On being “Indian”

I’ve been trying to write a tribute to Charlie Chaplin for a while.  There is so much I want to say, that it is growing insane.  However, I just read a book and I am going to enjoy a quick side trip with a topic that bridges the two so that perhaps I will have less to say about Chaplin.  Perhaps.

I don’t have many readers, so I feel comfortable assuming you all know I’m “Indian.”  But this is the internet, so perhaps I should explain myself a little more clearly.  Those that know me already understand why I place quotes around that word.  You see, genetically, I am Indian.  I was raised in a house where rice was eaten constantly and breakfast was sometimes the spiciest meal of the day.  The house had Indian artwork in the form of statues of mystery and wonder.

I place the word Indian in quotes, because I was not raised in a house where I was told that I had to believe in many gods.  I was not raised in a household where I was told that I should only hang out with Indians.  I was not raised in a house where I was told much, in the grand scheme of things, actually.  I was raised in a loving house where I was offered explanations and answers to my questions.  I was raised in a house where all that was expected of me was too much or too little.  As a result, I am philosophically American.  I am absolutely America in so many ways that matter.  For a long time I resented my genes.

About 2 years ago, I learned something else, however.  Spiritually, I am INDIAN.  I am an atheist.  I have known that all my life.  It took 32 years of life and at least 15 of searching to discover I am Hindu.  For an ancient religion, there is a ton to read, and little authority.  I highly recommend that everyone do some research into Atheistic Hinduism.  From an intellectual Atheist standpoint, it helps to rationalize the true wonder of the world and helps to allow others their silly traditions and beliefs.  From a theistic standpoint, I think it helps you understand that although others may not agree with you on the source of good in evil, good and evil don’t need your consent or knowledge to exist.

I am only explaining the usage of quotations, because I am genuinely concerned that people may think I am embarrassed about my heritage or trying to distance myself from it.  I used to, but now I am oddly proud of my heritage.  At some point my heritage stopped being the unbroken chain of DNA  that tied me to a people and became a tenuous intellectual rope that allows me to hold onto people and ideas.  There is some ancient wisdom.

So, back to this book…  In another string of random conversation with a beautiful woman whom I respect very much, the topic came up of “books that change the lives of readers.”  Although she didn’t specifically say that this book changed her life, I had to take it up because she had mentioned it in this context.  Don’t get me wrong, this girl likes Shakespeare, so I wasn’t expecting to really get into it.  That’s a tirade for another day and although most people “can’t believe I don’t like Shakespeare,” Suffice it to say, I do not.  That very night, I looked it up online and discovered it was an English author and was mildly concerned that it was going to be another English tragedy(not that I was raised in a house that considered the English a tragedy).  I read some excerpts from the first page and was dazed and confused.  So I got the book.

Fifty pages in, I had lost respect for this girl.  I had no idea how anyone could read this.  It was conversational in tone, but since it was an older book, the conversation seemed stuttered.   However, books that give guidance and direction are almost as rare as the people who can actually name books that shaped them.  Two more hours into reading and I could barely put the book down.  Closing the book and driving home, I was haunted with this strange feeling that there was an old British dude sitting in my living room, waiting for me to return so he could continue his story.  His story was winding and lacking direction, but he spoke it so importantly that I knew there was some deep secret buried in this book.

Two days later, the book now complete, I am amazed.  On my drive home, when I felt like there was someone waiting for me, the narrator had just introduced Larry.   Larry’s entry into the book was phenomenal.  He was a man who wanted to do nothing with his life except “to loaf.”  The way he loafed was amazing.  I felt immediately like I had known him my entire life.  I had to confirm something unrelated to the book, so I was texting this girl and I had to throw in “really hoping Larry becomes something.”  Little did I know where Larry was going or what he was going to become.

Little did I know that this book which was published in 1944 would be written in the rambling conversational style of my blog.  I was mildly shocked when I read the quote from Hindu “Scripture” that opens the book.  I was not surprised, but only comforted when on p. 268, Larry explained another piece of why this blog is named what it is.

Yes, this is a book about Hinduism.  It is also a spiritual journey and insight into men of differing qualities from a time that sounds dead, but still exists in a different way.  What this has to do with Charlie Chaplin will be revealed shortly, when I finish composing that tribute.  The narrator in this book jumps around and it is sometimes hard to see where he’s going or where he’s coming from.

The book is “The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham.


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