On the Road
Har har, I sent a news tip to India Abroad about a debacle in the New York visa office run by Cox & Kings and they instead ran it as a full page piece with the header “Nightmare.” I know some of you will feel my pain.
London-based Cox & Kings is one of the world’s oldest travel agencies and has offices around the world. Increasingly India and other countries outsource their entire visa application process to companies like this one, with results that are often a Kafkaesque exercise in frustration but on my final visit — it took me a record 4 visits to New York from Philly to get mine and my family’s visas approved — I watched a near-riot ensue.
Obviously there are larger issues in the world to complain about (to wit, this week’s cover story pictured above) but chronic problems with Cox & Kings have been an ongoing saga in this paper, so perhaps my recent tirade will help in some small way with the many thousands of people who travel from the US to India each year. Here’s to the power of the press.
To add insult to injury, I got outta there with visa in hand and made the long trek back to Philly, but the next morning they sent me an email telling me my visa was ready and had been Fedexed to me! They even included a tracking number! I thought maybe it would be one of the many lost passports they’re notorious for but fortunately nothing ever arrived.
The what? You heard me. I’m thrilled beyond recognition — thrilled to a crisp, in fact — to share the exciting news that I’m one of 24 writers selected out of 16,100 entries in the first ever Amtrak Residency. Not without its fascination and controversies, the residency has been covered microscopically in the New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and HuffPo over the past 8 months. For my money, Boris Kachka wrote the best overview in New York Magazine. Basically, we each get to travel for a week in a private cabin on the Amtrak routes of our choosing during the next year as kind of a moving residency, as opposed to being at a cabin in the woods or artists colony like Yaddo where I have also stayed.
This unique residency program started because last year in a PEN interview novelist Alexander Chee said that he did a lot of writing on trains and that he wished Amtrak had writers residencies. He was joking but Amtrak got wind of his remark and decided to heed his call and launch such a program for established writers. One of the writing samples I submitted was my Washington Post story from last year about my crazy spiritual experience aboard a commuter train between Penn Station and Philly. However, my primary writing sample was an excerpt from my award-winning, yet unproduced (anyone?) screenplay Lords of Light, an historical drama about Nikola Tesla and his rivalry with Thomas Edison, written while I was a graduate student at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Speaking of this, I can’t help but proudly mention that (continue reading…)
Why does my new Amazon Chase Visa credit card’s travel accident insurance policy only cover the amputation and reattachment of selected fingers?
I’m American, they should at least offer to protect my middle finger.
When it comes to humidity-induced itching, a monsoon country like India don’t mess around when it comes to quick, potent, no-nonsense remedies.
A Jewish-Hindu connection
Jeffrey Stanley, 7/23/13
Talk about a crazy commute. After a spiritual encounter, a stranger and I spent the next 90 minutes discussing the nature of the universe.
Not so long ago after nearly 25 years as a hidebound New Yorker I moved to Philadelphia for my wife Pia’s career needs, inadvertently becoming part of a popular regional migration known to urban statisticians as the 6th borough phenomenon. She’s Indian-American and we’re raising our child in a bilingual home. I’m a writer and professor. She’s a scientist by day and an Indian classical dance professional by night. Religiously we are at best agnostic but culturally we are Hindus, and will identify ourselves as such when pressed, like on the hospital intake form the first time we took our baby in for a routine doctor’s visit.
This identification sits well with me. Despite growing up Nazarene in the Bible Belt I had long ago developed an affinity for Hindu philosophy—ever since I’d come across a used copy of the Bhagavad Gita at a flea market in high school and realized how similar it was to the New Testament. I still remember the perplexed look on my Sunday school teacher’s face the morning I brought the Gita to church. I had marked the sections that reminded me of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount with an orange highlighter and asked him why Hindus were all going to Hell and we Christians weren’t. Suffice it say I quit going to church not long after that. Christianity just wasn’t speaking to me. When I met my wife-to-be years later while canoeing in Brooklyn’s fetid Gowanus Canal I fell in easily with her cultural worldview. We were a match made in moksha.
Imagine my surprise when, on a recent Friday afternoon while returning to Philly on a crowded New Jersey Transit train out of Manhattan’s Penn Station I came face to face with the power of YHWH. (continue reading…)
Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith
Walking a mile in another man’s shoes leads to kismet.
by Jeffrey Stanley
Three years ago I got married to my wife Bidisha in a traditional Bengali ceremony in Kolkata and spent three weeks touring the country. I bought a pair of sandals there which I wore throughout my trip and back home here in the States. This December my wife, our young son and I went back to India for a month to visit relatives. I brought my well-worn “India sandals” with me. A week into the visit they broke irreparably and I tossed them. The location of their demise seemed appropriate — from India they had come and to India they would return. The next day while we were out sightseeing we stumbled upon a tiny shoe store, one of a zillion in Kolkata, where I found the perfect pair of replacement sandals. They were simple but unique enough that they suited me as a souvenir.
A few days later I struck out on my own to visit Nakhoda Masjid, the largest mosque in Kolkata, built in 1926. A billboard told me with no intended irony that this was Road Safety Week in India. Still the taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedestrians were up to their usual danse macabre.
After a requisite insane cab ride and a short walk down a crowded, narrow street full of screaming sidewalk merchants selling Muslim prayer rugs and other Islam-themed souvenirs I found the mosque. It was sparsely populated at that late morning hour. The (continue reading…)
[10/31/13 – Supernatural Skeptics Don’t Know What They’re Missing. “I try contacting the spirit world before live audiences to keep an element of hope simmering on the back burner of my mind.” - read Jeffrey Stanley’s latest in the Washington Post]
[10/31/13 - Supernatural Skeptics Don’t Know What They’re Missing. “I try contacting the spirit world before live audiences to keep an element of hope simmering on the back burner of my mind.” - read Jeffrey Stanley’s latest in the Washington Post]
These photos were taken mid-morning between prayers so the place was nearly empty. January, 2013. Please also enjoy my related 5/15/13 Washington Post article about my otherworldly encounter with Allah just after I took these photos, “Four Pairs of Sandals as an Act of Faith”.
Enjoy these 16 images I took in January, 2013 at the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India in the foothills of the Himalayas just over the mountain from Tibet. And if you support the idea that it’s time for China to get out of Tibet and leave the people and their natural resources alone then feel free to share the images with others.