Friday, March 7, 2014

What Do Their Eyes Tell Us as We Watch 'The Act of Killing' and Look at Photos of Masters and Servants in South Asia?

There is a store in my neighborhood that sells incense, beads, and trinkets. In its window is a statue. I never make eye contact with the statue. There is a wave of energy around it. Lingering. Malevolent. One of my lovers would laugh when I would tell her I refuse to walk by the storefront. The statue watches people. One day, convinced, she said I was right. "No more" she said, no more walking by that place or going inside where the creepy people worked, to buy crafts or to make idle chatter. Something was wrong in there.

One of my great summer joys was languishing, spent, in the arms of a beautiful woman. We would turn the air conditioning on high and carry on all day.

Then we would go to one of the local dive bars and play some more because I have no self-control and I would let my hands wander under the table while we drank pitchers of mid-tier beer that would make me sick the next day.

I loved her bronze skin.

I liked watching her sleep.

She had long hair that smelled like perfume and cigarette smoke. She was immaculately clean. Those smells were right on her. She who would always use the "lota" in supposed secret even though she knew I watched. It excited her.

She came from money. I loved laying there, listening to her stories about her family's guru or Veda--the difference escapes my memory--and how there were people who could either cure illness or cause sickness with an intonation of the voice, a touch, a look, a song.

There are warrior deities who protect Buddhists on their journey to the great beyond. I sit and stare at the statues of warrior spirits at the museum. I lose myself in them. They are alive. Hours pass. I remember the first time I met them. I finally realized that to walk a path of peace there must be strong spirits that take up arms in protection. So obvious. No? Why did it take me so long to realize such a thing?

I know that one of my now passed away dogs was such a guardian soul. He stood watch over us for 17 years. He was called home to do other work.

I worked at a gas station during my teen years. One evening a man walked in. He was tired and angry. He had brown skin and semi-undone half processed hair. I do not remember his cologne or scent. He pumped gas. He gave me a twenty or ten dollar bill. I do not remember which. He looked me in the eyes. It was a test or reading of some sort. He probed for weakness. He found it. I still met his eyes. He told me that I was wrong. He gave me a hundred not a ten.

"Right?" he asked.

"Yes sir" I replied.

The man left. Later he returned with a gun and robbed the nice woman who was good to stray dogs and that worked the overnight shift.

I dated a girl who was a practitioner of the occult. You would call her a witch. She said white magic was different from black magic. I thought she was really cute. Such distinctions about magic did not matter to me at the time because she let me touch and enjoy her in ways I had not really done so before without fear of being caught or rushed. Her father was not present in the home. Her mother worked odd hours. I liked such an arrangement a great deal. My father knew her family. He told me her people were known to use voodoo and other such mischief. I should stay away.

My dad also liked to share tales about the spirits and rituals from the old country.

His grand mom would sweep dirt into the corner of a room, say some words, make some incantations or hocus pocus like moves, and then you could hear the spirits yelling as she beat the dirt. I told him that was nonsense. He dared me to try the ritual. I never did.

An old Chinese lady, the relative of a friend, took my hand and said that I have a light spirit. I should be careful of the energy around me because my spirit is curious and could be taken away and get lost. She also said to beware of "gypsies". Several months later at a country fair a gypsy crone wanted to take my hand and read my palm while looking in my eyes. I beat her back and ran away.

I hope that I did not hurt her feelings.

One of my favorite movies is Blade Runner. Roy Batty dies at the end of the film, but not before telling Decker about the "real" things he has seen with his "artificial" eyes. He saves Decker's life. Roy Batty is a martyr of sorts. One of my good friends removed himself from this life some years ago. His partner played the theme to Blade Runner at his memorial service.

I suppressed an angry tear because my friend loved Blade Runner, but despite his brilliance, he could not internalize the movie's primary theme that all life is special and to be respected. Blade Runner was not strong enough to form a bulwark against his own most dark and self-destructive impulses.

Our eyes see things. Our eyes, and those of others, tell us a great deal. This is not magic or superstition. I would argue that it is just good intuitive common sense.

The eyes of some of the servants and their "masters" in this photo essay are haunting. I am disturbed by the former's fear and the latter's power.

I also want to laugh a bit at the suppressed smiles in some of the photos which seem to be moments of defiance against the social norms and conventions dictating how "masters" and servants are expected to relate to one another.

By comparison, the cruel "masters" in the documentary The Act of Killing have wicked cold eyes. Those murderers are living examples of the banality of evil in practice. The United States and the West sponsored Indonesian death squads. Those eyes are "ours" by implication, funding, and practice.

Those damn eyes. What have they revealed to you over the years? Have you seen some of the same eyes that I have?


Myshkin the Idiot said...

Those photographs are interesting.

Eyes, I love eyes, looking into people's eyes and discerning more from them than can be revealed by words. My dad told me once the eyes were the windows to the soul, as an atheist that made no sense to me, but as I grew and watched I learned, the eyes reveal considerable truths about a person.

My intuitive perception has grown considerably over the years. I am still learning what eyes can tell. The searching, not knowing, ignorant eye is an interesting one. You can tell that they cannot fully interpret what they hear.

People surprise me with their eyes. I love meeting people. I do not particularly enjoy upper income people, they often expect social deference, sometimes without realizing it. Often lower income people also expect social deference without realizing it. I also don't care for being deferred to, it's unsettling and doesn't make for a good relationship.

Navigating the social games that people play has never been my strong suit. I want honest relationships.

chauncey devega said...

Relationships are built on the sending and receiving of cues--most of which are unintentional but very very revealing.

The Sanity Inspector said...

It wasn't all that long ago that many in England were below-stairs people. Automation has gotten rid of the servants' jobs, but not the class divisions.

kokanee said...

She said, "That voodoo stuff don't do nothin' for me."!

chauncey devega said...

Goodness. The more we learn. I wonder how future generations will judge a society that is still based in many ways on the goods and materials processed and harvested by slaves?