Sunday, July 25, 2010


every time I mince this meat
I still believe in love

every time there is a war
I still believe in peace

every time there is hate call
I believe in understanding

every time I die
I believe I will be born

every time...
I believe I understand


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda

This is the title of the book. Book written by Margaret Runyan Castaneda, wife of Carlos Castaneda. Well, Carlos Castaneda requires no introduction and yet many people will hardly know this cult figure, as he belonged to exclusive world of drug culture, modern shamanism and mysticism of late sixties and seventies.

Carlos Cesar Salvador Arana Castaneda, was born on 25th December, in 1925, in Peru. He wrote 12 books of which first nine books deal exclusively to the learning of sorcery knowledge under Yaqui brujo called Don Juan. What started as a simple anthropological curiosity for Carlos Castaneda (CC)in his early sixties turned out into a life transforming experience where CC was consumed by the knowledge itself; sucking him into a legitimate linkage to the ancient esoteric system of sorcery. What created CC into a cult figure was the controversy that surrounded him and his books; questioning the veracity of his work and knowledge he presented. CC till the end of his life ( supposedly died in April 1998, by liver cancer)remained a very elusive figure hardly revealing anything about his life. His statement "To ask me to verify my life by giving you my statistics, is like using science to validate sorcery. It robs the world of its magic and makes milestones of us all" shows CC was deeply entrenched in Juan's thought of erasing personal history. There are many confusion surrounding his birth certificate, place of his origin (is it Brazil, as he claimed or Peru as certificate suggested)till the year and manner of his death in 1998 remains shrouded in mystery.Are CC's books a work of fiction or genuine work of knowledge that can revolutionize modern man is still being debated.

Under such circumstances, a book written by his wife Margaret comes as little surprise, and if you are a CC fan then you would certianly like to know who was really Carlos Castaneda in his personal life?

Book deals with early years of CC before he met so called Don Juan and sketchily describes his life at UCLA, his penniless existence, his quirky and possessive nature and his meeting with his wife Margaret Runyan, whom he married on impulse in Mexico, in 1960. Published in 2001, Margaret's book is short collection of part memory ,part construction of Carlos Castaneda as she knew and understood him as person, a father, a scholar, an author.

Their marriage hardly lasted for six months, as CC's long absences for the field work annoyed Margaret to no end, thus relation ending in mutual separation. However their actual divorce took place only in 1971 after Carlos had achieved fame and name for his work. Meanwhile during the separation period Margaret bore a son ( from another man) whom Carlos gladly accepted him as his own and gave his name. Book actually throws light on this relationship of CC and his son Carlotn Jeremy Castaneda. CC's endless struggle to be a "father figure" for this child and his struggle to provide for him gives a sense of personal loss and failure that CC lived.

What Margaret Runyan tries to provide through this book is fill in those blanks which world tried to say was fake. Did CC ever meet Don Juan or was he a fictitious person of his imagination? Did CC know much about Yaqui Indian practices? How was CC's work perceived at UCLA? what were the problems CC faced financially as well intellectually during this period? And the fame that followed CC after first two publication of his books.

It is evident that Margaret had very estranged relationship with CC, and hardly knew about CC's life after he became Juan's apprentice. CC's words for Margaret after their divorce sums his frustration and inability to explain his life to her " I have always fought to be your friend. We will do whatever our fate is. We must accept our fate in humbleness. We can't force things and we can't ever do things that are contrary to our own ways of thinking and being".

Written three years after CC death, what does book achieve? Does book throw any light on Carlos Castaneda that you want to understand? or he is still elusive as he always wanted to be.

Let me conclude with Margaret's own words "Carlos left me with the same impression he gives every one else. He is still as mysterious and magical as he's always been".

I will still recommend the book for all those ardent fans of CC , who wants to know anything and everything that mystery called Carlos Castaneda.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is for Naseer

Naseer! Is this his name? I am not sure. Oh Boy!! How could I have forgotten his name. But I have!I am not sure if his name is Naseer. But that's what comes to my mind when I think of him.

We met in late 90s, while working on our thesis. We shared the same research room of the University of Bombay .Many Research scholars used the reading room of the university library specially dedicated for the doctoral research students. One hardly interacted with each other as every one walked in and out at their own convenient time, and when they came they mostly buried themselves in books. In fact Naseer and I hardly knew each others existence. Till One day librarian came to my table and said," Can you help that boy?" She pointed out to Naseer who was sitting just opposite my table. "He is very shy.And is looking for some help. Please see if you can help him out with his problems."

I looked at his direction and saw this boy in his 30s lean ,neatly dressed in white stripped shirt and casual jeans bent over his books . Shy like a woman he did not even look up once. I assured my librarian that I will see what I can do; not knowing what help he was seeking. I forgot about him for next couple of months.

As the time passed, I felt guilty for not even bothering to ask him what kind of help he needed . One day, I just approached him and introduced myself "Hi I am *****, I guess you are looking for some help.If there is anything I can do I will certianly try and help you out" I said in a straight forward business tone.

Naseer did not look up. He just smiled shyly and said something in inaudible tone. I pulled the chair next to him and sat down to listen to his problem.

Naseer was from Iran and had registered himself under the faculty of English literature for past 8 years. He was researching on Iranian and Indian philosophical reflections in English literature. Or something like that. His problem was, he and his mentor had hardly discussed his work ever since he had began writing his chapters. That made him very insecure and worried as he did not know, if his work was progressing in right direction.Feeling of loss was neatly imprinted in his eyes. He needed some one to read his drafts and give him the feed back on his work and suggest new direction if one could. I was aghast by his request. There was nothing I could do for him to solve his problem. I had no clue on his subject. Yet I had no heart to tell him I cannot do anything for him. Somewhere I felt as if I was his last hope to speak of his problems. I knew Naseer's problems extended far beyond academic world.

"Ok " I said as I got off the chair, "Give me one chapter to read. I will try and go through it and see what I can understand. But let me warn you, I have no much understanding of your subject. So my feedback would be very casual and not an academic one."
"No Problem No problem. I understand. " he said with much glee. I collected few ruled full scape papers of handwritten manuscripts he gave me,put on a fake smile and said "Give me few days". "Sure take your time" Naseer retorted back.

As I turned my back to him,I cursed myself. Why do I always put me in a situation that I can not handle? What is the need to be good Samaritan? whats wrong with me?Why can't I say sorry this is not my area of expertise and finish the issue? But that's me! Always get in to a situation that I never want to be in first place.

Few days later I did get back to Naseer and told him honestly whatever little I comprehended about his work. He heard me patiently, my comments were of no much use to him. But he seemed relieved.

Often we would get talking, on various subjects other than our topic of research.I still cannot forget the surprise in Naseer's eyes when I first asked him out for cup of tea.Bored of reading for hours on the same subject, I once said "Naseer would you like to have chai with me?" His eyes popped" but aren't you married" he asked instead of replying my question" yes I am! But what that has to do with chai?" what a stupid question my tone relayed my emotions. Naseer knew what I felt and replied " Back in Iran a married woman will not dare to go out in restaurant with another man" he said in a sheepish tone. "C'mmon Naseer this is India.I am just asking you to join me for roadside chai, and I don't need my husband's permission for that. By the way, are you married Naseer?" I had never asked Naseer about his personal life till then.

"No" he said and looked down on the ground. I was aware that whenever Naseer spoke to me he felt shy and apologetic, as if speaking with women was kind of crime he was committing. Having lived in India for nearly a decade, he was quiet accustomed to Indian culture and general etiquette towards women. Yet he never looked straight into their eyes or approached them for help. I found his behavior quiet amusing and at times I would purposely behave more aggressively just to tease him off his shyness.
He knew my habit of cutting stupid jokes and would laugh at it.

Me and my librarian friend would often joke him about coming to Iran. "Naseer we would like to come to Iran . Can you help us getting visa etc.? Naseer would often say an emphatic no to our request."It is very difficult for single woman to come to Iran." He would reply very seriously "Iranians are not so kind towards women. There are many restrictions on women. First of all you have to cover your hair. then there are many dos and don'ts I cannot tell you all this. But Indian women like you will find it very hard to follow those rules. Why do you want to come to Iran ? It is not that safe for women" He would say out rightly rejecting our plea. " C'mmon Naseer if you want I can wear a chador for you. But I am coming to Iran" I would say teasing him. Naseer would turn his head and smile.

Naseer was 40 years old. He looked much younger than his age. He belonged to tribal areas of Iran and his parents were very old. He felt terribly guilty for not being able to support his parents and in fact they had to support him to continue his studies in India. That literally ate him. "I am 40 years man *****; when will i finish my studies, get a job , get married and look after my after my parents" That was his actual worry more than his research work. Having lived in India he was also aware of the restrictive atmosphere back in his country. We can not speak openly our view in public forget about woman's freedom etc. You guys are very lucky in India he once told me. Naseer never spoke much. I knew he would have loved to settle in India if not for his old parents.

Mean while I had finished my defense and acquired my doctoral degree. Things had progressed well for him too. His adviser had approved of his work and he was winding up his last part of his writing. I arranged him a typist who could help him with his thesis and advised him on last bit of submission process.

I had stopped coming to the research room and there by lost my contact with Naseer. Once when I had dropped in the Library to meet my friend I bumped into Naseer. He was beaming with a smile. At once I knew the reason and congratulated him for completing his defense successfully. For the first time he asked me out to a restaurant" I will buy you chai to celebrate my success" he said. we went to the near by snack bar. There he ordered Idli-wada for both of us and filter coffees. I smiled looking at the food, and asked "Naseer now you are going back to Iran won't you miss this Idli-wada?"

He smiled back looking at me. He pulled out the thick copy of his dissertation. Opened the acknowledgment page. showed me the line where he had thanked me. First time I could not look into his eyes. So I looked down and said, " Thank You. But I really didn't do anything for you"

"To answer you question , he was still looking straight at me" I am going to miss India not just Idli-wada"

That was the last time I met Naseer. I wish he has managed to do all the things, he wanted to do. I have forgotten his name and think his name is Naseer.Probably he has forgotten my name too.