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let's eat mangoes

The thud of a mango snaps me out of my nostalgic trance. I look over to see where it fell, and see Hanuman rush over to pick it up. Nothing beats village mangoes, they're small and green, the inside the brightest orange, and bursting with such flavor and sweetness that they remind me what nature tastes like again. I think back to my first encounter with mangoes in Walmart back in the States. Huge, engorged and utterly tasteless, I could barely hold one in a single hand. It was red too, mangoes aren't red, they're green. 

I hear the screen door creak. Naresh is talking on the phone, he sees me perched on the concrete railing of the roof, but doesn't turn away. He finishes his conversation and makes his way over to me. Any other time he would have told me to get down, that it was dangerous, but now he joins me. This would be with first time we would really speak in 2 years. He practically raised me as a child, he played with me when my parents were working or just busy, and was there when I needed him. 

"Ubbah theeme kustho cha?"                                                                                                                                   How are you doing?

This isn't small talk, he genuinely wants to know. Maybe he can sense the melancholic state I am in, but either way, I'm glad he asked.

"Teek cha."                                                                                                                                                                  I'm fine.

There is silence. Conversation, just like everything else, moves a little slower out here. I like it that way. I start counting the trees in the back yard. Seven... eight... nine... there are a lot more than I thought. My favorite mango tree is gone, it had become too old and started rotting from the inside. It's been a year since they cut it down but the stump still lays there, massive and unmoving, still containing memories from my childhood.

"Esto kaaha pani poundaina."                                                                                                                                       You can't find this anywhere else.

"Ke? Rhooke haru?"                                                                                                                                                     What? The trees?

"Rhooke haru, chuda haru, shahar ma hullah huncha"                                                                                             The trees, the birds, cities have too much noise.

Silence again. 

I see Hanuman in the grove again, this time wielding a 20 foot bamboo pole. He must have grown tired of waiting for the fruit to fall, and decided to take action. Naresh and I both watch as he lifts the pole and high as he can, to reach some of the lowest hanging fruit, and swings. He's been doing this for long enough, he gets one on the first try and it plummets to the ground with another thud. He drops the pole and rushes over the fallen mango, grabs it, and disappears as quickly as he showed up. 

"Rhooke haru ethi toohlo hoodhaina America ma?                                                                                               The trees aren't this big in America?

I pause, "Hoodhaina. Lamo ra patulo huncha, ethi baklo ani hariyo houdhaina"                                                     They aren't. They're tall and thin, not this thick and green.

A myna bird flies across the orchard below, its song echoes in unison with the countless other species that are hidden in the foliage of the trees. Two chipmunks dance around each other on the more precarious branches of the biggest mango tree, never once losing balance. It looks like fun.

"Theeme bihar garepachee, theemro sirimathee yuhaa liehra ownuparcha"                                                         After you get married you need to bring your new wife here.

I chuckle, "Huncha"                                                                                                                                                Alright.

Mango, banana, leechee, guava, date, lemon, papaya... I start counting all the types of trees that are now coming into blossom. Seven different fruits in one grove, each one producing fruit more delicious than the last. I wish could take them back with me. 

"Teemro amaa ghar ko paint mun lagyo."                                                                                                               Your mom wants to paint the house.

"Ho? Uhtha, dehray ramro dehkcha."                                                                                                                 Really? Yea, that'll look really nice.

Grapefruit. I just spotted it hiding behind the lemon tree, that's eight. 

"Ani peri kena ownee?"                                                                                                                                           When are you coming again?

I pause a little longer this time.

"Thaha chaina"                                                                                                                                                           I don't know.

This time the silence is different, it's heavier, and I heave a sigh. The clouds are probably the most beautiful I have ever seen. They only break far in the distance, where a little patch of blue peaks through. The rest of the sky is filled with turbulent white clouds, the sunlight of the dawn gently kissing their edges.

"Chinta chaina. Owna, aap kanay"                                                                                                                          Don't worry. Come, let's eat mangoes.

He hops off the ledge and heads down the stairs without looking back. A smile creeps across my face, and I follow. 

 

 

happiness and friendship

A common misconception that many people have about stoicism is that they think it means one must have full Vulcan-like control of their emotions, as well as forgoing all worldly possessions and living with nothing but the bare necessities, eating the hardest bread and wearing the coarsest fabrics. This misconception comes from our modern day understanding of the word "stoic," which of course has its roots from stoicism, but stoics are not as cold and calculating as our pointy-eared friends. On the contrary, Seneca was a very wealthy man and enjoyed the company of his students and friends, while enjoying the luxuries his title and wealth had to offer him.

 

What Seneca, and many other stoics, meant by their philosophy, was not that one should deprive themselves. He even says, "indulge the body so far as suffices for good health," which means luxuries should be enjoyed as long as it does not come to a detriment. We should enjoy the fruits of their labor, but not become dependent on them. He states that basing one's happiness money, clothes, or any other possessions is dangerous because then what would they have if it were to be stripped away? Equating your happiness to your wealth is releasing your happiness from your own control. Your house could burn down, or the economy could collapse, and if your happiness is dependent on those factors, it will go up in flames as well. 

 

"While he does not hanker after what he has lost, he prefers not to lose them."

 

This is where the idea of control plays in. It is important to distinguish the external and the internal, and while having many external pleasures is nice, control should be used to focus most of your energy on what really matters, the internal. Conversely, going to the opposite extreme is just as dangerous. Trying to prove that you can survive on the minimal by removing the external may seem noble, but doing without certain niceties for the sake of it is not proof of a simple life. 

 

I myself understand this philosophy in theory, but find it more difficult to put into practice. I know for a fact there are a number of things that I would be devastated if I were to do with out, namely, my laptop and my camera. It's something that I have understood over the years from other sources besides these stoics, and while I have reduced the number of my important possessions, I still find it difficult to emotionally detach from everything I own. 

 

Another fallacy in the understanding of stoicism is that stoics do not wish to socialize or have friends because they only serve as a distraction to their internal way of life. While it is true that a person should be self-content in themselves, society and friendship are natural inclinations of human beings. One should be self-content in the sense that they are able to do without friends, and not that they should desire to do without them. 

 

I have apprehension in writing more on this subject, for fear that I may offend some of my own friends, but I do, and have for a long time, shared Seneca's view on this matter. Friendship has always been a big part of my life, but from an early age I discovered how hurtful it can be if all on one's stock is placed in a friend that may in the end betray you. I will spare details, but needless to say ever since a few scornful instances of this nature, I learned a different type of friendship. Instead of one where self-confirmation and happiness is derived from social interaction with any specific person, I see myself as a adjunct to their lives. I do not seek friends for personal gratification, but rather to gratify, and that in turn gratifies me. I still choose to associate with many people, who's company I enjoy and whom with I have a great deal of fun, but regard as acquaintances. Real friends come few and far between, they are they ones that know and love me. To everyone else, I have presented a version of myself that I knew they would find acceptable. Where true  friendship is born, is when they make an attempt to push, or accept it when I push, farther than just the surface. It's those that I have conversations with about the internal, rather than just the external. 

Friendships that are born for the sake of usefulness, not not true friendships. They are, as Seneca calls them, "business deals." 

These types of friendships will continue as long as one individual continues to be "useful" to the other, and ceases once that usefulness has run dry. We see this in many cases among celebrities, where fame and fortune all of a sudden seem to attract an entourage of friends and admirers, but isn't it curious is it that they all disappear once that person comes across any trial? All too often people find themselves caught in these pseudo-friendships, I am no exception. The important thing is recognizing a false comradely for what it is. Not to shun it, or push people away, but for the sake of being conscious and aware. 

 

So no, I do not have over 500 friends on facebook, and you are fooling yourself if you think that you do.

keeping up appearances

Another common thread I share with the cloak of stoicism is the view on outward appearance. I'll preface this with an anecdote. It's the year 2004 and little Deepak is on his way to his first day of classes at The British School in Nepal. It will be his first time he will be interacting and forging friendships with other English speaking children, and he's a little nervous. He doesn't know much about "real school," until now he has been home schooled and only attended a local Nepali school for language lessons. So, when in doubt, mom knows best. Right? I'm sure it was with all good intention, his mother dressed and prepared him for his first day of classes. He walked into the classroom (5 minutes late because of an inability to navigate the hallways), every eye turned and looked him up and down. What his well meaning mother thought would be appropriate for his first school day looked something like this: near-knee high white tube socks stuffed into these bad boys:

along with khaki above-the-knee shorts, complete with blue polo (tucked in) and belt, and gelled up hair in true 90's fashion. I look like something out of (reference). I also wielded an like green Scooby Doo notebook. Oh, and a little tip for future or current parents... third graders do not need notebooks. 

Anyway, this poor youngster immediately recognizes his outstanding appearance and is quick to sit down (on top of his notebook so as to hide it).

While the students still accepted me, and I avoided a pitfall that so many young students fall into, being ridiculed for being different. I think it was after that day that I developed my now natural skill of adaptation. And my mother has not dressed me since. 

 

How does this relate to stoicism? Seneca emphasizes the importance of maintaining outward appearances, no matter what is on the inside, to avoid being rejected by society.  The first thing philosophy promises us is the feeling of fellowship; of belonging to mankind and being members of a community; being different will mean the abandoning abandoning of that manifesto.

What Seneca does NOT mean by this statement, is that you should change who you are to be loved and accepted by those around you. He merely states that one should maintain who they are on the inside, but make it a point to be presentable so that people take what you have to say seriously. He states, The very name of philosophy... is unpopular enough as it is: imagine what the reaction would be if we started dissociating ourselves from the conventions of society.

 

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I have always had a knack for adaptability, since my upbringing was influenced by so many different cultures and subcultures, I had to in order to gain this "fellowship" Seneca talks about. I understood on my first day of class that it would not be acceptable for me to wear what I had always worn growing up in the villages of Nepal, being mainly dirty and torn shorts, a wife beater, and "chappals", a local type of footwear which were basically flip flops often recycled from tire rubber. I wasn't impressing anyone, I was just wearing what was most comfortable to me, as well as most practical, and socially acceptable in a society that cared very little for possessions and appearance. Although my first attempt at blending in failed, all of those subsequent we're more successful, and many of my friends we're not even aware of my previous upbringing. As far as they knew, I was one of them. 

 

I had to undergo a similar process when coming to Malibu, California for my university education. Although it was closer in similarity to my high school than village life was to my elementary school, they were still worlds apart. I was aware of this fact, and I knew my traditional high school attire, consisting of a beat up pair of Converse, baggy jeans that were nearly falling off at any given point, and t-shirts with "funny" quotes on them accompanying a mop of unkempt air , would not fly in Malibu. This description of me, to those of my friends at Pepperdine University, would induce furrowed brows and looks of confusion. They would say, "No, Deepak wears plaid shorts, matching shirts and boat shoes." To take it to an even further level, those Pepperdine students that traveled with me to Florence would say, "Nope, Deepak dresses like a European, skinny jeans, suede leather boots, and leather jackets." I feel almost obligated to change my look again once school starts up again in the fall just to throw people off.

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I have found that these constant, until now sub-conscious, metamorphoses are simply in my nature. Everywhere I go, people mistake me for a local. Even in Hungary, I may look like many things, but a Hungarian is not one of them, I was mistaken for someone that lived there and was asked for directions. The same goes for Thailand, Turkey, France, Italy... the list continues, which can be partially contributed to the ambiguity of my race.

 

Does this mean I am nothing but a continuously changing facade? Absolutely not. While my outward appearance changes with great frequency, my beliefs, values and opinions only change in the natural course of a person's personality development. How else do you connect with someone with which you have nothing in common? It is my method of relating to those who surround me. If we do not share any similarities in culture, thinking or character, the fact that we dress in a similar fashion give us some type of common ground to place our footing. 

 

Does this mean we are to act just like other people? Is there to be no distinction between us and them?  Seneca addresses this issue, Most certainly there is. Any close observer should be aware that we are different from the mob.

 

And any closer observer can indeed attest to the fact that I am different. This usually comes off as me saying outlandish things, or just being "really weird," which I am. Something that I embrace wholeheartedly.

 

I believe many people do the same, sometimes with the wrong motivation, and too often they do let who they are pretending to be take over who they really are. After all, if you pretend to be something long enough, eventually it's what you become. That's why I like to keep moving, to keep my surroundings and environments different so that I don't become to attached to a certain way of being that isn't my own. Seneca makes a reference to this in another letter, but that's for another post.