Watching Hine

Watching was a lightning bolt. Not a very impressive one, to be sure, and unlikely to ever reach the sky-splitting-cloud-smacking-treetop-crackling power of some of the other lightning bolts in the herd. But Watching was happy. Because late at noon, when no one was around, and the moisture was just right, woh (yes yes, lightning bolts have the same genders as sunsets) could sometimes light up the sky just about enough for one to see the stars blink. And that, as Nilanjana proceeded to tell me, happened after woh met Wheelchair Rocket, a.k.a Speedling, a.k.a Hine.

Now Hine wasn’t quite like the other kids at school, and spent most of his time in a wheelchair. (Why, you ask? Well...why do you have brown eyes? And black hair? Yep! The same sorta thing!) But Hine did, like all of us, sometimes feel very alone. And when he did, he would wait to get home, roll his chair out onto the deck, between the chives and the watering can, lean back and look up at the sky. That was his favourite place in all the world, that bit of sky between the squat white building on the right and the lanky crane on the left. It was a beautiful patch, sometimes a deep clear blue, sometimes softly fringed by wisps of cloud, and sometimes a solid pale grey with darker patches that looked like rain. And that was just in the day. At night, the patch would be lit up, with the yellow lights from the streets and the buildings making it fuzzy around the edges. But no matter how much light there was, there was always, right at the centre, a deep dark black sky. And sometimes, there were stars. When he wasn’t feeling alone, though, Hine was Speedling, a.k.a Wheelchair Rocket, the fastest wheelchair in the world. (Just between you and me, he wasn’t there just quite yet, but had every chance of being someday!)

It was a Saturday afternoon in summer that Hine first met Watching. It had been a bright clear morning, and Hine could barely drag himself away from the spotless sheet of blue above him. It had suddenly turned a menacing black though, and rained as if it was practicing to be a waterfall like the one Africa that they showed on TV last week. The thunder rumbled and roared, almost sounding like the volcanoes had woken up again, and there were crrraaaaaacccccck!s that tore across the sky. Hine knew how to judge the distance of a storm by counting the time between the flash and crash of lightning, and these were oh-boy-oh-boy close, with barely a second between them! Flash-Crack they would go. And rumble rumble. Flaaashh-Crack! While Hine had the good sense (unlike some people I know, but we won’t name names just here, ey? We all know who I am talking about anyway) not to be out in the storm, but watched the whole thing from the window-doors. Like most storms, this didn’t last long, and soon began to blow away, and the flash-cracks became further apart as the lightning bolt herd began to drift on. And that is when Hine Speedling met Watching the lightning bolt.

Watching had, as usual, been skulking around the back of the herd, behind the big strong sky-Splitters, the always-cheerful Cracklers and a little to the left of the fizzies (officially called the Illuminators), who seemed to always take themselves so seriously. Woh was safe there, and could play little games, testing wohs moves. The fizzies dutifully ignored woh as they went about their business, and woh was too far behind to be seen by the Splitters and the Cracklers. Now I don’t know (and neither does Nilanjana, smartie pants) why Hine and Watching connected so well. Maybe it was their ing names. Maybe it was right place right time. Maybe anything-you tell me why you so good friends with that grubby bad tempered cat of yours, ey? Anyway Hine caught Watching right in the middle of a to the left-to the right-somersault-spread-glow that woh’d been practicing for a while. It wasn’t perfect yet, but was meant as a sort of off-beat to the fizzies, just as they were reaching the end of their zzt zzt zzt cycle glow. It was barely noticeable, and so the fizzies didn’t mind too much. I think Hine only saw it because Watching chose just that patch of sky to do it in, and as we know, Hine knew that patch of sky very very well.

Now all friendships, even good ones, take a while to grow. Just like planting carrots, really. First, of course, you gotta *like carrots. Then you get good potting mix, plant the carrots, water them, and make sure no pesky little kids come dig them up too early. All good friendships are like that too. So Watching and Hine liked each other. That was a start.

Now something you need to know about lightning herds is that just because you don’t always see and hear them doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Just like the stars, but we’ll talk about that later. Each herd of lightning has an area to take care of, you see, and go past that area most days. I don’t know who decides the areas, maybe you could go ask Tawhiri sometime. Most days we don’t see them passing because there’s plenty of light in the sky from the sun, not dark like on a stormy day. The sky-Splitters and the Cracklers are only in top form about once a month, and the fizzies only did their thing when the others had done theirs.

But Hine knew to look, now, and often saw Watching going by at the back of the herd, practicing now this move, and now that. Watching also grew to look forward to seeing Hine solemnly sitting there, looking up at woh and smiling, especially when woh did the left-right-somersault-glow thing. This was turning into Watching’s signature move, and woh practiced harder and harder, and got better and better! It was beginning to get rather obvious when woh was doing it, and some of the fizzies were a little disapproving. They weren’t sure it was the proper thing to do, but it didn’t quite seem ‘wrong’ either, so they tut-tuted, but left woh alone.

It was about summer the next year when it happened. Watching had been getting stronger and stronger (though Hine was getting weaker). The sky started to darken one day as the big heavy clouds began to roll in. There was a steady wind, and people at home rushed to take their washing in, while people at work realised their nicely-dry-by-now clothes were going to get very very wet. Boom-boom-boom went the thunder, drumming up expectation. Whooooo went the wind. Boom-boom went the thunder again. And whooooosh went the wind. Then Craaaaaack! went the first of the lightning. Cr-cr-cr-cr-aaaaacK! Of course Hine was there to watch. He saw the Splitters try to out-split each other, while the Cracklers merrily did their bit. There hadn’t been a storm in a while, and the happy herd were making the most of it. And as quickly as it came, the herd began to move on. There were the fizzies now, cleaning up after the rest, the occasional soft glow around the edges as they worked. But hey! What was that? What was that glow? There again! And there! It was Watching! Woh had gotten so much better by now! Was that the stars? Did woh actually manage to glow enough to show the stars? Woooow! thought Hine. Woooow.

Hine died soon after that performance by Watching. He’d been getting weaker and weaker, and was finding it hard to hang on. One day he accidentally-deliberately forgot to take his medicine, and went on to his next big adventure in the sky. Before he went he told Nilanjana, and Nilanjana told me, so I know. The lightning herd still goes by, though, and Watching is still getting better and better. And some days, deep at noon, if you know where to look, woh’ll light up the sky just about enough for one to see the stars blink. I think woh sometimes misses Hine. I sure know I do. 

long rope



long rope-
now brown,
now red.

markets vs. culture

We stopped and watched a street musical performance today, by a chap playing the various Andean pipes in time to recorded music. Dressed in ‘red-indian’ outfits, with the feathers and the beads, one person played the pipes, while the other sold CDs of the same music. The Andean flutes played well are a treat to hear, and a must listen for anyone interested in softer music. There was no doubt, he played well. Among other pieces, he played Chiquitita, the old ABBA classic, and El Condor Pasa, a tune made famous by Simon and Garfunkel.

The performance tore my heart.

On the one hand (and this is going to be a post of many hands) the cultural observer in me laughs at the irony of a ‘native’ peddling music that is an indigenisation of an Americanised pop culture version of indigenous music. El Condor Pasa was popularised by Simon and Garfunkel, but was composed by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles. The version playing today, however, sounded (the guitar plucking) very much like the S and G song. The cultural observer in me also smirks a little unkindly at the use of the ‘feathers-and-beads’ artifice to attract tourist attention and make sales.

On the other hand, here are two young (?) men making honest money from tourists and ‘westerners’ who can well afford it. While there is artifice, it is not dishonest, and the artifice is no worse than the mildest advertisements we see on TV every day. In the best traditions of movie making, these two men were giving people what they wanted to see, and there is nothing wrong in that, is there? They are also being entrepreneurial, and avoiding dependence on taxpayer funded social security, if there is such where they come from. The artist in me knows how hard it is to make anything like a living from my art, and when I work for a corporation, am I not guilty of the same artifice, if not worse?

On yet another hand, it hurts me, as a tribal myself, that we are reduced to peddling our culture on the streets to make ends meet. While I understand very well the attraction of feathers and skulls (having a decent collection myself), I find their use in promoting some sort of ‘tribal’ exotica pathetic, if not downright offensive. Are cultures something to be so easily peddled on the street? I feel quite the same when I see young boys dressed as Krishna-avatar begging on the streets of Bengaluru. Interestingly, though the Zo are a very musical group, the khuang (drum) of tradition is still only used in church, maintaining, somehow its sacred quality, and is yet to be used in the production of commercial music.

Then again (that’s the fourth hand in case you’re counting) is it very different when the North East Indian tribes put on our costumes and ‘perform’ our dances on stage for fat-ass dignitaries to gawk at? However, as an urbanite who has grown up away from my tribal homeland, I would hardly even be aware of these aspects of my culture if it were not for these performances I am deigning to scorn! Aren't such performances keeping elements of our cultures alive?

I’ll stop at five hands- you probably get the idea by now. While I understand and promote the idea that culture is not static, it does concern me that the marketplace is increasingly imposing on cultural expression, and may one day soon completely take over. Aren’t there some things that should be kept sacred?

Maybe there is hope, though. On the way home, we saw another irony- three scruffy teenagers practicing their skateboard skills in the office building of a large insurance corporation. Hopefully, as the markets take over our cultures, we will continue to find points of resistance, and develop new cultural expressions that challenge their dominance!

What do you think?

another bottlebroke lamp

interestingly enoAdd Imageugh, the green-ness of the green bottlebroke lamps seems emphasised by white (warm) light! am glad, because the white lights, though a higher initial investment, seem to save a good bit of electricity. this is the same lamp i'd used on the bottlebroke tree- we had to abandon the wooden parts when moving to auckland. sigh.