Shared posts

09 Jul 05:11

A Certain South Indian Childhood (Part II)

by Pavithra K. Mehta

The poetry of a certain South Indian childhood entails a thrice shaven head plastered with sandalwood paste and an early introduction to the moon as your maternal uncle. Also a black dot daubed on forehead or cheek, sizeable enough to divert all eyes that chanced upon you (Evil ones included). You were sun-ripened, hardy, dauntless. Capable of sleeping soundly on a dyed and woven straw mat on the floor, sitting sidesaddle on a metal bicycle carrier, and stripping the purple bark off a woody stalk of sugarcane with your teeth. You were unfazed when a corpse-bearing stretcher lurched down your street accompanied by loud drums, dancing and trampled rose petals. But a cloud of live chickens tied upside down by their feet on the back of someone’s scooter knotted your throat. As did pairs of white oxen with black-rimmed eyes pulling too-heavy carts with such patient faces.

Mornings were domestic cacophony. The brisk splattering of water on ground outside your gate, sharp whisk of coconut stick broom, vessels clanging in the sink. A radio chanting, then milkman’s cry, the koel’s piercing call, a clamorous pressure cooker competing with the grinder’s dull roar. Drifting through it all the transcendent aroma of filter coffee. Afternoons were indistinct. A succession of hazy losing battles with sleep under the circling trance of ceiling fans. Evenings were jasmine-scented, lamp-lit, inexplicably wistful. Temple bells at dusk blending with the lusty honking of horns. Cricket song, the muffled laughter of children, then the muezzin’s call crackling mournfully over an ancient sound system. Nights were deep, moss-covered wells of forgetting punctuated by the low rumble of lorries. From the gecko on the wall, a cryptic clucking.

Your days were owner occupied, industrious. Each morning you placed a tidy vermillion dot between your brows that streaked like a small comet by nightfall. You played tennikoit, one-legged tag and under duress the veena. You tested the waterproofing of lily pads, observed the unpredictable flight patterns of winged cockroaches, stockpiled cowrie shells and petitioned scorching skies for rain. You picked tiny guava seeds out of your teeth, acquired a taste for gooseberries, dissected a shoeflower and fell asleep on your grandmother’s swing. You wrote exams with a wayward fountain pen on ruled foolscap and memorized antiquated couplets by a poet-sage (His verses still return like migratory birds to surprise and comfort you). At the wedding of your youngest aunt you were enlisted to sprinkle rose water from a swan-necked bottle on arriving guests. The delicate nethichuttii that cascaded down the bride’s parting was graceful as a falling star. Its perfect beauty taught your heart to ache.

Fate you were told, was easily tempted and writ on foreheads. Goodbyes were implicit promises, never simply, “I’m going” always “I will go-and-come”. Your gods had endearing flaws, favorite foods and approved of full-moon fasts. Your minor sins were repented for by a series of squats performed with crossed arms and pinched earlobes. Step on a book and to this day you will lean down blink-swift to brush it with your fingertips, dab each side of your jawline. You remember temple walls painted in broad red and white stripes.  Carved pillars, poised gopurams, lotus ponds, smoky lamps, sleek idols, the reek of bats, feel of cool stone under bare feet. Bearded sadhus smeared with ash, broken coconuts, the clink of coins on metal plate, a brief brass crown, holy water spooned into cupped palms. The eloquence of silver anklets. And in jostling bazaars a glittering array of glass bangles that regularly robbed you of breath.

So much more than you realize was learned ‘by heart’. The raised contours of the custard apple, the connotation of toe-rings, the whorled conch shell’s stirring call. Not to mention the clacking of tailor’s treadle, the rattle of pleated shutters, the exact location of the dhobi’s cart at noon, the feel of saris stiff with starch, the smell of hot black tar. Also the curious shape of buffalo horns and goat droppings, the tall-spined elegance of peacock feathers and please don’t forget the unequalled fragrance of wet earth after rain.

Encased in your mortal being, all these and other golden pods of memory, multitudinous like jackfruit. And like jackfruit, sweet and strange.


The poetry of a certain South Indian childhood (Part I)

09 Jul 05:11

A Certain South Indian Childhood (Part I)

by Pavithra K. Mehta

The poetry of a certain South Indian childhood means that you have bathed in at least three waterfalls and been blest by more than one elephant. You know with a knowing that predates language: the scents of jasmine, of camphor, coconut oil, and filter coffee. Know them the way you know the particular sound of your mother’s bangles. The way you know the sound of the latch on your front gate, and the sound of wet laundry slapping stone. You belonged to an off-key choir of schoolchildren who chanted morning lessons in unrecognizable English and ear-splitting unison. Your to-go meals were eaten aboard trains and came wrapped in banana leaf and newsprint, neatly secured with twine. All your uncles rode motorcycles.

You are an encyclopedia of wonderfully specific wisdom. You know what a hill station is, and are familiar with the many shades of cow dung. Also the urgency of pressure cooker whistles and the buoyant trill of bicycle bells. You know exactly how stubbornly red earth will cling to white canvas footwear. And how deliciously lime pickle will stain a snowy bed of curd rice in the bottom most compartment of a steel tiffin carrier. You spent a monkish amount of time sitting cross-legged on the floor.You memorized a poem about daffodils long before you ever saw one. You were raised by a village. Leaning out the window of a schoolbus you didn’t yet know was a luxury, you watched little girls march bravely to school. Small brown faces dusty with talcum powder. Beguiling bite-sized ghosts in their too-big pinafores and two tight braids doubled-up and tied with bright ribbon bows. In a lamplit shrine you waited for the shred of holy leaves the priest pressed into your palm that later tingled your tongue.You placed a coin in a withered, grateful palm on a busy street, and wished with sudden fierceness that you lived in a fairer world. You encountered an anonymous rickshaw driver or tea stall owner who did you a kind turn when you were most in need of one and then promptly disappeared.

Unsung talents dwell in you. Such as the ability to drink water from a tumbler without your lips ever touching the rim. You were raised in a home crowded with miscellaneous context. Bougainvillea. Black bobby pins. Bore wells. Beaded lunch baskets. Brooms that require you to bend while sweeping. Bandini dupattas. A scythe to split coconuts. Steel buckets. Storerooms. The spit and crackle of mustard seeds in hot oil. Power cuts. Petticoats. Gas cylinders. Guava trees. Geckos. Head baths. Handkerchiefs. Kerosene lamps. Kannmai. Kolam. Cotton wicks. Custard apples. Curry leaves. Ceiling fans. A cyclone of cousins. A fond flock of aunts. Tear-off calendars. Turmeric stains. Whitewashed walls. Red chillies dried on hopping hot terraces. Key bunches tucked into sari waists. Safety pins stored on mangalsutras, and sticker pottus  on mirrored surfaces. Stories of mango-stealing monkeys. Hibiscus bushes. Heirloom silk saris stacked in the mystical recesses of your grandmother’s olive green Godrej scented with a strange, heady mixture of sandalwood, incense and moth balls.

You traveled a fantastical landscape cluttered with color and chaos rendered familiar by dailyness. Loudspeakers. Lopsided buses. Buffalos. Bullock carts. Banyan trees. Boiled peanuts sold off carts in paper cones. Paddy fields. Dried river beds. Dragonflies. Temple bells. Bus conductors sporting pink nail-polish on a single untrimmed thumbnail used to tear off tickets. Bananas, green, yellow and red hanging in thick clusters like the fingers of a giant. Stray dogs. Colossal crows. Cricket matches.The peculiar and literal sales pitch of street hawkers whose hoarse, hypnotic chants floated above the din of narrow streets and into open windows. The crumbling and friendly (if somewhat Draculaesque) smiles of the city’s paan-chewers, Diamonds that flowered and flashed in an old woman’s nose ring. A vegetable vendor’s impossible earlobes freighted with dull chunks of gold and stretched like chappati dough down to her shoulders. Women jostling with curved rim water pots at taps that ran dry (their wells of rough-mannered affection did not).Weddings where hundreds came and nobody rsvpd. Where the serpentine notes of the Nadiswaram coiled through the air only to be overtaken by the adrenaline rush of the thavil in gettimellam mode. Where food was ladled out of large shiny pails by sturdy men and you were plied with freshly fried appalam the size of frisbees, mountains of steaming white rice, and shockingly orange jelabis sticky with sugar syrup.

One day you watched a man climb to the top of a coconut palm pulling himself up with his bare hands. On another, you touched a garland thick as a tree trunk woven from tuberoses and marigolds. You woke a baby fast asleep in a cradle fashioned from nothing more than an old cotton sari, soft with use and slung low from a ceiling hook. Once upon a time you were bitten by an army of tiny red ants.You wondered about the white stripe that dances the length of a squirrel’s back. You rode triples with your sister on your father’s trusty scooter. You opened a pale blue aerogramme. You chewed a neem leaf (the memory still has the power to pucker your face). You cracked open a tamarind pod and sucked the sweet and sour flesh off its hard black seeds. You were stalked on a hot summer night by an impressively single-minded cloud of mosquitoes. You caught sight of a spiky green chameleon in the garden. From a small roadside stall that sold soap and sugar, peppermints and pencil boxes, you purchased at the princely sum of fifty paise, for a geography class, the outline of a world map printed on grimy grey paper. Nameless continents and countries stitched together. One vast and various world of implacable mountains, whistling deserts, talkative oceans, and fertile jungles. Not unlike the nation of a certain South Indian childhood. Each day a planet and a profusion. Of unremarked yet not unremarkable experience.


The poetry of a certain South Indian childhood (Part II)

18 Jun 15:48

120. TERENCE McKENNA: Nature loves courage

by Zen Pencils

120. TERENCE McKENNA: Nature loves courage

Terence McKenna (1946-2000) was a psychedelic warrior – a writer, lecturer and expert on ecology, botany, shamanism and spiritual transformation. McKenna’s books discuss the benefits and mind-altering effects of LSD, psilocybin and other hallucinogens, and the role they’ve played in human history and culture. His ‘Stoned Ape Theory’ argues that the rapid rise of homo sapiens was triggered when our ancestors started eating magic mushrooms, leading to increased brain size, creativity and language. Pretty fascinating if you ask me.

There are many great McKenna interviews and lectures on YouTube, like this one and this one. The audio version of the above quote can be heard in this video.

I can say from personal experience that there is truth in this quote. I never believed in “The Secret”, all that talk of “if you put positive energy into the universe, the universe will reward you” or “the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward”. I thought it was new age bullshit – something Dr. Phil and other ‘life coaches’ trotted out to suckers. But honestly, my experience over the past 18 months has changed my mind. I had an impossible dream (become a web cartoonist) and I made the commitment and hurled myself into the abyss (quit my job and sold my house to fund the dream) and so far, it’s worked out better than I could have imagined. As soon as I handed in my resignation letter, good things started happening to me. Tim Ferriss contacted me about contributing to his book, my house was sold after I was super stressed that it wouldn’t, and all sorts of other small, positive things encouraged me to keep going. It did kind of feel that the universe was rewarding me for making the decision to finally act on my impossible dream.

Now I don’t want to give people a false sense of hope – that all you have to do is take the leap and everything will work out peachy. For me, ‘making the commitment’ means working my ass off, drawing these comics 6-7 days a week. But the work is satisfying and meaningful to me. So I would say that hard work, planning, skill, commitment and grit make up 90% of the equation, but maybe that last 10% is just deciding to hurl yourself into the abyss.

I’m interested to hear what your experience is with this. Have you taken a risk and found that it paid off big time? Or have you taken a leap of faith only for it to end badly? Are you better off for trying, or did the experience just leave you bitter and angry?

RELATED COMICS by Timothy Leary, Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury and Bill Hicks.

Thanks to Daniel, Kent, Kaveri and Senyor for submitting this.