Helping Hands

There is one main bus service in Sydney, which connects the main areas, but all the other small unimportant suburbs use smaller private bus services. I normally use the main state run bus service, but occasionally when I have to go to my field site- which is a park, really- I have to take one of these smaller bus services. The problem is that hardly anyone uses these buses, except for school children and old people who presumably can’t or don’t want to drive anymore. These bus services constantly grumble about “transporting air”, referring to the fact that at any given time, the buses are more likely to be empty than not. I can bear witness to that, every time I board one of these buses, there’s at most 10 people, and the number goes up a bit on Thursdays, which is when the old people get their pension payment.

But these smaller buses often go through the small suburbs and which means that usually the passengers know each other, and there’s a sense of community about travelling in them. People greet each other by name, they exchange a few words with the driver, exchange gossip, etc etc, a phenomenon that is never encountered on the busier State buses. After a couple of days of travelling, I could recognize regulars myself and even got an odd nod of recognition. The bus drivers themselves behave differently. While the State Transport bus drivers wouldn’t dream of holding the door open for one more second than necessary, or hesitate at the stop even if they see you racing for the bus, the local bus drivers frequently wait for people to get on. And if it means making an unscheduled stop in front of some old person’s house just to save them the trouble of walking a few steps, so be it. And since most of the regulars were old, it wasn’t hard to notice their problems. Like getting off the bus. Like carrying around shopping bags.

So it was no surprise to me to see the Helping Hands make an appearance in this community. The Helping Hands is still an experimental device, but its already revitalized this community. I tried to find out how they worked, but what little i could find was not very clear, so I don’t know how they work exactly. Basically it consists of a ribbon like structure that can be worn around the waist. On the free end, there’s a hand like structure. There are two types, one with four prongs and the other with three, but other than that, they are identical. Both the prongs have a rubberised grip. When the Hand is active the ribbon is unwrapped from the waist, and the ribbon becomes stiff but flexible. The person with the Hand usually has a headset of sorts that is used to direct the movement of the Hand. I reckon it works something along the lines of that bionic arm that was in the news recently, but I believe this is far more experimental and radical.

I saw the Hand in action quite a few times, and its brilliant, people who previously would have taken ages to even disembark from the bus started using the Hand to balance themselves and get down easily. One guy was famous for using the Hand to hold and turn pages of his book during the trip. I spoke to him once, I think it was after the media and the schoolkids started calling them “tails” or even monkeys. The kids used to make mocking comments all the time, sometimes even within the earshot of their targets, and it always bothered me. I asked one of the old men if it bothered him. He said that it used to in the beginning, but considering the new lease of life that the Hand has given him, he simply didn’t care anymore. He also told me that he’d once scared the living daylights out of a particularly annoying brat by grabbing his leg with the Hand. I observed all the different and inventive ways the Hand was used by those who really needed it, and it never ceased to amaze me. But my field work ended soon after that conversation and I kind of drifted off.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I had an opportunity to go back to the park where i worked and took the old familiar bus route. But to my surprise, nobody seemed to using the Hands anymore…apparently the trial wasn’t as successful as the makers wanted, and the experiment had been abandoned. Still, life goes on. It always does.

Mocha Din and the Cosmic Boogers

We first heard about Mocha Din and the Cosmic boogers at the Sydney Writers festival. I had inadvertently attended a talk organized by the SWF- I say inadvertently because I went to the talk only because it was a reading by Neil Gaiman, to top it all it was held in the Uni, rather than some inaccessible venue in the middle of the City. The talk was very good, Gaiman is an excellent speaker, and he had us all enthralled during the reading of a short story from his yet to be published book, a collection of short stories called “Fragile Things”, as well as a poem called “The days the saucers came”. He enjoyed the talk- he called it very different, so I assume it must have been interesting for him as well. Anyway, the talk was but one of millions hosted by the Sydney Writers Festival, and the bulk of those were held near the Rocks area of downtown Sydney.

It seemed rather silly to talk about Mocha Din and the Cosmic boogers when the main event was the Sydney Writers Festival, or even the Mexican Film Festival that we went to later, but such are the ways of this world. A sudden flash, a quick insight, a shared secret, and you are quickly on the way to some unplanned destinations. The making of patterns is a noble task, and as long as the patterns are interesting, there is no blame in following them. It didn’t take much to set us off on this path: just a glimpse of Mocha Din and the Cosmic Boogers huddled around a coffee table, and we were caught in a new world.

Mocha Din and the Cosmic Boogers first burst onto the music scene in the last couple of years, and they were everybody’s best kept secret, but a secret that you couldn’t help revealing to your best friend. Their popularity spread through word of mouth alone. You might think that this was a bit anachronistic, especially in this information age that we live in. But you’d be wrong; it was just that the medium had changed. Emails, sms, and phone calls essentially ensured that Mocha Din went viral, to the extent that every performance would be mobbed just a few moments before it actually started even if the performance itself was a closely kept secret. But we didn’t know all of this, it was only after we stumbled across a very rare hand crafted CD by the group and a few painful hours spent trawling the Internet was I able to come up with a bit of a backstory.

moc

The CD turned out to be the first ever release of Mocha Din and the Cosmic Boogers’ music (intriguingly titled as CD#8). The cover featured a photograph of a face being attacked by a strand of light, and it is said that the band found their name when they came across this photo. Mocha Din is supposed to be a great believer in the power of serendipity and I quote from an interview (an interview by the way that was not only not official, but rather stolen from him in the guise of sharing a light for his cigarette on a rainy Sydney evening. This too has added to the myth behind the band)-“There are signs all around us. What makes them symbols, instead, is by our recognition that these signs are important to our lives”. It can be easily argued that the image that lent such power to the band’s name, has also influenced the music in directions that was entirely different from what they were used to up to now.

Mocha Din and the Cosmic boogers play a genre of music that is very hard to describe. Electro-folk? Ethnic subversive funk? Techno soul? It’s very hard to place this music in any particular state, mainly because the music invariably involves not only a meeting of states or styles, but instead a virtual collision. Instruments that do not have any business being played together not only play together but also merge and weave musical magic in incomparable ways. I am left a bit bemused by their first CD, and it is hard to review something so ground breaking that there is really no basis for comparison. One must take refuge in metaphors, and even these sound hollow after a while. One can talk about meteors or underwater volcanoes till the cows come home, but surely describing something that can only vaguely be captured in words is almost futile.

So in the end we only have statistics. There are 8 ‘songs’. They are on average 8 mins long. There are 4 people in the band. Mocha Din favours the harmonica, but of course, nothing is simple about this group, so the harmonica is heavily modified. The rest of the band does not even have pseudonyms. They have lots of guest musicians, but all the music is written by the core group. The CD is sparse on details other than song names, which are in no language I can identify. Even the dedicated fan following at the usenet groups have no clue what the songs mean, and it is believed that several amateur linguists have tried but failed to identify the language. But in any case, the name of the songs is really no indication of the songs themselves, which wanders all over the musical landscape of our times.

I would like to recommend this CD, but I’m not even sure that you can find it. One of these days, I’ll upload samples of the CD onto the web, and maybe it will finally elevate the profile of a band that deserves to be heard by all.

the shoveling monk

One day the shoveling monk was in deep meditation, as he was shoveling stones, when his concentration was abruptly shattered by the snide comments of a passing ninja-arachnologist. The ninja-arachnologist merely commented on the incredibly inefficient method of shoveling that the shoveling monk had, which to a shoveling monk was like squashing a spider would be to a ninja-arachnologist. But the shoveling monk, who could have easily beaten the ninja-arachnologist in fair fight, chose to respond in an another indirect way.

He asked the ninja, -“what is the most famous saying of a ninja arachnologist?”

The Ninja Arachnologist replied “hah, thats easy,..When a ninja-arachnologist cuts the web, the spider doesn’t even know!”

The shoveling monk waited for a few seconds and quietly said “I was the one who coined that phrase”

The ninja arachnologist was really perturbed; -shocked that someone who he thought was an incredible waster of energy was actually the coiner of the most famous ninja-arachnologist’s sayings. He immediately started looking at the shoveling monk’s shoveling technique. And lo and behold…patterns of efficiency started appearing in front of his eyes. The angle of the shovel, the depth of the heave, the usage of gravity itself to fill the shovel head and even the delicate balancing of the shovel by using just two fingers as a fulcrum. All these saw the ninja arachnologist. And he bowed. And the shoveling monk bowed. And both went their separate ways.

fallen angel

I unexpectedly found myself in a small museum of natural history tucked away into a corner of the labyrinth that they call the department of biological sciences. There were mostly stuffed animals and skeleton displays, but also a few really old microscopes and cabinets and cabinets of mounted insects. The museum was deserted, but well lit, and I spent a few minutes lazily skimming over the features of the exhibits. One wall was devoted to aboriginal artifacts and old photographs illustrating their way of life, but what really caught my attention was the crucified bat-

One settlement (known only by the local name of ‘bau.uli’ ) was so remote that it was virtually cut off not only from the rest of civilization, but also other settlements. Their only contact with the outside world was when Fr. William, a wandering missionary, stumbled upon the site, in a state of starvation and despair, after having lost the rest of his comrades to disease and death. He recuperated slowly in the settlement, and started preaching. But the isolation and his repeated experiments with psychoactive herbs finally drove him insane. His teaching of Christ’s story became more and more garbled till unfortunately, he left behind him a strange legacy. The main feature of his twisted religion that remained in the settlement was that since Christ was a fallen angel and the only reason why He was crucified was to free him from his sin against God. Every Good Friday, the people of the settlement caught a local bat, and crucified it, in a ritualistic recreation of that event.

ifreet

Night was falling fast and the thick clouds covered the sky, threatening to rain at the slightest provocation. I was already on my way home, I was slowly trudging past the empty university grounds. At the crossroads, I noticed the form of a girl peering into all four directions and occasionally glancing at the parchment in her hands. I looked at her in mild curiosity, but that was a mistake because all the ifreet needs is just a single look to trap you. She beckoned to me, and I approached her. The deserts of suburbia are not all that different from the deserts of arabia, and so I immediately knew that this one had assumed human form for some purpose. Now I only had to find out if it was benevolent or malignant. Like you might have imagined, I am not too eager to get my life’s energy sucked out of me, so I approached her warily.

She looked asian, and she claimed that she got here only the day before and was seeking a house. She asked me if I knew of a particular road. We spent many minutes in miscommunication before I realized that it was a test. The ifreet wanted me to do it a favour and then I would be granted a wish. Or even three wishes. I have seen enough bad wish movies to not be careful. She even told me her true name, but only after I asked her. I looked at the parchment. it seemed to be a map. But the house she wanted was hidden. I decided to take my chances, and though I could hardly see her face in the darkening night, I agreed to lead her to the destination. But there was a problem- I didn’t know where it was. I took a wild guess and headed off in to the inner depths of suburbia. After crossing many roads, and likely houses, we finally arrived at the one the ifreet sought. This was it, I thought, I will get a wish fulfilled now. Or get my soul ripped out.

The ifreet turned to me. I could see its face clearly now. It bowed.

vampire bees

It seemed like a typical mad scientist experiment. Doing things just to see if could be done. A large amount of science works like this, all it needs is some demented mind saying, -wonder what happens if I mix this with this, -and voila, boom. This guy was training bees for some typical psychology experiment, you know, see how far they’ll go, what they remember and stuff. Normally one would have to train bees with a small bottle-cap filled with sugar water, but he was lazy and the cap wasn’t working, so he started dipping his finger in the sugar water and getting the bees to lick at it with their weird tongues. The bees used to hang on to his finger so it was easy to carry them over to wherever he wanted to . But on that fateful day, our mad scientist had a cut on his finger.To his surprise, the mixture of blood and sugar water was greatly liked by the bees. So he thought, what the hell maybe they really prefer blood. He started training them with blood acquired from the medical centre where he bribed some junior researchers. Soon the bees grew fat and fertile on this diet of blood. They wouldn’t like sugar water anymore. He tried to get them to switch back, but it failed, they converged on the exposed parts of his skin and tried to penetrate the surface. But their tongues were not up to the task. He thought that would be the end of it, but he didn’t know about the mutation.

a myth

The rao people, to whom the radon spider is sacred, pass through what is now known as Katherine river atleast once a year. Each time they head to the river banks to pay their respects to their ancestral totem, which are found overhanging the pandanus bordered banks in vast aggregations. Once,in ancient times, one of the rao people was walking along the bank when he heard the crash of breaking branches and sounds of frantic running. He followed the sound, thinking of wallaby, because the banks were also sacred to the wallaby people. But the sounds ended abruptly with a splash and the rao did not know if wallaby could swim, as the river was very deep next to the bank. The rao forgot about the radon spider as he waited anxiously for wallaby to resurface but wallaby had vanished. The rao waited for a long while, but in vain. This spot where rao waited for wallaby is now sacred and is considered as a meeting place by wallaby and spider.