A few thoughts on 2020

Even though I have lived a life of some wonderful and unexpected privileges, I have spent most of my adult life as an individual separate from the grips of uniformity rather than as a part of a longstanding community or collective experience. Many people, just like me, will only go as far as what life has afforded them in their understanding of their world and thinking. The more that I am away from America and the grips of the mainstream western world with constant and evolving social discourse, the more I also realize that many people are formed by what they experience, not in spite of what they experience. People are also often guided by deep rooted fears based on what could or would happen, mostly regulated by an inner compass created, strangely enough, by the hands of distorted historical interpretation all while maneuvering into the unknown.

As right-wing governments in recent years are once again completing the circle of political power around the world, its seems that many of the fears of majority groups and conservative minds are founded in a perceived loss of their grip on majority rule and the privileges they might feel they experiences as part of a larger collective based on race, religion, gender, or caste. Why would a majority group fear an intangible shift of “power” towards minority groups? Do they think that minority groups might wish to destroy or overcome the majority’s “way of life” or take away any sort of real power? Is it simply fear of the unknown and insecurity that drives the right-wing forward to gather momentum against a progressive and liberal left? The answers do not appear straightforward, either.  As a privileged individual, I find myself in fear of losing the option of air travel and vacation due to Covid-19. However, I do not find myself finding blaming the Chinese for the current state of the world, rather more concerned about the welfare of the animals in “wet markets” than their contribution in the creation of Covid-19.

I have never really been a majority race, religion, or ethnic community member (aside from my years as child in India). I do not understand what it means to be afraid of losing grip as a majority community member. Even though I do understand fear quite well, I thrive in solitude, performing best as an individual fueled by the need for interpretation and education, experience, and constant thought to challenge myself into better understanding of my world. I cannot see myself banding with people of my race, religion, ethnicity, or caste for any reason other than to quantify a census to provide information to help communities disproportionately affected by the hands of socioeconomic hardship.

I do believe that the “majority” should be driven by the ambition for betterment for all, not only for a certain group of people. Even though the world is largely in a crisis in 2020, there can still be hope and recovery from the current situation given time and planning.

A summer cottage on the sea

The summer cottage is nestled within the back-country roads inside the forests of Ostrobothnia. A drive of a few kilometers takes us through the winding rural mud paths and wilderness to a small opening in the road. The cottage is hidden away behind trees and shrubs, emerging only to those who walk down the descending path. A painted black exterior of old log panels, the scent of the longstanding sauna emerges from the depths of the land. There is little between the cottage and the open sea aside from pillows of moss and a small inlet of jagged rocks and boulders. We pry open the wooden door to the cabin which hasn’t been cracked open for months, and enter the cozy lodge.

Inside, the world has moved little from scenes of yesteryear. The gas stove and small kitchen space are ample to provide small meals for the summer. The collage of rugs in the living room space, which holds a few books, a couple of chairs and couch, and a large glass table covering the old beige wood floors, provide cover for the trampling of muddy feet that may have once entered. A small bunk bed built into the living room wall indicates that children have spent their summers here in the depths of the forest. Walking to the back bedroom through a small corridor, a book shelf and paintings line the cracked white wall. Old skippers’ pipes and glass ornaments provide decoration for visitors, no doubt used many years ago by the inhabitants of this little home. Turning back through the living room to the front door, the large glass pane catches my eye, the ripples outside rustling quietly into the rocky shore.

Outdoors, the deck levels out the entrance and backyard area with a table and chairs for outdoor gatherings around the house. They haven’t been used for years but are still inviting to visitors. The sauna is separate from the cottage and an ideal fit for a family get-together. I sit inside near the small window overlooking the water, watching the currents rise and dip in the distance. A few feet further outside, the rocks half submerged are a perfect pathway leading out into the open sea.  I walk upon these protruding rocks, balancing and weighing my steps until I find myself isolated on a single large stone. There is little to think of but the beauty of forests and seas, of saunas and the passing breeze.

When it rains, it pours

Today, rain falls again after weeks of scorching sunshine. The relief of bearable temperatures begs a calmer mindset as a sense of cool and peace descends down into the city. With the world falling apart in different ways every day, with problems surfacing as they do, a breath of fresh air is one of the few pleasures afforded in these difficult times. The Corona virus has only been the tip of the melting iceberg that is our human existence.

The few bright patches of life are often overshadowed by the problems we face as humans. Perspective is important but life is a journey with us trudging on through the difficult in hopes of better moments. As challenges are toppled, new trails surface to bring adversity to our daily lives. For us animals, the planet provides no promises, only a place to try and survive. The rest is up to us, our strength often wielded through our powerful and equally powerless hands.

When change comes, with hopes and dreams of better futures and prosperity, the short-lived euphoria of good news is quickly exhausted for “reality”, as it is known. We are, after all, destined for many good things in modern society, just as we are promised nothing but the inevitable. It is much more fitting to make life a journey than a destination, with the middle to be savored in spite of circumstance. We do not control much but it is certainly smarter to relish in the little good that we are afforded in trying times.

Maybe things will change this time

I am a proud American of sorts. Not the conventional type who waves flags on national holidays and can recite the names of all the presidents but a proud American nevertheless. I know the pledge of allegiance, I love American sports and television, and there is nothing much better than a warm summer day in Anytown, USA. I also get annoyed when non-Americans have something nasty to say about America. But something has gone very wrong in my adopted country, something that is hard to defend and justify. This change has occurred over time and those who have experienced living in the country through the years should have seen it coming miles away.

America has come under immense burden brought about corrupt politicians, privatized healthcare, the prison system, and countless other detrimental policies that have been in place for years. The amount of homelessness has skyrocketed over the years. Synthetic drug use and failed housing plans have ravaged communities. Obesity rates have shot up, as have prices of regular household goods as salaries dwindle despite raised minimum wage rates and promises of stability. Mass shootings, college debts, racism, and bipartisan politics are just a few of the other issues facing one of the largest, most vocal and most questionable democracies in the world.

There is a desperate need for change in the US. Violence and bondage have been the lifeblood of American civilization, domination and conquest. Denial, whitewashing, and turning blind eyes to seemingly simple and solvable problems has dug the country into a deeper hole in recent years, one that will be harder to climb out of as time moves forward. As America grapples with its role as a world leader and “superpower”, it is seemingly sacrificing its population for the sake of steamrolling into the future as “number one”.

As I write this speaking from a position of privilege in a Nordic country, where “utopia”, too, has its limits, I cannot help but wonder how America would look if it actually cared about the welfare of its people, not just pitting them in ideological battles inflamed by fear, oppression, and politics. Some answers to the country’s problems are easier to find than others.

Now, as riots take hold of major cities across the US, brought about by State administered violence and murder, the country is reacting to only one of the many struggles it is facing. In a country where freedom is a point of pride, there is truly not much liberty except for a select few. People have the power to make change happen, through voting, and individual and group action. In a country where businessmen make scientific decisions and run the country based on personal preferences and whims, change in reality is a long shot at the mercy of a few.

When I was in fifth grade, we had a classroom discussion about different governments. We were given flash cards with different types of rule, such as aristocracies, republics, monarchies, democracies, and so on. When asked what kind of government America was, I shouted “Oligarchy” jokingly, not really knowing or understanding what that meant. My classmates laughed as ten-year old’s do, and I was proud of my joke. Little did I know that more than twenty-five years later, I would be pondering my “joke” and wondering if the country is now, indeed, run by a few people who have the power to make real and impactful decisions.

Fourth of July is around the corner and America will celebrate another year of independence. As the country spirals out of control, it will take collective action to reverse course. The people at the top will likely remain there, but it is up to the people at the bottom to make themselves heard, to rise up, and truly take action as proud Americans.

Things we aren’t told

I was about 17 when I first saw him. He never talked to the other neighbors or chatted with anyone. I heard from my girlfriend at the time that he lived alone and that he had recently lost his wife. There was nothing extraordinary about his appearance but every time I walked past him, I felt gripped by a cloud of anxiety and silence. I would stare at him awkwardly not knowing whether to drop my head, say hello, or keep walking nonchalantly.

I never said hello and more often than not, I dropped my head to avoid awkward eye contact. Still I noted his appearance every time I saw him. He seemed quietly desperate, almost bursting with something but I couldn’t figure out what. When I was told he had recently lost his wife, I felt immense pity. Imagining a life of such startling sadness was difficult. I was hardly an adult and this man had seemingly suffered beyond my comprehension of what life could do to people given the chance to go awry.

I feared such an existence but also wondered what sparked the silence around him. Being fairly innocent, I assumed he was just weird or that something else was wrong with him. Maybe he was simply crazy and everything that happened to him could never happen to someone like me; someone so favored by luck and good fortune.

He was worlds away when he would walk past and I let him disappear from my mind for weeks only to be reminded of him when we would occasionally cross paths in the neighborhood. My life was so busy with parties, friends and fun that I had no time to wonder about the fate of such men.

One day, while I was feeling particularly happy, I felt the need to acknowledge him so I said hello. He didn’t say anything back. I considered if he was rude or maybe even a snob. How could this weird guy think he was better than me? He hadn’t given that kind of impression before. I set aside my feelings and settled on the thought that he was probably strange, just as I had imagined earlier, or arrogant.

Soon after 9/11 happened, things changed forever. Our lives were never to be the same and tragedy had struck through the middle of our city and through the heart of my fragile young existence. People disappeared from each other’s lives and society had been rocked at its foundation. I didn’t understand much about what had happened and how it would impact us.

One evening, I was walking through the neighborhood with my girlfriend when I saw him again. She greeted him and he smiled and waved. I turned to her surprised.
“You know him? He’s weird” I said, taken aback.
“I know. I feel bad for him,” she said.
I wondered if he lost more family in the terror attacks.
“I know he lost his wife. I hope he didn’t lose more family?” I said.
She looked at me and her tone changed. I felt the strange silence again. I turned around to see him walking off in his yellow polo shirt and khaki shorts, alone as always.
“Many years ago, a plane crashed in the Potomac river. He jumped in the water and tried to drag people to safety. A lot of them died in his arms. He’s a hero. I didn’t tell you this?”

 

Book Release: Glass Streams

Hi all! Here is the link to my second collection of short stories titled “Glass Streams”.
It’s available for only $3,99 as an eBook (paperback coming soon!).
There are a total of 17 short stories in this collection. I’m very excited to finally publish this book!
“Glass Streams is a collection of short fiction stories written by Shashank Mane. Stories and plots are based around an eclectic mix of characters from all walks of life. The stories range from situations of war and love to old age and longing. Adventures unfold in various locations around the world with themes of displacement, isolation, and hardship often present. The stories have been written between 2015 and 2019. This collection is suitable for lovers of literary fiction. Glass Streams is Shashank Mane’s second collection of short stories.”

On society and politics

The divided world continues to further separate like oil and water poured together into a small cup. We share the same space yet we cannot agree on policies and programs given our convictions, ideals, and outlooks. Tensions rise, values differ, and people remain guarded to their own way of being. With such divisional rifts between politicians, personas, and neighbors, what will become of the world as it clams and shuts to difference and dialogue, and tries to walk backwards, away from past promises, rational dealing, and science?

A foray into popular modern media can quickly expose opportunists, naysayers and conspiracy theorists ready to hold their ground and take on any challenger to their point of view. People would rather defend a false belief than swallow a small amount of pride to accept science, history, and fact for the greater good of humanity and understanding. Niche sects of outrageous schools of thought, such as holocaust deniers, 9-11 and other conspiracy theory believers, and people who buy into “alternate facts” as a way of satisfying their soul when truth does not sit well with them, have taken over the realms of modern life and misinformation.

As we threaten to destroy decades of accepted, tried and tested scientific findings, the questions remain about politics and the political games of division and conquering. On many occasions, simply taking an alternate stand to a rival politician has fueled the success of bipartisan politics, much of which is rooted more in power struggle and money than anything else. From climate change to poverty to other significant issues affecting the modern world, denial and dissociation from fact have led the world astray from protecting itself as a global society. Furthermore, the minds of many are swayed by the actions of few, and many would rather hold on to the notions that their “way of life” is threatened to accept fallacies and misconceptions, than simply understand the facts and figures, and the ever important “why’s” of life.

The power of the ultra-elite and rich in the US, who fuel an almost “government behind the government” in terms of lobbying power and safe guarding of intent and interests, often at the hands of the low-income families who blindly support them, is undeniable. Usually voting against their own interests and against pragmatic policies pledging to truly support them, much of the uninformed masses do not realize the damage done to their own societies and well-being by their misguided actions. Many do not care to listen, feeling more as if they are being attacked than informed.

As the world backtracks into political darkness and a dearth of dignity and integrity, what remains to be seen is if political brazenness and cunning will also reverse course from the current political climate. It is difficult to truly go back in time as society but learning from history, which often repeats itself in different shapes and forms, is pivotal. Whether the world wants to open its eyes to the truth in front of us remains to be seen.

Covid 19 and the future

After more than four weeks of “social distancing”, it is hard to imagine life going back to normal when the peak of the corona virus and its effects die down. Life in quarantine has afforded a few pleasures as it has pains. To those left without work, a struggle has been undertaken in uncertainty and survival. To those fortunate enough to have retained their jobs, new methods of working and adapting to a historically difficult situation have presented themselves. The failures and difficulties have far outweighed the accidental successes and opportunists thriving in this unpredictable situation. Some believe that every cloud has a silver lining, and the pessimists in turn are certain that every cloud brings threat of rain and washout, especially to those ill prepared to get wet.

Despite the large sums touted for financial bailouts, generous donations by superstars in all realms of entertainment, and the stimulus packages guaranteeing money in the pockets of the people, the uncertainty and outcomes of such a colossal event cannot be undermined. What will happen to air travel in the future? Will working from home become the norm rather than the exception? What about the long-term effects of social distancing? Will people be more skeptical of each other’s physical presence, making the nuances of social distancing a way of life? Predicting the future is better left to prophets and seasoned economists but as social distancing continues day after day, so does the probability of permanent changes in our society.

For now, the skies are clear, free from much of the pollution and damage we have caused the world through many types of emissions. Although the air is no longer safe to breathe in the company of neighbors and strangers alike, we have managed to couple our often harmful and negligent hand with a helping hand to the environment. It will be tragic to witness a regression back into hazy pollutant filled skies, especially in heavily affected and polluted countries. The return of wildlife to our streets and backyards has been thoroughly pleasant to witness. The countless videos of deer roaming the streets, and ducks and other birds congregating in otherwise dangerous locations has been as heartwarming as it has been a reminder that this world was meant to be shared with other species.

The toppling and cessation of the most fundamental of human activities has affected the entire planet, and some places far more than others. The words “lockdown”, “quarantine”, and “social distancing” will be a part of our vocabulary for years to come. When the tide turns and leaves life with a more familiar rhythm, there will certainly be lasting effects brought on by the pandemic.

Free as I’ve ever been

Days have passed in haste. I feel emptiness within, content but cold as the wind slashing across my face in winter’s grip. What will today bring that yesterday has not already prepared me for? Will the heavens accept me with open arms and the sun shine its warm and welcoming rays across my bodily being? Will I surpass and surmount my own expectations to finer phases of fulfillment?

The sounds of the slow grind of feet through the gravel walkways of winter roads fills my ears. My soul is no longer heavy. The weight has lifted to nothingness, and today I am free as ever. The ground crunches beneath my feet, my thoughts drifting along with the air, no longer pressed for resolve, no longer prodding me for answers and resolution. I am as free as lights across an open skyline.

I shuffle quickly through mud and rock to smoother terrain. It is here, upon moss pillows and isolated clouds, that the world will unravel in all its beauty. It is here where meanings will surface, and satisfaction will run synonymous with life.

DeYoung Museum

A trip to the DeYoung Museum of Fine Arts was a pleasant adventure on a warm and sunny winter morning in the Bay Area. Upon entering the Golden Gate Park, the carefully planned nature and luscious green surroundings led me to the inviting bright posters promoting the special exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and others. Purchasing a ticket, I was excited and considered myself in for a much-anticipated treat.

The “Soul of a Nation” exhibition focused on art work and art collectives in the age of resistance to racial division and segregation of African Americans from the 60s to the 80s.  The works were a magnificent display of not only the talent of so many artists of that generation, but also of the intensity, blood, sweat and tears of those who lived and created art in those times. The portraits, sculptures, and standalone pieces were sometimes harrowing in their depiction of what it meant to be black, segregated and largely ignored by artistic establishments. The organization and division of the works through the exhibition formed a mental picture at large, capturing the struggle of the movement around black power and liberty.
Looking through the works, I was taken aback by the vibrancy and gift of the artists on display, but also by the gut-wrenching representations of life, often in response to racial violence, oppression, and the volatility of the era. By the end of my walk through the gallery, I was convinced that although times have changed, there hasn’t been enough progressive transformation in society, and nowadays, there is even a regression in freedom and raw equality afforded to all citizens of the world.

I spent most of the rest of my time at the DeYoung in the permanent exhibitions, especially in the Art of the Americas galleries. I was particularly drawn to a pair of paintings by George Inness (1825-1894) titled “A Glimpse of the Lake” (1888) and “Moonlight” (1893). Both works captivated me in their use of faded colors and light to amplify a mood of much needed calm, tranquility and a sort of rural allure. I strolled through the passages and galleries looking through as many works as I could, many of which I had seen on prior visits.

The trip to the DeYoung was a peaceful experience, one that will surely be duplicated with pleasure on my next trip to the Bay Area.