Saturday, September 24, 2005

The land of absolutes

You are my best friend.
I am having the best time of my life.
Thats absolutely wrong.
Thats the worst thing ever to happen to me.
Without you life is nothing.

We have seen these statements so many times. On t.v. By Friends, by lovers. even by ourselves. I am also prey to such absolutes like worst, best, greatest, highest, funniest etc. etc. Do we ever pause to think how ridiculous they sound ?

Absolutism is the outlook/tendancy to have a constant unchanging structure built to act us guiding post for conducting our life.

It is like visualising something so that we can reach it. Thats why people climb mountain peaks. If they dont reach the peak, the climb is incomplete right ? Do you see someone coming upto you and say "hey guess what, I climbed down the lowest point in town ?"

Why do we do that ? This is not unique to one culture or one set of people. Its not even unique to man, many animals do that. But Animals do that for securing mating rights (I know it sounds like mining rights )with the maximum number of females or to win the queen bee. I thought man has conquered that problem. Everyone who wants to mate has a chance to mate isnt it ? The rich, get married and so do the poor. What is then the source of absolutism.

It stems from the latent instinct man as any animal has. Thats comparison. Man has no use for this tool anymore. Afterall he has cracked the whole puzzle of mating. But he still has this tool as an instinct and this gets channelised into other areas of social behaviour unrelated to mating or in-conflict to intra-species norms of mating (Monogamy).

Lets take walrus. Two walruses off the coast of tiera-del-fugo (southernmost tip of south america) are fighting it out. First is the show of strength. Who is the taller one ? "Yeah me, says the one on the red corner". "So what, I have bigger tusks and I can dig deeper into your blubber", says the one on the blue corner. "Right, but before you can move your half a ton ass, I can nail your face cos I can move faster", retorts back the one in blue corner. When all comparisons of size, agility, length, stamina etc. etc. are done and all options exhausted the fight begins. Sometimes the fight is to death.

Well men are like walruses but with rules. You cant fight and kill. You do that, you would lose mating rights for minimum 12 years or maybe for ever. Men make rules, and other men are smarter. If I cant hit at you physically, I will do it mentally. A slow process of social comparison and superiority has been set forth.

You have big assed women of south africa now playing down their assets because the black man's perception of beauty has been terminally altered. Its no longer the healthy cushion next door, but the anaemic bony thing that walks on the ramp every night on Fashion t.v.

Then there are the fairness creams. They created a god who is fair (have you ever noticed Jesus an arab jew of sweltering middle east is a white, blue eyed, blonde ??) and have absolutely undesirable connotations associated with darker colour. This is big business for the L'Oreals. Afterall it is one biggest thing which has completely transformed a wish/want to concrete numbers and dollars.

Again as this superiority game became open and blatant there started a counter superiority movement. You see, whenever I see the stronger and obviously more endowed man/woman assert her superiority over the weaker male. I see myself from the weaker guy's shoes and I dont feel good. Now thats lesser money for the movie makers. "Damm I am like him a loser and see what happens to me". So the opinion makers decided to make the apparently weaker guy win. There was born "The underdog". The underdog phenomena kicked in quiet a few icons. Rocky, Revenge of the geeks. But essentially the message was the same. Win or lose.

This comparison mode is good, but it leaves people unfullfilled. People want ultimate victory, annhilation, a clear statement of "you are wrong and I am right". People also expect change and following. How happy were the christians when constantine of Rome converted to christianity ? ITs a vindication of right, and a purpose for existance. Here in, there are the always right guys and the new comers. The new comers are more than willing to accomodate to the rules of the old gaurd. And the old gaurd feels more than secure in numbers. Here the subtle "you are a better boxer than me or you have a better smile than her" doesent cut ice. The neanderthal world that existed thousands of years back provides a much attractive world of absolutes. The world of relegions.

God is good, Devil is evil. Do you see how clear the message is ??
God - Good
Devil - Evil.

I mean even an absolute dodo like me cant mistake devil for the good and god for the evil. Afterall everyone has learnt "match the words" in kindergarden. This structure of relegion is based on clear and concrete symbols which forms the foundation of our existance. The things that were taught to us right from our childhood. Dont steal, stealing is wrong. How ridiculous can this be ? Isnt it ridiculous to say stealing is wrong ??

Stealing at best is illegal. Its got its base on rules and not morals. But to take some of the fundamental rules that kids are taught as unchanging absolutes and build a moral framework, is what thats unique and ingeneous in relegious indoctrination. But man isnt foolish enough not to question those. There comes another set of absolutes. Heaven and hell. It takes care of the time aspect and reward/retribution aspect of behaviour. When Saddam asks the priest, he asks "If stealing is wrong ? why is George W Bush stealing oil". "Dont worry son, God is watching and he will punish George W Bush on judgement day, he will go to hell".
George W Bush hears this and approaches the priest. "Hey I dont want to go to hell, and its just ridiculous to say I stole. I just took what was mine". The priest replies, "Dont worry son, confess and accept Jesus christ into your hearts and all your sins would be pardoned because he already died for it. You will go to heaven". Here arithmatic works.

Who stands in judgement of who ? and why ? and how ? Relegious dogma is no different from "Lakme Fair and Lovely" or "Shahrukh Khan" or "We have to free the world from tyranny". Its all part of the same phenomena, same world. A world of absolutes.

So cant we not have absolutes ? We have to, but absolutes that change. "Wait a minute.. It cant be absolute if it changes". Maybe thats the problem.

Read more!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Death - Imepermanable

Yo Mo, used to be the common way Mo was reffered to at work. One would always here these two words shouted out loud when there was an unsurmountable problem with the server, something complicated with a new piece of software or an old bug driving a new alergy. Mo would scurry down to the cubicle and would scurry out within a few minutes with the flag of victory waving high and nice.

Mo was the saviour for many of us green horns and yet there was no one to save him when a ton of bricks fell on his head.

Often Mo would be staring down Dundas square sipping a cup of coffee. One day I joined him and mouthed 'Whats happening Mo ?". There was a israeli protest march winding its way down younge. "Damm these israelis want everything taken from us. They are seeking revenge for the holocust, because there was no hitler around they are bossing around arabs. Not to say many of our leaders are stupid nitwits picked and chosen by british and americans to be divided so that the israelis can have their land and the America their oil". That was mo, a complete straight shooter when it comes to politics. he never believed in diplomatic comments even when david (jew) was around. With Mo and David in the team playing cold war games across their Line of control (now thats completely indian LOC), I ended up playing the mediator.

It was pretty frustrating especially when there was a software release down the corner. mo would go, "Can you tell David to lock the server up ? I need to get some testing done". or david would say "can you get the search code from mo ? I need to make the changes". Things came to such a point that one day, I setup a usual looking meeting between mo, david, and rest of the client team. I called in sick that day and let them handle the meeting themselves. There was no way they are going to avoid each other.

That was the last time, I mediated. From then on, David and Mo got along for work reasons but anyway thats all there was. No socialising atall. One september weekend when I had nothing else to do, mo invited me home for some soccer and dinner. I reached his home in missisaga at 3 p.m. We all know Mo was a muslim. I found out more that day. he was a very very conservative 2nd generation arab palestenian in canada. his father migrated from gaza to egypt and he brought them to canada. Migration is all he knows. he loves football (soccer) and plays for his club in toronto without fail, a leading striker and an very good player for his team he belies his small frame as he rushes back and forth the ground with ease and stealth(that explains the scurrying).

I met his wife, hijab and all. I even saw her face. With two beautiful kids he was well settled and looking to conquer the world. the sky was the limit for a talented guy like mo, if only he shed his conservative outlook to other cultures. The evening went perfectly, a piece of succulant mutton and lots of sherbet. We discussed among other things, Islam and the west. He was labouring to explain how islam is not all evil as it made out to be. But his general negativity about the west and concern and longing for palestine is almost complete. His house is more like a tent with everything arab in it. He literally dislikes (note, dislike need not be hate: this is especially for many americans) the western outlook to life, the general sense of moral degredation (instinctively I flinch, I felt he was talking about me almost chiding to quit drinking). Often when such a thing happens many an uncharitable white supremist would come and say, "if you so hate the west what are you doing here ?" David asked me that once. Most of the times, people are just trying to live by. "Does that mean that one should suppress oneself ? I found that really ridiculous", I replied.

mo pissed me off once, when he cut across borders and bonded with a pakistani colleage in saying that muslims were persecuted in Kashmir. David was smiling and smirking, "I told you so". I did become a little more suspicious about mo. but thats just my indian/non-muslim speaking. Mo as a human was no different as David or me. I felt bad when he said, "Canada is much different from america". America is too racist for a muslim. I could understand that because after america went crazy post 911, I was called a paki "n" number of times by strangers as old as the 60 year old woman in k-mart.

Anyway all these are pointless. Mo died six months back when he visited gaza and was caught in civil strife. His wife doesent know how it happend and its either crossfire or an israeli targeted building which fell on his head. No one really knows and hey when hundreds are murdered you cant always do post mortem. So he lays burried in gaza and she has to rise her 2 kids a 3 yearold son and a 6 month old daughter on her own. I spoke to her after this shocker came to me. She is an educated intelligent lady and she says she can get by.

I did call a couple of other friends in a nostalgic whim and tried to catch up after years. Interestingly david it seems broke down when he heard the news. So much for israel and arab. But you know the value of life is damm low in our parts of the world. A couple of asians/arab/muslims die. "ha its just another disaster that hit the third world or oh these awful terrorists, they are spreading tyranny". Well such is life and i felt sad for mo's family.

That led me on to ponder the whole aspect of death and grief. I was flipping through the pages of one of my favourite books "Jathaka tales" - by fancis thomas
and I found these lines which just felt apt.

Say by what power thou grievest not, Rama when grief should be ?
Though it is said thy sire is dead grief overwhelms not thee ?

Then Rama-Pandita explained the reason of his not grieving saying,

When man can never keep a thing, though loudly he can cry,
why should a wise intelligent torment thereby ?
The young in years, the older grown, the fool, and eke the wise,
For rich, for poor one end is sure: each man among them dies.

As sure as for the ripend fruit there comes the fear of fall,
So surely comes the fear of death to mortals one and all.
Who in the morning light are seen by evening oft are gone,
And seen at evewning time, is gone by morning many a one.
If a fool infatuate a blessing could accrue
When he torments himself with tears, the wise this same would do.

By this tormenting of himself he waxes thing and pale;
Thsi cannot bring the dead to life, and nothing tears avail.
Even as a blazing house may be put out with water so,
The strong, the wise, the intelligent, who well the scrip trues know,
scatter their grief like coitton when the stormy winds do blow.

One mortal dies-to kindered ties born is another straight:
Each creature's bliss dependent is on ties associate.
The strong man therefore, skilled in sacred text,
KEen-contemplating this world and the next,
Knowing their nature, not by any grief,
However great, in mind and heart is vext.
So to my knidered I will give, them will I keep and feed,
All that remain i will maintain: Such is the wise man's deed.

In this he explained the impermanance of things.

Mo's death was a little wierd to me and changed some of my thoughts about things I thought would never go.

Now, I am so fascinated by death and I am going to read and find more of it. The learning engine starts again for me after months of stagnation.

Read more!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Egg delight

I am an self confessed cook. I love cooking. Never for less than four people. I generally end up cooking for 5-10 people irrespective of how many are there. A couple of weeks back some friends from coimbatore were there in town. We pontificated about where to party and ended up buying a bottle of "Old Monk", some "Kababs" and a home grown egg ommlete/pie. It was totally extempore like most of my posts and the egg pie was consumed faster than you can say "Egg pie".

So I thought I should share this discovery with all you fine folks.

All my food includes a lot of vegetables. I just had
2 carrots,
1/2 cauliflower,
1 large potato,
1 large onions,
2 tomatos
1 large bell peppers (capsicum)

a phone call to cheta (borther in mallayalam) - our friendly neighbourhood grocery shop guy ensured that I had a half a dozen eggs.

Soon the large tossing pan was on the burner and after some pre-heating onions were fried. Feel free to add any spice you wish to add along the way. The beauty of my cooking is it depends on my mood. As the food gets cooked my mood may lift up and it would turn into something new.

1) Cut all vegetables (except onions) into small pieces.
2) cut onions in thin slices.
3) Fry onion in oil till golden brown.
4) Fry all the vegetables except tomatoes. (Suggestion: Its always nice to fry one veggie at a time since various veggies take various times to cook).
5) Add red chilli powder and salt.
6) Dice tomatoes to small pieces and add.
7) lower the flame and cook in open stirring occasionally.
8) meanwhile brak the eggs and mix the white with the yoke.
9) Add the egg stir the mixture and cover it for 5 minutes, cook in low flame.
10) check for the eggs to be cooked and voilla all-india egg pie is ready.

I know this is nothing new or unique in this recepie. I would like to flatter myself in thinking so. Its just another deep psychological need of a totally worthless life.

Anyway the pie is tasty and spicy a perfect foil for old-monk, thumpsup and ice.

The trick is to be imaginative about the masala. Just be creative and see what comes out.

If you are a safety-seeker, stick with the plain salt and chilli powder. None of the vegetables are compulsary. It totally depends on what you have and how big your pan is.

Read more!

Monday, September 05, 2005

The old barber

Sometimes you know when you walk back those very same streets you once ruled with impunity, a smile creeps up from nowhere. You dont rule them anymore but you have pleasent memories. "The old tree still stands", I murmered and breathed a huge sigh of releif. The barber shop that was part of my sunday life once a month stood there too. I felt my mind wondering, "Would mari still be there" ?

It was a typical sunday morning and I was 9. My dad as usual woke up at 5, got milk, got water from the community handpump, made coffee, woke up my mom, throrroughly analysed "The hindu", (A prestegious member in all tam brahm families) from headlines to obituary. He even finished his bath, a neat shave and was towering over my bed. GET UP YOU LAZY BONES !!! he thundered. The door bell rang and he warned me in a loud voice "I will answer the door and come, if you are not ready I am going to throw you to the crockodiles today". By this time, poor me (petrified of crocs) is awake and brushing my teeth. Now I couldnt reach the tap. I just waited for my dad to come from the doorcall. He looked at me with both hands on his hips and went on,

"Hmmm you are 9 and you cant reach the tap yet ? what can you do ? you cant do multiplications, you cant even brush your own teeth. You are a good for nothing kid (odhavakarai). Now look at Rajesh. He is up at 6 does sandhyavandanam, practices violin and is neatly dressed by 8 on a sunday morning".

Generally by this part of the tirade, I shut down up there in my head. Voltage overlad. Cant take the high decibel and drift of to my dream world where I am the hero with bulging muscles and all the babes in my class are dying to come and sit next to me. As I drifted off, I did all the normal chores as robotically as possible. This actually helps. It gives the impression that I am actually speeding up, and it helps me get over a ton of chores without physically subjecting my senses to the realisation that I am doing those chores. Confusing ? ok let me explain. Its my duty to throw the garbage out. If I shut down my brains and still do the garbage-chore, I somehow dont realise that I am actually dumping the garbage.
Up there, I am dumping the evil villain who tried to outrage the modesty of the princess in distress, I mean princesses.

You see in my dream world I am the lone hero all other dudes basically wet their pants when I walk by.

Anyway as I walk smiling still existing in this dream world, In the real world things are happening. Dad, Rajesh and Me are walking into to this old rickety barber's shop. I snap out instantly and see myself sitting in a gaudy waiting room in between two massive dudes. Rajesh (I hate him) sits smiling in the other corner with a book on tables. My dad sits stunned next to him awestruck in wonder. Rajesh knows the 17 tables by heart. He must be thinking "God, why, why me. Why do I have a son who chokes at 3 six are ? ". I pretned not to notice him and take a magazine lying on the table. Barber shop waiting room magazines are a real learning experience for a nine year old and somehow my dad thinks it is inappropriate. Its not my fault that there are skimpy pictures of women in that magazine ? For him, it really doesent matter. He has already made up his mind "No tom and jerry. Today you are going to do 17 tables", he goes.

Maari makes me sit on a wooden plank placed on the handle of a chair(since I am too short). Rajesh gets to sit in the chair without problem. Maari is the oldest barber in the area, literally everyone has gone to him. You can tell a mari's cut just by looking at a boy's head. I mean there is an evil mean cut in the back of the head with a little blood clot. That's Maari's signature. Literally every kid in the block if psychoanalysed (hypnotised) would end up with the same story of Maari's cut as the single most traumatic event in their child hood. Well every kid except me. Back to the present. Maari grins evilly when he takes the mechanical machine out of the drawer and goes click cluck click cluck. There is a huge shriek from the chair next to me and it is Rajesh trying to jump out of the chair. Maari summons help and Rajesh is pinned down and is shut up while Maari goes about his deed with finesse and professionalism. Doesent matter if it is the head of a 9 year old who can answer what 17 7s are ? If you resist Maari, you get a cut to remember. Resistance is futile is his message to all kids.

When Maari comes to me he stares at me from the mirror. I tell him "I am not afraid of anything except crockodiles. Go ahead maari". Maari is surprised and happy. We become good friends and there were no cuts in my head. Maari even gives me a balli muttai (candy). I love those small balli muttais. After every haircut, maari uses an alum stone soaked in warm water as the standard after shave. The price of this hair cut seven bucks per kid. His was a volume business and he uses the hand machine with great efficiency.

Its been years and in one instant I wanted to check if that place still stood. It did and I was a little scared to step in. What if I find out Maari is dead ? I took my chance and a lot of young men stood there. Maari walked in from the room inside as soon as he spotted me. When we were young, we all thought he lived there.
I dint say a thing as I felt strange to reveal who I actually was. I thought maybe he wouldnt remember or maybe it is wrong to rock his world now with old memories. The same old transistor blared aloud rocky-poppy tamil tunes with trendy numbers. Not the old TMS songs. Maari asks me to sit on an old chair (I am glad he dint put the plank) and says, "You know kids these days. They are trendy and I am no good for them. They dont even play TMS songs. What do you want ? he asks ?". I say with a little fear in my voice "Standard NCC cut". Maari gives me the standard NCC (National caded corps, similar to scouts. Its basically a crew cut) cut he is so famous for. The NCC cut is very comfortable. Low maintenance and long lasting for a madras summer.

All I wanted was to get done with the haircut and get out of the place. It was wrong to have come there again after all those years. Its wrong even to identify who I am and to rock this old man's life with all those memories. At 30, my memories torment me. How would he feel ? He must be 70 or something. Maari completes his haircut and even douses me with the traditional madras saloon aftershave (A rock of alum and some warm water). I am surprised there is no cut in my head. Maybe he gives kids the cuts. He then asks me to wait and comes out with his hands washed clean.

I was telling myself "Just pay and get out. You know Maari is alive, you dont want to trouble him more, do you ?". I dig my purse and find a 500 Rupee note. I press it in his hand. He smiles and gives me the change 493. As I am doing my exit, Maari's old voice crackles. Enna kutti paiya (What kid), balli muttai vendama ? (Dont want your balli candy). A huge clamp crushed my heart.

Thats it, I couldnt leave his saloon. I sat up with him and talked for over 2 hours. The longest time, I spent in a saloon. He still had his crackling sense of humour when he went, "See I never cut your head".. I gave him a thousand Rupees that day, not because I felt bad for him. I realised, Maari is part of my legacy.

He is much more than a haircut guy ? He is probably the first adult who became my friend. He was fifty when I was nine. He still remembers me. That must count for something. He takes pride in his work and he still works at 70. He is happy and contented and doesent suffer from any ailment, physical or mental. I therefore promised that till Maari's saloon is there, I would get a haircut done through him. I will have to travel once in a month or two to chennai for that. But I will do that. I also wanted him to feel happy knowing that one of his kids still remembered the old place and is doing well.

Read more!