WHEN TO TRUST THE SKY
by Shebana Coelho
Reena watched the wind carry leaves over the tracks. She felt she was with them, falling into the slats and disappearing under them into the dark. Meanwhile, Salim was speaking about doubt. He paced up and down the tracks, his thin frame casting shadows on the cement floor of the platform.
“Doubt ought to be celebrated like faith is,” he was saying.
The four of them were at the train station, waiting for the ten a.m. to Ranpur and wondering if it would come at all. You could never be certain – downed trees or bandits often delayed it. The trees were the result of a haphazard logging operation that the district had approved a year ago without really thinking, and the bandits were the bored wives from the army base. They intercepted the train at the first stop at Mangh, entered the men’s compartment, took watches and briefcases and returned them at the last stop at Ranpur. They had never been arrested because nothing was actually stolen and besides, their husbands were all officers.
No one answered Salim – they were all listening for the train.
READ THE REST ONLINE AT PERMAFROST
I'm so grateful to begin the edit prep and assembly for this film.
More on gratitude here at nasarioremembers.com
We had such a beautiful response to the first We the People workshop that we are doing another, on Saturday, December 10, at 1:30 pm in Santa Fe. The first session of the workshop was in turn inspired by a gathering that preceded it. Who knows what this second workshop will inspire? I trust the mystery of following what calls...
Best to all and Happy December
Our relatives from Canada called on November 8, just as the night began to get fully dark, just as it was becoming clear that a campaign that had fanned intolerance and prejudice and fear, that had lauded its promise to ban Muslims and Mexicans - that campaign, that individual whose name I can't even write now - that campaign, that individual was going to be elected into office as president of the US.
Our relatives from Canada called on November 8 and said, not to expect them in the US anytime soon, being that they were Musli...but they didn't want to say the word out loud over the phone, so one of them joked and started to say Mexi.. instead but then stopped and said, well, we see M's are not going to be welcome in your country.
And I thought M - aMerica - us aMericans....
And I thought, how did we come to this? How could anyone see that such a campaign of intolerance was fit to be validated? How. A litany of Hows. How is this to be borne? How is this happening. How will the world change and contract and implode after this?
And I thought about seeing the people who elected him. How we who didn't vote for him are getting a chance to really see them - these dear neighbors, these fellow human animals, we are seeing what they fear, what they know, what they don't and what they value. How we need to see them - because they are reacting from feeling unseen, unheard, unvalidated.
And I thought also: here is a chance to experience what all other countries have experienced at one time or another, the absolute failure of see yourself and your values represented in the government. Hell, forget other countries. This is what communities within the US have been feeling for years, First Americans, African Americans...and on and on... And we - relatively recent Americans - a family from a middle class enclave in a Indian city of extremes - we are new to this feeling of wanting to see ourselves reflected in government. A sense of relating to politics wasn't part of the culture of our family. Not then...
But now...now Muslim Americans and Mexican Americans, these Ms are populations that are close to me in particular because my family is part Muslim, because Mexico is where I went to study healing, because I am working on a project about oral histories and recuerdos, memories of Hispanic ghosts towns in New Mexico, because New Mexico is home.
All of this, all of this connecting someone from India to all these unwelcome Ms in this nation of We the People.
The grief is strong.
We The People, the desire to heal is strong, to commiserate, to gather in deep silence and deep lyric.
We the people.
My dear friend Larry Littlebird who is from Kewa and Laguna pueblos speaks over and over again of listening. Listening is the greatest respect we can give someone else, he says.
We The People, can we listen.
Not in speeches, no, not those, let our silences find lyric, find song and let us gather..
That's all I can think to do first.
That's the smallest lit step I can see in a dark day.
We the people gathering in a small space, finding a way forward to heal.
We the People..human animals, human spirit. let us not lose the light that has been lit over us, we are really seeing each other, what makes the world, what makes the culture, let us keep seeing and listening and let us honor that, and let us honor each other, we the people, this diverse patchwork, this beautiful whole.
Last fall, right when the feeling of returning to Mongolia was emerging, I was interviewed by Jeanette Öhman about traveling. The occasion was the publication of the book, Gränslös, an anthology of travel essays in Swedish which included my essay, Snow in Mongolia, originally published in Vela.
It's really lovely when you are asked questions thoughtfully, when you are given the chance to meditate and reflect on the all the journeys that took you there and brought you here.
Though the narration is in Swedish, the questions and my answers are in English.
I haven't learned Swedish..yet :)
Jeanette Öhman intervjuar reseförfattaren Shebana Coelho. Sandnejlika Förlag ger ut reseberättelser. Författarna skriver personligt om resor och om vanliga men viktiga saker som händer när vi reser.
OF GODS AND RIVERS
A welcome warning on arrival...
...because, explained a taxi driver, a deluge of water could come rushing down at any moment from snow melt high up in the mountains of Himachal. At any moment, this deluge could be forming up in the mountains and you - wading into what seems like a calm river - would never know till...the deluge rushed down down down the slopes and into you.
INTO THE GREEN
We went on a hike, three humans, three dogs, up from the lovely Mirage Andretta arts colony into the jungle.
Pinku, a carpenter born and raised here in Himachal, led the way.
It was already a day of grace in this monsoon season--the sun was out and the sky seemed clear of rain clouds. We walked into a dense forest - fruit trees, white flowers that smelled like jasmine, hanging vines, and pine trees - "cheel" Pinku called them - a kind of cedar whose flattened spines lay scattered on the path. The base of the trunks were tapped with tin cones that gathered resin used for glue. Every few meters, we saw these - the cuts made into their bark formed a red striated design - the shapes felt like humans somehow, ancestors of bark with red ribs sacrificing themselves for resin.
SUDDENLY AROUND A BEND...
...a loud rustling in the trees and reddish-brown monkeys leapt into branches to our right. The big dogs gave chase at once, running into the trees but one small black dog named Gori (fair one) stayed behind.
Because, Pinku grinned, these monkeys have been known to slap smaller dogs and Gori knows first hand and knows to stay away.
Later, we met langurs - grey fur, black faces - on high branches staring at us. For a few seconds, our gazes met in silence. Then swiftly, they began swinging away - a whole family of them - blurs of grey, shuffling rustling creaking branches and leaves till they disappeared into stillness.
PRESENTLY OUT OF SIGHT
Down there, Pinku stopped and indicated a dense valley, are peacocks, wild hens and wild goats that are present but hiding from us, out of sight.
But in the barsaat, while it is raining, he said, the peacocks dance. Of course they do -the childhood memory came so fast I could almost see it. Was I manufacturing the memory - or was it real - the image of peacocks splaying their indigo feathers in a field of falling green.
PENNIES FROM A TURBAN
We left the main path and took another narrow path going up, lined with small and big rocks, like stepping stones almost.
This was the path of wedding party, back in the day, said Pinku. The whole wedding party would go this way, carrying the bride and groom up and down this path, over rock and through muck, to get one from one village in the valley to another.
When we were boys, he said, we would stand to the side like this, on the edge of the path, waiting for the wedding party to pass. And I remember how giddy we would get when sometimes the father of the bride, as he passed us, he would take small pennies tucked into his turban and hand them to us. Those were the days, he grinned, the thrill of receiving pennies from turbans.
THE WAY SOUTH TO LANKA
This plant, Pinku said, is "chota ber" because it gives small berries. In Himachali, we call it "bradd" or "jiredi."
The story goes that this plant showed the path that the demigod Ravana took Sita when he kidnapped her from the forest. (for the whole story, see 'The Ramayana.')
The story goes that, along the way, the thorns of this plant clung to her clothes and strands of fabric unraveled and like this, they marked the path of her kidnapping and like this, it showed she had been taken south, in the direction of his island kingdom of Sri Lanka.
Pinku tells a story
For the first day, I didn't see the Himalayas at all. The whole reason I had come was to lay my eyes on them. But in this season of monsoon, all I saw was mist and fog and soft grey where they were supposed to be. The second morning, I woke to slight sun and this day of the hike, as we came up the jungle and around, there was this view - the green sheet of the Kangra valley and lining it, one wall of the Himalayas - the massive rock face of the Dhauladhar range - stretching all across the valley and beyond.
They were gray and hazy but unmistakably rock, unmistakably in front of me, with ridges and crests and valleys, the mountain gods.
In this season, Pinku nodded at the grey shapes and grinned, they don't have any clothes on - kapadé nahi hain - but in the winter, he sighed, oh in the winter, dressed in the whitest snow, it makes your morning to see them...and all day, they are there with you.
We walked downhill with the memory of snow till we reached a mossy cement path near the village After hours of careful stepping on rocks and mud, I slipped - olé - straight into the green...olé. I slid straight down onto the path, flat down into the monsoon and back into the presence of this green season.
The rains began again that very evening, continuing all night into this morning, falling onto the roof with with such force that I woke suddenly. I imagined that the monkeys from the jungle had followed us back - here they were on the roof jumping to greet us - only to learn a few hours later that actually, there had been an earthquake...
...actually there had been two earthquakes this morning...
both around 4.6 on the Richter scale, around medium intensity.
According to news reports, all well and no damage anywhere in the state -- just the ground reminding us that we are here in a land where mountain gods speak first.
I wrote an article about experiencing 'Sitaparityagam' performed by Kapila Venu and it was published today on an Indian dance website, Natharki.com.
Everything was in the eyes of Kutiyattam artist Kapila Venu ringed in fierce black paint as she emoted a sidelong glance of such sorrow, you felt it go straight through you, merge with the sounds of drummers onstage and rise out into the coconut groves and ponds that surround the small theater structure at Natanakairali Arts Center in Kerala. Kutiyattam, literally translated as “acting together or collective acting,” is one of oldest surviving forms of ancient Sanskrit theatre. It features elaborate eye movements, hand gestures and stances, occasional interludes of recited text or song, to the accompaniment of drums. To see this solo performance which was rooted in the tradition of Nangiar Koothu, the female solos of Kutiyattam, was to feel the full living force of centuries-old theatre in the region where it was born.
Continue Reading Article
I'm so grateful to Venuji for asking me to write it because, otherwise, I don't think I would have found any words to describe it. I mean, his asking invited me to find words to record this first response and I'm so glad he did because now I have a record of how I felt in that moment, in the thick of this intense experience of Navarasa Sadhana, Natya Shastra, into Kutiyattam, all of it so profound.
When you encounter an indigenous art form, when you see it fully lit, fully inhabited, fully manifested, it awakens that which is indigenous in you - no matter what culture you come from - it awakens what is true for you. And though I don't know where this will all lead, what matters is the now of it, this moment of getting to the heart of emotions, text, performance, everything.
Thanks to the Chamiza Foundation and Hayes Lewis, the Faraway is Close creativity workshop is heading to Zuni Pueblo. This first workshop focuses on women's stories.
I'm so honored to be facilitating it. You can read more about the project and download a flyer here.
This and that about being here and there, faraway and close...