Letter to Ireland

I just returned from a seven-day tour of Ireland, which was fantastic. I'd lived in England for three years, but never realized how different Ireland is...I found it enchanting. And thus, here follows, my Letter to Ireland:

LETTER TO IRELAND

 

Dear Ireland,

I walked upon your shores for one week, no more, breathing in your green melodies (such a harmonic range of green, each tone a meticulously crafted capture of rain-spun air), stepping upon earth soaked with the same water that sails through the vessels hidden just beneath my skin, believing in the fairies that inhabit small apartments of bark in fairy-tale old oaks, accessible only through tiny brightly-painted doors.

Yet my stay upon your island feels much longer than seven days; time is a long-standing song that fades away in the reality of the present, and will then suddenly reappear to declare, I am here.

And yet I know there is no time. What else have you shown me Ireland, as I wandered through the grounds of a sixth-century monastery, and then embraced an eight-century Celtic cross? What is time—much less space--when I am only seconds away from being swept into harrowingly hungry wind that will never long to know my name, its only true desire to show me my jeweled insignificance?

You have also shown me this: the only language worth learning is spoken in water. The only runes worth studying are those carved of rain. Seventy percent of my being is water, and what else but fog---the steady dance of condensed water-drops---can make the grand Atlantic, disappear?

Much like my father, lost behind the veil separating worlds. But oh, how I felt him in your songs, Ireland, in your determination to drench the world in ephemeral, fluid, music—the rhythmically beating heart, of joy.

And so, Ireland, you have not simply asked me to dream, not simply reminded me to dream, but indeed have demanded me to dream. In the fragile space of seven days I have seen so many astonishingly beautiful births, of the earth: a vibrant horse with a heavenly mane, a swan bearing a silvery name—she was so majestic I know she was the vehicle of Saraswati, the gently wise, wildly intelligent Hindu goddess of creativity. And the earth laughs as well----oh, how she laughs--through miniature horses, irritable ponies, the intense focus of a border collie, on duty.  And then there are the hooting owls, hundreds of cows, so many sheep I must be asleep---but indeed I am not lost in a dream, but rather am completely, daringly, awake.

As you must know, only someone who has mastered suffering can command another to dream—for a master by definition is resilient. And you are resilient, Ireland, after years and years of suffering—winds lash you and storms love you because you simply will not give in, nor give up.

Your rivers flow black during gales, as black as the ink upon old texts, upon tossed-away sheets of creators refusing to stop creating. My only difference with you, Ireland? I hardly take alcohol. My only drink is mixed of the thoughts created, then released, by ink. You should understand—your entire island, is a scriptorium.

 And so,  to the land whose heart is nothing less than a harp, to the island veiled in the most musical—and monastic—of mists, I now bid you farewell, with an emerald kiss…

Until we meet again. 

After writing this I realized I didn't mention any Irish people! I actually didn't meet very many, as I was on a tour. But the ones I met were mostly grand (an Irish expression I love!)--a particularly proud-of-his-city Dublin cabbie named Roderick especially stands out in my mind.

 

 

 

 

7 Shots of Joy!

SEVEN SHOTS OF JOY{Note: I originally called this 9 Shots of Joy but condensed a couple of incidents into one, simply to make it a little faster to read.}

Like millions of others around the world, the violence of these past two weeks has broken my heart. The shootings by police and of police in the United States; the horrendous act of distilled violence on Bastille Day in Nice, France.

How can I respond?

I was born in the US, but France is also very close to my heart; not only is my B.A. in French, I studied in France for one year. While I spent three-quarters of that time in Paris, I also studied in the Loire Valley city of Tours. Whilst there, I stayed with an amazing French woman, Madame Eglantine Menget.

At that time—the late 1980’s---the city of Tours would shut down for a couple of hours at lunchtime; Madame would pick tomates, laitue, from her garden and have lunch prepared for me by the time I arrived home. We would watch the news---and oh, how she would lament the goings-on in the world. Let me make it clear---Madame was not naïve by any means; she lived in Nazi-occupied France, and, indeed, stayed in a home in the forest near Langeais to keep as far away as possible from the villainous force.

What would she think of the world now? I can’t help but wonder.

I will say this---Madame would NOT sit down and get depressed, she would pick herself up and go to work. She worked for Amnesty International until her early nineties, when she could no longer see properly.

She knew—as did my father, grandmother, and favorite professor at Wash U (who all died within six months of one another; I will write more about them in later posts.)---that the only way to defeat the darkness in the world is to make certain the darkness does not enter ourselves. And if it’s there already, we have to kick it out!

And that’s why I decided to start off a series, which I hope to include every week on my blog, called Nine Shots of Joy. Nine real things I have experienced in the past seven days which proves the irrefutable existence of joy, Q.E.D.  Look around. There’s joy and beauty and hope all around us; we just have to open our eyes, and pick it up.

Here are Nine Shots of Joy (and beauty!) I experienced this week:

1.  Sharing the majesty of meaning of the iconic statue, Shiva as Nataraja-- King of Dance-- with hundreds of spectators at an arangetram (Indian classical dance graduation) that I MC’d on July 10th. The statue represents the dance of the universe.  I talked about Nataraja---and every time I do, I experience nothing but wonder at the depth of significance of his dance. Surrounded in a circle of the fiery energy of endless creation & destruction (so apropos of our quantum universe)---he holds out his right hand, palm facing forward, in abhaya hasta. DO NOT FEAR. No matter what happens in the 24-hour cycle of news, DO NOT FEAR.  No matter what happens to you, or to your loved ones, DO NOT FEAR. Easier said than done, for sure, but abhaya hasta does not bargain. DO NOT FEAR. This mudra (hand gesture) is found throughout Hinduism and Buddhism.  There is a picture of Nataraja if you scroll down below to an earlier post.

And how amazing--no one knows who came up with this dynamic figure, which the French sculptor Rodin described, in his piece, The Dance of Shiva, "These hints of of perfection! The mist of the body! As in some divine creation, there is no trace of rebellion in this body; one senses that everything is just as it should be."

And to think there is a statue of Nataraja---which achieved perfection in the 10th-12th centuries A.D. in South India-- gracing the entrance of CERN, in Geneva....

2. One of my oldest friends and coworkers at Barnes & Noble is an African American guy, Garrett. I met him when I worked at Borders—he’d been reading Gandhi’s autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Now, many people judge retail workers as if they know nothing (have I been on the receiving end of that!), but you should never judge because you never know someone’s life story. Anyway, he is very thoughtful, well-read, and the other day mentioned to me that he had received completely disrespectful treatment from police. I was shocked---he is the nicest guy!  I asked him, “Why? Because you’re black?” He said, “I guess so.” However, he has reacted to his experiences not with violence but with deeper thought about the whole race situation in the US. (And how heartening that so many thousands and thousands of people are indeed thinking and talking about it and not simply resorting to violence.) He said he should write about his experiences---I think, absolutely so!  We both agreed we need another Martin Luther King. But until that happens, let’s work on letting non-violence flood our beings, instead of despair!! A quote I love: Hate is a failure of imagination. From Graham Greene's The Power & the Glory.

3. Two people I’ve been thinking about this week:  My favorite professor at Washington University, Dr. Kevin Herbert, Professor of Classics, died in February 2015. He flew over Japan in a B29 bomber during WWII. I asked him, is the world any more violent now, or crazier now, than it was during WWII?” Without hesitation he said, “No. We just hear about everything instantaneously now.” I asked another gentleman I met at an Indian dance workshop--a Korean War vet-- the same thing, and he answered, “The world doesn’t change. It’s exactly the same.” While I wish with all my heart for a less violent (indeed nonviolent!) world, I find it…reassuring to hear that.  My professor also told me, "You can't let go of your ideals. Because they're you."

4. Barnes & Noble experiences!  I worked at Barnes & Noble the day of the massacre in Nice. Before the news broke, so many people seemed so down---I often wonder, if there is a greater energy people tap into, that can be dark or hopeful? Because there are days when everyone is down. Anyway, the sweetest young Brazilian man broke the energy with his smile. I could tell he was Brazilian because of his accent---and I told him about one of my best friends who happens to be from Rio. I told him that she has always said, “There are so many problems in Brazil, but we go to the beach, dance, forget about it for a while.” He smiled, and said, “Yes people in Brazil are very cheerful.”  Incredible how a smile broke through the darkness!

Another day this week, a customer at Barnes & Noble told me, “I’m a night nurse. I’m studying for a critical care exam, it’s really hard. I could spend all day—literally all day—right here in this bookstore.” Her eyes said it all—the magic of a bookstore!  Many people, old and young, have told me that.  Hope for bookstores!

Another customer told me, “I still buy books and I have a pile sitting at home unread. But you know books never get bad. (I’ve never heard anyone put it that way.)  It’s just nice to know they are there. There’s a time for a book.”

 I can't leave BN without mentioning my coworker Carole--she is a wonder at wielding laughter as a weapon--of enlightenment! The other day a man told her that she didn’t know how to do her job!  (My God, how so many customers love throwing their weight over retail workers. Why is this? A chance for them to experience power? That must be it.) Anyway, Carole never gets mad. She's polite and kind to their face, and later, just bursts out laughing! At how small-minded some people can be. She doesn't let petty behavior get her down---she laughs, thereby releasing their toxic energy, and poof!  The negativity's gone.  Laughter’s just awesome. What's nirvana? Nir--out, and vana--blown. Blow it out, and it's gone. Don't carry it with you.

5. Fireflies. They bejewel the night with their heartbeats of light. After you see one, you never know where another one (or indeed the same one!) will appear.

The moon and stars.  In these past few days the night sky has taken my breath away. Is it any wonder, that Indian myths say Krishna dances in a grove, underneath the moonlight…when you see trees sway gently in night-breezes, how can you not believe, that a god has passed by?

6.  Color! Saris! I’ve gone to a few dance programs this week, and one of my greatest joys is to drink in the colors, patterns, materials, of the Indian clothes women wear. Who would think of teal lavender gold, lace silk and beads, all on one sari? The splendor of Indian textiles (and its inherent elegance) is stunning.  As if the clothing says, I’m going to turn this lackadaisical day into legend.  {By the way I feel a sari delivers automatic majesty, to anyone.}

7. July 11th is the 2-year anniversary of my grandma’s death. I was super-close to her. I had an extraordinary incident happen soon after she died---which is in a poem on my website, entitled The Big Gray Blur. Anyway, the morning of the 11th this past week I was in the kitchen, and just told my mom, “Today is the 2-year anniversary of Grandma’s death.” At that moment, a pulse of light flashed just above my head. My instantaneous reaction was to think the power has gone out. But it hadn’t. Just amazing. There is so much more to this universe than we can imagine…I’ve certainly experienced incredible things after the passing of my dad, grandma, and professor. More on that later….

I’ve read many books by many physicists, and know that while the truth is out there, it’s also in us.

We're energetic creations of space, quantum fluctuation, and light, ever so much light.

I wonder what episodes of joy I’ll write about next week?

Below is a little commentary on this piece, with sage advice from my dad, grandma, and professor...

 

Summer Poetry!

Summer's here! And I adore its stillness. Which we all need in this world steeped in incessant action, and inane distraction. Two poems:

 

summer still   

 

 

                                                look

 

here. black butter

 

                        blue     dragon

 

flies.

 

                        look                            

 

                                                here.  wet green

 

                                                                        drips.  swift summer storm.

 

gray still

 

squirrel.

 

look                             where?

 

no                    white cotton

 

tails; heat beats.  hearts beat                           slow

 

ly. 

 

rain strains;  restrained.

 

so dry. yet all life

 

is liquid.

 

**

 

look                 here

 

            here

 

                                                there.

 

 

                        flying

 

fire.

 

 

**

                                    look up.           the       sun

 

 

                        eight                minutes

 

ago.

 

 

nothing speeds as fast

 

 

as stillness.

Light from the sun takes eight minutes to reach the earth

 

Here is another poem, quite recent. I've been reading Roberto Calasso's Ardor, hence the reference to Vedic thought...

Plenitude

My temple tonight

is crafted of chattering

crickets; their guttural night hum the invocatory Vedic verse hearkening the arrival of---

 

I open the sky, ring the bell

of the moon; its vibrations

of light fall upon the driveway as I fall

 

 

in prayer. I kneel upon the driveway,

my sanctum sanctorum—(not a soul is outside in our lane)—

 

the Sanskrit of crickets permeates nocturnal being

with meaning. I light night-incense---

 

a firefly flame erupts. Shining here                                                                         

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                there.

 

I circle it in front of the dead idol

of my oak.

 

I offer

to this enchanted chapel

my nocturnal truth

my sensuously sacred lunar secret--

 

and I ask:

 

Why isn’t this, enough?

 

 

 

Video Intros to my Site--on the Artistic Journey, My Mentors, What I Write About, and the Meaning of my Name!

The top 2 pictures are from the exquisite 9th-century Bhoganandeswara (Shiva) temple at the foot of the Nandi Hills, India, October 2014. The third photo is from a reading I give at Southwest Illinois College in East St. Louis in October 2015. The class rocked!

A description of my artistic journey..

My Mentors!---Five singularly influential people on my journey...

My background and what I write about!

At an arangetram--classical Indian dance graduation--I MC'd in July 2014. My grandma--whom I cared for and to whom I was very close, had died the day before, and was cremated that morning. So this picture is especially poignant to me. A statue of Nataraja is to my right--Shiva as the dancing deity, who is the embodiment of music & dance, and who dances the universe into and out of existence. This video clip gives the meaning of my name.

New Writing!

Hi there! I just put up a new page with an excerpt of a memoir I wrote a couple of years ago, entitled This Longing for Radiance. It's about ...growing up Indian in America at a time when no one knew anything about India, but more than that,  it's about discovering the radiance in this world---whether it's through the people I've met while living abroad (France, England, Japan, India) or while working in bookstores (Borders and Barnes & Noble!), or while performing classical Indian dance in schools, corporations, universities...please do have a look!

Welcome to the Official Launch of my Website!

 

Hi there! It's the 18th of January 2016 and  I just put up a new updated excerpt of my most recent novel, The Palace of the Seven Stories. It's a whimsical, philosophical, tale, where a 12-year old French-Afghani girl and a 12-year old American boy find themselves in an adventure where they have to bring an end to Kaliyuga, the age of discord and strife in which we find ourselves. Other characters include a French archaeologist, Buddhist historian, quantum physicist, and philosophical terrier named Jacques.  Oh--there are also historical Chinese Buddhist monks (Fa Hsien & Hsuan Tsang, for those of you interested in these incredible men who walked their way from China to India in the 5th & 7th centuries A.D.)  a French concierge and her monstrous cat, a sarcastic contemporary young Chinese-French Buddhist monk, three Hindu goddesses who have incarnated into some drop-dead gorgeous brilliant ladies...  Please click above!  I will add more of my other work soon.

Previous Post:

Hi everyone! Well, I am officially launching my website today, December 20th, 2015--exactly one year since the death of my father. As you will see in the page Poems on Loss & Magic, 2014 was a year of almost incessant loss for me---family friends and relatives passed, and then in swift, unexpected order, my grandmother, my dad, and a beloved professor of mine.

I have been writing for years, and dancing--classical & folk dances of India--since the age of 5. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up at a time when being "Indian" meant being "Cherokee" as in, "You're Indian, really? I'm a quarter Cherokee!" We heard that for years, up until the software boom of the mid-'90's, when Indians started arriving in St. Louis in greater numbers. Please click on About to learn more about me.

I grew up in a very special sliver of time--when I was just 'me', not Indian, Indian-American, or any of these group identifications we use. I love the following quotes by Albert Einstein on individuality:

“It is important to foster individuality, for only the individual can produce the new ideas.” 
AND

“The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred, that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.”

I love reading about physics---no matter how much I read, there is so much more to read, because no matter how much I understand about the universe (which is so incredibly little!), there is so much more to understand. I am fascinated by science---so much intrigues me, from the microbes in our cells to the incomprehensibly ancient rocks of this earth, to, of course, the chimerical, magical, dancing cataracts of light which color each and every one of our days.

I am also fascinated by art---where do I begin? Music enchants me--from ancient Sanskrit slokas, to Rimsky-Korsikov's Scheherazade and Gershwin's gorgeous Rhapsody in Blue (among many, many, other classical pieces), the intoxicating beats of quawwali, bhangra, classical Carnatic rhythms which are as familiar to me as water. (And, as I have discovered when I lived away from home, as necessary).  Of course there is also homegrown jazz, bossa nova, flamenco....and then there is  painting from around the world, whether Odilon Redon, the pre-Raphaelites (whom I just adore), absolutely dreamy Japanese prints...literature...too many books to mention right here, I will create a separate page for that in a little while...sculpture...Rodin's creations, the phenomenal statue of Nataraja ---Shiva as the dancing deity par excellence--which never fails to elicit within me pure awe at the pristine uncontrollable power of his dance---(and to think, we will never know the names of the anonymous sculptors who rendered this dance into a figure which still staggers us with its dynamic movement thousands of years after its creation--)...poetry...from Rilke to e.e. cummings (whose somewhere i have never traveled is the more gorgeous love-poem in the world, I think) to the exquisite writings of local poet Marjorie Stelmach (from whom I was fortunate enough to learn writing in junior high and high school).

This world is an absolute wonder!!! And that is what I write about.

Please, enjoy, I appreciate any feedback at all.