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]
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”.
I heart paan
This week’s New York Press, “New York’s Plummy Weekly Newspaper,” cover story is my monologue thinly disguised as an essay, ‘Confessions of a White, Middle-Aged Paan Eater’, the title a loose parody of Thomas de Quincey’s scandalous 1821 memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.
Enjoy the article, go to your nearest Indian grocer and enjoy some meeta paan, and if you’re craving more dope on the delicacy here’s a short clip of me ordering it from a paan walla just across from the ancient Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves in Bhubaneswar, the capital of the state of Orissa in eastern India, this past January (footage courtesy of documentary filmmaker David Gaynes).
And the article…
Confessions of a White, Middle-Aged Paan Eater
JEFFREY STANLEY is addicted to what may arguably be India’s most disgusting export
I pull my hat low as I pound the rain-slicked sidewalks of Curry Hill around noon on a frigid November weekday. I look about furtively as I walk up Lexington, stopping outside of a DVD shop before I dart inside. There I meet my sugar man, a Punjabi who only goes by the nom de commerce Arora. By now I know his real name, but he likes to go by the one-word moniker. I’m happy to…CONT’D>>
[IHeartPaan logo, paan walla photo and video are property of me. Logo via nypress.com]
I stand corrected thanks to the new book, Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre by Jonathan Shailor (Kingsley Press, 2010) about 14 prison theater programs. The chapter “Drama in the Big House” was penned by my good friend Brent Buell, a director, actor and writer who has volunteered for more than a decade for Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), a division of Prison Communities International, directing plays and teaching acting classes to inmates. Brent’s locus in the New York State prison system is the original Big House, Sing Sing state penitentiary in Ossining, NY.
I first met Brent in 2004 through our mutual friend David Gaynes and took my first trip via Metro-North train from Manhattan, zooming along the Hudson to the Big House to see the inmates’ production of Breakin’ the Mummy’s Code, a farce written and directed by Brent (a photo from that production adorns the book’s cover). I returned the next year to see the bold satire The N Trial, a meditation on the uses of the dreaded “N-word” in our society, including within prison walls, written by inmate Philip Hall, who was wrapping up a 20 year sentence.
Such productions of a full-length play performed for the general public have become an annual event at Sing Sing. The cast and crew are primarily inmates, co-mingled with professional actors and crew who volunteer their time (continue reading…)
Rabindranath Tagore (May 8, 1861 – August 8, 1941) the first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born 150 years ago this weekend. Celebrations are underway in India, especially in his hometown of Kolkata, West Bengal, and across the globe. Would that I were there.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Tagore family home, Jorasanko, earlier this year, which continued to turn me on to this Bengali Renaissance Man’s works in poetry, theatre, fiction and music. Today Jorasanko is a museum operated by nearby Rabindra Bharati University named in Rabindranath’s honor and focusing on performing arts and the humanities. My fellow travelers and I were fortunate to have a personal tour guide at Jorasanko, music faculty Prof. Ghosh. He also took me to visit the campus and meet with the Performing Arts chair and some of the faculty, and I wound up giving an impromptu lecture and Q&A about contemporary US theatre to the bright, informed and eager undergrads in an Ancient Greek Theatre class.
The visit to Jorasanko and the university campus wound up indirectly turning me on to the works of Tagore’s precursors such as Ishwar Chandra Gupta (1812-1859), largely forgotten today in Tagore’s long shadow.
I leave you with one of Tagore’s poems:
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads!
Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut?
Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the pathmaker is breaking stones.
He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust.
Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
[pix taken from indiablooms.com and schoolofwisdom.com; the rest are mine]