Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"My whole life's a circle,"

The Son

              Sunrise and sundown. I may not know where I'm going, but I do know where I have been. For the past two weeks I have had the honor of traveling with my mother and sister throughout India. They brought with them a feeling of home, and as we walk and talk together I feel that I am reconnecting with my origin, helping me to clarify my intention for the rest of my time in India. Traveling alone is extremely different from traveling with your mom and sis; there'll be no $2 sleeper trains across the country, no $3 dinners and certainly no $5 hotels...Oh no, for this kind of travel we will have to enable the "tourist bubble", and ensure western comforts are made available whenever possible.

              From Calcutta I traveled to New Delhi and randomly spent some time with the founders of an art collective known as Rumble Art. They provide an online platform for photographers in Delhi, and are looking to branch out into multiple mediums; if you're curious, click on this Link. I met my sister Rachel and m' momma Marie at the airport to escort them to our hotel. It wasn't long before I began to notice the increased level of attention we were receiving. Walking around in India with fair skin and brown hair I've gotten used to the stares, gawks and giggles that follow me wherever I go, but this was something new.

            At no point did I feel that we were in danger, I sensed a genuine curiosity from the onlooking locals and at times we would exchange a smile or a little head bobble. Rachel, the social butterfly, was happy to smile and wave to nearly everyone she saw, which often resulted in the inevitable questions: "Which country?", "What is your good name?" and of course, "One photo, please one photo." Again, this is common, although now I have been able to see the women openly express their interest and fascination in the traveling foreigner(s). In general, I have had very few passing interactions with women and young ladies, though with a bubbley blonde and a brilliant brunette, there was no end to the stream of giggling gals asking for pictures, and women having my mother hold their babies!

         We did the touristy sight seeing thing for a few days; Taj Mahal, Red fort, ancient tombs and such. Though we quickly discovered that we are more interested in faces than places, and started spending more time in parks and community gatherings as that is much more conducive to meeting people and having conversations. A friend of a friend invited us to stay with him in his home in Jaipur and we made a great connection. Having lived in the U.S for several years Srini was practically American, and more than able to accommodate our Western ways. Laxmi, the caretaker of Srini's home, was happy to meet us and even invited us to see her and her family's homes. This was a great opportunity for my mother and sister to see the real living conditions over here in India, and this experience was among the first attempts at bursting the tourist bubble.

        Despite the frequent shock and awe which my mother and sister exhibited throughout their time over here, they continued to fully embrace the people they met. At one point, while swimming in the Arabian Sea in Kerala, I noticed they had drifted from sight and much have wandered along the shore. As I went to investigate, I followed the unmistakable sound of my sister's laughter and came upon a small coupling of a few houses. I approached an open door and found the two of them surrounded by ladies of all ages feeding them cake, papaya and tea. They were all ecstatic! I hesitated to disturb, though once I caught the eye of one of the little girls, she shouted "Bhaya!" and everyone knew I must be the brother and they gave a warm welcome.

        Amma and Didi (mom n' sis) were really moved by what they have experienced, as they have expressed their wishes to stay connected with the families they have met during their travels. They have asked me about giving money to the mothers or sending school supplies to the children, and although I said that that would be appreciated, I assured them that by expressing compassion and acceptance they have already given so much more than anything that could be purchased. The three of us had many conversations about the state of the world, and the inequalities abound. I mostly expressed my belief that charity is good and helpful, though if any lasting change is to be made it must be in the form of something radical, not another "trickle down" method.

      We ended our time together in my current home; Hyderabad. We spent the first day at a Telugu culture festival (which we randomly happened upon), and enjoyed singing, dancing and some great south Indian cuisine (Rachel, of course stuck to her Coca-Cola and cheese pizza ;) ) The second day I showed them my stomping grounds on campus and where I've been working in the city. Nothing puts you in touch with your roots quite like family. Even if one does not fully agree with (or get along with) their family, it is important to accept them, as that is the first union, the first community, and the first love of this life. I love each of you, my beloved readers, and wish all of you a happy new year!

Granola Baba

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Gonna lay down my burden, down by the riverside"
- Houston

Ramblin' Jam

                 Kolkatta; the City of Joy. The capital of West Bengal, and widely considered the cultural capital of India. About two months ago I visited Kolkatta for the Durga pooja, the streets were filled with people singing, dancing and setting off firework. Now when I return I find this city much more tranquil, though still lively in character and culture. A friend of mine, Abir, invited me to stay with him and his family for some time. This has been an excellent way to experience Bengali culture, not to mention Bengali food.  My only planned objective in this journey was to reconnect with a friend I made last time I came to Kolkatta.

                Soohel was the first person to walk up and speak to me upon my previous arrival, and we ended up spending the next nine days together. This man lives a difficult life sleeping on the street and doing odd jobs for money. Despite these challenges Soohel remains a man of exceptional character who is respected and loved all over the city. Both his parents died when he was very young and he lived with his older brother and sister. Eventually they each had their own marriages as well as children and Soohel decided he should travel to Kolkatta to find work and send money home. As we roam the streets together the shop keepers call his name and the children chase him chanting "Dada Bhai!" (older brother)

            He showed me around the city and introduced me to Bengali culture, being with him was the first time I started to feel Indian. Not only did we explore the Durga pooja, but Soohel insisted on taking me Bolpur in northern West Bengal; he wanted to introduce me to his friends (one of which is from my home state!) who are studying art and philosophy at a university/ashram in a village called Shantineketan. It was there I learned of Rabindranath Tagore, an epic thinker, composer, poet, dramatist and writer who has been a great inspiration to me and is one of the icons of Bengal. Those first few days in the village felt like my first days in India. It was as if everything I had seen before then had been some sort of emulation or remainder of Western culture.

            Soohel has no phone, as each one he buys is taken from him in his sleep, so our plan was to meet on a particular street sometime early December. Once I was finished with the research project/music conference in Chennai (more on that later), I blazed the railway straight from Hyderabad to Bengal meeting cool people and munching on some excellent street food all the while. Abir met me at the station and showed me to his house. His mother and father have graciously accepted me into their home, and they treat me like their own son. My first attempt at finding Soohel failed, so instead, Abir and I strolled upon a park where they were having a free concert with Bengali, Bangladeshi and Nepalese bands.

           Today, however, I found him. We decided to travel to the river Ganga to visit a small Shiva temple by the waterside. We gathered around a funeral pyre burning along the banks as the sound of a drum approached ushering in the bride and groom and their respective band of merry family members from a nearby wedding. The riverside temple is lively with children running and playing, and at the time solemn as the elder folk sit quietly or talk among themselves. My friends and I sat in a circle passing the time and chanting Bom Bholle as the pink sun settled over the river.

Tomorrow I leave to meet my mother and sister in Delhi and we will do some adventuring around the country as a trio!

Much Love,
Baba Granjam

Monday, December 2, 2013

We gotta take the power back
- De la Rocha

A Privileged Puppy

            Question the norm. It's the hip thing to do. Discussions about psychology, gender, and other philosophical matters are often seen as edgy and progressive. Though we are only given the opportunity to pontificate on such things because basic survival needs have been met. While radical thinkers debate existential concepts, a Palestinian family may be wondering whether or not they should risk dodging snipers and bombs as they take their children to see the doctor. The idea of spending one's life creating art with music, poetry or paint, or merely thinking and writing blog entries is unthinkable to some. Not because they cannot think, but because the resources and opportunities are simply not available to them.

            I am finding it more and more difficult to discuss topics such as GMOs and gay marriage when the majority of the world's population does not have their basic survival needs met. It has been said that the American way of life is not sustainable, because it does not take into account the rest of the world. As "developed" countries continue to consume the world, they are doing so at the expense of the "developing" countries. Funneling their resources and exploiting their own opportunism.

        Guilt, I believe, has no place in this discussion. It was not I who decided to systematically conquer and consume the world, nor was it my immediate ancestors (despite my last name "king"). This is a movement that spans far beyond our understanding of the past, which has undoubtedly been molded to fit and idealistic view of HIStory. Responsibility, however, does come into play. I find myself in a privileged position: food, water, clothes and shelter are readily available. Furthermore, I have the luxury of sitting back and discussing "fine" art in an academic setting while considering aspects of the mind and the nature of reality. This is all well and good, but at who's expense am I receiving such abundance.

          As thinkers who find themselves in a privileged position, it is our responsibility to examine ourselves. There are some in this world who have no voice; no outlet of expression. To bring about change from a position of scarcity is very difficult and almost impossible. Until the world of prosperity is willing to share is wealth, until those in power become so bloated and proud that they destroy themselves, or until people begin to re-imagine humanity's role in this reality, we will see no true liberation. We must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, we must recognize who holds the power in this global community and how are they using (or abusing) this power.

         I wish to inspire and build new ideas. No one ethnicity or group of people should be singled out as responsible for the world's shortcomings, however, there are certain people who have the opportunity to bring about substantial change. We must begin with ourselves, only from within may we blossom. At the same time we must be aware of the state of the world. Donate to some organization if you wish, but be wary of such activities which dismiss the problem by simply passing a few pennies on to some unfortunate soul. What we need now is thought. Critical, deep and controversial thought. I think we are on the right track, and there is certainly no need for worrying, though there is a strong need for awareness.

Much Love,
Granola Baba