By Samir Shukla
It was a continuation of our family's migration. One final jump. The first big jump was from Amdavad to New York City, circa 1974. We shifted to New Jersey a couple years later and then made the final family jump from the North (Yankee land as one of my southern friends called it) down to the South (a bunch of hicks as one of my northern friends called it), from New Jersey to Charlotte nearly 40 years ago. We planted our roots in Charlotte, the Queen City.
Um, Queen City, you ask? Americans continue to yield in subtle ways to their former rulers, the Brits, such as not so subtle obsessions with Royal weddings, and in the case of the city's name, a southern town named after a British royal, Queen Charlotte. The town was named before the Revolutionary war. Charlotte the city turned 250 on December 3, 2018.
Charlotte, the Queen City, of late has become the Crane City. Construction is booming all around. Old, quiet neighborhoods are being gentrified, roads are expanding, and toll highways are on the horizon. This rapid expansion has been going on for the past couple decades. Much of the first 250 years, this little southern outpost lay sleeping, factories coming and going, civil war, civil rights, until a few decades ago when reinvention and foresight of business and community leaders sent Charlotte careening forward to becoming a larger, world-class city.
Charlotte can now be named with just the first name. There's no need for a comma, followed by NC. Just Charlotte will do, thank you very much.
The Queen City we have lived in for nearly 40 years is visibly a Crane City these days. A drive down or up on I-77 showcases a jumble of cranes building this or that and the other thing. It seems most parts of the city are in a building frenzy. It's a boom town booming further. It is situated just right, the largest city between DC and Atlanta, a short drive west and you are in the mountains, a short dive east and the Atlantic Ocean beckons.
Charlotte has become hometown for our family after the initial shift, followed by years of toil and progress.
People wind up in places that become home in multiple ways once they uproot from distant lands and set up roots in new lands. Sometimes the trek is made by an ancestor on a whim or out of necessity. Other migrations are calculated; still others are driven by escape from violence and economic instability.
A place called home doesn't happen overnight. A sense of abstractions like the aura of the surroundings and a state of mind melds with concrete ethos of house, buildings, food, economy, and opportunity that get soaked into the skin and bones, and a town where one moves to, becomes the hometown. We become part of the place we live in all the while we try and make the adopted place into our heritage, instill traditions, with the necessary invention and reinvention.
Somewhere after the migrations and travels, setting up roots awakens the soul. A place once rooted with a feeling of home and belonging gives grounding to those who call it home. These roots are especially and firmly planted when your children are born in the city.
There wasn't much going on in downtown Charlotte in the late 70's and early 80's. Slowly it turned around, evolved and now we have a vibrant downtown. The Blue Line light rail cuts through it, giving easy access to the activities downtown.
The rapidity with which Charlotte has grown in the past 20 years is extraordinary. Familiar venues and landmarks are remade or are completely gone and new ones have emerged.
The other night I sat in a craft brewery, sipping a cold beer, in a building on a street once abandoned by the city, most buildings on that street boarded up for years. When we first moved to Charlotte, I would not have thought much about this street. The same street today is no longer abandoned. Many people, young and old, families and couples, frolic about the street and others connecting it through the day and night.
This is an era where once unremarkable street corners around the edges of the expanding downtown have now become highly prized morsels of real estate.
But this is about more than real estate. It is about home or, more precisely, hometown. Rootedness is a warm feeling after uprooting from native lands years earlier.
On that cold December night, in that brewery carved out of an old industrial building, beer snug in hand, I thought of a time three and a half decades earlier. Back then I wanted to “someday" skip this town and go “somewhere" else. Now, I want to skip that “somewhere" else and stay here, in my hometown.
The beer goes down easy sitting in warm surroundings, while the giant cranes stalk buildings and cast shadows onto streets like an alien invasion, remaking my hometown.
By Samir Shukla
Man, Jeff Bezos sure knows how to pull off cons. Bezos is of course CEO of Amazon and for the past year or more Amazon has been pursuing a location for their second headquarters, HQ2, if you will. Over 200 cities originally put in applications and 20 were selected as finalists. Amazon wound up picking two locations that will split its second headquarters - Long Island City, NY and Arlington, VA.
Both areas already have some of the highest numbers of Amazon employees outside of Seattle, its home base and the Bay Area. So, the big announcement about the final picks was anticlimactic. My astute guess is that Bezos already knew he was going to select these two locations as it makes sense to beef up their existing workforce.
It was never going to be Raleigh or Nashville or wherever. Amazon had cities and states salivating at the idea of a major company pulling into their area and creating thousands of jobs. Cities put together proposals and sent Amazon massive amounts of valuable data, absolutely free, that the company will now use to sell more trinkets online. Amazon extracted some 1.5 billion dollars' worth of concessions and tax breaks from New York alone. Hey, New Yorkers, Amazon needs you more than you need Amazon.
Folks, this was all about free publicity, free data mining, and getting cities to cough up massive tax breaks and incentive packages as they try and land Amazon. I call it the Great Amazon Con. I'm betting Amazon had already decided on these two locations months earlier, or even before they announced they were seeking HQ2. Amazon received tens of millions of dollars of free publicity with the ploy. They received vast caches of valuable data given up freely by cities.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking. How do you know this? Ok, admittedly I don't have proof that they would have picked these two locations anyway. But anyone with the capacity to see through the hype can spot the con a mile away. If not, I've got a NY bridge to sell you. Cheap. You see it connects these two boroughs…oh, never mind.
Amazon didn't become a dominant company by luck. Bezos is clearly a marketing genius with the foresight to see the advantages of changes in technology and buying habits years before most. Amazon has become a behemoth that doesn't need tax breaks. It can buy some of the smaller cities that were vying for its HQ2.
Small businesses and startups struggle to raise funds, get tax breaks, yet Amazon can just belch and cities will line up to give them money.
Amazon recently announced they would pay $15 per hour to employees. This was no charity on their part, you can thank Bernie Sanders for putting the pressure on them. Of course, the positive effect of this will be that many other companies will announce better, living wages if only as a PR move.
By Samir Shukla
There are no magic wands to eliminate the scourge of sexual or physical assaults. There is, though, a one-word marker associated with most violence, assaults, wars, and self-destruction. That word is testosterone. Let's face it, the prime instigators of violence of all sorts is the male gender. Males are responsible for 95 percent (my educated guess, but I'm sure it's close to that figure) of the violence, assaults, and domestic abuse around the world. Period. This is not an attack on my own gender. I'm simply stating reality.
The recent circus surrounding Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh's alleged assault is almost beside the question. Who you believed in the “she said, he said" drama is beside the question. Maybe one day we will know the truth of that specific matter. The dilemma of assaults and harassment goes deeper. It must be dealt with from this day forward. The reality is that males assault girls and women. Males also assault boys and other men. Males kill children, women, and men at a much larger percentage then women doing the same. This is the sad truth of my gender, which is largely codified by testosterone.
What can be done to tame this testosterone? Growing solid, ethical men from boys, able to restrain their testosterone-fueled aggression is the call of the time. Of course not all men and boys are violent, but even the most respected and seemingly stable males can have hidden, suppressed violence in them.
I have never assaulted a female or another male, but my testosterone is an invisible devil. It tests my restraint daily. We teach our sons values and morals, but the fuel of testosterone can test even the most restrained man. It's also a biological fact that most males remain prisoners of sexual imagination all their lives. I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge to quick glances at attractive women while swirls of sensuous thoughts invade my brain, even for the briefest moment. This has been going on since the onset of puberty and will continue. I would never physically act on those, outside of consent, but the flickers of thought do appear and pass. Sexual assaults aren't about pleasure; they are about aggression and power over a weaker individual.
Many can't contain and quarantine aggression in their minds, and, sometimes with the assistance of alcohol, aggression or violence can rear its ugly head. Fists clench so easily, but clapping them open requires an ability to channel an immediate calm. It's not easy.
We must continue to teach our sons that no means no. We must teach our daughters the steadfast power of self-worth and dignity. They must protest and speak up if harassed or assaulted. It's that simple. This doesn't have to mean the death of romance or the death of boy chasing girl, the death of love or even sensuality. It is simply about consent. Mutual pleasure and lifelong intimacy need not be victims of social realignments and moral improvements.
We have plenty of laws against assault and violence. Moral conduct and societal norms are supposed to help neutralize some of this violence. But males do it anyway. Males also assault and kill in the name of religion; this is the most offensive weakness of all. Females are no less corruptible to the seduction of power and money, but they are surely less corruptible to the seduction of violence. Women and girls around the world are coming forward with their accounts of harassment or assault, and that's a good thing. In lands of laws, these can be worked out judiciously, in public forums and courts. Any claims can be adjudicated, and punished or rejected as judged. There are a record number of women running for office during this mid-term election. That's a good thing. Some of that is due to amoral leaders as well as aggregation of grievances.
One part of a long-term solution may be in assault education, which can be taught alongside sex education or as standalone. Assault education can be taught, say, every two years as boys grow into men, starting in middle school, but maybe as early as elementary school. This can be done with properly coordinated programs by inviting assault victims to come and tell their stories, which can bring to life the emotional and physical toll of assaults. It just may add a sense of pause in young boys', and later men's, minds. It may increase aggression control, a tool to fetch when moments of aggression emerge, especially when unleashed with the assist of alcohol, and help them take a breath and a step back. Much future violence may be then reduced.
We will never have a world 100 percent free of violence, crime, and corruption. Mothers, fathers, mentors, guardians, gurus, teachers, family members, and friends can work cohesively to minimize those destructive ills.
By Samir Shukla
Red Baraat: Sound the People
(Rhyme & Reason Records)
Dhol maestro and bandleader Sunny Jain and company return again with a jovial recording of Punjabi folk, bhangra, and dance music stitched with horns and good times. Red Baraat began as a band accompanying wedding processions (baraat) and over the years has become renowned for their funky recordings and rousing live shows. The band has tightened the sound paring down from an eight piece to a six piece ensemble. The newest recording, Sound the People, comes stacked with nine unique tracks.
The album features guests Heems (Das Racist / Swet Shop Boys), Pakistani singer Ali Sethi, comedian John Hodgman and poet/activist Suheir Hammad.
The song “Next Level" kicks off the album with its spunky horns and the dhol rolling right along. “Kala Mukhra (ft. Ali Sethi)" is a take on legendary Pakistani singer Iqbal Bano's “Gora Mukhra" (white face) where the band changed the lyrics to Kala (black) to intone the brown ethos of the band and commentary on contemporary social mores. The band offers a cover in the instrumental version of the song from the movie of the same name “Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai" (It's my friend's wedding), which is apropos since Red Baraat began as a wedding band.
“Vibrations (ft. Suheir Hammad)" is spoken word poetry with the band laying down a background track. The title track “Sound the People" (featuring Heems) is a mix of hip hop and the band's Punjabi folk punch with politically-charged lyrics and the band sounding full and in charge. “Moray Gari Suno" is an instrumental with a tropical, island feel.
“Ghadar Machao" is a call to activism with Punjabi and Spanish lyrics with the horns leading the charge. Another classic Bollywood song is given the Red Baraat treatment in the classic song from the film Sholay, “Holi Ke Din," which brings out memories of playing Holi and dancing in the streets with horns and the dhol bringing the party. The album closes with “Punjaub March (ft. John Hodgman)" an eclectic number that's bit of acquired taste with jarring horns and percussion wrapped with a carnival-like barker/preacher rambling.
By Samir Shukla
Charlotte will host the Republican National Convention in 2020, leading up to what is sure to be the most heated and divisive election in American history. The Charlotte City Council narrowly (by vote of 6-5) approved the convention at their meeting in mid-July.
My hats off to Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. An African-American, female, Democratic mayor of a progressive city went out on a limb to host the convention of an opposing party whose most powerful politician is a decidedly amoral man, to say the least. Barring unforeseen political storms, the 2020 convention will be Donald Trump's coronation to seek a second term as President.
It is the Mayor's job to showcase her city and help bring conventions and businesses for its citizens. Making an effort to bring such an event to one's city, batting for someone as divisive as Trump, while putting one's reputation at stake takes guts.
Mayor Lyles won no political points with her Democratic base while pursuing the RNC. Some Charlotte City Council members had a change of heart at the last minute but after much ping-ponging back and forth, a slim majority gave the green light to the convention and preparations are now well under way.
Sure, large protests and potential for violence will be there. But democrats, progressives, NeverTrumpers, Conservatives and Republicans looking to stop Trump (yes they are out there) and others should take a deep breath, welcome the RNC, be good hosts, take the money spent around the city and use it for their own political gains. That would be the smart thing to do.
The stupid thing would be to not serve Republican attendees or leaders when they come to your restaurant in an effort to make some kind of point. That type of self-backpatting doesn't further your cause. Of course, we are still two years away from the event. Let's see what transpires. I will write more about RNC 2020, DNC 2020 and other political matters as they unfurl in detail later.
Right now the lights are on and the fights are in full swing for the 2018 election in November. Once that is over, and the new makeup of Congress is established, we can pretty much expect the 2020 election to gear up almost immediately.
Charlotte also hosted the Democratic National Convention in 2012, where President Obama officially accepted his nomination for the Democratic Party to contest for his 2nd term. That event brought international spotlight to Charlotte. The city has grown considerably since then and will continue to grow. A true world-class city welcomes all.
The location for the Democratic National Convention for 2020 is yet to be finalized.
Let the games begin.
By Samir Shukla
A harsh yet lovely landscape unfolded while gazing at the vistas surrounding the Rio Grande, the long ribbon of water separating Mexico and United States along the Texas Border. The temperature approached or surpassed 100 degrees during afternoons in mid-May as we drove through, explored and hiked around trails in Big Bend National Park, tucked away in southwest Texas. The park dead ends at the Rio Grande and there lies Mexico on the other side. The river is the border. There is no wall there, no barbed wire fences, just the muddy river giving sustenance to the life around it.
On the way to Big Bend from San Antonio, we explored one of the bridges that serves as a border crossing near Del Rio, Texas at the International Amistad Reservoir. We walked halfway across the bridge but didn't cross over into Mexico. There was hardly any traffic there. An occasional pickup truck crossed the bridge. It's a lovely, remote crossing.
Driving over the Rainbow Bridge, one of the border crossings between US and Canada near Niagara Falls, one gets a sense of humanity in motion. The bridge and activities on both sides were buzzing when we crossed it in early July. Of course, Niagara Falls is one of the busiest tourist areas in the world, especially in summer.
The mist from the falls rises in the distance and the area is lush and green. Pretty much most of the border between US and Canada is green, mountainous or covered with large bodies of water. I wondered about remote border areas between US and Canada while on the Rainbow Bridge, a busy crossing, and I thought of the emptiness of the Rio Grande region. I think you can just walk across a thicket of forest at many places along the Canadian border, just as you can easily wade across the shallows of Rio Grande into Mexico or the other way around.
Most of the border between the US and Mexico is hard, unforgiving desert.
That harshness gives a sense of "need" on the southern border and the lushness a sense of "have" on the northern border.
People cross borders illegally to get to a better place. They seek asylum, opportunity or safer lives. Sure, some criminals will exploit borders when money is to be made, but most migrants are just average folks, looking for a better life.
National borders are lines in the dirt that are inviting or harsh, naturally barriered or fenced, lightly patrolled or heavily militarized, friendly or bitter.
Some borders don't need fences or walls, as forbidding natural terrains, such as the Himalayas separating India and China, do the job.
The border between Canada and the US is of course much longer, but it is our southern border that is always contentious. What else can you do to make it more secure? What can you do to reduce desperate people risking their lives to reach here?
The Rio Grande looks like any other desert river, but is solidly embedded in the histories of US, Texas, and Mexico. If a few battles had gone differently in the past, it's likely most of Texas would be a part of Mexico today, as it once was. I stood at the river's storied banks at different sections near Big Bend and felt a sense of peace.
This was especially true at the river cutting through the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend. Eagles soared, songbirds sang, butterflies fluttered around the shallow, murky waters of the river. At the end of a trail, which ended at the river, we easily waded to the other side of the canyon, into Mexico, and waded back.
I can imagine people trying to cross the desert and the river to get to the US. The days in the summer are brutally hot, as we experienced, but the nights were quite cool in the nearby town of Terlingua where we stayed. Much of the migrant crossings occur at night to avoid heat and detection.
Near Boquinvilas canyons in Big Bend, on a lookout point created on a higher perch, there were several Mexican men who had crossed over the shallow river from the town across and were selling little knickknacks. I imagined if they spot a park ranger or border patrol or an official looking vehicle, they would just slide down the hill, wade across the river and head back to their village. Such are the lives of those who eke out a subsistence living. But it's understandable that many people are uneasy about the ease of crossing borders. Tough talk on building walls at the border sounds like a solution to them.
The border wall is essentially a nonworkable idea near the Rio Grande. There is no way a wall can be built on either side of the river. Mexico will not allow it to be built on their side of the river. If we build it on our side of the river, we are essentially turning over the river to Mexico. In Texas so much of the land is privately owned that a “wall" would have to dissect countless ranches and private properties.
Nations have borders and of course they need to be protected, especially if the neighbors are hostile. Obviously, we need solid infrastructure to block movement of terrorists and transit of drugs on both northern and southern borders as well as at airports and seaports. No one wants open borders, but human migration cannot be fully stopped. It can be made beneficial for both sides. That takes work and sound immigration policy. Separating children from parents of illegal migrants is a toxically inhumane policy. Many illegal immigrants in this country arrived via legal means, through airports, and decided to stay past their visa expirations.
Immigration is a complex issue. America benefits from legal immigration as well as legal, temporary migrant workers. The bottom line is people from poor countries will try to migrate to richer countries. It is simply about human needs. One way to reduce illegal crossings on the southern border is to help economically uplift Mexico and Central American countries. Many people are escaping violence, lawlessness, and scant economic opportunities in those countries. It would actually be cheaper for US to work with and assist countries in Central America, where many of the migrants come from, to become economically successful. Our northern border doesn't have a big illegal immigration problem because Canada is economically viable for its citizens. There is safety, law and order and economic opportunity.
We spend billions annually on border security. We spend nearly $700 billion on national defense. Sound policy to redirect portions of those funds to help make our southern neighbors safe and economically secure is just a smart thing to do. This also requires willing and transparent governments in those countries. This is not about nation building, this is about neighborhood uplifting. Central America and northward is our neighborhood.
We can essentially end most illegal immigration from south of the border if the countries there can become economic models like, well, Canada. It's in our interest to help them do so. We will only be creating better economic partners in the long run. With economic opportunity and law and order in place, crime will reduce drastically there. Illegal migration will be curtailed. The distrust of immigrants will wane.
Borders are lines in the dirt, but they can also be economic connectors and conduits for mutual safety. The bigger picture here is about economic entanglements that are mutually beneficial. It comes down to blurring the line between needs and haves.
By Samir Shukla
Practically everyone thinks they are going to live forever when they are 18. That's what I thought when I hit that age, the juncture of exiting childhood and entering legal adulthood. It was summer of 1981. A sizzling hot July. A young new decade, the recently birthed eighties were teasing with possibilities. The disorienting cultural shifts of migration from India to USA, via several stops along the way and winding up in Charlotte now were smoothed.
A new decade dawned, high school was conquered, and college life beckoned at the end of the summer. Life was young and the future seemed so vast, so long, so far away. A new and former unknown road called Route 18 opened up and I didn't hesitate to get on it.
The road was bumpy, curvy, and full of distractions, with plenty hesitations, forward moves, and learning curves. It seemed an endless road of mishaps and achievements. The journey began in a car that was a beat-up American classic and the prime distraction, the lovely radio dial never further than the reach of the right hand.
Music has been my prime sustenance in the past decades, not just as a listener or attempting to play the guitar, but as a participant in the business of music, owning a record shop, recording label, a music magazine, and promoting shows. I calculate that I've seen over five thousand bands or musicians till date in various venues and stages. Let's call them music makers of varied genres, beats, melodies, and noise. My basic parameter is that I have to see a specific music maker for at least 20 minutes to say I've seen that performer, to at least get a taste of that performer's ability to perform live.
Music informed the past, drizzles the present and promises comfort into the future.
There's that word again. Future. I always looked forward to the future as a youngster. I have loved science-fiction and science fact since I learned to read. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Mahabharata along with myriad other films, TV shows, and books helped imagine a tech-infused future. I couldn't wait to have Star Trek communicators, ability to talk via video, use the device to navigate. Now that we have invented those innovations, I must confess I'm a bit underwhelmed. The initial magic of cell phones, internet and now smart phones has worn off. I've got a smart phone, but do I want smart everything else?
I suppose I feel underwhelmed by technologies because at the same time I'm overwhelmed by them. I find this dilemma unhinging. My younger self is trying to reach forward through time to slap my present self. What? This is what you dreamt of, and now it is prevalent the youngster tells me. What do you mean you are underwhelmed?
We are in the throes of unimagined technological advancement but at the same time the human disconnection is unnerving. We are connected like never before, but are becoming unconnected in unnatural ways, we are community but are becoming more tribal, self-centered. This creates a challenge to evolve new ways of thinking and I'm sure human ingenuity will make this possible but I fear massive disintegration of established orders amid dissonance and discord before a new type of society emerges. One that uses technology as a convenience, rather than a shield or hiding place or denigrator or weapon.
I adore our tech innovations, but also crave a bygone age. Simpler times. Sometimes I want to go way back to the legendary American West. But life was too hard back then and I'm too lazy to make such an adjustment.
So, I just watch old westerns and fantasize about the west. I now watch Star Trek waiting for transporters and warp drives, as other fictions of imagination have become fact. Sometimes I want to go back to the 1980s and 1990s when current technology was young, the Internet was coming of age, but you still needed to make an effort to discover and to connect. Way back when Route 18 was bursting open with possibilities of the future leading to other routes with the progress of time.
I like the ease of technology and as I'm dictating parts of this essay to my phone, which is typing it out for me. The clunker still makes a lot of mistakes and misreads what I say, but it's useful. After a while I just want to put the phone down, hit the road and get lost driving, pulling out creased old paper maps to find my way. The radio playing favorite tunes.
Maybe I'm just age-softened, the murky blend of memories and experiences slapped around by reality keeping me grounded.
I'm much more comfortable in my own skin now. I don't want to be anyone else but myself. Unlike my younger self dreaming of being one of my favorite musicians, actors, scientists, or simply being someone else.
A simple wisdom I've acquired traveling the routes of the possibilities and inevitabilities of life is a cold and hard one, try as you may but you can't run away from yourself. You can't unzip your skin and inhabit someone else. The restlessness of youth was never quite being happy with yourself.
You can go to the Himalayas to meditate, go to Jamaica and join a Rasta camp, go wandering the country on a motorbike, immerse yourself in dogma, or fill in your own quest on the blank line. These are all wonderful and serve a purpose on an individual basis, but you must like yourself first. If you don't like yourself, then your physicality, abilities and limitations, looks, financial constraints, all become road blocks, making elusive any attempts at happiness. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, you have to love yourself, pending self-realized improvements. Everything else then becomes manageable.
This doesn't require any deep spiritual quest, just acceptance of the physical self. Pinch yourself. Realize your talents and capabilities and then expand them. Realize your limitations and work within those parameters, while making efforts to decrease the scope of your limitations. Not everyone can do everything. “Never give up" sounds nice in a speech or committee meeting, but a smart person realizes to let go of something that simply won't work or cannot be achieved and moves on. Cut your losses and find another goal. We all have our skill sets. We have our physical beings. We must become comfortable with both.
This of course doesn't mean you can't lose weight, or work to increase stamina or find the clothing styles that make us feel confident. Learning to be alone when needed is an absolute requirement. Most people simply cannot be alone. I'm never alone. This is because I'm always with myself. I have learned to like myself. There's that corky hippy song..."If you can't be with the one you love, and then love the one you're with."
It's better to do and accomplish with your skills then daydream about something you cannot achieve. It's a hard lesson not easily learned in the throes of youth.
That old classic American car broke down and was abandoned eventually on Route 18. Others were driven on numerous routes along the way.
Today I'm driving in a comfy SUV along a straight and narrow desert road that evokes a sense of infinity. The road and journey seem endless. It's a similar feeling as when one is embarking on life in youth, often on unpredictable and narrow paths.
This drive through the desert is in a dream. It's a continuation of the actual drive through the West Texas desert from a couple months earlier. It's a hypnotic drive that breaks the trance only when another crossroad appears. The desert road has no exits and minimal distractions, while a sense of clarity hangs in the hot air.
I spot a road coming up that I need to turn on. The white rectangular sign with black markings appears. I pull onto the road and am now motoring along on Route 55. That's the road I need today. The road is smooth and well-traveled. The July heat swirls off the tar. Route 18 was taken with throttle in full gear, no map in hand, the words GPS still far in the distance, screeching tires and burning rubber occasionally welcome. Route 55 is just as fun, wide open and beckoning, but damn if the foot doesn't remain constantly alert, ready and hovering near the brake pedal.
By Samir Shukla
Score: The Doctor from India
Rachel Grimes has composed a delicate homage and backdrop to the documentary film, The Doctor from India. The subtle piano and strings evoke a solemn mood but is filled with a cheerfulness. This can be enjoyed outside of the documentary as a unique piece of music to be enjoyed at twilight with the light still filtering through the trees or, better yet, around midnight. Grimes is a composer and pianist who has a long and varied catalog, including her work with the eclectic combo Rachel's.
This recording is meditative and features piano, violin, harp, saxophone, and strings with sprinklings of tender sounds. It is classical, minimalist, and subtly jazzy. The Doctor from India is a documentary film by Jeremy Frindel that tells the story of Dr. Vasant Lad, a holistic health pioneer whose approach centers around the ancient practice of Ayurveda.
He has spent his life promoting and bringing the system of whole health known as Ayurveda to the West.
One may feel that a soundtrack to a documentary about an Indian doctor should feature some Indian music, maybe sitar or sarod gently floating along. But Grimes' music cozily fits and enhances the film's aura and storytelling. It's another notch in Grimes' eclectic works.
By Samir Shukla
When was the last time you were bored? Let me rephrase that. When was the last time you shut off the phone, TV, computer, something electronic, and spent some time just sitting, maybe on a porch, or in a comfortable chair somewhere around the house, reveling in self-induced boredom?
Spend some time completely unconnected, what the hyper-connected digital generation may consider being bored? This is not about being bored; it's about reconnecting with our innate natural order.
We are so digitally connected that we don't allow ourselves the space to just, well, not think for a spell, the kind that is free of digital information. We don't allow ourselves to be bored because we don't like the thought of being bored. One may even think it a waste of time to induce nothingness, a bit of thoughtless boredom, even for a few moments. But I have come to believe we need that disconnection, those moments of do nothingness, and it will actually advance productivity and clarity in daily matters.
We have access to so much information, so much entertainment, that its power to inform as well as counter our boredom rapidly diminishes. We often wind up simply swiping quickly to get through the unending incoming messages and information, lest we fall behind. We become jaded to even the occasional gem of information sent our way.
I noticed this recently when watching a movie, something I love to do. With access to so many movies on different platforms, I sometimes become jaded even toward my favorite films. It is this availability and access to so many films that I take their artistic value of escape or inspiration for granted. This thought hit me quite succinctly one night when I was watching a movie recorded on our DVR. Even though it was a film I've wanted to see for many years, I found myself grabbing the remote control and flipping over to another recorded movie, and after a few minutes flipping to another.
It was a moment of entertainment saturation. An activity I love became a bore itself.
I turned the TV off, and just stared at the surroundings in the living room. The quiet of midnight, the sounds of the night, or the lack thereof, entertained me and cleared my head till I became sleepy. The darkness of the night further induced visual-free bliss.
We all need some time to just clearly think in our daily busyness, but it is just as important to set aside moments to not think at all. One may suggest that meditation is an escape from information overload. I'm suggesting something beyond meditation.
I'm suggesting complete nothingness. Even meditation is a practiced ritual, the breathing, the attempt to connect to something inside us, or whatever your meditation quest is. Meditation, of course, has tremendous value. I'm saying just laze yourself into mind-cleansing, if that is such a thing. I suggest something blanker, beyond meditation.
This would require a return to our simpler, less technological times, even if for, let's say, a half-hour every day. I call it the “thinkless thirty" and allow ourselves to be just bored or just roam aimlessly in our own minds. Your “thinkless thirty" could be broken into two segments to be practiced during different times of day, or could be simply a few minutes, say five minutes. Let's give it a name, ahh, “freebie five."
Clearly we are social creatures, and what I suggest maybe anathema to someone living alone, craving social connection, either via face-to-face or social media. What I'm suggesting is for most people to disconnect briefly when possible.
This idea further brewed inside my head during my family's trip to Big Bend National Park in West Texas last month. There are areas in that vast expanse where there is simply no cell signal. The disconnection was liberating, making the desert, what many would consider to be a drab environment, come alive in its own multi-sensory grandeur.
Of course a lack of connection can create anxiety for many, even if only for a few minutes. Am I missing something? How many posts on social media have I missed? What if someone texts me?
So, what do I mean by “thinkless thirty" or whatever is your chosen time of unthinking?
Let's make it simple.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Ok. Thanks for observing.
How was that?
This makes sense if you now fill in your own nonthoughts inside the little white space above.
See, it's simple. Now, by all means, you may return to your regular programming.
Happy unthinking boredom!
By Samir Shukla
“Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
The other day I found a photo frame my son had made years earlier when he was in the Boy Scouts. It was stamped “my hero dad" on the sides. It got me to wonder about the meaning of the word hero. Have I lived up to those words stamped on that frame? Instead of coming up with a meaning, I thought about what constitutes a contemporary hero.
Every act of guidance, protection, discipline, mentoring, is open for critique with the passage of time. We may not be heroes in the valiant, stereotypical sense, but we give it our best shot. That in itself is heroic.
Our children aggregate all we gave, spoke, delivered or failed to deliver, and will eventually forge their own ideals and paths. The world is a wily and complex jungle filled with heroes and villains not very clearly defined. The years pass and we pat our now grown kids on the back and send them off to navigate that jungle.
Add the toxic political atmosphere that we live in into that jungle and the search for a stalwart, ethical hero gets even tougher. Where have they all gone?
In this age of incessant connectivity via social media and pervasive surveillance, people put on pedestals as heroes by others unhinge themselves via their sometimes minor or sometimes unforgivable misdeeds.
One day they are tall, strong, inspiring the world, the next they are mere mortals bringing shame on themselves by getting caught with their pants down, or their hands in a pot of illicit money, or succumbing to the seductive, soul-crushing charms of power.
A hero becomes just another pale human being when he misplaces or loses his own moral compass.
Shine a bright light and that tall, dark and strong hero suddenly seems pale. When you watch old B&W films, there were always the occasional closeups of beautiful stars and handsome heroes. They were shown in soft light, where all unseemly facial features and their shortcomings as humans were rendered unseen with the magic of light and movies. In today's high-definition world all the scars and warts are exposed on our big screen TVs and especially on the little screens we carry around all day long.
Even the celluloid heroes of old can't escape our voyeuristic, overexposing world.
Heroes become lesser the more we know about them.
Overexposure taints the sustaining of perceived heroes. Even the quotes of philosophical masters are undone in our unending exchanges in the muddles of social media. They are read for a brief moment and then swished away with the motion of the finger, on to the next incoming post. Do we really follow words of wisdom on a consistent basis?
Sometimes long-respected heroes disappoint when they turn out to be as ordinary as the path you walk on. Some of humanity's beloved heroes over the centuries were disheveled, lesser men and women when they were alive. Yet, their actions or even a single action or invention or inspiration turned them into heroes; people willing to cast aside their other foibles or misdeeds.
My heroes were always obtuse, imbued with steady yet disruptive genius. Sometimes it was Gandhi, often it was Captain Picard, and on the musical front if I chose one it would likely be Pete Townsend.
But these men are more inspirers than heroes. They were disruptive in a manner to affect change in art or politics. I tend to gravitate toward anything that unfurls the status quo into something better.
I have also always admired the myth of the American frontier cowboy, relying totally on himself to make a living or survive. But even that cowboy is a blend of multiple other cowboys, with my admiration overlooking their oft-destructive machismo.
There's the teacher in high school that pushed me to write better, inspiring me to engage in a life of words. The more I ponder; it was the act of a stern teacher guiding me that I remember most, not the person so much. I cannot say she was a hero, but I will always remember her for nimble edits that made learning the craft of writing a joy.
I suppose I don't know what a perfect hero is. There can be no such thing. We have to accept someone as a hero with all the caveats and boils that go with that person, for there is no perfect hero.
Competence alone is not heroic. Doing something positive that sets one back or is maybe personally damaging but is helpful to many others is heroic. We salute soldiers and call them heroes but it is only the soldiers who have faced death and brought death upon others that truly understand their perceived heroism. For them it may have been simply about survival, not heroism.
Sometimes you just have to take facets of different people and create your own hero, again via the actions they have taken that you admire while setting aside the ill-tempered, narcissistic, or amoral persons they may be.
Putting one's life in danger to save others is always honorable, but even that comes with a footnote. A while back I read of someone saving several kids in an accident, the temporary hero was later judged differently when people learned that he was a convicted felon.
We must accept that heroes today are as fleeting as the bursts of images in our daily, oversaturated electronic world. A simple act of kindness or lending a steady hand can become the hero of the day and not necessarily the person behind the act that betters someone's life just enough for them to pass on a similar act to another.
I don't know if I can be a hero to anyone, but I can always pass on a bit of wisdom or lend a helping hand. Maybe, in the end it is such simple acts that will sustain us, the pale heroes in us all.