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Chicago Zen by A.K. Ramanujan

Who is the Zen speaking here? It is but a Chicago Zen who is not directly from America, but from South India to America trying to learn from the Zen, Cambodian and Japanese Zens talking about the power of meditation. How to use and apply South Indian rituals and get peace if dislocation mars it the drama, displacement places it in an awkward position of life? If diaspora dais disturbs him, he will try to fix it through meditation, dhyana.

From the Chicago household, what to apply in? How to do meditation? Discerning it all, how to be a Zen? How to scale the heights? What steps to ascend?  Where do the Himalayas lie in? What river of knowledge to cross over to? 

Forget what you were, where you were. Live where you are. Try to be happy. Why to worry about? Forget your belongings, the locations which used to be dear to you. Now afar, how can you reach there? It is not possible to think of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati here; not possible to think of the Cauvery, the Godavari and the Krishna. You cannot either by air or by water or by land. It lies farther and farther away, far from, without any linkage with legacy, heritage, culture, tradition and nativity.

How does it matter? Can he be not a Zen in Chicago, a Zen of Chicago? The Himalayas he can see from there. Just the skyscrapers, high buildings and towers with stairs and lifts are for him to pray and get solace from. Are the rivers not there in Chicago?

A son of a Vedic, Brahminical mathematician, he sees his avatar into the arts and the humanities to take to his recourse of delving.

Chicago Zen is a humorous poem in which the overtones and the undertones of irony and contrast can be heard and side by side one can mark the use and application of the oblique approach. A South Indian is trying to adjust with the American culture, the American way of living. How to carry on the diasporic matters? What values should he cling to? The load of culture, how to dismantle it?

Tidy the room where you are going to live, settle in. Where to go leaving it? There is nowhere to go as you have come all and it is also true you will not be able to adjust which you have left behind. Give names to your children which but they need it.

Home thoughts from abroad and it is plausible where the return journey can be is possible but wherefrom it is not to be back, why to think of homegoing? Your home is there where you live. You need not go there which you have forgotten.

There is a gap in India imagined from far and India seen from closely. After living in the West, what will you face, barring heat and dust? How to say it who will treat in what way?

Conventions and rituals, how to compromise with? Faith and inner peace are good, but can progress and development be regressed? Steps are for to take a leap, not to backtrack.

The dwelling is there where you live in, the apartment you belong to, the flat you have rented or taken needs to be kept tidy and clean. Your family is with you and the children born are growing up. The poet starts the poem in the same as he starts his other poems dealing with humour, irony, satire, caricature, jibe, contrast and cunning. The mystic drum of South India beats as he just a professor of folklore. Rituals and rites leave him not behind as a trail of thoughts and ideas. But astrology and palmistry place him wittily on a cutting edge of oblique approach which but hones him linguistically.  


Now tidy your house,
dust especially your living room
and do not forget to name
all your children.

The metropolitan town with high buildings goes by its norms. This is Chicago. You keep taking your steps cautiously. Your children will show you the Chicago dreams. If you have to see India dreams, see you from here to be tension-free, but do not feel you taxed with homegoing, the return journey. Meditate you to be free.


Watch your step. Sight may strike you
blind in unexpected places.

The traffic light turns orange
on 57th and Dorchester, and you stumble,

you fall into a vision of forest fires,
enter a frothing Himalayan River,
rapid, silent.

    On the 14th floor,
Lake Michigan crawls and crawls

in the window. Your thumbnail
cracks a lobster louse on the windowpane

from your daughter's hair
and you drown, eyes open,

towards the Indies, the antipodes.
And you, always so perfectly sane.

Dislodge you your nostalgia for, your homesickness, discard you if you have to grow. America is your country. Forget you your past history. Go with the present history. You have come along a long distance in search of good opportunities, better avenues, greener pastures. You have got what you could not therein. Nothing can take you there. For to go, you will require the visa, the passport, the card. Taking to the boat you cannot. The acrobatic girls too cannot help you.  Taking the monkey jump too you cannot.


Now you know what you always knew:
the country cannot be reached

by jet. Nor by boat on jungle river,
hashish behind the Monkey-temple,

nor moonshot to the cratered Sea
of Tranquility, slim circus girls

on a tightrope between tree and tree
with white parasols, or the one

and only blue guitar.

    Nor by any
other means of transport,

migrating with a clean valid passport,
no, not even by transmigrating

without any passport at all,
but only by answering ordinary

black telephones, questions
walls and small children ask,

and answering all calls of nature.

The flight of stairs can appall anyone who but sees it. How tall the mansion! How the flight of stairs! If must meditate, take to the Himalayan dream, dream you. Rather than being a yogi, a sadhu or a fakira, keep you yourself complacent. Let the family members do what they like to do.


Watch your step, watch it, I say,
especially at the first high

    and the sudden low
one near the end
of the flight
of stairs,

    and watch
for the last
step that's never there.

In Chicago Zen, Ramanujan is trying to relocate himself. He is trying to readjust with the new home he has taken. He is trying to rethink a way dislodge and dismantle the pressure of the search for identity.


More by :  Bijay Kant Dubey

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