When humanoids first walked the earth, they must have looked up at spectacular sunrises and sunsets. Our universe will go in all its glory, long after; all of us humanoids, are gone. As we looked up into the heavens through the millennia, what did our minds seek? We must have wondered at the stars and the Milky Way and the celestial sightings. At the same time, we must have sought the understanding of our life, on Mother Earth. Our ancestors must have sought to grasp the meaning of this existence and what it means for our future. There is no single purpose, that a God bestows on our foreheads, when we are born. We are left to our own devices; we have free choice, withing our limited circumstances. It remains up to us to choose wisely, now that we have accumulated the knowledge, of a million years of evolution. Knowledge is just the sum of our past experiences, stored in our Human brain. Here we must dwell, now we must create, to make our life meaningful. I look up at my heavens and see this celestial sight, created just for me at this moment. My purpose is to remain fully conscious of this moment, and stay focused on this event. My mind stops its chatter, and I live as the part of the universe all around me. Life and I walk hand in hand, with no conflict, at peace with each other, till death Our universe will go on, so what is there to fear?
Came upon this old memory in my FB page from many years ago:
Its chilling breath sent shudders down to my bones, and its dark shadow seemed to cover all the horizons and stifle my very soul. Yet he is an old companion and I no longer fear him, or am swayed by his power. He has made many attempts before to tempt me to accept his embrace; from my piddling birth, to a great fall as a child, horrific auto accidents, burning towers, and now the descent into a darkness, that only he can induce.
I turn around and laugh in his harrowing face; and bid him to be gone, and pick on some other purposeless soul. I wave him away with a dismissal thought; as I have no time for his histrionics, and a life of wonder to live. My purpose is greater than his; and he gazes long into my eyes trying to drag me into his darkness. Then he sees my smile, for as old friends we can read each other’s minds. “Death be gone,” I order for I have things to do, and deeds yet to accomplish. My happiness; dissipates his darkness, and light reemerges. I still have the power of the life force, that needs to bring the message of enlightenment to those around me. We are not thrown here or leave by chance; and each one of us has a greater purpose, which we must strive to achieve. Let my life sing and show the path to the glory of this creation, and bring joy to all around me. I have to walk bravely into the night; bearing this beacon of hope, and not be cowed down into submission by fear or despair. Live true to our vision of compassion for all beings; and that alone will be our eternal achievement. I truly believe that even my old friend death, will welcome me with open arms, when I am done with this idealistic life.
A lovely spring evening, and today’s work is done. It is the end of the week in fact, and I get up from my desk and stretch. I venture out hopefully, to take a walk, and refresh myself, from being tied to a computer, all day. Not many people are about, as I start to get into my stride. I adjust the volume on my headphones, to the music playing from my iPhone. It is the Beatles, playing ‘Elanor Rigby,’ and I pick up pace, while reminiscing about my school days. The printed paper, the Jesuit Father passed to me, with the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, for us to study for Moral Science Class. It was one of the 3 songs we studied, over 3 weeks. I knew the words well and the music brought pleasant memories, of old friends, and companions. What an education it was, and what great bonds we formed.
The walkways lead me past some of the other people, who are up and about, taking their evening walk. I pass some couples with their dogs. We all kept a safe social distance from each other. I would often step on to the road, to let a couple pass on the walkway, as there is little traffic these days. Silently etiquette is maintained between us as we pass, avoiding coughing or coming close. By now the Rolling Stones are playing ‘Brown Sugar,’ and I am bent down, slowly climbing the slight incline. The nearby wooded path beckoned me, and I crossed the road from the walkway, to head into the trees.
Within a few steps on the by now familiar path, it went into a steep incline. I knew the path well, and stepped on familiar flat rocks, avoiding the slippery slope. It was a zig zag pattern I followed of my own choosing, and anyone watching; would have been baffled, at my approach. It was to make the climb easier, and gave me better views of my surroundings, instead of just gazing down and concentrating, on the soil and the roots. This wood and I had become old friends, and we knew each other well. Now in the spring evening except for the occasional blossoms, most of the lofty Oaks and Maples, were still bare. The wind did not whisper, as it did in the summer, through the thick leaf cover. Now it was more the sighing sound, of the open sky, as the wind swept freely about.
There along the way were fallen trees, whicht I had to cross, as
I followed the path higher. Then it started to level off and I saw, the Arch of
the Spring Blossoms, strung across the path. It was like a gate, made specially
for me to enter, as if I imagined it to be a gateway, to a different land. I
stopped to take a photograph of the path which beckoned, my very soul. What was
so special, that it drew me back again and again, to walk only this path, and
no other? I have the whole universe to explore, and still I stand here and admire
the blossoms, and love this sight.
As I walked on and passed under the Arch of the Spring Blossoms, I passed into a different realm. The old laws did not hold, for now. I found myself in a strange land, of quite and beauty. Life was reduced to its elemental form, of man and nature, as one. There was no me walking on the path anymore. In fact, it was not a path distinct and different, or an extension, outside me. We are one, and so is the forest around us. The birds that fly across the branches above, and the deer who stand below and stare up at me, with their white tails raised, ready for flight. We are all one in this moment, and time becomes a wave, and space is flowing. I look up to see and an eagle flies high above, in the clear blue sky, with white puffy clouds, floating in space.
The setting sun sends its rays, at angles, through the bare branches, to my foot steps. I walk on and the light and shadows, play with my eyes, in delight. What is inside, is outside, and what is outside, is inside; in a strange feeling, as the boundaries of my body blur. The unity of everything into one moment, can only be experienced, or so this path, led me to believe. I am no longer a walker, who walks his solitary path. Now there is only one universe, and the path itself is gone. There is no longer a goal for the future, or a fear of the past. There is only this one forgotten raindrop, sheltered on a fallen leaf, glistening in the rays of the dying sun, as if alive with joy. I meditate on the light, and here is no goal to strive for; as desire falls on the path, left behind.
The weight of existence is lifted; from my shoulders, and I walk erect. Each step is now an effortless move; as nothing binds it down, anymore. The Earth Mother, on this Earth Day; binds me to her bosom, and I am content. The vines hang down from the tall Oaks and I can almost feel; the budding leaves, about to sprout. Nature is no longer a mystery, as I have become nature. A Robin calls and a sparrow answers, and now I listen only to the music, of my fellow creatures. A feeling arises, from the soil; beneath my feet, that now I have become the path. Who was the walker, and who watched him in the woods?
Bergen County now stands at 15,830 positive test results for
now stands at 15,148 positive test results for coronavirus
now stands at 13,994 positive test results for coronavirus
now stands at 12,814 positive test results for coronavirus
May Day 2020, NJ – ‘ Ah, look at all the lonely people ‘
I am surprised, to read that in the US, “ Research and
development have been cut so much that the US is now in second place and
high-quality higher education is becoming unaffordable for most middle-class
students. Yet every time someone proposes new investments in our future, they
are told that the nation is broke, massively in debt, and cannot afford new
The Jouirnal Blog continued, “The United States had plenty of
money half a century ago. In the 1950s and 1960s, we paid down the huge World
War II debt at a time when we maintained a much larger military than today and
fought wars in Korea and Vietnam. We built the Interstate Highway System and
much of the other physical infrastructure we use today. We funded vigorous
research and development, including the fabulously expensive Apollo program. We
supported higher education well enough that middle-class students could
graduate from elite universities without crippling debt.”
I am surprised, as I always believed that the best years are
ahead of us. Yet the article sounded as if our wild economy, and can-do
attitude, is a setting Western sun. We have become a nation that refuses to invest
in itself, it allows private business to thrive, at the cost of public
expenditure. Who will build the future modes of transportation, or the new fuel
cells and batteries? Future cities will house, millions in a new tech world. Future
farms will be climate controlled. Flora and Fauna will be preserved in video,
and reserves. Humans will use artificial companions, for living, and transportation.
Entertainment will be through focused sensory stimulation experiences, including
physical, chemical and mental stimulants.
Traditionally we have been a nation of Innovators and Free Thinkers as part of the American Way. Unfortunately, the cost of fostering human social conditions, for this innovation and education, has been going up. Over the past 5 decades, cost of social justice and security, has largely drawn from the pocketbook of employees, instead of the pockets of the corporations. Even before Reagan the cry to lower taxes, on the corporate and Wall Street big wigs, had a quaint resonance, in the elected house and Senate. Lobbyist swarmed and payroll taxes doubled many times, since initiation. Corporate taxes continued to slide, even hailed today by current President Trump, as one of his proudest moment, in this White House.
It is time now, to once again invest in the American Spirit and our people. Ever since the revolution, we have always risen from the ashes of past wars, and failures, with even more strength and determination. We are on the cusp of another revolution, where we tax more, and invest more, into American roots. The roots will grow green shoots which will create the forests of tomorrow. These schools and, universities are incubators, of our future world. What we teach them today, as basic human values, will take our place; in the universe, of tomorrow May they live long and prosper, on our blue planet!
Sam looked at me, with those large innocent eyes of hers, blinked her larger eye lashes twice, smiled, and said to me, “You have always had a way with words, Ashok. I can never imagine, what you will think of, next. I wouldn’t even last five minutes, in that crazy head of yours?” She became lost in her own thoughts as we waited, I squeezed Sam’s hand and she looked at me and I smiled back, as these moments were rare. I looked at my watch as I had to leave. The Producer came into the recording studio, and gave us a thumbs up sign, and Sam yelled with delight. He was followed by the sound engineer, and our agent Suresh.
“I am tired, and have an early train, to catch,” I said.
“Ashok, that last track you laid today, is just amazing, how do you come up with these rhythms, and beats.” Suresh gushed, giving me a hasty hug. Suresh is my agent and childhood friend. “Why do you have to go on this discovery trip, I cannot understand?”
“Like I told you Suresh, something is calling out to me, from out there. I am going to the rock, where Swami Vivekananda sat, where Lord Ram sat, and prayed to Lord Shiva. Something is telling me to go there, and find the truth, of what is India? I can’t explain it.”
“You can’t do this to me,” Suresh, “to us”, he continued
I replied. “I have given all I have, for this album, for over a year, now I need some time for myself. Suresh my dear friend, this is not about you or us, this is a strange hollow feeling, inside of me. All my mathematical rigor and training is lost, within this, self-doubt. I do not even know myself or what is my purpose. I have made up my mind, to just go out there, and travel our land. I hope to find what is missing, in my current life?”
Sam went off with the sound engineer, to listen to the last tracks, we had played. She had a better ear for music, I just knew instinctively, when my drum notes flowed in rhythms, like mathematical equations. I just followed my instincts, and strict composition steps, and made my notes, follow my mathematical patterns, which only I could see. We had realized early in our partnership, that it is Sam, who just made the melody flow, with her singing. She played the guitar and harmonica and had an amazingly versatile voice. Somehow mine and Sam’s singing, worked well together, and this was tour second album together. We co wrote the lyrics of most of our songs.
“My work is done here.” and I handed my drum sticks to our producer, and walked out.
The next day I had started my journey, just like Mahatma Gandhi had started his journey, on his arrival from South Africa. I had my sleeping bag and my laptop, and phone and books for the way. I wanted to see India, from the ground, and hear the names, of the familiar stations. I wanted to hear the languages, and the dialects, of the people, from the millions, who had passed before us. They too must have traveled on these same rails, on their way south. I wondered how many of them had sought the meaning of their lives, in the clackity-clack of these trains wheels, rolling down these rails.
Delhi was left far behind and I heard the clackety-clack of the railroad tracks, as the electric trains did not huff and puff, anymore. The countryside passed, as I gazed out the window, and he went from State to State. I had a sleeper and slept in my sleeping bag, on the foam-covered bed. Late in the night, I heard the now familiar calls, of the tea hawkers, and the food vendors. The PM had helped his father, at a tea stall, I thought to himself, as another day passed, on the tracks. I loved the smell and color of the passing countryside. The sun broke out and the fields are green, and I am away from the dry cold land, of my air polluted city. The green Ghats beckoned my soul, and I thought I saw, a waterfall with a rainbow, flash by from my window, and then it was gone.
An year has passed, and I have become a Math teacher, in an all-girls school, in the town of Gangtok, in Sikkim. I had come there to study, in the Buddhist Monastery, almost nine months ago, with a companion I found, in Ma’s ashram, in Pondicherry. It had been a long journey by train and Bus, to cross into the mountains, of the Eastern Himalayas. We had then hired a jeep, to take us, across some very remote areas, to the monastery, at the top of a cliff face. We had to climb on foot up the narrow path, along the cliff face, to get to the Monastery. There we finally come to a rest. We were admitted by the Abbot, and we studied with the monks.
We meditated for three months, and then went herd gathering, in the mountains. I helped to bring the animals back, from their summer, alpine forage lands. The rhythms of the seasons, and the might of the towering mountains, moved me. We would begin by rising at early morning, before dawn and start our trek. We had to climb a thousand meters up, around the hills, to get to the grazing grounds. My mind and body were fully engaged in these long walks. away from civilization. They made me face the last of my inner demons. As I gathered the Goats and the cattle, I made a new life, for myself. The cows and the goats helped me gain the realization, of what I am.
My meditation is progressing well, with my guide, and I feel a healthy glow of joy, for all creatures, I am now comfortable with myself. I sat on the side of some running water, taking a break. I had my bare feet, in the cold, clear, water, of this mountain tributary, of the Teesta river. My mind is as clear, as the flowing water, and only time is still. As I watch, a fish nibbles, on my big toe, and then swims on, as if, uninterested. But at that time, I was fully present in this moment. I have peered into the eye of this fish, who peered back, and there was a deep connection. I felt a sudden belonging to this eye, this fish, this stream, this land, this India, this universe. I looked up, and the sun was rising, over the evergreens, its rays lit up the rushing water, and my being, and this creation, is complete. Tears of joy, ran down my cheeks, at the realization; that the sun’s eye, and the fish’s eye, and the light reflecting off the waters, are part of my being.
I bade farewell to the Abbott and on his assistant’s advice I started teaching Math’s again, at the High School for Girls. They were desperate for a good math’s teacher in Gangtok. The girls loved his no-nonsense style and fell into his fevered pace, of teaching math’s. Their minds were fresh as the mountain air, and they seemed to grasp everything Ashok taught, with the rapidity of sponges. Their marks began to show steady progress, and the laggards were helped, by his open teaching methods. Tough concepts and theorems, where explained by examples, they could understand and use. He had taught far advanced students before, but the girls of this new generation, had access to so much more information. He challenged them individually, and in small competitive groups, and his students grew.
The music teacher was the one, who encouraged Ashok to help (when he found out that Ashok was a drummer), with the group, who had won the State Championship, in group singing, last year. The area had some very bright musicians and the girls in the school, had especially great voices. It wasn’t every year but for the past few years, they had some outstanding talent. He loved this work and he threw himself into the music and the girls loved him for his strange rhythms and sounds. He tried to teach some of them the mathematical patterns behind them and some of the brighter ones understood. Their voices began to rise and fall with the rhythms he adopted from them, making a strangely uniquely sound of the mountains of Sikkim. You could almost feel, as if the music was carrying you there. The beat one was hearing is the beat of the hunters and gatherers, who had done this in these beautiful mountains, from time immemorial. Everyone is saying that this time, the group may win the National championship.
When he got home late, he checked his email and noticed a message from his old friend Sam. He had not heard from her for a few months, so was intrigued, and opened the message. She wrote, “Dear Ashok, Just had dinner with the producer in Mumbai. We have got ourselves, a multi crore deal, for two albums (including “Dunia” our new album). We open this Christmas at the Goa Christmas Festival, with Dunia, doing a National rollout. You are the drummer, and cocreator, singer, and the new corporate producer is dying, to finally meet you. He is a mathematician also, and was mumbling your kind of lingo, on algorithms and geometrical patters, in the music. More when we meet, your’s, Sam”
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” -E.M. Forster, novelist (1 Jan 1879-1970)
The view from the bus on
the helix, of the approach into the Lincoln Tunnel from New Jersey excited me,
no matter how many times I saw it. Empire State Building and the Chrysler tower
rose to a great height in Mid-Town, while downtown had the spectacular World
Trade Centre Towers, with the other tall buildings in the Financial District.
In the early morning the sun would be rising from the East casting strange
shadows and light on the city. Most of my fellow commuters slept or read, and
did not even look out of their windows. My fascination with the great city of
New York continued and my friend Eddie, showed me the romantic side of its
The walk from Port
Authority down from the third floor to the bustling streets of Mid-Town
Manhattan, was a hurried affair. Everyone wanted to get out in the streets to
avoid the occasional bum, or pan handler, or drunk, who had slunk in to the
crowds. The streets were flowing with traffic, as one walked pass the peep
shows, and the XXX theaters that surrounded Times Square. From the Garment
District, I would walk down a few blocks, and then cut across East on the
Streets, after Macy’s. My office was on the third floor of an old brick
building, which served as our back office and production center.
Wendy was always there
before me heading her shift with her girls. They would laugh and joke amongst
themselves, as while she was a hard taskmaster, she was still a good boss. We had become friends as she was half Indian,
from the West Indies. They also ate whole wheat rotis as bread, but their
dishes were spiced differently. She would surprise me sometimes with a homemade
lunch, and I would eat the food at my desk, enjoying the strange flavors. She
would talk about her Grandfather, who had come from a town in Bihar, India, to
work in the sugar plantations. Her mother had brought her up and her siblings,
as a school teacher and a husband, who was also a farmer.
Wendy now lived in Queens,
and so did most of her girls. They would ride the Subway into Manhattan, and it
was an easy commute with a short walk on both ends. She kind of looked down on
me, because I had to travel into her city, from NJ. She admired our owner
however, with her Apartment in Manhattan, and the week-end home in the
Hamptons. Wendy and her husband, who worked in a Bodega near their home, had
scraped up enough money, to put a down payment, on a 3 bedroom apartment. With
their two kids, and a dog, and color TV, they were living the American Dream.
Her two girls went to the Public School, and were becoming more American every
year, in the way they dressed, and talked, and what they watched.
David was the one who
would arrive next and would head into the room to gather his orders and papers,
and then head of to his belt makers. Eddie would saunter in when he felt like
it and you could hear the giggles of the girls, as he joked with them, even
from my desk. My two junior accountants were very punctual and would become
busy in their work upon their Arrival. Ralphi was from Cebu in the Philippines,
and extremely intelligent and diligent, and carried a lot of the routine load,
of following up on the accounts receivables. Sam the other one was married to a
nurse, and he was quieter, and kept mostly to himself. Ralphi had recommended
him, when we were extremely stressed, and the owner had finally agreed to add
another person, on Lou’s recommendation. We were an efficient team, as we
managed to keep the business back office going.
Towards mid-morning I
would take a break and walk around to stretch my legs. If Eddie was around he
too would see me walking and he too would take a break. We would go into his
and David’s office and take a coffee break. Eddie would have collected the
latest Fashion Trade Rags that the mailman dropped off, and would skim through
them, while we drank. He would read aloud anything interesting, or share an
article or picture for me to look at. His knowledge of people and events was incredible
and he would tell me outlandish stories of his capers from the past night,
after a particularly interesting show. He did not linger long as he was a
workaholic, when it came to his ladies hair accessory creations.
Eddie had extended his
range to other accessories, like fabric belts, and some I called jewelry, and
he referred to as his dear baubles, for his darlings. He would painstakingly
make the samples, using newer materials, and exotic imports. The girls would
cry at him, when he made them too complex, and he learnt to bring simplicity,
and elegance into his pieces, over time. He realized that not everyone was as
he gifted with their fingers, as he was, or had the eye, he had for detail.
Plus the rush of orders demanded speedy execution, and he was always rushing
from work table, to work table, correcting and improving his creations. Then in
the late afternoon he would rush off to the showroom, or his suppliers
depending on our needs. The owner loved him and David was upset, that Eddie was
now making even more money, than even him.
The fall from being the
head Designer of the company, to second fiddle, did not really go down well
with David, but even he was overawed by Eddie’s creativity, and
resourcefulness. The man just had a natural tendency, to pick up on the latest
trends, which would sell in the next season. His color selections were seldom
off, for the Spring, or Holiday Season. His prints were vibrant, or very
delicate, depending on the style, or age group, he was going after. The Junior Store
buyers loved him, and he would flirt with them, and entertain them, at the
latest happening places, in the city. He was loads of fun, and the young women
would find him exotic, and ‘just marvelous dear,’ as he called it. The big
black muscled man, with often a couple of young things, hanging from either arm,
was a common sight at events. The women felt safer in numbers with him, and he
was quite capable, of having fun with all of them.
Sometimes when I got off from work, and he
would drag me off, when it wasn’t Fashion Night, or he had some other
appointment. His current boyfriend would often join up with us, at the latest
haunt and he would transform himself into his night creature mode. He would
transform from being the Giant ladies hair accessory designer, into a lover
with no restraints. Then the true talk would start of the Jazz bars, and comedy
shows, or the next major music band, which was playing in Madison Square
Gardens. He would hang out with famous actors from Broadway, and once even a
Ballet Dancer from the Met. Each one seemed more creative and talented than the
last, and it was a merry go round, that I could not keep count of. Yet each
creature was even more exotic, and no wonder Eddie loved them so much.
Then one day Eddie
retched all over the bushes, on the side of Bryant Park, in the back of the NY
Public Library, after an event. I was there with him, and looked around at the
old Baroque, and Gothic buildings, and then stared at the sleekly flowing glass
tower, that surrounded the park. I had never seen Eddie throw up, no matter how
much he drank, or inhaled substances. His friend gathered him up in his arms,
as Eddie felt he was suddenly dizzy, and he guided him, to a nearby bench. He
sat him down carefully and put his arms around his broad shoulders, and sat
there, waiting for him, to catch his breath. He then went and got a water
bottle for Eddie. I sat there holding Eddie’s hand not knowing what to do, as I
stared down, at his long artistic fingers against mine. When his friend returned
he drank some water slowly. He then gargled and spat some out, as if his mouth
tasted foul and then dry heaved, but nothing came out.
Eventually he got his
bearings again and looked around, and his lover smiled at him hopefully. Eddie
gave a twisted smile back, and passed his hand over his head, as if he was
still dizzy, and not really sure of what was going on. I looked at my watch and
noticed I was running late, and would have to rush off for my bus down 41st
Street soon. Luckily Bryant Park was not far from Port Authority, and I stayed
for another ten minutes, as Eddies friend softly spoke to him. They looked so
much in love. The light from the Street lights and the shadows of the Park,
made their silhouette look like two lovers, out for the evening, enjoying
companionship, on a Park Bench. It was the quintessential city scene, which
must be enacted out everywhere, that people were free. Seeing everything returning
to normal, I took my leave of Eddie, and he blew me his usual kiss, and I heard
him joke, as I walked away “Beware those peep shows darling, and those
beautiful whores, on the corner of Eighth.”
He thought he was
suffering from the flu when he had thrown up, as he had a fever and headache
for a few days and did not come into work and the work tables seemed empty
without him. Months passed without incident, but Eddie seemed to be losing his
bulk and getting gaunt. Summer came and
the owner went off to the Hamptons, and Eddie was not as busy and I saw less of
him. He would come in occasionally to ensure the girls, did not need his help,
and work on the pieces, for the next season. David told me that he thought
Eddie was not his usual self, some months later. He said that they were not
hanging out as much later into night, when the cooler fall nights came along. The
fashion season started and this used to be Eddie’s favorite time, to hang out,
and he would be the life of the party wherever he went. Now he would often
leave early on some nights, claiming he had things to do, but David knew he just
appeared very tired and exhausted.
Months later in January
only David was in his office, and Eddie’s desk was empty. I presumed he was
also away on a much needed break. I got into my routine and was swamped with
the work that was waiting for me to catch up on. It was a week later and I
heard Eddie’s voice and the girls giggling at work one afternoon. I was busy in
something for our Bank, and silently smiled to myself, and decided to go and
meet him once I finished. In an hour I finished my report and headed off and
found that Eddie was not with the girls anymore, and they were busy on their
routine. I went to David’s office and thought I saw the back of a stranger
sitting at Eddie’s desk, and thought it may be one of his friends waiting for
him to return.
He was smaller than
Eddie, although he seemed to have a similar build and hairstyle. Then he turned
around, and I realized that it was no one other than Eddie himself. He had lost
a lot of weight, and was looking very gaunt. He smiled when he saw me and the
same old booming voice spoke up “Darling, where have you been? I have been
missing you terribly, and am so happy to see you. David is no fun anymore and
it is good to see you and is that a new tan that you have got? You are looking
great so the time off was good for you.”
I walked in and took his
proffered hand, and felt the familiar artistic fingers, but the handshake, was
not as firm as before. His bulk seemed to have shrunk much more than the last
time I had seen him. He had on a long sleeve shirt and it looked strange on him
as he normally wore tight fitting fashion Ts, to show off his great body and
arms. I looked into the eyes of my friend and they were the same, all full of
life and mischief. Then he turned away and pointed to the article he was
reading, “Look at my darling wearing my latest creation, in Aspen, at the ski
slopes.” He said pointing to a famous model, photographed on the snow white
slopes looking very glamorous in the latest colors, of Eddie’s design.
Even to my untrained eye
the piece looked beautiful and intricately made. Eddie spoke up again, “My new
line is doing fabulously, and the beautiful people just love it. Wendy says the
girls can’t keep up with the demand, and she has started farming work out for
her girls, to work at home, with additional help.” We had started the piece
work last year, as we were losing too much business, with our constrained
capacity. Eddie had ranted and raved that the quality of work will go down,
without his direct input, and supervision. Our owner had agreed with me, that
we had to do this to increase volumes. I also found it easier to control costs,
as I could reduce the per piece cost, for the new contractors. Plus we had run
out of space and the owner was not ready to sign another long time lease which
could prove to be expensive fixed cost, if trends changed and our business went
We chatted for some time
catching up on the recent shows, which Eddie had attended while I was away. I
tried not to stare as he looked so strange, as I was used to his overpowering
presence and now he seemed to have lost, some of his mojo. Besides the
gauntness he seemed to have slumped as he did not appear as big as he used to
be. As I left to get back to my desk, I saw Eddie out of the side of my eye,
pull his sleeve up and rub a purple bruise on his left arm. Even his
extraordinarily muscular arms, seemed to have lost bulk. I quickly looked away
and walked off to my desk, deeply troubled about the changes, I saw in my
The next day I caught
David before he went off on his rounds. Eddie was still not in as was usual and
I wanted to talk to David about what was happening to Eddie. David hung out
with Eddie much more than me, and I thought he could explain the changes I was
seeing. David explained that Eddie was seeing doctors for the past few months,
as he continued to lose weight, and nobody could really explain what was wrong
with him. He had been admitted to a Hospital for further checks and
investigation and the specialists were stumped. All they would say was that
something seemed to be wrong with his auto immune system as his body seemed to
be suffering symptoms that normally would go away with anti-biotics, or other
medicine. In Eddie’s case nothing seemed to work, and his condition continued
David further informed me
that at first Eddie had withdrawn to himself, and just stayed in bed and
relaxed, hoping that all his troubles, would go away with time. He ate healthy,
gave up smoking and his other vices and tried to get back in shape. Then one
day another friend had visited with David and shared a motivational book and
music tapes with Eddie. It appeared to make a difference, as a gaunt Eddie had shown
up at work the following week. The girls were shocked to see him looking so
gaunt, but had soon realized that he was still the same person, who joked with
them, and showed them amazing things. They learnt to ignore his physical
appearance, and just treat him like before.
David and I, visited
Eddie in the hospital. He lay there on the white sheets, with flowers from his
friends, spread around him. In his military gown, he lay on the bed with an IV
sticking out of his arm to the medicine’s being dispensed into him. David had
told me that they had diagnosed Eddie with an Auto Immune disease and there was
no cure for it. The decrease had come from Sub-Saharan Africa and was spreading
fast all over the world, especially in urban areas or transit points. India and
USA were reporting sporadic incidents of the disease also, and the numbers were
spreading. Nobody knew what was causing it and it may be viral, but it was
becoming associated with Gay, or Bi-Sexual men. Poor Eddie could have caught
the disease from any one of his beautiful partners. The exotic life also led to
a great exposure to many different partners and Eddie had no idea as to who
gave it to him. The tragic part that Eddie told us from his bead as lively in
his head as ever. It was strange to hear the same voice and mannerisms come
from his bed. It looked like life had taken everything from him that he had
physically built of himself.
This great towering large
muscled man who had been my friend, looked so frail and shrunken. The nurses
had a hard time inserting an IV to find a vein, from what had been beautifully
muscled arms and legs. He beckoned to me and joked, “What darling you did not bring
any flowers? Look what Freddy sent me – what a fabulous bouquet.” Referring to Freddy
Mercury and I looked carefully, and there was a short poem, on a personal note,
on his side table. It was from Freddy, lying on his side table, along with many
other letters, and cards. He sadly informed us, that a lot of his fabulous
friends, had died, or also had the same disease. It was the scourge of his
artistic friends, he told me.
David was more regular
than me, in visiting Eddie, as he was far stronger, than me and was a true
Eddie friend. Their friendship was as deep, as it came; even though they had
nothing in common, in their backgrounds. Life and human tragedy, had made them,
soul mates, in NYC. I had nothing more to say to Eddie, as his life source, had
been my main source of life also, it seemed. The talk of my family, and my
economic concerns, on how well my peers with similar backgrounds from elite
Indian Universities, were doing, meant nothing to Eddie. He would listen to me
talk, about my children, and cousins, but beyond that, I had nothing to say. All
my thoughts had also shrunk with Eddie and all my educations, could not share
another joke, with Eddie. How could this fantastic man, in the prime of his
life, the ultimate ladies’ hair accessory designer become this man, lying in a
hospital gown? How do you talk about the future, to your friend who has none?
Farrokh Bulsara was born in Sep 1946, in Stone Town, Zanzibar; to Indian Parsee, parents. For some time he studied in Indian boarding schools, modelled after the British system, led to an interest, in the writing and performance of music. . The revolution in Zanzibar, which later became part of Tanzania, drove the family out, to England. There he transformed himself into the lead singer of Queen, due to his love of music. Freddy Mercury became one of the best performers in modern music and their concerts were legendary. His creations and his songs topped the charts for many years, and he spent the last part of his life collaborating with some of the other greats of the age. He died in Nov 1991 aged just 45, at the height of his career. He admitted to a friend on the day before he died, that he had AIDS. That was the first time I learnt, about this dreaded new disease to which we went on to lose, some of the brightest people, in our generation.
As luck would have it I landed my dream job as the Controller of a small woman’s owned company, called Two Blondes, in NYC. It was largely with the help of Mr. Louis Rappaport, CPA. He was the man you went to for advice, when you wanted to build some wealth. His practice was extraordinary, for the Jewish family of means, in NY. I had become part of his network, when I worked in Burlington, NJ, on another enterprise of my uncle’s, importing handbags. I came with some knowledge of the ladies fashion’s accessories business, in NY, and was a natural fit for the job, given my MBA and accounting background.
There is unique financing system in the garment and fashion trade peculiar to Mid-Town Manhattan called “Factoring”. Basically the Banks in NYC will lend against your accounts receivables and other assets. It was an easy way to get financing to increase revenues. For increasing revenues of his clients, Mr Rappaport would get them offices in the buildings where the store buyers came, for their purchases. In those NYC showrooms a buyer from Macy’s or Lord & Taylor or Bloomingdales, could find the latest fashion creations. Even a lot of Mom and Pop Stores and small chains in States across America, would come in, and pick up the latest trends, to spice up their store sales.
There was however a
cachet, to being in the fashion business, and it barely paid my expenses. It
was a long commute on a bus, to get to and from Port authority and NJ. I had
little choice in any case, as a bird in the hand, is better than the one in the
bush at that time, with my young family depending on me. The problem was that
in reality, the work was boring. Our Fashion Designer was David, and he was a
wizard with belts. We would go together to his regular haunts, along the broad
Avenues, and side streets, of the city, He would take me to the leather workers,
where he would buy his hides, for his precious leather belts. Then it was off
to the Dyers and Finishers, to see the results of the ongoing orders. Finally
it was up to the factory for studding, and engravings, to give each belt its
Time passed and I got
over my initial hesitations, as I was brought up in New Delhi in a vegetarian
Punjabi Khatri Arya Samaj clan. While we are not idol worshipers, and are not
superstitious in any way I had a subconscious feeling of guilt. I feel this has
something to do with cows and Hinduism. If we had not developed the gene, to
absorb milk the history of humans in the Indian sub-continent would have been
very different. We had a deep affinity to our cows right from the Indus Bull on
our seals. I was not inherently comfortable with living off a business, which
dealt in dead cows.
David was at the top of
his game, as a leading belt designer, for the beautiful people. His belts were
being bought, by the thousands, in some of the largest Department Stores, in
NYC. They could be often seen, around the waist of many a socialite, as our
owner would so proudly circle, in the local fashion rags. Women’s Wear Daily
was a particularly favorite, of the in NYC crowd. There would be fashion galas
in the most exotic places like the NY Library or the N Y Met, or other mansions
in the city. Paparazzi’s were everywhere, shooting black and white pictures and
later in Kodak color, of the who’s who, in provincial New York. I found very
little diversity in those days, and it was difficult to embrace this new world
of glamor and fashion,
My boss would leave cuttings, with beautiful
young things, belts circled, in whatever was handy like pens, lipsticks or
other quills. Similar expense receipts,
from various establishments, would also show up in piles of paper dumped
unceremoniously for me to process. I would find them on my desk, along with a
breakfast treat of Donut and Coffee, as she walked to work in 20 minutes. She
would often leave and be off to her showroom, to gossip about, which buyer was
sleeping with whom? It became my main job to be a company expense tabulator,
for the fashion industry, when most of the expenses, were not business related.
There was a giant sucking machine, moving the wealth steadily every year, into
real estate. Besides the apartment in the Burroughs, palmed off as buyer’s
entertainment in the accounts, there were many bills from the Hamptons, and
other locales that found various accounts in the General Ledger, as the Revenue
After some months it
became a routine and I longed for a change. I could not bear one more visit to
the tannery, and hear them joke about cow hides thickness and size. The escape
to the studding place, was my small savior. The young guy who owned it, had
wealth, and this work was his passion. He was educated in elite schools and
colleges and we often rambled on about other topics. He had all the machines
needed for his work and was able to work on them himself and I would chat while
he made sample after sample following the Designer’s sketch. We would move from
machine to machine as he worked with various studs of myriad color and quality.
The most popular were of course the steel metal studded belts. We would talk
about our lives and my family burdens seemed so strange, when compared against
his vagabond single’s life, in the varied bars and bedrooms of this city.
My boring life was
suddenly shaken by the arrival of Eddy into our life one day. As usual Wendy
our supervisor from West Indies, was instructing her girls on how to pack and
finish the belts, and be more productive. David was off on his usual haunts.
Our owner arrived with Eddy and he walked in, as if he was already a part of
our life. It was difficult, not to notice Eddy. He was a tall, well-built,
black man; with a handsome face whose very presences, could overpower any
boudoir. Our owner gushed over the introductions to Wendy and she pulled out
some exotic head accessories from her large hand bag.
Eddy pulled up a stool
and rolled up his sleeves revealing exquisitely sculptured muscled arms, as he sat
down at one of the work tables. Eddie opened his large sachet, and spread the materials
across the work table. He had long fingers and very expressive hand gestures.
Wendy and her lead girls gathered around the table with us and watched Eddie,
mesmerized by his way of talking, and his mannerisms. He had grown up in Upper
Manhattan, but spoke with a college educated accent, with a Harlem Drawl and a
true artists vocal cadence and rise and fall, making his magical fingers appear
Eddy proceeded to pick up
each of the pieces of cloth or plastic or bead or other native South American
materials and make the samples that our owner had just sold to a buyer. The
pieces were brilliant in their colors and feel. Beautiful flowers and creepers
appeared. The colors were bright and the patterns uniquely Aztec\Inca inspired,
even to my uninitiated brain. Each piece must have been the result of laborious
hand work, done in the towns of Guatemala, or other Latin nations, was glued or
shaped and transformed, into a fashion hair accessory. Our owner announced that
Eddy will be our new Fashion Designer, for Hair Accessories, and by then David
had also joined. They were to share David’s room and I would continue with my
own desk and would eventually hire two young Philipino accountants, to do the
additional work that Eddie’s division, created for us.
We rode to success on
Eddy’s work into the next Holiday Season, with orders pending for far more,
than we could handle. Wendy had done a herculean effort in hiring more girls
and running multiple shifts. I was hard pressed to control over time and
expenses as Eddy was flamboyant and did not seem to care about costs. He would
discard perfect good pieces from production into the rubbish bin and rave and
rant at the newcomers, working on them. When it got down to his creations he
was a perfectionist and never forgot a special piece he had created for a
client. He could redo them on demand as if a giant computer, with a photographic
memory, was imbedded in his brain.
We ended up putting the
stores on rations for the next three seasons, as the buyers were ready to pay
Eddie’s ridiculous deliveries and prices, as his stuff sold. The season was
short and he worked hard on the Back to School season for the younger crowd. He
would love doing newer stuff for the teenagers and college crowds. When it came
to the women however he was spectacular. He seemed to know what a woman needed,
to stand out amongst all the other women in the room, in a room of strangers.
His exotic creations, made all my nieces smile, when I took them to India.
The world was so rich and
my life had found a foothold in a unique opportunity in New York, the city I
had set off for, so many year’s ago seeking an MBA. Cocaine and drugs were
everywhere in the fashion world. I remember making a wrong turn in one of the
buildings and entering the wrong showroom. In a cubicle I saw a young women and
an older man sniffing coke and the white stuff stuck, under their nostril. I
quietly exited but it was never the same seeing them together in the elevator
or at a restaurant or social gathering, as they had fallen in my eyes. Eddie
and David forced me to stay and just hang with them after work. Eddy took us to
clubs which really came alive hours later, where he was often the life of the
David told me how much
fun it was to hang out with Eddie. He had opened a whole new world of Jazz
Bars, underground plays and musicals, live shows performed by the current
artists. They had a strange nocturnal life and lived in the shadows of the
great City. Nothing was out of bounds for these exotic creatures. Sex and drugs
were rampant and music and culture was created nightly. It was exciting times
with Andy Warhol and other personalities taking the city, to the cutting edge
of world culture. Eddie hung out with the best of them, as he was a free
spirit, having lost a wife, when he was young. He worked out with them, hung out
with them, and loved with them. His current boyfriend, joined us, and they took
us from place to place, and we tried the special cocktail of each place. Eddie
had his own favorite drink and the bar tenders knew him well and he was on a first
name basis, with most of them.
They were a strange trio
with David being an outsider in his own city. Eddie and his partners over time,
showed David so many new happenings in their world. I sat on a bar stool
nursing my drink and keeping my eye on my watch, not to miss the last bus from
Port Authority to go back to my family. Eddie had me laughing at the girl on
the news, shown at the Lincoln Center Opera’s Opening night of the Season,
wearing his creation in her hair, and a matching belt, he had designed. He had
me laughing as he exaggerated her curves and ass, saying who would even look at
his belt with so much boody, on display. He pursed his lips and blew her kisses
of love. He soon turned, and kissed his current lover, deeply, passionately and
wantonly. I had to make myself not stare at this beautiful exhibition, of human
love, for each other, in our species. I turned away and finished my drink in
one gulp, to hide my nervousness, and then felt even more incomplete, somehow.
My world was a very
constrained world of a middle class family, with conservative values. When I
compared it to Eddie’s hedonistic lifestyle I could see the possibilities of a
new world and way of life. I have been an urban dweller all my life and thought
myself cultured, refined and liberally educated. Yet all my learning and work
could not match even one creation of Eddie’s magic fingers and enterprise. I
felt I had met the future of living in our urban society on meeting this new
ladies fashion hair accessory designer. He opened my eyes to a whole new world
of people, living free and uninhibited. Art had always drawn me as I have no
creative aspirations and I felt I was in the presence of a master craftsman. I
felt honored to be introduced by Eddie as his friend to the young and famous
designers, of the fashion insiders in New York. Somehow I felt I had arrived in
America afresh, and a new life had opened up. Eddie was breaking down doors, to
introduce me to a new way of life. He instructing me by his example on how to
live life, to get a fulfilling appreciation, of our true being.
John was only semi-conscious,
as he felt the swaying of the ‘Palaki’ as four men carried him on their
shoulders up the mountain. The late summer heat of the Gangetic plain, had
fallen as the train and bus journey, had brought him higher into the Himalayas.
Steve had stayed with him and made all the arrangements. When John had become
severely dehydrated, from his stomach virus, Steve had decided to move him to
his Baba’s Ashram, away from the squalor and filth of New Delhi. Delhi had been
a stepping stone, for their larger travels across India, Nepal and Bhutan.
Steve had been studying Hinduism and Buddhism in the sub-continent for a decade. He had been brought up by two Peace Corps Workers, in rural Wisconsin in a small town in suburban Madison. His parents were both teachers in the High School and had gone and worked in Guatemala, and later South Africa, as part of their work, on improving productivity in farming. Coming from hardy Swedish and Irish farming families, who fell in love in School, it had been a very good life. They were eternally grateful, to President Kennedy for allowing them to see the world, outside their secure existence.
Steve had gone on driven
by their thirst for knowledge to excel in his High School and then go to
Harvard, on a basketball\merit scholarship. He excelled in Chemistry and loved
Organic chemistry like his Father, who had a Masters from Yale. It was a chance
encounter with Baba Ram Dass at a summer music festival, where he spoke about
bhakti. He sat there mesmerized by this white clothed simple balding man,
speaking about his life after Harvard, some decades back. Dr. Richard Albert
had transformed his life, and seemed to glow with an inner peace. He spoke
about his experience of the divine and left Steve deeply moved, with more
questions; than he could answer, that night.
After finishing Harvard
at the top of his class, Steve told his parents that he was going to follow in
Ram Dass’ footsteps and go to India. He had taken courses on Indian Philosophy
and Buddhism as minors in Harvard and become even more confused. He decided to
go there and see for himself if bhakti might finally save him, from his inner
demons. His parents were sorry to see him go, but encouraged him to go out and
see the real world. He talked to them about Maya and the shifting reality of
our consciousness. His Karma was
destined for India and Steve was on the search for meaning, in his existence,
from the ancient treatises. He had studied in the old tomes and libraries
available in museums and colleges in America. He became immersed in his
research, as if to fill some strange inner longing for peace.
Steve was enrolled in the
Sanskrit program at The Banaras Hindu University, as he wanted to be able to
learn the basics. He had studied the alphabet and was just starting to read, on
his own. He moved to the ancient city and became fascinated by the temples, the
Ganges Ghats and the university work, kept him very busy. He started to venture
out with his new fiends and listened to many discourses. Slowly the rhymed
shlokas, and the interpretation of the ancient rishis, began to form a new
language, in his head. Six months became a year as he visited all the ancient
schools, and learnt about the varied castes and sub castes of the Hindus, and
their myriad belief’s in the city. He found the Upanishad’s fascinating, and
studies many of them under local scholars, as the name implied.
After a year he went back
home, and found that nothing much had changed. He grew restless in a month of
summer barbeques, and church gatherings. He’d told his parents that he was
going back, to visit the monasteries in Nepal and Bhutan. He needed to
understand the Buddhist book of the dead, and see the true traditions, himself.
The powerful idea of salvation, or Nirvana, and freedom from our karma; pulled
him like a magnet, across time and space. This time he had even less
communications back home, and for three years they only heard from Steve, when
he was not at a remote location, studying ancient scriptures. He continued to
brush up his Sanskrit and now the newly acquired Pali in addition to the
English, Afrikaans and Spanish that his parents had taught him. He found the
Buddha’s original sermons far more compelling, than the many interpretations he
He had bumped into John a
few months back and he was from outside Tacoma in Washington State and they had
become friendly. John had an unsatisfied curiosity about everything in life. He
had a fervor and a passion, to see around the next corner, and most of all, he
had an infectious loud laugh. Steve had not laughed much in the past years, and
John would always find something amusing and could bring humor, even in the
worst situations. He would slap Steve on the back and say, “Come on Steve,
lighten up will ya, this life is much more fun, than what you make of it. Live,
learn, and enjoy, is my motto. All this is made, for us to partake, and be
When Steve mumbled some ancient Shloka, he would just chant the one
mantra I had taught him. He would raise his arms to the heavens and say “Come
Steve my friend, let us become universal spirits, and I promise you that this
universe will be with us. It will provide us all that we need, to enjoy and be
happy! My Grand aunt left me some money, made by our ancestors, in the logging
business, and now I am learning to make amends.” John lived simply and Steve
was helping him in exploring homes of the destitute and dying, and some girls
education organizations, which could use his help. They had also visited
Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai to see the actual work being done by these
The light attracted him at first. It was different from the light he had seen earlier. The first time it was as if he was following a long tunnel, which led to the light. On the other side awaited his final savior, was what he had felt.
This new light he felt
was a different light, it was a light of hope. The light before was taking him
to his final resting place, but some other force had suddenly intervened. In
his weakened state John saw that the more he turned to it, the new light drew
him even closer. The next thing he heard was the soft chant of the Mahamantra
of Bhakthi slowly whispered in his ear. “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna.” The chords
were primordial, whispered by some ancient power, and John was lost, in rapture
as it appeared to fight Kama, or death itself. John felt this new light and
sound saving him from an evil power. Slowly the darkness of the tunnel
disappeared and he emerged into the open light and found the sound was real and
not his imagination.
The light when he opened
his eyes, was that of a lamp over his bedside. Steve looked down beamed a big
smile, to see John’s open eyes. He was hooked up to an IV lying on clean white
sheets. Everything in the room seemed white, as if he was in another world from
what he remembered in India. The mantra changed to a Meera Bhajan where in her
devotional song, she asked Krishna to stop playing hide and seek. She begged
him, to reveal himself, to her. He seemed to feel a feeling of love, grow
around him, as if Meera and Krishna were here, with him. He suddenly felt like
smiling, as if he was reborn.
John looked into two of
the most intense dark brown eyes, he had ever seen, peering steadily at him, as
if into his very soul. He could not look away, and it were the eyes, that were
also making the sound of the Bhajan. He was mesmerized by the vibrations of
sound, and the eyes seemed to be pouring the very life forces, into him. The
warmth of life and hope, seemed to flow back, into his veins and his heart. The
Guru looked up at Steve and smiled. “He will be fine now, the danger is over. I
have to go now there are others waiting.”
Steve bowed low with
folded hands and wished John a speedy recovery. “Jai Hanuman!” he whispered
after his Guru and then gathered his robes and followed him out leaving John to
rest and recover.
John closed his eyes and
the tunnel and lights were gone. In its place now there was a benign darkness. He
felt the kernels of compassion and love rise within him, and his devotion
growing, like Meera’s. All his doubts disappeared. In this stillness, he had
not felt this completeness, before, and he slept.