Today was a bad day. I don’t think I’ve had a day like this in over a year, maybe even two. Whatever, a long time. A terrible, no good, very bad day. Arguments with my roommate, arguments with my sweetie, both made for a day I might have felt fleetingly strong, but also so very much alone.
But even today, this very-bad day, I spent many hours this afternoon with good friends, who listened, commiserated, and rubbed the knots in my back. Made me feel loved, for which I am so very grateful. Then I get home, and then decide to buy myself some ginger beer as a mixer for the Jameson I already have.
Downstairs at Mohammed O’Looney’s, I select my ginger beer and hand a 20 to the cashier; either the son, brother, or cousin of the eponymous Mohammed. I’ve seen him literally every other day for the last 500 of them.
He takes my twenty and hands me back change for a hundred; over ninety dollars. I look at the bills in my hand, with the sneaking suspicion that there are too many of them to be kosher, when I see proof in multiple twenties.
I don’t even think; I hand them back to the man and say: ” I think I gave you a twenty”. He blushes, somewhat embarassed to have made the mistake, and quickly gives me the right change.
It feels good at this moment: I didn’t have to think. My instinct was to do the right thing. The moral thing. It’s good to know that without thinking, that’s what I’ll do.
Or so I’d care to think.
From a translation of what Chinese bloggers and foreign experts said was a “final statement” written by Liu Xiaobo last December, two days before he was sentenced to 11 years in jail:
“Ask me what has been my most fortunate experience of the past two decades, and I’d say it was gaining the selfless love of my wife, Liu Xia. She cannot be present in the courtroom today, but I still want to tell you, sweetheart, that I’m confident that your love for me will be as always. Over the years, in my non-free life, our love has contained bitterness imposed by the external environment, but is boundless in afterthought. I am sentenced to a visible prison while you are waiting in an invisible one. Your love is sunlight that transcends prison walls and bars, stroking every inch of my skin, warming my every cell, letting me maintain my inner calm, magnanimous and bright, so that every minute in prison is full of meaning. But my love for you is full of guilt and regret, sometimes heavy enough hobble my steps. I am a hard stone in the wilderness, putting up with the pummeling of raging storms, and too cold for anyone to dare touch. But my love is hard, sharp, and can penetrate any obstacles. Even if I am crushed into powder, I will embrace you with the ashes”
This morning, I found a parakeet in front of my porch, a small pathetic ball of bright yellow against the wet pavement, shivering, trying to fly but not succeeding. I immediately felt sad for it, and wanted to do something. Then wondered why. In the great grand scheme of things, many animals die. They starve, they get hit by cars, they are torn to death by predators or their own kind. And generally, I’m fine with that. That is the way things are. But with this parakeet, I felt somewhat different, and responsible.
Animals in nature are in their element, they know how to avoid prey, find food, and generally have a chance at survival. But we humans have taken many animals out of their element. Over thousands of years, we have selectively bred many animals like dogs, so heavily that they really couldn’t survive in the wild. Other animals, like hamsters, and yes, parakeets, we’ve taken out of their element. The parakeet originally lived in Eucalyptus forests in Australia. I’ve looked around, and I haven’t seen a single Eucalyptus forest in the Boston area. Add to that the fact that this parakeets wings have been clipped so that it can’t fly, and this poor bird doesn’t really stand a chance, and we as humans are responsible. I wasn’t the one responsible for this parakeet; I’d never want to keep a bird locked up inside, but as a human, I do feel some responsibility.
So I went and got a piece of bread, and tried to feed it to the bird. It didn’t take it, afraid of my hand, and hopped underneath a silver dodge neon, cowering behind the rear wheel. I got a bright yellow shoebox (to match the bird), and herded her in. The parakeet is now waiting in a shoebox in my room, away from the prying eyes of my dog, waiting for animal control to come pick it up. If you happen to be reading this and you’ve just lost a parakeet in Union Square in Somerville, please let me know:
As a child, I remember every wall in Calcutta was covered in slogans and pictures; of a hammer and sickle, of a hand with an eye in the center, the lotus flower, each of them representing a different political party. Democracy in India is a wild, riotous affair, carried on in animated conversations in the shops and restaruants, by men in three wheelers with speakers on the top, shouting out their platforms, and in graffiti on every available vertical surface. An Indian political rally is such a seething heated mass of people that it can make a Barack Obama rally seem like a silent meditation retreat.
I am always amazed that democracy can ever possibly work in India, where so much of population is illiterate. That is the reason for all the symbols. When many people go to the ballot box, they can’t understand any of the candidates names. They vote based on the symbol next to the name. Yet I don’t think that many make uninformed decisions. Everyone talks politics. Everyone has an opinion.
As you might expect from such a polycultural society, India has thousands of local parties, many organized around caste. There was fear that this election would see a splintering, with a split electorate resulting in many local parties gaining power and necessitating a weak coalition government. But the Indian voters took a pretty sophisticated view, with many of them voting Congress because because it had done a good job, but explicitly also because they favored having a more stable government. In response, Indian stocks shot up 17 % in one minute of trading, leading the exchange to close.
In West Bengal, the Communists have been in power for the last 35 years. It’s the world’s longest serving democratically elected communist government. Many in Kolkata blame it for the city’s lagging behind during India’s boom. They have finally been thrown out of power, so we should find out. As an aside, I will point you towards the wonderful photography of Seaview99. He has shot some wonderful pictures that show the new Kolkata, with its glass and steel office blocks, shops, and condos.
Even among democracies, India is an exception. It is the largest democracy, over 4 times as large as the next, the United States. It is far more likely than most to throw incumbants out of power. Of all the world’s poor democracies, it is rare to not have experienced military intervention into it’s politics. It may be the greatest democracy in the world.
I believe that somewhere in this universe there exists a planet on which the wind sounds just like Jimi Hendrix’s guitar. You see, Jimi wasn’t playing that guitar, he was just using it to channel the sound of that wind across the stars.