When I was in second grade I got sent home for drawing boobs on my white shirt with a black marker, and for lifting up my skirt and showing a blonde-haired kid named Ryan my crotch. I did all this, mind you, for a twinkie.
This is quite a stretch, but since the heaviness of global warming birthed its own little counterculture I’m finding an inundation of all things Indian—as in India. As in back to the hippiesque Hindu spiritualism of art, music, writing and living. I’m not talking about that corny new age spiritual crap that we used to make fun of back in the 80’s every time the mere mention of “Swami” popped up on a self-help book. I’m talking about a deeper, more homegrown desperation for something so old and enlightening that we hope it saves us if only we could grasp its essence.
For starters, I strolled into Barnes & Nobel yesterday to buy, among other things, a book. Any old fiction book would have done. It was one of those days. But I came upon a display table with a corporate manufactured sign above it that said: “Treasures from India.” Among a rather large collection of items were Pulitzer Prize winning and New York Times bestselling novels like The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri, and The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. There were books on Hinduism and Buddhism, Ghandi’s autobiography and other spiritual goodies like Indian mediation cards. I bought the Lahiri book, caving into the new craze, wondering why there was this slew of material coming out of New Delhi.
A couple days before that, I noticed Devendra Banhart’s Little Yellow Spider and Carmencita. If anyone knows anything about the lovely Devendra, you’d know that he’s heavily influenced by Hinduism. In fact, his parents named him after a spiritual leader they were following at the time of his birth. That he was able to slip his Hindu leanings into his music and get a record contract confirms my point.
Even in myself, I’ve noticed a subconscious gravitation towards Indian culture. I rented Ghandi last week. I listen to Lata Mangeshkar’s Vaishnav Jan to repeatedly. I predicted Slumdog Millionaire would win the grammy for best picture. I have this strangely pressing desire to go to India and ride the Darjeeling Limited and sip sweet lime.
I won’t even mention Bollywood or Indian fashion making its mark here. From bindis and tikkas to saris and antique Indian jewels, we are appropriating Indian style like the Russians appropriated blue jeans.
And heck, ask yourself why places like Whole Foods are marketing Hindu gods like Shiva and Shakti, prayer candles of the Buddha and yogi incense.
I know these are rather superficial examples. But still, I insist. I feel something deeper.
Expanding culture in a superficial way is one thing, taking bits and piece from one country and adding it to another creates an amalgamation of unique global style. Like the time we all went nuts for anime, or when everyone started wearing the Arabian Yashmagh’s and didn’t even know why. But this new Indian invasion isn’t as one-dimensional as the Macarena. It’s not just about adding flair. It’s not just a book on a shelf or a movie with a picturesque landscape of the Taj Mahal. There’s an underlying message attached to our passion for India and it’s an ancient and spiritual one that seems to offer an answer to our modern day moment of truth.
The fact is, we feel like we’re at a make it or break it moment in time. Like this is our last chance. The fall of Rome, so to speak. We’ve lost our faith in religion, in government, in business. We’ve lost our hope that the planet will be here forever (or at least that humans will be here forever- the planet probably isn’t going any where). Most importantly, we’ve lost the privilege to be ignorant and naïve and wasteful. And I think that’s where India comes in. It gives us the possibility that, if we do fuck up, we can come back again.
In a recent study on faith in America, Hinduism was up compared to Christianity, which remained the same. This may very well be due to an influx in Indian immigration, or more likely, people are converting. Hinduism, after all, accepts and addresses issues which Christianity does not, namely Evolution and the interconnectedness of all things. More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to reincarnate. And that is what we’d all like, isn’t it? The chance to come back and do it all again? I keep thinking of Bill Maher’s comment in his film Religulous that Christianity’s belief in human superiority to animals and other living things has only been detrimental to the environment.
The religions of India seem to address our global concerns in other ways as well. Think karma. Think vegetarianism. I know this is a stretch. But how many people now are pushing for less animal consumption based on environmental issues. It wasn’t long ago that PETA implored congress to impose a “sin tax” on the sale of meat because, as they state, “meat is the number one cause of global warming, a looming environmental disaster that threatens the United States.”
Before I start chanting om and change my name to Vidyadevi, I’m kinda wondering how India itself is reaping rewards from its own ancient wisdom. I mean, let’s get real. The country is in shambles, facing pressing problems such as “significant overpopulation, environmental degradation, extensive poverty, and widespread corruption.”
According to the CIA World Fact Book, the following environmental issues alone are contributing to the problems India faces: deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing; desertification; air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides; tap water is not potable throughout the country; huge and growing population is overstraining natural resources…
Look, I undertstand how we need hope. I get that we are trying as hard as we can to change and do good for our survival. Most of us, anyway. But I just think that glamorizing and devoting ourselves to the ephemeral spirituality of a culture that is running itself into the ground really isn’t the answer. Sure, we can appreciate India’s art, we can pray to all gazillion of their gods. We can read their literature and eat their food. But we cannot get so wrapped up in thinking that India or Hinduism or possibly even reincarnation is the answer, so much so that we neglect our reality.
Global warming and all the other insanity of this country incites us to find our strengths and our ability to recreate ourselves—not become something else entirely or fall prey to some cyclical trend. Sure India has a lot to offer in the way of answers. But it’s not “the” answer. I personally don’t know what the answer is, or if, indeed, there is one. Like the snake eating its own tail, we seek the eternal return. But is it possible?
I’m not too keen on Lauren Grodstein’s second short story in The Best of Animals, but Lonely Planet was amazing.
Last night was my first night alone in awhile and I was kinda looking forward to it. So, as soon as the boys took off for R’s I put on the TV and scanned around for something decent to watch while folding laundry (believe me when I say that is my idea of a fun night alone!). The sun was still streaming in through the back window, the whole room was bright. I was happy. I found Two Days in Paris; a story of an American guy and his French girlfriend whose true personalities are revealed during a trip to France. About half way into it, the doorbell rings. It’s G, returning a piece of hardware from the drum pack that I lent him a while back.
I invited him in, despite really wanted to entertain guests (Umm, hello? This is supposed to be my mediation time). But we chatted a bit, some small talk and then I asked if he wanted to catch the rest of this movie with me. I knew he’d be happy to just see a pixelated box, really. He doesn’t have a TV (by choice) and yet, he’s always so thrilled to watch anything. Eventually, after the film and after more small talk he came out with the questions.
“So, how’s the new guy? Are you serious?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty serious. You want to see his picture?”
“Sure.” I think he’s always found a weird pleasure in knowing that I am with someone else. It’s one of the things that always annoyed me about him when we’d get back together. It was like he liked me better when he was at risk of losing me. It never made any sense and it still doesn’t.
So, I showed him the first picture we ever took together over D’s house one night, and he sat there and examined it like he was examining a piece of fruit for a bruise.
“He’s the one,” he said with certainty.
“Yeah?” I laughed, but hoped that he had some ex-boyfriend special powers and saw things I was unable to see. “Why do you say that?”
“Because you two have the same nose,” he said. So, we sat there on the sofa, with my laptop, and examined mine and D’s noses with great scrutiny.
“I didn’t know that if two people have the same nose they’re meant for each other.” I said, and laughed at the silliness of his theory. He kinda laughed back and said, “Well, it’s the whole parallel feature thing. You’re most compatible with people who look like you.”
That’s when G’s argument kind of fell a part. D and I look nothing a like. We’re a classic case of opposites attract. Anyway, it was fun talking about D’s nose. I told him too that he’s a drummer. He was happy to hear that. He asked a bunch of typical questions that he had asked last year about S: How many times do you guys do it? Is it big? What’s the sex like? Does he have kids? Is he good to you? Do you love him? and so on…”Just be careful,” he said at last. “He knows a lot about the law and, well…”
And that’s G. Paranoid. Conspiratorial. Always looking for the hidden in things, as if he has the power to uncover them before others.
“Good point, G. I’ll watch out for that. He knows a lot about the law and that’s a dangerous thing,” I said. We laughed, and then at around 7:30 I kicked him out, still intent on having my night to myself, which I did. I ended up watching Traffic, read a little more of the Carl Sagan book and went to bed dreaming of D, out at sea with the setting sun at his back.
I don’t have a diamond. No bridal veil. My father doesn’t walk me down the aisle. There is no aisle. He’s not even invited. I am married on the side of the White Horse Pike by a judge I found in the Yellow Pages three days ago. My mother is crying. She says to R, “you don’t have to do this you know. You can wait.” No one is giving us gifts. I have spaghetti and meatballs for dinner at Tony’s Restaurant, after. I rent a room at a motel, which has a sauna. Our room is called the Bridal Suite, and it has pine paneling and a brown shag carpet. My new husband is talking to his friend A___ on the phone. It’s been almost two hours. I am lying in bed next to him, waiting, in my white bra, white panties, white stockings and white garter belt. I am waiting for crazy sex and deep love and a feeling of forever. I keep calling myself Mrs. M___ over and over and over. And in the morning, I write it down: I am Mrs. Tracy M____.
I’ve given up my writing for her.
All the words that were in my head,
I’ve let them go, and now
I’m hollow and barren
and reading shit poetry
for no fortune or fame.
I’ve given up my confessions
and his reputation
and his people
and his feelings.
Being in love with a surgeon
rips your heart out.
I’ve lost the wide
open space of those empty
days when the lilt of time
is filled with the ups
and downs of my own brave,
world of emotions.
Those moments which
are no longer mine,
where I was the source
and the sink
and all the mundane stuff in between.
Those days when you lie in the grass
looking up at the sky
and watch the clouds
wax and wither like
smoke from a match, and
you have the time to think
how everything is so damn
vague and changing
and that all you want
is for this moment
to last forever.
I’m listening to For Emma, from Bon Iver. Their video is actually far better than their studio version. They shot it a capella, in Paris. D gave it to me a couple weeks ago and I watched it and cried. I’m sharing it with y’all.