Birney Imes: Namaste from a hep cat

November 14, 2009 8:29:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Just finished John Dufresne''s "Love Warps the Mind a Little," a lively and humorous exploration of love and death. The book is almost too clever, but the longer you read the more you get drawn in. By the time I finished, I felt like a friend of the protagonist, Lafayette Proulx (Laf as he''s called in the book) and was sad to part company. 


Here''s a passage: 


My life all of a sudden was very simple. I went out to the deck and sat. I said, Spot, what are we going to do? He said, Woof--his answer for everything. I looked up at the night sky. Ten thousand years ago Greek shepherds looked up and saw scorpions, hunters, water bearers. Me, I look up and see discrete specks of light. I feel impoverished. Good thing human development wasn''t left up to me. I can''t change a tire. We''d all still be gathering leafy plants, feeding them to the dogs, watching to see if they went into convulsions. All I can do is make up stories about made-up people. ... I had, I hoped, a sympathetic reader somewhere. I could expect to die. Everything else, I knew, was a choice. I looked at those stars again, all of them, for the moment, burning for me. 


Once in the book, apropos of nothing written before or after, Laf mentions he is reading Eudora Welty. As it happens, Dufresne was here for the 2008 Eudora Welty Symposium. 






Ever encounter a word and wonder how you''ve never seen it before? Need to do more crossword puzzles; keeps Alzheimer''s at bay, they say. Last Friday I began an e-mail to a friend from college, "Hey Hep Cat." In the subject line of his reply, he wrote "Namaste from a Hep Cat." 


Namaste is a Hindu greeting in which the speaker assumes a prayer-like attitude with his palms and bows slightly. Actually, the greeting is a namaskar; what is said or the exclamation uttered is the "namaste," pronounced (NAH MUH STAY). 


When I asked son John about the word, he responded by putting his hands together and bowed toward me saying, "namaste." We were having a conversation by way of Skype and iSight, Internet phone services that allow you to speak via computer and see who you are speaking with.  


What a civil way of greeting one another. In a place where it is not uncommon to see a truck bearing the decal of a figure urinating on the logo of another truck, it might be a nice practice to adopt.  




A $23,000 fountain pen 


On the subject of India, Montblanc, the Swiss company known for its luxury writing pens, has produced a Mahatma Gandhi limited edition pen. It''s selling for $23,000 a pop. 


Only 241 of the handmade pens will be sold -- 241 is the number of miles Gandhi walked in his march to protest salt taxes levied by the British. Like our Boston Tea Party, the march was a pivotal event in India''s effort to overthrow British rule. The pen will bear the Mahatma''s signature and a saffron-colored opal. It will also come with a 26-foot golden thread that can be wrapped around the pen to represent the simple cloth Gandhi used to weave each day. 


The Swiss pen company donated $150,000 to a foundation headed by Gandhi''s great grandson, who says the money will go to build a school and a hostel for rescued child laborers. (For more on child laborers in India, see the movie "Slumdog Millionaire.") 


According to the Financial Times of London, "Indian companies generally shy away from using the image of the Mahatma, given his near-sainted status, and rare commercial uses of his face overseas have generated controversy. (Apple used an image of Gandhi in its advertising.) 


A marketing expert, told the Times the idea could backfire. "Gandhi stood for everything that was non-elitist. Here is a pen that uses the idiom of a man who believed in third-class travel to promote a first-world product to luxurious desk tops," he said. 


According to USA Today, Tushar Gandhi, the great grandson, says he can''t bring himself to use the pen. "It''s too costly for me," he said. 


But, back to namaste. One can think of dozens of relationships where that could be put to good use. Imagine certain local politicians, a college president and her school''s disaffected alumni, Fox News and the White House, ah, the possibilities. 


A toast to civility. 


And, namaste to you, dear reader. 


Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.