Parsley, Sage Rosemary and Thyme

Dreams could come at least 50% true, and songs too, apparently. That’s what I found when I read the recipe on the label of the packet of black spaghetti. Black, because it gets it’s colour from ink fish. I needed sage and rosemary to bring this black spaghetti to life. And the song that started to play in my head is one I grew up with – “are you going to Scaborough Fair…. parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” in the harmonious voices and the gentle music of Simon and Garfunkel.

I remembered too, the herb garden – no Scaborough Fair but more like the commons of Oegstgeest – the village in which I live. It’s a little strip of land, on the edge of the shopping centre that I discovered quite by chance when I first moved here three years ago. Here, a board says in Dutch, and I translate:

“Pluck a leaf, flower or seedling, at ease

Of different herbs according to your wish

Go about it in a sustainable way

So that you leave something behind for others”

When I first discovered the herb garden, I found its location in the heart of the commercial centre of the village fascinating. What could be the message, I thought, that the makers of this garden want to give to us, the residents of the village? That, before you enter into shops and supermarkets overflowing with everything you may or may not need, there’s a spot – modest in comparison – where you could stop to indulge in another way of shopping. Or picking. However you see it, take your pick.

At that time I was impressed by the garden’s location. But I soon realised a few things about the village. That it’s full of volunteers whose aim it is to contribute towards improving the quality of life. That the initiatives are many and diverse. And that the herb garden is beautiful for it’s own sake. It has no other function besides offering, in a sustainable way, folks the possibility of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme should they need it for a meal or two. It stands there as a reminder – a thing of beauty – that hopefully will last forever, while busy shoppers in the background continue to do what they came there to do.

Mission Possible

I’m hardly ever in front of my house, but on this day, I was. And before I knew it, a voice greeted me and asked if I’d like to volunteer to go around the neighbourhood collecting money for ‘foundation for the child’. And before I knew it, I had signed up with name, telephone number and email id, and a promise to go around with a collection box for a week. For a cause I knew almost nothing about. And that was that. I’d agreed to stand on the ‘other side of the door’ of my neighbour’s homes – the outside – in the shoes of the folks who ring my bell on many an evening. It often leads to irritation or a patient kind of tolerance, or sometimes, I’d go so far as to say – a feeling of here they come again. The changers of the world. Collecting change for cancer research, heart research, children, animals, environment, causes, causes, causes. Being the change they want to see in the world.

On the radio, an expert was asked why there was so much attention in the Dutch media for hurricane Harvey in America, when the people of Eastern India, Mumbai and Bangladesh were suffering a lot more at the same time. The expert’s reply was that the tendency to identify with ‘one of your own kind’ is much stronger in the human heart than to identify with someone who is not considered so. Dutch- American bhai bhai. Dutch Indian/Bangladeshi – not.

Now I am standing outside a door having rung the bell, collection box upright in hand before me, identity badge visible.

The door opens.

“Would you like to make a contribution to the foundation for the child?” I ask in my best Dutch.

He smiles. “That doesn’t ring any bells”.

In the background, there’s the little head of a child bobbing up and down. “She’s Italian, she’s Italian”, he says in Italian. He’s as excited as a little puppy that has sniffed what it loves best. Iv’e just returned from summer holidays in Sanremo/Italy. My spaghetti string dress shows my arms, shoulders and neck that have turned golden brown.

“Well it’s for Dutch kids who are not fortunate enough to live with their parents”, I reply – delivering my lines slowly and clearly. The money enables them to participate in clubs, music lessons, swimming lessons….that sort of thing. And when they’re older, it’s used to hire coaches to guide them with study and life choices”.

Sure he wants to contribute and pops back in to look for his wallet.


And now I am a bird, sitting on a nearby tree, watching and hearing myself doing something with no idea about why I’m doing it. Waarom, daarom.

With every step I take and every bell I ring, I get into the rhythm and the rhyme.

“…well….Dutch kids, Dutch kids, Dutch kids….” I hear myself say. The box get’s heavier, and I have to let my right arm drop every now and then to give my wrist a rest. There’s a storm brewing. A hard wind blows. Summer is edging towards autumn. I have a mission. It’s possible.

“Thank you for your support, thank you for your support, thank you for your support”.

Taking Refuge in the Buddha

Douwe Bob managed to capture millions of hearts with his song Slow Down, the official 2016 Dutch entry for the Eurovision Festival. In this song, that he wrote himself, he repeats the phrase ‘slow down brother’ as a kind of mantra. It makes up most of the song. Slowing down is also what many “Mindfulness” gurus and teachers tell us to practice. Douwe Bob is all of twenty-three years old and is probably not following courses in mindfulness or meditation. His lyrics contain other words of wisdom, along the slow down lines, in that utterly charismatic way that the young can and do strike the right chord in you. If you are listening, that is. And apparently millions were, because he got quite far in the competition.

“Mindfulness” courses, teachers, books and websites are to be found everywhere one looks. Amongst other practices, it incorporates slowing down. “Mindfulness” is seen as essential to our mental and emotional fulfilment, for committing ourselves to accepting what is in the moment.

Most of us connect “Mindfulness” to Buddhism. Professor of Buddhist Studies, Leiden University Jonathan Silk says that Westerners take on practices inspired by Buddhism freely, without the feeling that it clashes with their own religious background or belief system. No wonder then that a splendid exhibition, The Buddha, is now on display at the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and will also travel to the Tropen Museum in Amsterdam.

one of the images to be seen in the exhibition

‘The Buddha is one of the most inspiring figures in world history. What makes the life-story of this spiritual leader so intriguing? What are people searching for in Buddhism?’ These are some of the questions that the exhibition attempts to give answers to. The life of the Buddha as well as present day practices, expressions and manifestations in a host of different countries, including the Netherlands, are on display.

A Korean artist’s rendering of the Buddha as a dj in the museum









In the background, in every single room the chant ‘Buddham sharanam gacchami, dhammam sharanam gacchami, sangham sharanam gacchami can be heard’. For those of us who grew up learning about the life of the Buddha through our schoolbooks, this chant is familiar. Simply translated, it means: ‘I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in Dharma; I take Refuge in the Sangha’.

The different practices linked to “Mindfulness” could be seen as a refuge from our extremely busy lives in which our balance is at stake. In another time, in another place refuge took another form. On October 14th 1956, three hundred and sixty-five thousand people participated in converting to Buddhism along with Dr. Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution. The latter was of the Mahar community and seen as a pariah by caste Hindus, as were all of the other converts of that day. Unlike those of us into Buddhist inspired practises without a sense of it clashing with our other beliefs, for the converts of that day, taking refuge in the Buddha was an act of severance. A clean cut from the Hinduism that labelled them as ‘untouchable’. It is considered the largest one time mass conversion in history. Pity therefore, that this incredible historical act of taking refuge in the Buddha is missing from this exhibition.

















Me immigrant. You….?

Tarzan was an immigrant in the jungle, and the apes that brought him up named him ‘Tarzan’ which means ‘white man’. Then Jane came along and soon after he had saved her from being attacked by a violent leopard, they had a conversation. This is how the conversation went.

Me Tarzan You Jane, scene 1932-8x6

JANE: “Thank you for protecting me.”


JANE: “I said, thank you for protecting me.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her) “Me?”

JANE: “No. I’m only ‘Me’ for me.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at Jane again) “Me.”

JANE: “No. To you, I’m ‘You.’”

TARZAN: (Pointing at himself.) “You.”

JANE: “No. I’m Jane Parker. Understand? Jane. Jane.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her.) “Jane. Jane. Jane.”

JANE: “Yes, Jane! (She points at him) And, you? (She points at herself again) Jane.”

TARZAN: (Pointing at her) “Jane.”

JANE: “And you? (Pointing at him) You?”

TARZAN: (Jabbing himself in the chest) “Tarzan! Tarzan!”

Tarzan had accidently landed in the jungle long before this conversation. Although he really was an immigrant, he considered the jungle home. Or more his than hers anyway. He taught himself English. Then Jane came along. His version of English became unfamiliar even to himself because he had to take Jane’s version of English into account. However, since she was very pretty, he didn’t get all worked up about it. Anyone who comes into the jungle and is pretty is welcome, as Tarzan felt that the jungle was sparse in preti-ness. And since he was brave and had just saved her from a ferocious leopard, she persisted in helping him by teaching him the difference between ‘me’ and ‘you’ and when one should use each of these words and how they are linked to one’s identity. So, me is me only for me. He got it. At the end of it all, he was able to jab himself in the chest and cry out in pleasure “Tarzan! Tarzan!”

Finally he knew who he was.

This is just one tale on the theme of immigration. There are many others.

Our Apsara is coming!


I don’t think you would see them either, because, most probably you, like me, wouldn’t specifically be looking for them. Her breasts are bare and the slit of her vagina is clearly visible – and in focusing on these, you would probably miss the active marks of love on her body. The first time I saw her, I did not notice them. It was Anna Slaczka who showed me the scratches that her lover had made on her shoulders as a sign of the enjoyment of her body. And the lover is not the only one who lusts after her. The monkeys do too, as they try to free her from the little fabric that still clings to her legs. She stands in front of the windows of this section of the museum peacefully – her gaze turned away from the magnificent dancing Nataraja to the mischievous monkey. IMG_2771

Yet not everybody wants her. The evident excitement in the recorded minutes of the Society for the Friends of Asian Art, ‘our apsara is coming’ turned to bitter disappointment when she arrived in the Netherlands. ‘It could have been her colour, or something else’ says Ms Slaczka, the curator for South Asian art at the Rijks Museum. She did not impress her owners and stands now in the Asian wing of the museum on long-term loan. Ms Slaczka’s research into this figure reveals that she is probably from a Lakshmana temple in Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh in central India. She added that apsaras, such as this one and other erotic figures have a protective function. This is why they often stand at the door or gateway of the temple. These are vulnerable spots – places of transgression – as evil forces can enter from here. Erotic figures remind us of fertility, of children and life enriching processes. So they guard, or I would say, seduce evil forces away from entering a holy space.


In 950 AD, which is about the time that the sculpture is supposed to have stood her ground, possibly on one of two  pillars at another vulnerable spot in the temple, sex was not considered an evil in India. Rather the opposite, if we have to recall the apsara’s function. I had to think immediately of my friend Paromita Vohra’s on-going ‘Agents of Ishq’ project. She’s at work – getting folks to share their articulation of who they are as sexual beings. In some ways, 950 AD was way ahead of where we are now with this discussion in the India of 2016.

The nail marks and the monkeys who want to undress her and Ms Slaczka’s other findings about the apsara, were made possible by Tata Steel. They are responsible for Ms Slaczka’s present position as the curator of the South Asian collection in the Rijks Museum.


Link to Ms Slaczka’s publication on the apsara

Link to ‘Agents of Ishq’ – Paromita Vohra’s project

Link to The Society for the Friends of Asian Art (in Dutch)