in India does not shock me anymore. Growing up in India, I’d seen it close at hand – in family, extended family and in the well-to-do middle-class society I once believed was the entire world. But the condescension of the upper classes is universal – it’s the same no matter what country I’m in, no matter the races involved, no matter the ethnicities, no matter the religion.

It’s the same in America and the rest of the West, once the much-touted facade of dignity of labor, diversity and inclusiveness are discarded – when no one who really matters is looking. It’s there in New York, that liberal bastion where corporate America and start ups have monetized newly discovered pretend equality. In London, in Paris, in Germany, and also in the foothills of the Himalayas – in the tourist lodges owned by rich Indians and foreigners. And in the villages of India where village elders hold the power. Power and money talk, bullshit and lower standing walks, or so the saying goes.

It’s also quite likely the same in the numerous parts of the world I’ve never been – the rich and the well-to-do talk down to the poor, the poor keep quiet in their silent, resentful contempt of the upper classes, the poor aspire to become rich, the newly rich repeat what they learned when they were poor. While everyone cannot stop talking about inclusiveness and diversity.

As I step out of the building, I see the woman, unrelenting. A doorman looks at me, smiles and says, “Yeh roz ka story hai, saab. Mian hai, aur kya bolega – This is the daily story, sir. She’s a Muslim, what else is there to say?” He grins at the wisdom he’s sharing with me. I’ve seen this kind of grin before.

I calmly correct him in my not-very-proper Hindi, “Yeh mussalman ka baat nahin. Hindu log aisa bhi hai, Christian log aisa bhi hai, Sikh aur Parsi log bhi aisa hai – this has nothing to do with being Muslim. Hindus are also like this, Christians are also like this, Sikhs and Parsis, too.”

It’s not the commiserating response he was expecting. He looks away sheepishly but doesn’t really care for my perspective – there will be someone else who’ll agree with him. This is not new for me, either – I saw this growing up in India, as a little boy and also as a teenager, when the grown ups around me, grown ups of all religions, disparaged other religions with completely malicious lies. All who belonged were special, all others were the cause of the world’s problems.

Today, India, like much of the world, has moved extremely rightward. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, the politics of religion and unwanted people – the other – has become a powerful driver for big corporations that align themselves with the forces of ignorance and hate. And people are poisoned and made to look away from the active role that class plays in controlling it all from behind the scenes, with just a little bit of a nod and a wink.

In America, too, where big corporations and politicians across the political spectrum manipulate people in the name of religion, race and victimhood. And Europe. And Asia. And Africa. And South America. And on, and on. Can’t eliminate it totally, I don’t think, or at all.

I could, however, endeavor to continue to calmly decline to partake in the madness. Just as calmly as the Hindu doorman at the club slandered all the followers of Islam. Just as calmly as a Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or Jewish person in some other situation, some other part of the world might slander the followers of another religion. As calmly as a deeply racist person might make bigoted statements about other races just because he or she can. As calmly as an older man indoctrinates a young, impressionable boy with the belief that women create problems. And as calmly as the parking attendant observes the situation in silence and declines to add fuel to the self-righteous anger of the outraged person talking down to him.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Everyone wants

There’s a pigeon outside my kitchen window this rainy July morning in the monsoon. It’s soaked completely, its feathers striated and streaked by the rainwater that’s still dripping off its body as it sits under the ledge, sitting out there waiting to dry. Sitting and looking out at the darkened sky, wondering perhaps when the rain will stop so it can get on with gathering food – it’s still early in the morning. From inside the comfort of my kitchen, all I see is the pigeon’s back, its pinkish-red claws clutching the top grill of the plant nursery outside the window. There’s no movement from the pigeon, no bobbing this way or that, no sounds, no coo-cooing. Its head is pulled into its body as though it’s defending itself from the elements as it sits there on the grill, waiting to dry. Maybe it’s cold, maybe it’s conserving energy. I really have no idea. So little we know from within the comfort of our homes. On the right, below an air-conditioner casing is another pigeon, relatively drier, curious about its temporary surroundings. Is it inspecting the casing for a potential habitat for when things settle, a place to raise baby pigeons? Are these two a couple? How did they come to be on this parapet together, outside my window? Accidental? Two souls seeking shelter? I have not a clue. So little we know from behind the all knowingness of our human eyes. 

Everyone wants shelter
Everyone wants love
Every one wants peace and happiness
From a lion to a rain soaked dove

Monsoon dove

Everyone wants love

Everyone wants nurturing
Everyone wants love
Every one wants to be cared for
From the worms to the birds above

Everyone wants healing
Everyone wants love
Even the people who say they don’t
No one wants to starve

Everyone has little time
Little time on earth
Every one wants acceptance
Before they turn to dirt

Everyone you see will go
Every one, it’s true
Every one needs acceptance, for
Every one is you.

©2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Happy are the sailors

IMG_7755.JPGI walk down to Juhu Beach, Mumbai, down the back road to the entrance that leads to fewer cricket and football games on the beach, the area where there are more fishing boats offshore, where the shore is less beach and more rock. I walk past the usual traffic, dodging a vehicle coming from behind me and over here, a motorcyclist coming straight at me until he turns away at the very last moment. It’s fairly busy for an evening, this back road. Someone behind me taps me lightly but just as I guessed, he doesn’t need anything from me, he’s just trying to quickly walk past. By now, after a few months in India and after having lived in New York for half my life, I’ve realized that it’s not that a sense of personal space doesn’t exist in India. It’s simply that the sense of personal space, or distance, is different in India compared to the United States. Neither ones trumps the other, it just depends on one’s accustomed level of cultural and spatial comfort.

The back road has a couple of vegetable carts, a general store with numerous cats snoozing on the porch, crows cawing loudly above, and a man on a bicycle with about fifteen empty, commercial-sized water bottles strapped to the bicycle’s carrier. On the left, by a vegetable stand, I see a man raising his hand, a stone in it, toward a medium-sized, black dog not far from him. The dog is cowering. It backs away from the man – a sixty-something year old man, big forehead, beady eyes, a black, dyed mustache and dyed black hair combed back with enough oil to make his forehead shine. The man raises the stone again, the dog backs away again, continuing to cower. It appears to be a game for the man, an amused look on his face. I’m bothered by it but I keep walking. I’m concerned he’s going to strike the dog, not sure if he’ll do it or what the story is over here. It makes me want to stay and see what he’s going to do.

As the man moves close to the dog, his hand raised and the stone in it, I realize I have to say or do something if he strikes the dog. The dog backs away from the man again. The man notices I’ve stopped to look and smiles at me with amusement. A bizarre spectacle. I decide I’m not going to wait and see if he’s going to strike the dog. I go up to him and ask him, politely,

“You’re not going to throw that stone on the dog, are you?”

“No, it’s my dog. I’m going to church and he follows me to church until I give him a biscuit. This is our daily game, man,” he says to me in English, in a Koli Catholic accent punctuated with a lisp. Kolis, both Hindu and Christian, are a fishing community and the original inhabitants of Mumbai. “Holy Cross Church I’m going to. Same story every day with him.”

“How old is he? What’s his name?” I ask.

“He’s five, six years old. Shadow, because he follows me everywhere. You see? He always follows me.”

As we talk, the dog comes closer. I pet him, he’s enjoying the love. Five, six-year old Shadow. Nuzzling up against my leg. White paws, whitened from age. I introduce myself to the man. Clement Fernandes, he responds.

“Don’t pet him,” he cautions me. I continue petting Shadow, who’s now turning this way and that so I can get that spot. 

The street traffic continues unabated, most of it navigating away from us, except one red car that comes dangerously close. As I take hold of Shadow’s collar to guide him away from the street, he lightly mouths my hand, with perfectly managed bite control, not enough to tear skin or leave an imprint but just enough pressure to say Don’t touch my collar. Instinctively, I know that this dog has been hit or yanked before. I let go of Shadow, he moves to the side of the street to sniff a potted plant in front of a shop.

Clement Fernandes asks me if I’m going to church as well. I say no, I’m going to the beach. He apologizes for Shadow nipping me. Not a problem, I say. And, I’m on my way. And that’s that. Shadow and Clement.

The beach is not too busy, the sand is wet, suitable more for bare feet, not for the flip-flops I’m wearing. Planes taking off overhead, departing from the nearby Santacruz airport. Below me, tiny holes in the sand from where little crabs and other marine life emerge early morning and late at night, when humans aren’t around. Some garbage on the rocks, broken beer bottles. A small crab darts below a rock, into a pool of water, at the sound of approaching footsteps.

In the distance, the sun is setting. The sky is a mix of light blue and orange and purple, and the approach of dark. On the left, a fishing boat is moored not too far offshore. A white and red striped fishing boat with a couple of flags. Further away, another fishing boat, also moored, also with flags, painted in saffron, white and green – the colors of the Indian flag. And a blue and white striped fishing boat. Far off on the left, the most beautiful boat this evening – a solitary, tiny red boat rocking gently in the Arabian Sea, anchored to a bigger boat. Forward, way off on the horizon, the sun moves down, moving into someone else’s daylight.

On the right is a long, curved pier – families taking an evening stroll, a little girl showing off a cut paper flower to her big sister, a cyclist trying to navigate through the walking families and getting cursed out a couple of times. Designer puppies being walked by their working class handlers. Fawned over by the walking families, not getting cursed out. And people taking photos of each other against the departing sun.

By the edge of the water, where it’s craggy and there’s no sand, a young man is taking selfies with the sun. A couple of minutes here. The sun leaves. The young man leaves. Day ends here, a new day somewhere else. The sun is gone, all that’s left behind is the most beautiful force, the most beautiful thing. Waves of sea water, operating with an energy of their own, moving on a force of their own, touching the shore and going back to where they came from.

Touching the shore and going back to where they came from.

Touching the shore and going back to where they came from.

Bigger than everything. Bigger than the rocks they touch, bigger than stones in men’s hands, bigger than people and dogs and animals on land and animals that live in the sea. Bigger than the experiences on the shore and far away from the shore, in cities and villages where people and other beings live. Bigger than all of human experience.

Waves of sea water, touching the shore and going back to where they came from.

Uncontrolled. Beyond power, beyond free, beyond you and beyond me.

Beyond everything we feel, beyond everything we see.

Beyond everything we seek to be.

Waves of sea water, touching the shore and going back to where they came from. Back and forth and back again. Beyond you, and beyond me.

Happy are the sailors, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

What do you do when they come for you?

A yoga class to help me see where I am, to help me be where I am, and where I’m not. Happy with where I am some days, not happy on other days. It feels hard, it feels challenging, it feels right.

A WhatsApp message from a friend, a forwarded message saying with anguish that human beings aren’t supposed to work so hard and wait for another life to live — its energy as tortured and aggressive as the modern life against which it rails. So many people trying to help, so many people telling you how a better life is to be lived, so many anti-modern life people vomiting from the mouth, vomiting from the liver. So much anger. As much anger as some modern life people spew from their intellectual minds, their clever, social media savvy minds. Both enervating energies stridently staking a claim to the truth.

I met a man when I was in a dark place in my life. He was an empowered man, comfortable as himself, comfortable in himself. He showed me around, a brief guiding light. I grew from the interaction. But, he would not let go. He saw me once as struggling. That’s how he continues to see me. Needing his help, dependent on his wisdom. I have my own wisdom. My silent words ring true for me. I was stuck once. Now, he’s stuck, unable to see another as empowered. What then will he do? What role will he have left? He tells me, I love you, brother while he offers me unsolicited sympathy. Camaraderie — he calls it.

I met another man many years ago, a healer, a brilliant man. Everyone said he was evolved. A helpful man. Until I saw he needed to save me more than I needed saving. He railed against therapists. They’re a crutch, he said, they want to make you dependent on them. While he offered me friendship mixed with dependency, anger, misogyny and homophobia. When he told me he’d met a reincarnation of Lao Tzu, I knew I’d arrived at the outer reaches of sanity.

I met a recovering alcoholic. His recovery and his identity depended on convincing every person he met that they were alcoholics waiting to happen. He, too, wanted to save me. He tried hard, and, while freely quoting Machiavelli, he tried to rent out his dank, dark basement to me. I’ll give you a deal, he said. I passed.

I met a man who warned me about the dangers of Ayurveda and alternative remedies. He’d never tried any. He was convinced they had no utility. Unproven benefit, he said with definitive finality. Give me three days of yoga training and I’ll master it, he said. Be careful, he said about alternative remedies, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I felt he was issuing a fatwa against Ayurveda and alternative remedies. Like people who burn books they’ve never read. Because it could be dangerous. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve met several men like these over the years, and sometimes, women. Whose identity depends on saving me, saving you and saving the world with their intellectual wisdom, keen on telling me and you that their intellectual wisdom should be my intuitive wisdom and your intuitive wisdom. I know my intuitive wisdom. I experience it, and it evolves. And I’m fine with it. Mostly, it tells me to not accept another’s intellectual wisdom as my own truth.

I continue to meet people like this. There’s nothing to do about it. Just watch, breathe and let them go on their way.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.