Mad Hatter in Wonderland

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Welcome folks to Wonderland!

The Mad Hatter will now bombard you with frangipani, serenade you with Kecak and then take you on a guided tour of the subterranean world called Wonderland.

The journey begins through the portals of deluded minds past apparitions of elderly women dressed like teeny boppers. These images assault the senses at every turn of the corner…Halloween the year round.

It is a waistland here. Some sport pot bellies like Vietnamese pigs, other decorate them with rings, beads and tattoos afraid they may misplace their waistland or allow aliens to infiltrate their personal air space.

The plumage of the Wonderlanders range from the conventional (sarongs preciously draped for the right look) to shorts that leave nothing to the imagination…biceps and triceps  in various formats guaranteed to enthrall first time onlookers.

Often one may witness aerial displays of matted tresses riding a two-wheeler and the captivating ‘art installation’ of a comforting cup of herbal tea delicately balanced between filigreed fingers and pierced lips.

However, there are divisions in this society and it is not by age.

Caution: Age should never be mentioned here for retribution is swift – like being bludgeoned by a pork spare rib or worse still by having a baguette strategically placed to give the offender maximum physical discomfort.

Participating in the numerous rituals is essential to becoming a part of the ‘loose talk’ that every now and then creates a flutter among the Harts or elsewhere. In both cases, damage is superficial as the attention span of the perpetrator/s is limited to normally two martinis or four beers. This depends on the generosity of the person footing the bill.

Wonderland society is divided into basically two parts – Haves and Have-nots. The Haves are the seasonal folk who are akin to migratory birds. They roost here for the winter and flee home come summer. The Have-nots are the scroungers who are, in a manner of speaking, limpets that sustain themselves by latching onto ‘various schemes and dreams’ to earn megabucks or money for the next month’s rent.

A sub-division of the Haves are successful business persons who had graduated from Have-nots by tenacity, ingenuity and optimal use of brain power.

In Wonderland one must be prudent not to make genderisations. One cannot always assume that one is speaking to a male or female. Individuality borders on a sublimity that questions the tenets of an ordered society.

Over indulgence is the stream of consciousness which carries endless emotive aspects that constantly erupt all over the land like pimples on a teenager’s face. In essence its adults with raging hormones.

There is always someone, somewhere being verbally vandalized, exonerated or exalted. In fact, every living moment, stone, color or event is analyzed, dissected and bisected to obtain a significant meaning to one’s life. An ordinary day does not exist in this world.

And now to top it all are the culinary concoctions that intoxicate the pheromones and create a mystical rendition of excess and in excess. Every twist and burn generates another reaction to all that prevails in Wonderland.

The rouse to circumnavigate sensibilities always ends in being juxta- positioned between sanity and insanity.

Wonderland is a place that is cocooned in the Universe; everything, everywhere including the denizens remain unique and insular to the bigger picture.

If you are here and now in this place then you are blessed. For nothing is more exclusive in a strange sort of way than being part of this world.

For me Wonderland is the neutrality shelter of co-existence in a swirling world of political and religious intolerance.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Poem – Eight Degrees – Love Poems

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This is a fragmentation of thoughts poorly disguised as poems. Humor me and read them. Then if you so desire consign them to the recycle bin.

Oh Radha!

Visions of love and passion

Drifting ashore at dusk

Announcing the night to lust

On crumpled sheets of lost thoughts

She sat on the beach

As darkness crept up her feet

And covered her in a cloak

Of twilight madness, eating her soul

Krishna had left with the tide

Leaving her forlorn on the shore

Holding her spent dreams

Afraid of them being washed to sea

The moonlit charcoal waters

Raced between her toes

Flowing up her legs

And drowning her sorrows

She waited long through the night

For Krishna to dance into sight

But there was only music to behold

Mermaids serenading him in the depths below

Wayfarers

I came in sheltering from the storm

Cloaked in loneliness

Carrying the pain and sorrow of a lifetime

Soulless, loveless and barren of thought

I called out to the wilderness surrounding me

You heard my wailing in the hills

And came to my door holding out your lips

For me to caress and your arms to rest

You left behind a warm home of love and children

Opening your self for me to enter

To hide my aching heart and dry my tears on your lips

You too cried in joy as we became one

Days have passed and with it many joys

Lying in each other’s arms resting our souls

Hiding from realities of living

Clutching desperately to the belief that things will work out

Sadly nothing remains the same

Time changes and so do people

Are we just wayfarers meeting between lives?

Or lovers destined to be apart?

Kuta Blues

Watching Kuta sunset, hues across the sky

Cascading like his thoughts fading into twilight

He had come to know the wonders of paradise

That could destroy his soul instead of giving it life.

Sunrises and sunsets, blessings in the cosmic trance

Of memories and joys dissolving into the dark

He frantically reached out to grasp the love

Waiting in the clouds above and wonders of a childhood’s end.

But he found to his dismay spirits riding the waves

Sending messages of farewell of goodbye kisses and reminiscences

He strode the shore through the night gasping for breath, a hint of life

Hiding beneath the foreboding waves

Beckoning him to another hell.

She saw him walking by the sea entranced by the lonely scene

She held him by the hand and asked, stranger what make thee

He looked at her and saw himself through the darkness and torment.

She placed her palms on his face

To calm the rising anguish

Whispering thoughts of belonging

Of love and longing, and yes pain again.

The night began to day bringing with it all the joys of yesterdays

But for them there was no sign

Except for the bloody knife.

Farewell

She said good bye today

Wiping away his joys and hope

A small message by her phone

Passing through the ether waves.

He looked to the sky and wondered why

The love she brought and took away

Made him feel so sad once more

Of being deserted again and again.

Mother, he cried, carry me away

From all this sorrow and pain

To a quiet haven faraway

Where joy and love were alive again.

The night descended across the sea

Darkening the land and he

To the sound of temple bells

On the shores of Gethsemane.

He quietly left to search the land

For love and lust and hope again

He found it in a gutter by

Whimpering, hurt and a terrible fright.

Now she has become a part of him

A little creature called sin

Licking pawing and whining for joy

Bringing him back to life again.

Sisters of Mercy

(A dedication to Gwen and Nia)

I came into your life like an abscess on your gums.
Bringing a host of uncertainties
of love, life and whatchamaycallit
the cigar smoke, the whisky and
complaints of a lifetime.

I stayed in your home
bitching and crying

weeping and laughing
to the tune of my own voice.

The change of seasons, the rain
and the wind howling outside
brought with it a joy of belonging
of being accepted with all the iniquities
carried from Bardez to Wales.

The food smelt of love,
the writing of hope
and the wine of forbidden
sex to the sound of Cohen.

Nothing, nothing was more pure
than the sisters who showed their mercy,
placing their soothing palms on my troubled soul.

I shall carry this wherever I go,
remembrance of the joy of having
been loved and cared for and
never being forsaken by true friends.

Wherever you are today
nestling between someone’s thighs
yearning for the ultimate joy
keep this blessing close to your heart
for your karma can do you no wrong.

Life Sentence

She was marooned

Eight degrees south of the Equator

In a life devoid of love

Scampering between beds

And men and hell

Furiously searching for herself.

She had come to this isle

Thinking it was paradise

To absolve her from the past

And start a life anew.

In days she found a man to hold

In innocence to make a whole

And children did she tried to beget

To the silence of dying hopes.

Years have gone by with the tides

Now she sits by the riverside

Crying for her lost soul

Floating down to sea.

She wants to begin her life once more

To the sound of what she knows

For though she was born free

Still she imprisons herself.

Strangers on the Shore

He held her close so she could feel

The fears and tears on the stranger’s cheeks

He swallowed hard and spoke aloud

To the quiet rippling waters

and the moonlit dhows.

She looked at him for she could feel

The fading beats in his breast

She kissed his lips and tasted life

Ebbing from his side.

Stranger, she said, I will love you forever

While gently stroking his thighs

Forever, he said in a dying breath

No, there is no forever.

He kissed her forehead and bade farewell

Turned his back and went.

Alone she stood on the moonlit shore

Gazing at the stars afloat

And with a heavy sigh

Walked into the waters by.

Full Moon

She called him to say goodbye

Nonchalantly uttering the words

The passing traffic drowning out her voice

Trembling he put down the phone

In the distance drums are beating

Cries and shouts in the air

Of ceremonies of the lunatics

Maidens dancing to rhythm of the night

The full moon is up readying itself

Casting shadows in darkened doorways

Waking up the slumbering souls

To another twist of fate

She was the big little woman

The goodbye girl lost within herself

Tasting the moonbeams on his lips

Then moving on to another life

The ethereal light wrapped him in joy

Returning the wayward spirits of the past

Igniting the night with fireflies

That carried his soul away

Art – give us a break!

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Recently a dog was starved to death as part of an art installation. And presently an artist is looking for a dying person to be part of another art installation – the artist’s depiction of ‘real death’. No canvasses, no oils, brushes or easels just insensitivity to all that nature holds dear – life.

The above news that filtered to Bali sometime ago started me thinking about the state of art on the island and where it was heading. So, I spoke to a few well-known foreign and Indonesian artists including the owner of a large art gallery. All of them refused to be quoted for fear of being ostracised from one clique or another. So here I am belling the cat and calling a spade the tool for digging one’s own grave.

A disturbing trend in art is taking hold in Bali – plagiarism and rampant mediocrity. Dramatic statements from orators posing as artists speaking eloquently at opening nights to the well-travelled high-heeled society only confirms one’s worst fears that a clash of clichés has sidelined the real artists.

There is a Latin saying which loosely translated means – poets are born, orators are made. Poets being the quintessential creative folk who are born with talent while the orators are devoid of any talent and have to practice their art ‘for’ perfection. Those ruling with paintbrush in hand pontificate about the lack of talent and vision (excluding themselves, of course); conveniently overlooking the struggling gifted local artists handicapped by language and oratory skills that fall by the wayside. These young people often resort to replicating artwork for a fee to keep the home fires burning.

So where has all the passion and originality in creativity gone? Has it been lost in the counting of bank notes or in the ever-shifting prism of the confluence of cultures on the isle? Some claim that the lifeless canvasses actually reflect a pervasive ‘surface society’. While others defend it by shouting from the rooftops that art is constantly in transition and therefore anything goes for a fee, adding that a dog does not appreciate art, only humans do.

Sometime back in a far off country an experiment was performed where a monkey was used to paint a few canvasses that were displayed alongside those of contemporary artists. The public was never told. At the opening of the exhibition the monkey’s work was hailed by critics and public alike.

This in essence reveals the sickening depths of consumerism that we have shrunk to. Established artists have become brands. And, as you probably know, brands are identifiable and therefore ‘good investment’. Whether the canvasses depict truth in art is irrelevant as long as the price is right. It has been heard in warungs that the Chinese have arrived in Indonesia buying the work of Indo-Chinese artists, some for staggering amounts. I have seen some of the artwork in question and presume that I can also buy a square black canvass and paint a few red lines on it, sign a fictitious ‘Chinese’ name and peddle the work for a few thousand dollars. What’s the difference between this and the fake Rolex watches being sold on the streets?

Maybe I will ask Dewi, the eight-year-old daughter of my landlord Wayan; to help me and we could split the sale proceeds.

“Children are natural abstract painters for they are closer to God and in a way on a higher spiritual plain than their elders. Many of us have lost contact with this spirituality and unfortunately the majority of contemporary artwork on display in Bali reflects just this” says a young artist in Ubud.

The ground reality is that society cannot do anything for art. It can only help ‘arrived’ artists. Every artist must make his or her way through the labyrinth of art galleries and various social levels infected with cancerous consumerism.

In the words of a leading Balinese artist, “Ubud is like a supermarket flooded mostly with cheap reproduced art. There is no life in this art. Everyone is just painting to get money. A true artist paints because he wants to transfer his thoughts to forms and/or colours onto a surface. He doesn’t create for a particular market or with a price in mind. You tell me Mark, have you met any such artist? It’s a shame that galleries are opening like fast food joints peddling artwork that distorts the truth. There is little or no integrity or spirituality in art anymore; it’s just about money. We are selling our souls as we are lost and need money to give us a false sense of achievement. Wealthy artists are not necessarily ‘real artists’ for they have probably sold their spirituality a long time ago and are now manufacturing work to appease the culture vultures that descend on Bali. We need to find the likes of Van Gogh among us to rekindle the passion in art. Originality is dead or dying. Creativity has committed suicide. What have we left?”

This is endemic the world over. A classic example is M.F.Hussain, an Indian painter, whose works sell for hundreds and thousands of dollars. Prior to one exhibition in India he arrived a few hours before the opening and ‘quickly’ painted all the blank canvasses on display; the result – a sell out.

Though brand identity works even in the rarefied atmosphere of the self-indulgent art world, it takes poverty, social strife, political upheavals and genocide to give birth to great artists. It has been said that it took 500 years for Switzerland to give the world the cuckoo clock while in the same period other countries under strife, plagued by violence gave us famous painters, poets, writers etc.

For me, an artist is the ‘integrity barometer’ of the society that he or she lives in. For example, Picasso (who is accused by many of destroying European art) and Salvador Dali successfully mocked the art world for they had discovered through their creative pursuits how to relate art to society. They ignited the then art world and forced it in another direction.

I cornered the owner of an art gallery to question him about the fate of young emerging Balinese painters and why he usually exhibited westerners’ work.

“I need money to help the struggling artists. So a percentage of the money I earn from sale of the foreign artists’ works I use to finance this venture. I send them to Yogyakarta and Jakarta to study. I exhibit their work. I feel time is not on their side right now. The market is too saturated with established artists. Also, the market works on trends like the fashion industry. Young Balinese artists are not in fashion right now. But their time will come, I am confident. And I will continue to financially support the local artists.”

My friend ‘the painter’ believes in the laws of Nature, of natural selection. He is confident that the art scene in Bali that is predominantly governed by mediocrity and self-gratification will in time level out onto a plain of acute monotony. This in turn will prompt the rise of young firebrand artists incubating in society like desert flowers that bloom whenever it rains. Hopefully they will revitalise the fading integrity of the present day art world.

So, till such time this happens we will have to suffer the onslaught of insipid soulless art that is fast becoming a fashion statement in Bali and elsewhere.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

Jane the hairstylist and her yellow scrambler.

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Talking to Jane, a forty something, over dinner the other night, I couldn’t help wondering as to why she ended up as a hairstylist in Bali. Her face is creased. But her blue eyes and sudden gentleness of speech is comforting. Her unmistakable Australian drawl is soothing on the brain.

So what’s the story? I ask her.

She stretches her long legs, leans back and to my astonishment rests them on our dinner table. I look at her disapprovingly. Oh no one cares a xxxx here, the Balinese need the business and I need a break, she drawls. I came here with my Brazilian boyfriend who on arrival took to the streets photographing everything, including the aftermath of the first bomb blast at the Sari Club. He made a killing. Sold them pics to CNN for ten grand, US not Rupiah. After the money ran out his interest in our daily xxxx also ran out. He fancied the Balinese girls. You know, what’s it with these guys? All the men I have met here come for the girls. Some marry and settle down breeding they little off springs. Others just return to where they come from. Us (western women) rarely get lucky with these guys. Probably we are too xxxxx for them. They need that little woman on top them who wriggles and shakes like a fish out of water cooing sweet nothings in a foreign language.

I look embarrassed. What could I say? I didn’t utter a word.

Look at you, what the xxxx are you doing here? She waves to me.

Oh, I reply, just recovering from a twenty-year marriage. I came here from New York when I left Calcutta. What I am going to do here I still don’t know. Maybe I’ll travel across the island and meet some of the expats who have become more Balinese than the Balinese themselves.

Don’t tell me you are going to meet them? All I know is that they are a lotta hot air in sarongs, yap, yap, yap that’s all they do, people who are losers in their countries land up here, she says vehemently.

The lady in waiting in a sarong comes over to the table and points at the half eaten food in my plate. You like, yes? Yes I like, I said. Looking down at the chicken Satay I remember what Jane told me an hour ago. She said that imported dogs particularly retrievers were kidnapped and if the ransom was not paid the dog ended up as Satay. Very often the kidnappers didn’t wait for the ransom. They just sold the dog to people who made very nice Satay.

Satay is small-diced pieces of meat neatly skewered on what looks like large sized tooth picks, roasted and then smothered in peanut sauce. Luke warm or cold they are served with Balinese pink rice and sautéed vegetables. A large prawn cracker is used to decorate the dish. It is called Naser Champur and is the popular staple dish on the menu at all Warungs (local Bali restaurants that are clean and hygienic).

Satay served at the Warungs is not dog meat. Some locals at festivals who can’t afford the regular meat like chicken, beef or pork eat the dog meat Satay.

I was speaking to Made the other day. Quite a few men and women are called Made (pronounced as Maaday). This Made is a Man Friday at the Villa Sangah where I have hired a small bungalow in the villa complex. Made told me that the street dogs living in the Villa were not allowed to roam the streets outside prior to a big festival. Often if imported dogs were not available, the locals ones were slaughtered.

At the Villa Sangah there are two street dogs. Xena, a black and white obese xxxxx and the other xxxxx, Jassy, a black mix-Indonesian dog with a blue-black tongue. These two xxxxxxx of Bali keep me company.

Jane punches me playfully on the arm and points to my laptop. Show me what you’re up to, she says, and then starts picking her teeth with the Satay stick. Reluctantly I remove the laptop from its case, place it on the table and put it on. Suddenly, a few of the waitresses rush to our table to look see what’s being shown. One giggles and says, Shahrukh Khan? xxx, you can’t get away from those bloody Bollywood movies!

Glancing through the pics in Photoshop, Jane remarks, you did all this? She seems a bit incredulous. I keep quiet. I am too tired and desperately need another whisky to wash down any glimmer of the past that may suddenly arise and make me puke again.

I come from a very rich family, she says. Dad is an uncouth xxxxxx and has a very sharp tongue. I think he loves me, but he never seems to show it. He’s does import export.

Will you ever go back home to kangaroo land? I ask her, while taking a sip of my whisky on the rocks and scratching myself.

Naa, don’t think so, just want to save money and go to India to buy some jewellery to sell here. Will you help me with your contacts? She looks hesitantly at me.

Yes, of course, I say, and then launch into the whole drama that is India, the depths of despair with doing business in a country I had left months before. She looks at me and strokes my long white hair. Poor chap, she says tenderly, when was your last xxxx?

I am taken aback. I don’t answer. What could I tell her? The truth? That it was a few years back?

I want to have two boyfriends, she says, gazing into my eyes intently. Will you like to be the other one?

I nod my head. She laughs. What’s it with you Indians, you always shake your head in such a manner that no one knows whether you are saying yes or no.

I look past her towards the dark deserted beach and say to myself, I don’t know.

Jane tells me about her yellow scrambler bike and how she bikes around doing the society ladies’ hair: Cutting, curling, blow drying, colouring and sometimes shaving. She likes her job. Her flat with four bedrooms and four ACS are a luxury. She likes her little world. Everything is neat and tidy. But she is getting old and her trembling voice betrays her false bravado. I think the rumbling engine between her legs, warm, reassuring and where she is always in control, is really her comfort zone; the place she feels at peace is on her bike doing her rounds to all the Villas.

The bill arrives. It’s three hundred and fifty thousand Rupiah (US$ 38/-). I pay it and walk out with her.

She jumps into the cab I am sitting in and kisses me with her warm wet open mouth mumbling good-night and then she saunters to her yellow scrambler, puts on her yellow helmet and roars off into the night.

The cabbie asks me, where you go? You follow her?

No! I say, I go Oberoi.

Seminyak?

Yeah, I say, we are on a xxxxxxx island, how many oberois could there be? I say under my breath.

The evening ends with a displaced Indian and a tall Aussie, both marooned eight degrees south of the equator on an island called Bali. Both waiting for something to happen. Waiting.

End of story.

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Where does one begin to unravel the past? Do I speak of education in college. Or, of the professional work I have done? It’s confusing living life as it is to commence a story that most of us are not really interested in! Suffice to say I have been in the wilderness for many years spanning continents, friends and the odd lie. The buck stops here on this site. Today the truth begins, anthology of a life worn by the myriad faces of the past scurrying for an identity. Patience with me dear reader. Humour me. I need your attention and views. Write in when you have read what I have written and share the life within you and teach me how to be a better human being. 

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