Meet the Review Crew I

Content Coordinator for Poetry and Nonfiction: Ashley Maul

Once, she was asked to list five books she’d bring with her on a deserted island and without fail her answer remains: Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireThe Scarlet Letter, a collection of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Billy Collin’s The Trouble with Poetry. Her favorite reading reflects her own writing style – a combination of youthful fancy and shenanigans mixed with sarcasm and adult confession.

Like many students so close to graduation, she is unsure of where the future will take her, but she is very interested in the publishing industry and imagines a career that allows her to telecommute as an editor for a posh literary magazine or book publishing company. With a history in bookstore management and an avid thirst for reading and writing, there is little she can imagine that can combine her interests so perfectly.

Art Editor Arjun Chopra

Arjun started working with Superstition Review over the past summer as a guest contributor with his blog series, “Dispatches From Delhi.” Despite being relatively new to the world of editing/publishing, Arjun finds his position intellectually stimulating and instrumental in giving him his first glimpse into the actual working side of writing. He finds his work to be a comprehensive learning experience in meshing creativity with professionalism, an invaluable skill of those who strive to make a living through their writing, a skill he is glad to have the chance to practice.

When not in class, doing homework, or compiling graduate application materials, Arjun enjoys spending his free time reading novels and poetry collections, writing, watching movies, skateboarding, and listening to a wide variety of different music.

Advertising Editor Brooke Passey

Along with her reading load for class, Brooke tries to read one recreational book a week. To stay motivated she posts weekly book reviews on her blog brookepassey.wordpress.com. She also loves horseback riding and spends her spare time training and teaching riding lessons. In the 15 years that she has been riding she has only fallen off a horse once—when she was reading a book while sitting on her horse bareback. Although she loves both hobbies she has since decided to keep them separate. After graduation she plans on pursuing a career where she can use her writing skills during the day and her riding skills in the evening.

Fiction Editor Abbey Maddix

Superstition Review is Abbey’s first experience working with a literary magazine and hopefully the first stepping stone to a career in the editing and publishing world. She finds the position demanding but educational, particularly informative when it comes to thinking about her own future career as a writer. Her work centers on fiction of all forms, exploring genres and forms and her own limitations. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone and enjoys exploring the question “What does it mean to be human?” from both a literary angle and a scientific one.

On Abbey’s “favorites” bookshelf there are the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, Italo Calvino, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, although she’d like to expand her experience with contemporary literature. Although she has a difficult time understanding poetry, the works of Pablo Neruda and Tomas Tranströmer have managed to win her over.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 13

It’s been about a week since I returned from Delhi to Phoenix and I don’t really know how to process things. Everything is now as different to me as it was once familiar and I find myself appreciating a variety of things on a very conscious level. Not that I was unappreciative before I left, but after really feeling what life can be like in a place so radically different from Western society, every little thing seems like something for which all should be appreciative. Water tastes way better; my house looks at least 10 times bigger than it did before I left; and going hungry is about as likely an event to occur in my life as that asteroid from Armageddon crashing into my front yard.

I suppose since spending the summer in my homeland, I have developed a very comprehensive realization that even on their worst day, any given member of the American middle class can find boons in spades when compared to the lifestyle of the average Indian person. I’m not trying to minimize the strain both Americans and Indians and other cultures all over the world have to endure on a regular schedule. Everybody deals with some version of struggle to a greater or lesser extent on a moment-to-moment basis, and I completely understand that fact.

But the gap between what people already have to begin with in metropolitan areas like Tempe or Scottsdale compared to Delhi is just so vastly antonymic that it almost defies my sense of reality. I mean, for the love of God, when was the last time an American population had to worry about a power blackout covering 620 million people since the turn of the 20th Century? The closest North America came to this kind of power failure was in 2003, and that was staggeringly low in comparison, coming in at 55 million people.

And food? At last count, 60 million children in India were listed as food insecure. What’s the count for all food insecure members of the entire American population? The data varies, but I’ll bet my left lung that it’s nowhere in the same state, let alone the same neighborhood, as 60 million.

And housing? Oh man, the worst project developments in the United States put together don’t hold a candle to the rampant poverty in the majority of Indian living spaces. In Tempe, I’ll see 1-2 homeless people every couple of months with a street sign in their hand and a tin cup next to it. Maybe the sign says something funny, and people give some money to him or her, and call it their good deed for the day.

In India, I saw the homeless, the crippled, the destitute, and the derelict live in droves under freeways, overpasses, and on the streets, scouring between moving traffic for alms, many without even tattered rags to cover the little modesty they might wish to retain.

And coming back from that kind of differential has been a massive shock to my world paradigm. It’s placed in my mind a more universal idea of what it would mean for me to have a happy, successful life. And that idea is just keeping it more basic than basic. I don’t mean Survivorman or ascetic monk basic; just whittling down the things in my life to the bare essentials, like food, water, clothing, shelter, and enough power to turn a light on.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 12

About a week and a half ago, I went to sleep with the air conditioner running like I have pretty much every night since I’ve been India. Anyone who’s ever been to this side of the world recognizes that the utilization of indoor air conditioning is one of the most important inventions developed for widespread use by the Indian populous since the discovery of spices in making all our food. Without the AC’s pumping cool air into the bedrooms at night, comfortable sleep devolves into a sweltering difficulty producing the results of a hardcore cardiovascular exercise.

However, power outages are not exactly the major figures of new problems in India, so I’ve learned from a very young age that when the lights go out, it’s to be expected since it happens quite often. So when I woke up at 2 a.m. sweating like all hell just broke loose, I figured the power went out like usual and would be back on soon.

After an hour, I got a bit impatient. After two, I became skeptical. And after I passed out from exhaustion and woke up still sweating six hours later, I was more or less confused, but still, it didn’t break the mold of the accepted norm for how things worked in India anyway. After a few more hours, the power kicked back in, and I watched Dexter until I had to leave the house to run some errands.

A few days later I was talking to a friend of mine with whom I hadn’t spoken in a while. So we went through the milieu of average question: what’s up, how’ve you been, what’s your life like nowadays, those kinds of things. I found out he was spending the summer interning in San Francisco, and I thought that sounded like fun. Then I told him I was interning in Delhi, and he asked me if I had heard about the blackouts.

And my first thought was, how the hell did he know what I was doing a few days ago? The thought had never occurred to me that being a part of a blackout was daily news, even worldwide news. To me, it was something that happened a lot. No power to a house? Okay. No power to a whole neighborhood? Okay, it happens. No power to a whole city? Eh I suppose, what of it? Massive traffic jams backing up as far as the eye could see? Have you been here before? What else is new?

Then I did some further reading, and the numbers were totally staggering. Apparently the blackout happened TWICE in two days, with three key power grids failing first in sequence and then simultaneously. The first day, 370 million people lost all electrical power for about 8-10 hours. The second day, 620 million people lost all electrical power for over 16 hours. If this happened in America, people would think Bruce Willis was on the chase for Timothy Olyphant while conducting a live reenactment of Die Hard 4 (if the metaphor is lost on you, watch the movie).

I was one of 620 million Indians who were essentially powerless (pardon the pun) against a completely ineffective and blundering infrastructure, an infrastructure headed by leaders who are ineffective at managing the country’s power supply, despite the exponentially increasing demands for more power due to the country’s jumps forward for economic growth. It’s strange to think that all my experience in the Western world has been characterized by infrastructural solidity, yet my acceptance of faulty Indian infrastructure as commonplace still persists.

I’ve always known this country had problems, problems that become even more pronounced when compared to America’s, but I never stopped to think of how bad because it’s just the way things have been in India for as long as I can remember. I used to think I could never relate to hardcore rap music, but most of the places around here would put the derelict state of housing projects to shame, just minus all the guns and drugs. Crooked cops, poor living conditions, power and water shortages; all these things could be parts of a treatise on life akin to that of the worst American cities of the past few decades.

But none of these things have the propensity to be glorified when living among them. It’s just the sad facts of life that make up this varied place. It’s just been a humbling experience to truly understand how much I have compared to how much I could have easily not have had in my motherland.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 11

It has been a while since my last post, so I’d like to begin this dispatch with a quick update: this past week, instead of teaching English classes as forecasted, I have been handling the special education/remedial education courses at New Era Public School by myself as a sort of introductory rite of passage before taking on the more specialized job of teaching a specific subject area. It’s a very rewarding place to teach, because the kids come and go in much smaller groups as opposed to the full class sizes (5-10 instead of 45-50 at a time), which allows me a large amount of time per day to give each child the individual attention required to assist them with their work.

New Era Public School

New Era Public School

This gives me much greater insight into the structure of the Indian school system because the children in my classroom range from 2nd to 8th grades, and have learning issues in different subject areas. There is rarely a case of me having to teach/tutor more than two students in each grade, and even in those cases, hardly do I ever have more than one student working on the same subject material. As a result, I get to conduct mini-teaching sessions with a wide-ranging demographic for a variety of different subjects varying from English to Social Studies to Science to Sanskrit, often tackling 3 or more subjects per 45 minute class period.

Contrary to my own initial thoughts, I now consider teaching/assisting different children with such a veritable smorgasbord of information as a great catalyst for creating an interesting work environment. The main thing it has taught me is this:

All kids are different.

Teaching a variety of different subjects varying from English to Social Studies to Science to Sanskrit.

Some kids are quicker to understand certain subjects. Some kids require the extra attention provided by a smaller work environment because they require a bit more clarification. Some kids have learning disabilities that make it difficult for them to comprehend assignments. They require more time to slowly and methodically absorb what they need to know about math or English or science.

And some kids are just lazy little buggers who don’t understand what it’s like to confront a teacher who absolutely refuses to have their patience worn down by their wanton misbehavior. For some kids, the whole daily grind of school just doesn’t make sense in any applicable way and they just follow the crowd because their parents tell them it’s school or bust.

All kids are different. But when they’re in the classroom, it’s not a teacher’s job to assimilate them into one total blob that needs to be taught the same stuff. A teacher is someone who understands the standard to which all of his or her students must be raised, and then to not lower that standard, but to work out the kinks in each student’s learning process and help them achieve what each sometimes doesn’t even know he or she is capable of.

In short, though I’d prefer the intellectual stimulation provided by older students, I have a greater appreciation for the profession of teaching than I ever had before. The only way to learn is by doing, I suppose.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 10

Tomorrow marks my first legitimate workday as an English teacher in another country (another continent). And it’s a country that is by and large considered a part of the underdeveloped third world. The geographical shift alone has greatly enhanced my perception of what education is supposed to mean in a place like India, but without hands-on experience, my knowledge still leaves much to be desired.

So far, my capacity in the school’s hierarchy has been assistance-based learning, meaning that all the teaching or guidance I have provided over the course of the last two months has been closely supervised by a more senior staff member. Although these staff members varied greatly in age and subject of interest, each one was able to help me understand that the Indian education system is one that does not permit great unorthodoxy in curriculum.

In short, despite being comprised of individuals dedicated to drawing forth the potential of their students, the Indian education system allows no pedagogical heroes. Teachers are not allowed to deviate from the state-mandated standards. They have limited resources at their disposal to subvert or fill in the cracks in the system. Now, I’m not saying that this kind of situation doesn’t exist in American classrooms, but I am saying that the average American classroom has a lot more creativity and financing to foster student growth. And having been in both classrooms as a student, I can say this with absolute certainty.

But without having been a teacher in either type of classroom, does my opinion really cover all the bases? I’m not sure yet. That’s why tomorrow is going to be an important day for me. Not just because it’s my first official step into teaching, but also because I will finally be able to put myself in front of the blackboard for hours on end. This repetition will help me fully comprehend the rigors of being an educator. I will need to eschew the romanticized notions I still associate with the often thankless job of a teacher.

And when my view of the profession is stripped down to its bare essentials, just like my worldview has been from my continued exposure to the starkness of India in general, whatever remains will tell me whether or not I am committed enough to education to make it an integral part of my life for the next decade.

Right now, I don’t know much about the specifics of teaching. After tomorrow, I might not know much more. But what I will know is whether or not the entire prospect of it is something I want to know more about. For now, I’m just going to put my best foot forward.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 9

In my last dispatch, I ended on the premise of trying to understand my culture through interaction with one of its holy men, posing the query: what is the functionality of a guru? After meeting my grandmother’s guru, Swami Grishanand Saraswati, the answer became quite simple. A guru is a man who forsakes the banality and materialism of everyday life (in Swami Grishanand’s case, at 18 years old) for a purely spiritual existence, fulfilled through total dedication to studying the Vedas, Bhagavat Gita, Manu Smriti, Srimad Bhagavat, and various other canonical Hindu texts in order to achieve a greater comprehension of the celestial workings of the universe. But this comprehension is not a paltry tool used to pull the wool over the eyes of those lost in the world, seeking guidance or direction in lives they cannot seem to properly helm. Just as water seeks nobody to consume it, a guru does not seek followers to thirst for his knowledge. He doesn’t place money or praise or control as motive. His goal is the achievement of self-betterment through conscious reflection and the genuine care for his fellow man.

Swami Grishanand Saraswati

To put it bluntly, a guru is a wise man, but he does not care whether or not you listen to him.

Some people only come to a guru when they want something, whether a blessing to cure a particular ailment or well wishes for monetary income or simply to act like they’re doing their guru a favor by being his student. These are the kind of people on whom Guru-ji spends little to no time in a one-on-one setting. But come to him without reservations or material desires, armed with a willing heart and an open mind, and see what a powerful individual he becomes with his knowledge.

On Swami Grishanand’s birthday, hundreds of his disciples from all over India came to pay their respects. They brought food, gifts, and money to show their devotion to him for changing their thoughts and lives with his teachings. But Guru-ji gave the sweets to the hungry; he found ways to dispense the gifts among the poor; and contrary to my ideas of religious figures’ unscrupulous attitudes towards monetary accumulation, all of the money that was given for Guru-ji’s birthday was to be spent entirely on building and maintaining ashrams and orphanages.

It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the effort people put into these things, but material goods take nothing to cultivate when compared to the simple spiritual connection of being with one’s guru just because one appreciates his person, wants to hear what he has to say, and desires to apply that higher knowledge to his or her own life.

Hundreds of disciples celebrating.

For example, while I was in Jabalpur for Guru Purnima, a holiday celebrating gurus across India, I spent the day going to various points along the holy Narmada river with a friend of my grandmother’s, a man I will call P. P was born poor (and I mean Indian poor), finished high school through correspondence, and started working at 12 years old. Today, at 44 years old, he is a highly successful businessman who owns and operates his own steel import/export business in Dubai with offices all over the world. He wants for absolutely nothing. To put this in perspective, if he wished to expand his operations by moving stateside (which would be laughably easy at this point in his life), he could be pulling $200,000 a month without breaking a sweat. But material concerns aren’t his primary motive, which is why P is one of Swami Grishanand’s closest disciples despite only knowing him for five years.

Birthday Celebration.

What makes a wealthy businessman and a holy man so strongly connected? Again, the answer is simple. They desire nothing material, except the trust and faith of one another, the pleasure of one another’s company and the discussion of their thoughts. P told me that he never once tried to achieve wealth for himself; he wanted to be rich since he was 12 years old so he could provide for his family and ensure they would never want for anything. Swami Grishanand did not seek spiritual knowledge for praise, money, or to trick people into worshipping him through accruement of false virtue; he left his home and family at 18 years old for the ashram because he was seeking personal fulfillment, a fulfillment through which he could help his fellow man. Both men have great lives and extraordinary physical and spiritual presence, but they both also concede wholeheartedly that the greatness of their lives, though shaped by selfish and logical choices, are only made possible through selfless devotion to something greater than their individual selves. And that selflessness feeds their selfishness. And their selfishness powers their selflessness. And so it goes.

 

Birthday offerings for the Swami.

THAT is the beauty of Hinduism. The serenity of true spirituality is rooted in the power of logical decision-making. And the greatest logic comes from understanding that to achieve an enlightened state of mind, one must be willing to forgo the hubris of human reason for the calm maturity of spirituality. There are no musts or must-nots. Choice is duty, duty is love, love is freedom, and freedom is choice. Hinduism rejects duality and says that all things are one. That’s why a guru both cares for his fellow man, but does not care enough to force them towards enlightenment. That’s why a wealthy businessman and a humble holy man can be the best of friends. I’m young, so I can’t grasp it fully yet, but the fact that separation is just a human invention is a very powerful idea that is now firmly implanted in my mind.

And as such, I learned that the purpose of a guru is to help reform his disciples’ idea of duality into non-duality, to remove barriers of separation for the open space of unity.

Overall, here’s what I have to say: What a trip! And I mean that literally and figuratively.

Dispatches from Delhi: Report 8

Two nights ago, my grandmother asked me if I wanted to accompany her to Jabalpur, a city in the Madhya Pradesh region of India, to receive blessings from and pay respects to her guru on his birthday. Coincidentally, this event just happens to occur under the next full moon in one of India’s most culturally significant cities. In fact, Jabalpur’s colloquial name is Sanskaardhani or “culture capital” because it was once home to the Kalchuri and Gond dynasties and developed a syncretic culture as a result of the intermittent influence of the Marathi and Mughal empires, combining Hindu, Muslim, and Jain cultures and influences into one singular area. Due to this differential cultural mix of religious faiths coupled with the region’s dominant dependence on rural agriculture, Jabalpur remains largely unchanged in its spiritual significance to the Indian community at large. It is home to a large community of holy men, women, and orphanages of abandoned children all either well versed in or currently learning the various aspects of Vedic literature.

When she told me all this, my grandmother and I got into a discussion about faith versus reason, her obviously discussing the former, and me in my 20-year-old naivety pushing the latter. The whole argument actually started because after pushing all this history aside, the question kept nagging at my mind: why did she need a guru in the first place? I am not at all denying the experience that it would provide me with and it would be an unforgettable part of my growth at this point in life. But at 75 years old, she has already achieved a sufficient amount of financial success and emotional fulfillment in her life without ever seeking the guidance of a spiritual teacher.

So what had changed in the past few years to facilitate this change?

She said that nothing had changed, that things were the same. I said something had to be different. She said no and said that as she got older, she realized that the events in her life, however driven by human factors like her father and husband and children, still answered to the divine intervention of an ultimate superpower; call it God, Bhagavan, whatever. I asked if she really believed her own power of thinking and choices and environmental situations had not achieved the changes that created her present. She said no, that destiny had ultimately chosen her path for her, and no matter what she might have done to deter from or adhere to that path, it was all preordained by this ultimate superpower. As such, she felt the urge to find a guru who could use his knowledge of Hindu canonical texts like the Vedas and Mahabharata to provide her with insight on how to continue living well through the most ancient codices of the world’s oldest living faith.

I was more or less confused because my grandmother was applying reason to faith in a way that they did not necessarily contradict each other. She was not saying that her thoughts and actions had no bearing whatsoever on her life, but that there was a guiding hand behind each and every one of those thoughts and actions that had laid out a plan for her, a plan that stood as a simultaneous consequence and refutation of her conscious decisions. I am looking forward to this trip because I am not an incredibly spiritual person in the textbook sense of the word, but I want to understand my culture as it is: faith AND reason, spirituality and philosophy, a way of thinking and a way of life. I am still a little “iffy” about the whole thing, but I am not one to be so close-minded to such a grand new experience.