The Rich Vegetarian

An Examined Life

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Category: This-That (page 2 of 221)

Nose Pin Tales: Sarika

In 11th grade, one of the other Indian girls in my school got a nose job. She said it was to fix her “deviated septum,” but we all knew it was to shear off the classic South Asian bump on her nose. This was in the times of Paris Hilton, when rhinoplasty was the plastic surgery of choice among the American upper middle class. An aquiline nose had no place in a white, suburban high school. 

I loved her nose bump, actually. I thought it was charming. It made me start to think more about my own nose — a large, almost perfect isosceles triangle from the side. Thankfully, I also have huge eyes, strong eyebrows, large lips, and round cheeks, so the big triangle looks proportional in the context of everything on my face. I doodled side-facing portraits of myself in math class, my nose alongside A = (1/2) bh , and wondered how to fill its surface area. 

When I was in graduate school, I took a class with a crazy-haired old professor on ‘non-traditional psychotherapies.’ That meant that we spent one class trying out past-life regression. We were to close our eyes, and follow his prompts leading us further back and back into our life. We meditated, through our current age, to teenager, to preteen years, into childhood and infancy. Once we reached being in the womb — whatever our conception of that was — we were guided even further back. I was struck with a vision of being in a horse drawn carriage next to a huge palatial building in Kolkata (my dream just told me that’s where I was). I was sitting next to a man who I understood as being lower than my status in life, or forbidden in some way. He kissed my hand. There were flowers blooming outside, that I knew were planted just for me. This grandeur was my world.

When I awoke, I reveled in the fantasy of Hindustani nobility that had revealed itself to me. My nose became a confirmation of this aristocratic past birth: straight, large, with only the slightest bump. I dreamt about laying amongst silks, drinking tea in bed, a sitarist in my room playing soothing tones to lull me to sleep. My nose must have been bedecked with a huge diamond set in gold, or tiny sapphires and garnets in an intricate pattern. I started to feel that in this life, something belonged there, perched on the edge of my nostril. It might bring that dream into my reality. 

I thought of queens, goddesses, all sorts of beauties borne from the imaginations of Hindustani poets and seers. They all had nose rings. My Kathak Guru, whom I adore, also has one. I loved how it sparkled on her expressive face while dancing. She recounted stories of getting her nose pierced as a young woman in Delhi. She had been somewhat pressured into it by a group of girls at her hostel at Kathak Kendra. The fine incision was made with the sharpened twig of a neem tree!

For me, things were different in this life. Guyanese girls don’t usually get nose piercings. In our culture, Indian traditions are sometimes thrown to the wayside as being too “coolie,” a term that was originally derogatory towards Indian indentured servants in the Caribbean. In some cases, British values eclipsed Indian traditions, and the nose pin was one of those. I grew up understanding that tattoos and nose piercings were something that “loose girls” did. That said, most elderly Indo-Caribbean women, including my own Nani, had tattoos done in the tribal Awadhi style after their marriage. I had seen old photographs of female indentured servants with multiple ear piercings, septum piercings, all of it. For my parents’ generation, wearing Indian adornments such as the nose pin meant regressing to the difficult and seemingly backward time of their ancestors. For me, it meant a return to the aesthetics that were meant to compliment my brown body. Silver Tiffany & Co. bracelets and necklaces just didn’t complement my features the way gold jhumkas did.

Without telling my parents about it, my best friend Sonal and I went to a little piercing spot on St. Mark’s in the East Village. I was familiar with this block, as it was a mainstay of punk and alternative culture in New York City. I used to go there on weekends in high school to buy things like black and white striped denim and combat boots. My piercing experience was much different than what I expect it was like for my ancestors. The young man who pierced my nose was incredibly stoned. He was quite good at his craft, though. I was nervous when I saw the black dot in permanent marker where he was to make the piercing. He stuck the needle in with one swift movement, and I only shed one quick tear out of my left eye. Sonal and I got fries at Pommes Frites right after. We took the rest of the day to go back to our apartment in Harlem and obsess over how much saline water needed to be applied, and how often.

My parents were shocked at first (though my Dad didn’t notice until five months after I had gotten the piercing), but they very quickly came to terms with the nose pin. They figured it was because I was hanging out with more Indian people lately, and besides, it could be taken out any time. I’m not sure if it has fulfilled my fantasies of being a reincarnation of Hindustani royalty. I still have yet to be romanced by a court poet or classical musician. Still, I’m happy when I see my nose pin glinting at the side of my triangle-nose from the corner of my eye. It’s a part of me, now.

Sarika Persaud is a psychologist and Kathak dancer in New York City. Her writings can be found at Sword and Flute.

Nose Pin Tales: Supriya

I never liked piercings.

When I was a baby, my ear lobes were pierced. As I grew older, I made it clear to everyone: I will not have any more piercings.

Unlike me, my sister wanted to add more piercings to her ear lobes, and she wanted to get her nostril pierced as well. She would stick colored sequins on her nose to check if a particular one suited her, and walk around wearing it. My mother did not much like the idea but she finally gave her permission to have her nose pierced. So, as per tradition, an auspicious day/time was selected for the nose piercing ceremony. When I finally saw her with her pierced nose, I did not like it, not one bit. I decided that I never wanted to even try it.

But decisions change, and so did mine. Did my grandmother influence me?

My grandmother (Ajji) strongly believed in maintaining family customs and traditions, and she wanted her granddaughters to imbibe some/most of them, as her only daughter (my mother) never followed any of it. Ajji was a big influence in my life as well as my sister’s. Ajji would tell us, “Girls must pierce their nose when they are young, or else it may have to be done if the groom’s family insists on it for their wedding, or they may reject you, just because you don’t have a nose pin.” And I would argue, how did my mother get married without getting her nose pierced, or what if the groom’s family does not insist on it… all of this at the age of 8-9. I was very practical-minded, even at that age, and did not fall for any of those explanations.

Fast forward to many years later, my grandmother passed on, and I inherited her diamond nose pin. It was the last nose pin she had had custom made, and it was her favorite. She was probably wearing it when she died.

One evening, a few days after her death, my sister and uncle talked me into getting my nose pierced. I uttered ‘Yes,’ without being really sure about it. Right away they took me to a jeweler where we bought a tiny nose pin, and boom, I got my nose pierced.

There was no tradition followed that day. We didn’t consult a calendar for an auspicious date or time. The very moment I said “Yes” was the right time.

I realized, this can’t be reversed; it is going to remain with me.

My in-laws were not interested to know if I wore a nose pin, let alone what nostril it was on. And I could never wear my grandmother’s diamond nose pin; it was too large for my little nose.

I have now accepted the nose pin, and I experiment a lot with it, cycling between silver rings, tiny gold studs, and larger clip-ons. It is a firm part of my identity.

Unexpected bounty

(Have started on Morning Pages, and this one showed up a couple of days ago.)

There is enough time, there is. Enough breath too – Don’t let your impatience kill the game before it even starts. Build patience – slow, relentless persistence – pace your breaths – make them last. Lengthen the hold – extend from end to end. Practise economy and grace – everything is a resource – use wisely – judiciously – resourcefully. This is beautiful imagery – spontaneous/life. Move from the impetuous artist-creative-writer to the practiced athlete. Pacing, practising, flowing. Breathing like a swimmer, taking it in, letting out slowly, with purpose & deliberation, fully cognizant and aware of the power, purpose and intensity. This is life, this is practice. This is for the long haul. This is about grace and economy. Spare, minimal. Beautiful, not wasteful.

A feeling of energy controlled with intent – not a wild river or a young elephant, but a clear river dancing/snaking down the mountain – unmistaken in its vector – moving, not dashing. Youth is an aspect of its intensity, not movement. It moves surely, slowly, but with purpose, even if it is momentary, yet in the moment, established in the movement and the moment. Surefooted dancers are the best – so are the hikers and climbers. You know where to place the foot. You have spent years seriously considering where to place the foot, and now this knowledge is embodied, embedded – there is no thought, no premeditation – the individual unit has dissolved and there is continuity, system integrity – togetherness – oneness. And it is this flow that we yearn to – we always yearn to dissolve – to let the Big Mind take over.

It takes years and years of effort and practice before we can fully and finally dissolve, and then we do it each moment, every second, next, one after the other.

A strategic writer (not)

I am currently facing a writer’s conundrum.

Previously I’d wait for the writing to come to me. And it generally did. Some of the best pieces I have written, those that virtually flowed from my head through the keys on to the page and to the world, came to me. Most of these pieces that I loved writing and reading and re-reading made their way to me. I didn’t go seeking them out. I simply responded to their call. They whispered their presence to me, and I had gotten smarter over the years… so I made haste to get to the laptop, and wrote them out.

Like the time I was driving home from work, and a prisoner transport van passed my car. I made eye contact with a handsome black man, young and brooding, dark eyebrows and deep set eyes. I couldn’t look away. He held my gaze steadily, and our vehicles weaved in and around each other, until I had to take my exit. His van sped away. I could hardly get home fast enough. It was a compelling experience, and I had to write about it. I wasn’t sure I could describe the feeling fully but I tried. That’s how Locking Eyes came into being.

And that’s how the best of my writing has come to me.

Yes, I have always played bride to my writing (thanks, Mary Oliver, for the apt description). I have waited and waited for it to make an appearance, and when it does, I welcome it with joy and love… utterly glad that it chose me. I have often felt like a midwife, birthing a thought or a series of ideas into the world. That’s why I can never claim this writing as my own, because I cannot summon it at will. And I know this because I have been trying to do JUST that the last few months.

And I hate that method, I simply do.

I have been trying to think about my writing in smarter, more strategic ways. What should I write about? XXX sounds like a good topic. Let me give it a try. And it has been somewhat okay, I admit. But there is no joy either in the writing process or in the outcome. The end result feels terribly sterile, lacking in vitality. And what is on display is the effort, my attempt to string together alliterative phrases, trying hard to wring out emotion and feeling from a set of words. Sometimes, the final piece delights others but to me, it feels very hollow, pretentious.

I am no bridegroom or adventurer. I am a wanderer, a purposeless rambler… I am one who responds to Life. I have responded time and again to love, joy, beauty. And my knowing has taken me to beautiful places. Thus I developed trust in my knowing.

I have responded to Life through my writing. I have never sought to understand Life. I didn’t venture into the writing universe, determined to make a mark; I only responded to what called me. So it’s hard for me to make a plan for my writing. Because I am at the mercy of what’s out there, not always what’s in here.

“Let’s submit an article for publication; let’s write something for this magazine.”

Sure, I can give that a shot. But it feels terribly dull, lacking in juice and zest. I cannot seem to write fully and joyfully for another person. Heck, I cannot even do it for myself!

I can only write as an echo, a faint and wondering answer to Life. I am fairly okay at catching a ball but I am far better at catching cues… and I hope to improve. I have hurled many a ball in the sky, and the Universe has taken pity on me. I haven’t got rainbows, but I got published articles.

So I have decided to stop playing the bridegroom. I will be the midwife, the bride, the solitary walker. I will be the one who watches the stars, smells the fragrance of the wind.

And I will wait.