Saturday, 20 July 2019

Understanding the importance of sadness

Sadness, often the emotion most shirked and wriggled away from, has amazing powers. As a child experiences the concentration of this emotion, along with anger, happiness and fear, moment to moment, they gain insight in to the poetry of the universe, and an experience of the Whole.

Yet as we grow older we learn – because the purity of sadness is so intense – to avoid it. In resisting sadness, we resist life. And as the wisdom of Yin and Yang teaches us, without the fullness of one, the fullness of the other is lessened too.

“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” ~ Jonathan Safran Foer

Children probably see adults like cocoons of nothingness; supposedly in control of their emotions while the child may express them in the socially-unacceptable form of tantrums.

They may become red-faced and jolly when chasing away the dissatisfaction their resistance causes them with socially acceptable drugs, or in one of those rare moments where their stress-levels dip below chronic for five minutes. But inevitably this resistance of sadness can ultimately lead to their death.

“When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults.” ~ Brian Aldiss

Trapped emotions and unconscious habits lead to disease, and disease without true healing; through addressing these trapped emotions, can lead to death. A death that is not the end, but a reminder that next time, they really need to remember to honour their emotions!

“Only those willing to walk through the dark night will be able to see the beauty of the night and the brilliance of the stars.” ~ Archbishop Socrates Villegas

So in a way, sadness and our relationship with this prized emotion could lead to the evolution of the soul. Sadness in goodbyes, sadness in loss, sadness in grief, but also sadness as you let each day of your life slip away. Sadness can be a celebration of it.

In becoming less present and less immersed in reality we cheat ourselves; for we may not lose anything, but then we also fall out of step with the universe. Without expressing gratitude for what is passing away we also don’t get to enjoy it.

This fear of letting time escape from us is ironically the root of most human sadness. When we are truly immersed in reality then time disappears. We become the past, present and future equally, and we are living as part of the Whole. As nature intended.

But the moment we resist, or grasp as Buddhism would have it, we create self-made sorrow. Sadness is a mirror that reflects our human lesson. It is the dark night of the soul encapsulated in one word. So to run away from it is to exacerbate the itch. To let the rash spread and engulf us so much so that we can’t even locate where the itch began.

So instead of experiencing pure sadness; sadness in its original form; as a sorrow for the loss of a moment, we live in the shadow of half sadness. As Don Miguel Ruiz outlines in the fourth agreement, ‘Don’t make assumptions’: “What others say and do is a projection of their own reality; their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and the actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” (From The Four Agreements.) Projecting onto others is the echo of that internal sadness; the sadness unaddressed; the ‘problem’ in our lives that survives in our subconscious.

So are suffering and sadness the same thing? You could say that original sadness is when something ‘hurts’; the child cut their knee falling over on the sidewalk.

They are innocent to the world of physical pain and that pain then translates itself as anticipation; an emotional pain that recognizes the existence of our mortality.

Suffering is the resistance of that truth, whereas sadness is an honest recognition of it. It is important not to confuse the two. This is also where anger comes in.

Anger could be seen as the layer burying the sadness; it is a violent expression of suffering, whereas the half shadow sadness, the depressive sadness we are more familiar with and terrified of is the opposite of violence.

It is concave, inert. In the same way we must be present in our sadness, anger is usually a way to get there. If we pierce the layer of anger and literally swim in it; observe the intensity of our anger and become aware of it, then we usually pierce through to our unadulterated sadness. To do this can invite a flow of relief. It’s OK, there’s nothing to escape any more. You are safe. Let go.

“If you are patient in one moment of anger you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” ~ Chinese proverb

So how do we reach back through those many years of resistance and denial and recover our original sadness? Going in to our anger as described above is one way. Another is to have a conversation with ourselves.

We can observe our thoughts and recognize that we don’t have to agree with and comply with everything they say. Questioning them leads us downwards, into our inner most caves; caves full of treasures long-since forgotten. It is in those treasure chests that we may find the source of our pain, and if we allow ourselves, we can let the source float to the surface and return back to the Whole, where it doesn’t need to harm us anymore.

Doing what scares you is the final one. Facing our fears; face our dragon as the ancient art of storytelling invites us to do, to face ones-self and slay it. Only to find the object of our journey that lies waiting behind it, is innocence and pure joy.

(Source: fractal enlightenment)

Friday, 19 July 2019

Object worlds and inner states

“Look! Look! If you look really hard at things, you’ll forget you’re going to die,” an American actor is supposed to have once said. In a writing class I occasionally teach, this injunction to just look—out of the window or down the street—is sometimes met with boredom, not a seasoned ennui necessarily, just impatience with what one presumably already knows. We are prone to treat the outer world as a source of information, new and old, when it is actually a font of emotion. We describe things not because they are there but because our life depends on it.

Take Raymond Carver’s story “The Cabin.” A man called Mr. Harrold drives to a lodge in winter for a couple of days of river fishing. His wife has recently left him and he is suffering her absence, but this we know only through the occasional flashback. Most of Mr. Harrold’s feelings are expressed subliminally, through the delineation of things—furniture and furnishings in a room, the interplay of clouds and hills on the horizon, what people wear and how they look. Mr. Harrold is intent on enjoying himself, but it’s somewhat hard going, and he tries to keep himself together through acts of exact naming and deliberate doing. He takes a pint of Scotch out from the glove compartment, spreads out his weights and hooks on a table, smokes a cigarette with his tackle box open.

Eventually his grip on this material universe collapses. “He shook his head. Then he went up the steps to his cabin. He stopped on the porch. He didn’t want to go inside. But he understood he had to open the door and enter the room. He didn’t know if he could do that.”

Carver once said that “a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing—a sunset or an old shoe—in absolute and simple amazement.” Everything is grasped with a fine precision in his stories—the ordinary but distinctive texture of the world. Often it is as if things have a life that people draw from, rather than they endowing things with meaning. “Ideally, perhaps, the animate and the inanimate should swap places,” said Joseph Brodsky. Michael Hofmann, who quoted that remark in an essay on the poet, pointed out that this is exactly what happens in Brodsky’s poems. “The person, the poet, is atomized, centrifuged, dispersed, while his inanimate surroundings are spun into an increasingly concrete aura, a genie, that comes to stand in for him.”

This holding fast to the concrete world can be a way of anchoring oneself in the aftermath of tragedy—the departure of a wife in Mr. Harrold’s case, exile from Russia in Brodsky’s, which he describes rather as “tragicomedy.” His fellow exile Vladimir Nabokov clearly saw the tragicomedy of exile, too. In, say, the painful novelty of the everyday American products that arrest Humbert Humbert on one of his cross-country runs with Lolita (“Not for the first time, and not for the last, had I stared in such dull discomfort of mind at those stationary trivialities that look almost surprised, like staring rustics, to find themselves in the stranded traveller’s field of vision: that green garbage can, those very black, very whitewalled tires for sale, those bright cans of motor oil … ”).

The tragicomedy of Nabokov’s most tragicomic hero, the also exiled Timofey Pnin, is heightened by his comic flailing, his inability to get a hold on America. All sorts of everyday objects—from train timetables to washing machines—trip up this out-of-place Russian professor, but what endears him to us is his passionate ardor for these very things, his besotted attentiveness to them. His son gifts him an antique glass bowl that reflects “with such emblematic force the sweet nature of the donor that the tangible attributes of the thing are dissolved, as it were, in this pure inner blaze.” The object is transfigured through love. At the end of the novel, when Pnin is washing the bowl after a party at which he has received some bad news, he drops a nutcracker into it. The “excruciating crack” he hears sounds to us very much like the breaking of his heart.

While Nabokov and Carver’s characters seem as committed as their authors to the hard-edged glow of the uniquely common, in the fiction of R. K. Narayan, the Indian writer widely celebrated for his evocation of ordinary life, things are described clearly by the author but are not always seen for what they are by his characters. In the story “The Astrologer,” a seller of fried groundnuts “gives his ware a fancy name each day, calling it Bombay Ice-Cream one day, and on the next Delhi Almond, and on the third Raja’s Delicacy.” No one objects to these misnomers. The astrologer himself has eyes with an abnormal gleam that is really an expression of canniness but that customers mistake for sagacity, and the story is about a life-saving sleight of hand. In “The Doctor’s Word,” a brutally honest doctor is compelled to try a white lie to save a friend. Misunderstandings, trickery, surprises, exaggerations, the unseen hand of destiny—this is the stuff of Narayan’s stories, together with a persistent otherworldliness, seen in the famous singer in one story who travels the world giving concerts but is “habitually oblivious of her surroundings … She seemed to exist without noticing anything or anyone, rapt in some secret melody or thought of her own.”

The poet Arun Kolatkar once said, “There are a lot of mythical birds and beasts in Indian poetry but not ordinary things. Sparrows and crows have rarely appeared.” The writer able to most effectively combine the ordinary and the mythical was the poet, linguist, and translator A. K. Ramanujan. Yet again, it was the condition of displacement that created this possibility of seeing afresh, of noticing on a Chicago street what was first experienced in a South Indian home, but in Ramanujan’s vision things are animate in a different way: they become imbued with metaphorical meaning. Every poem of his could be read as an act of transmutation, and what is transmuted most often is the human body. The body is the locus and the body is returned to its formative elements; the body is pushing against its limits while the imagination tries to supply what the bodily senses cannot apprehend.

There is a thin line between concrete things and abstract ideas in these poems. In one, the poet thinks himself into a walnut tree that both goes into making a writing desk and is pulped for paper. He sees himself at that desk, writing on that paper, “a firm imagined body / working with the transience / of breathless / real bodies.” Ramanujan’s poems constantly “strain against the present tense,” as he remarks in another poem, while Carver’s stories are tributes to that very tense.


All this could suggest an easy dichotomy between the Western outlook—particular, present, individuated—and the Eastern—metaphysical, relative, fluid. The dichotomy is easily undone however by looking to Indian history. The Mughals, for instance, were acute observers and painstaking documenters of everything—their own lifestyles, the smallest details of the natural world, the complexities of kingship, the spoils of war. They were intent not just on identifying things but also on exercising the imperial right to label them. “As Adam named the birds and beasts of the Garden of Eden, so Akbar, supreme lord of his lands, rechristened a particular variety of Kabul cherry ‘shah-alu,’ king-cherry, or gave the pashmina shawl the nicely alliterative name parm-narm, most-soft,” writes Parvati Sharma in Jahangir, her recent biography of Akbar’s son. This fourth Mughal, perhaps the greatest aesthete of the line, had a “visceral appreciation of beauty” and “excelled in describing the strange.”

Of course the Mughals were exiles, too, in a manner of speaking. Babur, the first of them, who was born in Central Asia, famously lamented in his autobiography how Indians “have no good horses, no good flesh, no grapes or musk-melons, no good fruits, no ice or cold water, no good food or bread in their bazars, no baths or colleges, no candles, no torches, not a candlestick.” A couple of hundred years down the line, Jahangir, though completely at home in India and half-Rajput, is nevertheless still looking at it with the eyes of a discerning visitor, zestfully describing the habits of the natives and, unlike his great-grandfather, comparing favorably the fruits of India with those of Kabul. Thus the formerly native slowly becomes foreign and the foreign is made native; the Persian word vilayat once meant the land of one’s ancestors but over time came to mean “abroad.”

If exile produces one ideal condition for observing and naming, power produces another, and these two came together in the case of the Mughals. In Jahangir’s time, for instance, and that of his father, Akbar—the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—the country they ruled was one of the richest in the world; the catalogue of these riches—cloths, spices, minerals, fruit, grains, livestock—needed a comparable richness of vocabulary to describe, as they often were by awestruck visitors, notably those historic emissaries from Europe. Soon all these many things would become the envy of the Occident and thereby impetus for colonization. The relationship between covetousness for things and their depiction in art has been described admirably by John Berger. In his classic relook at Western art, Ways of Seeing, he shows us how European oil painting from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, commissioned by rich patrons, came to embody the aesthetic for re-creating material objects and reinforcing aristocratic ownership of them. The dominant styles of oil painting “conveyed a vision of total exteriority.” This possessive stance toward the world was at the heart of the colonial enterprise, he argues.

What Kolatkar describes as lack of everyday detail in Indian poetry could be read as a comfortable taking for granted of things, a doing away with the need to describe what one has an obvious claim on. In the colonial era, Indian writers seem to lose that sure hold on experience, perhaps because of our reading about one set of things in English literature, inside the classroom, and experiencing another outside. The most weather-beaten example is Wordsworth’s daffodils. Every second postcolonial writer, from V. S. Naipaul down, has found reason to complain about those daffodils of the school textbook—definitely not ours and yet ours already. For a later generation, the exotic teas devoured by children in Enid Blyton’s adventure stories—scones with clotted cream and tongue sandwiches, gallons of ginger beer and lashings of lemonade—came to stand in for this embarrassment. We liked stuff vicariously and often grew up to dislike ourselves for that reason. But what is missed by this now all-too-familiar critique is the fact that we are responding not merely to things but the words in which they have been incarnated. What excites the imagination is the description; what alienates—but thereby also inspires—is the feeling of not ourselves having a language compelling enough to bring things to life. The response, when it comes, is a literary one, and a literary response can never be wholly antagonistic to its impetus.

But whether writing out of a need to dispense with those daffodils and recover what is close at hand, or writing out of an assumed ownership of the world, the mere ambition to get things down, to conquer them with human names and fix them in human images, can become, if taken too seriously, a hubris, as Berger points out. Even writers must stop playing god at some point—the deity that Flaubert, master of noticing, famously gave license to all writers to emulate when he said they “must be like God in the universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere.” Carver seemed to know that. A poem called “The Blue Stones,” addressed to Flaubert, has an epigraph from the French writer: “If I call stones blue it is because blue is the precise word, believe me.” The poem itself however seems to gesture at something else—the inner life of things, perhaps unreachable by the words a writer dreams up for them. Those stones on the beach look blue in the moon’s light. And “Next morning when you pull them / from your trouser pocket, they are still blue.”

(Source: The Paris Review)

Thursday, 18 July 2019

'My son spent £3,160 in one game'

Last week we told the story of the family whose children emptied their parents' bank account buying players in the video game Fifa.

It generated a big debate about whether parental controls are sufficient, how much responsibility lies with mum and dad - and the ethics of encouraging young players to spend money within games and apps.

Following the BBC's report, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson tweeted calling for "tighter regulation" in gaming, saying there were "considerable fears that gaming is a gateway to gambling".
Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS select committee, which is currently investigating technology and addiction, told the BBC he believes the issue is "a real problem".

"I think there should be an obligation for the company to warn people about suspicious activity, like large increases in spending, just as banks warn their customers about unusual transactions," he said.

Here are some of the stories you shared with us.

My son spent £3,160 in one game
I have a 22 year-old disabled son, who has cerebral palsy, complex epilepsy, autism, learning difficulties and the approximate cognitive ability of a seven-year-old child.

He is unable to do any bilateral activities so relies heavily on his iPad and PlayStation for entertainment and educational activities.

He has recently been playing a game on his iPad called Hidden Artifacts which involves finding various items and matching them to the description.

He has been charged £3160.58 between 18 February and 30 May 2019, clearing out his entire savings.

I contacted iTunes, who were extremely helpful but were unable to refund the amount and suggested I contact Blastworks Ltd, the app developer and game provider. [Under European rules, Apple users in the EU can request to cancel an order within 14 days of purchase].

I have phoned and emailed several times but have had no response.

It is extremely distressing that vulnerable people, such as my son, become victims of what is thought to be an educational game.

I have tried tirelessly to recoup his life savings but constantly come up against a brick wall.

Susie Breare, Hampshire

Basketball game cost our family £2,000
My 16-year-old son spent nearly £2,000 of my money on EA's NBA basketball game.

He used my bank card and I didn't realise until I had a payment declined.

He accessed the app via Google Play.

EA made no response to me and Google Play has a disclaimer about kids using parents' bank details without permission.

My daughter had to use her university savings to pay the bill for this and it has caused huge damage to our family.

Susan Taylor, Scotland

Our son spent £700 on Clash of Clans
This happened to us a few years ago when we were very new to all this. We are technically savvy but didn't think to put a password on and my son, who was 12, ended up spending around £700.

It was on his own phone and he managed to download Clash of Clans through a Google Play account, enter his own children's bank card details and buy lots of in-game items.

We didn't realise until we checked his bank statement and it was virtually empty. He did not realise the connection, that it was real money leaving his bank account.

We never got our money back, apart from a token amount as a gesture of goodwill.

Anon, West Sussex
My daughter installed the same game three times
My 11-year-old daughter has spent over £100 of my money in a day downloading apps that are the same.

I had Google Play blocked from accessing money from my account but recently they changed settings that somehow allowed my girl to spend money unauthorised. I had to contact the fraud team on three occasions to get money back.

The games my daughter was installing were horse games and Minecraft. She installed the same game three times.

I had no idea until I found my bank account was empty and checked my online statement.

My daughter is now [using] a closed system back on a PS3. No fraud, no online grooming and no bullying.

Julia Pennycuick, Edinburgh
"He was completely inconsolable"
I installed Mini Golf King on my phone for my son who is five. He knows he's not allowed to spend money in games, yet this game successfully tricked him into spending £300 on in-app purchases.

Fortunately, my card issuer blocked some of the transactions, but a purchase for £75 went through, along with a few smaller ones.

When my son realised that he'd spent real money, he was completely inconsolable, saying he was so sorry for being naughty and he thought they were pretend coins.

My refund request via Google Play was automatically rejected.

I explained that my son is autistic, and his disability makes him vulnerable (he doesn't really understand the concept of being manipulated and he wouldn't necessarily understand why people who make games want money).

Google said I should contact Mini Golf King, which said it did not generally refund in-app purchases once the purchased items had been used.

It offered to delete the account and submit a refund case to the store from which the purchases had been made, but said this would be non-reversible.

I have heard nothing since.

People will say "well, you should be supervising him". I was! I was in the room.

But the game is a children's game, rated PEGI 3 [suitable for players aged three and above].

I would allow him to watch a U-rated film and I assumed PEGI 3 games were safe to play with casual supervision.

Claire, West Yorkshire

My boy spent almost £1,000 on Fortnite
When he was 15, my boy spent almost £1,000 on Fortnite.

The issue was it was small cumulative amounts that don't seem significant until you add them up over eight months.

He doesn't have Fortnite any more... and my car will be clean for the next 15 years!

Naz, Dubai

Our daughter's "free trial" cost £93
Last week my wife got a suspicious email from PayPal, £93 for some mobile app that takes a photo and converts it to a 3D emoji.

I checked my online banking app and sure enough the money for a "free" trial had been taken.

It turned out my wife had left herself logged into Google Play on her old phone that she'd given to our youngest daughter, who had signed up for the free trial, which after a week expired and took the funds.

Thankfully Google were very quick to refund the amount, within 30 minutes of raising the issue with them.

Damian Cox, Leicestershire

Google told the BBC that it advises parents to set up its Family Link tool.

"This gives you the ability to set various types of permissions per person in the family," said a spokesman.

"For example, you can use password protection so that a password needs to be entered each time a purchase is made, including for in-app purchases billed by Google Play, like buying coins in games."

The BBC also contacted Blastworks, EA, Mini Golf King and Supercell for comment.

Games analyst Piers Harding-Rolls, from IHS Markit, said that 56% of consumer spending on games in the UK is forecast to be on micro-transactions, in-app purchases and paid downloadable content (outside of full games) in 2019.

"It is clear that there need to be safeguards for younger players," he said.

"Educating parents around controls that can be used on devices to help mitigate these incidents occurring, and awareness of age rating for content, is a good starting point.

"I'd also like to see the industry self-regulate to do more to safeguard younger players and overuse of games."

(Source: BBC)

On the eve of my eternal marking

My son wants to know why flies are even a thing; he wants to know why bugs are even a thing. They bother him. I get it. I, too, have his sensitivities. On the other side of the world, where our real lives reside, Chicago winters coerce living things to slumber or die—not so here, in Thailand, where life announces itself in its full verdancy and fecundity, unending, its tight and insistent tendrils ever unfurling.

Tomorrow, I will receive the sacred blessing of a Sak Yant, a talismanic, ancient, protective, and mystical stick-and-poke tattoo from one of the most revered spiritual masters in Thailand. This, however, was not a decision I made for myself: my mother said she had a premonition; it was overwhelming. She told me I needed this tattoo for protection. Such tattoos are simply part of Thai culture, especially as it is lived by the peasant class, a class that, without power or money or resources, depends on luck and superstition to bank their hopes and dreams and visions of someday. Superstition or no, my mother says I need the protection. And soon.

So here I find myself, in the country of my birth, on the eve of an eternal marking.

It is more than a mere mark; like baptism or confirmation, getting a Sak Yant is ceremony, a pronouncement that one has made a significant life choice. With this mark, I am making the choice to be mindful of the spiritual dimension. In other words, I will have to believe that there is something to believe in.


I tell my son that bugs are a thing because God made them. My children, who are not brought up religiously, know that I use the word loosely. What I mean by God is something greater, a mystery, a deep unknowing that touches us and perhaps makes the flowers beautiful or worse for wear. My son corrects me: God didn’t make bugs, he says; God made life. According to this worldview, whatever happened after that just happened. Bugs just happened, but life made it possible for bugs to happen.

I know that things just happen. I just happened to lose a pearl earring on the flight here. I took the earrings off in the middle of an awful wake-and-sleep, toss-and-turn, nauseating airplane slumber and just tossed them in my bag without properly securing them. It was a bittersweet loss, because the pearls served as proof, a visible mark, that I, a poor girl, had made it.

I attended a women’s college in the South, where girls from well-to-do families wore their pearls even as they burned off their tiny salads on the treadmills. As a student there, I didn’t own pearls, and even though I eschewed money and what it represented, I thought their pearls were beautiful.

I pined for their pearls. I wanted the luster, the shine they bestowed, but more, I wanted the sense of self-worth, of belonging, of status and surety, even if these things were merely fabrications of my own mind, informed by and easily persuaded by my insecurities.

When I got my first salaried job for $25,000 a year as an editorial assistant for an academic publisher in Manhattan, I bought myself, discounted from, pearl earrings, one of which is apparently lost forever, perhaps stuck in a crack underneath seat 64E en route to Hong Kong as we speak.

My son is bothered by all the flies in this country; my daughter seems to be the food choice for mosquitoes. Despite their insect woes, my children are luckier than I was at their age. I didn’t visit Thailand until I was seventeen, going on eighteen; for my family, it was hard won. I had not fully considered that there existed another world to consider. Until my first visit, Thailand and my mother’s sufferings and poverty were mere abstractions. And although my children did not know my Thai grandmother or live in her little shack, or poop in her outhouse into the old-world toilet, or force that poop into the septic tank by pouring water into that old-world toilet, or sleep in sweaty sheets under mosquito netting without air-conditioning, they have so much more to consider here. They have seen the little girl across the street who lives among piles of broken glass; they have seen the little cat eating grass outside the noodle shop, vomiting right there in front of us; they have seen the flies that land on the little shop’s table; they have seen how effortlessly I exchange my bills for baht; they have seen how little little can be.

Despite my mother’s flight to the United States and her hard-earned financial stability and despite my being a professor with a Ph.D., here, I am still of the peasant class. I will always be. I am unsophisticated. I am of the country. I am not the daughter of an educated Bangkok doctor like the Thai girls I met in college. I speak differently. My word choices, my expressions, my way of speech gives me away. Peasant, my Thai words say, no matter what I say.

Or perhaps these characterizations are mere fabrications of my insecurities.

I wear my pearl earrings practically every day. I suppose, however, that I should lean here on the past tense. I can no longer wear what I no longer possess. I should say: Before I lost one, I would wear my pearl earrings practically every day. I wore them almost always. There were, in essence, part of my identity, a part of my very body. My face does not seem right without them. My face then is no longer my face. Losing my pearl means losing what I have held as my identity, as my visage, as my look, for almost two decades now.

Tomorrow, my body will be irrevocably altered.

Things can just happen; things are the way they are. I will trade one identity for another. I will say goodbye to the girl who wanted so badly to be acknowledged, who grew up between nothing and a heartbeat, who felt that she had to try harder, work harder for anything at all. But this, too, I know, can’t be accomplished simply by my banishing the empirical symbol of my imagined status: the pearl, after all, is merely a pearl.

And is a Sak Yant by the most revered master of these numinous tattoos merely a tattoo? Or is it something truly sacred, holy, powerful, endowed?

My mother loves to tell the story of how my little sister, narrowly escaping what would have been a fatal car crash, called on her tattoo, called on the teachings of the Master, and that is why she avoided what would have been certain death. Before my little sister got her tattoo, my mother had a premonition similar to the one she had about me, and she called on something greater to ask what she could do to protect her daughter. My little sister, who slithered into the darkness, who fell into a place where we could no longer reach her, came back to life after getting her Sak Yant.

But why is life even a thing? That is the question that I’m terrified of my children asking.

After my first trip to Thailand, I went to college and I learned what cashmere was. I still didn’t know to wear a scarf when it got cold. My hall mates came back from winter break with beautiful J. Crew sweaters. I took a sociology course, Introduction to Anthropology. I remember one classmate in particular wore pearls so big they were cartoonish; indeed, her pearls were a bit reminiscent of Wilma Flintstone’s. We watched a film in which foragers found bird nests full of baby birds. The girl with the cartoon pearls flinched at the savage scene of the third-world inhabitants collecting their supper. I felt ashamed by her looking away. I felt shame for the world I had just left.

In anthropology, I learned that ceremony is brief, that the buildup is long, that the pinnacle is passed before one knows it. Then it’s downhill, a denouement, a return to the mundane of the everyday. Ritual is sublime, but like all things that radiate sublimity, the experience of it is so otherworldly as to evade memory or even temporal bearings.

I wonder, then, whether life itself is ritual, ceremony. Perhaps life itself is the apex of something greater and unknown. That would mean then, that life itself—and by life here, I mean life with all its platitudes, its housekeeping, its cooking, its child-rearing, its labors and horrors and joys, all—is ethereal.

Life is there, and then things happen.

I admit to having lingered too long in the darkness. I, too, have sewn a black veil over me.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t fear the premonition that my mother had for me. If my mother has taught me anything, she has taught me that she is always right. I fear that I will need this tattoo.

I have chosen a design by the Master himself; it is a design imbued with powers to give the bearer “Massive Success in Everything.” The tattoo, however, doesn’t just give things to the bearer: the bearer has to work hard, and the harder the bearer works, the harder the tattoo works, too.

Fortunately, for me, being of the peasant class has taught me that life is hard work.

Life, I know, is a made thing. It doesn’t exist without me and my hands and my labors and my ambitions. If the tattoo serves merely as a reminder that I myself have to make it, then I’ll take it. And, so, I would be lying, too, if I said that I didn’t believe that there is something to believe.

(Source: The Paris Review)

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

How a rich Emirati ruler sent two of his sons to Britain with every privilege only for them to end up dead 20 years apart amid rumours they had spiralled into a life of drug-fuelled excess

Head bowed and eyes closed, the emir of Sharjah stood over the funeral bier of his son as the prayers of 20,000 mourners filled the cavernous mosque.

By his side were fellow rulers from the other oil-rich states that comprise the United Arab Emirates, while messages of condolence flooded in from King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Sheikh Sabah Al Jaber, the emir of Kuwait, King Hamad of Bahrain and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Each sent their wishes that Allah might grant mercy on the soul of the deceased, Sheikh Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi, and ease the grief of his bereaved family.

And, above all, it is his father who will be most in need of that support, divine or otherwise.

On Tuesday last week, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi should have been celebrating his 80th birthday.

Instead he had to announce that his son had been found dead in a penthouse apartment in London overlooking Hyde Park. He was just 39 years old.

In keeping with Muslim tradition, his body was swiftly flown back to Sharjah, allowing the burial to take place the next day. But, tragically, that is far from the end of the story.

Sheikh Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi was found dead at his Hyde Park London penthouse. He is pictured with Alice Delal in 2009 
Because the sudden death of Sheikh Khalid has shone a spotlight both on his lifestyle and the past tragedies that have dogged a family seemingly born with every advantage in life.

Having initially trained as an architect, Sheikh Khalid had gone against the wishes of his family by deciding to switch careers and enter the world of high fashion.

His eponymous label, Qasimi, was duly shown at fashion weeks both in London and Paris, his creations winning favour with the likes of Lady Gaga, Florence Welch and Cheryl Cole.

More recently he focused on men's clothing, his latest collection being inspired by the 'ongoing political tension in the Middle East'.

It featured coarse military canvases and garments riveted together to 'mimic the nuts and bolts of armoured vehicles'.

In one of his 50 stores worldwide a pair of khaki Bermuda shorts costs £215, a hoodie £265.

But while his family eventually came to terms with his career, his private life is now the subject of an investigation by Scotland Yard, after police were called in by ambulance crews who attended the scene on the day of his death.

It has been reported that Class A substances were found amid lurid claims that a 'drug-fuelled orgy' had taken place in the hours before Sheikh Khalid died.

His brother Sheikh Mohammed died after an apparent heroin overdose at the family mansion near East Grinstead, Sussex, aged 24 in 1999 
It has also since been alleged that he had a reputation for partying hard, surrounding himself with beautiful women and prostitutes, as well as having a penchant for illegal drugs that boosted his sexual performance.

While no arrests have been made, detectives are treating the death as 'unexplained'.

A post mortem was carried out before the body was repatriated and a full range of toxicology tests undertaken, the results of which may take two months to come back.

For his father, Sheikh Sultan, the process through which the British authorities will attempt to unravel the circumstances of his death will no doubt seem horribly familiar.

Twenty years ago his only other son also died suddenly in this country. Drugs — heroin to be precise — were involved, the 24-year-old overdosing at the family's mansion on a sprawling country estate in Sussex.

At the time a picture emerged of a young man who had lost his way in life — with no real role to fulfil, either in the Middle East or here in England.

Locals recalled his desperate attempts to escape from his gilded existence by heading to the local pub to drink pints of ale or slipping away from his security detail to visit a girl on a nearby housing estate.

Of course, Sheikh Khalid's life was very different. And yet in interviews he, too, also hinted at a sense of not really knowing where he belonged.

'I've always considered myself to be an outsider wherever I am,' he once said in an interview with a fashion magazine.

'I'm too Western to fit in in the Middle East, and too Middle Eastern to fit in to the West.'

In keeping with Muslim tradition, Sheikh Khalid's body (pictured) was swiftly flown back to Sharjah, allowing the burial to take place the next day
As with many other moneyed Middle Eastern families, Britain held multiple attractions for the Al Qasimi family.

By the time Sheikh Sultan took over the throne of Sharjah, the third largest of the seven states making up the UAE, aged 32 in 1972, he had already benefited from an English education.

First there was a stint at a private English school in the Gulf, followed later by a doctorate in history from the University of Exeter and a further doctorate in political geography from Durham, to which he would later donate £2.25 million for a new building to house the School of Government and Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies.

Keen for his children to also enjoy the advantages of an English upbringing, in 1989 he purchased a country estate, Wych Cross Place, near East Grinstead for £3 million.

The house, built in 1902 on the edge of Ashdown Forest and formerly owned by the property magnate, Lord Samuel, was a palace fit for a sultan.

It comprised a 50ft reception hall, a library, a billiards room, a card room, five main bedroom suites and a further five bedrooms.

Sheikh Sultan, a keen gardener and botanist, is estimated to have spent £10 million adding a system of lakes to the formal gardens inspired by the renowned Victorian designer Gertrude Jekyll.

Expensive London properties would also be purchased by members of the extended family —reportedly including a £14m apartment at One Hyde Park, the world's most expensive apartment block — and they were once linked to a bid to purchase Liverpool Football Club.

Keen for his children to also enjoy the advantages of an English upbringing, in 1989 the men's father purchased a country estate, Wych Cross Place, near East Grinstead for £3 million
Others of their number rubbed shoulders with the British Royal Family — the Sheikh's nephew playing polo with Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry.

While affairs of state meant Sheikh Sultan spent most of his time in the UAE, his family visited the UK regularly.

He had a daughter and son, Sheikh Mohammed, with his first wife and three daughters and a son, Sheikh Khalid, with his second.

Both the boys would be educated at British boarding schools, Sheikh Khalid studying at £42,000-a-year Tonbridge in Kent. And both boys found it difficult to fit in — Sheikh Mohammed particularly.

Although he was the ruler's eldest son, because his parents had separated he was not in line to take his father's title, something he was all too aware of.

Those who knew him at Wych Cross describe a lonely young man, trapped by privilege but without a guiding ambition in life.

Keith Jones-Hughes, a former Royal Marine weapons instructor, was head of security at the property between 1989 and 1991.

'We used to call him Mo, or Mo-Jo,' he said. 'He was an extremely nice lad, but in awe of his father who he had total respect for.

He had a mischievous streak and went courting with a local girl who lived in a council house.

We used to escape and I'd take him round there for a couple of hours. It was all pretty innocent — one time I came in and found him looking at photos with the family.'

He added: 'He was a sad lad. He used to eat with us a lot of the time, or occasionally down in the kitchen.

'Most of the time he just messed about and he loved driving around on the quad bikes. I used to tell him he should do more to get in with his father who was a gentle man.

'All he wanted to do was play around but in their world you are supposed to have some sort of life aim.

'He had an older sister, but spent most of his time at Wych Cross with us security guys. He was an anomaly who was going nowhere and had no great plans.

'I remember when they went off to Brighton as a family, Mo didn't travel in the same bus with them. Mo's mother runs a shop in Sharjah and he used to tell how he had sneaked off to go and see her.'

Another employee recalled how Mohammed liked to go for a pint at the Roebuck Hotel, close to the main gates of the house.

He said: 'He liked to drink at local pubs, despite his Muslim faith and we knew his father would be furious if he found out — after all, Sheikh Sultan was the man who banned alcohol in Sharjah.'

The fashion label owner (pictured) set up his menswear brand in London in 2008 

Despite the best efforts of his father to find him a career, as he grew older, the young man started to live a playboy lifestyle.

On one occasion he was flown to hospital in London after crashing his Mercedes sports car while racing a cousin in the desert.

Efforts to get him to finish his education at a university in Arizona also failed. Not only was he thrown out for getting someone else to do his exams but, an inquest would subsequently hear, it was there that he started taking drugs.

When his family found out, his father did everything in his power to help him kick the habit.

In 1995, Mohammed was checked into a drug clinic in Britain for three months, after which he was enrolled in the Gulf oil state's police academy.

When he returned to official duties he was accompanied by Sharjah police officers to ensure he did not return to drugs.

But in the Easter of 1999 Sheikh Mohammed accompanied his family on a trip to Britain, arriving at Gatwick airport by private jet before being driven in a Rolls-Royce to the country estate. He had been away for 18 months.

On arrival he went immediately to his suite of rooms and locked the door behind him. When he didn't appear the following morning, a staff member broke in through the bathroom window.

The young man was found naked from the waist up, slumped forward on to the floor with a necktie used as a tourniquet tied tightly around his arm. A dessert spoon and several syringes were lying on the wash basin nearby.

A pathologist found a fresh injection wound on his hand and concluded that Sheikh Mohammed had taken a fatal dose of heroin —probably hidden in his room from the time when he was an addict —after failing to realise that his tolerance levels were no longer sufficient to withstand it.

Recording a verdict of death by non-dependent drug use, East Sussex coroner Alan Craze observed: 'Nobody, however privileged and well-educated, is immune to the scourge of drug addiction.'

Quite how the death of his half-brother impacted Sheikh Khalid is unknown, but his own youth was itself not without problems.

According to his company website, he was awarded an art scholarship on arriving at Tonbridge before going on to read French and Spanish at University College London.

He completed a degree in Architecture before moving to Central St Martins to study womenswear.

'At 14 I used to run away from school on weekends and assisted a fashion photographer a friend had put me in touch with — that was my first taste into the fashion world,' he would recall.

'I grew up during the whole Cool Britannia, influx of fashion, McQueen, all of that which was happening in the Nineties.'

Several years later in 2008 he launched Qasimi. Now stocked internationally, the designer's clothes have been modelled by catwalk stars Lily Cole and Yasmin Le Bon as well as Twilight actor Robert Pattinson.

A female worker in his fashion house said: 'As you can imagine, Khalid was very popular given the amount of money he had and the type of people he knew. There was no shortage of women after him.

'But he always treated his female staff with respect. He was an incredibly hard worker and very driven, but he partied very hard.'

Another said: 'Khalid could become very unpredictable and we always knew to stay away from him after one of his famous parties. He was the boss, so we couldn't really complain to him.'

Precisely what happened in the hours leading up to his death is unclear but it is claimed a party was held at his apartment in Knightsbridge, part of a development where homes sell for up to £90 million each.

'Like many young Arab men, Sheikh Khalid enjoyed the freedoms he had in London,' a source said last week. 'But it has ended very tragically.'

Something that his father, once again surrounded by flags flying at half mast, knows only too well.

This locator map shows where the Emirate city of Sharjah is in the United Arab Emirates 
(Source: Daily Mail)