Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mission A1232Q: The Towers

Blue is the sky above Corfu. He stared at the spec of ash on the toe of his right shoe, waiting. His cigarette had another three minutes in it, and the priest had given him an appointment that would begin in four. He felt a surge of adrenalin in his gut, and smiled at how it had always been this way: timing.

Morrisey was known for making it by mere fractions of a second. It was why his employers paid him as much as they did: his success rate was at a hundred percent, and he never kept his window open long enough for his target to be intercepted. In the village of his birth, where he had had a different name, where he was now thought to be dead, he had always won at Russian Roulette. In his present employment, Morissey was known for his obsession with his rubik's cube, fingers moving ceaselessly as his eyes stared at the seconds on a stop watch he used to time himself.

Timing. He shifted his weight, measuring his breathing, making sure his exhale time was exactly recursive. Recursive counts were a bitch, like the time in Perugia where the ambassador had sealed off the June invasion plans in an old sea chest, using a battered set of recursive rusty iron links, joined to a wood panel with worn leather straps. Morrisey had a window of five minutes for the entire operation, a minute of which was to be dedicated to drizzling the links with machine oil. Barefoot, his sweat had merged, salt and oil licking the links to silence as his abonormally long fingers, second and third of which were the same length, rolled one link off to remove the one before, and so on and back again, the Doberman asleep, 2 doors down the hall. He had slid into the backseat of the waiting car, slick and trembling at 4 mins 48 secs, still barefoot.

Barefoot he was again, while wandering around Corfu; his superior had sent him there “to take time off”. Morissey had smiled as security had scanned the GPRS system implanted just below his collarbone, to ensure the 2 storey jump the night before had not disturbed the calibrations. Corfu had a patron saint, crystal blue waters, but it was still on the same planet. The GPRS would tell them if he stopped to take a piss. There was no time off. His assignment would come. And it did.

3mins 46 secs.

The butt was black cold ash by the time Morrisey took his place opposite the priest at the table inside. In front of him was a bottle of Ouzo, a bowl of nuts and a tiny model of the towers that Lucas the french mathematician had constructed.

Morrisey smiled.

“It’s not worth it”, the old man said, staring at Morrisey’s fingers.
“They want it done”
The man sighed, and poured himself more Ouzo.
“The end is not mathematical. It cannot be stopped, and it will come with signs of great despair and wonder, and the Evil One will reign for many--”
“According to you and your kind. I however have been made to believe that there is a formula for everything”
“They are using you, and you will die. Beware your pride, young man. The ground in that room is covered with human bones, sightless eyes and dust. Why would you disturb it?”
Morrisey’s eyes gleamed. He stretched out his fingers, lifted the first disk and dropped it down the middle pole. Gently, slowly. He raised his eyes to meet those of the priest’s, staring intently at him.
“Because, it has already begun”

In Corfu town he had met the woman he had been briefed about, a woman with breasts like young pears, between which had hung an ancient copper disk with Cyrillic inscriptions, on a black string. His eyes clung to the disk in wonder, and she, being a wise woman, had raised herself off him, and brought him to her grandmother.

Find the face of the goddess, on the lowest step of the bath at Moraitika, the old woman said in a quiet voice. That disk, pointing at her grand-daughter’s throat, is the offering.
And you will die. As it has been, once every 64 years. An offering, she added.

Morrisey had held out his palm for the disk, and left without a word.

Moraitika was one of the older sites in Corfu, and his feet stepped over the dust of Tribunes and the remains of amphoras as he made his way down to the ruinous great bath. He took off his shoes at the entrance, his shirt, his trousers. Wearing only his watch and a torch around his neck, he descended below. The carved stone was cool to his feet, the ruins abandoned by tourists because of the holy parade in the village down the hill. He counted steps till he reached 22, and then the dank lower level, hard floor. He turned and crouched, torch between his teeth, searching.
He smiled at the beautiful face blank before him. 22 was a lucky number; risky, it told of choices. He placed his fingers over the face, his eyes closed like so many times before. Tracing stone eyes, stone nose—stone mouth. There was a hollow, the width of the disk. The copper circle slid in easily. Ears pricked, Morrisey heard the dull low ‘chink’ below, and sprang onto the 21st step as the rock at his feet slipped away horizontally.
Morissey considered the darkness below. 64 years, the old woman had said.
He thought of his shoes sitting outside for 64 years. A magic square, this life, whose beginning was 1 and it’s end 64.

When I get older losing my hair
many years from now
will you still be sending me a valentine
birthday greeting, bottle of wine
If I'd been out till quarter to three
would you lock the door
Will you still need me
Will you still feed me
When I'm sixty-four.

Morissey hated the Beatles, but couldn’t help grinning. Holy numbers and British pop. The end of the world and 3 iron poles. Death. Recursive Death recursive death recursive Stop.
He went below, knowing exactly what he would find, knowing there would be no booby traps, no hidden treasure. If he came out alive he would go back to the girl of sweet pears and dark eyes. If he came out alive.

His eyes adjusted to the dark. The walls of the passage way were smooth, damp, cold, the plastic of the torch in his mouth wet with his saliva, for he needed his hands alive and awake to any possibility, any trick the romans had found, and strengthened, and reused. He refused to look down when his feet kicked at something that immediately collapsed into dust with a little sigh of displaced air. He was 32 and Romany: death was like the unwelcome relative who always outstayed his visit, who you got used to like a painful corn, or nail on the wall. He refused to look down, but instead counted his steps. The passage widened just as he mouthed 260.

He gaped. The three poles were as tall as he was, ancient standing sentinels. He touched the middle tower: iron. Pali script: they had taken these from the priests of Brahma, carrying them in secret ships to this island for safe-keeping. To ensure the life of the world was maintained, once every 64 years, by moving a single disk.

He had 3 minutes. One, to lift the uppermost disk. The second, to slide it down the middle pole. The old man had told him there were rumors of poison vents in the ground he stood on, so intricately balanced that any sudden increase in weight would release the fumes. He could not let the disk fall. He suddenly wished for machine oil, for the comforting feel of modern European floorboards under his feet, for the warmth of the jail-cell he had spent a night in, in Krakow. Whatever time he had left, was the time he had to race up the passage, and jump onto the 21st step, before the goddess swallowed him forever. He knew the countdown would start the moment he touched the first disk. He knew that these towers were diabolical: the old man had warned him how hypnotizing the sight of the incomplete ancient puzzle was to the quick-fingered, how intense the desire would be to try his skill at moving all 64 disks, to change the course of history, to end the world with numbers. Beware your pride, he had said.

He closed his eyes, and stretched out his hands. He did not need the light. Fluid like oil, fluid like the sleek head of the sleeping dog, fluid like diving into the grotto outside Corfu town, like the disk in his hand, cold and large like the head of some great gentle beast, eased over the middle tower, gently, slowly. Fluid like feet on sand, feet against dust-bone running panting up the passage, the rumbling of earth already begun in his mind, fluid like her arms, her face, recursive like sex, this running
15 seconds.

After he got his breath back, Morrisey decided to leave his shoes behind. He walked down to the village in his shirt and boxers, entered the first bar and demanded Ouzo. His fingers trembled so much he couldn’t pick up the glass; instead, he went outside, midst angry yells about the unpaid tab, and hailed a taxi for Corfu town.

He smiled out the window. Maybe his son would return for his shoes, one day.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"Give Me Your Poems"

Three days ago, Lyubomir Levchev came to read on campus, in celebration of National Poetry Month here in yankville. Lyubomir is a Bulgarian poet, and this was his self introduction:

hello my friends, of famous rogers williams college.
I am lyubomir.
I dont speak english.
But after 2nd bottle, I speak english.

Sitting there with notepad and cranberry juice, I couldn't take my eyes off the old man: he has one of those faces that time's used like it would an old tree trunk-- wrinkles, warts and mottled skin like lichen and moss and owls nest in the top branches. He has the most beautiful smile, and carries his cane instead of leaning on it. He came with his lovely wife, his translator, and his publisher and friend, Alexander Taylor, one of the directors of Curbstone Press, and a poet in his own right.

Something about Lyubomir caught my imagination: I have never scribbled down so much verse thanks to the presence of one old man, ever before. His publisher read Levchev's work in english, and then the poet would read the same in Bulgarian:

He tells his translator,
no stopping.
Refuses to read, like a 5 year old
at his eye doctor's clinic,
and holds his cane
while listening,
like a flower

Levchev wanted Taylor to keep reading, while he sat there and listened, intently.

What a face!
If only this pen was a brush,
and I, Rembrandt.

He could've sat in a boat
on a wharf
in a ditch,
reading poetry with a pipe.

He smiles.
What a face!
I mourn my lack.

Lyubomir only picks up his cane
and points to the poetry growing
outside the window.

I kept scribbling things like this throughtout the two-hour reading. Levchev has written some fine poetry. The official blurb on him, according to the PEN American Centre is as follows:

Lyubomir Levchev was born on April 27, 1935, in Troyan, Bulgaria. He has published over 20 volumes of poetry and two novels. Over 60 of his books have been published in 33 countries. He has been awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry of the French Academy and the title Knight of Poetry, the Grand Prize of the Alexander Pushkin Institute and the Sorbonne, and the World Award of Mystic Poetry Fernando Rielo. Levchev is the founder and editor of the international literary magazine Orpheus.

Taylor, while introducing Levchev, said that the President of Bulgaria visited him, and that he was the lion of Bulgarian poetry. Hearing this-- albeit translated-- Levchev let loose a loud belly laugh, rocking back and forth in his chair in his merriment. His translator then said to us, "he says, 'very well if you say so'". Little things like this kept the audience charmed throughout the reading.

The first poem that Taylor read, was called 'Lullaby', and is translated from the Bulgarian by Valentin Krustev:

by Lyubomir Levchev

The boy was standing at the exit
of the new gas-station
like a deadlock,
like a gas pump,
like an air hose.
I braked suddenly to pick him up.
And only then did I notice
what an evil appearance he had.
I asked him:
“Which way?”
“To Plovdiv,” the hitch-hiker grumbled.
“Eh!” I joked bluntly like an intellectual.
“Such a young boy
to such an old city!”
“Oh, fuck this face of mine!
Could you, too, guess
that I still have no ID card?”
“But why are you cursing?”
“Because they won’t give me a job.
I can’t get started.
Do you know what it’s like
to be
and yet be unable to make a start?…”
I gave him a piece of chocolate.
He ate it up at once
and fell asleep.
I watched him, just in case,
in the rearview mirror,
in the loop of sleep.
His hair, long as a wig,
made him look like
a premature Robespierre.

And so we flew across eternity
like two centuries,
like two tenses:
past continuous
and a future that cannot begin.
Meanwhile the whirling wind hummed a lullaby:
Sleep, sleep, my boy.
It’s not your fault,
But our shameless falseness.
Sleep, but don’t trust Fukuyama.
History exists.
History is searching.
And soon
it will find you a job.
Oh, what a job!
They will remember you!

Levchev is part of the 'PEN World Voices: The New York festival of International Literature' which will be on from April 25-30. He will be there along with Chinua Achebe, Martin Amis, Upamanyu Chatterjee, Russel Banks, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie and others.

I bought his latest book, "Ashes of Light", and went up to say hello to him. He looks at me, takes my wrist in his hand and greets me in the old-fashioned way:

To say hello,
he lifted the back of my hand
to his nose and moustache.
Reverent aged touch.

Automatic, I would've done
the deep namaskaram,
shishya arriving after a long journey.

He prevents action by
gripping my hand and growling
"give me your poems"

Breathless, I read him my scribblage.
I gasp out, "this has not happened before"
Yes, he smiles. This is how it starts.

That's exactly what he said: "Give me your poems". After reading a little of what I had written for him, he kissed my cheek and said, "thankyou". I cannot describe that moment well enough: everything came together, Levchev was an angel, the afternoon sun blazed in from the windows and my pen would not stop moving.

There was a conversation on poetics, as can be expected. Levchev spoke on translation, how he felt translation was a separate art by itself. He also said that if the translation sounds better than the original, then the translator has failed. Both Taylor and Levchev agreed that the literal meaning was not as important as the true sense and feeling of what the poet is trying to convey. Taylor quoted an anecdote that's attributed to some hispanic author whose name eludes me: a student once ran up to this great author with a translation and asked eagerly if it was right. The author in turn said yes, it is right, but the aroma has gone.

Levchev drew a self portrait in my copy of his book for me. He told me he has visited India twice, and loved the ashram at Pondicherry. I told him I had a Bulgarian friend I had met down in New Orleans. He clapped me on the shoulder, and smiling, rumbled in Bulgarian to his translator, who turned to me and said, "ah, now he says you are family".

Out of all the poems Taylor read, two poems by Levchev made a lasting impression. One was, called Tomorrow's Bread.

Tomorrow's Bread

Once I reproached my son
because he did not know
where to buy bread.
And now...
he is selling bread
in America.
in Washington.
In his daytime routine
he teaches at the university.
At night he writes poetry.
But on Saturdays and Sundays
he sells bread
on the corner of Nebraska and Connecticut.


In Sofia
the shades of old women
scour the dark.
Ransacking the rubbish bin they collect bread.
Pointing at one of them, a teacher
of history and Bulgarian language, they say:

"Don't jump to conclusions, take it easy!
She's not taking the bread for herself. She feeds
stray dogs
and birds."

And my words too are food for dogs
and birds.

Oh God!
Why am I alive?
Why do I wander alone in the Rhodopes?
Why do I gaze down abandoned wells?
Why do I dig into caves where people lie?
And pass the night in sacred places, renounced by you?

I am seeking the way
to the last magician's hideout,
he who forgot to die
but has not forgotten the secret of bread.
Not today's bread, which is for sale,
not yesterdays bread which has been dumped...
I must know the secret of tomorrow's bread.
The bread we kiss in awe.
The bread that takes our children by the hand
and leads them all back home.

You wrote of bread,
and your son who sells it
at the corner of Nebraska and Connecticut.

You wrote of Sofia,
old women finding bread in dust-bins,
and your son, and no bulgarian bread in sight.

I wept silently,
thinking of my professor, Cyrus Partovi,
who will not return to Iran
but misses his mother's

We took plenty of pictures, which the media person said she'd send over in a few days time. He stopped smoking two years ago, for health reasons. But he stole a smoke from his wife, as she, the translator, the publisher and I stood outside the library, waiting for their ride to come up. For Priyanka, he said. Mike and Alex and some of the others came out then, and we exchanged hugs, and cards, and email addresses.

"To PriYanka- poet
From LYubo


He wrote it like that, Y's overlong. I asked him to come to India again. He crossed himself, with a little half-smile, half-nod.

I hope he makes it.

The Hit on Pramod Mahajan

His brother took him out, the report said. There was a matter of a building contract.

Mahajan should've read the Godfather: Can't you just hear brother Praveen giving him "the look" and saying, quietly--

"Pramod, you're my older brother, and I love you. But don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever".

tee hee.

Of Blood-lust, Religion and Education

A few blog-posts ago, a dear friend and I walked away from each other due to conflicting views of the issue of islam and violence.

In a nutshell (and I had to go back to refer the slings and arrows we had aimed at each other) his argument was that "they" [I think he understood "they" to mean muslims, arabs & terrorists interchangeably] would do anything to prove their culture was superior to everyone else's, and would destroy anyone who disagreed with them.

In a nutshell, my argument was people's reactions are based on what they have experienced at the hands of others. I also said something about respect, and used other such maudlin words. In short, while trying to speak out against intolerance, we both ended up being intolerant. Sic transit.

Our argument escalated, and not just because of emotion taking over the wheel, pushing reason the back seat. It was because both of us had part of the truth, and both parts contradicted the other.

What made me bring that up was today's Washington Post article on the Afghan convert, written by Pamela Constable of the Washington Post Foreign Service.

Abdul Rahman was put on trial after it was discovered he had converted to christianity. According to the BBC, he has been a christian for sixteen years, and now faces the death penalty because of his conversion. His supporters and family have claimed he is not fit to stand trial; Mr. Rahman himself has claimed to have heard "voices" in his head. Karzai is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with his international allies decrying the trial, and domestic clerics and institutions decrying the growing influence of the west interfering with sharia law.

NB: At this point, gentle reader, do remember that in Afghanistan's highly flagrant political climate, nothing can be seen as back and white. According to the Post article--

Some suggest that extremists may have provoked controversies such as the Rahman case to incite religious fervor or weaken the Karzai government. Islamic insurgents are trying to destabilize the country, and Muslim sensitivities have been aroused by the publication of anti-Islamic cartoons in Europe and the mistreatment of Muslim detainees in U.S. military custody.

What is interesting is that clerics who denounced the Taliban are now calling for the death of Rahman. They claim that the Taliban tortured the people and that this was dispicable. However, they also state that according to sharia law, whoever leaves the fold merits death.

Easy it is at this point to jump up and point fingers, to cry shame and decry hypocrisy.

Hold up. Take a breath.

The interpretation of theological doctrine will always be a delicate matter. Dr. Abu-Nabi Isstaif, visiting Fulbright scholar from the Damascus University to RWU, discussed this matter with me a few days ago. According to him, there is nothing in the Koran that points to death for the one who leaves islam, i.e. who is guilty of the crime of apostasy. This comes down to an interpretation of the text.

M. Cherif Bassiouni,professor and the president of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law, holds the same opinion. Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Bassiouni states

The principal category of crimes in Islam is called hudud. These crimes are referred to in the Koran and thus require prosecution. They are: adultery, theft, transgression (physical aggression), highway robbery, slander and alcohol consumption. Apostasy is included in this list by most scholars, but not by a few others. The Koran refers to it as follows: "And whoever of you turns [away] from his religion [Islam] and dies disbelieving, their works have failed in this world and the next [world]. Those are the inhabitants of fire: therein they shall dwell forever." Surat (chapter) al-Ma'eda, verse 35.This verse does not criminalize the turning away from Islam, nor does it establish a penalty.

In the same article, Bassiouni claims that apostasy has been criminalized in certain islamic countries based on "doctrinal constructs established in the 7th and 8th centuries". Afghanistan is a country with a muslim majority and a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion, as do the constitutions of other muslim-majority countries, such as Algeria, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Countries that do consider Apostasy a crime punishable by death include Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Interestingly, Bassiouni claims that "there are no known cases in recent times in which someone charged with apostasy in these countries has been put to death".

There is no demographic available that documents religious deaths as dictated by interpretations of sharia, just as there were no available demographics that documented religious deaths as dictated by interpretations of the bible during the middle ages. But we will leave aside comparitive analysis for now and take Bassiouni at his word.

Google "islam-convert-death" and a multitude of websites, faithfully trailing a .org, will descend upon you. And depending on the affiliation of these websites, you will get quotes from separate parts of the Koran that justify either death or leniency regarding apostasy.

I asked Dr. Isstaif about this discrepancy in islam: afterall, there is meant to be one 'ummah', one people, one god, one religion. Then why these versions of "the truth", this pendulum-course between extremism and the middle path?

Isstaif claimed it was all due to education. As a scholar of arabic, with a degree from Oxford, he claims that he knows the Koran as well, or better than, any Syrian arab. He also claimed that the Koran was written in arabic, and the nuances of the word is often lost in translation. The good doctor said that a lack of education, and a lack of a knowledgable grasp of arabic often left certain parts of the world with a very literal interpretation, or even a misreading, of the text. Isstaif thinks this is unfortunate.

Isstaif agreed, by the way, that an apostate was certainly put out of the fold. However, by no means is the death penalty a valid judgement, he says.

I asked Dr. Isstaif, what then is the way to reduce these misinterpretations, to let people know what the Koran actually says?

Education, he says. Teach them to read on their own, so these people in south asia and east asia can read the truth for themselves, and then choose whether they want violence or dialogue.

It's all very well for Dr. Isstaif. He isn't in Afghanistan right now. And it's not as simple as spreading democracy.

According to the Post's article:

Members of the clergy, traditionally the most influential segment of this tribal, largely illiterate society, tend to add a major caveat. The Western world, they say, has no right to interfere in Afghanistan's religious affairs, and outsiders should not confuse Afghan desires for political freedom with a shift to permissive views on personal behavior.

"We have no enmity with the West, but if the West wants us to live in democracy, it must let us make our own decisions," said Enayatullah Balegh, imam of the large Pul-I-Khishti mosque. "Islam is everything to us. It is more powerful than our constitution. We appreciate honest help, but we ask that you not interfere, or else we will have no choice but to become suicide bombers."

In public, few Afghans are willing to question the authority of the clergy or the inviolability of Islamic law. But some, including college students, journalists, human rights advocates and government officials, say they support a more moderate interpretation of their religion.

As a political science student, I can tell you that extremist parties in Pakistan have often influenced violence in Afghanistan, a border issue that has been a bone of contention between Karzai and Musharraf.

As a political science student, I can also tell you that like the argument babs and I had, the imam's words, quoted above, also hold a grain of truth. Historically, no country has been able to balance the twin jurisdiction of religion and state. Italy in the 13th century, Afghanistan today, Pakistan on and off, and Iran in the 1970's and 80's stand as proof of this.

His ultimatum could have been predicted. I do not seek to justify his claim-- If the man lived in the Gaza strip, or what used to be Jaffa and is now called Tel Aviv, if the man was palestinian and has been deprived of flag, country and passport illegally for the past 40 years, and was decrying the actions of the israeli government, I would understand his claim, fully. For an imam of a historically important mosque in the older part of Kabul, and the centre of protest against the US invasion of Afghanistan, it is requires to look under the first layer of the onion to understand his ultimatum.

The fact is that a literal, orthodox interpretation of islam does not allow for western democracy as it is known in the world today. The fact is, moderate muslims who claim that a bridge can be built, are discounting the fact that no time was given in Iraq or Afghanistan for any such bridge to be built. Demagogues took the opportunity the US invasions provided to incite violence against the people and form of government that was opposing what these orthodox clerics believe to be their way of life.

Dr. Isstaif lives and breathes his religion, and takes the time to pray five times a day. He claims that democracy cannot be implanted as is, without making any allowance for cultural and historical differences between western and islamic countries.

Karzai is fully aware of this, and to balance the effects of the chief cleric of the supreme court, who is as orthodox as they can get, the president has elected younger, more moderate judges to the court.

One is Qasim Hashimzai, the deputy justice minister, an articulate man who wears pinstriped suits and returned several years ago from long exile in the West. "The principles of Islamic jurisprudence are perfectly logical and consistent with democratic political institutions, and the Koran gives people lots of freedom," Hashimzai said. "But it all depends who interprets Islam -- a rigid person, a moderate person or a one-eyed person."
(Washington Post)

Hashimzai also claimed that execution as penalty for converting to another faith, stemmed from earlier times, when Islam was under threat, and made less sense today. In the case of Rahman's high-profile prosecution, he said, "I think political hands were behind it. Someone wanted to test the system, to put the government in confrontation with Islam and with the West."

The article also claimed that a "few younger, educated Afghans said they strongly disagreed with executing a convert or enforcing harsh punishments, but they said they could not afford to be quoted for fear they would be ostracized and possibly hounded".

"our mullahs are very strict, and many people are not educated, so they follow them", said a young man who, when interviewed, said he felt Rahman should be spared.

Hm. Freedom is choice. I agree with babs on this.

A final quote from the Post article:

After the service, worshipers offered nearly identical opinions, saying Islam was a democratic and beneficent faith -- but that no one had the right to leave it.

"Islam is the most perfect religion in the world. We have accepted it, and we should stick to it," said Mahmad Humayun, 35, a clean-shaven science instructor at Kabul University. "Islam is the basis for democracy. It gives rights to all people. Therefore, we must all think very carefully and never do anything to cause Islam problems."

Freedom is choice. But what kind of choice would be made, when a person knows nothing of the outside world, and no other reality other than what he or she has been taught? Such freedom of choice that Mr. Mahmad Humayun claims is the same freedom that Mormons choose, that sub-saharan african families who indulge in female circumcision choose. All is done on a basis of religion and cultural identity.

May the voices in Mr. Abdul Rahman's head keep him safe, just in case his gods can't.

The day Donna Brazile came to town

Donna Brazile, campaign manager for Vice President Al Gore’s failed bid for the Presidency, discussed 2006 and 2008 election prospects at Roger Williams University on Monday, April 10.

Brazile’s lecture, titled “American Electoral Politics: Prospects for 2006 and 2008,” began at 4:00 p.m. in room 157 of the Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences building on the Bristol Campus at One Old Ferry Road.

That was the official uni press release for the event. My immediate reaction was Lord, no WAY am I going to witness another sorry display of yank election politics. Shouldn't there be, by god, a limit to the amount of campaign tales an international student can take?

I went anyway. Curiosity killed the Garfield, and further more, they had cookies for refreshment.

I had first slotted Donna as just another suit out there to bang a drum to the beat of a personal agenda. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Meet Donna Brazile, ladies and gentlemen:

Ms. Brazile comes from Louisiana. She named her book "Cooking With Grease", and it's a "powerful, behind-the-scenes memoir of the life and times of a tenacious political organizer and the first African-American woman to head a major presidential campaign." (

You could tell she's used to that mic. With a southern smile and a husky rich tone, she blew the audience away with jokes at everyone's expense: her own, the Republicans, the Dems, FEMA.

The room was filled. She could've used the moment to wave the Democrat flag. She could've stomped and roared over the Gore campaign, and the lack of transparency. She could've ripped apart Bush's domestic policy.

Instead, she chose to talk about her first political campaign: at age 9, Brazile rode her bike around, getting children and parents to vote for a city councillor who had promised a playground in her neighbourhood. The campaign was successful. Since then, Ms. Brazile has always fought for the issues more than just the party colours.

She also talked about Louisiana, her home. Eloquent she was, just like in her article in the Washington Post, after Katrina hit:

"New Orleans is my hometown. It is the place where I grew up, where my family still lives. For me, it is a place of comfort and memories. It is home."

She spoke for more than an hour, and no one left, even after the cookies got over. She talked across lines, saying how important it was for young people to vote intelligently, to be part of decision-making, to run for office. For Donna Brazile, America's hope sat in that room. Looking around at the nodding faces and hands raised to ask questions, I knew she had got each and everyone of us in that room. And not only did she put campaigning in perspective-- you need to fight for what's worth making the change-- but she also gave the Dems a human face, a southern warmth, and a firm grounding that for many in the room, the Dems had never showed before.

She criticized the Dems for never taking a united stand on an election issue. She lined up possible candidates for the 2008 primaries. She juggled Dems and Republicans with equal grace, and equal dry wit.

She also told stories. Of the two white guys in New Orleans who moved members of her family to safety after seeing them stranded on TV, eventhough they lived 5 hours away and could only be reached by boat. She told other stories-- of her various campaigns, of meeting Bush a couple of evenings before her talk, when she asked him to rebuild the levees. Of her old uncle Book (who was called Book because he always gave the kids books for presents) who died two days after being evacuated. She took Old Uncle Book back to their ancestral home, a little town where her family had land given to them when they were sharecroppers after the civil war. Her eyes lit up as she told us of the welcome Uncle Book had, where people lined up and said yeah, there's your land. Bury him here, where he wanted to be. And, welcome home.

No one wanted to leave. And everyone wanted to go talk to her. Yours truly toddled down, feeling unkempt and unsure: how does one talk with capitol hill types? Donna grabbed my hand, and asked for my name with a big smile. In that one moment, I was back in new orleans.

Abdel and I told her what we saw downtown, in the ghost-town lanes that turned off the main roads, of the ravaged landstrip along the road that led to Baton Rouge. We told her about loving the jazz, and the jumbalaya. Like every Louisianian I've met, she thanked us, gave us hugs, and we hugged back, tumbling over ourselves to tell her about Ruth's house and how she didn't have flood insurance. Donna immediately gave us a number to give Ruth, and told us she could help, "tell her Donna said so".

The lady is beyond cool. And it aint just me who says this. Donna Brazile is many things, from being the Chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute (VRI) and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, to the first African American to lead a major presidential campaign, to a weekly contributor and political commentator on CNN’s Inside Politics and American Morning, to a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

She is also among Washingtonian Magazine’s 100 Most Powerful Women in Washington, D.C., and Essence Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in America.

She also likes eating at MacDonalds. And when she said that good government was every thinking individual's responsibility, I raised my coke can with all the other new england and jersey kids in the room.

Hail Donna. You got my vote.

Visit Donna Brazile online, here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

RWU at night

Wandered around on saturday night with Siwar's camera. This was the result. Below's the preview.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Hey Jud-as

He told me that he saw you
lying on an ice floe.
You had groaned and moaned,
with a bloody mary at your side.

(He gulped his beer fast when he talked;
never a good sign.
But the band was taking ten,
and the bar was still open)

So anyway, he told me he saw you,
and that you had frowned
as you chewed a celery stick.
"Betrayal doesn't pay", you had cried.

I asked, What good is silver anyway?
He fingered his loose change, and said
that you had said those very words,
then had asked him to take pictures.

His camera was broken, and he told you so.
You wept hot tears into the ocean, careful
to keep your ice floe safe. He then asked
why you were skinny dipping so far north.

It all began with a kiss, you sighed.
You had been called to a secret meeting,
where jesus spoke to you from his tread-mill.
you were the chosen one; a kiss sealed the pact.

He gulped more beer then, fingered more change.
Big wet lips; I knew he had wanted to ask you
what it felt like to kiss a god.He had instead
asked, why then, this 364 day pass in hell?

He claims you had readjusted your icicles, then
recounted a strange tale; you broke silence
and wrote in your live journal. Jesus found out
coz he-- of course-- owns Google.

This one Arctic day was the saviour's grace.
He had asked you how bad it was, you know,
down there. You apparently sighed,
and said the vodka could be better.

The bar maid came back, and
smiled as she lit my smoke. She
asked if you wanted more ice.
I said, yeah. You probably did.


After seeing this, here.

"April 10, 2006 — History's great betrayer Judas Iscariot was actually a loyal disciple who simply followed Jesus's orders, according to a manuscript which has resurfaced after nearly 1,700 years.

Made in 300 A.D. in Coptic script on 13 sheets of papyrus, both front and back, the document is believed to be a translation of the original Gospel of Judas, written in Greek the century before.

Presented on Thursday by the National Geographic Society at a news conference in Washington, D.C., the Gospel of Judas was discovered in the Egyptian desert near Beni Masar in the 1970s..."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Tim's work

Permit me to introduce you to Timothy Senaviratne.

Tim lives in Sri Lanka, and is interested in many things. He's also good at these many things-- like photography, being human, digital art, singing, smiling and loads more.

Tim's story is here.

Tim's art work is here.

You need to see both.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Making Up

And the silence was huge,
like the space inside a rotten seed, or
a gutted house. We ran around
with brooms and dust-pans, cleaning up.

And the arguments were neatly folded away;
The waiter left with the pain on a tray.
maturity is a strange morphine;
most druggies have no excuse, they say.

This aint a Woody Allen movie;
The timing doesn't have to be right.
The fear I respect, so I can't answer
"did I ever have you, to lose you with this fight?"

Can I tell you what I should?
(Not permission, though that also)
My tongue has aged, and turned to wood.
Tell me, does it matter that I am no longer


Monday, April 03, 2006


So it's what everyone's dancing to. One day it too shall pass. Till then...

Sigh. Oh, what the hell :)

Frankie J- Obsession [Reggaeton Mix]

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Let's talk about Dying

Self-preservation when one is being chased by a hungry Bengal tiger, or when one is stuck on an ice floe which just declared independence from the Arctic circle is one thing.

Self Preservation when there is nothing but flat green grass in the sun, and lazy days where all you have to do is save yourself from extra calories and the blues, is a non sequitur.

And often, if you have as much time as I do, you tend to spend time on pushing edges. Especially when limits do not come easily to you.

Freedom and anarchy. Jefferson and Hobbes, and because of this: Madison and Rousseau. To be less abstract: I am officially in the land of excess, rules no bar. My parents have faith in me, in spite of having sufficient reason to not. I have no local guardian to report to. I have a stipend. I have time.

Freedom and Anarchy. In order to not dive overboard, people usually institute rules upon themselves. Adopt constitutions, ratify treaties. The signatory parties are usually family, educational insitutions, employers and some religion.

Ergo, Madison's idea about checks and balances. Rousseau's idea of sacrificing in the name of the General Will.

[POLSC 150. Class is such fun, truly. Am told that on friday, Danielle threw a pen at professor Greco coz he suggested that she should go out with Will. Who is Will? Long story. Let's just say he's a character, and then some.]

But what happens if you have no employer, no defined religious dogma and no sense of familial responsibility, coupled with the inability to let substances get to you?


I have been an unapologetic smoker since last June. I have enjoyed the moments it gives, the illusion of grace, the trite rites of passage, the sober visions. Ever since mum asked me to quit in december, I have tried. With some luck, I might add. Went for 2 weeks without a fag; then assumed that if it was this easy to give up, obviously I hadn't done enough yet.

I tend to remain sober inspite of much chugging, and much jd quartering. A fact that I relish with some pride, and others take note of either with wary nostalgia or envy-tinged advisories.

Not particularly given to self mutilation, or vein tapping. But it's becoming quite normal to be up at 4am with an empty pack of Camels and an empty bottle of something.

[N.B- What is it about bourbon? A little cheaper than black label, and I have sworn to sip at J&B only with dad, but still. Ah well. Another blog post, that.]

Have received advisories. I have been told, variously:

1. he isn't worth it [whoever the he is]

2. You'll put on more weight. This said in spite of zero calorie truth about vodka.

3. You'll ruin your liver.

4. You'll ruin your heart.

5. You'll ruin your lungs.

6. You'll die.

The first five points are about the process of living and mortality. For better or for worse, romance and bodily functions will one day fail. So lets talk about dying.

I never was one for romanticizing death. I have feared it on occasion, but I understood the part it played in life.

But here's a truth: I have never lost anyone who I have loved. Not yet, anyway. The one person I mourned for, I mourned for because the one I loved mourned him, and I couldn't stand calm in the face of such sadness.

I am not dying either. Not yet, anyway.

And because of this, I can't write about the calm of death, the beauty of death, its "better-place"ness. Cummings, for example, wrote this:

gee i like to think of dead

gee i like to think of dead it means nearer because deeper firmer
since darker than little round water at one end of the well it's
too cool to be crooked and it's too firm to be hard but it's sharp
and thick and it loves, every old thing falls in rosebugs and
jackknives and kittens and pennies they all sit there looking at
each other having the fastest time because they've never met before

dead's more even than how many ways of sitting on your head your
unnatural hair has in the morning

dead's clever too like POF goes the alarm off and the little striker
having the best time tickling away everybody's brain so everybody
just puts out their finger and they stuff the poor thing all full
of fingers

dead has a smile like the nicest man you've never met who maybe winks
at you in a streetcar and you pretend you don't but really you do
see and you are My how glad he winked and hope he'll do it again

or if it talks about you somewhere behind your back it makes your neck
feel pleasant and stoopid and if dead says may i have this one and
was never introduced you say Yes because you know you want it to dance
with you and it wants to and it can dance and Whocares

dead's fine like hands do you see that water flowerpots in windows but
they live higher in their house than you so that's all you see but you
don't want to

dead's happy like the way underclothes All so differently solemn and
inti and sitting on one string

dead never says my dear,Time for your musiclesson and you like music and
to have somebody play who can but you know you never can and why have to?

dead's nice like a dance where you danced simple hours and you take all
your prickly-clothes off and squeeze-into-largeness without one word and
you lie still as anything in largeness and this largeness begins to give
you,the dance all over again and you,feel all again all over the way men
you liked made you feel when they touched you(but that's not all)because
largeness tells you so you can feel what you made,men feel when,you touched,

dead's sorry like a thistlefluff-thing which goes landing away all by
himself on somebody's roof or something where who-ever-heard-of-growing
and nobody expects you to anyway

dead says come with me he says(andwhyevernot)into the round well and
see the kitten and the penny and the jackknife and the rosebug
and you
say Sure you say (like that) sure i'll come with you you say for i
like kittens i do and jackknives i do and pennies i do and rosebugs i do

I couldn't write like this, I know too much and too little.

A dear friend said once, that the only reason I don't "take care of my health", as he put it, is because I don't know what its like to not have it. I don't know what its like to act like everything is ok, so that everyone around is relatively at peace.

And I want to thank Becca for knowing. I want to say her name when I stand on top of the hill. And I want to ask her, if like me, she has stayed up at night and wasted time bargaining with whatever god's on shift.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Saturday Night reflections

the stars are moving.

Its the one thing Im sure of. Look at each one of them, up here over the quiet water, the sleeping water that in all these years hasn't changed, inspite of white skin replacing brown-red-copper skin, inspite of a metal bridge, inspite of lamp posts where once ranged deer, inspite of dorms where tents and fires and dogs ranged, firelight on old face telling stories.

The stars are moving. Look at each one, proud hunter, the little bear and his brother, each one is moving. Look at each one separate, and they glide forward, ride forward but it is all mathematical: no one outrides the other, each one moves in geometric progression, the same pattern-- shiny geese flying forever in a double V, miles away.

There are no places to sit under a night sky when the stars are moving. No bench, no stairway, no rooftop of a Ford. Instead, I found a sawed off tree trunk, which had its twin still standing. Siamese, these trees had grown together till one succumbed to the winter gales 2 months ago.
Sit on the stump that is left, rings under denim and skin that live, still live, that no saw maw paw could kill eat or destroy. The bark of its standing brother held no ants, no sleeping spider. Lean back against hoary bark, and suddenly the wind does not chill your human skin. Suddenly your feet sink deeper into soft soil, the grass welcoming your mark. The tree welcomes you, and dry skin is fitting, and you sit still, quieter than a summer afternoon on the terrace, drying next to chillies, drying next to wet pool of spittle, drying next to clothes hung on a line half an hour ago.
The tree welcomes you, like an old massachusetts woman who has reason to love you; there is no close tremulous hug, but there is a huge meal, and warmth, and from her nose you can tell you share great grandfathers and family recipes for pumpkin pie.
Sit on the stump that is left, and you are no longer cold, for there are branch-arms that are above you that will keep away all asteroids and rain, leaves that if you wait long enough will cover you in crackling warmth. The tree longs for its twin. Hermes-Aphrodite. Yin-Yang. Shiva and Parvati had it good because no one ever severed them apart and proceeded to then let them lose in bingo. The tree longs for its twin, and cant believe its luck it finding you.
Memory of long ages. The living sap would put forth shoot and branch and grow through sphincter and skin, up through oesophagus and gut through my mouth and nose and eyes, if I let it. You can never kill just part of a tree. It sighs in longing, but it waits.

I got up because tonight wasn't the night to stand with my face to the stars with a racoon at my feet, wood pigeons in my hair. I got up and walked up the hill to lie on the rock, the old stone making comfortable hollows for all parts of me it received with no complaint. This rock is said to be the very same rock that Roger Williams canoed down to in order to speak with the native tribes, and find solace. It is a big piece of quartz, and looks like a turtle on its side from above. Roger would sit here when there were older trees, and darker nights surrounding the rock, and speak with the indians. I am the first indian here in many long ages. And I have no tribe markings. Of what land, and what peace can I speak?

But he doesn't mind, I can tell. In fact, he likes the company. And I know its old Roger, because 4 months ago come samhain, I left half a bar of chocolate out on the rampart of the rock, and the next day it wasn't there. Americans do not eat things off the ground, and sea gulls do not eat chocolate. The rock cupped the back of my head as gently as my grandmother would. The stars are moving, the bay is quiet with all the old spirits sleeping. The stars are moving, all except for one: a single silver pin prick that stays dangling on a branch, that laughs against the dark fur of the night. I stare at it fascinated, wondering at this out of season christmas bauble.

I watch for the exact moment that the ember dies out. And I am grateful, for I have time. I have time, it pools between my fingers and stays sleeping around my feet and hips. There is time to sleep and dream and mend and make, and it is now. I realize, Kerouac had jazz, and I have had jazz too. But jazz is for the cities, the big happy hugging jazz that comes in and hold you and your aunt around the hips and takes you down the floor, and the moaning white-eyed swamp jazz for those who delved into magic not their own. Jazz is for the cities, and for madness. But Jethro Tull is for the night when stars are moving.

"Wet wind on the sidewalk: I'm staring at the rain.
Walking up the street, yeah, and walking down again.
And my feet are tired and my brain is numb.
See that broken neon sign saying, hey, in you come.

Got the scent of stale beer hanging, hanging round my head.
Old dog in the corner sleeping like he could be dead.
A book of matches and a full ashtray.
Cigarette left smoking its life away.
Another Harry's bar -- or that's the tale they tell.
But Harry's long gone now, and the customers as well.
Me and the dog and the ghost of Harry will make this world turn right.
It'll all turn right.

God's tears on the sidewalk: it's the mother of all rain.
But in the thick blue haze of Harry's, you will feel no pain.
And you will feel no soft hand slipping on your knee.
You don't have to pay for memories, they will all come free.
Another Harry's bar -- or that's the tale they tell.
But Harry's long gone now, and the customers as well.
Me and the dog and the ghost of Harry will make this world turn right.
It'll all turn right"

Everything is moving. My head, the empty bottle diving to the bottom of the trash can, the baby skunk finding food in the dew, the snoring wind spirit that makes the lake water dance. Everything is moving, and it will all turn right.