your body

your body is not your own,when it is owned, it is owned. not by you, by your patronymic name and when you grow up, by your wedded name.

your body is not your own, when it belongs, it belongs not to you, to your husband when he plays and when you give birth, to your birth helper.

your body is not your own, when it pains, it pains not because of you, by the glaring gaze and when you dress, by your invitation to play.

your body is not your own, when it bleeds, it bleeds not because of you, by the masked vigilante and when you cry, by the misery of your doom.

your body is not your own, when it satiates, it satiates not you, the hungry passersby and when you crumble, by the masochist ego.

your body is not your own, when it breaks, it breaks not because of you, by the Suleiman's hand and when you fall, by the megalomaniac.

your body is not your own, when it is chained, it is chained not because of you, by history and when you die, by the daughter you leave behind.


Meditative cooking

Throughout my childhood, my mother tried to instill in me a sense and need for meditation. I went through the rigamarole of taking yoga classes, going to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living courses, attending lectures on J.Krishnamurti's teachings, and a failed attempt at going to a G.D Goenka's 21 day Vipassana course, where all you could do was remain silent. These activities were mostly fun ways of keeping me occupied over the summer holidays. I never took up any of this in my later adult life, except the passing phrases of getting back in shape by doing yoga.

So, have I learnt anything about meditation from any of this? Probably not. Today, I meditate by a very simple everyday means- cooking. I can imagine most of you squealing at the thought of calling cooking a 'meditation'. For most people, it is far from being relaxing. A lot of people take it to be a burden, like Atlas carrying the weight of the world on his shoulder. You know, that thing you do on a daily basis just because you and your family have to eat. All the cutting, chopping, cleaning, washing vessels adds to the burden. For me and a countable bunch of people, cooking is highly meditative and relaxing. It is the one activity I turn to in order to get my mind away from the stress and strain of routine.

I let my mind wander as I chop the red onion into thin, long slices wiping tears off my cheeks, or cut Thai green chillies into pieces and accidentally snub my nose. Then, as I heat up the oil and grind some garlic, the mustard splutters up and distracts my wandering mind and naive thoughts. By now, I'm thinking of some new blogpost, forming ideas and thinking of new ways of looking at things. The spices go into the kadai and mix mellifluously with the gravy. Here, in the hot oil, every spice is rendered equal. A song has now crept into my mind and I'm humming or trying to get a gamaka in place. The vegetables now go in and it all begins to smell wonderful, the accompaniment to my melody. The birds chirping outside reminds me of the final garnishing, and I reach for the bottom rack of the fridge to bring out a fresh sprig of cilantro. The smell of fresh cilantro and what it does to my mind and senses, they dance in joy. By now, the thoughts have escaped to a world of their own, far away from my kitchen and the delicacy cooking on the stove. The cilantro goes on, I mix it all up and the dish is ready to be gobbled up.

This one hour of my day is the best one hour and sometimes even a very productive one, if I have been thinking of some piece of elusive data evading analysis. There are many poems, blog entries that have originated while I was making food. I think for me the principle is simple, learn to love what you do and it will love you back. Cooking is my passion, not an activity caused out of everyday, monotonic routine hood. If you love cooking, it will love you back.

the marginalized

xiaoCopyright Hè Xiǎo Hè


they walk in tatters, a worn shoe, a broken umbrella a heavy heart, a fallen soul they drag along years maybe even centuries of history burnt to ashes.

their story was never told, buried under the great wall hidden among the murals they become Samson and Delilah nameless, baggageless, with no place to hide, except their shame.

they live among us, as one of us, you and me victims of the sway and glitter of power nobody knows their name, they live anonymously and posthumously their presence invisible.

they live to see the end of a tunnel, not as a bleak of hope, as a liberation from reality. the dark corridors of the tunnel sing about their unglamorous past, their struggles to make a living, to be recognized as someone, with a name, with feelings this light, at the end of the tunnel, that light is them.

Memory and choice

There are times when I grapple to find a specific memory, buried deep down within the corridors where memories are kept, I suppose, locked in perfect boxes, labelled, and stacked up on special racks, dated by years or maybe even decades. This doesn't happen too often, at least not on a daily basis. Sometimes, it is a musical piece you hear that triggers this sort of grappling. It needn't always be a musical piece, it could be a conversation, a random thought, the smell of cumin being fried, mustard seeds crackling, the voice of an old friend, or a tattered Pollock's print tucked away in a trunk under the bed. This then hurtles you back, phantasmagorically, into a realm of magical realism. Here, things are exactly the same as it was in your past memory. You can recreate the visuals to the minutest details. The table at the corner of the room, the lamp hanging above the tapestry, the cat rolled over his back in a happy baby pose, your angered friend pacing about the room, earnest and half mindful of her words. There is nothing to stop the memories rolling by, say as if the lock on one of those sealed boxes accidentally melted away. We have our favorite ones, not so favorite ones, and the ones we refuse to believe happened. One of my earliest memories, from my childhood, is eating chocolate pudding. I used to get back home from the nursery, I think I was 3, and Amma would give me this home made pudding. I can relive that memory, taste the pudding in my mouth, recollect the day vividly, the frock I was wearing, the details of the dining room, the color of Amma's sari. Then there are those not so favorite culinary memories, those from Hyderabad hostel days, especially the days when we used to be served "kundru sabji". We used to totter down to the mess hall and run straight back out to the Chinese fast food place next to campus, hog on some fried rice, chilli chicken and then, head to Sagar bhaiyya's store for some ice cream. Then, there are the one's that must not be named, little scandalous, little horrific, a lot of embarrassment. Those will forever remain locked, well hopefully.

Every time I dig down a memory, I can't help feel those memories are a result of a choice I made at a point in time in my past life. So, if I had continued to do my PhD in India, I wouldn't have any memories whatsoever of life in LA. This world simply ceases to exist. There are many intervals in time where I remember making a conscious decision to let go of something, or to follow a particular windy path. These choices make us who we are today. It was Amma's choice to make me chocolate pudding and not crème brûlée. It was my choice to hate kundru in the hostel mess and prefer Chinese instead. I can only wonder what alternate consequences, a reverse choice could have had. Maybe I could have chosen not to eat the chocolate pudding, or chosen to suck up and eat the kundru in the mess. Would these have altered my life significantly? Chaos theory says yes, stemming from a belief that nonlinear applications of mathematical systems gives rise to a whole which may be more or less than the sum of its parts. Thus, a chaotic system is totally unpredictable in its behavior. There are choices we need to make which seem trivial, such as choosing chocolate pudding, yet there are bigger choices we need to make, for example. my decision to leave 2 years of research work in India to pursue another 5+ years of doctoral work in LA. Life was uncertain at that point, who knew what could happen. I could make this big move to LA, absolutely hate living in this city, have a fall out with my adviser and be back to square one. Every choice is risky, has an uncertainty factor associated with it and the beauty of the unseen, the unknown, is so beckoning that it tempts you to make the choice, however, difficult it is. At that point in time when you choose a particular path, remember, there is no right or wrong, since the consequences of your actions will not reveal itself till years later, and you can only look back and wonder if you did make the right decision or choice.

This brings me to my discussion in an earlier post on possible worlds. By picking a particular route to action are you necessarily pushing away access to other possible worlds? Or, do they continue to exist parallelly, inhabiting different orbits and circling and just being. Maybe we have access to them all, because we do have the free will to alter our choice at any given time. Maybe they exist only as a figment of our imagination, you can see these alternate worlds but have no access to them because of the choice you made. And, maybe death is just one such alternate possible world, chosen by your fervor and your denial.  As Murakami says, memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.

possible worlds

Does possible worlds exist? I would like to believe so. Dabbling in semantics, of course, has given me that perspective. Even thinking beyond the world of modal realism and Lewis, I want to entertain the possibility that they are just as real as our world. There is a conceptual advantage to thinking this way. Many of our dreams, many of our desires we feel will come true at some point, if not now, in some particular point in the future. This anchors life into a comfortable pedestal from where you can project each of your desires onto a possible world. Imagine this vibrant universe, composed of a plurality of all these distinct, unique elements. In some sense, a point of view represents a unique possible world. If there can be multiple points of view, there should be multiple possible worlds, right? This model can now help evaluate flavors of necessity and possibility, similar to our own notions and conceptions of what is possible, what can be, and what we want it to be.

The notion of possible worlds also ties up with our view of history. A question we can often ask when we read about the history of Zimbabwe, or the historical developments of the rise of industrialization is the question of whose history are we really talking about? We all know how power plays a role in decision making, say, in media, in policy making. Power determines consequences, fate, our reality and morality even. If we do admit then that the history we read as we read it is the history of the majority, the ones in pivotal power position, we could ask if, in a different possible world, would the same history have been rendered differently. Would somebody else's tales be sung gloriously and written for centuries to read and wonder.

Parallels to possible worlds can also be found in literary fiction which makes it possible to talk about fictional worlds without reducing these texts to actual representations of the truth. The author carves a world, albeit with fictional characters and this fictional text makes accessible, reference to the imaginative existence of a world and a precise state of affairs. This new world which has been created determines its own horizon of possibilities. The text exerts a kind of expressive power over your sense of reality. Suppose you are reading your favorite novel and you encounter the term, red lion. Even though you have never seen such an animal before, you would construct a visual of the real world lion with 4 legs, a mane and a tail and this visual would represent a real world lion in all respects except the color. In constructing fictional worlds, the reader fills in these literary gaps by assuming a mapping from a real world, thus connecting this world as you know it to a possible world, a world in which lions can be red.

Dreams may be considered in the same realm of things, as happenings in the subconscious part of your brain/mind. Sometimes you remember the most bizarre incidents, with people you may never have met, or sometimes images from your past, school days. These can now be thought as representing again a connection between the world of your reality and the world of your desire or possibility. In dreams, you construct what you want to see, maybe you even see things which are on the verge of happening in a remotely near and accessible future. Dreams connect your intersections at time points, the past with the future and the present with the past. They are sometimes indicative of changes which are going to happen.

A postmodern narrative best describes the possible world scenario. The shift from modernism to post modernism brought about a radical change in the epistemic base. Modernism was concerned with epistemological concerns whereas post modernism worries about ontological concerns. The radical ways of thinking posed questions such as, 'What is a world', 'What makes a world real?'. The intricate layers of reality can be seen best in David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas', which consists of six nested tales describing how history is repetitive and connects people through centuries and generations. Marquez's magical realism and Calvino's symbolism and style are all characteristic of this.

So, ask yourself this question today. Are you alive in the real world? Or is this "real world" just a figment of your imagination. A possible world through which you access the real world and traverse back and forth from it. After all, we all love our possible worlds, in which we are successful, in which we are happy, in which we are with our dream man or woman. These possible worlds and their reality helps us get by a little by little in our otherwise dreary and hectic humdrum of everyday existence. If you haven't discovered the possible worlds yet, now might be the time to do so.