At the top of “6 o’clock”, a main street in Black Rock City, Nevada
The folks at UC Berkeley’s library have just kindly dug out my Geography Undergraduate Honours Thesis from 2002 and scanned it. I had somehow lost every single copy, a depressing combination of hard-drive crashes and absent-minded post-graduation packing.
It was interesting for me to reread it now, both for reminiscence sake and to ponder how my writing has changed over the years.
The Burning Man is a yearly festival in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Dessert that I have now attended thrice: in 2002 when I was walking around with a notebook interviewing people; in 2003, sans notebook, to partake in all the art, joy and partying that I had missed the year before; and in 2009 when my sister, brother-in-law, cousins and very good friend wanted to go for the very first time.
The Burning Man is very close to my heart, partly because of the great art on offer and partly because by living for a week in “the gift economy”, where money can’t buy you anything, one learns to appreciate labour and human interaction outside the mental confines of commerce. (One also learns to appreciate just how long the human body can go without a shower.)
Philosophy and spiritual teachings have crept into conversations throughout the last eight weeks in India. Perhaps I should have expected this. Almost all Indian martial arts are grounded in spirituality, if not necessarily religion. Boddhidharma (pictured), who many believe brought some form of martial arts from South India to Shaolin sometime in the 5th-6th century, was a Buddhist monk.
Although, as somebody different reminds me every few days, back then Buddhism and Hinduism were not “religions” in the contemporary sense, and there might have been a lot more overlap between them. Many Hindus might have subscribed to the teachings of the Buddha; moreover, they would probably not even have identified themselves as “Hindus”, distinct from “Buddhists”. Even today, the terms “Hindu” and “Buddhist” do not have widespread currency across India. “I prefer to say that I am a follower of Lord Buddha’s teaching,” Kirit’s uncle, the secretary of a Japanese Buddhist organisation in Jaipur, tells me.1
All this is important, because as we consider the ancient connections between Chinese and Indian martial arts— a microcosm, perhaps, of broader cultural exchange—it is worth noting that undergirding those flows was not “religion” or “proselytisation” as we know them today, but rather a more universal ethos about living a good, honourable, spiritual life.
As such, the shorthand that I’ve been using this past year to describe kung fu’s origins—“Martial arts probably spread from India to China in the 5th-6th C with Buddhism as its vehicle”—is simplistic. Continue reading “Letter from India: Philosophies”
Dear friends, as I enter my last two weeks at The Economist Group, am getting increasingly nostalgic. I’ve had a wonderful seven years here, the longest I’ve spent at any institution–so feel like I’m losing a small part of me.
Thankfully, as part of my transition to full-time writing, I’ve got a great trip to the US to look forward to. Am very happy that this book tour has come together, partly because the US remains the most important market for English-language writing. Exciting!
For all of you based in the US, I’d love to see you sometime, perhaps at one of these events. For those based elsewhere, if you have any friends in these cities who might be interested in Malaya or my writing, please do share this page with them. Tell them to come support a Malayan author 🙂 Continue reading “Floating on a Malayan Breeze: US book tour, April 2013”