Miracles – God’s little oxymorons

Saint

Here’s how to be an archangel.

First, you got to organize a halo, like mine. Doesn’t matter if it is lightweight and thin. A halo is a halo. It remains in place right above your head and even adjusts itself like a gyroscope when you move your head.

Read the rest of the post here….

Miracles – God’s little oxymorons

Going out on the Jericho road

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‘Every day, each one of us

goes out on the Jericho road…’

– Mother Teresa (Oslo, 1979 – Nobel acceptance speech)

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 Going out on the Jericho Road

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Noah’s Ark was patched together by volunteers. The Titanic was built by professionals (Anonymous)

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It is a busy life. You’re an immigrant. Canada has taken a while longer getting to know you, than you had expected. But you have made your bones, started from scratch, working hard at building your career, balancing your family obligations, trying to stay in shape and finding time to pursue the stuff you really love doing – reading and writing.

After ten years in your new home, your life has finally attained a little stability. Financial freedom, cars, kid in private school, his university nest egg building up, vacations, a manageable mortgage, beer and neighbors who no longer look quizzically at the way you are dressed on weekends, in your kurta-pyjamas and beer.

Did I say beer twice? Must have been an echo.

Yet, there is this emptiness. The years are rolling by and soon you’ll be 65, an age when interesting things stop happening to you when you would like them to go on. The feeling, that you have amounted to very little and that you have made no impact whatsoever on the community at large, that feeling has acquired a studio apartment at the back of your mind.

One day you open the letter box and there is nothing in there except for this little bland pamphlet, from an organization called Volunteer West Island. Emblazoned over it are the words, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself, in the service of others’ – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Usually you gather up all the pamphlets with an annoyed sweep and grumble,’I wish those m—er f—ers would stop dumpin’ this shit in my letterbox’ and you proceed to chuck them in the blue recycle bin in your driveway. North America is pamphlet country.

Not this time. This time you pause and you take the pamphlet home, flipping it over and over between your fingers. You fling it on your desk in the den downstairs and there it stays for a month, give or take, during which time it gets pushed around the desk by the mouse and the keyboard.

Soon the pamphlet begins to age, acquiring a coffee stain here and a beer stain there (lots of beer stains actually), a few quick scribbles, a couple of phone numbers and some hasty interest calculations. North America isn’t just pamphlet country. It is also credit line, credit card debt, balance transfer and overdue interest country.

You peer at Gandhi’s words from time to time. You are an agnostic, steadily tilting toward atheism. One day, your elder bro sends you a short piece that the Indian journalist, Mukul Sharma, had posted in his column, The Spiritual Atheist, in the Economic Times. The title of the post is ‘A caring universe’. Here is an excerpt from it…..

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“Does the universe care about what we do or what happens to us or whether we live or die?

If we were to believe hard-core amoral nihilists who say that the universe is just a physical phenomenon with no spiritual component, that events are random and have no deeper meaning or purpose and that there are no consequences to our actions, then the answer is obviously no.

Yet, even if that were true, it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t care about the universe because, unlike it, we have evolved into sapient creatures that are capable of wonder and love. Meaning, we can infuse it with the same whether it cares or not. In fact, with that kind of involvement on our part, who cares whether it cares or not?

If we were to do that, we could begin living in a basically spiritual universe, ordered by feelings of good and bad; a cosmic order that would in turn, underpin and motivate all our actions. It would be like a moral force where our actions have definite effects that we carry with us. In this respect, its meaning would then be close to the Hindu concept of Karma.

The notion of a moral universe would also buttress spirituality and form the basis for kindness, compassion, altruism and caring for others. This is because it places a value on human life and living things that goes beyond what seems suitable if we regard people and living things merely as a collection of atoms, and essentially no different from any other unfeeling, non-sentient structures such as rocks soil, mountains or planets”.

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Like Mukul Sharma, you have chosen to believe in a moral, caring universe, though somehow you do not believe that there is a connection between religion and morality. One can be good and caring without having to lean on the crutch of faith. Why, it is now well on its way to be scientifically proven that goodness and caring are actually the work of certain identified neurons in the brain and can actually be tweaked and fiddled with, through a fast emerging science known as neuroscience. It is a matter of time before a sociopath can actually be converted into a deeply caring individual (and vice versa of course), through treatment.

Back to you now and one day, pre-Christmas, on your way to work, there is this radio program calling for volunteers at St Anne’s, the Military Veterans’ hospital, a long-term end-of-life care facility, to help the 90+ year old war veterans through the especially crushing loneliness of the Christmas holidays. Numerous activities are planned for the seniors in order to keep them occupied and not dwell upon why even their own don’t find the time to visit them.

‘I have nothing special planned this Christmas’, you say to yourself. You get to your den and look around for that pamphlet. It has gotten so badly crumpled that you can barely read it. You call the number and a Ms Grenville, head of Volunteer Services at St. Anne’s, answers.

The 50% discount at the cafeteria makes up your mind.

You fill out a form and the RCMP checks you out. It takes another week for you to become a volunteer, with your own volunteer’s badge and ID. You are now one of the 12.5 million registered Canadians, that is 1 in 3 Canadians, the second largest volunteer population density after the Dutch.

The words of a 69 year old Albanian nun, standing in front of the world and accepting it’s highest honor, the Nobel Peace Price, Oslo 1979, are at the back of your mind – ‘everyday, each of us goes for a  walk on the Jericho road.’ You are a registered traveler on the Jericho road now and you are scheduled to travel that road for two hours every Wednesday.

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“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your redemption is tied up with mine, then let us work together.”

— Lill Watson, American aboriginal activist to all wannabe volunteers

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Six months have slipped by at St. Anne’s and that anguish that you constantly felt before, at a meaningless wasted life, has vanished. In these six months, you have been around a good deal of illness and even death. Witnessing the challenges residents face on a daily basis has helped you appreciate your own life all the more.

Besides that, volunteering in a hospital has connected you with many like-minded people, volunteers like you, men and women trying to find fulfillment. You have formed personal bonds with nurses, doctors and of course, the residents and it has been gratifying. You have been treated with a different kind of respect that is reserved for those who offer a helping hand.

Here’s what you do at St.Anne’s. You come in straight from work around 6pm. It is a sprawling complex which is easy to get lost in. You did get lost trying to find the employees’ entrance the first time, but only that one time.

You swipe your card through and get straight to Volunteer Services, which is this tiny room with a closet where volunteers hang their coats and store their backpacks and stuff. You stoop and fill in your attendance in the file that is always lying open on this table.

After you sign in you straighten and on the wall right in front are these two white boards, both having names scribbled on them. One is always full of names with numbers written next to them. Like ‘Bernard Bonneville (805) – Bingo’ or ‘Martin Beauregard (904) – Cribbage’ and so on.

If the name is crossed out it means another volunteer has come in ahead of you and taken charge of that resident. The number beside the name is the room number, 805 – Room 5 in the 8th floor. If it is Mr. Bonneville, it is his Bingo evening and you have to proceed to his room, take charge of him, wheel him down on his wheelchair, to the Bingo hall and take him back to his room, after. That’s the way it works.

Your conduct with the resident in your charge is governed essentially by a few ground rules and taboos that Ms Grenville warned you about, right at the start……

– ‘Almost all the residents are veterans of WW2 or the Korean War. Never talk about the war unless the resident opens the subject. Latent PTSD is a real issue and many of these 90+ year olds are actually afflicted with it and have never known it. So, please, don’t be a shmuck and rekindle painful memories. If you plan to blog on war stories, it shall have to wait till the resident opens up on his own.’

– ‘Do not ask about a resident’s personal life unless he starts talking about it first. Most times he has no family that cares. Wife long gone, siblings probably long dead too, children grown, with no time to visit, the desire to catch just a glimpse of them and the grandkids, all that yearning and the abandonment, can be crippling.’

– ‘Smile and be positive, sunny and cheerful when talking to them. They crave that. Most have been enlisted men and then, after the war, blue collar workers. They love to listen to raunchy humor, no matter how old they get. Bring along a stock of dirty jokes if you want to brighten up their evenings.’

– ‘Do not get emotionally attached to a resident. Most likely he will not live long and the separation can be very painful. Do not take a resident home or out on a drive, with you. If anything happens, you will be held responsible. The hospital does not cover the costs and neither does your own insurance.’

– ‘Some of the residents, especially the lonelier ones, will try to show their gratitude because you chose to spend time with them. They might offer money as a tip or reward. Do not accept it. Remember that you are a volunteer and you are here because you want to find meaning in your own life.’

– ‘If you promised a resident you would visit him on a particular day, make damned sure that you keep that date. You have no idea how much they look forward to your visit and how despondent a resident can get if you don’t turn up. Besides it may be the last you see of him.’

– ‘Do not try to contact the resident’s family under any circumstances, even if he urges you to. His family may not welcome the contact. Call the nurse in charge of the floor and let her deal with it.’

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“When we feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean and won’t make any difference at all, we must remember that the ocean would be less if that drop was missing.”

– Mother Theresa

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Now let’s get to the other white board. The other board has a shorter list, with two, maybe three names on it. It has reddish orange poppies all around it. Sometimes there are flowers, roses and cards stuck behind it. On top is written “Décédé la semaine dernière”. Once in a while, you recognize a name.

Like, today. Today there is one name on the second board that you immediately recognize and stare at in disbelief – Ron Nimitz, Corporal, RCN (Retd).

Once in a while, the no-emotional-attachment rule is fated to be broken, as in the case of Ron, a 96-year old ex-sapper. He was a dear little man whom you loved spending time with. You looked forward to seeing him more than he did, you. Full of mischief, Ron raised hell at Bingo. “Sonuva bitch! I’ll never get the numbers! What the f—k am I doon here?” “Hey, get lost, chump, that’s my seat.” “Oh baby, come n light mah fayah.” The last one to Rosy, a 91-year old WW2 radio operator who screams back,” You shut your foul mouth, you dirty old man! Sally (Rosy’s volunteer minder), come here! Move me to another table, will you?”

You haven’t finished reading Ron’s name on the second board and you are racing through the corridor toward the elevator banks. You dive into an elevator that is about to go up.

You get off at the 6th floor and hurry down the short distance past the nurses’ station, to Ron Nimitz’s door. It is open. The room is empty, completely sanitized, ready to take in the next vet. The wall above his bed is bare. His beloved war photos, of his regiment and his buddies, grinning, legs dangling over the mud skirt of an M4 Sherman tank and all those family photo collages, they are all gone.

It is almost as if Ron Nimitz had been just a figment of your imagination.

You trudge back down, to the first white board. No one has picked up David Boucherville, 92, yet and you know how much he loves his Bingo. Your eyes light up and you chuckle. Dave Boucherville and his Alzheimers makes friends with you all over again, every time. Every ten minutes or so, Dave asks the same question as he sizes you up suspiciously,” You’re not Cheryl? Where’s Cheryl? Has she come home yet?” You have been taught by the nurses to answer with a cheerful tone, as if you heard him ask that question for the very first time,” Oh she’ll be here in a half hour’.

You head for the elevators to fetch Dave.

There is a spring in your step.

Gold Star Suckers’ Day – 30th September

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The typically American concept of the ‘gold star parents’ is an interesting one. For those who don’t have a clue as to who these folks are, they the parents of American soldiers who have lost their lives on active duty.

I am not sure whether Gold Star status applies to even support staff who died accidentally during a conflict, like maybe while the dude was handling explosives in a military base. It probably doesn’t. But I have decided not to lose sleep worrying about the sham.

When I watched Khizr Khan and his wife on TV, proudly announcing their Gold Star status, it struck me that my country of birth, India, has no such ‘exclusive club’ of parents. Thousands of Indian Army jawans die every year trying to secure their motherland’s borders against Pakistani infiltrators and you don’t get to hear a peep about their parents being given even a bag of groceries. And I am sure its the same on the Pakistani side.

Neither do the Europeans nor even the Russians or the Chinese have anything close to ‘Gold Star parents’. The ancient Spartans had moms who handed their 6-year old male children over to the state, to be groomed to do battle and die as heroes. When they did inevitably die, the parents were honored, pretty much like the American Gold Star Moms of today.

There is however a difference between the Spartan moms and the American moms. In the case of the Spartans, that was the law and the parents had little say in the matter. It was either give up your child to go get trained as a soldier and die in battle or let him remain at home and have the authorities snatch him when he is an adolescent, to go work in the hazardous arsenic-laced gold and silver mines. And die there.

Only one modern-day parallel to the American Gold Star moms and dads exists and that is in North Korea. I am told that the North Koreans have a well established system of badges of honor doled out to the parents of dead soldiers. The parents walk around with those badges proudly displayed on their drab tunics and total strangers walk up to them to shake their hands.

But then, in North Korea those strangers are mandated by law to shake a Gold Star parent’s hands, unless they want to find themselves rotting inside a gulag. I guess any nation which places greater value on putting on a show, rather than actually behaving honorably, will have inane institutions such as ‘gold star fathers’ and ‘gold star mothers’.

It is a perfect win-win situation : the nation starts a war, invades another nation that was simply minding its own business half a world away and just when the body bags begin coming home and morale begins flagging, it helps to artificially boost it with organizations like ‘Gold Star Mothers Inc.’ and ‘Gold Star Fathers Inc.’

‘Always give ’em something to look forward to, even in death’, seems to be the dictum. So what if the real hero is dead. Make his parents the heroes by giving them fancy titles like ‘Gold Star Mother’ or ‘Gold Star Father’. They’ll be thrilled when total strangers walk up to them and shake their hands and repeat the same inane BS…. ‘thank you for your son’s service’. It will make them forget the fact that their son or daughter died fighting an unjust war.

Do the alleged ‘mothers’ in the above photo look grief stricken to you? I think they seem a little too smug and definitely tickled to have their pictures taken. I wonder what they must be thinking – perhaps something along these lines……’I wish I had a couple more sons to let The White House send to their deaths. Then maybe I could get to be Gold Star Mom of the Month’.

Perhaps those Gold Star Moms just can’t wait to be on the receiving end of those flag folding ceremonies, where three or four soldiers, members of the coffin bearing platoon, begin folding the flag that had been draped over the coffin, in an excruciatingly slow and painstaking process that takes several minutes and is designed to make you grit your teeth. At the end of it, the flag turns into a tightly wrapped triangular bundle that resembles a cushion. The bundle is then handed over to the Gold Star Mom, who receives it with an expression that looks like she is the one who should be grateful.

The amount of ceremony that goes into a military funeral in the US is unbelievable, though for what purpose escapes me. No one bothers to remember the fallen anyway. Before Mr. Khizr Khan spoke up about their son Humayun at the DNC, did Americans even know that there existed on earth an American named Capt Humayun Khan? On the day he gave his life, in 2004, did even a single American civilian on the street hear about his sacrifice? Do they know that, like Capt. Khan, there are no less than fourteen other Muslims, lying six feet under the manicured grass at the Arlington Cemetery alone?

We know the answers to those questions, don’t we?

Are mothers in Raqqa, Molenbeek or Mosul also aspiring to be Gold Star Moms, I wonder. Maybe they’ll call themselves ‘All Star Moms’? (All, short for Allah). And why the hell not? (Though, I suspect there won’t be any bagpipes there).

More ironic is the fact that in America, while the dead are honored by giving their parents the gold star status, veterans who are still alive, barely managing to adapt to civilian life, ridden with alcoholism and drug addiction brought on by PTSD and/or Moral Injury – their plight is pathetic, administered by an institution called “Department of Veterans’ Affairs” which has been shown to be one of the most corrupt, inept and apathetic public sector organizations on the planet.

My God, this has to be the perfect jerk-off.

The ‘Gold Star’ status is a ludicrous farce, especially for a nation that does not have to worry about an invasion, since it is bound by two vast oceans on either side and friendly neighbors in the north and the south.  Therefore, for an American GI mom, alas, Gold Stars can only be won when her Li’l Billy catches a bullet between his eyes, while engaged in an act of naked aggression, against a country half a world away that never did America any harm.

I know what I want to be – just a father, not a Gold Star Sucker.

The Savage

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Austrian alpinist, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, at the Death Zone, on K2, the second tallest mountain in the world (Photo courtesy National Geographic Magazine, April 2012)

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There is nothing romantic about the way it is named – ‘K2′, but it is easy to understand why.

Situated in the Karakorum ranges, straddling the border between Pakistan and China, K2 is etched in the annals of infamy as the mountain where one in every four climbers has died, attempting either to scale the near vertical faces or during descent.

If you are trying to break trail at 20000 ft on the K2, the terrain over which you are moving is hard ice so smooth and icy and so steep that a sudden gust can simply flick you off the face in an instant. No wonder that experienced Alpiners have for long taken to calling K2 ‘The Savage’.

You don’t conquer the K2. She simply decides to tolerate you and if you don’t promise to make your stay a short one, she makes you a permanent house guest.

K2 was so named by TG Montgomery of the Geological Survey of India around 1856, as he logged peaks in the Karakorum Range as ‘K1, K2, K2…’ and so on. No one knows why it never got a decent name after that. Maybe it was because it was not prominently visible from any of the trading routes in the Indian side. The Chinese had however noted it’s presence and began calling it “Qogiri” (pronounced “Chogori”, or “Great Mountain”).

At 28250ft, the K2 is just 750 ft lower than the world’s tallest peak, the distant Chomolungma, better known as Mount Everest. K2 is actually a longer and steeper climb than Everest, if measured base-to-peak. Chomolungma has a far smaller b-to-p height. K2 is also one of the ’14 sisters’, the fourteen tallest mountains in the world, all situated on the Himalayan Ranges and all above 8000 meters (26000ft).

Easy to sketch for even a six year old, because of it’s near perfect Euclidian isoceles shape, K2 is a quintessential mountain. Given a choice of mountains to die on, Alpine high altitude mountaineers would prefer to die on K2 and there’s a reason for that choice. On the other peaks, an accidental fall is short – maybe you’ll come to rest on a crag or a ridge a few hundred meters below, crushed but still breathing. Death will be a slow one, knowing there’s not a soul within miles and no hope of ever being found. The incessantly howling wind will smother you slowly, while the excruciating pain of shattered limbs courses through your body for hours before you lose consciousness.

That won’t happen on the K2, where your ultimate ride is going to be a long and painless drop – all the way down to the Qogir Glacier. You’ll of course be dead long before you hit a serac on the inching glacier, choked by icy wind rushing past at terminal velocity.

Godwin Austen (K2) - 8611 m

K2, the near perfect triangle (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)

Picture this……….

You have crossed over, up into the Death Zone, a term Alpiners use for heights above 8000 metres. At that altitude, rescue has never been successfully attempted. You know you have to either make it out of there on your own steam or perish and remain, perfectly mummified in the cold for the next thousand years.

But you are Gerlind Kaltenbrunner, an accomplished alpinist, in fact one of the best in the game. A few years back you conquered that peak over there to the south, Broad Peak, one of the ’14 sisters’. Cruel, but not as deadly as K2.

You have done it all and come out unscathed. This is your second attempt at K2 and by God you’ll get her if that’s the last thing you ever do.

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The snow under your boots is frozen so solid that driving your front pointed crampons in requires real effort and you can slip from the recoil. A -60 windchill and the 80 kmph wind can easily pick you off the slope if you’re not tethered adequately.

It’s your turn and you are breaking trail, so you’re around 15 metres above and to the left of the others in your team of three. To lessen the weight, your team is climbing without oxygen and tents. You have packed bivouacs which are special lightweight sleeping bags that you can breath through without accumulating moisture. Trust me, at that altitude you wouldn’t want moisture.

The incline is approximately 60 degrees and it is a straight, uninterrupted 20000 ft drop from the narrow ice ledge over which you are inching forward.

You stop to drive a piton into the ice a few inches above your head, feeling your left crampon slowly sink into the hard snow under foot. The snow closes around the sharp spikes of your crampon tightly. Meanwhile, you snake your rope in through the eye of the piton you just drove in and snag it to your waist. You tug the rope to let the others know you’re secure. The Pakistani guide, Mohammed Arif Khan, tugs back in acknowledgement.

You begin to lift your left boot to inch forward. It won’t budge. The crampon is set solid in the ice. You wriggle your boot a bit and give it a second tug and there’s a clear ‘snap!’ as the crampon comes loose and remains in the snow when your boot lifts up.

All your weight is on your right foot now. You take a deep breath, steady yourself and move your chin down to take a look. The crampon is set into the ice and there’s no way you can bend down to prise it loose. Even if you did, it’d be impossible to slip it on again. You turn your torso slightly to look down at the others. The Pakistani has noted your situation and probably understood what has happened. With four previous summit attempts on the K2 and six of the fourteen sisters under his belt, he knows you are doomed. He gestures to the third member of the team, Jaegar, to halt.

That’s when you feel the snow beneath your right boot begin to give. You desperately try to grapple around in that narrow space trying to locate even a tiny hand-hold, but the ice face is too slippery and smooth. The ledge beneath suddenly disappears and you plunge. You fall 20ft before the slack is taken and the rope is taught, straining at the piton you just installed. The wind is picking up and blowing snow off the rock face and right into your eyes as you swing free, 20620ft above the Quogir glacier.

You’re no sissy. You survey the ice face as you continue swinging, trying not to dwell on the possibility that that piton you drove in may not take your weight for too long. A little over six metres to the left and above, you see a niche around four feet wide and as deep. It’s on the far side of the others but you have no other option. You start widening the swing of the rope, feeling it abrade against the rough surface and soon you are swinging in 60 degree arcs. Your next swing brings you close enough for you to grip the ledge of the cornice and you pull yourself up into the niche. You push yourself as far back into the little dugout space as possible and are relieved not to feel the pinpricks of the blowing snow anymore.

Sometime during the afternoon, you peek over the edge of the niche. The base is obscured by a thick layer of clouds, like cushions strewn haphazardly around. You peer to the right. The Pakistani and Jaegar are out of your field of vision. They did right. They moved on, since there was absolutely no possibility of success of any rescue attempt. A helicopter extraction in the Death Zone is unheard of and has never been attempted. The niche is virtually inaccessible to climbing, the faces on either side nearly vertical and solid ice.

You know that your time is up. Your eyes stray to the luminous dial of your watch. It’s getting to 2pm. By the time the dial reaches that position in twelve hours, you will be dead.

During the afternoon another expedition passes within 50 meters of your shelter, so close you can see their faces. You watch and weakly wave as the trail breaking lead trains his glasses at you and waves back. He has obviously been notified about you over the satellite radio. The expedition moves on and disappears from your line of vision after a while. You don’t hold it against them. There is simply no way that they can come to your aid, so inaccessible is your perch. Besides, you say to yourself, this is the life you chose.

Above the Death Zone, immobility means death and they had to keep going. Before the sun has dipped over the the 24100 ft Skil Brum, to the west, two more expeditions pass you by. They too spend a brief while peering at you. You smile a drunken lightheaded smile. You have become something of a spectacle. You try to wave back at them but your hands can’t seem to be able to move up from where they are, on your lap.

You shake out of your stupor and see that the sky is clear, a deeper, darker blue. The wind has stalled. To your left, on the ice face, the trail along which you had seen the three expeditions pass you by, is no longer visible, having been overtaken by the lengthening shadows.

You stare out into the void. The view makes you catch your breath. Over to your right, around 10kms as the crow flies, seeming so near that you could reach out and touch it, is another one of the fourteen sisters, the 26100 ft Broad Peak. You note a wisp of what looks like smoke from a chimney but is in fact snow being blown off the peak by 100 kmph winds.

You remember losing Kurt on Broad Peak last August. Over the years you have lost many partners on the thirteen sisters that you have summited. This was to be your fourteenth and last. You think of the Vienna University position you wanted to take after this. And the Vienna University history scholar you’d spent the winter with. Ralf was right now waiting anxiously at the Rawalpindi hotel for word from your team leader. Maybe he already knew by now, thanks to modern technology, a.k.a. satellite phones.

It is dark now, still clear, the wind velocity almost zero, the entire vista bathed in diffused moonlight reflecting off the snows. You are a headstrong woman and you will choose even the way you die. You stretch and start moving on your belly toward the edge, the lip of the niche. Your head clears the edge and you stare into the void below. The view is obscured by the cloud tops at 15000 feet. You swing your legs over the edge of the niche and pause for a moment as you hang.

At that moment everything suddenly clears. Like as if a veil has lifted from your mind and your heart and you clearly hear the voice. You are fourteen and it’s your father, Hans Gunther and he’s looking up at you, his face calm and composed, while you hang precariously from the lip of that recess a thousand metres from the base of the Eiger.

“It’s OK, Gerlinde, I have you. You can let go now….. Geree, let go, the rope won’t hold…… Let go, Geree. Now”

You crane your neck one last time to look down at the cloud tops far below. Hans is a tiny dot down there but you can make out his broad smile. You let go.

You don’t come to rest a 100 metres below in a crag, a gulley or an out crop and writhe in pain for hours before you die. There are no crags or outcrops on this baby. You sail through the rarefied air, swiftly attaining terminal velocity. You keep descending at a steady 200kmph, until you hit a ridge at 7000ft, bounce off it and come to rest on the Qogir Glacier, a full 20000ft below where you lost your crampon.

In all, the fall has taken approximately two minutes, give or take, not enough time to see your past flash by, the -50 windchill ensuring that you’re dead long before you hit the glacier and disappear into one of it’s many crevasses.

High above the inching Qogir, sudden streaks of lightning blaze through the dusk and it starts snowing, the wind picking up speed until the snow is gusting horizontally. In minutes, the world turns into a wall of thick white.

The Savage is celebrating. The Savage doesn’t like you. And by the time the night is done, the Savage won’t leave any traces.


ps:

The above is fiction. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner made it to the summit of K2 in 2011, just as she had done with the other 13 sisters.

Together with Spanish alpinist, Edurne Pasaban, she is one of only two women who have climbed all fourteen eight-thousanders. However, unlike Pasaban, Kaltenbrunner climbed without supplemental oxygen, which makes her the first woman to officially summit all fourteen eight-thousanders without the use of supplementary oxygen.

Why are we losing our sense of humour?

I watched the match and frankly I think the cartoon was not only apt but hilarious too. I don’t know what rich white liberals are bitching about.

To recap, here’s what went down in the US Open women’s final, where Serena Williams smashed two rackets and called the umpire a thief, all because she could not get her act together in front of an opponent who looked obviously like a better player…

The umpire was 100% correct in his decisions, but instead of taking due care, Serena Williams was petulant, rude. When awarded a fine and penalized a game, she whined,” Male players aren’t treated this way.”

Sure, male players may be treated more leniently, but that is a systemic problem. It does not justify unloading on the umpire in this particular instance. This is not a court of law where Serena Williams is to be exonerated because of a precedent.

The bleeding heart media is calling the cartoon “coon caricature”, a cartoon genre created in the early 20th century that took pleasure in depicting blacks as lazy, easily frightened, chronically idle, inarticulate cry babies.

The liberal media and celebrities (specially white literati) are up in arms. It is exactly this sort of over reaction over a simple, uncomplicated, hilarious cartoon that is pissing off the white nationalists in the western world.

Why are we losing our sense of humour?

Collective euphoria

A jubilant American sailor clutching a white-unifo

Times Square, New York City.

A girl is forcibly swept off her feet and kissed by a stranger.

The image is recognized worldwide as “The photo that ended the Second World War

Collective euphoria? Or pardonable sexual assault? I say ‘pardonable’ since you can see even the other women in the image smiling.

(Pic courtesy: Life Magazine)

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On the morning of Aug. 15, 1945, 21-year-old Greta Zimmer reported to work as a dental assistant and nurse on Lexington Ave, New York City. While, across Europe, the guns had already fallen silent three months earlier, the war in the Pacific had been raging on, the Japanese – with their stupid do-or-die sense of honor refusing to call it quits.

All morning, Greta had been hearing rumors that the Japanese had finally surrendered after being hammered by two really big bombs everybody was calling Little Boy and Fat Man.

And then the announcement came over the radio and businesses across New York (in fact all over America and the world) downed their shutters and countless men and women spilled into the streets in a giddy and chaotic release – a cathartic revelry that gave vent to the pent-up anxieties, fears, sorrows of not only the six years of brutal warfare but also the bottled up anger of the previous three decades of economic meltdown that came to be known in history books as the Great Depression.

Greta Zimmer’s joy was tempered by her past – she had landed in America as a Jewish refugee who escaped Austria in the nick of time in 1938, leaving her parents behind. As of that euphoric day in the photo, she hadn’t heard from them and presumed they didn’t survive.

Nevertheless, everyone was streaming out of the offices, restaurants, cinemas and cafes into the streets and Greta too got swept away down the stairs, onto the 6th Avenue with the crowd. Without even bothering to change from her nurse’s uniform to her street clothes, Greta took off and for an hour, simply wandered aimlessly west toward Time Square, which was – as it is even now – the go to place for spontaneous celebrations.

Outside, it was a brilliantly sunny day.

At the very moment when Greta Zimmer was wandering into Time Square, 21-year old US Navy Ensign, George Mendosa, was inside a cinema with his date, Rita, watching a war movie with Robert Mitchum in it. All of a sudden the show was halted and the lights came on and over the theater’s PA system came the announcement that the war with Japan had ended and so had the Second World War. Those inside the theater, George and Rita included, sprang up and rushed out into the street.

They couldn’t find a bar that wasn’t jam-packed, so the couple decided to simply blend into the crowds that meandered around Time Square, strangers hugging and shaking hands and soaking up the magic of the historic moment. George had been enjoying the last few days of his shore leave and now he was overjoyed that he wouldn’t be redeployed in the Pacific.

If you were a woman on Broadway or Times Square that day, chances were good that you too would be scooped up and kissed by random strangers and most likely you wouldn’t mind it even a bit. Still, Greta Zimmer was shocked when she suddenly found herself jostled and then before she could gather her wits, grabbed and kissed by a brawny young man in a sailor’s uniform – George Mendosa.

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The same setting, but this is another frame the same photographer took seconds later, the angle slightly different this time, exposing the smiling girl behind the kissing sailor, George Mendosa’s right arm.

The girl was the sailor’s date, Rita and she wasn’t ruffled one bit that George would scoop nurse Greta Zimmer up and give her a huge sloppy kiss. Rita couldn’t help grinning herself. So euphoric was the moment that it had swept aside any jealousy or resentment that might have otherwise crept in her.

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I am sure the feeling among most women in America that day must have been one of gratitude, like they owed the men in uniform a debt. Letting themselves be grabbed and kissed (aka sexually assaulted) was seen by them as a gesture of that appreciation perhaps.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the two kissers, noted Life Magazine photographer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, had captured the moment. The photo was published a week later but it was a year before both, Greta Zimmer and George Mendonsa, became aware about “the photo that ended the Second World War” and of their newfound status as icons.

The sailor kissing nurse photo has since spread around the world, as an iconic representation of the power of collective euphoria. I recall feeling that feeling once, in 1983, when India won the cricket World Cup. The whole city of Pune had gathered on the bridge across the Mula Mutha River, Lakdi Pul. Girls were letting themselves be  squeezed and cuddled openly by total strangers. Of course, straight-laced as I am, I found all that open rub-a-dub inappropriate.

Historic moments seem to bring out the basest bacchanalian instincts in us humans, regardless of gender. I am sure that would hold for any impending events of historic proportions…….

Just suppose an asteroid, the size of ten city blocks, is a week away from wiping out all life on earth and any hope that it would pass us by has evaporated. I am certain you would be able to walk out up to that intern you usually chat politely with at the water fountain in the office and make love to her then and there, wouldn’t you? I would.

Rita and George later married and stayed that way until 2012, when George passed on, at 90. Greta meanwhile lived to be 92, passing away in September 2016. I am not sure if she married and had a family. But folks who knew both are unanimous that they lived happy and healthy lives.

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Take it easy, don’t get carried away thinking that the moral of the story is – ‘grab and kiss any random woman and you’ll live a happy and healthy life’. It works only if there’s been a World War and your side won or a very large piece of rock is about to hit the earth. Other times you’ll end up with a slap with a flip-flop slipper across your cheek or a knee in the nuts. And a jail cell for the night.

Subtlety

“The worst thing about Donald is that there’s nothing subtle about him…”

Marla Maples (one of Donald Trump’s ex-wives)

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The Beast won Belle over her actual lover, Maurice, only because the Beast was subtle in his love for her….

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Let’s take stalk of all those things in men that turn women on. Men who are well-informed, poised and cool, suave and smooth, polished and debonair, slim and dapper, steely and aloof, raw and honest, sinewy and hard but vulnerable within, quick-witted but unassuming, humorous and at the same time self-deprecating and at times.

As you are well aware, I am all of those. Did I include ‘vain and conceited’?

And subtlety. Women love subtlety and I don’t have any fucking subtlety. To be effectively subtle, one has to be a bit aloof and seem as if he is ‘above everything’ and doesn’t really care if you’ll accept the point he is making, because he always makes sense.

If conveyed with the right tone, subtlety can carry quite a punch. I remember this one time, back in the late 1970s, when I was at work in India. We were interviewing a candidate for the post of ‘outside sales engineer’ at a German held engineering company. Our Managing Director, a Dr Brandl, was with me, quietly observing the back and forth. The interview itself was lacklustre and the candidate was middling at best but as he got up to leave, he said to Dr Brandl,” Auf Weidersehen, mein Herr.”

“You speak German?” Dr Brandl asked, sitting up and speaking for the first time.

“Very little,” said the candidate,”I wish I knew it better though. I believe every mechanical engineer should know a little bit of German.”

The young fella not only got the job but went on to become our head of marketing by the end of the decade.

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Wish I had that kind of head-turning subtlety. I don’t. I have observed the same thing with my writing – it is never subtle. There are no nuances to it, just a lot of hyperbole. If I am expressing anger, my writing sounds belligerent instead of a quiet frown. If it is affection or romance, I am a schloop-me-tight guber, instead of a fleeting touch. If there’s a breeze, I say it’s a breeze. I don’t mention instead the rustle of leaves. If its the season’s first downpour, I fail to mention the smell of the wet earth.

My humour has no subtlety. Wish I could make up jokes like the one below that I filched from a friend……

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As Air Force One arrives at the Heathrow Airport , President Obama strides to a warm and dignified reception from the Queen. They are driven in a 1934 Bentley to the edge of central London, where they change to a magnificent 17th century carriage hitched to six white horses. They continue on towards the Buckingham Palace.

Suddenly, the right rear horse lets out the most horrendous earth shattering fart ever heard in the British Empire. The smell is so atrocious that both the passengers in the carriage must use handkerchiefs over their noses. The fart shakes the coach, but the two heads of State do their best to ignore the incident.

The Queen politely turns to President Obama, “Mr President, please, accept my regrets. I am sure you understand there are some things that even a Queen cannot control.”

Obama, always ‘Presidential’, responded:”Your Majesty, do not give the matter another thought. Until you mentioned it, I thought it was one of the horses.”

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What about this one…. “Life without women would be a pain in the ass…” I failed to get that one.

When Kenny told it at the lunch table at work, everybody laughed. Melissa laughed so hard she spilled her yoghurt on my lap near my crotch and then vigorously scrubbed it off, inches from my richard. I don’t if she noticed the bulge but she gave me a flaming hard-on. I just sat through all that, a fixed smile on my face. I almost came, instead of laughing.

But I digress. I started this piece wanting to be serious but swerved into sex instead. I don’t know why you, dear readers, make me feel so raunchy.

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Take emotions, the single most difficult thing for a writer to portray. Masterful writers have use what’s called ‘pathetic fallacy’, where emotions are portrayed through nature – the wind howls when tragedy strikes, dark clouds gather when the protagonist is wrapped up in pathos, violence is a raging storm and of course its sunny, when we are happy.

In art too, the best works are those that are subtle and hint at something rather than show it. In a painting, the blue of the sky reflected on the still water of a lake is far more appealing than showing the actual sky. The hint of a smile on Mona Lisa’s lips has enthralled millions over the years.

Likewise, in matters of the heart, subtle looks and hints can be more romantic than expressing your passion outright. A stolen glance can convey more yearning than reams of words. When you’re sitting across the banquet table from a woman whom you have never met before or when you are in a train or a bus, across the aisle from a girl you are inexplicably attracted to, the vibes can be very real and very subtle. Here’s what happened to me back in my twennies…..

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On the ride to and from work, there was a girl who traveled on the same bus I did, every day. Mornings, like clockwork she got on a few stops after me. Soon, even before the bus came to a halt, my eyes would be scouring the bus stop, desperate to see if she was there. She got off at the same stop I did and went off down the road to another office building close by.

Evenings, we were at the same stop and we boarded the same bus and always sat way back, facing each other, taking care never to stare directly at each other. Every once in a while though we got caught staring at each other and quickly averted our eyes. We pretended we didn’t exist and at the same time, it felt as if we were the only two souls inside the bus.

On days when she wasn’t there, it seemed as if there was no joy left in the world. I moved around at work, listless, feeling like a humourless zombie. I was in love, no question about it. Was it the same with her when I didn’t show up? I would like to think yes.

And then, all of a sudden one day, she wasn’t there at her stop anymore. She didn’t turn up again. For a month I was broken. Not knowing if she felt the way I had felt for her devastated and crushed me. To this day – forty years later – I feel this piercing pain behind my ribs when I think of that girl in the bus.

Did we really have something going between us, some sort of subtle, telepathic, heart wrenching passion, never to be expressed? Should I have walked up to her and introduced myself as soon as I began feeling something? Or was it a brief torrent of subtle passion that was best left at an arm’s length?

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But don’t overdo the subtlety thing, okay? Some women cannot read signals. Sometimes, the best way to know if someone is attracted to you is to send a little flirt signal and see what happens. If there is an attraction, you’ll know. The next move will be to put subtlety in the back seat and let out a hint and step back to see if it is reciprocated. Trust me, 63 years on this earth – 52 of which I spent actively pursuing women – I have tried being subtle and I have attempted in-your-face and both worked.

So don’t fall for all that subtlety crap too much. If you want to be Keats, be Keats but don’t get carried away being Keats, like in his Ode on a Grecian Urn, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter…”

 

It takes more than a frieze, to deliver justice

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“But Grandpa, where’s God?”

Boy who ventured into the main hall of the US Supreme Court

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A section of the carved friezes in the great hall of the US Supreme Court, depicting legendary law makers. Moses, clutching the Ten Commandments, is second from right. The friezes are meant to represent justice, liberty and peace.

Occupying nearly the highest point of the luminous, gold-edged hall, above the 30-foot Ionic columns, the friezes inspire awe. When Sherman Minton, a Supreme Court justice from 1949 to 1956, pointed out each historic figure to his grandson, the 10-year-old listened in silence and then asked in puzzlement, “But Grandpa, where’s God?”

Indeed. Looking at today’s America, the question does reverberate….Where is God?

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America is about to fill a seat on the Supreme Court Bench that had fallen vacant when one of the judges retired. The nominee is a 53-year old sexual predator with deceptively choir-boyish looks who believes that American Presidents cannot be prosecuted since he believes they are above the law.

The US Supreme Court is not really a court by the definition of the word since it is actually nothing more than a hyper-partisan institution whose members are not really concerned with delivering justice as mandated by the American constitution. Rather, they are nominated and installed solely to pander to partisan political interests, by whoever happens to be in power with a majority. There is this continuous tug-of-war between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’, when the conflict should be between proving crime and upholding innocence.

Over the past century, the US Supreme Court has delivered such travesties of justice and emblems of hate and bigotry, that to outsiders like me it looks more like a joke than a symbol of the rule of law.

And yet storied political commentors like Fareed Zakaria insist on calling it “the last bastion of the free world that is above the political frey…” Flowery words. But then, America has always believed in perceptions, rather than the reality.

The Supreme Court must be perceived to be this great big haloed institution. A hush must fall over everyone when the US Supreme Court is mentioned. But if you talk to an Indian or a Chinese or even a Brit and ask if they know the names of even one of their Supreme Court justices, you’ll draw a blank. An Indian or a Chinese judge performs his task quietly without fanfare and is rarely quoted or mentioned, other than when major cases are being argued in front of them. Even then, I doubt if any member of the Indian or Chinese public would pay much attention to who the judge is.

In America, the perception of greatness must always begin with the awe inspiring sight of the building, to legitimize that greatness in the eyes of the citizenry. Everything in America should be larger than life, greater than anywhere else in the world. While a general election in the UK or Canada or Germany takes 8-10 weeks, an American Presidential Campaign is a reality TV show that stretches over two years.

And so should America’s Supreme Court building be – imposing and solemn, filled with pillars and carvings and quotes and reliefs. There’s sheer white marble as far as the eyes can see and great big Ionic pillars that rival the Acropolis. The ceilings are high, designed to inspire awe in ordinary Americans. And marble staircases – you had better start early and have enough stamina to be able to climb that impressive staircase that is so vast that it appears to lead directly up to heaven.

And then there are the friezes. The nine sitting justices (who enjoy cushy lifetime appointments) are not the only presiding presence. High above the mahogany bench, are friezes with the figures of 18 historical lawgivers from different races and ethnicities, dating to as far back as 5800BC (give or take).

The South Wall Frieze depicts personalities from the ancient pre-Christian world. It includes Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius, and Octavian.

The North Wall Frieze shows lawgivers from the Middle Ages on and includes representations of Justinian, Muhammad, Charlemagne, John of England, Louis IX of France, Hugo Grotius, Sir William Blackstone, John Marshall, and Napoleon.

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The courtroom of the US Supreme Court. The three friezes with the 18 lawgivers, are high up on the walls. 

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The friezes are meant not only to honor the above mentioned historical figures but also to depict diverse legal tradition and heritage from around the world that have directly or indirectly shaped the concept of what Americans perceive to be law and justice in America.

For Americans, those 18 dudes on the friezes are the gold standard of justice, law and order. Now let’s take a closer look at some of those dudes and see for ourselves whether they really are the great judicial geniuses that America would like us to believe…..

Menes (c. 3100 B.C.)

The first Pharaoh of Egypt’s first dynasty, Menes singlehandedly created the world’s the first nation-state. Centralized government, through a coherent set of laws, was born. Menes did many great things but, like all great men, Menes had his quirks. At his Temple of Ptah in Memphis, Menes liked to offer human sacrifices to the Gods whenever the Gods demanded it and that was on a pretty regular basis. Egyptian gods were particularly bloodthirsty.

Pharaoh Menes’ human sacrifices were really very regular. Like once, maybe twice, a day. And don’t hold your breath over who made the shortlist of the sacrificial suckers – slaves, of course.

I can’t help imagining one of Menes’ slaves who has come alive and traveled through time to the US Supreme Court, to be confronted by the frieze of Menes up there on the wall. How would he really feel? Would he throw up his hands, awed? Inspired, by the ‘justice’ of it all? Would he scream ecstatically ‘e pluribus unum! I’m so luckeeee! e pluribus unum!’

Hammurabi (c. 1792-1750 B.C.)

Reigning in Babylon, Hammurabi produced the first surviving set of laws. A compilation of legal procedure and penalties, the ‘Code of Hammurabi’ covered all civil and criminal disputes and reflected the belief that law can be fixed and certain, rather than a series of random responses by political leaders to various forms of conduct.

And boy oh boy, were they laws. Here is a sampling….

If a man has stolen goods from a temple or house, he shall be put to death and he that received the stolen property shall be put to death.

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If the woman has not been careful but has gadded about, neglecting her house and belittling her husband, they shall throw that woman into the water

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If a man be in debt and is unable to pay his creditors, he shall sell his wife, son or daughter or bind them over to servitude

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If bad characters gather in the house of a wine seller and she does not arrest those characters and bring them to the palace, that wine seller shall be put to death

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If a boy steals talents from his father’s money bag, his hands shall be hewn (cut, in this context)

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Phew! This guy sounds like Dick Cheney on steroids. Imagine Hammurabi as one of the nine American Supreme Court justices. Would this would be a courtroom or would it be a body-parts wholesale business?

Moses (c. 1270 B.C.)

According to biblical accounts, the great Hebrew prophet delivered his people from slavery and received the Ten Commandments. His figure on the frieze is meant to suggest existence of a higher authority, beyond human control. There are just a few things that escape reason…..

It is virtually certain that, had Moses chosen to remain in his position as Prince of Egypt, he would have succeeded the great Pharaoh, Seti I, to the Egyptian throne, since the old man had already chosen him, over his own biological son, Ramases II. (Disclaimer: Exactly who was the Pharaoh during the Exodus is a matter of debate. Cecille B DeMille’s “Ten Commandments” says it was Ramases-II, but other scholars says it was a dude called Thutmose-I. But who gives a shit).

Had he hung in there and succeeded Set-I, Moses could have, from his position of power, accomplished a great deal of good for his people – the Jews – a people who seem to developed the art of getting in trouble into an art form over the centuries. He might been able to elevate them to status of full citizens.

(The same kind of unnecessary stubbornness got Jesus crucified. Instead of telling Pontius Pilate – ‘okay, you want to be boss, fine, just leave us alone and we won’t bother you’ – he kept blabbing about there being only one supreme god yada yada yada. But I digress).

In any case, looking at Israel, a nation that is constantly under a permanent pall of turmoil and tension and the almost universal below-the-surface Antisemitism in the non-Jewish world today, one gets the feeling that Moses ultimately failed.

Now let’s look at the Ten Commandments. Aside from the fact that most of the commandments are no longer considered cognizable offenses in most courts of law in the modern world, Moses can’t take credit for them, anyway – they were handed to him by God, for God’s sake.

Solomon (c. 992-953 B.C.)

Regarded as a great king of Israel, Solomon’s name is synonymous with judicial wisdom. When two women came to him, both claiming to be the mother of the same child, Solomon determined who was the mother by watching the women’s responses to his suggestion that he cut the baby in half and give each a share. One woman agreed to the proposal while the other yielded her claim, thereby proving through her concern, that she was the real mother.

Great, but here’s the thing – King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Any woman he took a fancy to, whether she was already married or not, had to be his. Some of them later turned him toward idol worship and orgiastic drinking parties. Being predisposed to debauchery, Solomon wholehearted took part in bacchanalian galas.

King Solomon’s descent into sin has been recorded in the Bible.

Lycurgus (c. 800 B.C.)

A leading statesman of Sparta in ancient Greece, Lycurgus guided reform of the Spartan constitution and instituted more efficient public administration. All his reforms were directed towards the three Spartan virtues: equality among citizens. Note the word ‘citizens’. Since slaves weren’t considered citizens, they didn’t figure in the equality thing. The other two values were austerity and military fitness.

According to legend, Lycurgus believed that the most serious crime of all was retreat in a conflict. He had never bloodied his own hands in battle, I hasten to add. Still, to me, Lycy at first glance seems like the only one who deserves a place at the US Supreme Court frieze.

There is just one tiny little problem – Historians are still debating whether he really existed or was just part of a mythological legend, like Achilles and Hector and Thetis and Zeus.

Solon (c. 638-559 B.C.)

The Athenian, whose name survives as a synonym for “legislator,” codified the laws of the Greeks and is credited with laying the foundation for the world’s first ‘democracy’.

Wait till you hear what the word ‘democracy’ meant to the Greeks. Solon ended exclusive autocratic control of the government, substituting it for an elitist version of democracy in which a cabal of wealthy citizens governed, somewhat akin to the Senate of ancient Rome, prior to the Julio-Claudian era.

Great, haven’t I heard something like this being called an oligarchy? So, where is the justice here?

Draco (late 600s B.C.)

Another prominent legislator in Athens, Draco was the first to write an Athenian code of laws. The problem is that Draco knew of only one punishment for all crimes, even the most trivial – death. You swiped your neighbor’s strawberries and the next thing you knew, you were sleeping with the fishes. It is not for nothing that today the term for harsh and cruel laws is ‘Draconian’.

Draco sure does merit a permanent spot at any US court. He’d have loved to administer justice in the US. Cops randomly shooting unarmed folk would have warmed the cockles of his heart. Hey, I heard that the sculptor of the Supreme Court friezes got a crick in the neck and stopped, otherwise he had plans of fitting in Genghiz Khan, Lynndie England and the Saudi King too, in the frieze. If Draco could make it to the frieze, so could they.

Octavian (63 B.C.-14 A.D.)

The first dictator of Rome, Augustus Caesar single-handedly put an end to collective decision-making in the Roman Senate, killing what little democratic process there was.  A singularly dour individual, he was a vainglorious man. Forever ready to go to war, like the Americans two millennia later, he chose ‘Imperator’ (victorious commander) as his first name – Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. As in the case of Solon, the laws that we lionize Octavian for, were meant to make life for the wealthy and well-connected easy. The slaves, who constituted 30% of the population inside the Roman Empire – even Roman citizen commoners – did not figure in this Octavian dude’s jurisprudence.

Octavian might have made Dick Cheney the Chief Justice of his Supreme Court, I swear.

Muhammad (570-632)

He was a loner, a man who liked to be by himself. I am such a man myself. Like him, I too like to find myself in a secluded hilltop, gazing down at my surroundings or staring up at the night sky. In fact, we do have a grassy knoll behind our backyard, where I like to spend late evenings sometimes. I am just plain unlucky that a descendant of the Angel Gabriel hasn’t appeared before me so far. He probably knows that if he does appear, I just might tell him to go fuck himself.

But in my case, if Angel Gabriel does appear, surely I cannot take credit for what he asks me to note down and convey to my fellow humans? After all, am I not pretty much like a secretary who can take shorthand?

As in the case of Moses, Mohammad too was just the accidental messenger. Just like Moses, he was not the lawgiver, God was. And just like Moses, he left his community in a much worse shape than when he organized it.

King John (1166-1216)

Ruler of England from 1199 to 1216, King John’s claim to fame was the Magna Carta, which is supposed to have elevated the importance of individual rights and the concept of due process – the idea that laws must be administered in the same way for all.

The only problem is that King John didn’t write the Magna Carta on his own. He had to be persuaded, with the threat of overthrow. Imagine a group of the richest and most powerful people in the country who are tired of paying high taxes, having their rights restricted by government – a cabal of robber barons who think the King is an asshole and detest him. Imagine that they get together and agree to use their wealth to force the government to behave the way they want it to behave.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the way it has always been, and probably always will be. Wealth is power, even in governments supposedly of, by and for the people.

The document called Magna Carta is touted as the ‘incarnation of the rule of law’. Since then countless statesmen have waxed eloquent over this piece of paper. In his 1941 inaugural address, FDR was heard passionately proclaiming, “The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase in human history … It was written in Magna Carta.”

Yeah, right. If you stretch the truth a bit, I guess. The document was actually a deal in 1215 imposed by the richest dudes in England on King John. The wealthy threatened to withhold their money if King John didn’t ease up with his usurious taxes and arbitrary rules that restricted how the barons could run their estates. The rich “one percent” used their wealth to compel Johnny to back off. The Magna Carta barons were analogous to wealthy campaign donors, corporations or Super PACs using their wealth to gain special privileges.

Consider the one clause in this revered document so often cited as the foundation for the rule of law and ‘a jury of your peers’……

“… no freeman ought to be taken, or imprisoned, or disseized of his freehold, liberties, or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, or deprived of his life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.”

Equal rights and the rule of law for all freemen. Cool, right? Except for another tiny fact. The word ‘freeman’ had a very narrow definition and meant the wealthy barons, no one else. All others – the serfs, the infantrymen, the farmers, the blacksmiths, the bakers and the road layers – worked for them or were outright owned by them as bonded labor. Equal rights, my ass.

In any case, King John was a greedy and cruel monarch who was hated by 99.999% of his subjects. When your approval rating is 0.001%, should your likeness be on a frieze in the highest court of the world’s most haloed democracy?

Louis IX (1213-1270)

King of France from 1226 to 1270, Louis IX led the seventh and eighth crusades against the Muslims, in the process of which he came to hold, albeit temporarily, vast tracts of territory that belonged to the Muslims. He was known to exhort his troops on the battlefield not to take any prisoners. The King was even canonized as Saint Louis, for these acts of aggression, by the Catholic Church. By that yardstick, I would think that today the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, has a similar right to being accorded a place on that US Supreme Court frieze.

John Marshall (1755-1835)

In 1820, the U.S. Revenue Service cutter Dallas seized a slave ship that was carrying a ‘cargo’ of 281 African slaves, some of the claimed owners being Portuguese and Spanish. The U.S. Supreme Court heard five days of arguments before packed courtrooms. On the fifth day, the Chief Justice himself delivered the unanimous opinion, beginning by stating that he himself did not find any moral fault with slavery. He then went into some legal ‘spin’, declaring the slave trade a violation of natural law but not the law of nations, meaning that it may be wrong but is legal where protected by legislation.

Since the international slave trade was by then deemed illegal in the United States, slaves bound there were released, but since it was legal in Portugal and Spain, slaves of those owners were returned to bondage.

And guess who the Chief Justice was – John Marshall, a slave-owner himself. Oh yeah, John Marshall should definitely be up there in the frieze, no?

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

Emperor of France, Napoleon is celebrated and demonized for his warfare. But his legacy in the law is an 1804 civil code that influenced laws in Europe, Latin America and, to a lesser degree, the United States. Louisiana’s unique civil code traces to the Napoleonic Code. Among its overriding principles were personal freedom, the ability to make contracts, equality among citizens and an end to church control of civilian institutions.

Too bad that those for whom his civil code was meant, didn’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits of the legislation, thanks to his almost constant and naked impulse for raw unprovoked military aggression. Thousands upon thousands of his soldiers trusted in him and he simply rode them off the cliff on foolhardy invasions of neighboring countries who couldn’t even finish saying, ‘ugh, thar he blows again.’

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In fact, anybody who held a position of authority in a slave-holding, war-mongering society and did nothing to address the issue of slavery, does not deserve a place on any frieze in any courtroom, anywhere in the world.

The American Supreme Court is of course an exception. In America, the slave-holding mindset in the white majority is still alive and well. It has in fact grown worse. Now they have intellectuals who abhor racism with one side of their faces and with other, proclaim incomprehension as to why the blacks, almost all of whom fall under Mitt Romney’s infamous 47%, can’t stop sitting around on their butts, complaining and start earning a living, now that they are ‘free’….. (If they don’t get shot by a cop first, coming out the front door, that is.)

To recap, a cursory glance will tell you that 9 of the 18 gents up there on the friezes, were either slave-holders themselves, actively abetted slavery or at best found ‘nothing wrong’ in the owning of slaves.

In a way, I can understand the friezes in the US Supreme Court. They are in fact quite apt, for an institution that has constantly lied to it’s black, latino and aboriginal citizens over the past century, making them believe that it’s justice was accessible to them all, quoting those flowery words of the constitution to tell them that they counted, that they were free.

I am not impressed by the cavernous room, the red carpets, the marble pillars and the grandiose friezes. They can all go fuck themselves.

It takes more, to deliver true justice.

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Heinous Apples – In a Rotting Orchard : The Killing of Farkhunda Malikzadeh

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Whenever Farkhunda went out, she wore the head-to-toe black hejab that only strictly conservative Afghan women wear. She was in fact studying Islamic Law at a religious school or madrassa in Kabul, having plans of working as a public prosecutor. Her beliefs were shaped by her faith, which in turn seemed to be shaped by Afghan society – she believed that women needed to be educated but their priority lay at home and their duty – to care for their children and be obedient wives to their husbands.

To put it precisely, if there was one person in Kabul who didn’t pose any threat or flout any of the tenets of Islam, perceived or real, it was definitely Farkhunda. But alas, street justice does not set apart the virtuous.

Read the rest of the post here……..

Heinous Apples – A Rotting Orchard : The Killing of Farkhunda Malikzadeh

 

My first smoocherooney

Smoocherooney

I have written of just about anything in this blog, except my first kiss which happened with a girl named Rashmi Bhagwat.

It was 1967, in a small town called Durgapur, in the Indian province of West Bengal. I was 12 then and I am 63 now, but listen, you’ll never ever forget your first smoocherooney, trust me.

I still remember that day vividly. The rest of the school was out at the stadium race-track for the annual parade march-past dress rehearsal.

The morning had gone by playing the fool, leaving corny notes on each other’s desks, hiding our compass boxes from each other and generally poking good-natured fun at one another.

This thing between Rashmi and me had been going on for a while and we were beginning ta feel like it  was all sort of building up to something but we didn’t realize what that was.

In fact my lips had brushed against her ear on an occasion that week and I had managed to say, “Surprise attack!” and grinned. She had expressed mock shock and given me a playful slap and run off to the other girls.

That day, the bell rang for the parade rehearsal and everyone began trooping down to the stadium – except Rashmi, who had been loitering behind. Instead of following the crowd, she gave me a glance to ensure she had my attention and she slipped away and disappeared inside the chemistry lab.

I followed her in. The Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, would have been proud of me.

I found her at the far corner, behind a cupboard filled with the burettes and pipettes. She wasn’t doing any chemistry experiments or anything – she just stood there. The moment I swung into her field of vision, her hands flew to her face and covered her eyes, her middle and forefingers parting a crack to see if I was making any progress toward her.

In a few strides I was on her and as I held her tight, she kept trying to wriggle free, though not with any genuine conviction. Rashmi somehow knew she was desirable and therefore her brain was configured to be coquettish and frisky. I guess its one of those things that no one teaches pretty girls, they are just born knowing it.

Instead of breaking out of my grasp, Rashmi kept real quiet and that should have told me something but it didn’t. In fact I kinda lost my balance holding her and she thought I was stepping back. Her hands snaked up my back and yanked me back to her tight.

Now that should definitely have told me something, no? This time it did. It emboldened me. I stared at her beautiful lips and said,“What would you do if I kissed you right now?” Her beautiful face took on a devilish twist. She seemed like she wanted nothing else.

“I would kiss you right back,” she whispered and before her palms could fly right back up to her face, I had them in mine.

Rashmi was a head shorter and had her face buried in my chest so I wouldn’t be able to reach her lips with mine. Still, I tried. I crouched low, not letting go of my grip on her shoulders for even a moment, as I tried to reach down with my lips, but they barely came till her pretty nose.

About to give up, I sighed and gently gave the tip of her nose a peck and started to move away, when she stopped struggling and went slack in my arms. She brought her face up to mine, her bright beautiful eyes an inch away from mine, so close that I had only her eyes in my vision. Suddenly their texture changed, the pupils widened and the corners crinkled. Though I couldn’t see her full face from up that close, I knew she was smiling.

Taking this as a cue, I plunged my lips down but instead, I felt her knee come up and connect with my adolescent testicles with a crunch and I let go with a yelp. She sprang free and ran, but then she came to a stop a few yards away.

Then she did a funny thing. She stopped turned. Woooooo!! It wasn’t over yet, I rejoiced silently. Pretending to be really seriously hurt, I fell to the floor and gasped, my face screwed up in mock agony. Taking hesitant steps, she inched back toward me, the devilishly naughty look now replaced by one that was puckered in genuine concern – the look that had bowled me over in the first place.

I lay curled up in a ball, gasping for breath and I bided my time, letting her come within reach until she was stooping over me to take a closer look, strands of her hair falling all over my eyes and my chin. Suddenly my whole being was being assaulted with the scent of Brahmi Amla Kesh Coconut Oil. It took all my adolescent self-restraint to keep my eyes open just a slit, like as if I was in agony.

I don’t know when exactly she caught on but it was too late by then. As she knelt over me, I uncoiled in a speedy blurr, reached out and grabbed her and she responded by letting out a high-pitched squeal, more in excitement mixed with delight, than fright.

As we lay entwined, the chill of the chem lab floor made Rashmi shiver and she whispered, “They’ll look for us!” said Rashmi and shivered,” Hurry!”

Sometimes all you need ta win a girl is a little subterfuge.

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Now, dear readers, please – take it easy. Between the 1967 ‘hurry’, and the 2018 ‘hurry’, there have been genuine advances. Bras and panties became passé, folks have streaked naked over open ground and the word ‘f–k’ entered the lexicons of the world. The 1967 ‘hurry’ meant just a kiss. And not even a French kiss.

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It was bliss lying there, me flat on my back and her head on my chest, with her one leg draped over me, her black uniform shoes touching the floor on the other side. The though of progressing toward something more just didn’t cross our minds. This, what we had achieved so far, in itself was manna, the summit of Everest. Around us, the usually bustling chemistry lab was still.

I took her soft hands in mine and my lips skimmed over her forehead, her eyes, her ears and her nose just grazing against each while her breath clouded my specs. I could write a saga on just that breath – it had a scent of Amul butter, milk and bread crumbs on it. 

I was inhaling greedily when finally I found her lips and tarried there a while. It was the first time my lips had been on a girl’s and I explored the tiny ridges that run vertically along lips that are maiden – they form when the weather is cold and dry. I didn’t know it was cold out there, jeeze, I was sweating like crazy.

For a moment the Amerigo Vespucci in me took over once again and I couldn’t resist feelingthose ridges with my tongue but she recoiled in horror, so I hurriedly put my tongue back in. I have always been quite an explorer. Honestly, if Capt. James Cook was hiring scouts for his Australia expedition, he would have offered me a handsome signing bonus.

We remained that way, giving each other tiny pecks and kisses, for what seemed like an eternity. Nothing was said, the words pouring out through our lips, google-translated into kisses. The Almighty created lips for communication  but I am sure even He didn’t figure how well kisses can articulate.

In the middle of our kiss, her lips stretched, her teeth made contact with mine and her eyes crinkled and once again that Amul baby breath lingered out and engaged my nostrils and I knew she was smiling again. Right then, if she had demanded that I walk off a cliff onto jagged thorns and hyenas below, I woulda.

The shouts and yelps alerted us to the fact that the parade dress rehearsal was over and the kids were coming back in. She pushed me back against the burette/pipette shelf, making it jangle and almost tipping over some of the pipettes that were near the edge.

And then she ran away, blowing a kiss at me as she turned the corner and disappeared.

After that first time, the back of the chemistry lab served us well in our canoodling, being empty most of the time. Our chemistry teacher sucked and hey, doesn’t chemistry suck on the whole? Anyways, there we would crouch – not speaking, just kissing interminably long kisses. I think 1967 kisses were definitely longer than 2018 kisses, simply because they didn’t come with any feeling up or squeezing you-know-whats.

About a year later, Rashmi moved away with her family, to Asansol, another small town like Durgapur where nothing really went on. Rashmi had lovely feet and wore nupurs that jingled just a wee bit and drove me nuts. The day before she left we had one last marathon canoodle behind a rack of bunsen burners. She cried a little and knowing how much her nupurs turned me on, she left me a pair of faux silver ones.

“I’ll tell my mum I lost them,” she tearfully whispered.

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Actually I am not sure how much of this anecdote really happened – all those years and all and throw into that my imaginayshun…….. y’know how it is, things get a bit hazy. Did I find her behind the cupboard in the chemistry lab or did our trysts happen in the library? Did we have a chemistry lab at all, or was the lab from my memories of my next school, La Martiniere, where a few years later, I ….. oh, forget it, you won’t believe what happened in La Marts anyway.

But, listen, if you haven’t yet kissed anyone and want ta, prepare yourself for a very surreal roller-coaster ride. As your lips meet, every nerve ending shall twang, every hair stand on it’s end. Your eyes shall swim, finding it nigh impossible ta focus. It isn’t a sexual thing. Guys, you won’t even get a hard-on even if you are old enough to have one, but the excitement shall be so intense as to make you feel faint. At that moment you’ll be ready ta do anything for this girl. If her lips are slightly parted and she uses a breath freshener, the sensation of slipping your lower lip in will simply blow your mind. Take this from a man who has kissed – and still kisses – a thousand women.

Those days, Indian girls were very passive and demure. They made no moves, y’know. They just sat back and loved being kissed all over. I would say Rashmi was a bit more precocious than most other girls of that era. Rashmi’s face would take on a flushed glow when we kissed, I swear to ya.

And me – I was flushed too but suffice it to say that those days I was innocently flushed. I believed that a stiff dick was just another term for an obstinate 12th century English King with a backache and a lion heart and that baobabs were really African fruits that enjoyed existing in pairs.

I know I shall never be able to go back and stand there in that school in that tiny town in India, without feeling the taste of Amul butter in my lips.