Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Riddlers

All day long I’m surrounded by people speaking Mandarin and Taiwanese. It’s beautiful, but at the moment I can only pick out certain words – therefore, whole sentences remain non-existent – therefore, I haven’t got a clue what anybody’s saying. But, still, it’s beautiful. I was stood at my bedroom window with a cup of tea and could hear one of my Taiwanese flat mates on the phone to a friend. 
That’s how this poem came about.

Such a foreign tongue
For this alien to understand.
It speaks its riddles,
Then laughs!
At what?
I don’t know – but I will.
Because this foreign tongue,
With its sing-along tones,
Will not be foreign for long
For this foreigner,
Who is keen to unlock the riddles,
Will sound,
- One day -
Like them,
The Riddlers,
And, I too, will become a riddler
Who laughs at something he understands.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Krishna and Sudama (A short story)

'There's a time for everything.'

These were the words of a retired Hindu doctor when he invited me into his house to tell me a story about Krishna and his best friend Sudama.

The story starts here.

Lord Krishna and Sudama were best friends in school. Very close, they were. But, as is very common among school friends, once school was over they went their separate ways. 

Lord Krishna went back to his kingdom, whereas Sudama, being a commoner, became a very popular Brahman. He fed his wife and four children by visiting people at their homes, who were more than happy to give him the little food they had left over.

Considering his poor quality of life, Sudama was still devoted to his best friend, Lord Krishna.

As time past, he became poorer and poorer. The food he was being given just couldn't keep up with the needs of his family's (we all know how the appetites of growing children can feed an army!).

Sudama knew his family were getting desperate. He could see it in their faces, especially when they looked at him as he walked through the door and laid out the scraps of food on the table. His wife was beginning to get scared for their health.

"Sudama, my dear, I know you do a good job at being a Brahman, but please consider going to see your friend, Lord Krishna, and asking him for help."

But he wouldn't. He was content on living on very little. 

Krishna's wife, Rukmani, said to her husband, "Why don't you go and help your friend? Look at what they're going through."

Of course, Krishna already knew what was going on in Sudama's life. He knew everything. He sat and listened to his wife as she pleaded with him over and over again. 

"My dear, I can't help him," said Krishna.

"But you must - you must!" said Rukmani. Her pestering was as persistent as waves against solid cliffs.

"OK," said Krishna, "I will attempt to help him. Watch and see what happens."

Not long after that, Sudama was making his daily errands, when a family, who normally gave him poor quality scraps (that he was content with, remember), gave him a food hamper full of delicious sweet meats, bread and milk! 

Can you believe it! I can assure you that Sudama couldn't.

After he had pinched himself a dozen times (and not a pinch less), he expressed his gratitude and off home he went, his knees weakening under the enormous amount of food on his back.

Oh, how happy he was! 

He couldn't wait to get it all home so he could feed his thinning family.

Now, the reason I mentioned that his knees were weakening was because of what happened next.

As he got to the summit of a large hill, he paused and looked proudly over the distance he had covered. He bent down and washed a tatty facecloth in a murky puddle and went on to wipe his face and his neck. The cold (yet dirty) cloth felt so good against his dry, sun-burnt skin. This is a little reward for climbing the hill, he thought to himself. Even the fittest person alive would've found such a task challenging! He took a deep breath and was just about to put one foot in front of the other, when, BANG!

Somebody, and God knows who, ran into him, knocking him to his knees. 

Poor Sudama!

Whoever it was must've been running with their eyes shut, because anybody who's anybody would've seen the man on the hill with the large amount of food on his back! The rushing runner didn't even have the time to stop and apologise! Such is the attitude of those who think they have no time; they insist on doing things to prove just that.

Sudama picked himself up and what he then saw created a lump in his throat. The delicious food was now sat in the muddy puddle. Wasted. 

Ah! But what's that, just on the outside of the perimeter of the puddle?It was bits of food that hadn't been soiled! Not all was lost! 

"This will do," he said to himself. "This will definitely do. My family are used to eating scraps of food. They don't have to know about the food that has gone to waste."

And it's quite difficult to even guess what happened next to our friend Sudama. As he was picking up the last crumbs of dry food, a huge dog came and ate it all before he had a chance to do anything! 

Now he really did feel low.

Krishna and his wife, Rukmani, watched the whole episode. 

"You see, I told you," said Krishna, "due to his past deeds, his time hasn't come yet."

Rukmani remained quiet, but she knew he was right. After all, she had just witnessed the law of karma in action.

Now, Sudama's wife was really starting to worry. As Sudama was out of the house most of the time, it was she that could see her children losing weight - not to mention her own increasingly emaciated appearance. With more constant pleas (and she had every right to be nagging him!) he agreed to go and see Krishna.

"But we are so poor," he said, "that we don't have anything to give to him. And we have to give him something."

"OK, my love... give him these. They will suffice." She handed him a few grains of rice that she had cooked the previous evening. She folded them into a little cloth and fastened it to his waste.

"It's not much, but it's something."

"Thank you," said Sudama.

They embraced each other and he set off on the long journey to Krishna's kingdom. 

The all-knowing Krishna knew he was coming and met him at the door with a warm welcome. He sat Sudama down on the sofa and washed his feet - this is how close they were as friends!

As Krishna rubbed his feet, he asked Sudama what gift he had brought. 

Sudama shrank in the sofa, becoming quiet and shy.

"Lord Krishna," he said, his voice a painful whisper, "my family are poor. Really poor. Poorer than we have ever been. I have four children and my wife to feed..."

"What are trying to tell me, friend?" said Krishna, even though he knew.

"I'm afraid the only thing I've brought you are a few grains of rice that we could spare." 

Krishna smiled and gladly accepted the gift. He placed them on his tongue and began to think about his friend's living conditions and the love he had for his family. 

To Sudama's surprise, Krishna thought they were  the most sumptuous grains of rice he had ever tasted!

After a few days, Sudama headed home. He thought about how great a friend Krishna had been since they first met in school, all those years ago. "Such a wonderful friend!" he said to himself. "Such a wonderful... friend."

And then, as he turned the last corner, he saw something that forced him to freeze right there on the spot.

His house had disappeared! 

But not only had it vanished, it had been replaced with a palace, with solid gold pillars and balcony's that overlooked the village. 

You should've seen his face!

He opened the huge front door (mainly to inquire what had happened to his starving family) and he was greeted by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. "My Sudama!" she shouted, wrapping her arms around him. "You look at me as if I am a stranger. It is I, your wife."

"You look radiant, love!" he said. "I can't believe it."

"My love, you should see your children!"

She called for them and all four came running down the giant staircase and circled their father.

Sudama had tears of joy. He had been away for quite sometime, he was so happy to see they were safe and well.

"A miracle happened when you were gone, father!" his eldest son said.

"A true miracle!" said his youngest daughter.

And it is here where the story ends.

We sat in silence for a moment. My mind slowly putting together the pieces of the story.

'You understand?' said the retired Hindu doctor.

Before I had the chance to answer, he added with excitement, 'There's a time for everything! Everything happens when it is supposed to happen! Not sooner. Not later. Individually and collectively, it's all happening perfectly.'

And it is here where this blog posts ends.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

On the Brink of Change

I've just opened my desk drawer and found a bookmark that I've had for years.

It's a Winnie the Pooh one and it shows him walking through the woods, hands behind his back. His friend Piglet is by his side, pleasantly gazing at him, and the excited Tigger is bouncing along up ahead.

At the top, there's a quote which reads, "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes."

That quote has never been more relevant to my life than now.

I'm on the brink of change.

A chapter is ending and a new chapter is beginning. How it will all unfold, I have no idea. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, with the faith that the ground will continue to support me. If it doesn't, well, then my time to meet the maker has come. 

As someone told me recently, 'We spend more time dead, than we do alive.' 

The change I'm going through is taking me to Taiwan, where I'll be reunited with my girlfriend and learning Mandarin at a university in Taipei. 

I remember back towards the end of last year, I was trudging through the city of Leeds, when someone gave me a flyer. Normally, I refuse to accept one but this time I gladly took it and looked at it. And I'm so glad I did because the words printed on it had a profound affect on me.

They simply said:


The feeling I had when I read those words will forever be with me. It was like they were speaking directly to me from another place. They were the words that I needed to see/hear at exactly that moment in my life.

Has that ever happened to you? You'll know it if it has. It's like God/Life is speaking to you directly. It's giving you a key to the next stage in your development. Little clear signposts telling you where to go and what to do next.

I'm 31 and I've never had a desire to leave my hometown. I never dreamt of moving to a foreign country; I never had a reason to.

But leaving my girlfriend at the airport in January was too much.

I had to follow her. 

You know the scene in Donnie Darko when he suddenly sees the manifestation of intent coming out of his stomach, then it turns into a hand and motions for him to follow it? Remember? Well that was what it felt like for me. I felt like there was a massive hand above my girlfriend, motioning for me to go to Taiwan.

She said on a number of occasions, "I feel like I've come to take you home."

So here I am, four days until I fly with a one-way ticket. 

I've been going through the process of saying goodbye to as many friends and family members as I can. Some have been teary - some haven't. I've said goodbye to my work colleagues who I've worked with for the past decade. I was surprised that I felt sad to leave them (they're a mental bunch of lads... but I wouldn't swap any of them). 

I don't know how long I'm going to be in Taiwan for. It could be 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years, 30 years. I honestly don't know.

But I'm going to run with it and see where it takes me.

Feelings of anxiety and the occasional flutter of nerves come to the surface when I think of what I'm doing.

I've been told it's normal.

I'm sure it is.

I'm stretching my comfort zone that's very much like an elastic band... the more you stretch it, the stronger it gets... the trick is to do it gradually so it doesn't snap.

We've all heard of those celebrities who get famous way too soon... they go crazy. Their comfort zone was pushed to the limits before they had time to adjust. It's like pulling a muscle... you've got to warm it up first to prevent such a thing from happening.

This morning, I had breakfast with a good mate of mine, the illustrator, Peter O'toole. He said, "Risk versus reward. The higher the risk, the higher the potential reward. Every time I've done something that's out of my comfort zone, something good has come out of it."

People have said I'm courageous for moving to Taiwan, but, really, what have I go to lose compared to what I've got to gain?

This opportunity has presented itself to me on my path.

I must have put it there for a reason.

And what better reason, than to stretch my comfort zone and grow.

I'm going to live at my own risk.