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The Way of the Sword

March 25, 2014

You’re in Karachi now / Oh, oh you’re in Karachi now.

– Kamila Shamsie, Kartography


One week short of 90 days, which will mark a quarter of the way through my Karachi era. I had a long-distance feedback session over the phone with the boss today.  He said I was amazing, doing amazing things, and that my locksmith was an amazing example for someone else’s river dance.  He was especially glad that, when we have an issue, we chat it out, which apparently is also “amazing.”  He’s a well-meaning, sincerely good guy; I bristle at his management.

I’m back on the treadmill for an hour every day.  That means I’m choosing and listening intently to about an album and a half each evening, as opposed to my usual random shuffle.  I enjoy the album experience.  It reminds me of stuff, channels my mental wanderings, and calms me even as it juices me up. It is a nice change from the bouncing thoughts I normally host.  While treading, I contemplate stories I should tell, phrases I should write, wholesale life changes I should undertake, and mix tapes I should birth.  If I were to follow up on even half of my treadmill plans, I’d most certainly, um, do a lot more stuff than I normally do… and that would be cool and I would be happier.

I’m reading a lot.  I’m keeping a list.  I am currently slogging through a Japanese novel about a wandering ronin; I found it on a shelf here at Musashithe house.  It’s called Musashi, was written in the 30s, takes place in the 1600s, and is apparently well-known and beloved in Japan.  A thousand pages of honor, samurai codes, and the “way of the sword.”  I find it hard going, but having a few close friends and a multitude of colleagues who think about honor a lot, I want to find my way into it and so keep plugging along.  I personally have no code beyond the one embedded in my head that causes me to constantly fear being deemed a failure or to be discovered to be the charlatan I “know” myself to be.  Codes are a bitch.

Here’s my favorite quote from the book so far.  It is a statement by a greedy, detestable merchant and is offered up as an example of the decadence of his class, but for me it rates as part of my fantasy gospel:

“I feel sorry for them; they’re so busy thinking about their honor and the warrior’s code they can’t ever sit back and enjoy life.”

I eat Pakistani food at the cafeteria every day.  Biryani Friday is my favorite, and I’ve become a big fan of the various versions of spiced lentils offered up regularly.  Breakfast is a either a packet of flavored oatmeal, a bowl of bran flakes, or a plate of fruit. My three-day-per-week house boy peels and pits oranges, slices apples, kiwi, and strawberries, and cuts grapefruits in half for me.  He also irons my shirts, changes my linens, buys my milk, and washes my dishes.  I never see him.  He arrives after I leave and departs before I return.  I think he sometimes uses some of my toiletries.  Dinner usually comes from a can, soup or chili mainly.  Ramen with tuna mixed in has been a big hit for me also, as has two eggs over easy with white toast.  I mostly drink water with drops of lemon juice from a bottle I found in the fridge when I moved in. When the lemon juice runs out, I’m going to try the bottled lime juice also left behind by the previous tenant.

Violence is constant in Karachi. Stories of tortured false-worshippers, gang wars, buried-alive neighborhood punishments, targeted killings, and exploded law enforcers fill the news.  I could throw a rock at it if I did a bit more to build my arm strength, but it might as well be on the moon from behind my enclosures, both physical and cultural.  Dirka dirka Muhammad jihad.  Illusions of nipping down to the club to bang my head with the locals have ebbed.

Karachi bus

Paintings of swords and falcons, along with pink and green tassles, adorn every bus and truck I fight for lane space.  Mustachioed guards slather on more perfume than a Utah grandmother.  Women ride side-saddle on the back of tiny motorbikes in deference to some moral guideline that says safety is ok only as far as it doesn’t involve straddling anything, or anybody, in public.  In the meantime, the Bollywood belly-dancers in the Indian movies constantly shown on local channels gyrate so seductively that lonely geographic bachelors can sometimes find themselves temporarily enthralled despite an inability to understand the nuances of the Hindi/Urdu dialogue.

I have a down comforter, a foam mattress pad, and a “cooling” pillow.  My bed is intensely comfortable.  The 5:30 AM call to prayer from the mosque on the far side of the park behind my residence awakens me every day now that I had my air conditioning serviced, making it both colder and quieter.  Tonight I’m putting the dehumidifier on full in hopes of sleeping through the exotically beautiful, warbling, damnable chants.

My wife and kids are good to me.  They keep me informed and loved from afar.  I keep them counseled and instructed, for which they forgive me.  “Adamant” is my new favorite word for describing myself.  I am overly adamant.

When I age and my mind starts to dement, I ask that any caregiver or loved one sticking it out with me be kind enough to strap the headphones on me, hit “shuffle all” on my Pono music player, and let me rock while I drool.  Prior to his recovery, an alcoholic I know once told me he was afraid to stop drinking because he expected to visit France in the future and could not abide the thought of foregoing a glass of wine while there; the idea terrified him.  As I enter my second half-century, my own ridiculous-but-nonetheless-desperately-real fear is that one day I will become unable to listen to my tunes.  I can’t sing, I can’t play, I can’t compose, but damned if I don’t boast a world class talent for listening.  I may well eventually be outed as an impostor in every other aspect of my existence, but in my capacity to escape into music I harbor no self-doubt.


 Beware the ides of March.


From → Family, Ideas, Music

3 Comments
  1. I love biryani too, but I think I’d take an over-perfumed Utah grandmother every time over having to be so careful about my own security all the time.

    Great to have you back around by the way!

  2. I wondered why I haven’t heard from you in a long time. Great to have you back.

  3. I enjoyed reading your update! Was happy to see your baby face liking my last post. Glad you have a comfy bed, a cold air conditioner, and an invisible house boy to cut your fruit. 🙂

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