Thursday, March 15, 2012

Green Pills, Pink Crystals and While Canvas Shoe Dreams

Last night I popped a green pill that I should not have. I knew that pills do horrible things to me. But my throat was hurting mad and I thought why not. And that’s not the only why. It’s also true that I had checked on the net and it said Bormhexine makes you dizzy and hallucinate. I must say I gave in to temptation, but a lesson that I never learn is, drugs are not ice creams. They are mind fucks. And just like fucks, although it can be really nice sometimes (and this is what tempts you all the time) sometimes it can go horribly wrong. I pay my price of course. By dreaming of people in white canvas shoes, carrying multi-coloured plastic sacks and boarding a train to go to America.

Earlier in the day, we had gone to visit an organisation that facilitates safe migration. The place is called refugee processing centre. As we waited for the official to arrive to show us around, I see people strewn about. Some lying on hammocks, children playing around and some sitting around waiting. Some of them are behind the fence. Some outside, near to us. Some are peeping at us from their first floor window. They wear puans around their waist, have flat nose and slit eyes and tanakha on their faces. They remind me of home. I look around and see the vehicles parked in the parking lot. I recognise the ones that are used to carry the refugees. They look like prison vans with windows. The sitting arrangement is in two singular files along the windows. The door is at the back which can be latched from outside. I think - why they can’t have a normal bus? The one that has two doors on the side and that has rows or two or three seats? I tell myself, I am too much of a cynic. Or maybe a namby-pamby frooty loop. Will I be happy if the bus was coloured pink and flowery? But it was already a bright blue.

The very camp official arrives. He apologises for being late. He had to organize a funeral he says laughing. I am desperately looking for a laugh too. My throat hurts and it is bloody hot and sunny. I need medicine and laughter is the… (ok, I promise some they I will stop myself from using these over used stock phrases. But the temptation of repeatedly irritating choosey readers is too much to resist). I find none in his funeral description. It seems one of the refugees from the camp and he needs to find a spot to burry and a pastor to carry the rituals. He says all of this laughing. Like it is so funny he bends down every sentence.

Our tour of the processing centre begins. This is the ‘in processing centre’. This is where the refugees, who have been registered, come for their medical and interviews. They stay at the processing centre for 2-4 days and then they go back to the camp. At the camp they wait to hear from the host country. When the host country accepts, they are brought to the out processing centre. From there they depart to the host country. The place smells sterile. The people about have expressionless faces. The camp cannot stop laughing.

We proceed to the ‘out processing centre’. We are told we are lucky because we are getting to see the last group of refugees for this half of the year. Lucky?? My throat hurts, the sun is too much, I was born in a country whose money is 45 to a dollar, the government wants to build dams on my rivers and roads and railways which will turn more and more people into refugees. I rarely feel lucky!

The out processing centre reminds me of a halal chicken factory I saw once. A maulbi stands at the end of the conveyor belt which brings the live chicken into the slaughtering machine. As the chickens go into the machine one by one the maulbi keeps on repeating his prayers that makes the meat halal. And then you are very particular when you go to a restaurant and ask – is your meat halal?

The out processing centre looks like a factory building. I am told, it was made to be a factory building. It is being used as a refugee processing centre. A group of people are busy getting colourful plastic bags into a waiting bus. The bags are called what they call ‘Zim Bags’ in South Africa because they were seen first being used by Zimbabwen refugees. They should be called refugee bags because refugees from all over the world use them but that would be too impolite and some non-refugees use them too. The first thing I notice is that they are all wearing the same white canvas shoes. Then I notice that they are wearing pants and shirts and jackets and caps. Then I notice that they look cleaner and healthier than the people we met at the in processing centre which is about 300 metres away. ‘You can go and take photo with them. Also say bye bye to them. They are going to America.’ - We are told. I sit down on a chair. I am not feeling good at all. My throat hurts and it is too hot. From the corner of my eye, I see the white canvas shoes moving.

The camp has a partner now who takes us to the medical centre. Someone passes out. As she is carried away hurriedly to the centre, I have an incredible urge to join her. But my bad luck extends to my acting skills as well. So I take no chance. The medical centre smells strongly of disinfectant. They have quarantine room we are informed. There are posters that say do not chew betel nut. I am dying to have one as soon as I read the poster.

We move to the cultural demonstration centre. There are four or five small demo houses there. They have shoe racks, kitchens and toilets. The refugees learn how to use these things so that they do not have much problem when they reach America. It is perhaps a very realistic model too, considering how small their living arrangements will be.

From the centre we go to see the refugee camp. Camps where registered, unregistered, processed, unprocessed refugees live. We are told we can take photos from the road. But we cannot interact with anyone. They remind of villages back home. Just that they are packed too close to each other. Captivity requires controllable physical space. At the camp I wonder, if we can go to see how refugees live, why are the refugees not taken to real homes to show how people use stove and flush? Why demo units for them?

By now the sun has gotten into my head. The pain in the neck is unbearable too. I require medication and quick. I am taken to a pharmacy where a teenage girl gives me two strips of pills and some lozenge. I don’t feel assured. She looks too young and too quick. I am fearful of western medicine too. Especially of the ones that can be bought legally over the counter. I skip the pills and suck on the lozenge feeling a complete sucker.

At night I read up the medicine. I was right for not taking them. The doses prescribed by the quick teenager are far higher than the doses recommended by the pharma company. For once I trust a company more than a human being. But then, if the human being is a teenager, your choice is not so difficult. Talking of teenagers, there is one hidden inside me for sure. For as soon I read that one of the prescribed drug is used for entertainment, the teenager gets fidgety. It says it can cause dizziness and hallucination. I decide to pop one immediately. To the adult me I tell, it is because the throat hurts so much. To the teenager I do a high five.

As I start hallucinating, I know I have made a classic teenage mistake again. To do drugs, you must be careful of the space, people and frame of mind you are in. And a refugee processing centre is not exactly Lumbini jungle on a full moon night.

As I toss and turn about my bed, I see rows and rows of white canvas shoes. Moving, running, sometimes falling down. I reach home and feel the soothing presence of my mother, her face has tanakha and the houses are all too close to each other. Someone turns a shower on and I see a poster that says ‘Refugee, Immigrant, Labour’. I worry about the people who are leaving on a train. Do they know how far they are going? What kind of a life they will have? If they will ever be able to come back home? Or are they writing the beginning of another history? The history of another world, where there will be no boundaries, so there will be no refugees, no illegal immigrant. I remind myself never to do over the counter hallucinogenic ever again. They don’t make them as good as the pink crystals. At least the pick crystals would have added colours to the white canvas shoes. I need to sleep. I need to forget.

Every dream has a connection to something real you have seen. Every real you have seen has a connected emotion. These emotions create dreams. Sometimes they are real, sometimes imaginary and absurd.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Darma-Karma Lucky Draw


Yesterday I was sitting under a tree at the Darma centre. It was so tranquil. Well, at least for some time. There I was, lying down, reading, sitting up, drawing, in beautiful harmony with the old trees and the still pond. A cool breeze made the hot afternoon feel like a tiger balm. You know what I mean? When it is warm and soothing? Birds were singing in the trees. The cuckoo kept on going coo-coo and I wondered if it has flown from home or is going to go home for Bihu. I mean overall it was like a very meditative scene. And at the Darma centre too.

But alas! Like Budhdha says (or does he really?) happiness like other emotions in life are momentary. What he did not say, I think, is that the moments can travel at break-neck speed in some and particularly urban settings. Hardly had I finished drawing the trunk of the tree that a monk started preaching on the mike. I admit he was no where near shouting (like the hindu and muslim bastards when they get their hands around a mike) and he sounded like he was saying meditative things. All in Thai. I swear I did not mind this meditative drone added to my background at all. But somehow my mind would try to pay attention to the words. I also thought maybe I will be able to learn high Thai from listening to preaching. Fat chance! At some point I thought I heard him distinctly saying the words – ‘lucky draw’. And things went only downhill from there. In a slow deteriorating order.

Then came the cleaning girls. No, it is not their fault. Thai people are really clean. Why only the other day in our class the person in charge of running things has to make an announcement that people must take showers! Well, this is another story. But I am coming to that later. So the Thai people are really clean. This huge city of Bangkok must have more than a million eateries. A whole lot of them on the street. But there is no garbage thrown around. Somehow, living in India, it is almost like an implausible dream. Every Sunday, the university gets cleaned. They sweep the pavements, clean the water bodies, water the plants and do all kinds of things to shine the campus weekly. While walking to the Darma Centre I saw them getting up on the shade over the pavement (yes, they have that too) to clean the leaves off the roof! So it was only a matter of moments that they would come to clean the exact spot where I was sitting. It was a shady sport between 2 old trees. Naturally under the trees there were leaves. They made a nice soft bed to spread my sleeping bag on. But it is Sunday and the trees need cleaning too. So came the cleaning girls, smiled at me and politely shifted my belongings one by one to an already cleaned corner. Since my interest on the Budhdhist discourse in Thai had increased intensely after hearing the words ‘lucky draw’, the dislodging was of some irritation. I did not want to miss a word of the discourse least I missed an opportunity to win some lucky draw. But my latest philosophical enlightenment is that not many people care about what I want or not want. Sigh!

So I settled on the other side of under-the-tree and tried not to lament my lost chance at a lucky draw. I told myself cleaning is good, for the person sitting next to you in a closed van and for your soul. I started reading the book on Thai culture and society with hope that I will learn more about taking showers, using Thai toilets and winning lucky draws when I noticed a neighbour. I raised my eyes to have a look at him and down dismantled all my prejudices about Thais being clean people with all my belief in that classroom instructor of ours. For I could smell the alcohol breathe mixed with sweat from a distance of 5 meters. It also bothered me that suddenly I had company. The presence of this man in my life was like a quickie of learning and de-learning. Although he dismantled my notion of Thai cleanliness, he did reconfirm my view that Thais are extremely polite people. He smiled at me, did a wai (a namaskar in Thai) and started talking to me in Thai. I had a feeling he was somehow concerned about my sitting alone under the tree. (This is another one of my latest philosophical grasp that random people seem to be concerned about me. But this too is another story. I save it for later). As I tried to explain to him that I do not speak Thai and I do not want to be disturbed, slowly, I realised that my moments of happiness, tranquillity and meditation for the day are over.

But then, Budhdha has many stories and none of them linear. When I was trying to explain to him that he must not disturb me in my creative pursuit of pretending to be creative, one of the cleaning girls came to my rescue. She sat 5 meters away from both me and the man forming a triangle. The man now naturally started talking to her. I started preparing for my departure. But the man frantically said something to the girl and walked away fast. The girl told me to wait. Thoroughly confused by now and annoyed that I am unable to understand Thai after being here for whole of 2 weeks, I slowed down my process of packing my numerous unBudhdhist belongings. In a few minutes, the man returned with two cool drinks in his hand. He offered one to me and the other to the girl. She took hers and looked at me. I accepted mine and took a long drag at the straw. Just as the liquid passed by thirsty throat, I remembered a word of warning from some random free advisers who are generally concerned about me – do not accept food or drink from strangers. I looked around me, the Darma Centre stood in its calmness, the old trees were enjoying the cool breeze, the birds were playing next to me by the pond, children were cycling around, groups of people had come and sat around, the sun was about to set, the evening light is filtering through the clouds to the leaves. But my chains from Babylon drag me back, into the world of suspicion and fear, of warning and advice, of fleeting moments of confusion. I wonder what the Budhdha said about that. Is this my Karma?