Friday, September 26, 2008


Today I came home to the sound of chainsaws. Were my senses more acute, I’m sure the sound of pleading trunks and branches would have accompanied them. No, I am not a tree hugger. But I *am* an avid recycler and life long fan of oxygen.

So when I see the vertical plane of my backyard landscape about to be permanently altered, I’ll admit, my blood starts to simmer. Several infant maples, and 2-3 full growns were massacred all because my neighbour’s shed roof was threatened by a few branches.

Until this morning, I considered myself quite lucky. Despite the strong presence of insects, over-abundance of shade and double-duty of raking come fall, I love my backyard jungle. How many average income, central city home-owners have the window scenery of a cottage in the convenience of an urban location? As of yesterday, at least one.

You know what? Call me a tree hugger. Call me a leaf lover. A trunk hag. A root wench or a branch bitch. Because not only have my trees given my privacy, property value and a cat scratching alternative to livingroom furnishings, they give anyone in range the following:

- Carbon dioxide absorption.
- Wind barriers that reduce the heating costs of nearby homes.
- Shading that reduces cooling costs.
- Mood boosts. (Proven psychological impact that can help in emotional and physical healing.)
- Sound insulation.
- Pretty birds.

In talking with the tree cutters I learned that a little advanced planning and strategic redirection of new growth – when my neighbour first built the shed two years ago – would have prevented all of this. My now naked south side (reminder: we’re still talking property here) looks like a barren, cemetery of wood. A stark scene of arbourcide.

Thankfully, I still have lots of other greenery. At least for now. Said neighbour has already eyed another one she wants down.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Dharma Arts

Let's move the lessons away from religion and travel for a moment and talk about something more literary.

"Intertextuality" is a term used to refer to one text which draws from, or references, another text. Today, I'd like to refer you to It's been a little side-project of mine for the past year and a half and we just launched our "Indian Summer" issue which includes a story called Dabbling with Enlightenment along with a few other tidbits based on my travels.

For those of you who might have found yourselves here precisely because of that article—welcome!

Sunday, September 7, 2008


This past Thursday, the Toronto zoo lost their 38 yr-old elephant Tequila. Cause of death is at this point unknown, but it got me thinking about how disappointed I am for not seeking out more elephants while in India. What I did see plenty of was the god, Ganesh. His animal form likely contributes to his popularity, but here's my rendition of the story that partially explains why he's so visible.

The "trunk-ated" version: Parvati – the model of feminine beauty in Hinduism and proven yogini in her own right – had worked her ass off to earn the attention of Shiva. Shiva – the aloof and devoted ascetic – left soon after their union to attend to his own preoccupations (typical male). Through the forest and to a mountaintop, he retreated into meditation as was his custom. Alone and vulnerable, Parvati was desperate for a son. And so she made one herself out of her own intellect (biggup to early DIY instincts!). When Shiva returned one day to find a strapping young lad guarding the door while gorgeous Parvati bathed, he went rank. And when Shiva – better known as the destroyer god – goes rank, heads roll. Literally.

Parvati, emerging to find her son decapitated at the hands of her beloved, becomes inconsolable. Shiva – aloof, but not insensitive – promises to recreate the son, Ganesh, and make him the first to be worshipped in Hindu homes. He commissions his bull Nandhi to find a suitable head. The result is that of a noble elephant. While it would appear that Shiva lost his temper in slaughtering the son, we should remember that loss of control is not characteristic of such a perfected being. You see, the prototype Ganesh was pure ego, made of Parvati only. Ganesh, as we now know him represents our need to transcend the Self to attain perfection.

Should I venture on such a journey, no pachyderm heads for me. Please retrofit me with something feline ideally.

Monday, August 18, 2008


With the thick smog of accumulated deadlines now dissipated, I can take a deep breath and relax a bit. Today I not only finished a long overdue article on my India experience (for an online mag I produce with a handful of talented fellow creatives), I finally finished my research paper too! You know, the one that was meant to culminate our entire Jain experience? The whole reason we went to India in the first place? The really long one that just kept going and going and going…

Day and night I have been swimming through a dense sea of books and online journals, Jain scriptures and lecture notes. This, with my “real job” and night class due dates to contend with as well. Anyone who spoke to me during this period would have found me a: withdrawn, or b: giddy with excitement for having briefly escaped my thought lair.

(See above pic. Yes I do have a proper workspace elsewhere in the house, but this intense undertaking required a more comfortable set up. Now if only I could teach the cat to do citations. If only…)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Caught off Guard by Pretty Things

Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan, is known as the Pink City. Stories vary on why the maharajah who founded the city in the early 1700's made its walls pink. Some say because he loved the colour, others say it was to imitate sandstone found in Mogul construction. Either way, it's safe to say it's an architectural novelty for visitors and convenient reminder of where you are at all times.

Upon further research, I've discovered that Jaipur is not only the first planned city (in India) but the placement of its streets, walls, gates, etc. were all devised based on Vastu Shastra (Indian Feng Shui). Perhaps this lends credence to my "vortex of serendipity" claim?

The other thing Jaipur is known for is silver. Even the most ardent girlie-girl-side deniers (such as myself) will eventually squeal in delight at the price of jewelry. And so here we are, drunk on our pretty pink surroundings and discount precious metals, chumming around with our new best friends the silver sellers.
(I call shotgun on the sikh)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Back Home and Ready to Confess

Jains don’t participate in confession. Theirs is a religion of self-reliance and no intermediary such as a priest can help you purge your sins. Instead, Jains perform tapas (acts of self-mortification) to help rid themselves of karma which they believe to be a material substance that sticks to your soul. Popular methods include fasting, sitting out in the sun for long periods and pulling out one’s hair by the fistful!

Not surprisingly, I choose the confessional path. My declartion: I’m home now – have been for almost two weeks.

As for the fate of this blog? Well, I have a notebook full of India observations still begging to be uploaded. Which means I get to continue living out my trip indefinitely even though I’m back in Ottawa (incidentally, this is a helpful technique for reducing reverse-culture shock – a condition I’m currently suffering from severely).

If this admission of delayed reporting disrupts the mystique of my trip account, please forgive me. Besides, since I spent the first two weeks of my trip dumbfounded, pretty much all of my posts were backdated anyway.

Hope you’ll stay tuned for more observations: NOW NEW AND IMPROVED with the benefit of hindsight and a better internet connection.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Vortex of Serendipity

Jaipur feels eerily small. A quick Wikipedia search will reveal that it has a population of about 2.5 million. But keep in mind, it’s very concentrated and within a day or two anyone with a decent sense of direction should be able to tell where they’re going. That’s important since rickshaw drivers regularly look for the opportunity to carry disoriented tourists on meandering rides to justify their inflated rates.

We met a cast of characters while here. Most of which would re-emerge as the weeks went on – reconnecting with us through a series of coincidences that would prove to be the norm during our stay.

There was the brown-toothed merchant who stopped my friend on day one. Asked her to write a love letter for him in English, then tried to get us back to his shop to “thank us properly”. (See pic of my friend Rachel courteously composing while I devise an exit plan that doesn’t involve a rape whistle).

Then there was Shek. The fluently English speaking rickshaw driver who rescued us from one of his colleagues – a colleague whose mastery of the English language got us stranded at City Palace instead of City Pulse (the mall next to our lesser known place of stay). Shek was a smooth talker, no doubt. But our relief at having someone local to converse with fluently made it easy to say “yes” when he suggested places to go.

He brought us to a fabric manufacturer, we intersected with a Texan we met in Delhi.

He brought us to “Guru Gi – the man who knows you better than you know yourself”, we see brown-toothed love letter guy from day one (fortunately, his memory was as bad as his dental hygiene and we managed to avoid an awkward reunion).

There was Rishi. The dreamy 20-something, well-schooled in western mannerisms. He rescued my friend Laura and I from an ill-planned visit to a seedy bar with a dangerously disproportionate amount of males (stupid on our part since after dark, the entire city is overwhelmingly male). Refreshingly aloof in a way that ogling locals are not, Rishi had us comfortably engaged in conversation in minutes. Only to find out – he not only knew one of our classmates, he was already dating her!

…the coincidences continue…

Remember Guru Gi? Guru Gi offers (questionable) personal readings in the back room of his family’s jewellery store. I was reluctant to have a consultation. But since my friends were presently distracted by genuine silver and other shiny things, I was circumstantially forced into going first. The reading was intense – I cried, he tried to sell me things. He ended our meeting by announcing that he would NOT see my friends. His energy was depleted and he was “tired of white skinned people”.

My friends were pissed. But this only increased Guru Gi’s intrigue making one friend in particular want a reading more than ever. When our last day came and an opportunity to revisit the guru still hadn’t emerged, she finally accepted that it would never happen.

But destiny intervened. When a last minute request for genuine rudraksha beads came in from a friend back home, I went on one final shopping trip. One thing led to another and now mr. bead seller was loading us on a rickshaw to see HIS guru. Low and behold, as the rickshaw drove out of the pink city’s walls and into the old city streets we had travelled once before, we found ourselves pulling up for the second time to Guru Gi’s shop. Surprised on one hand and not at all surprised on the other, serendipitous Jaipur struck once again and my friend finally got her reading.

The coincidences were so plentiful it became a running joke. By our final days I began placing orders with the universe personally. “Today I want a local who speaks fluent English, has resources he wants to share (money wasn’t necessary, but we were suckers for cold drinks and air conditioning by this point), isn’t creepy and has time to show us around.”

By the next morning we were sitting with our new friend in a restaurant opened early just for us, sipping on freshly squeezed mango juice (free) and chuckling over what we should ask for next.