A Concentrate

When I was growing up, my father, the late Daddykins, made comments about people—who belonged to another city, another community, another sect, another religion, another country—that I valued as gospel. It took me years to shed some of his beliefs. It would be decades before I formulated my own set of ideals.

Daddykins would have been desperately saddened by the events of Friday, the 13th, in Paris, one of his favorite cities. Indeed, on some days, I saw how my father felt the violence of the world in his core. He was a decent human being, a gentleman, actually, by world definition, and yet, despite his tolerance and magnanimity, he could be small-minded, in the most unexpected ways, and at the strangest of times.

He was a vegetarian, as were most Hindu Brahmin men of the time. But he looked askance at those who ate meat. He exercised every morning throughout his life—he played tennis in his youth and he walked in his later years—and so, he was snooty about those who didn’t factor any exercise into their daily regimen. He read The Hindu every morning, between exercise and prayer, and therefore he looked down his nose at those who didn’t keep up with current events or analyze the daily editorial. He watched television only in the evening, after work; consequently, he decried the no-good who watched television during the day. He worked until a few months before his end when he was a few months shy of 91, and quite obviously he mocked those who had retired early, as he said, work-wise and mind-wise. He prayed morning and evening—they were really short bursts of meditation—and he judged people by whether or not they put mind to prayer. He cast withering glances my way when, on some days, I made irreverent comments as he sat down for prayer. Daddykins disagreed with my opinion that religion and good character were often two orthogonal intents.

I wondered about the environments parents created for children and about how we indoctrinated our children with our philosophies of how life ought to be lived. I believe my home is as liberal as those of many others. Yet, my husband and I are riddled with biases rising out of our versions of our truths. Two days after the Paris attacks, an eloquent British Muslim scholar stated, on television, that we can take out all the ISIS but we cannot root out a whole ideology with air raids. I also recall something the Dalai Lama said recently, that we need to go back and work on the individual and on ourselves: “Our troubles will increase if we don't put moral principles over money. Morality is important for everyone, including religious people and politicians. The problems that we are facing today are the result of superficial differences over religious faiths and nationalities. We are one people.”

Parents still have so much work to do. I look at my children and I think they’re more open-minded, more idealistic, and more humanistic than I will ever be. But it’s easier to slash our wrists and let ourselves bleed to death than it is to rid ourselves of our convictions.

I don’t believe I ever brought Daddykins around to my way of thinking with respect to piety and several other things. By the time he died, he resembled a concentrate of juice—seven times more concentrated than the original and so viscous and opaque that a ray of sun would not pass through.

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We'll Always Have Paris

From our apartment in Paris, if we walked up half a minute on Avenue Charles Floquet and then turned right into Avenue Octave Gréard, we'd end up on Avenue Gustave Eiffel in just another minute.

On our left rose a massive iron edifice. We stood in front of it and craned our necks. We angled our bodies some more and then some more, and sometimes when we had stared long enough, we'd feel as if the tower might shoot down over our heads us and chop us into bits. But the tower has stood for a long time, since 1889. On our right, ahead of us, all the way until our eyes crashed into Ecole Militaire, lay a carpet of green: Jardin de Champ de Mars.

In summer, the gardens were splattered with flowers and frocks in red, blue, white—the colors of the French flag—and then some green and orange and pink, really, every color of every flag in Europe, and, one might say, of the world. The lawn could have been a garden in the old town they called Babel.

Standing on the wetness, we heard tongues, so many of them, and they weren’t just Greek and Latin and Italian and Hindi. We saw skins. Some, the color of a copper epigraph uncovered in Mohenjodaro. Some were pale, as if they had rarely, if ever, greeted the sun. Others were dark, black almost, as if all they did was fish all day in full sun in the middle of the Indian Ocean. But they all had one thing in common: their smile. It was so hard to not smile under the tower. That’s it. Everyone came to Paris to stand and smile under the tower.

And everyone who alighted at Paris, first paid obeisance at the Tour Eiffel, as if it was this wondrous thing, this Taj Mahal of Paris. It was beautiful in photographs. But, up close, where one could smell nail and rivet and bearing, it was just another structure, simply another monument built by another dreamer in Paris for a show at the height of the industrial revolution.

At the lawns of the Champ de Mars, children played catch. Old women sporting garish lipstick walked near the park, held securely by dark Sri Lankan women. Stylish women sat talking on green iron benches while their pooches yelped at each other. They smoked cigarettes. They wore cigarette pants. In 1998, I remember that people still talked to one another and not into or at something as they do today. Kids played ball. On the lawns, parents set out plates, sandwiches, drinks from picnic baskets. Every few feet, young couples made out. Some of them were glued by lip, by curve. They were about to make babies. They emerged from lip-lock to giggle and laugh aloud. Yes, there was always the sound of laughter and revelry in Paris. It was the sound of life being built, being lived.

Paris is not just a city of light. That’s what the brochures tell us. I heard so much that no one talks about. In April, I heard the splat of bird pee on my head. Round the year, I heard the sound of music: from apartment buildings, churches, parks, metros, and up the bus towards Pigalle. In July, there was the beat. At Trocadero, the drums played into the night. Guys in braids. Guys in nose rings and earrings and Shiva tattoos. And between the drumbeats, young men crashed on their blades, up and down, and again. This was the city of the sound of life and the living. Of metro doors banging. Of people kissing, for so long, that they were oblivious to the trains that came and went. Of chestnuts dropping on craniums. Of leaves falling on walking stilettos. Of kids thudding on ice at the Hotel de Ville. Of first-time skaters wailing. Of artistes finding themselves in Paris, again and again. Of writers finding themselves.

Paris is a place of beginnings. In this city of light and sound and lightheartedness and life, the year 2015 has begun and closed with death.

The tower. It will rise and shine. Again.

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