Sunday, November 29, 2015


This is dedicated to the memory of my late friend, Dr. Kenneth E. Rich.  I think he would have appreciated some of the things I write about here.

Ken was the antithesis of the person shown in several of the images below.  (Some wiser folk are also depicted.)
Could these two--Kenneth Rich and Donald Trump--belong to the same species?  I am sure that questions such as this have arisen in the minds of other beings through the eons.
-- Arjun
There’s ignorance that comes from circumstance,
and then there’s ignorance from lack of caring or
from shutting out the things we neither know
nor want to know.  The first is curable,
by effort or by change of circumstance.
The other is, it seems, incurable,
unless there is a genuine change of heart.
Donald Trump, real estate heir and Republican Presidential front-runner, U.S.A., 2015
The ills that plague the “nations”—all the wars
they wage against the others or within,
and also all the conflicts in our lives,
arise, in part or totally, from this—
those darknesses which fate may serve to us
or those with which we choose to be content,
while damning all who dare to point towards light.

The senses, heart and mind can lead us each
to liberation or to bondage deep.
Gotama and so many others past had seen,
in quietude, the ills that work within.
And by observing these, they found that all
that rises also crests—and ebbs and fades,
unless we feed it, through our ignorance.

How easy it can be to fall in sin—
to add yet more and more to endless grief.
How hard it is to turn away from this—
to face the dreaded emptiness and be
aware of all that soils the space within
that only can be cleansed when we release
accumulations gathered through our lives.

The virtues old remain our virtues still—
compassion, courage, patience, honesty—
and all the vices that we celebrate
are still the vices that can lead to grief.
And chief among these vices still remains
that ignorance that blinds the heart and mind—
for which we even are content to kill.

Humility, when learned by those that pride
has led astray, can serve to check its reach.
But ignorance and hubris, hand in hand,
breed havoc, as they kiss and copulate.
The times we’re in, like others past, have carved
these two as idols, intertwined, to which
we sacrifice, while shouting foolishness.

When tossed upon the storms that roil the sea,
it seems that we are helpless.  Yet we find
that we can still observe our plight and breathe—
releasing, as we breathe, the pain we feel.
And knowing that the ones who wound have lost
that sight, for which we then may pray for them,
we might regain that calm and peace that is.

The wise have learned—how little, what they know,
how vast, that ocean dark of ignorance!
So when they find a piece of light, they smile
and hold it up to see, for just a while,
before they let it float upon its way.
The ignorant persist in ignorance,
insisting that the “others” go away.

To answer noise with noise, and violence
with violence, may seem the only way.
For see—the quiet ones are silent still,
and those who shied from arms are buried deep.
And yet, aggression—that of speech and deed,
and even in defense, can only lead
to more of this—and more of ignorance.

So let us pause, or slow, amidst the haste.
How many lives were saved by only this?
Defend yourself and others, who cannot
defend themselves—but know, that path can lead
to more and more and even more of grief.
So be aware of what you do, and see—
the one you strike has eyes and heart as you.

I saw a frog that sat beside a lake.
I looked at him and he looked back at me.
I’d heard him croaking.  Now that frog was mute.
I saw his muscles tense, as if to leap.
And so I froze—and breathing, looked at him.
We stayed there quite a while, that frog and I.
It seemed we talked—of truth and ignorance.

Does Wisdom Come With Age?
2015 November 29th, Sat.
Skyway dhaba, Bath Avenue
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Likhna To Hae Mera Rog—लिखना तो है मेरा रोग—Writing Is My Illness

Likhna To Hae Mera Rog
(Writing Is My Illness)
लिखना तो है मेरा रोग
لکھنا  تو ہے  میرا  روگ

I met once a poet of a caliber high,
A wordsmith of worth that none could deny.
I asked him, in English, the reason he wrote.
He replied in a tongue that was foreign. I quote:
“Badmaasho ne puuchhte hae – tum jaese log,
‘Likhte kyo~?’  Likhna to hae mera rog.”          \1

This was the answer he gave to my query,
With a look of disgust, in a tone that was weary.
And with my machine I recorded these sounds.
But what did they mean?  I have done since my rounds.
But no one can tell me their meaning, and so
I have learned now to mouth what I still do not know.
I now am a poet of a caliber low.
With my rhymes and my meters, I put out a show.
They ask me, to rile me, the reason I write.
I frown at them fiercely and say out of spite,
“The rascals like you have been asking me this.
It's an illness I have.  And my ass, you can kiss.”

2015 November 14th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York

1.  It has been discovered that this is Hindi/Urdu for:  “Scoundrels like you ask me, ‘Why do you write?’  Writing is my illness.”

As these twin languages are not my own, corrections would be welcomed.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Pakistani

The Pakistani
My passport said I’m Indian,
But now it says I’m not.
Can a booklet, stamped, then change me?
Am I Indian still—or not?

I had met a man from Pakistan.
We had sat and talked awhile.
There was laughter and discussion,
And we’d parted with a smile.

But later, at the newsstand,
When I’d bought the Daily Star,
I chanced to read that India,
With his nation, was at war.

So was that man my enemy?
And was I his, as well?
I pondered on this thing a while,
But I did not, on it, dwell.

I’m a man who pinches pennies,
Being stingy to a fault.
That I’m not yet rich as Bloomberg,
I ascribe to Heaven’s vault.

So I wondered if his passport
Said he still was Pakistani.
If so, it stood to reason
That I didn’t owe him money.

For that man—he had insisted
On paying for my lunch—
Those kebabs of spicy chicken
On which I liked to munch.

If he chanced to be my enemy,
As the papers did portend,
Then I didn’t owe him anything—
As is the current trend.

I’ve heard it said a dozen times,
And probably yet more.
“You do not owe her anything!
She loved to do that chore.”

But being still an honest man,
As raised by aunts and uncles,
I still attempt to pay my debts,
Although this often rankles.

My miser says, “They told you so.
And yet you feel indebted!”
My upright one says. “Pay your debt,
Before your rear is dented!”

And so, in my conflicted self,
I mulled upon the matter.
And in my head, for quite a while,
I heard incessant chatter.

For pausing, I’d remembered this—
My passport—that it said
I was no longer Indian.  I
Was USA’n instead!

And so, it seemed I owed him,
That fellow, for that lunch—
Unless he was an agent
Of a nation we should crunch.

But I wondered if that remnant
Of an Indian, still in me,
Could claim, “He’s Pakistani!
And so that lunch was free!”

I slept and saw a chicken,
Who came to claim the cost.
“It’s me, whom you have eaten…”
But then, that dream was lost.


The laws can be our saviors.
They permit us men to kill
The chickens, in the peacetimes,
And in wars as well, at will.

As for humans, what is needed
(As delivered in the Star),
For dues to be dissolved is—
The starting of a war.

So debts can then be vanished
And lives are then forfeit.
And woe to those who claim then
That this is foul deceit!

There are always, with us, women,
And fellows too, who need
A whacking, so they’re silenced
As we focus on the deed.

There are reasons for our wars then—
For they free us of constraints.
When our interests are threatened,
Should we still proceed as saints?

I wondered if I’d meet him—
That man from Pakistan,
Who foolishly had treated me
As he might, a fellow man!

For since we both had remnants
If not more, of what we were,
I didn’t owe him anything—
As my logic could infer.

He had said, “We both are desis.”
If so, we were at war!
And if he would deny this,
I’d show him then the Star


A land can be divided,
And so can people be—
By the colors of their testicles
Or the side on which they sleep.

So though we both were desis,   \1
And the word he used was bhai,  \2
I hope I will not meet him,
And I’m sure you'll figure why.

2015 November 7th, Sat. 9:38 pm
Skyway (Pakistani dhaba),  Bath Avenue  \3
(Some stanzas added Nov. 8th Sun.)
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, New York

Notes on some Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) words:  \4

1. desi:  countryman, from the word desh (land, country – as in Bangladesh, the land of Bengal).

This is similar in meaning to the Spanish paisano, but is used by expatriates from the northern parts of the subcontinent to refer to all subcontinentals, whatever be their nationalities—thus including Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Srilankans, Nepalis, Bhutanese...

2. bhai:  brother, from the Sanskrit bhrata, cognate to Farsi (Persian) barodar, German Brueder, Latin frater, etc.

Note also:  desi bhai and desi behen (brother-countryman and sister-countrywoman / subcontinental).

3. dhaba:  roadside teashop and eatery

4. Hindustani: from the land  near and to the east of the river Indus, as viewed from Fars (Persia, modern Iran), Afghanistan and Central Asia.  This is derived from the Persian word for land/country/region (Farsi stan, cognate to Sanskrit sthan) and the Persian name for the Indus (Farsi Hindu, cognate to Sanskrit Sindhu).

This word is used, among other things, for the language that was (and still is) the lingua franca of the northern subcontinent, as well as of certain parts much further south.

Urdu and Hindi are two of the more formal, "literate" versions of Hindustani.  Urdu is usually written in a modified Persian script (itself a modification of the Arabic script) and is often full of  words borrowed from Arabic and Persian. Hindi is usually written in the native Devanagari script (also used for Sanskrit in much of northern India) and has increasingly become full of Sanskrit borrowings.

However, Urdu and Hindi, when used by common folk for everyday matters, are not only mutually completely intelligible, they are in fact identical in grammar, syntax and base vocabulary.  Croatian (written in the Roman script) and Serbian (written in a Cyrillic script) are the Balkan counterparts of Urdu and Hindi.  Just as one refers to the spoken language as Serbo-Croatian, so also one should perhaps refer to the common spoken language of the cities and more of the northern subcontinent as Hindi-Urdu or Hindustani.

Just as in the Balkans, the divide between the two formal languages stems in large part from religious divides (which in both cases arose from the histories of the regions, including that of the socio-economic systems and empires that rose and fell in each).  However, although Urdu is the national language of Islamic Pakistan, and Hindi is a national language of (increasingly less) secular India, in which Hindus dominate, there are millions of Muslims who are fluent in Hindi and probably also millions of Hindus whose Urdu is decent.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

He Steps Over Cracks—for Kenneth E. Rich, by Isis Phoenix, with a preface by Tal Nuriel, plus images from friends and a video of Ken by Allus Frank

I've met a lot of people in my life, and I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that Kenneth E. Rich was the kindest, most gentle human being I've ever met. It's hard to understand how something so awful can happen to someone so kind. I'm glad to see the outpouring of love for Ken. I have no doubt that Ken made a true and lasting impact on thousands of people while he was alive and that his memory and spirit will live on for a long long time through all of his good deeds and through all of the people that he touched.

--Tal Nuriel
(posted on Ken's Facebook page, October 11, 2015, at 1:24 pm)

A poem for my dear friend, Kenneth E. Rich. 
Rest well, dear one. 

-- Isis Phoenix

He Steps Over Cracks 

for Ken, by Isis

Dr. Kenneth E. Rich
posted on Facebook by Narisara Vanichanan
photograph: Lynne Goldfarb Leung?
October 11 2015, 8:21 am
He steps over cracks in the sidewalk
on the lower east side.
His feet shuffle a little in his tattered brown shoes,
one of the laces always undone or broken.
He steps, some steps coupled shorter
and others almost imperceptibly longer
to avoid his foot falling into a crack and oblivion?
Or worse
hurting that which births and sustains life,
his mother
and perhaps the divine one.
His fingernails are caked
and a bit jagged from the bits of trash
and sidewalk debris he gathers
as he walks. What others discard
he takes responsibility
for picking up the broken bottles and cigarette butts
Food wrappers of disownment.
He cares.
It is a quiet gesture.
He does it even though at times he is embarrassed to do it
He does it because something much larger moves through him
Picking up people’s trash.
Taking responsibility.
Seeing what others do not allow themselves to care enough to see.
He walks over cracks
And always carries a large re-usable bag
with a collection of things inside…books,
cliff bars he gives to the homeless,
receipts and bits of paper with scrawl only he understands,
maybe a sweater, a notebook …
an ipad.
He is, at times, manic, driven,
others somber and still.
He bows to people as he passes and there is
a deep quiet that rests in his system
that others perceive and are affected by
a humility, a quiet beauty like a still pond.
He is the Buddha
walking down the streets of the lower east side.
Stepping over cracks
to honor the Great Mother.

Isis Phoenix
posted on Ken's Facebook page
October 11 at 3:02am 

Kenneth E. Rich -- younger days
collage posted on Ken's Facebook page by Sonnie Hirsch Carpenter 

Kenneth E. Rich -- Senior Prom, 1982
posted by Ellen Limburg Santistevan on Ken's Facebook page, October 11, 2015, 9:05 am 

Dr. Kenneth E. Rich, with Rev-Amma Niradhari Mari,
probably at a building of the NYU (or Columbia U?) Medical Center
posted by her at Ken's Facebook page, October 10, 2015, 11:27 pm

The following is a note and a video of Ken, posted by AllUs Frank at Ken's Facebook page on October 21, 2015 at 3:38 pm.  (I have not included her invitation to join in a celebration of Ken's life October 21-27 in Brooklyn.)

Dearest Beloved Kenneth E. Rich who left his body a week ago, speaks so delicately in this video, upon reading the script of OPEN: a film about UNIAMORY .

Ken was to play the character, ' Gerald. ' He played it profoundly, and I will soo miss his doing so for all of You. I offered him the role an hour into knowing him. Uncannily perfect. Still gleeful in his saying Y E S .

Thank you,
s w e e t love .

Note:  Ken's speech is soft, labored and hesitant in this video, more than usual with him.  He is trying to speak thoughtfully, honestly and from the heart about things that are at the heart of our existence.  But the speech was difficult to follow on my computer.  If you want a child's far louder, more emphatic version of some, at least, of what Ken was struggling to express, here it is:

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Kaker Gan—কাকের গান—The Cawing of the Crows


The late poet of Bengal, Kazi Nazrul Islam, had written:

Hinduism and Muslimism can be borne.  But their topknotism and beardism are unbearable, for these lead to violence.  Topknotism is not Hinduism, perhaps it is punditism/brahminism.  So also, beardism is not Islam, it is mullahism.  It is about these two clumps of hair, marked with their “isms” , that we have, today, so much of hair-pulling.  The violent conflict that has started now is also a fight between topknotism and beardism.  It is not a fight between Hindus and Muslims...  Humans do not quarrel over light.  But they do so over cows and goats.

-- [Rudra Mangal (Rudro Mo`ngol), Written Works, Volume 1, p.707]

The verses below, in the traditional Bengali  script, are  followed by two transcriptions into Roman letters.  After  these, there is a loose translation into English. 
কাকের গান
টিকি ও দাড়ির লড়াই,
আলোর থেকে ঘুরে,
আজো চলেছে, তাই
শুদ্ধি রয়েছে দূরে৷

সাতাল্লিশে দুই –
ভারত, পাকিস্তান৷
একাত্তরে  তিন৷
তাও ত কাকের গান৷

তাও ত টিকি নরে,
তাও ত দাড়ির ঝোঁক৷
চুলোচুলির ফলে,
খুনোখুনির শোক৷

জানি না নজরুল নাকি,
লিখেছিল কেঁদে কাল:
যতদিন চুলের কানুন,
ততদিন মাটিতে লাল৷

শোনেনি, শোনেনি তারা,
ব্যথিত মানুষের ডাক
মোল্লা, পণ্ডিত যারা,
রয়েছে এখনো কাক৷
রবিবার, ১লা নভেম্বর, ২৹১৫ খ্রি
ব্রুক্লিন, নিউয়র্ক
Kaker Gan   (transcription 1: follows standard pronunciation)
For a summary of the transcription scheme used here, please see the the preface to the post at  Bharot Xadhin (India Free)

T’iki o dar’ir lo`r’ai,
alor theke ghure,
ajo coleche, tai
xuddhi roeche dure.

Xatallixe dui – 
Bharot, Pakistan.
E`kattore tin.
Tao to kaker gan.
Tao to t’iki no`re,
tao to dar’ir jho~k.
Culaculir pho`le,
khunankunir xok.
Jani na nojrul naki,
likhechilo ke~de kal:
Jo`todin culer kanun,
to`todin mat’ite lal.

Xoneni, xoneni tara,
be`thito manuxer d’ak.
Molla, pon’d’it jara,
roeche e`khono kak.
1-la No`bhembo`r, 2015 Khri.
Bruklin, Niu Io`rk

Kākēr Gān   (transcription 2: follows traditional spelling)
This is the "machine transcription" for Bengali that is available 
(along with "machine translations" that are not yet palatable) at .  I have edited that transcription lightly 

to remove those"a" letters (usually at the ends of words) that are silent 
in current spoken Bengali. These are implicit in the traditional syllabic 
script but are made explicit in the machine transcription.  I have also 
added periods (full stops), along with capitalization in the English style.
Tiki ō dāṛir laṛā'i,
ālōr thēkē ghurē,
ājō calēchē, tā'i
śud'dhi raẏēchē dūrē.

Sātālliśē du'i --
Bhārat, Pākistān.
Ēkāttarē tin.
Tā'ō ta kākēr gān.

Tā'ō ta ṭiki narē,
tā'ō ta dāṛir jhōm̐k.
Culāculir phalē,
khunākhunir śōk.

Jāni nā najrul nāki,
likhēchilō kēm̐dē kāl:
Yatadin culēr kānun,
tatadin māṭitē lāl.

Śōnēni, śōnēni tārā,
byathit mānuṣēr ḍāk.
Mōllā, paṇḍit yārā,
raẏēchē ēkhanō kāk.

1-lā Nabhēmbar, 2015 Khri.
Bruklin, Ni'uẏark
The Crows’ Song  (The Cawing of the Crows)

The beards’ and top-knots’ battles,
Retreating from the light,
Are raging still.  And sadly
Correction’s not in sight.
In two, and then in three bits,
As pyres and graveyards fill,
The land has been divided.
Yet crows are cawing still.

And still the top-knot wiggles,
And still the beard’s the trend.
The fashions change with seasons,
But when will slaughters end?

Was it Nazrul then who wept once
And penned these lines in dread?
“As long as hairstyles rule us,
The ground is wet with red.”
They did not, would not hear then
The cries of those in pain
Those mullahs, pundits, others,
Who still, as crows, remain.

2015 November 1st, Sun.
Brooklyn, New York