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The Weekly Yarns

Emboldened by the resounding success of The Daily Verse, we have started The Weekly Yarns, where we upload stories, flash fiction, anecdotes and musings of writers. If you have a story to share, please send it to editor@thewiseowl.art

Monday, 15th April 2024

Image by Samuel Austin

A Lesson or two in Mindfulness

by Madhuri Chatterjee

The writer narrates her serene experience at a Zen meditation centre 

The curvaceous road leading up the Palani Hills to Kodaikanal is a road I have travelled a couple of times. Usually the only real reason  to stop along the way has been  to treat a bad bout of car sickness or resurrect a parched throat at Oothu ,the first fruit  shop half way. On rare ocassions, I have stopped to poke fun at cavorters in the ever dwindling  Silver falls. But mostly the two hour journey is an idyllic ride through scenic disorder- hill dogs with boxy faces, langurs on hair pin bends, jackfruit swelling like tumours, deep everlasting shola forests- the kind of thing.

 

Recently, however I was to make a four day stop at a spot for spiritual fulfilment at Bodhi Zendo, a zen meditation centre. I tread cautiously in places which smack of New Age packaging-these rejuvenation  centres and discover-the-strength-of your chakra hubs. Not because I doubt the miraculous nature of these places but as I am sceptical of their long term results.

 

Bodhi Zendo is a wonderfully serene place, smug in the belly  of banana and coffee plantation with acres of woodland paths to explore and a spectacular view of the plains. The main building is set around a central courtyard with Japanese style Rock garden complete with bonsai and bridges. The backyard sports a vegetable garden, lily pond and gazebo-perfect for catching on Lao-Tzu.

 

Bodhi Zendo, isn’t much different except that it  makes us work for our living, which adds the proper dimension of righteousness to the wholesome experience. The day is divided between Zazen(meditation centre) and samu/seva (community work)and meals. My favourite ritual  is watching the sun redden the sky, turning it  to midnight black from my vantage position in the meditation room. This wonder of a room has three walls  of grass and is sound proof, so while there, silence takes on a primeval quality.

 

The point of zen has always been to emphasize the journey rather than the end result. Like the zen story goes-before the study of zen, a river is a river and the mountain is a mountain. After deep study and Zazen, things are no longer the same but after some enchanting point, the river and mountain come back to their place. However fruitfully my attempts at climbing up the enlightenment path goes, one thing is certain: Bodhi Zendo gives me a chance to put on a new pair of shades with which to view the world. And as New Age-y as that sounds, who can resist  a lesson or two in mindfulness?

Monday, 8th April 2024

Maya ceramics.png
Maya ceramics.png

Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image Analysis of Female Sexuality of Late Classic Maya ceramics 

by Petrouchka Alexieva

Analysis is based on Maya Vase Database coding, Kerr 2007, in short MVDB, Kerr 2007                          

The codex-style vases contain hieroglyphic inscriptions arranged in the so-called Primary Standard Sequence (PSS). Such vessels were made during the Late Classic period, somewhere at the turn of the 8th century- 50 to 60 years period.  These vases represent the only preserved record of Maya history and mythology of that epoch.

 

The majority of Maya ceramic art depicts a male dominated society and mythological universe. Within the Maya vase database containing 2105 images, less than one hundred contain female iconography. Only 26 of the vase scenes include nude or semi-nude female figures. I found only 17 depicting erotic scenes. The Moon Goddess was a key figure in connection with female sexuality as shown in the Dresden Codex. With her sexual interaction with other gods, she produced divine lineages continued into the dynasties of Maya rulers.

 

Very few of the codex-style female images can be clearly identified as the Moon Goddess. Therefore, I chose to include in my research the vases of the so called "Snake Lady sequence". The vases K1382, K1813, K4485, K5164, and K5862 show scenes of old male gods, the rulers of the Underworld - God L or God N, sexually involved with a beautiful, bare-breasted young woman. The "Snake Lady" is shown entwined in the coils of the Bearded Serpent - God K. The hieroglyphic texts on these vessels describe the birth of different younger gods, as God Chaak (Mayan God of Agriculture, Fertility, Rain and Lightning). He's also one of the Alphabet Gods known as God B.

 

The identity of the Snake Lady herself is not completely clear, but hieroglyphs interpret her as the "lady who conjures snakes, snake winder". Her headdress is the crescent, associated with the Moon Goddess. Her depiction on 17 codex-style vases is a clear indication of her importance. According to the hieroglyphs on vase K5164, Moon Goddess is a deity herself and mother of some of the younger gods, i.e., the “bundled” characters. Snake Lady represents the Moon Goddess and her sexual interactions with God N, who is coming from a shell, usually associated with the end of the year.

 

Her eroticism and sexuality are quite obvious. Moon Goddess is half naked, which always helps to attract and keep the attention of male deities and mortals. The face expressions of the old male deities depicted on the different vases are very interesting.  The Old God L on the Princeton Vase (K0511) looks very calm, pleased and happy. His face on vase K5862 is full of lust and cunning, his eyes are directed more to the viewer of the vase rather than the object of his desires. The image on K1813 expresses raw emotions of desire. On vase K4485, he has all his attention directed to the nipples of the young lady, almost touching the nipple on the bare breast of the lady in front of him. His face is intent, his toothless jaws are clenched with effort.

 

As I noted, this apparent eroticism is linked to birth events. The vase hieroglyphs describe the birth of gods and rulers obviously associated eroticism with the procreative power of women. In this regard, the size of the Snake Lady’s breast changes on different vases.  Images of the young lady's breast vary from almost non-existent (as on K2067 and K7838) to enormously large (K5862).  

 

The body positions of the Snake Lady are even more illustrative of her eroticism. At the beginning of the sequence, she is upright and reserved. The last figure shows her leaning back with an inviting sensual expression on her face.

 

The Maya themselves were clear about the necessary relationship of procreation and the maintenance of life: without the procreative power of women and the complementary paring of female and male, nothing could be born - neither gods nor humans. Mayas understood the importance of duality of human couples, the necessity of husband and wife to give birth to children and raise a family. The artists paid attention to the specific gender relations of their society and the importance of both female and male individuals.  This concept of procreation is depicted in numerous clay figurines depicting the Old Sun God and his young wife, the Moon Goddess

 

Other religious symbols and practices of the Maya also show their respect to the sexual powers of procreation.

 

The erotic images from the Classic epoch depict female sexuality and its procreative power. In this respect, the amorous clay figurines of the Old Sun God and the young Moon Goddess are especially interesting. Such figurines are more common than the vases. As they can be replicated by molding, it is quite probable that they were much more popular and easier to access than the exquisitely painted, unique, and probably more expensive vases. Such erotic representations of the Moon Goddess in her role of a voluptuous seductress can become the "supernatural models of female power" for the Maya women during the Late Classic.

 

The Moon Goddess played a significant part in preserving the power of Maya women, asserting their sexuality and reproductive force during the colonization period. She helped them keep their religion and cultural identity throughout the years of Spanish conquest and Catholicism.  With her sexuality she changed the perception of the conquered Maya of Christianity. She helped the Maya create their own notion of the new religion preserving their understanding of sexuality, desire, and power. The Moon Goddess as the “mother of gods” merged her image into the Mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and became the most popular religious figure in Central America. Learning more about the “original” Moon Goddess, and possibly some other female deities such as the Dragon Lady, would help contemporary Maya women to better understand the power of their sexuality and gain an appropriate role in the modern male dominated society of Central America.  

Monday, 1st April 2024

Image by Rodion Kutsaiev
Party Balls

Celebration

by Kamalika Majumdar

“Thee, touch my soul with the fire/ That my life becomes auspicious”

This was Jaya's favourite line- a line from Tagore's song, Jaya's lifeline. Whenever she felt blue, she resorted to the bard's soulful numbers. But rarely was she in a bad humour; it was not her nature actually- the effervescent, dynamic woman always doing this thing or the other. She had multiple engagements. She was a state- level swimmer, she was a social activist, she penned stories for children, and she worked as an officer in the Sales Tax Department of the state government. Nonetheless, the last one became a recent past as last month Jaya turned sixty and she happily took the farewell from her colleagues. Her job was a veritable and perpetual botheration for her. She had never really liked it, except for the fact that she met her life-partner Vineet through her job. Vineet came as a client in their department and his files were being dealt by Jaya. Soon they struck a chord because they shared similar likes and thoughts. The only difference they had was their age gap. Jaya was forty-two, single and an avowed celibate so far. Vineet was thirty-seven. So when they decided to choose each other as life-partners, many eyebrows were raised. There was stiff opposition from Vineet's family. But they cared little for any perturbation from outside. So, they were married and lived happily. They lived, they loved, they trekked together, they baked together, they celebrated life together. Life itself was a celebration for Jaya. She loved to live every moment of her life, she loved to drink the nectar called life up to the lees. She despised death. Any tiding of a death turned her off. And so she hated diseases.

****

“Turn on the TV and you find the grim looking newsreader delivering the corona death toll. God! So depressing!” muttered Vineet.

“Depressing indeed”. Jaya quipped.

“I’m planning a month-long expedition to Auden's Col after this lockdown is over. Only you and me.”

“Let’s see.”

“What let’s see? I thought you would offer me this proposal. Life is unbearable for both of us within these four walls. It sucks! We need a long outing yaar.”

Yes, a long vacation... very long.”

“My God! Where the devil this hell of a disease would lead us to? “

“To our end.”

“That is what it is! Just see Jaya, what a shock! Israat Khan is no more! Another prey to Corona. What a loss! Such a talented actor he was! “

“Disease leads to death. Death leads to void. Means disease leads to a void, isn’t it Vineet? A big, big void... a nothingness... a meaninglessness, a total inanity!”

“This deadly disease spares no one- high and low, rich and poor, all are the same in its scale”.

“And it makes life look so miserable, so helpless, so uncared for”.

 

****

“Keep tomorrow’s Sunday free Ajit. I may need you here at my place”.

“Can you come over here tomorrow, Punam?“

“Sumita, I expect you at my flat tomorrow. Don’t miss”.

“Vaisakha, if you want to make tomorrow's Sunday special, come at my nest tomorrow”.

“Jeeva, can you make it at my den tomorrow? Urgent”.

“Miriam, no hang-out elsewhere tomorrow, okay? You're coming at my coop”.

“Sushil, some wonder awaits you tomorrow at my little cubbyhole. Don’t miss”.

“Vineet, there will be an event at our roost tomorrow. I’ve arranged for it. For long we haven’t had one. This one going to be a big surprise for everyone, especially after the monotony of the monstrous lockdown. I'll be the host. Take care of everyone, like the good old wise owl.”

Lockdown period had just ended, and Vineet had to be at his uncle's place in the neighbouring town. His uncle was an octogenarian and was suffering from a poor health for quite a long time. The old man was quite fond of Vineet and sought a visit by him. Vineet was supposed to return on Sunday anyway.

****

Next morning Vineet started early from his uncle's house. He received Jaya's text late at night, called her but her mobile was switched off. Usually, Jaya did not keep her mobile off at any time. She used to make it a point to get it fully charged always. She had myriad social welfare activities. People called her for help, this kind or other. Jaya was always there to stand by people- ailing people, distressed people, destitute. This gave her immense satisfaction. She always said what is this life for if we can’t make others' lives a bit better.

So, turning off her mobile was quite odd. But then Vineet did not find it that odd as Jaya was in the habit of throwing surprises quite often. Little surprises in life make life more appealing, more desirable, she believed. And now she has written that she is planning a big surprise! Must be some gala party she has arranged for, Vineet reflected. She loved to have parties at home with close cronies.

****

“Jaya, open the door. Jaya? Why don’t you open the door? Now this can’t be apart of your surprise, Jaya. Open the door, please.”

This was quite unlike Jaya. She never kept anyone waiting at the door. At the first ring of the doorbell, she would rush to open the door. Even if she was planning for the surprise, she would not keep the door closed for almost half an hour. Vineet was now pressing the doorbell desperately. Inmates of the other flats in their apartment block started gathering at the door. They all called out to Jaya. There was no reply from the other end.

 

Then some boys banged open the door. In the hall, the dining table was set up with a sumptuous spread. The entire hall was decorated with Jaya's favourite flowers. On the table lay some envelops. From inside Jaya's bedroom a soft tune of Jaya's cherished Rabindra sangeet could be heard. Vineet dashed toward their bedroom. Jaya was sleeping. Sleeping peacefully on her beloved mauve bedspread. Vineet went near her and ran his fingers through her thick hair. She did not stir or smile at Vineet. Vineet patted on her cheeks, “Jaya, slept late at night? Come, wake up. Your guests will be here soon. You've planned for a grand celebration, right? Your preparation is fabulous, I've seen it in the hall. But it’s time to ready yourself Jaya. Get up babe”.

Jaya stayed put. Vineet felt flustered. At that time Seema, their neighbour called Vineet.

“Vineet, take these envelopes. Each contains a note for you. Two are for police. In one she has written that she is leaving us on her own will. In another she has put all her identity documents. Sachdev has informed the police.”

“What was wrong with her Vineet? Why did she take her own life? She has written she preferred death by self-will. But she looked so happy with life!” Nikhilesh sounded baffled.

Vineet was at his wit's end. In a trance he took up the letters meant for him. Notes of instructions.

“You must sleep in our bedroom even after I leave. Initially ask some relative to stay with you, but slowly you wil get used to living without me”.

“From next month onwards increase the cook's salary”.

“The kitchen needs a new sink. Call the plumber at your earliest”.

“Don’t forget the Auden's Col expedition. Take Sudip along with you. He was so eager to join”.

There was a fatter envelope. Vineet's numb fingers opened the flap of the envelope and out came a long note-

“They say life, death and marriage are pre-destined. I didn’t have any role in my birth. I've married out of my own choice. Now this is my wish that I would script my own death. Nobody knows, not even you Vineet, that this has been my long-cherished dream to determine my own end. I'm romantic about it. I've always loved my life passionately. I don’t want any disease, or any mishap get the better of my life. I'm 60 now. With age, come complications. Already I’ve so many restrictions prescribed by the doctor. So many do’s and don’ts. They constrict life, take the zest out of the spice of life. As I would grow older, these constraints would handicap my freewheeling spirit, I daresay. I hate living like this- a vegetable life. It is impossible for me to lie sick on my deathbed and pray for death day and night. No, not my type. As a mortal, I have to die some day or other. But... but I won’t let any disease or any accident manipulate my death. I've always lived life on my own terms. I will hold hands with my death on my own terms as well.

But I am ending my life’s journey with some dissatisfaction. I could not plant a single concrete brick of hope for a brighter, a discrimination-free world for our future generations. We're still living in a world which is slowly moving towards an all-devouring darkness... a world blighted with ennui. Vineet, you must not quit. You should carry on my incomplete work. I hand over my baton to you. One day there must be a brighter sun at the end of the tunnel.

Vineet, you may be cross with me. You may call me selfish. I am leaving you alone. But I could not bear to see you suffering the burden of caring for me in my old age nor could I bear to see you down with some fatal disease some day. I'm leaving this world seeing my dear ones hale and hearty- that’s enough for me.

You've showered so much love on me. You've been my beacon in the sea of life. Still this heart longs for more. To quote Tagore, “My desires are not all fulfilled. I wish to be with you in my next life”.

Vineet was looking vacantly at the empty vials of sleeping pills tucked inside the envelope. For a moment he felt like rushing out of the house and ending his own life in an accident or something. But no. He looked at the pristine banyan tree by the lake outside their apartment. Kept looking at it. How old must the tree be? Hundred? Two hundred? Still standing tall, bearing the buffets of weather. Endurance. That is the celebration of life. He will not quit like Jaya. He will live. He will live to celebrate life with thousand others for whom life has become dull, grey or meaningless. From now on, he will live to bring sunshine to the lives of the depressed and the droop-spirited souls.

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