Word Wabbit has been going through an existential crisis. When you find yourself asking the big “Why?” every day, the search for answers becomes a bit pressing. When my “to do” list reached 100 items, I suddenly wondered why do any of it. The list will continue to grow, and I can’t tell that I’m getting anywhere. So I went searching for inspiration and this is what I found.
By Mohsin Hamid
Riverhead Books, @2017, 231 pages
Mohsin Hamid is one of my favorite authors. This is because he is so adept at casting the spell, transporting me straight into his story and keeping me there. I found this out first with his book The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
I believe Exit West is a book that every high school student in the U.S. should read. It’s a book about two university students, a man and a woman, who come together as a couple as their society unravels. In their quest to survive, they find they must flee their home and “Exit West.”
Hamid employs the use of magical realism to skip over the mundane details of what it might take to go West, inventing the concept of magical doors that transport people instantly to other locales. I’m a big fan of magical realism, so my attention narrows whenever I see it. Hamid doesn’t overdo it but instead uses it just enough to increase the intrigue of his novel.
Hamid is from Pakistan, and I find that interesting as I am becoming more and more enthralled with their neighbor to the south, India.
So a small digression here about India. India, big, fascinating, mysterious—there’s clearly a lot going on. The people seem friendly and yet my dear Indian friend assures me that they are quite racist. She also tells me that men there don’t easily talk with white women, which is quite contrary to my experience, where it seems every man I met was very interested in talking with me, or maybe very interested in something else.
All of a sudden, it is I who am mysterious.
But, back to Exit West.
I find myself painfully wanting the the couple to stay together, to fully love. But it is not to be. Instead, as they exit from their country, they also exit from each other. Hamid gracefully describes the disintegration of their relationship.
“Saeed and Nadia were loyal, and whatever name they gave their bond they each in their own way believed it required them to protect the other, and so neither talked much of drifting apart, not wanting to inflict a fear of abandonment, while also themselves quietly feeling that fear, the fear of the severing of their tie, the end of the world they had built together, a world of shared experiences in which no one else would share, a shared intimate language that was unique to them, and a sense that what they might break was special and likely irreplaceable.”
Before my experience with India, I never thought much about the “battle of the sexes.” I guess I never truly saw it as a battle. And while here in this story Saeed seems to be the timid one and Nadia the self confident assertive one, my experience with South Asian men seems quite the opposite. There seems to be this unspoken code that men must be aggressors and the job of women is to always deflect, to never give into their own desires, to remain chaste and pure. Full on harlotry is but a small transgression away, like removing one’s finger from the small crack of a dam only to find the force of all the raging waters upon you. We American women have no idea how far we’ve come in this world to fully claim our own liberty, independence, and sexual space.
To be sure though, the battle rages on, even here, even in the United States. Women face a continuous force that tries endlessly to objectify us and we often give in and even embrace dangerous objectifying scenarios such as, for example, Tender.
So why do I go on and on about this even though Exit West isn’t particularly a book about the “battle.” It’s because Hamid reveals that our strong female protagonist, Nadia, who keeps men from “fucking with her” by wearing a burka, is in fact a lesbian.
I am left wondering about a couple of things with this. First, I am finding that men seem to have a strong desire to imagine women coupling. This may be a way for them to up the ante and have two objects of their desire together, a state of affairs that most often is impossible to achieve. The other thing I find disturbing is that Nadia wasn’t allowed to simply be a strong woman. Is Hamid in some way implying that a woman strong and secure in her sexuality and self confident in the way she handles her life can’t be heterosexual? Does allowing a man into one’s heart necessarily set a woman up for subservience and domination? And worse yet, do we as women actually like that?
And even as I complain about all this, I must say that I find Indian men incredibly caring, much more so than Western men. Maybe this is because Western women no longer need to be taken care of?
In my new friendships, I consistently find a ready ear, attention, and advice. I find this quite charming as Western men seem to have abandoned all these traits.
How can women have it all these days? —-The man who cares and the man who is strong, and who is even strong enough to let his woman be herself, and to claim that power that is the birthright of every human being, that of independent thought and action?
Forgive me Mr. Hamid, for I do adore your writing, but your book has propelled me in directions you probably weren’t intending.
First I want to say thank you and welcome to the new followers who have shown up recently.
This is not a diet blog, but I have been making discoveries lately about diet that I don’t want to flee my consciousness because they seem to be key.
- Get aerobic exercise (25 minutes in evening; 25 minutes in morning). Perspire.
- Avoid dairy.
- Avoid sugar.
- Avoid flour.
- Eat green veggies.
- Eat eggs and salmon.
- Be nice to yourself.
- Repeat every day; measure in a month.
- Focus on the process—not the result.
- Trust the process.
I have lost 25 pounds doing basically this. I have not been perfect. Just like in meditation, when my focus wanders, I gently guide myself back to my intention. Just like in meditation, I forgive myself for losing focus and simply try again. When I can maintain this for several days at a stretch, I feel energetic and happy.
Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity;
By Katherine Boo, @ 2012;
An audiobook read by Sunil Malhotra.
Abdul, 16 or 19, no one is sure not even him, has been accused of beating and burning a one-legged woman. The police are coming to get him, and he is hiding in a small shed next to his tin-roofed shack in the slum of Annawadi in Mumbai. Abdul’s father is going to take the fall since Abdul is the bread winner of the family, having started his own rather successful reclamation business of finding trash, sorting it, and selling whatever is salvageable to recyclers. The author, Katherine Boo, lets us know that Abdul is innocent, and in fact the one-legged lady actually set fire to herself.
This is nonfiction.
So comes alive the inner workings and politics of slum life in Mumbai. In Annawadi, over 3,000 people are swatting on airport-owned land, crammed into 335 huts bordering a lake of sewage. Abdul himself comes from a family of 11, and he is one of few Muslims who live in the predominantly Hindu slum. Luxury hotels surround them.
Within the first few sentences, Katherine Boo does a masterful job of setting the scene. She gives us the date (July 17, 2008), time (around midnight), place (Mumbai slum next to the international airport), people, action in progress, contrasts, and the current plan of action. Here is writing worthy of study. And incidentally, this is Katherine Boo’s first book.
It’s easy to be critical of a well-to-do Westerner writing and maybe profiting off the stories of poor people. But I find I don’t want to be critical of Katherine. She presents the social structure as well as the hopes, dreams, and challenges of the people she writes about. She turns “slum dwellers” into human beings. She examines how the set up of their lives shapes their aspirations and possibilities. This is the story of a community, not just of poverty. The people she writes about are smart, resilient, and strong.
According to Al Jazeera, 50 years from now 1 in 3 people worldwide will live in a slum.
That’s a shocking number, isn’t it?
I could relate to how the legal system treated Abdul and his family, except for me it is our medical system. Both systems deal with decisions about lives.
I’m not sure I’m walking away from the book with any grand conclusions. I feel it is an interesting and fair study of human nature that doesn’t seek to manipulate the reader, but instead accurately shows a glimpse of a way of life we might otherwise never see—important because it is a way of life for so many.
Is there any help for slum life? Any cure, any way to solve this? Any path of escape?
That’s a mighty big question. Remember, one third of the world’s population will soon be living in a slum. We don’t come away with a strong answer, rather a call for attention and further exploration.
Education is a good place to start. Compassion and education.
Introduced and Translated by Eknath Easwaran; @2007 Nigiri Press, 275 pages.
Dhammapada means “the path of truth, righteousness.” These are the teachings of Prince Siddhartha Gautama once he became the Buddha.
If you’re like me, some if this may need a bit of explaining. And since I am new to Buddhism, I will probably get some of this wrong. Just gently correct me in the comments. If you are a Buddhist, I need not tell you to be gentle. 🙂
Basically, the message is this: Life is all about suffering. Everyone/everything alive suffers. That’s a real pain. If you’d like to stop this madness, here’s how. There’s an eightfold path and four noble truths. It’s going to take some work on your part and you can do this with or without a teacher.
The Dhammapada is a map of the journey, the journey you’ll take to escape samsara, which is this continual cycle of death and rebirth that everything alive is stuck in.
Ok, Ok, so what are the four noble truths and the eightfold path?
Four Noble Truths
- All desire happiness and yet all find that life brings suffering. Life is change and change can never satisfy desire.
- Selfish desire brings suffering. Selfish desire is a desire for permanent pleasure unmixed with suffering. Selfishness can only bring sorrow.
- Any ailment that can be understood can be cured. When the fires of selfishness have been extinguished what remains is wakefulness (Buddha means awakened one), joy, peace, perfect health, i.e. nirvana.
- Selfishness can be extinguished by following the eightfold path.
- Right understanding
- Right purpose
- Right speech
- Right conduct
- Right occupation
- Right effort
- Right attention
- Right meditation
In this book the introductions are long (and interesting) and the actual verses are short.
I liked the message of this book and the philosophy, but it didn’t grab me like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita did. Those really “spoke” to me. The core messages are very similar. There is a heavy emphasis on meditation and on right action and on respecting all life, not just human life. The more attached you are to things and even people, the greater are your chances of a return trip into another incarnation, and hence more suffering.
If you follow my blog, you already know that I have an interest in anger management and also in the psyche. This has grown over the years as I have become a caregiver for my husband and his advocate in our medical (cough, choke) system. This has given me my own strong dose of suffering and sorrow, and it has definitely been trying for my husband.
We are like two trees that have grown up together. During our lives we have wrapped around each other as we have reached toward the sky. Now one of us has fallen terminally ill and as this illness takes the unhealthy tree it leans more and more on the tree that is still vital. As time goes by they both begin to lean. The sickness for one is a sickness for the other. I don’t have the brain injury. I am not losing my mind, but to watch and bear the weight is bad in its own way. What I’m saying is that I am not unaffected.
The verses about anger resonated with me and will give you an idea of what the Dhammapada is like:
Give up anger, give up pride, and free yourself
from worldly bondage. No sorrow can befall
those who never try to possess people and things as their own.
Those who hold back rising anger like a rolling
chariot are real charioteers. Others merely hold the reins.
Conquer anger through gentleness, unkindness
through unkindness, greed through generosity, and
falsehood by truth. Be truthful; do not yield to
anger. Give freely, even if you have but little. the gods
will bless you.
Injuring no one, self-controlled, the wise enter the
state of peace beyond all sorrow. Those who are
vigilant, who train their minds day and night and
strive continually for nirvana, enter the state of peace
beyond all selfish passions.
There is an old saying: “People will blame you
if you say too much; they will blame you if you
say too little; they will blame you if you say just
enough.” No one in this world escapes blame.
There never was and never will be anyone who
receives all the praise or all the blame. But who
can blame those who are pure, wise, good, and
meditative? They shine like a coin of pure gold. Even
the gods praise them, even Brahma the Creator.
Use your body for doing good, not for harm. Train
it to follow the dharma. Use your tongue for doing
good, not harm Train it to speak kindly. Use
your mind for doing good, not for harm. Train your
mind in love. The wise are disciplined in body,
speech, and mind. They are well controlled indeed.
I have to admit that I don’t completely “get” all of the Dhammapada. I like the idea of meditating, but my Western perspective looks down on those who renounce everything and expect others to feed them. And I have a little bit of a problem with the idea that it’s ok to eat meat as long as you don’t kill it personally. There’s an inconsistency there that bothers me. Monks are supposed to take whatever is offered them and yet shun hurting other lifeforms.
I have to admit, I don’t truly understand everything here, and the Buddha would tell me to go and meditate—and I will understand more in that way.
So, I think I will. I like that idea.