Sunday, November 30, 2008


--from Suketu Mehta in today's New York Times, in which he also says:

In other cities, if there’s an explosion, people run away from it. In Mumbai, people run toward it — to help.....

In the Bombay I grew up in, your religion was a personal eccentricity, like a hairstyle. In my school, you were denominated by which cricketer or Bollywood star you worshiped, not which prophet. In today’s Mumbai, things have changed. Hindu and Muslim demagogues want the mobs to come out again in the streets, and slaughter one another in the name of God. They want India and Pakistan to go to war. They want Indian Muslims to be expelled. They want India to get out of Kashmir. They want mosques torn down. They want temples bombed.....

In 1993, Hindu mobs burned people alive in the streets — for the crime of being Muslim in Mumbai. Now these young Muslim men murdered people in front of their families — for the crime of visiting Mumbai. They attacked the luxury businessmen’s hotels. They attacked the open-air Cafe Leopold, where backpackers of the world refresh themselves with cheap beer out of three-foot-high towers before heading out into India. Their drunken revelry, their shameless flirting, must have offended the righteous believers in the jihad. They attacked the train station everyone calls V.T., the terminus for runaways and dreamers from all across India. And in the attack on the Chabad house, for the first time ever, it became dangerous to be Jewish in India.

The terrorists’ message was clear: Stay away from Mumbai or you will get killed. Cricket matches with visiting English and Australian teams have been shelved. Japanese and Western companies have closed their Mumbai offices and prohibited their employees from visiting the city. Tour groups are canceling long-planned trips.

But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever....

Read the rest of Suketu's op-ed piece here.

Read Amitabh Bachchan's blog post about the attack here.


*It's interesting that Suketu is now calling it Mumbai (not Bombay) - a name that, according his book, was pushed by Hindu hard-liners - although on second thought it's probably just correct New York Times style/usage.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


The great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's nephew / protégé / disciple and handpicked successor will perform at the Gateway Theater this Friday at 8:30.

Bindi and I caught Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and his party (band) at the Mystical Journey concert in March, and it was transformational.

He is known for Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis, or mystical Muslims. The singing puts the performers into a trance, and they feel that they are one with God - which is also the goal of all yogis.

It is a type of bhakti yoga - the yoga of devotion.

They are also journeyman musicians, singing ghazals and ballads to movie audiences.

And occasionally they collaborate with Western musicians like Eddie Vedder, as in this Dead Man Walking concert for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation. Watch Rahat steal the show four minutes in.

This video may also help you feel better about the tragic events in Mumbai.

If anyone wants to go to the concert, please call or e-mail!

Details here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


At least 100 people have died so far in last night's attacks in South Bombay, where gunmen wielding arms and grenades attacked several sites, including a police station, a movie theatre, an airport, hospitals, a dockyard, two train stations and two luxury hotels. As I write this they're still holding hostages at the hotels and a hospital.

Apparently they're targeting Britons and Americans.

They also killed India's top terrorism official.

The famous Taj Hotel is in flames.

This AP report (which we don't put much stock in, since it mistakenly states that there has been very little Hindu-Muslim violence in India since independence in 1947. Apparently they've not heard of the million people who died in the bloodbath called Partition and the many smaller flareups since):

A British restaurant-goer at the Oberoi told Sky News television that the attackers were singling out Britons and Americans.

Alex Chamberlain said a gunman, a young man of 22 or 23, ushered 30 or 40 people from the restaurant into a stairway and ordered everyone to put up their hands.

"They were talking about British and Americans specifically. There was an Italian guy, who, you know, they said: 'Where are you from?" and he said he's from Italy and they said 'fine' and they left him alone. And I thought: 'Fine, they're going to shoot me if they ask me anything — and thank God they didn't," he said.

Apparently this group has claimed responsibility.

Let's pray that a backlash reaction to such violence is avoided (ie; mobs form and kill innocent people in retaliation).

For the latest, go here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

OUT IN 815

On Saturday I led a Dharma Mittra workshop at a yoga studio in Sycamore.

The students were lovely.

So was the drive out to the 815 area code.

Gas was cheaper than I've seen it in eons.

So afterwards I drove out to see Mr. and Mrs. Dreyfus.

On the way I passed a place that sold raw, local honey.

I'm crazy about the local honey; I try to eat some every day (either in the morning hot water with lemon or on peanut butter Ezekiel toast). It's supposed to help control pollen allergies. But usually I have to buy it at the Food Whole - which used to get it from a local fellow who stocked the shelves with his own honey. It was nice to speak to him about his bees. But they dropped his brand about a year ago. All they have now is Some Honey from somewhere in Wisconsin. So it was a treat to buy honey that was truly local, from the beekeeper himself.

I also adore hand-painted signs. So when I saw this, I immediately turned around and pulled into the driveway.

After parking, I went up to the fridge in front of the barn, and opened the door.

Inside was a another sign, telling me to knock on the back door of the farmhouse.

I walked over.

There were kittens sunning themselves on the porch.

I was petting them when the man opened the door.

I was so excited about the honey.

"I was driving by and saw the sign," I said. "I'm from Chicago--..."

"I'm sorry," said the man, without missing a beat.

At that I wanted to hug him.

I asked him where the bees were, and he pointed out back to some tall, round, white structures.

"They're hibernating now," he said.

I took home a lot of honey that day.

No goats or chickens or brown eggs, though.

No kittens, either.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Very few things in the world can elicit a belly laugh from me.

This is one of them.

To enjoy it properly you must:

1. Love this music

2. Read the "translation."



Ferengi = foreigner (as in, westerner or White Devil)

From Wikipedia:
'"Ferengi" and similar terms are Arabic names for European traders, or for Westerners in general. Both the Arabic word and the name are similarly pronounced [fɛˈrɪŋɡi]. The name is likely derived from the Arabic word faranj or ifranj, "Franks", or possibly the Persian word farangi, meaning "foreigner". In Ethiopia, ferenj or ferenji has the same meaning. The Greeks sometimes use fra[n]gkoi (φράγκοι) as a mild slur against western Europeans. The term was used as a partially derogatory term in India to denote the British.'


Here's the song with the "real" lyrics:

Here's the "Caucasian-ish" version:

And the equally wrong "U.S." version:

Plus the Teletubbies version:

To learn to bhangra dance, watch this. Warning: it's much harder than it looks:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


For years we've been hearing about Somalian pirates hijacking vessels traveling around the Horn of Africa.

(Yes, this is happening now, in the 2000's).

The ship-seizing has only increased over the years, and an estimated $100 million has already been paid in ransoms for seized goods and crew this year.

Many countries (not to mention NATO) have sent ships to police these busy shipping lanes - which are known as the world's most dangerous waters.

But the ships have had no effect on the pirates, who keep taking all the booty they want.

Over the weekend, pirates seized a Saudi oil supertanker that is now being held for ransom in Somalia

Soon after, pirates hijacked a Greek ship and a Thai fishing boat.

The news has been all bad - until Tuesday night.

That's when an Indian warship, the INS Tabar, sank a pirate ship in the Gulf of Aden and chased away two others.*

An Indian ship! Not an E.U. ship or a NATO ship or a US ship.

Apparently the Russian-built INS Tabar also freed a Saudi chemical tanker last week.

जय िंहद !


*The idea of Ahimsa or non-harming is important for yogis to follow. But warriors have another dharma (duty). According to the Bhagavad Gita it is extremely important to follow one's dharma. For example, if you are a warrior and the war is just, you must go to battle and not worry about the outcome (since it's not in your hands).

** The video features some of India's greatest performers and athletes, from a variety of religious, ethnic and musical traditions - including Yesudas, Pandit Jasraj, Zakir Hussein, Javed Akhtar, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, Shankar Mahadevan, and Jagjit Singh.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


HalfPint and I went to see Slumdog Millionaire yesterday.

The fast-paced film, about a poor Muslim boy who grows up in Bombay's slums and winds up on the Indian game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, has everything - love, violence, music, dance, betrayal, and a hopeful message. It also features a fabulous score by famed Tamil composer A.R. Rahman.

The film is populated with characters who could have come straight out of Suketu Mehta's 2005 book Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. There were gangs of white-wearing hardline Hindu thugs, Bombay gangsters, crooked police inspector-cum-torturers, and pimps whose stable consists solely of beggar children.

The plot was gripping.

I recognized the lead actor, Dev. Patel, because he's on the only TV show I watch with any regularlity - the British TV series Skins. Plus there were virtual appearances by India's most famous actor, Amitabh Bachchan - who used to host the game show (and whose blog is one of my favorites).

Among other treats, there's a scene where the gangsters dance to a song from the gangster movie Don, plus there's a big Bollywood dance production during the credits. And many scenes were set in one of my favorite places in the world - the Indian railway.

The film also dealt with issues straight out of the Bhagavad Gita, such as the notion of fate, and the fact that we are not the doer.

Near the end, the smarmy game show host (played by a spot-on Anil Kapoor) suggested that the young protagonist's apparent interest in women and money would be his downfall.

The line is straight from the teachings of the great yogi Sri Ramakrishna, who always told his devotees that "women" and "gold" (lust and greed) are the greatest obstacles to spiritual development (because they create attachment to the material world).

Go see the film.

Or at least see the trailer:

Friday, November 14, 2008


My journalism mentor, former Sun-Times TV/radio columnist Robert Feder, did his first TV appearance EVER tonight on WTTW-Channel 11's "Friday Night."

Despite many offers, not once during his 28 years critiquing local media for the Chicago Sun-Times did he appear on TV or radio. A journalist with actual integrity, he considered it a conflict of interest to appear on the media he was paid to cover. As he put it in tonight's interview, it would be akin to Sun-Times drama critic Hedy Weiss getting onstage to perform in a play - and then critiquing it.

Rob never accepted gifts or a single free meal - unheard of for a reporter in this town.

And although interviewer John Calloway tried to goad him into criticizing his contemporaries for taking freebies and appearing on the air, Rob wasn't having it. He simply said that he made the choices that were appropriate for him.

He came off as articulate, kind, charming, humble, honest, forthright, funny, and fearless, not to mention full of fortitude and steeped in sattva - which are all the qualities of a great yogi.

How fortunate I've been to be guided by him.

You can hear the entire interview here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The colonic wasn't that bad.

For starters, the colonic hydrotherapist had pleasant bedside manner. He had clear, shiny eyes and a kind demeanor. Plus his voice had the same timbre and cadence as the filmmaker I used to work for, so he seemed familiar.

And since he's studying to be a nutritionist, he knew all about input as well as output.

The Eternal Om soundtrack helped, too.

"I know all the words," I joked.

First, I used the toilet.

Then we talked about why I was there (constipation and consuming convenience food and meat for two decades before going veg in 1987) as well as what to expect (the feeling of having to poop, which I was to "just feel" and not give in to).

I was told to disrobe from the waist down, although my striped knee socks could stay.

Then I got on my back, under a towel, and called him in.

He explained everything as it happened. I turned on my side, and he inserted the tube into the sphincta. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be, but not too awful.

Then I returned to my back, with the knees propped up, and he talked while removing the gas.

He was quite funny, and I laughed several times.

Then he started letting in the water.

This was not pleasant - to feel the bowels fill with water, and to have the urgent need to fart and repress it.

After a short period, he started letting out the water and fecal matter - which was a relief.

Then more water came in - unpleasant again - and then he let it out.

In the beginning, there was a lot of yellow bile leaving the body.

"Does this mean I'll become a nicer person?" I asked.

It's possible, he said.

Each time the water came in, it went up a little bit higher in the abdomen.

Occasionally, he would massage the belly.

The entire procedure lasted about 45 minutes.

The worst part was feeling the blockages when the water was going in. It was somewhat emotional, and also reminded me of the gastric distress I experience after eating at a certain raw food restaurant. But then the water would move on, and it would be OK.

It was pleasant to hear him exclaim when a block was removed - and also to learn that I have correct mula bandha.

It was also pleasant to hear that the colon is in good shape due to proper diet; the gentleman recommended that I come for three appointments spaced two weeks apart, rather than six in six weeks.

And it was actually *fun* watching the fast-moving conga line of matter flowing through the tube. Rather festive, to be honest.

Afterwords he had me sit on the toilet, to get rid of any remaining water.

When I walked out, I felt light. The vision was clear. There was more energy and less urge to procrastinate.

I feel like I left something behind....

Which is a very good feeling indeed.


Photo shows this morning's rather spectacular sunrise, as viewed from Lake Shore Drive. (On the way home seven hours later, there was a rather spectacular car fire).

Sunday, November 09, 2008


After an impressive start, The Great Cleanse of '08 (in which the Author gets rid of Things she doesn't need) slowed down til it nearly came to a complete halt.

That is, until Friday - when Jammu and Baby Sachi came to the rescue.

Jammu brought big, thick, black contractor's bags with her - massive plastic bags that look like garbage bags but don't break. "Black is good, because you can't look at the things you're getting rid of, and change your mind," she said.

After a mediocre Indian meal prepared by me, Jammu inspired me to go through things while Sachi sat in Upavisa Konasana on the cotton yoga mat and played with a stuffed toy called Neal (from the movie Neal 'n' Nikki).

We started by going through books. There are 18 shelves of books in the apartment. We slogged through three tiers of writing books, critically acclaimed 20th century novels and hipster literature (think Patti Smith, bell hooks, Lydia Lunch, Lester Bangs, et al)

Jammu helped me decide which ones to keep and which ones to toss. We wore dust masks, since they were so dusty and musty. The books were like dear old friends that represented different parts of the past - which made the mind resistant and indecisive.

Yet Jammu was infinitely patient.

And she knew which ones were worth money.

She told me to bring the massive box and smaller box of discards to Myopic Books, and try to sell them. This was a new idea for me; usually I just leave things at The Ark thrift store.

Then we started going through the jacket and coat collection.

She had me try on each and every one, and gave me her honest opinion.

Again, she knew which ones were worth money.

"Take those to the resale shops on Milwaukee Avenue," near Myopic Books, she said. "Whatever's left you can bring to the Brown Elephant" (a nearby thrift store).

We also dealt with the yoga mat collection (I got rid of the one the cat had secretly been using as a scratching post), the phone collection (shedding all but the one Dreyfus can sell on eBay) and Gorgeous George, a giant stuffed minkey that had belonged to my mother.

We ended up with two contractor's bags full of jackets, phones and other items.

Later, I went through a few more areas, and added biking shoes, never-worn Gore-Tex hiking boots and other items from the discard pile in the hall closet.

They made a large pile, and I wanted them out of the house ASAP.

* * *

Saturday was the first really cold, sleety day this year. Chicagoans take awhile to adjust to weather changes, and tend to stay inside until they do. So when I learned that I'd been bumped from my 10:15 massage appointment, I thought "Today's the day." I filled the car with stuff and drove to Wicker Park.

I found parking across from Myopic Books - a rare thing indeed - and brought in my boxes of tomes.

The handsome young gent behind the counter wanted many of the books, and I ended up with $65 ($20 of which was immediately blown on three new books: Meditation for Dummies, David Frawley's Arise Arjuna and Gita Mehta's Karma Kola). I decided to hold on to a rare Billy Childish book worth $50 or more.

I put the remaining books in the car, and dragged the giant Santa bag of jackets and whatnot to three thrift stores.

(Note to single women: the handsome hipster boys can be found near North/Milwaukee/Damen on Saturdays around 12PM)

Jammu was right; capes are in this year. A black cape from college and my mother's striped winter scarf fetched $10.50 in store credit at Crossroads, where I picked up a long-sleeved teal t-shirt for just $5.

As Jammu had predicted, Lenny & Me took the 1970's green leather jacket (they gave me $14 - not bad, considering that I paid $15 for it 15 years ago and had gotten a lot of use out of it - or a quarter of what they'd sell it for).

I made $27.48 at Buffalo Exchange, which took the Gore-Tex hiking boots and four jackets (including a rarely-worn wax-covered rain jacket from Scotland and a mod black patent pleather jacket purchased at a thrift store in Wisconsin for $2.50).

Since The Ark is closed on Saturdays and I have issues with the Brown Elephant (whose employees once CHASED ME DOWN THE STREET with my stuff and forced me to take it back), I packed the remaining items in the car and drove them to the Salvation Army on Clybourn. The gentlemen there actually helped me unload the car.

Then I went home and did some reflecting.

Usually, after going into stores, I feel tired.

But this time, I felt more energized than I have in months.

I felt engaged, and elated - like correct dharma was being fulfilled.

Then I counted the money: $88.77, plus three books and a new shirt.

Not bad for two hours of work.

And it's more than enough to cover tomorrow's colonic, when the Cleanse of '08 continues....

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Barack Obama has wasted no time, having already appointed a Chief of Staff - my US House Rep., Rahm Emanuel*.

But the City of Chicago has yet to remove the no-parking-during-the-rally signs from downtown streets.

Business as usual in the City that Works.


*Rahm is a Daley Machine-backed Democrat who just won another term on Tuesday. Names being bandied about for an upcoming special election to fill his seat are all entrenched Dems (Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley, Ilinois Sen. John Cullerton, Illinois Rep. John Fritchey, Cook County Commissioner Forest Claypool and newly-elected State Rep. Deborah Mell, who is Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sister-in-law and the daughter of powerful Chicago Alderman Richard Mell.). Plus the governor must appoint someone to fill Barack's Senate seat; the short list includes more usual suspects: Democratic Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr., Luis Gutierrez, Danny Davis and Jan Schakowsky, as well as Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Photo snapped today on Chicago Avenue near LaSalle Street

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


That's the question of the day here in Chicago, where the mood is jovial.

People actually seem happy. They even seem to like each other.

There seems to be a feeling of purpose and shared identity.

That's a rare thing in this tamastic, segregated city that keeps voting for the same thuggish mayor over and over and over again.

The last time I noticed this collective feeling of joy was when the Bears were in the Superbowl.

Before that, it was when Harold Washington was mayor....

May it last past today.....


*Last night ABC News kept showing (and interviewing) the crowd in New York City's Times Square rather than at Chicago's Grant Park. What, pray tell, were they thinking? For once, NYC was not the center of the world - Chicago was - and they completely missed the boat.

Last night E. called Blet's house at 8PM to ask if he wanted to go down to Grant Park with her. Her husband, a McCain supporter, did not want to go. "Why don't you call someone who doesn't have kids?" Blet suggested.

Yesterday many businesses near Grant Park were closed, including Columbia College. I know this because an adjunct professor and avid ashtangi had the night off and came to class. Today, someone in the banking sector said that her downtown company sent everyone home at 3PM. The CTA trains going both directions were packed to the gills; with people fleeing downtown, and those coming in for the rally. She said there was a strange tension in the air, and that her company had sent people home in case there was trouble. A race riot? I asked. Impossible! People will be dancing with joy. No, she said. They were worried that "the other side" would cause trouble. You mean the Republicans? I asked. Impossible!. I couldn't see it; not unless they were conducting abortions and same-sex marriages at the rally. Besides, Republicans want to protect property, not destroy it. No, not them, she said; they were worried about skinheads and other white supremacists. Oh.


Top photo of Marina City snapped today, at the corner of Wabash and Wacker.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


For those of you who wanted to know if I'm at Grant Park tonight the answer is no - I was at Blet's, watching the returns. And now I'm at home, typing.

Voting was easy today: no line. Plus there were very few signs outside. And there were only four intimidating Daley Machine precinct workers trying to hustle up votes outside. This year they were thinner, younger and fewer than usual. Change is indeed in the air.

And I bypassed them all by riding the bicycle to the high school. By the time I locked it up, I was within the safety zone that they could not penetrate.

Afterwords, on the way to collect a free cup of coffee for voting, I rode past a local bar - which also serves as a polling place.

Only in Chicago...

Monday, November 03, 2008


On Friday, which was unseasonably warm, I met friends for a South Indian lunch of thali, vada and uttapam at Udupi Palace on Devon Avenue. Then I met Kirti for our annual trip to shop for Lakshmi coins. During Diwali, the Hindu new year, it is auspicious to purchase these coins and pray to the goddess Lakshmi.

Only a few places had gold coins this year, which didn't bother me since I can only afford silver (the goddess definitely smiled upon me over the past year, but Dharma's teacher training and the trip to Mysore drained the coffers). It was fun to go from shop to shop and compare prices and try the prasad (blessed sweets) on offer.

After having a tender coconut, I brought an old printer/scanner to the house of a friend who lives just a block away. After enjoying some sweets, we strolled on Devon Avenue. By now the trick-or-treaters were out in full force, and it was delightful to watch. Each shop had a huge pile of candy to give out, and the kids were taking full advantage of their generosity and close proximity to each other (as were roving gangs of older kids in hoodies). We ended up having channa batura and another snack dish at Uru-Swati. The channa batura was nearly as good as at Sandeep restaurant in Tirumala, where we ate our first meal after the overnight train ride and looong queue for Balaji seva tickets just two months ago.

Saturday was my first day off in two weeks, and I had a long overdue massage - which will hopefully make the spine move the next time I see the chiro. I spent the remainder of the day recovering from said massage (when choosing a therapist, don't ask the manager to give you "the most sadistic one" and then ask said therapist to "attack the knots" unless you really mean it - which I did).

On Sunday I sold one of the six bikes in the collection, which includes three vintage Schwinns and a 1970s Cinelli. I sold the Monster Fat (a collector's item from the early 90s) to the person who'd talked me into buying it 17 years ago. I must say, it is not easy to get rid of things - even if it's going to a good home. Not easy at all.

But I'll keep doing it, because it has to be done.


Top photo was taken at noon today, at Lincoln/Belmont/Ashland.