When I go out to meet the light, the shadow of my body follows me, but the shadow of my spirit precedes me and leads the way to an unknown place
- Kahlil Gibran

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Death and Ajmer

There are 3 primary deities of the multitude in the Hindu religion - Brahmā the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver, and Śhiva the destroyer or transformer. Together they are known as the Trimurti and describe the unending cycle of life. Today we temple we visited on the hill is described by our guide as the only one in the world devoted to Brahma. But it is perhaps Shiva's stamp that we seem imprinted with on this day.

Departing Pushkar for Jaipur we stop for lunch at a restaurant with a walled garden courtyard, on the way to the temple and lake earlier we had observed acrowd gathered a little ways down the road outside. The presence of a police vehicle compels our driver to walk over and investigate the commotion. Upon his return we discover that the locals had found a body loosely wrapped in cloth and abandoned overnight by the road. It was obviously a murder victim since it had been burnt and assaulted, it was already quite decomposed. It is a sobering find, here only on my second day in India, to remind us of an current of savagery that seems to still run through segments of Indian society. From what I observe, violence is doesn't seem to be a far option to settle disputes or insults. But it also this unbridledness that connects with a part of me, that strikes me as authentic and bespeaks of a level of passion existing within me but subdued by my own concept of who I ought to be, a concept that has been delivered to me largely in part by my upbringing. It has been my task the past few years to familiarize myself with this passion, albeit not in the form of violence.

Later in the day we come to the crossroads of Ajmer, Pushkar and Jaipur. The driver stops and asks us for our confirmation to proceed to Ajmer. If we goto Ajmer we will need to walk quite a distance to visit the mosque, it is an important mosque for muslims. He cannot bring the car up the narrow streets through the crowded markets. It is quite far. I ask if the walk is pleasant and his response is not encouraging. At this point the consensus seems to be to head back to Jaipur and as the vehicle starts back in that direction I override the driver to take us to Ajmer instead. We've come all this way to India, it seemed wrong to find refuge in our hotel and pass up on Ajmer when the opportunity was upon us.

The visit to Ajmer turns out to be the best part of the day, we embark on a thrilling tuk tuk ride through the chaotic tight streets of the town. It is our first such ride. My father Tom and I share the small noisy cabin and the driver masterfully maneuvers the sputtering and screaming contraption, squeezing us past flashes of people steppingaside. After 10 minutes, the tuk tuk stops and we are escorted by the driver through more uneven corridors and steps to an crowded bazaar that extends in a whirl of sights, smells and sounds. The man gives us directions to themosque and how to return to where we had began the tuk tuk ride, my mother and our guide/driver were awaiting us there. We walk through the bazaar trying to appear as nonchalant as possible while drawing the curious attention of the locals, they obviously do not get many foreign visitors. The usual touts calling out for our business are missing, and the beggars we find here ignore us entirely, they only beg from the locals. The entire 45 minutes is a kaleidoscopic feast for the senses. This is a pure unadulterated India and I feel privileged.

Snakes and Lakes

Today I experienced a puja by the holy lake in Pushkar. The faithful devotees bathe by the water's edge, flowers drift on the still surface. Flocks of birds lift into the sky periodically then settle again. I exchange the flower given to me by the holy priest in the Brahman temple on the hill for a plate of offerings. In it was spices, candy and flowers. I am led to one of the 52 ghats that descend to the water, seated here on these steps a man leads me through the ritual in exchange for a donation to the Brahmin priests. The prayer is mostly in Sanskrit and I struggle to repeat the words correctly,a couple of symbolic objects are placed into my palm and removed. One of them is a coconut. When the prayer is over I place the offerings in the water.

Then begins the extortion.

The 'holy' man asks us how much we intend to donate to the brahmins. The standard fee is about USD$60. We balk at this. Tension arises and the mood is ruptured. We part with $20 instead. Walking away I do not allow the blessings and state of grace created by the ritual to evaporate. We are free to choose our experience and I decide it serves me better to believe in the grace of this holy man and the sanctity of what I had done.

Pushkar's Holy Lake

The man with the turban sitting on the ground opens his basket as I walk by and I recoil instinctively when I see the cobra inside. He invites me to take a picture with the snake for a fee. The guide assures me that it is safe and though I believe them both, there is still an primitive overriding survival instinct that intervenes. The limbic portion of my brain immobilizes me though the intellect says it's probably ok.

I cannot pass this up, it is a unique opportunity to experience a dangerous elusive creature that bears the dubious reputation in general as a symbol of death. I step forward and hear a gasp, then words of dissuasion from my mother. But this is important to me, to conquer this fear. I know that there is worth in it for me, it is a sort of deposit into the warrior account to touch this cobra against my instincts. I settle cautiously in a crouch beside the man, fully aware that my life is tenuously attached by a string of trust to this strangers words. Touching it's leathery skin, I feel the power and elegance in this snake, a deadly gracefulness that is compellingly beautiful. I feel a rush.

"To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom." - Bertrand Russell

Jaipur Day 2

I am in India. It has been only two days here but already I feel I have left my previous self far behind. The rules here are absolutely different. If I stayed here long enough I would forget the person that I was. This land is wilder than imagined, the people seem unrestrained and unpredictable. There is a bond here that exists through everything. It runs through man and beast, the dead and the living. Nothing is rejected, nothing seems intolerable. The human condition here stretches far across the spectrum, today I saw how much suffering we can endure on a day to day basis. There was a man lying in the middle of the road in a marketplace, his body was contorted in an extreme way, I could not fathom how he even managed to be there on his own. So much destitution but also brotherhood. The suffering burns away the ego and unites. A homeless man sits with his wife by the road, she is not to eat today but rather to fast for her husbands well-being. A sadhu walks by them and the man offers him one of his two rotis. I have little but it is enough for us. Let us not judge each other. Take from my plate.

In this place I feel bloated by what appears as overconsumption in comparison to the stringent lives of the Indian people where nothing seems to be wasted. In every photo I look grotesquely alien and out of place, I want to connect with this current that runs through this ancient land and its people. This bond seems inaccessible. On the surface it may seem that I have more than enough but truly I am the hungry one. Let me feel this unity. I want to have a real emotional connection, I have been starved of a real expression. Authenticity, Let me feel, I want to climb out of my shell. Let me touch you. Let me sit beside you as you pray for deliverance. I too must learn this prayer. Let us pray together, my need is desperate. My hunger is older and deeper. Fill my cup. Brother.

I am brought within the jostling van by a tap on my leg. "Look at this truck" my mother tells me. Looking out the window I see that it is packed with people, many are children. They sit on the back, there are men and a woman that holds her shawl to conceal her face. The children begin to smile and wave, I do the same then there are many flashes of smiles and even the woman reveals her face, it too is aglow. I feel my outstretched hand has been handed a treasure. In this particular span of time and space now opens a window of which the light of Truth shines through.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

More Astrological Predictions

"This one CEO!! Definitely", the bald bespectacled man in the safari suit with the intense gaze cries as he shakes his finger at me. He pulls out his business card and tosses it on the glass table housing his semi-precious stones for effect. When I had first walked into his small office with my parents it was his first prediction, and now as our 20 minute astrology session was ending he chose to reemphasize it. We had requested to visit his man whom is renowned to discern a person's future. We are still within the compounds of the City Palace among a section reserved for selling local handicrafts. We were further encouraged to meet this man upon learning that he never accepted a payment for his readings. Now having had our readings we understand why he is so accommodating, it is because he typically recommends a purchase of certain stones from his desk as remedies to ward off ill fortune. My mother had one such recommendation which she turned down. To the man's credit he didn't waver in his hospitality nor did he accept our offer for a charitable donation.

I listen intently to his readings and for the most part he is able to quite accurately describe the personalities and life circumstances of my siblings and parents. My father is eager to learn if he will ever return to the workforce and what the nature of the work will be. The answer is yes and coincidentally the date given marks precisely one year from the date of my father's retirement which is when he intended to reassess his retirement decision anyways. For me, my only real question is if I will be married someday. The answer is yes, next year in fact. She will be a good woman and the relationship will endure. Hmm... the CEO part was difficult enough to buy but married next year? That's even more far fetched! However, this man is not the first person to look at me and to my astonishment tell me that they see a CEO in me. I simply have no ambition for such.

Gem Dealer and Astrologer extraordinaire

That night we visit the Amber Fort and take in a spectacular Sound and Light show narrated by Bollywood's king - Amitabh Bachchan. In the early days this impressive site was the capital of the Rajasthan kingdom until it was changed to Jaipur by a water shortage.

The show uses the panoramic view of the craggy walls of the fortress as the backdrop, it is a compelling view with a lake in the foreground and hills around us. As we sit on the benches, we are seduced by the vocals of the music and mesmerized by the colorful lighting effects that highlight features of the architecture and terrain. The show transports us to the early days of the Kachchwaha Rajput rulers of Rajasthan, reliving the legends and folklore.

Amber Fort in full lighting

Jaipur Day 1

"Where are you from?", a teenage boy asks Tom as we wait outside Jaipur airport for our pre-arranged ride to our hotel. The young boys crowd around us immediately upon our appearance, they are taken by the sight of Tom. They seem enchanted by this tall American man who seems a cross between President George Bush and the actor Kevin Kline. Tom is quite bemused. "You seem to be like some sort of Messiah to the Indian people", I tell Tom. "If this car doesn't get here soon, you'll be hoisted on their shoulders and carried through town as the latest deity" I add.

The ride to the hotel on the dusty road brings us past camel riders, cattle, motorcylces, tuk tuks. I am stunned to view the level of poverty of the homeless families here who literally live their lives in plain view on the sidewalk. There is a child defecating on the sidewalk as her parents sit close by, a man sleeps awkwardly with no bedding whatsoever hemmed in the space between the sidewalk and the road. I have seen poverty many times before but never this abject. To my amusement I occasionally see men urinating against the walls publicly, this behavior is not confined to the homeless, it appears that this is socially acceptable.

Arriving at the hotel, we are pleasantly surprised by the stateliness of the old but refitted building. Though modest in size it is

quite befitting of its name - Umaid Mahal Heritage Castle. The imposing front door is about 20 feet tall with ornate artwork on the walls. I point to the hotel and say to my friend, "Tom, THIS is a hotel". We put our bags away and meet my parents in the breakfast hall downstairs. Introductions are made, I am glad that my parents who live in Malaysia since my father's retirement have the opportunity to meet Tom who lives in California; and it tickles me that we are doing so in Jaipur, India. We decide to book a driver arranged by the hotel for a full day tour beginning with the City Palace followed by Amber Palace fort.

The corridor of the Umaid Mahal Heritage Hotel in Jaipur

The tour at the City Palace takes about 2 and a half hours. It is actually a palace complex comprising of theChandra Mahal and Mubarak Mahal palaces and other buildings. There is an impressive textile museum containing many painstakingly fabricated and painted fabrics of incredibly delicateness. Some of the work required such an intense scrutiny that children were groomed on a special vegetable diet and put to the task until their eyes lost their nearsightedness over time. Most of the displays are garments of the royalty, some of them are outstandingly huge. The guide tells us they belonged to a Maharaja that was 7ft tall and over 4 ft wide; his name was Sawai Raja Madho Singh II and the cloth used for one particular garment was over 190 metres in length. Size doesn't matter when you're of blue blood, this king had 108 wives anyways. In a display I see a two piece garment called a jama and then beside it a drawstring pants called a pa-jama. Hmm... interesting to learn that the term pajama originates from India. Also originating from this region is the paisley design which was originally simply a imprint of the side of a closed fist. The other two museums are an arms and an arts museum, the arts museum has many historical paintings of incredibly fine artwork requiring a specialized brush designed so that only a single hair delivers the paint with each stroke. Some of the paintings, though not particularly large, take years to complete.

We consent to be ushered by our good guide to another separate building in which artists demonstrate this art and sell their paintings. We gather on the floor around an artist, he has a modest bowl with a variety of colored naturally occurring objects such as stones, tree resin, coal etc. He picks each one up, wets it then scratches a white slate with it. Each object leaves a distinct colored impression. Soon there is a rainbow of dazzling hues, from this he dabs his fine paintbrush and begins painting. He draws an elephant because it is the animal that represents this Rajasthan city of Jaipur, the horse represents Jodhpur and the camel represents Jaisalmer. He looks at me and asks my name. "Aaron, I wish you always happy days in your life.", he says as he writes these words on his simple drawing then hands it to me. My head tells me that this is a tactic to soften me to buy his paintings, but I allow it anyways knowing that this would be the ideal souvenior to add to my collection of worldly artifacts. But perhaps more so I am touched by his statement, I sure can use all the help I can get with regard to my happiness. Lately each moment of happiness seems so fragile and fleeting, the voice of criticism and judgment shuts the door on each ray of joy in a split second. I choose a painting of a camel on an old rice parchment, I don't even bother to bargain the price.

Delhi to Jaipur

It is tough getting out of bed at 4am but I am stoked by the excitement of what lies ahead in India. Our flight leaves at about 630 and the airport is 40 minutes away.

On the way there is some uncertainty about which airport we need to go to, either the International or Domestic airport. This a domestic flight but the driver seems to think we need the International one so we drive there. There are armed guards manning a rickety road block at the airport, they tell us that we need the Domestic terminal and we divert as such. By the time we are dropped off we only have an hour till our flight leaves but we are prevented from entering the terminal building by armed security guards. Apparently in India you cannot enter the airport building without an itinerary or a ticket printed out with your name on it (if you have an e-ticket print the itinerary).

We are directed to the airline counter outside the terminal building to have this printed. The situation grows dire as we stand in line, but it gets much worse when we reach the counter and are told that we are at the WRONG terminal. We desperately scan the traffic for taxis but there are none since pickups are not allowed at this zone. An animated exchange between an Indian man and driver of a van 20 feet from us draws our attention, impulsively we try our luck. "Are you going to the international terminal?!", we ask. "Yes", he nods vigorously as he climbs into the van. They accepts us as passengers and urges us to hurry onboard. On the way we learn that this man who is a jewelry dealer has made the same error as us and he is on the same flight, it seems the locals are none the wiser.

We arrive again at the International terminal and once again we are prevented from entering the building by guards since we still don't have an itinerary. Jewelry guy slips inside with his, at least he knew that much. How can we get one printed?? The guard points to the end of the terminal,... from where we stand it looks like 5 miles away. We arrive there with just 30 minutes until departure and the attendant in the booth now has computer issues, he cannot print out an itinerary for us. He exits his booth with our passports leaving Tom and I staring at each other. "Have a nice trip!", I say after the person walking away with our IDs and Tom shrugs. To our relief he returns with boarding passes awhile later. Ok, we have boarding passes but our bags are not checked in and the flight leaves in 20 minutes. We haul our bags back to the guard at the terminal entrance which is 5 miles away... or so it seems. For some reason, we are denied entry at all the terminal entrances along the way, everyone really wants us to enter at the entrance that is furthest away. This must be some sort of conspiracy to make us miss the flight and have us collapse from the effort.

Inside the terminal we now are required to stand in line at the check-in counter. It seems pointless by this time but I still voice a plea to get to the front of the line, the folks seem to not understand except for an American lady who offers us to go ahead of her. I turn back to express my gratitude only to have some Indians fiendishly use this opportunity slip in ahead of me with their caravan of belongings. Great! However I don't get upset, I'm already resigned to come what may. To our surprise the saried lady at the check in counter accepts our baggage, the flight is delayed!!!

Once onboard the passenger next to me tells me, "I fly this flight regularly, this is the first time we are not leaving on time". I smile inside, somehow there was a knowing we were not going miss this flight.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Touching India

It's been a crazy past few days managing my belongings between Singapore, Sydney and India but I've finally landed in Delhi, India at about 1030pm. As usual I try to get a sense of the vibe/energy that is characteristic to the region, on this occasion as the plane descends over India I feel as though I am floating into the outstretched palm of... an 'Ancient Knowing'. It feels as though there is a consciousness welcoming me to this ancient prayer soaked land, a place saturated with teachings where many Masters have treaded their way. It is a comforting feeling.

It doesn't take long before I realize the deduction of my personal space, I was prepared for this knowing that in India as with most other populous countries people tend to hem you in; but I've only been off the plane for 10 minutes and as I queue in the immigration line there is a man behind me breathing down my neck holding his phone as though we wants to share his text message conversation with me.

The plan is to meet up with Tom in Delhi, he checked into a hotel a couple of days ago and has already made a trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I have no plans to see the TM, I don't feel any urgency for such. Tom has arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport and I locate him easily by his sign with my name on it. It is a long drive and the roads are chocked with heavy traffic, not much can be seen, there doesn't seem to be enough lighting around Delhi and there is a thick haze in the air that obscures. I thought the haze in Malaysia was bad.

The driver eventually stops in the old section of Delhi. The poor lighting of the sodium vapor streetlamps cast a gloom around this dusty quiet section of shop lots, I cannot see anything resembling a hotel. I wonder if I am going to be slain here and have my baggage distributed to the handful of people milling about. A beggar is upon me even before I can offload my two bags from the trunk, I only have a few rupees in my pocket and I give them to him. Unsatisfied he continues to pester me as I am led by the driver to a narrow staircase, I brace myself for the standard of this 'hotel'. I'll be glad if what I encounter even qualifies for 2 stars at this point.

Fortunately, instead of a mugging assault I find a very modest hotel reception on the second level. And soon thereafter the bellhop leads me to the hotel room where a sleepy Tom answers the door. Tom seems to be in a poor shape, he recently had knee surgery and hasn't been getting outside much AND his back gave out a few days ago. He hobbles around the room. I ask him why he picked the saddest hotel in Delhi to which he replies "you can't expect much this is INDIA!". How much is this costing us a night? About US$120. How on earth did you find this hotel? From the Lonely Planet he replies. The Lonely Planet or the LOWLY Planet? I am glad that this is the only accommodation that I have left to Tom to arrange.

I ask Tom about his trip to the Taj Mahal and he says that when he got there it was closed. Closed? I never thought that the TM would have an off day but then he explained that there is a mosque inside and it was a Friday. Ah... Tom relays his experience with the taxi driver, on the way back from Agra they stopped at a gas station and he got down to stretch. The cab driver mumbled "something about a monkey man", and a few seconds later a man with a monkey showed up at which point the monkey jumped up on Tom. He pulls out a picture on his ipod touch and yes, there is a monkey on Tom's head and it looks like it is humping his head. I can't resist throwing a few jibes in, "you shouldn't let the monkey do that, don't you know that's how AIDS was started?". Ah yes, this is why I love Tom's company, there is always humor around the corner when he's around.

We don't spend too much time catching up, we only have 4 hours of sleep until we catch a 6am flight to Jaipur the next day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Namaste Shiva Rea

I've just moved into the Hilton hotel downtown on George St. I moved out yesterday from the apartment because soon I'll be heading to Malaysia for work before going onto India and then onto Singapore for work again. In other words, I don't see myself returning to Sydney until December; therefore, this is a small cost saving measure of the company I work for.

I have been enjoying various guided yoga CDs, they are convenient for my current lifestyle as I am frequently on the move. Shiva Rea, Ateeka and Ana Forrest are the 3 that I use most of the time. Sometimes instead of a guided practice I'll just light candles and incense, put on music and pull out my yoga book which I find very enlightening and work on poses from it.

I enjoy practicing these disparate Eastern physical paths of self-realization, Taichi and yoga, at the same period in my life. I am not an expert in either and I have just begun to experience this phenomenon of internal energy movement directed by the breath and mind. For most of my life I dismissed such notions of chi or prana as either mere novelty or figments of our physiology, but now as I delve deeper into this topic I feel somewhat shamed by my gross ignorance of such a fundamental aspect of our nature or rather ALL of nature. This clearing of energy lines or cultivation of life force has such a big impact our well being, it is a crime that it is not engendered in us from our youth.

Nevertheless, what the mind knows is not necessarily what the body is aligned with. Today's practice was difficult... I think I understand why; I'd not been practicing regularly the past week and when that happens, inertia and sloth set in. If it were not for the nagging pains from a slipped disc sustained many years ago I wonder if I'd have the discipline to persist with this practice. When I practice yoga correctly, I clear the imbalances that had contributed this injury and it also brings healing energy to it, along with many other added benefits. And so out of this long term suffering a key lesson towards realizing one's full potential is derived, a pearl of wisdom has resulted. It is said that the oyster produces the beautiful pearl in response to a persistent irritant such as a grain of sand. Referring to my back injury an irritant is an understatement but the metaphor of the pearl of wisdom is apt to convey that I understand now the important of circulating chi/prana completely throughout our body. The spot of the injury is the convenient target used repeatedly to refine the ability of my mind to move healing energy. When I do this properly, there is a sense of aliveness in the lower back by the end of the yoga session.

Today I turn to Shiva Rea to neutralize my indolence. Her CDs tend to have the best flow and her voice soothes me. Especially during Shavasana at the end of my practice when she recites a moving poem to "guide me downstream on my raft". With my mind resting in my heart, I hear these words from her that compliment the context of my life:

As the bee seeks nectar from all kinds of flowers,
seek teachings everywhere.
Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze,
seek seclusion to digest all that you have gathered.
Like a mad one beyond all limits,
Go where you please and LIVE like a lion,
completely free from all fear.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The next time you leave

Before you leave.
Indulge me this.
All I ask from you.
Is just for one breath.
Of, the air
that occupies the space
between your ear
and your shoulder.
And when I do so,
forgive me this trespass.
That surely, this breath
from the space closest to you
would lead my lips to brush your neck
as I tremble.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

And now... PRAY

This book is getting more interesting now that the author has reached India.

Until part II (India), I'd been a bit disappointed in the inanity of her tale in Italy centering on food. Food is not a passion for me. However I do admit I've rather enjoyed the experience of reading of her gastronomic adventures as I am myself sitting in the Italian Cafe Amici a couple of doors down from my apartment building. To hear the Italian being spoken in the cafe and partaking of the food as I read brings the story to life for me.

I like this quote she pulls of St. Augustine as she is speaking of the yogic path:
"Our whole business therefore in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.
Also from the book:
The classical Indian sages wrote that there are three factors which indicate whether a soul has been blessed with the highest and most auspicious luck in the universe:
  1. To have been born a human being capable of conscious inquiry.
  2. To have been born with-or to have developed- a yearning to understand the nature of the universe.
  3. To have found a living spiritual master.
For the most part I am in agreement with her treatise on yoga and spirituality though I have doubts about her emphasis on meeting a living guru to catalyze one's spiritual awakening by mantravirya: "The potency of the enlightened consciousness."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hubble humbles

Ernie mentioned at yesterday's Taichi practice session that I ought to make time to take in the IMAX show at Darling Harbor entitled Hubble 3D. When the view from the Hubble telescope is cast on the largest IMAX screen in the world in 3D, "the sight of the universe will blow you away"

My old friend Vevek is visiting Sydney for business and I invited him to stay the weekend with me before he returns to Singapore. We both decide to take the short walk to the harbor from my apartment to investigate Ernie's recommendation.

The show does not disappoint except for the finiteness of its own reel. The ability of this powerful telescope to peer into the farthest reaches of outer space or zoom into the intimate depths of a single nebula is mind boggling. The overwhelming sight of the billions of galaxies extending for billions of light years in all directions makes you realize how utterly naive it is to believe we are alone in this Universe. On one hand, the magnitude of the controlled explosion lifting the shuttle into the heavens instills a strong sense of pride in the human race; while on the other hand the infiniteness and scale of everything beyond the atmosphere of our home planet quickly remind us of our humility. When it's over the crowd is speechless, one can sense that there has been an emotional impact. Some even are compelled to clap.

India itinerary

After some refinements and a bit of drama with the travel agent who withdrew contact for a period, the new itinerary for India has at last firmed itself.

The Himalayas draw me to India with greater urgency than any other region. The initial plan for the yoga retreat and then trekking in Rishikesh would have been fulfilling in this regard. Well, there is no sense raging against the elements especially when the time to react is precious. The new plan is to postpone the trip as far as possible without conflicting with work assignments to accord us enough time for proper logistic arrangements. The upside to the new plan is that my friend Tom in California is now joining my parents and I.

In researching India the past couple of weeks it's become apparent that one will need several trips to achieve a fair overall perspective. The cultures, history, geography, customs, religions, they are vast and varied. The three regions of focus for this trip shall be:

(Start Oct 29th)
  • Rajasthan - Udaipur and Jaipur
  • Karnataka - Hampi-Vijayanagar
  • Kerala - Wayanad and Kochi
(End Nov 16th)

In particular, there is excitement to see at last the birthplace of my maternal grandfather in Kerala. His Fernandez lineage is the source of my Portuguese ancestry.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I'm standing on the platform waiting for the train at Town Hall station amongst the morning rush hour crowd. My mind drifts as I gaze down the tunnel in anticipation of the arriving train. A girl steps next to me on my left, I throw a cursory glance and then a second later it strikes me that this girl resembles the Indian girl that had been occupying my thoughts since the weekend; in fact, the resemblance is so strong that a state of bewilderment overcomes me. I am trying to get a proper look at her face, she is literally standing next to me but she too is facing down the tunnel so I cannot see her face again. In this moment the train arrives and it is unusually packed, the crowd condenses around us in anticipation of boarding the train. I resolve to stay close to her, I feel fevered that this moment is my last chance - I created her again just as I said I would.

The train stops and the doors open to belch forth a long stream of people; it quickly becomes intensely packed on the platform. I've never seen it this crowded. There is an announcement requesting that we do not delay the departure of this train because there is another one arriving in 2 minutes. The last passengers have barely alighted when the platform guard blows his whistle to signal the doors are closing! There is jostling, the crowd surges toward the door that threatens to close any second. I despair that she will board this train without me.

Incredibly somehow everyone around this door has made it onboard the train except just the two of us who remain on the platform. Surely a second at most remains, but it seems that we are waiting for the other to make the decision. Sensing a movement on her part towards the train, I react with a bold step that commits me onboard. To my alarm she has faltered - she is still on the platform. The whistle blows again, and then to my relief she suddenly steps onboard beside me. I am about to heave praise to the heavens for the masterful orchestration of events that allowed the both of us on this train AND remain beside each other when a man materializes out of nowhere and rushes in to occupy the space between us as the doors close. Now I can't see her behind this wall of a person.

The train slowly gathers speed. The events of the past 20 seconds were mired in chaos that I still cannot know if she is truly the same person. However, I know that she is Indian and her features, hair, shade of skin, figure... they are all the same. I wait. The repositioning of bodies at the next stop will give an opportunity to move within speaking quarters. What should I say?

The doors open again at the next stop, being against the doors we are forced to step off the train to allow passengers to disembark. Stepping back on, she is herded down the stairs to the lower carriage, I follow but stop at the top of the stairs. I can see only her back. Once I am certain it is her I shall speak with her. But I cannot know from this vantage point. I sense that she is aware of my presence at the top of the stairs 15 feet away. I wish she would turn around, the indecision gnaws at me.

She turns over her shoulder, and looks up at the top of stairs and our eyes lock briefly. A surge of emotion. Then she turns away again. Two more stations pass then she turns to walk toward the stairs moving in step with other passengers leaving. Now I can see her clearly. No... it is not the same person though physically this could very well be her twin. I decide it is not her because those liquid intelligent eyes are not there, her energy is different altogether. She walks right by me then exits the train.

I dismiss the disappointment that wants to sink in. I decide I am encouraged not discouraged by this encounter... maybe I just need some fine tuning to summon her into being yet again. On the other hand, maybe she and the other girl are in fact celestial apsaras. And if so, then surely this forebodes well of my visit to the land south of the Indus river. With a warmth in my belly and a glint in my eye, I step off the train towards my office.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Canberra Sun

The sun always shines in Canberra. At least it does for me. After completing a day's work at the Australian Federal Police, I have the time in hand for a stroll along the lakefront to cross the bridge leading to downtown and take a short diversion into the flower exhibition known as Floriade. The exhibition is only on for a month or so of the year and it will be ending in a few days.

And just as it was on my first visit to Canberra a week ago, the weather seems to be crafted in God's lighting studio to highlight every detail of creation. The sky looks like a 50 million pixel Mac desktop tinted a monochromatic shade of blue in every direction with shades near the horizon. And there is a steady cool breeze that whips around everything playfully. I walk along the water in my business attire with laptop bag in tote, a bit of a contrast to the joggers and cyclists that periodically pass by. I feel a bit overwhelmed by the fortune of experiencing all this, I have not known my attention so captivated by my surroundings in a long time. I walk as if in a daze, my step is light, my body feels bouyant, this is such a good dream.

A man tosses a football back and forth with his son. A pair of rowers scud by on the water.

Eventually I reach the flower show, there is only 20 minutes before closing but it is all I need. I stop to buy some white tea at one of the vendor booths. And then I head on downtown. There is time to sit down at a roadside cafe, there is no sense of hurry and no crowd. I have not experienced a city like this before.

I snap some pictures with my phone and post them online. I want everyone to see the splendour of this world.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Smitten by India

I have been charmed by India. The more I research this vast offering of many cultures, religions, and types of people, the more enamored I become. A dazzling feast for the senses, India is so sensual and unrestrained, accepting and wild. Full of contrasts and contradictions. Over 50 centuries of fascinating history, this land rich in resources and people led to the growth of many luxurious palaces, pleasure gardens and massive forts. Also a spiritual land from which the religions of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Hinduism grew out of. India seems to speak to a part of me that is finding its way into the light, a part that seeks only passion and unbridled experience.

I had first felt the pull to discover India a few years ago when I read the book Shantaram. And nowadays since I have started practicing yoga in earnest again my fascination is spurred on further. As for the women, I've never had an Indian girl catch my earnest interest until yesterday. Perhaps it has to do with the exposure of my mind to Indian heritage. There have been many many women in Sydney that look quite dazzling but lack the inner radiance and charm. And lately I have been increasingly attuned to an inner quality that is distinctly feminine in its strength and softness. Both in one. It is intoxicating and can be deadly to a male. I have read that men are like fire and women like water. Fire is strong and forceful and urgent but ultimately water in its languid and soothing way ultimately conquers fire. It is rare that I find upon first impression this quality in a woman and much rarer in an Indian girl. But yesterday amongst the oriental women in the Japanese restaurant that I ate at in The Galleria above Town Hall station, stood this simple Indian girl that was at once intelligent in her liquid gaze, vulnerable, authentic, unapologetic to happen to be by herself in a line for a Japanese restaurant and unassuming in her attire - a catching blue tight blouse with a flowing skirt and her long hair pulled back. Her simple appearance did not hide her beauty to me. I was constantly drawn to her movement and her very expressive features, especially her eyes. When I left the restaurant I walked towards her seat and I took her in visually, I knew she sensed my gaze for as I was almost upon she smiled and drew her gaze to meet mine briefly in that coquettish manner only a woman can manage. It was a moment of such honest open expression, my body passed her but it seemed my heart was no longer in it.

After the restaurant I walk into the bookstore and seek out a travel pictorial on India. I have this desire to see more of what India has to offer the traveler. I find a book that is deeply penetrating in its commentary and breathtaking in imagery. There are several pictures of people in the book and I am stunned by the beauty of some of the peasant girls; in my opinion some of these girls are more appealing that anything I've seen from Bollywood. My eyes seem to have been opened, my world has already grown larger and I haven't even set foot on Indian soil yet.

For the rest of the evening I find my thoughts straying to the girl I passed by. It is not often that I find myself preoccupied with another, there is a feeling of regret typical of a missed opportunity. What if the moment called for action? Nay, I declare that I am a creator. I will recreate her then. I make this my background mantra until I sleep.