The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Most Burdensome of All

I have a friend who keeps his car stocked with water, fruit and snacks, so he can hand them out to homeless people on his way to work. One day, he gave a bottle of water to a homeless man. The guy looked at him askance, as if asking, c’mon, this is all you can give me? He took the water and walked away.

As he related the incident, my friend laughed. “You cannot expect gratitude even from a homeless man.”

My friend is a wise and compassionate guy, and I like to think he was half-joking when he said what he did.

It is truly burdensome to believe that you (or I) did a good deed, performed an act of kindness. There is a kind of oppressive weight to the idea and thought of it. In fact, I find it highly patronizing.

Service is a pure (perhaps the purest) form of self-expression. Millions of people perform acts of service on a daily basis without likely even being aware of it. They act on a whim, in a moment of complete spontaneity, responding to a need from someone somewhere. It takes an instant, the act is done, and everyone is off to their respective places.

It leaves everyone free: giver, receiver, bystanders.

I cringe a little when I hear well-meaning parents and teachers encouraging kids to think about “others,” “do something for others,” and so on.

So long as you think that you are doing something for others, you are going to be bound to the act, harbor a sense of expectation, even anticipate gratitude. I’d really like to walk away from it, be free of the typical trappings that come with “doing a good deed.”

Perhaps this comes across as fake modesty but it’s a little more than that.

It stems from a simple desire for freedom. To be released from expectation (of gratitude or whatever), to be free of the burdensome notion “I am helping another,” to be free of this terribly grand picture of self.

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For my Wise, Young, Beautiful Cousin who Loves the Woods

She was happy to leave New York (does that happen to anyone at all?)
she loves animals
and mountains
And the land her father grew up on
where she tramped days as a child
quiet and alone and tanned
tall trees laden with jack fruit and cashews and peppercorns and mangoes
dark homes with cool floors and pillars
she left the noise and dust of our home in Mumbai
went North
found a hillside town
(I thought it romantic)
she worked long and hard
made a name for herself, met friendly folks and ate homely dinners
met dynamic men, fiery and passionate
loved, lived, left

came back to Colorado, the hills beckoned again
friendliness, passion, compassion and desire
to learn and grow
and preserve and protect
to drink in the beauty
sip away the sunrise

and tramp all over the hills again

finally to gaze at the land her father built a home on.

 

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Actors and Projection

(Derived somewhat from an old post dated October 2012)

“Kaun Banega Crorepati,” India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was/is a popular show. The host Amitabh Bachchan would ask contestants what they’d do with the prize money they earned. Many men would respond quick, Go on a date with Aishwarya Rai. These were the days before Ms Rai became Mrs. Rai Bachchan. Anyway, Amitabh Bachchan would laugh lightly, then move on to other questions. The Aishwarya Rai answer was so darned common, it almost felt de rigueur. I never gave it a second thought. Everyone was joking, of course.

One day, my father (after hearing another contestant give the same answer) remarked, “Is Aishwarya Rai a prostitute that she’d go with anyone who is rich?”

He said it without any anger or annoyance, perhaps a trace of irony. It was a simple question, a rhetorical one. It made me stop and think. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think this way. With my complicity in this stupid joke about a game show winner going on a date with Ms. World, I had, like many others, bought into the “commodification” of Aishwarya Rai.

And then there is this.

One of my favorite films, a scene that is tough and unpleasant to watch for me.

Actors know all about projection. After all, they are constantly being projected upon. That is their job. The most talented actors function as blank slates, all the better for a director to project their vision on to.

And of course, projection is the way of this world. We are constantly foisting our dreams, expectations, fears, etc. on people around us. Actors aren’t exempt from this even though we don’t share physical space with them on a daily basis. They are projected upon, both on screen and off-screen.

And that’s how you land up with arrogant men who think that a female actor is a prostitute, AND the others who stand in deep awe of the personality, wanting to own her.

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