Posts Tagged ‘culture’

“Ramanna was the closest friend that I had as a child,” Gampa Guru was once telling his disciples who had come from many places to have a darshan of the mystic. “His father was a weaver as my father was. Our houses were divided only by a mud wall and I could sometimes call out to him in the middle of our studies to clarify some point of doubt.”
JP continued,” He was very backward in Sanskrit and for that matter anything of our folklore. Naturally he just scraped through the padhasala with just enough marks.”
“Great was my surprise when one day he turned up to say he was traveling to the east.” “East?” one of his listeners asked. “Yes to China?” the mystic said and his astonishment was still somewhat sharp after some 28 years. “What took him to that far?”
The mystic shrugged as if it was a mystery.” If I recall rightly there is a Chinese connection. Ramanna had in a jar, some coins with Chinese inscriptions and a pagoda on the other side.” After a pause he added, “In all probability those curious writing and image would have triggered something in him. It led him to the life of the Buddha. To my surprise the last time I saw him he was tonsured and dressed in saffron colors. He had become a monk!”
“Has any Chinese monk ever before passed through the kingdom of Kothipalli?” “Yes,” The mystic said,” some 180 years ago.” “How do you know that Master?” “I saw in the king’s library the other day,” he explained, ”a scroll written in Chinese script, giving the date. It was strange to look at but beautifully brushed unlike anything that I have ever seen in our parts.”
“So you are also into their culture?” “Yes, what attracted my friend naturally led me to know more.”
What is the point of the story, master?” one wanted to know.
“If a culture so removed from our way of life could make such claim on one so supposedly insulated from every strange custom, we are not safe. None of us are.”
After a pause he said, ”We need to see ourselves instead of a closed society, as part of the whole. We are open ended indeed!”
“What will you advice us then master?” “More understanding, – still more, I say!”

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Muslim convert from New York was sentenced on Friday to 11-1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to threatening the writers of the satirical “South Park” television show for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammad and to other criminal charges.
Jesse Curtis Morton, 33, who is also known as Younus Abdullah Muhammed, was put on three years of probation after he completes his prison term. The sentence was handed down in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Morton, who ran a website that encouraged Muslims to engage in violence against enemies of Islam, pleaded guilty in February to making threatening communications, using the Internet to put others in fear and using his position as leader of the Revolution Muslim organization’s Internet sites to conspire to commit murder.
“Jesse Morton sought to inspire Muslims to engage in terrorism by providing doctrinal justification for violence against civilians in the name of Islam,” U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said.
“His crimes not only put people’s lives forever in danger, but they also chilled free expression out of fear of retaliation by violent terrorists,” MacBride said in a statement.

I hold no truck with those who incite passion and terror, and those who beat the memory of the dead prophet. The Muslim convert changed his father’s faith for another. Ok, fine for one to get rid of unwanted baggage. Instead of feeling relieved that he came into a man’s estate, he saddled himself with another. What is the worth of religion in the way practiced these days by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in Yemen, Pakistan,Kabul and in Nigeria? Hatred and pure nonsense whereas the prophet stood for something nobler. If Islam is a religion of peace what he did was wrong and senseless. He followed some idiots who take the name of Prophet and took the wrong road to urge violence. Only look at the needless slaughter of children and women! Just because terrorists want to create terror among ordinary folks or media attention they don’t mind killing their brethren as well. On that account itself they have repudiated their prophet’s words. So the fellow who threatened South Park writers merely was a tool to further the cause of terrorists.
Why should comedians harp on Mohammed? He is dead and there is no merit in poking fun at one who for great many is a revered figure. I am unashamedly a follower of Christ and yet I can admire him for the noble purpose he made his life’s work. Go make fun of the living, for a change. If you ridicule the hollow sounding political nit- wits who are ‘ready to fix the economy or immigration problem’ by some magic formula the jabs may have some effect. Prophet Mohammed, let him rest. He whether the west likes it not was a great prophet. If you study his life without prejudice and objectively you shall find he wanted to purify both Christian and Jewish religion of his time. He stood for something noble just as George Washington stood for something in terms of politics. Just as with all religion Prophet Mohammed was ill- served by his followers who were all jockeying for control, call it self interest. Now what benefit you can get by ridiculing him? It is just like beating a dog or a donkey after the beast has served you all its life. Even if you were to do this now you will be taken by the hand of law for cruelty to animals.
The new converts may not know for a believer despises such converts for their inability to be true to their belief.
From history you can see how these blind believers who dared not think themselves brought upon them the backwardness they merited. Now they can only bury in the Word and blindly fool around like puppets for some mad Ayatollahs and clerics. They lost Jerusalem just because of their inability to co-exist with their neighbors or go with the trends that made the homeless Jews to find a homeland in the 20th Century.

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One day Miletus came home with a beautiful head of Hypnos. He showed it to his guardian, Iadmon. Aesop was present at that time. “Isn’t it beautiful! A head cast in bronze! The slant of that loose headband… Look at those eyelids heavy, almost drooping with sleep… The head tells it all.”
Iadmon scowled and said: “But what on earth one can use a mere head for? Either the piece should tell a story or must be of precious metal so it can be sold for a profit, if ever need arises”. Without much ado he walked towards his shop to direct his fellows who had brought in goods. As a parting shot he said, pointing to the sacks of barley being brought in: “Those are real! Each measure of barley sold is money in your pocket.”
The boy looked at Aesop as if to say that his guardian was impossible. “Let us leave him to his barley”, the boy said.
Aesop took the head of Hypnos and said: “My master is simple in matters of Art. He needs to be entertained or edified. If he has a head for business he could have one for art as well. He can forecast which goods will fetch more money and he knows to hold it till he can get a better price. He is not taken in by smart talk of the agents. Then having a head for business is enough for some. They have not developed from that stage. They are like those specimens you find in circus; they are born that way. Still, freak they are. This is how one is when one hasn’t cultivated beyond mere living”.
Miletus who trusted in his judgment and asked him whether it would have been better if the sculptor had cast the entire body as well.
“As you observed rightly in the beginning: the head conveyed all that was there to convey. We observe the head and can fill in parts left out by the sculptor. This is where my master cannot enter. Only the initiated can enter into the mysteries that Art has for such folks like you and me. The artist though dead still speaks to us. His art is the medium. Think how clever the sculptor of this piece is. He needed only a head to convey that moment one drifts into sleep, with such clarity.”

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A couple of years ago I went back to India where I had lived for some fifty years. I came to know a French couple rather well. They were living well in Paris,- and both were professionals, and one day they had enough of it. Love for India had completely taken possession of them. They wanted to see, feel and live close to nature and be in ‘the centre of Cosmic forces’. Which other place but India? Their imagination was quite lively I must admit, and their transparency for all their urban living simply shone through. The man was, of all things an advocate having had his private practice and he felt India demanded all that he could give. Yes he and his wife did give, and at every corner from the law to the whole array of ‘gurus’ in their saffron clothes were for taking all they could. Having ran up all their life savings on the assumption that India of their dreams must some time and somewhere must coincide. It never did happen to their disappointment.
Recently we met once again and the Parisian wanted to know where did he go wrong. Who am I to break his illusions? The French couple loved India of their imagination while I loved the habit of being an Indian. His cultural baggage is neither Paris where he grew up but also imagination that makes reality work. Only what has changed now is this: reality of India added something new to his imagination. Paris that he is going back for good shall be all the more better.
Our cultural baggage is so heavy when consigned to imagination. In reality India weighs no more than Paris since it is to be lived in. Reality and how it is handled requires no ‘culture’ in technicolor but hard common sense.

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Color of Religion
Is there a color to code religion as founded by a prophet and organized by his disciples?
The purity of a vision seen from the unconscious mind has to be translated by the rational mind. Prophet can only approximate rationally what is revealed in the other. To compound the confusion it has to dictated to one. From there how a prophet’s teachings are translated by his scribe or faithfuls into an order is anybody’s guess. It is neither white nor is it black but gray.
Of this I had touched upon in the concluding part of the Silk Road and Via Appia.

Mexican Americans who are living in the south-western border states of America may be citizens of the U.S.A but they trace their origins to Mexico; pattern of belief-systems as it is impressed in them goes still deeper. The Roman Catholic beliefs were imposed on the New World by force and coercion some 500 years ago; These serve now as the basic religion in Mexico. It did not mean that the Mexicans could not work from within. The result is obvious.The policy of the Church in the sixties was to Americanize these people. But it was not much of a success. The Church found that whenever the priests offered masses in other than Spanish the flock tended to go to other churches where Masses were in Spanish.
In Haiti the Church was first associated with the Francophile elite, and which by 1940’s became identified with African values. Naturally a reconciliation with voodoo was inevitable. The Masses are now sung in Creole accompanied by voodoo drums. Devotion of the celebrants see no distinction between the Christian, Indian or African spirits which are merely lubricants that smoothen their daily grind of living. No Church can hope to establish dogmas per se and expect it to be held pure. It is people who give its vitality to beliefs and in the process it is transmuted into something unforeseen by the founder of the Religion himself.
Fools stone nevertheless some because of blasphemy or impiety. Or it may be for breaking the oath. In some cases these fools burn with lot of mumbo jumbo attached to it. Grand Inquisitor and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem alike can rest. If we pee on the clod of the earth neither will know the difference. They have become one with earth where no infidels or believers, arami or kaffirs exist. The peace that they feel can only matched by worms that specialize on dead bodies.

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outline: Silk road carried trade,exchange of ideas, culture,religion- ups and downs

Trade along the route was adversely affected by the strife which built up between the Christian and Moslem worlds. The Crusades brought the Christian world a little nearer to Central Asia, but the unified Moslem armies under Saladin drove them back again. In the Fourth Crusade, the forces of Latin Christianity scored a triumph over their Greek rivals, with the capture of Constantinople (Istanbul). However, it was not the Christians who finally split the Moslem world, but the Mongols from the east.
Whilst Europe and Western Asia were torn by religious differences, the Mongols had only the vaguest of religious beliefs. Several of the tribes of Turkestan which had launched offensives westwards towards Persia and Arabia, came to adopt Islam, and Islam had spread far across Central Asia, but had not reached as far as the tribes which wandered the vast grasslands of Mongolia. These nomadic peoples had perfected the arts of archery and horsemanship. With an eye to expanding their sphere of influence, they met in 1206 and elected a leader for their unified forces; he took the title Great Khan. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, they rapidly proceeded to conquer a huge region of Asia. The former Han city of Jiaohe, to the west of Turfan, was decimated by the Mongols as they passed through on their way westwards. The Empire they carved out enveloped the whole of Central Asia from China to Persia, and stretched as far west as the Mediterranean. This Mongol empire was maintained after Genghis’ death, with the western section of the empire divided into three main lordships, falling to various of his descendents as lesser Khans, and with the eastern part remaining under the rule of the Great Khan, a title which was inherited from by Kublai Khan. Kubilai completed the conquest of China, subduing the Song in the South of the country, and established the Yuan dynasty.
The partial unification of so many states under the Mongol Empire allowed a significant interaction between cultures of different regions. The route of the Silk Road became important as a path for communication between different parts of the Empire, and trading was continued. Although less `civilised’ than people in the west, the Mongols were more open to ideas. Kubilai Khan, in particular, is reported to have been quite sympathetic to most religions, and a large number of people of different nationalities and creeds took part in the trade across Asia, and settled in China. The most popular religion in China at the time was Daoism, which at first the Mongols favoured. However, from the middle of the thirteenth century onwards, buddhist influence increased, and the early lamaist Buddhism from Tibet was particularly favoured. The two religions existed side by side for a long period during the Yuan dynasty. This religious liberalism was extended to all.
Any history on the Silk Road would be incomplete without mention of Marco Polo. As a member of a merchant family from Venice he took the route. Starting in 1271, at the age of only seventeen, he trekked across Persia, and then along the southern branch of the Silk Road, via Khotan, finally ending at the court of Kubilai Khan at Khanbalik, the site of present-day Beijing, and the summer palace, better known as Xanadu.
Mongol invasion was a turning point in the history of the region. Islam will fall back from what they had gained: all the turbulence,-force released by falling edifices of old beliefs, cultures muddied by trades, wars was for their taking. There was the Black Death that hit as far as Europe. Two thirds of Europe will succumb to it. History would never be the same. Islam will make a giant leap backwards and would never be the same.
(To be Cont’d)

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trade carried ideas,culture route-religions,Buddhism, Christianity and Islam

This region along the Silk Road was taken over by Alexander the Great of Macedon, who finally conquered the Iranian empire, and colonised the area in about 330 B.C., superimposing the culture of the Greeks. Although he only ruled the area until 325 B.C., the effect of the Greek invasion was quite considerable.

By the third century B.C., the area had already become a crossroads of Asia, where Persian, Indian and Greek ideas met. This `crossroads’ region, covering the area to the south of the Hindu Kush and Karakorum ranges, now Pakistan and Afghanistan, was overrun by a number of different peoples. After the Greeks, the tribes from Palmyra, in Syria, and then Parthia, to the east of the Mediterranean, took over the region. They had adopted the Greek language and coin system in this region, introducing their own influences in the fields of sculpture and art.
The most significant commodity carried along this route was not silk, but religion. Buddhism came to China from India this way, along the northern branch of the route. The Eastern Han emperor Mingdi is thought to have sent a representative to India to discover more about this strange faith, and further missions returned bearing scriptures, and bringing with them monks and it is pertinent to note that the Himalayan Massif, an effective barrier between China and India made Buddhism in China more derived from the Gandhara culture by the bend in the Indus river, rather than directly from India.
Christianity also made an early appearance on the scene. The Nestorian sect was outlawed in Europe by the Roman church in 432 A.D., and its followers were driven eastwards. From their foothold in Northern Iran, merchants brought the faith along the Silk Road, and the first Nestorian church was consecrated at Changan in 638 A.D. This sect took root on the Silk Road, and survived many later attempts to wipe them out, lasting into the fourteenth century.
The height of the importance of the Silk Road was during the Tang dynasty, with relative internal stability in China after the divisions of the earlier dynasties since the Han. The 754 A.D. census showed that five thousand foreigners lived in the city; Turks, Iranians, Indians and others from along the Road, as well as Japanese, Koreans and Malays from the east. Many were missionaries, merchants or pilgrims, but every other occupation was also represented. Rare plants, medicines, spices and other goods from the west were to be found in the bazaars of the city. After the Tang, however, the traffic along the road subsided.
It was at this time that the rise of Islam started to affect Asia, with the Moslems playing the part of middlemen. The sea route to China was explored at this time, and the `Sea Silk Route’ was opened, eventually holding a more important place than the land route itself.
But the final shake-up that occurred was to come from a different direction; the hoards from the grasslands of Mongolia.
(to be continued)

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Rise of humans on the earth is a chronicle of mass migrations. Among these a road is surely a consequence of choices people make to reach their destination. In times of famine they sought places where food was in abundance. Later trade between peoples connected by roads. Road is the straight line between two points where geography has a say. In terms of geography we consider unfordable rivers, lakes and insurmountable mountains as features that stretch roads about. Of these we shall look at two roads in particular. These serve as locus for entire history of Europe and Asia to fan out. It brought about changes that none could have realized. Silk Road is one and the other is Appian Way which includes Roman road system as one whole.

The region separating China from Europe and Western Asia has Taklimakan desert, known as `Land of Death'; caravans throughout history have skirted its edges, from one isolated oasis to the next. The land surrounding the Taklimakan is equally hostile. To the northeast lies the Gobi desert, almost as harsh in climate as the Taklimakan itself; on the remaining three sides lie some of the highest mountains in the world. To the South are the Himalaya, Karakorum and Kunlun ranges, which provide an effective barrier separating Central Asia from the Indian sub-continent. Only a few icy passes cross these. Coming from the west or south, the only way in is over the passes.
On the eastern and western sides of the continent, the civilisations of China and the West developed. The western end of the trade route appears to have developed earlier than the eastern end, principally because of the development of the empires in the west, and the easier terrain of Persia and Syria.
In the west, the Greek empire was taken over by the Roman Empire. It is often thought that the Romans had first encountered silk in one of their campaigns against the Parthians in 53 B.C, and realised that it could not have been produced by this relatively unsophisticated people. The Romans obtained samples of this new material, and it quickly became very popular in Rome, for its soft texture and attractiveness. They reputedly learnt from Parthian prisoners that it came from a mysterious tribe in the east, who they came to refer to as the silk people, `Seres’. The Parthians quickly realised that there was money to be made from trading the material, and sent trade missions towards the east just as Rome sent their own agents out to explore the route, and to try to obtain silk at a lower price. In short this trade route to the East was seen by the Romans, as a route for silk rather than the other goods that were traded.

The name `Silk Road’ itself does not originate from the Romans, however, but is a nineteenth century term, coined by the German scholar, von Richthofen. The description of this route to the west as the `Silk Road’ is somewhat misleading. Firstly, no single route was taken; crossing Central Asia several different branches developed, passing through different oasis settlements. The routes all started from the capital in Changan, headed up the Gansu corridor, and reached Dunhuang on the edge of the Taklimakan.
In addition to silk, the route carried many other precious commodities. Caravans heading towards China carried gold and other precious metals, ivory, precious stones, and glass, which was not manufactured in China until the fifth century. In the opposite direction furs, ceramics, jade, bronze objects, lacquer and iron were carried. Many of these goods were bartered for others along the way, and objects often changed hands several times. There are no records of Roman traders being seen in Changan, nor Chinese merchants in Rome, though their goods were appreciated in both places. ( To be Cont’d)

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My sense of wonder even as I approach the very wrong side of sixties has not lessened. Seventy is like a sudden drop in the landscape and approaching it I haven’t reigned in my beast but dug my heels saying Tallyho! I have never got on top of a horse but I can feel still imagine what it is like. I am not a fancier of horseflesh but I can really understand horseplay. It is imagination pure and simple.
I was brought about up in many places where life went about in its humdrum fashion. Thrissur, Kozhikode(Calicut), Alleppey, Kollam( Quilon) are merely points on the map of my life but are starting points to exercise my life in my imagination take to wings. My eldest brother is still so rooted to Kerala whereas I am utterly indifferent to its culture and arts. Even as I first learned to read stories of Aesop, Homer appealed to me much more than Mahabharata. I have wondered often how I could trace my path as though I knew well beforehand the path I should take, everything that one would say was alien culture. I first traveled outside India when I was 46. It was as though I would be testing the veracity of my impressions I had gathered from reading.
I crawled through museums and listened to music that titillated me by its strange rhythms, color and strangely I was at home there and then. I knew I was vindicated and also finished all the more rounder to accept my Indian as natural and nothing to feel disquiet about. I am a citizen of the world in my imagination and while the sun warms my skin (browned by the Indian Sun) there is something familiar and kinship. I am thankful that life has made me quite at home whether under the sun or under the shade.My friends of my youth are still mine to keep and I can converse freely with my friends in the spirit and enjoy their art as though they were right by my side.
Greatest companions of my life and age are accidental and are held close as with hoops of steel by some chance that I took early on.
Straws in the wind can well break the boredom that life brings in every life if properly applied. At least it worked in my case.

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There was a time when the Inuit were known as Eskimos and the word Nunavut didn’t mean much to them as it is today. Life was pretty hard then and those who lived in the outpost camps just survived by the skin of their teeth as the expression is. In such times families who live year-round away from established villages took on charge over whoever may be in need of help. This is such a story and we go back in time.

The Inuit live in and around Arctic Bay. They had never seen a worse winter than of the year before. The year of storms and blizzards. For three months they sat through the worst in darkness. Alone with a boy of thirteen plucked out of Africa. How did that come about? Mbeki was the sole survivor of a plane crash. He did not remember anything except his name, which he said every two hours. Mechanically. As if he were a mechanical toy ready to fall apart. “I am Mbeki. Get my father…” Apak the Inuit was the first one to reach him. The boy was in a shock. His father like everyone else in that plane was dead. “I am Mbeki. Get…” Apak pulled him out into safety. He nodded patiently as he rummaged among the debris. No one else was alive. Apak had all the papers found from the site deposited in a sealskin pouch. It had to go to Yellowknife where the Commissioner for NW Territories had an office. It was so far off. He knew it was someplace he could never feel at home. It was for those hunters who sat behind desks to ferret out the truth. They chased a paper trail while he was only a hunter of seals. He came back with whatever he could carry, and the boy. More dead than alive. “Spirits of our ancestors have given one more mouth to feed,” said Grandmother who was busy throughout the winter with her sewing. Apak knew the boy needed to get well. Yes, by February Mbeki was more alive than dead. He knew where he slept through winter. He knew his host family. He spoke to Nemo the son who was his age and they could get on well. He could well get into their daily routine as if he had lived all his life with them.

The sun came up by late February and the Inuit were once again connected to the outside world. Apak sent word through another Inuk (singular for Inuit) to report of the wreckage to the authorities. “Life must go on,” said Apak one morning. His dogs began howling till he had arranged his dog team. The animals were ready; so were the Inuit ready for the hunt. It was time for Nemo to be taken on his first hunt. Mbeki could not be let behind. Apak fitted him with caribou fur for his body and warm leggings made out of polar bear. His kamiks, sealskin shoes embroidered by Nemo’s mother, fitted him perfectly. The nearest he could compare to what he wore were the skins, which formed the part of regalia of his grandfather as the chief of his tribe. It was all that his father had kept as a reminder in his study. He had as much connection to the Inuit as his father had with that village somewhere in the heartland of Africa. Suddenly Mbeki remembered he could remember, somewhat hazily of his past. “So I am here visiting. But where is my father?” At that moment he realized where he was. He was about to travel with the dog team and he cast aside all other thoughts. Mbeki saw the icy wastes and said in a whisper to Nemo “Miles and miles of ice. I am sure we are lost!” The weather beaten face of Apak and eyes hidden by his tinted glasses did not show any change. He nudged his son who explained, ”See those pattern Mbeki carved by wind.” The boy looked about without catching the meaning. Nemo pointed once again, ”A snow tongue!” Mbeki saw it. His eyes widened with wonder, ”Yes, now that you say it. But. ”Nemo whispered, “We call it ukularog.” Nemo got the eye of his father who wanted him to keep his voice down. “Doesn’t it tell you something?” “No, nothing!” the African boy was certain. On second look he could see it all pointing in one direction. The unexpected sight of a shuffle quickly dried his throat. A polar bear stood right in front! Nemo said in a whisper, ”He is stalking a seal.” Apak explained he could smell a seal though hidden by ice. Nemo would have spoken but Apak quickly tensed. Shhh! He could listen to the hollow sound of the bear making with his paws. “Our sense of smell is not half as good as that of Mr. Bear.” Apak explained after the bear had moved on. An Inuk from experience knew from the sounds if the ground below concealed a seal or not. The animal ambled with intent. He suddenly let his hulk go easy. He waited by the side of a ridge, which Apak knew would mean only on thing. “Shhh!” Apak signaled them to keep quiet. Next instant the huge beast with one downward swipe broke the stillness. There lay his prey, which he had killed on the spot. Mbeki watched with horror and satisfaction how he went straight to the fat than his meat. Having eaten his fill he left the carcass for others. “He shows his respect for his enemies. They also are welcome to his catch.” Apak said in solemnity, which curiously did not sound strange to him. He knew his forefathers must have done similarly. (At least it was what came into his mind. Did he read it or his father had told him? He did not know.) Africa was as strange to him as the way of the Inuit. But it seemed so connected in some fashion.

Apak drove his sled in another direction. He stopped only to check a breathing hole. Nemo explained how seals needed to come up sometime to breathe. Mbeki knew a hunter needed to be patient and silent too. Just as Apak. Apak stopped in his tracks to sniff at the air. There lay a seal on the dry ice palping his body with his flipper. Apak quickly took his harpoon and checked it. The arrow was set in place and ready. Mbeki expected him to shoot. Instead Apak laid himself on the ice and slowly edged closer to the seal. Nemo explained his father was pretending to be another seal in order to get within close range. The Inuit boy explained that a seal from that distance could not see them well. Mbeki could only understand it when in a flash the arrow flew, pinning the seal down. Apak had made a kill. Mbeki could not help thinking Apak the hunter had to be silent. And patient. Besides he had to think like his prey. Or transform himself into a seal. In his mind. Just as his folks in Africa would have done. Drowsily arising from his near-death experience the boy had begun to think more of that source. It was still so hazy. As if for some sort of security he had to place each event now into his African context. Africa, which he had never seen with his eyes. The Inuit were no farther from him than his index finger from his thumb. As a feeling. Strange he felt. Yet it was there.

The End


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