Archive for books

Upstairs / Downstairs

Posted in Unknown with tags , , , , , on March 18, 2012 by javedbabar

They should be called bi-laws rather than bylaws, thought Forbes. It seemed ridiculous to have an Upstairs and a Downstairs, but he had no choice. The Village had divided his shop into two parts.

“Good morning!” he said to a new customer. The man was stocky, about fifty, with curly grey hair. He nodded to Forbes and turned away. Forbes wondered if this customer was an Upstairs or a Downstairs person – it was impossible to say when they first came in. There were people who rushed in and headed Downstairs before anyone could see them. Others rushed in and bought a book or gift from Upstairs, then headed right out again. People who sauntered in were also of two types. Those who browsed Upstairs books, feeling inspired and delighted, found a work they resonated with, purchased it and left. Yet there were also those who walked around Upstairs like bored children, picking at different sections, summoning courage to head to the darkened windowless room downstairs.

Forbes didn’t bother his customers, only when it seemed like they needed help, or when there was a hot girl, or when he was bored. The stocky man worked quickly through the Sacred Texts section, New Age sages, spoken word audio, international and domestic music CD’s, meditation DVD’s, tarot and oracle sets, musical instruments – touching a crystal bowl and gong, making them sing and shimmer, and spiritual fiction. He seemed particularly drawn to colourful, repackaged series – Conversations with God and its sequels, Paulo Coelho’s works, and the many editions of Deepak Chopra. He spent time flicking through an Eckhart Tolle, but was facing away, and Forbes couldn’t see which one it was. Now the stocky man was hovering as if caught between two worlds. He could be making a purchase decision, but Forbes knew much better than that. He said, “Are you doing ok there, Sir? May I help you in any way?”

“Em, yes,” said the man. He was still handsome and quite well groomed, but maybe not getting the attention he needed. “Can I go Downstairs? I mean, can I just go down there, or do I need to ask first, like I’m doing?”

“Please go straight down,” said Forbes. “But thank you for asking. I’ll be down in a moment.”

The man’s eyes widened. He said, “Why are you coming down?” Forbes opened his mouth but was interrupted. “I thought this was just a store. I don’t want any funny business.” He had the look of a haunted child.

“It’s bylaws, Sir. Because of the nature of materials Downstairs, and also because it is subterranean retail space, there must be a staff member present. And I am the sole staff member.”

“But then who will look after the Upstairs section?”

“The Upstairs will take care of itself, Sir. Thank you for your concern.” He couldn’t resist winking and adding, “Maybe you could stay up here while I’m down there, Sir? I like it down there too.”

The customer nodded initially, and then said in a quiet voice, “I think you’re making fun of me.”

“Just bantering with my customer, Sir. Trying to make you feel comfortable. People are nervous when entering this shop. Isn’t it strange that with all the things you see daily on TV – drought, famine, poverty and disease – rather than being ashamed by their huge houses, big cars, fat salaries, and expensive clothes, people are embarrassed by the materials Downstairs, dealing with the most natural activity in the world; the ultimate recreation. It’s as invigorating as an aerobics class, and on par with yoga for flexibility. I know our materials depict mostly couples, but there are also plenty of items for people to use themselves, in different sizes, shapes, scents, and colours.”

The customer looked haunted again. “Hey, what do you mean by that? I don’t want to use anything on myself. This was my wife’s idea. She’s scared to come in here herself.” The customer was shocked by what he’d said. He hadn’t planned to bring his wife into this.

Forbes said, “I’m sorry Sir. Sometimes I talk too much. I get excited whenever a customer comes in. Please feel free to stay Upstairs or go Downstairs as you please. I’m sorry for bothering you.”

“You’re not bothering me, pal. I’m just nervous, as you said. Thanks for chatting. I think I’ll head down there now. I promise to behave myself. See you when you come down.”

Forbes smiled and nodded. He always preferred Downstairs people. They came via Upstairs – so had seen all the spiritual stuff, and were humble and somewhat ashamed. They were often gentle. The Upstairs people – who never went down – focussed on elevated realms, and could be judgemental. Some were cruel and repulsive. Downstairs people could be cruel too, but at least they weren’t repressed. Upstairs people spent their lives pondering, whereas Downstairs people preferred action. They explored and celebrated the living body, in all its glorious man- and woman-ifestations. Maybe a few too many ways – especially those dirty Europeans; was there a shortage of public toilets there – but who’s to judge? Forbes prided himself on the choice he offered Downstairs.

“Bloody Hell!” he heard the customer exclaim as he reached the floor below. This was a common reaction. Forbes had better head down there now. Don’t want to transgress the bi-law. Maybe he would even stay there this afternoon. Let the Upstairs people come Downstairs.

Most of the Stars

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Mystical Experience, World Myths with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2012 by javedbabar

“Where’s the sci-fi section?” Gemma asked the librarian. “There? Over there? Uh, ok.” She walked over to the wall filled with her favourite writers – Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick. She’d read them all. There aren’t too many women authors, thought Gemma. There’s Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, but that’s pretty much it. I wonder why? Maybe I will become a sci-fi author to swell their ranks.

She wandered by mistake into the poetry section. P is pretty close to S. She didn’t mind skipping the Romance section. Romance books are often cheesy, and always stupid. She’d rather do it than read about it anyway, so never mind.

Let’s take a look at the poetry, she thought. William Shakespeare… To be or not to be, that is the question. William Wordsworth… I wandered lonely as a cloud. William Blake… Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night. Walt Whitman… I sing the body electric. It was great to see more women here. Maya Angelou… You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise. Emily Dickenson… Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me. Sylvia Plath… I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; lift my eyes and all is born again. Kathleen Raine… And see the peaceful trees extend their myriad leaves in leisured dance….

She saw an old book out of place among the new ones. It was pretty battered. A layer of dust slipped off when Gemma retrieved it. Its outer was deepest blue, reminding her of night sky, and the same colour continued within, featuring the sun, moon, planets, stars, and comets. The image must have been over-printed many times to achieve such depth of colour. The book was called “Most of the Stars”, and consisted of one long poem which began:

“Most of the stars rose up within in her;

And she met her needs by reflection…”

Beside these lines was the stunning image of an upside-down, inside-out, heavenly goddess. It was a most unusual illustration, possibly Victorian. The lines were clean, yet held great fluidity. Gemma wondered how she could be standing proudly, but also be upside-down? And have a substantial body, but also be inside-out? The celestial objects filling her body made it heavenly; to know her required stellar navigation.

The Goddess reminded Gemma of her teenage years. They were very difficult years. Her skin changed as she grew. Multi-coloured blotches appeared across her body. The doctor said that they were unusual, but nothing to worry about, merely pigmentation abnormalities, known unofficially as “Spectral Skin”. But as Gemma continued her study of stars, she noticed that her blotches were not random patterns. They matched the positions of heavenly bodies, and moved around. There were ten main blotches that circled around her, appearing and disappearing around her front and back. Gemma knew that her search must be among the stars.

She recalled her childhood’s most thrilling event: visiting the planetarium. Entering its vast, cool white dome made her think of the inside of her skull. The stars appeared magically, and shone everywhere forever. Wherever she looked, there was sky.

The Goddess in the book seemed Mistress of the heavens’ motion. She could see the stars from any position in the world, at any point in time. She seemed a living starball, and also a spherical projection screen.

“Do you want a telescope for your birthday?” her father had asked her. “You spend so much time with your head out of the window, you may as well.”

“That would be great,” she’d said, and was soon an amateur astronomer. She peered at the moon mostly, saw its craters and scars – that poor little thing had really taken a battering. Mars had also had a rough ride, and were those long streaks really canals made my Martians? Saturn’s rings were creepy, looking like they would cut it in half, like a magician’s bad trick. Most of all she loved Jupiter’s red blob, like a bloody eye, staring back at her. Plus all the comets, nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. She wondered how this universe formed.

Her mother read their horoscopes daily. She said, “The stars are fate, showing secrets permanent and predestined.” She’d call out, “Honey, do you want to hear what’s going to happen to you today?” They were never very accurate though. Gemma found a website that asked for your time and place of birth. It calculated the positions of the sun, moon, and planets above that particular place at that precise moment, and predicted everything about you. Its central principle was that of our cosmic integration, recognizing divine communications within celestial cycles. It said, “The cosmic order determines the place of everything in the universe – stars, planets, people. We were not apart from anything, ever.”

When Gemma had problems she didn’t take them personally. She knew them as opportunities written in the stars. She realized that we see the world as we are. As above, so below. As within, so beyond. The planets circled around her always. And her soul was their sun. What she yearned for now was a Starman. A Tyger who truly was, to join her lonely wanderings. To rise like stardust together. To lift their eyes. He would extend his hand and ask her to dance. Till death stopped for them.

“Excuse me,” said a bookish boy. “Do you know where the sci-fi section is?”