Transmigration of Blog

india_sm_2012We’re down to about a month until our move to India.

The house is largely in order with only a few odds and ends remaining.

Most of our worldly possessions are in storage, and I haven’t really missed any of it. (A lot of “moss” collects when your stone stops rolling for a few years.) The house now echoes. Movers will be coming to get the small amount of stuff we’ll ship to India in the next couple weeks. Then we’ll really be living minimalist.

We’ve got all our shots with the exception of the final doses for Hepatitis. We’ll get those in country. With respect to shots, when moving to India, one has to get… well,  all of them.

Visas are in the works though we’ve had some delay on that front. However, fortuitously, the local Indian Consulate is beginning to take applications, and so I won’t have to send my application off to another city and can eliminate the time and risk of postal transit.

My list of things to do consists of fewer large, all-consuming tasks and more quick and easy jobs.

All of this means that I’m getting back to writing.  This is a bit like getting a corroded junk-yard jalopy running again. It’s remarkable how much the creative juices curdle when one spends a few months focusing on home repairs, monitoring contractors, getting shots, and other mundane tasks of international relocation. I worked almost exclusively on drafting two novels for a period of a little over a year, and now–as I resume writing and revisions–I’m having to re-read just to figure out what they’re about. On the bright side, I sometime surprise myself with what I wrote. For me, there’s definitely economy of scale in long writing  projects. Writing eight hours a day yields a lot more than eight times writing for one hour a day. I lose voices, character idiosyncrasies, and plot detail so easily unless I’m immersed in them.

As for this blog, I think a rebirth is in order. Since I’m moving to India, I’ve invoked the concept of transmigration of soul. In Hinduism, some sects of Buddhism, as well as a few lesser known religions, there’s a belief in reincarnation in which the soul may be reborn into an altogether different type of container. For example, if you were good in your last life, you might come back as a lama or a lap cat. If you were bad in your last life, you might come back as a slug or a Congressman. So the question of the moment is what this blog will be reborn as when  it sputters up from out of the ashes.

I would like the site to remain (or, perhaps, become)  humorous, but I’d like the humor to be less curmudgeonly. This presents a challenge because I’m not sure that I know how to be funny without being a curmudgeon. In point of fact, I’m not sure I know how to not be a curmudgeon–funny or otherwise.

I want this site to be reflective of my new life. I’ll continue posting photos, though after the move they will be disproportionately from Bangalore, India, and a few adjacent countries to which I will be traveling. So it’ll remain part travel site. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of lessons learned about travel in India to share.

When I’m not writing or sleeping, I’ll be engaged in a quest of self-improvement. The development of mind and body have been raised to high art in India, and I hope to  find some of those individuals with that knowledge.

Expanding my abilities and understanding of martial arts is one of my goals for this period. It’ll be a challenge to keep from becoming rusty in the jissen kobudō (Japanese old school martial arts that emphasize pragmatic skills) that I have been studying my entire adult life. However, in addition to working on what I know, there are other activities that I think will help expand my understanding while keeping me suitable limber and conditioned. I would like to learn  a little about indigenous Indian martial arts such as kalaripayattu, silambam, and–if time permits–gatka. Furthermore, I would like find a place to train in Bangalore where I can do some training in what I’d call general jissen (practical fighting) skills.

However, my attempts to improve myself will not be limited to martial arts alone. India might be cursed with plagues of poverty, pollution, and–well–plague, but they have no shortage of gurus–whether I can find one that’s reputable and willing is another matter. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that I don’t have a firm grasp of my mind. My mind runs and I don’t pay enough attention to what it is telling me; I don’t put enough effort into fixing what is broken. I read a quote recently about people who put great effort into studying the external world, but who remain ignorant of themselves.  This struck close to home, but it’s not just me–it’s widespread. People study psychology in school and learn about cognitive biases, but they don’t put the information to use in becoming more virtuous people. For example, a person might learn about the “self-serving bias” –whereby people claim responsibility for successes but place blame for failures on external factors–and say, “yeah, it’s funny that other people totally do that.”

Part of practicing martial arts is keeping one’s self healthy, against all odds. While I’ve never practiced yoga, I appreciate the belief that mind and body are inseparable. I would like to work on building a body that is less likely to be crippled by the practice of martial arts as I age. I intend to study Thai yoga massage, which incorporates stretching and pressure point massage. There’s an interesting connection between India and Thailand with respect to this form of bodywork. While it’s most closely associated with Thailand, some claim that its roots are in Northern India with a master called Guru Jivaka. While visiting Thailand, I developed an appreciation for the health benefits of this type of massage–particularly for one prone to have things out of whack. However, I didn’t have the time to study it during that visit. There is also the more distinctly indigenous holistic healing system of India, Ayurveda, and I would like to learn more about it as well.

In short, I intend to have a pretty full agenda while living in India, and I hope readers will find my posts about these experiences interesting and worthwhile.

Why I’m a Slacker Lately: or, Mysterious India

What's this India I hear so much about?

What’s this India I hear so much about?

I haven’t been writing, editing, or conducting research much as of late. This has probably gone unnoticed in the vastness of the cyberspace, but in the spirit of blogging I thought I’d answer a question that no one asked. I recently learned that my wife and I will probably be moving to Bangalore, India later in the year. This has kept me physically occupied with home repair and boxing up the house. In my non-labor moments, my mental faculties are largely devoted to understanding the country in which I will be living. I’ve never been there before.

India is a harder nut to crack than one might think. Yes, there is the obvious. At 1.2 billion people, it has the world’s second largest population and is screaming up on China for number one. It’s the seventh largest country by land area. It’s the birthplace of that most excellent yoga that keeps all the twisty people twisty. It’s home of tandoori chicken and naan bread, both of which I love.

However, that’s all superficial. I must sadly admit that–until recently–my in-depth knowledge has come from three sources:

1.) The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling

2.) A junior high school field trip to see the film Gandhi, which I had been under the impression was six hours long, but, according to Wikipedia, is only a little over three hours long. I guess that, just as kids think everyone is taller, a kid’s perception of Oscar-winning motion picture run times is greatly distorted.

3.) A ton of reading about the Indo-Pakistani rift and its strategic implications as a graduate student studying International Affairs with a focus on Strategic Studies.

With respect to number 3, the amount of study of this region was not commensurate with the fact that the Indo-Pakistani border region is generally voted “Most Likely Point of Origin for Global Nuclear Winter.” I’m not suggesting that the relationship between India and Pakistan is any more dysfunctional, unstable, or rooted in irrationality than other relationships between nuclear powers. However, the adjacency of the two countries is a problem from the perspective of strategic stability.  When alarms went off in the U.S. or the U.S.S.R. back in the day, there was at least a little time to evaluate and communicate. Being next-door neighbors makes the Indo-Pakistani conflict particularly troubling. That said, they’ve had some pretty big strain tests on their relationship without blowing up the world, so that’s a positive sign.

So why does this country, which should be so front and center in the global consciousness, remain so mysterious? One way we know countries is by those grand competitions through which nations–friends and enemies alike–interact.   In this domain, India really hides its light under a bushel. India has won 26 Olympic medals in 23 games, this is fewer than either Kenya or Jamaica–and both of those countries did it in fewer games. Yesterday, in a post about a book by Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian, Imre Kertész, I may have mentioned that Hungarians have won 12 Nobel Prizes–that’s more than India by a large margin.  Now, while India has had its problems, it’s 100 times more populous than Hungary, and has a history of publishing scientific literature in English (an undeniable advantage in this domain.) Depending upon which country Rudyard Kipling is counted toward, India has either eight or nine Nobel Prize wins. Of course, it would be ridiculous to think that India doesn’t have the human capital to excel in such domains.  While I realize it may not be a representative sample, I think almost every Indian I’ve met in person has had an advanced degree and has been smart as a whip. So it’s certainly NOT true that this is a country that undervalues education.  With a third of the world’s population, statistically speaking, they must be home to physical and mental specimens of humanity that are as impressive as any, but somehow either the will or ability to convert that human capital into winners on the global stage is missing.

I do know a little more about India. It’s the birthplace of both Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as a bunch of other religions. As a martial artist, I’ve heard that  many believe most Asian fighting systems could trace their origins back to India. I don’t know how much truth there is to this belief. Martial arts always evolve into optimization with the local conditions and culture, and, therefore, a lack of superficial similarities doesn’t discount the possibility of such a connection. One of the origin myths the Indo-centric martial arts is the story that Bodhidharma brought a fighting style to China that would be the stepping off point for most of the myriad Asian martial arts. The current consensus among historians seems to be that this part of the Bodhidharma story is not true (See: Meir Shahar’s The Shaolin Monastery.) However, that being said, there is an odd but clear connection between this most pacifistic of world religions, Buddhism, and some of the world’s most kick-ass martial arts. Whether one is talking about China’s Shaolin monks or Japan’s legendary warrior-monk Benkei, it’s clear that some exceptional martial arts have developed in tandem with the spread of Buddhism. Of course, even this just creates more questions, namely: Why should a pacifist religion have legendary fighters sprouting up anywhere near it?

I’m looking forward to getting to know more about India than that it’s huge and its Chicken Vindaloo is scrumptious. It’s a country with a long and intriguing history. I want to see its jungles, its deserts, its mountains, and its beaches. I want to visit its temples and learn from its sages. I’m eager to see its vivid colors and smell [at least some] of its pungent scents. At some point I expect to have some awesome posts about my time there, and hopefully some bold pictures as well. In the mean time, please forgive my slacking.