Saving the world from disco dancing

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Dec. 13, 2001

Dear Carolyn,

DC's parents have returned from five weeks in India. They brought home silks, metal sculptures of dancing divinities and ankle bracelets along with stories of incredible stone carvings in temples and of seeing people bow down to farm animals.

Sacred cows ran wild in the streets.

DC discouraged them from going to India so soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but parents don't take advice from children no matter how old the children are. Besides, they were on a mission from the Rotary Club, and the tickets were nonrefundable.

They brought home a copy of the City Express, the English language newspaper in Chennai, the modern name for the city that gave the world madras cloth. It's a metropolis of 7 million people, but the Nov. 23 edition contained no news about the hunt for the terrorists who killed thousands of people in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania in September. The lead story announced that the police commissioner has closed all the discotheques in the city. Commissioner K. Muthukaruppan reasoned the dances that occur in discotheques "do not conform to Indian culture."

This is the country that gave the world Gandhi, the Kama Sutra, the caste system, yoga, poverty unimaginable to Western eyes, the Buddha and Bollywood. We don't know what to make of it, a culture at once so rich and so destitute.

While he was at it, the police commissioner also banned condoms with nude pictures on the wrapper.

I wonder what Indians must think of a culture so much younger that produced the Declaration of Independence and Hustler magazine, the Golden Gate Bridge and Love Canal, "Night in Tunisia" and the debacle in Vietnam, Martin Luther King and Jim Jones.

We are all paradoxes, angelic and wanton, wondrous and banal. If life on Earth is a quest to perfect ourselves, nude pictures on condom wrappers are not among the obstacles. The quest is to know ourselves, every last ugly truth in our souls. The crucible of life on Earth will purify us if we let it and even if we won't.

Ahimsa is the Sanskrit term for the belief that the soul cannot perish, that it is reborn as other life forms. The concept is foreign to us, perhaps, because our egos will not allow us to imagine ourselves assuming a state most Westerners would consider lesser. And yet most of us are incapable of the unconditional love natural to a dog.

Our little orphan beagle Alvie had his second and last round of shots for heart worms this week. This time he received two injections and is taking pills for the pain two needles in the flank cause a 17-pound dog. He has to remain slug-like for another four weeks while the medicine kills off the remaining worms. They dissolve when they die, but if Alvie gets too active the dying worms can clump up and cause a deadly embolism.

A few nights ago I was afraid he was about to die. He had a wheezing episode that continued longer than usual and sounded more desperate. He collapsed on his pillow, staring nowhere. I checked for breath. Still here.

Alvie is teaching us about love. We bow down to him every day.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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