The Lost American Decade – 1

The Congressional Budget Office released its report on the trends in household income distribution in the United States from 1979 to 2007 this month.  The report, a dour-visaged, smug little document that bursts with tedious detail and persnickety clarification, received front-page coverage.  In previous years the report would have garnered no more attention beyond stuffy boardrooms with crusty economists, but this year, the writers of the report were suddenly front page celebs, their work lasting on the front pages just long enough between Herman Cain’s 5th Beatle auditions and tikin Kardashian’s long-rumoured divorce.

Lugubrious-looking presenters repeated the report’s damning statistics – figures that provided the perfect justification for a nation’s simmering anger: the top 1% of American households had seen their after-tax income increase by 275% over the 28 years from 1979 – 2007.  The bottom 20% had seen it increase at 18%.  The vast middle class – income quintiles 2 and 3 – had seen an increase of less than 40%, and the remaining rich guys (80 – 99%) had seen a robust 65% growth.  The report then goes on to document, in clear terms, what many of the people I speak to have acknowledge  for some time : the United States is a deeply unequal society, and one that has been growing more unequal as years pass.  The Gini coefficient is the statistical relationship between income share and population share for a given country.  For smart economist-types, it is the area under a Lorenz curve plotting income share versus population share, and it should ideally tend towards zero (perfectly equal societies) and attempt not to tend towards one (perfectly unequal societies).

The OECD recently underwent a hand-wringing exercise about the rising inequality in their countries, but even while doing so, they commented on how the US was in the back of the pack not just in income inequality, but also in most of the six indicators necessary for social justice: poverty prevention, access to education. labor market inclusion, social cohesion and non-discrimination, health and inter generational justice (Social Justice in OECD Countries 2011).  A growing chorus of reports are beginning to point out what people have begun to feel ever more acutely over the past couple of years: that America has become more unequal, and has spread the inequality unequally too.  Thus poor blacks and hispanics have a rougher time than white Americans of a similar income category, and they score consistently lower on social justice parameters.  America fares pretty poorly in the global inequality sweepstakes, coming in at 0.408 for income inequality, below India’s 0.368, and marginally worse that the Russian plutocracy at 0.399.  These BRIC giants, traditionally hierarchical and unjust societies both, are shown to be more income-equal than the United States.  At 0.408, the US has China (0.469), Brazil(0.55) and South Africa (0.578) among its list of comparably unequal friends, some consolation before the list completely degenerates into egalitarian nightmares like Haiti (0.59) and Mexico (0.516).

Needless to mention, a whole bunch of cassandras has crawled out of the woodwork: established hacks, young scribes, pundits, professors: all waving some article with an I-told-you-so moment from four, maybe six years back: their bosoms puffed, recognised at long last for their  prescience.   Respected periodicals have made American Decline the focus of ongoing journalistic memes, making me wonder whether they were, displaying classic American entrepreneurship, deciding to make the most of a good trend and ride out the crest of bad news with more eyeball-grabbing, and thus more newspaper profits 🙂

But occasional stories send a chill down my spine, leaving me shaken and afraid.   According to a recent book titled “With Liberty and Justice for Some” by Glenn Greenwald, a prominent lawyer-journalist, citizen liberty lies trampled in modern-day America, an empire forever battling against real and manufactured djinns in a far-off desert, and there is serious reason to suspect that political interest has derailed the very process of law-making, creating an unequal two-tiered justice system where “political and financial elites are now vested with virtually absolute immunity from the rule of law even when they are caught committing egregious crimes, while ordinary Americans are subjected to the world’s largest and one of its harshest and most merciless penal states even for trivial offenses”.

Many people are calling today’s youth a “Lost Generation“, and warn that just as the retreating tide drags down all boats, the absolutely poor have had a miserable time in America over the last 10 years.  Who are the poor?  The census bureau figures state that households (of 4) earning $22,113 or less a year, or alternately single persons earning 11,334 or less a year are designated as poor.  The rising levels of poverty over the last ten years have led to a total estimated number today of 46 million poor –  more than 15% of the population – a rising graph that stands at an almost 20-year high.  The swelling ranks of the poor that have been added in the last decade, bookended by two bursting bubbles and an anemic recovery in the middle are disproportionately minority (black, hispanic) and indiscriminately urban.  This has caused some commentators to use the term “Lost Decade” to refer to the naughties, a pejorative commonly reserved for the Japanese downfall in the 1990’s.

How did it come to this?  How did the decade, which began with George Bush’s fateful anointing as commander-in-chief and a rapidly swelling dotcom bubble, finally come to rest in the winter of discontent that is today: burnt, broken and utterly bereft?  Why are the swollen ranks of the unemployed (itself near historic numbers at over 9%) spilling out onto the streets and carrying out civil disobedience movements across the country?  Why do most respected commentators and even regular citizens have such a pervasively dismal view for the future of this country?  Why does one political party make politics a personal contact sport, demeaning democracy, obstructing legislation, fomenting suspicion and obfuscation in the public space, and use every opportunity to pillory the President, often to the detriment of its own image in the country?

I believe the answer is War.  Conflict is like a poison, and America’s unjust wars over the past decade have finally come home to roost, leaving a 3-4 (maybe 4-5! Who knows?) trillion hole in the country’s finances.  The effect of this jingoistic hatred, this illusion of imminent threat, not to mention this Goliath-sized tab – is toxic and corrosive.  A certain suspicion and fear has invaded the American mindspace, occupied center stage, and altered public discourse adroitly – manipulating national opinion so skilfully that noone is the US thinks it amiss that the sole superpower in the world is militarily engaged in 97 countries across the world, policing an arc of instability in the middle east with its secret bases lodged deep in pliant Arab countries.  These countries, ruled by autocratic, non-democratic Arab leaders, are unlikely to do a Mubarak, or a Gaddafi anytime soon, central as they are to the supply of cheap and abundant oil to the US.

Because ultimately, that’s what its all about, and we all know it.  As She put it so eloquently with her sardonic chuckle “Any which way you look at it: Oil is the Turtle, baby: and its Turtles all the way down.”

Next Post: War and the American Empire

Regroup, Reassess, Resume

Hello World!

Over the past few months I have been wondering about why I have hit a writer’s block on my blog, and what I can do to overcome it.  And I’ve come to some interesting conclusions:

One, changing appearance, and other cosmetic changes can add only so much to the overall experience.  Ultimately, output matters.

Two, frequency of posts is important.  As is content.  And brevity.

Three, topics must cover a broad theme, an overarching message, and must deal with a few core ideas that the intended audience is interested in.

Three is what I set out to define in this post.  What shall I write about? Where shall I begin?

From what I’ve seen, there are three approaches that I can take:

One is to write about my life and my experiences.  Admittedly, this is an alluring approach to blogposts, one that my friend Sanjukta, avid blogger and social media guru, uses to brilliant effect.  I have lived on three continents over the last 3 years: two of these countries are diverse and waking up to the immense potential of equality and universal suffrage after years of crippling social segregation and discrimination (India, South Africa).  They are both members of the BRICS, and are both nations where in the past, institutional systems enforced a strict hierarchical order of individual destiny and prevented social mobility between classes.  This restrictive past has now given way to the present, with its chaotic democracy and attendant opportunities (and pitfalls).  The third country is the United States, sole superpower and global liberal hegemon, today going through a crisis of confidence that has resulted in serious soul-searching and introspection.  Arguably, social mobility in America is today the lowest it has been since the late 80’s, and in more real terms, represents a bottom-of-the-barrel picture not seen since the Great Depression.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is attempting to create a new national discourse about democratic capitalist states- one that is exciting and much-overdue, and has the potential to challenge the very foundations of this nation.  In 2011, popular protests have erupted in two of the world’s largest democracies this year in response to an unjust status quo.  Over North Africa and parts of the greater middle East, citizen-led revolts have challenged the will of despots, deposing some, beheading others.  In yet other countries, a raucous populace marches on, unwilling to be silenced.

This is my present, and it is a seminal moment: pregnant with possibility.  Is it not an exciting time to write about?  I think it is.

My second approach is to write about the issues I care about.  These are diverse, and range from the suppression of civil liberties in tribal India to the alarming effects of positive feedback loops on global warming.  Broadly speaking, these can be categorised as musings into the future, and they are an exploration of what our policies of today will mean for our tomorrow.  Climate change is of course the most pertinent of these issues, but they encompass geopolitical events today that I believe will have profound consequences for us into the future, such as the continued occupation of Palestine, or the collapse of the Eurozone.

This is my future, and it is an unpredictable and chaotic maelstrom.  Is it not worthwhile to mull about?  I think it is.

The third approach is to reflect on my past.  Having grown up in India in the eighties, immersed in the syrupy mediocrity of Bappi Lahiri’s plagiarism and Doordarshan’s parsimonious helpings of mass media, it is astonishing to see a country that currently eyeballs more than 500 TV channels.  For better or for worse, the last 20 years have created seismic shifts across India, and contrasted against the grimy steampunk of modern Bharat, my childhood seems starkly remote, almost idyllic.  Multiple writers have exploited this meme to the max, writing about every rich Indian’s deprived (yet happy) youth.  In the afterglow of success and prosperity, the exigencies of childhood can be rewritten as moral fables, the inadequacies papered over with a patina of quaintness.

This is my past, and it is the age when the elephant began to sprout tusks.  Is it not a fascinating era to recount?  I think it is.

So this is it, people.  In a nutshell, what I hope to write about eventually comes to this:

My past, this present, and our future.

Happy Reading!

……. and back.

Its been more than a year.  Far too long.

Oceans rose, icebergs melted, and a few hundred polar bears drowned, their bellies churning fat blubber and polychlorinated biphenyl pesticides, their heavy fur dragging them down, the next ice floe too far, their flesh too weak, their spirit too crushed.  Then just for solidarity, the Greeks did a polar bear too.  As did a derrick named Deepwater, sinking more than a mile to the ocean bed, its ugly visage no longer blocking our Horizons.

The earth trembled, then shook, and giant ripples washed ashore: snapping bridges, crunching cars.  Rivers flooded, and torrential deluges washed away a people already embittered by hate and Hadith.  Afterwards, the sun shone, and then shone some more.  Parched leaves wilted and curled in the heat, then kindled and crackled in the shade.  The smoke was visible from the moon, they told us, as if that somehow were a matter of pride: even the Gods can witness our follies now.

Someone set fire to a fruit-seller, and the people – incensed, hungry and bitter, rose to rid themselves of their masters.  Scepter and crown came tumbling down, and in the shifting sands, were made equal.

Bombs went off in crowded markets, and near leaders’ houses.  In the mountains, not far from the roof of the world, tribal areas that were once federally administered were now listless and pockmarked – their  complexion blemished by big metal birds that prowled the sky.

A tall man with a long beard was dragged away from his home by soldiers.  His body was dropped into the ocean a few days later, sinking softly to the bottom of the sea: Deep Waters once again.

So much has changed, yet nothing has changed.  The more I run, the clearer it becomes to me that I am not going anywhere.  This is just a slow sort of place, where the eddies and whorls in the stream of time wash over the boulders every day: seething, smoothing.

The Red Queen would approve.

Invictus in the land of the ‘Boks

Early on in the movie “Invictus”, there is a scene when Francois Pienaar’s father sits around and does a cassandra, while looking at the telly and talking generally, on The State of the Nation. His manner is disaparaging, his atitude pessimistic. As he rails and rants against what he sees as the inevitable collapse of the new dispensation in power, Pienaar (played brilliantly by a buffed-up matt damon) looks across at his mom, and they exchange The Glance.

Eyes rolling, and mouthing some inside joke, I imagine that this must have been a look in many households across SA, circa 1994. Mandela had been freed, and what the world saw as a moment of delirious celebration of victory for the forces against imperialism and racist bigotry was often seen very differently in South Africa, where the sudden appearance of black might and white fright turned the tables, and how!

And as older generations railed against the collapse of the world as they knew it, I imagine that younger people perhaps rolled their eyes at their mothers, and moved on with their lives.

In the evolving sensibility of Invictus, decades-old suspicion and mistrust is slowly replaced by interracial secret service camaraderie, hunger is replaced by a love for rugby by poor township boys, and eventually everyone (yes, yes! everyone, even the black xhosa maid!!) goes to see a rugby game where the national team grunts against oversize maori warriors. In a tensely fought final, the entire country stays indoors (white men in raucous pubs, black men in roadside shebeens), and a toothy boy from the townships shares the radio with on-tenterhooks Afrikaans policemen. The national team wins, people cheer madly, and a grinning Morgan Freeman- as- Madiba looks on at the tranformative power of sport.

If only life were so simple. Less than 15 years after the historic triumph, sitting in a darkened theatre in Gateway, Durban, I heard barely-suppressed snickers of derision when the scenes of reconciliation and repair flashed on the screen. The tragedy of South Africa today is that the bitterness is still very much in the air, and maybe as fathers rant, the glances are not even exchanged any more at breakfast tables.

The transforming power of sport is something that many hollywood movies have tried hard to exploit over the years (and succeeded admirably). The image of the last-minute touchdown with the orchestra crashing to a crescendo in the background, and the hero’s muddy face streaked with triumph, amid close up shots of the clock signalling timeout and a field invasion by fans, is legend. Invictus has all of that glory, and greatness.

The captain is a taciturn Afrikaans boy overwhlmed by the humility and greatness of the president. Madiba is a kindly old man : graceful, dignified and astute, charming supporters and critics alike with his simple and powerful philosophy. Even the rugby team, beefcake-bourgeoise before, are attentive anthem-singers after, all smiles and happy grins after Pienaar’s pep-talk. Heck, even the grubby kids from the townships, with the ragged trousers and no shoes, are a toothy crease of joy.

The reality, in today’s SA, is vastly different. In the year of World Cup SA 2010, it’s really pretty evident that sport, like everything else in south africa, has been carved up along racial lines, and distributed: the whites get rugby, the blacks get soccer and the indians get cricket , with the mandatory outliers all round. The coloreds, of course, are too busy hanging around Cape Town and being cool. Sports are only the tip of the iceberg: in a nation poisoned by years of institutional racial identification and prejudice, it takes more than a world cup win to bring the fractured pieces together. Depending on the color of their skins, foreigners will eventually get to be privy to the “South Africa is going to the dogs” dialogue. Everyone is a pocket anthropologist, and crude racial generalisations will be made over the poitjie pot, even as you stand around embarassed, and stammering thanks. Whites and Indians will be the first to moan and groan, even as they drive their fancy cars with super-sensitive alarm systems across the city to their fancy houses in the swankiest parts of town. Black moaning is different, and usually laments the fate that has befallen. And how powerless they are to stop it.

When Madiba talks in the movie of a “Rainbow nation”, and borrows Archbishop Tutu’s term to talk of the glorious multi-culturalism of South Africa, the whole world was charmed and touched. Today, the description seems eerily literal, of a prismatic country bent on splitting white light into its components. Maybe the great man was being  prescient, in his own ruined, tragic way.

Adapted from Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, by journalist John Carlin, Invictus is a portrayal of the intimate relationship between sports, pride, honour, and the inner core of decency and fairness that exist at the heart of every person. Some inconsistencies have been noted in the movie (Mandela quoting Invictus and not Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena  speech to Pienaar and the boys, the pile of stones on Robbyn Island that could not have existed in 1994), but the greatest inconsistency is the image of a united, cheering-as-one, proud and integrated South Africa. As we shuffled out of the movie hall, I could not but help noting with a sinking feeling that THAT particular cheer probably lasted barely as long as the credits.

abdul rahiman and the mutilated breasts

the day was warm.  not sultry, just warm.  a maybe-a-little-too bright sun beat down on the cliff side.  the day was late january: the winter chill still in the water, while the fickle earth baked in the day.

we had been to daulatabad fort the previous day, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daulatabad ) and were a bit overwhelmed at the sight of formidable mughal power.  there is nothing like the sight of a conqueror’s fortress marked by his pillar to evoke ancient feelings of nervousness and disquiet.  daulatabad fort, much coveted and fought for, is set into the rock at deogiri.  and thrusting upwards with macho self assuredness is the chand minar, rising like a phallus of the foothills to survey the landscape around.

chand minar, looking out over the foothills of deogiri

chand minar, looking out over the foothills of deogiri

the view from the top was majestic, and the sheer ingenuity of the custodians of the fort, not to mention their capacity for savagery was what we marvelled at.  this here was the fortress of a people fiercely victorious in a hobbesian hell, an age where caution was perennial, and nervous.

the labyrinth is excitedly pointed out to everyone, called “andheri” and reeking of bat shit and paraffin fumes.  then there are also the ruined halls, and the chini mahal, where the last king of golconda was held captive, and eventually died.

distant view of a minaret

distant view of a minaret

the grandeur was hard to not get affected by, as also not to shudder at what might have passed here, in these lawns, what sordid tales of palace intrigue and foiled plans would they tell?  when enemy armies were cut down mercilessly, their numbers slaughtered, their ranks scattered, their few surviving members greeted with boiling oil and scalding water, what might have been the feeling in the denizens of the fort?  where might the head waiter have directed his concerns first?  supplies?  sustenance?  safety?  or self?

it was an exercise in harsh realities, reminding us of the mindless slaughter preceding our age, and remembering, with gladness, our own lives.

…………………… xxxx

so the day was warm. not sultry.  we were in ellora,  in verul, further down from deogiri, on the road to dhulia.  ellora is a UNESCO world heritage site, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellora_Caves ), and is a spectacular structure, its 34 caves dotting the hillside, set into the cool rock, and looking down on the land for 1300 years.  the structure was built by the rashtrakutas and possibly the chalukyas from the 5th to the 11th century AD, and has buddhist, hindu and jain caves built more or less in that order, as allegiances to the gods slipped and shifted and slipped some more.

the hindu caves show shaivites and vaishnavites in collaboration in the gigantic friezes on the walls, half of one hall given over to shiva, and the other half to vishnu.

the caves are spectacular because they are built out of a single rock, essentially.  that is, teams of workers sat in quiet perserverance on this cliffside for centuries to carve out, one by one, each of these caves.  the caves, in turn, house large temples, statues of elephants, stupas, intricately carved panels and pillars within them.  there are “living bridges”, namely bridges fashioned out of the rock as they were, the passages fashioned out of the rock, thus creating the bridge.  this in cotrast to the usual way when passages dictate the bridge.  the entire structure is one single rock, and voluptuous women smile at you from the ends of corridors, their presence witnessed by lissome caryatids on the side,supporting the smooth black rock.  churned out of the granite rock is an entire fantasyland of figures, dancing, preening, fighting, supplicating, copulating, frozen forever in mythological tableaux, locked in timeless urgency.

cave 21

cave 21

the pinnacle of the caves, of course, is the much photographed cave no. 16, called “kailasa”. it is a spectacular cave, with an extensively carved temple complex in the centre flanked by massive halls, ostensibly for dance performances.  then there is much-photographed elephant with the broken trunk, a mutilation that nevertheless makes it as arresting as, if not more than, the elephant in cave 32.

the elephant with the broken trunk, kailasa.

the elephant with the broken trunk, kailasa.

the body is chipped, and the broken face is no longer the beautiful, kind yet haughty visage it must once have been, as young girls with lamps in their hands passed under its smooth belly, reaching out to touch its legs, and place their hands on their lidded eyes.  the temple, beautiful and old, is cracked in places, torn down with a vengeance and ferocity that seems almost insane.

elephant, indrasabha

elephant, indrasabha

cave 32, (also known as indra sabha – a historic misnomer) is a jain cave at the end of the road, about 3-4 kms to the north.  there are still many well-preserved pieces of sculpture here, with exquisitely carved inner sanctums, and the only other proudly standing elephant.  for a sense of size, think kailasa’s elephant the size of an african pachyderm, and the one in the indra sabha the size of an indian cow elephant.

the complexity is vast and gargantuan; the audacity of the work has to be seen to be believed.  there are passageways, chaitya halls, viharas, friezes of tirthankaras, stone benches for disciples and ribbed vaulted ceilings which were painstakingly conceived as wooden-ceiling mimics.  the scale and scope of the undertaking is staggering.  the entire structure lies before you, in splendidly detailed ruin, marred by deliberate vandalism and petty destruction, pages of poetry in stone torn apart by a petulant and spoilt child.  at corners, i stopped to wonder – who would order such a thing? which general would instruct his troops to deliberately destroy this extraordinary work of art, who could have done it with such careless nonchalance?  the thoroughness of the demolition is frightening.  the faces are almost all mutilated, beautiful lips and graceful cheekbones all broken off by rough swipes at the stone with blunt hand held instruments.  would the general have ordered that all statues be destroyed by the morning, and extra rations offered to those who broke off the most?  would he have set targets per regiment, punishing those that came back to camp with less mortar and booty?  the savagery of the marauders shocked me.  some had driven iron nails into the statues’ eyes and body, in a spiteful and desperate attempt to disfigure and mutilate.

why would they do so?  would any one of them have felt a remorse, a sadness, a sense of the immense consequence of their actions?  would at least some of them have stopped to admire the carvings, stopping to caress the stone’s rough hewn edges and smooth surfaces?  would they have felt heavy in the heart, for having destroyed such beauty?

the breasts are the most important.  across the caves, the female figures, blessed at birth with deliciously globular breasts and smooth bodies stare out at the world with almond-shaped eyes.  their sexy come-hither looks are marred, however, by the disconcerting effect of their breast-less visages.  their cleavages, once deep walleys of dark granite, are now craggy rocks of forlorn two-dimensionality.  it is the odd sculpture scattered across the caves that gives us a glimpse of the grandeur of those mammaries, 1500 years back, when they were hewn out of the rock.  systematically, someone has attacked the sculptures, and hacked off the breasts of the women.

the discomfort of these invaders with female sexuality is evident.  in the indra sabha, a jain cave of the digambar sect, naked tirthankaras stare at you from every wall. some of themhave their heads chopped off, their genitals still preserved, intact and forlornly southward-pointing.

the headless tirthankara

the headless tirthankara

there has been very little concerted efforts to mutilate those genitals, the humiliation heaped upon the statues limited to the beheading and the occassional severance of torso from lower limb.

its almost as if these invaders wanted to prove a point, by their excessive savagery towards the female statues.

i exited the cave, musing.  kailasa is cave 16. lesser known, but no less fascinating is cave 15, with a long flight of steps leading up to it.  we walked up, and being the only people in the cave, engaged the man who was there for a short guided tour.  he took us around, and we were charmed by his poetic and skilful explanations of the sculpted frescoes.  he explained the shaivite and the vaishnavite parts of the wall, pointing out the different incarnations from the dasa avatar: there is matsya, here’s varaha, etc etc.  he explained in detail the popular ellora motif: ravan, in the arrogance of new-found power, tries to shake the mount kailasa.  shiva puts him in his place by flexing his great toe, meanwhile reassuring parvathy that the situation is under control.  it is a moment of infinity, pregnant with the possibility of action, and drama.  he took us all round, and showed us the ananthapadmanabhan, ie, the infinite vishnu with the lotus from his navel, and with brahma seated on the lotus.

we were done with the cave, and had caressed the smooth sensuous back of the enormous humped bull nandi in the middle of the hall with longing.  we were leaving, and turned to ask the man if he were a guide.  no, he said, he was a class 4 employee, there to sweep the floor of the cave, much less frequented than other caves because of the flight of steps and its proximity to more famous kailasa.

we asked him his name, and abdul rahiman was his name, as he told us.  as we left, having slipped a fifty into his pocket for his expertise and time, we looked back one last time and saw abdul standing in his courtyard, the two storeys of the cave rising behind him, the monkeys his only company as the sun beat down upon the granite around him, the sheer walls splashed with mutilated bodies and headless torsos.

abdul rahiman, the class 4 employee, archaeological survey of india.

cave 15, ellora

vanars watching varaha : cave 15, ellora

january 5th, zero-nine : the lo-to-pha-gi :

They were not greek.  No, altho there was much insinuation made of that brand of love in the house. The dark, slightly damp corner of the room forever redolent of soft sighs, or (more often) of frantic urgings, would join in the discussions, often offering surprisingly imaginative suggestions for buggery.

There was a large game board in the middle of the room. This was the front room, the one that greeted every weary traveller who set foot in the house, greeted him before the inevitably empty bottle of water and the massively rolled joint.

The bottle was to be filled from the tap, the bong was to keep him company on his journey.

It does not matter what the game board was. Depending on which particular racial reality was being eked out in the room, or even, whichever reality was being played out that day in that common living space, the boards would change. Four heads in shared concentration would pore over the central table, their hair tousled, the skin over their foreheads thrown into deep furrows of intense thought. Sometimes it would be carrom, sometimes battleships, often a pack of cards and a flat surface

There would be assorted debris around the room, the flotsam and jetsam of the forever-itinerant-always-static life: assorted mobile chargers, crust-filled boxes of pizza, sandals, reed mats spread out against the far wall, newspapers folded neat and knife-like, pressing finely powdered cannabis in between their grimy leaves, two books by kafka, one assorted dvd of the x-men series and daredevil, and a fine sprinkling of ash coating the entire room, mingling with the dust and entering their lungs, to be wracked out a hours later, trapped in large globs of phlegm.

In an inside room, in a dank and furtive corner, someone wrapped in an oversize blanket would wave distractedly, his eyes intent on the foreign language film flickering on the screen in front of him, its eastern european heroines restricted to limited english lines of ‘yes’ and ‘harder’.  The dialogues would seem to be terse, and pithy, and the urgency of the actors evident in their insistent utterings.

Sometimes, there would be a tv in the corner, the channel forever tuned to Ftv, the cute gluteal folds of some brazilian ramp model ignored in the general interest over the evolving game.

The kitchen would be filthy, and largely unused, grease encrusted plates congealing near the sink while water dripped over the chipped white tile surface. Empty bottles would line the wall, and the fridge would be empty, save a half-empty bottle of flat pepsi and mouldy bread against the far corner.

On the counter, the cool earthern pot would store water, dark and refreshing.

The loo would be small, and often serviced by the only perrenial tap in the house, its lowly status as toilet-water-supply (kindly note the second hyphen) forgotten often when it is the only source of water in the house when the sun was high.

These are the lotus eaters, the carrom players, eternal drifters testing newton’s first law and proving it right every time, stopping only for a smoke or a roll, or reaching out for crumpled newspaper to wipe away the mess.

These are the Lotophagi.

“….How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream
To dream and dream, like yonder amber light,
Which will not leave the myrrh-bush on the height;
To hear each other’s whisper’d speech;
Eating the Lotos day by day,
To watch the crisping ripples on the beach,
And tender curving lines of creamy spray;
To lend our hearts and spirits wholly
To the influence of mild-minded melancholy;
To muse and brood and live again in memory,
With those old faces of our infancy
Heap’d over with a mound of grass,
Two handfuls of white dust, shut in an urn of brass!”

—                               From “The Lotos Eaters” Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1809-1892

: second of january, 2009 :

.  December’s face is turned away;

.                january’s

.  smiling at me.

.                                            

.                              Nirvana Demon (2009)

.

.                                                good morning, 2009!

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