Monday, January 15, 2007

Octopus Reflections on the Number 81 Bus Home

The 81 takes forever to come. Buses keep blowing by me on Hill Street. A parade of buses flying off to places I don’t want to go. I want to go home. My fingers worry the quarters in my pocket.

A Chinese couple sits next to me at the front of the bus, both holding onto plastic bags, tied neatly at the top. Mexican kids with skateboards horse around at the back of the bus. The driver tells them to “cut it out.” Black kids are doing tricks at some kind of skateboarding tournament on the Planet X program on the bus’s flat screen TV’s. The kids get off at the next stop and skate away into the fading sunlight of Highland Park.

On the bus I’m reading a book by a Russian guy where he and his friend are rapping about being Jews as they fish at a lake resort somewhere in Russia. The obese main character’s nickname is “Snack Daddy” and he’s trying to get the IRS to allow him to go back to his beloved New York. He imagines flying over the city, describing the Bronx, the massive green rectangle of Central Park, the setting sun’s light reflecting off of the World Trade Center, the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn, and I’m getting nostalgic. The bus is trundling down Hill through Chinatown. No one gets on.

A bus passes in the opposite direction. On the side there’s a picture of a woman with six arms sitting on an L.A. Metro bus. She’s got something different in each hand: a phone, a blackberry, a novel, a pen, a newspaper, a little 3-pound barbell, a powder mirror, and an Ipod. She’s looking straight ahead from the frenetic whirl of her six arms about her with a beatific look on her face. Underneath it says: “Multitaskers, Free Yourselves We Commute You.” It’s an ad for the L.A. Metro. I immediately think to myself, “Somebody’s been watching me on the bus.” (For each 20-30 minute bus ride, I generally pack the following: a newspaper, a novel, a work of non-fiction, a magazine, a notebook, a cell phone, and a blackberry. I rarely use all of these, but I don’t feel good unless I have them all with me on the bus.)

To bring us back to our stated theme, I often wonder if Hindus find casual use of their religious imagery in commercial or comic settings – by nonbelievers -- offensive or upsetting. It’s hard to imagine the casual use of Christ on the cross in an advertisement, for example. And we’re all familiar with the totally ridiculous response of many Muslims to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed (even as an agnostic Muslim, I have little sympathy for such overreaction to cartoons). In any event, I have no idea how Hindus might feel about this kind of thing, but imagine some Hindus must feel slightly odd when they see their religion’s iconography used in bus ads.

I was reading a book on Indian art in Bangladesh about a decade ago; my cousins were smoking pot and listening to “Maxinquaye” in the room next to me. One of them came up to me, bloodshot and goofy, looked at my book and said: “You know, I’ve always wondered, why did the Hindus make their gods with all those arms? What was that about?” I didn’t have a good answer; I made something up about the many arms symbolizing the superhuman powers of the gods. My stoned cousin seemed only partially satisfied with that. (Although others have said basically the same thing: “The many arms of Hindu deities are symbolic of the god's manifold powers. Whereas we have limited abilities, a god's power is unlimited, signified by the many hands that hold a variety of attributes and perform myriad activities, often simultaneously. According to noted Indologist Alain Danielou 'the image of a deity is merely a group of symbols.'" From Religion Facts.) I still wonder, though. And is it significant that an octopus has eight arms?

1 comment:

toddy said...

The Diner Old Boys crushed the league's theretofore "best team" last night. I didn't score, I didn't even have an assist, but I had one great wack at the ball from about 20 yards out on a rebound one-bounce that, if not for a well placed defender's poor shoulder, would have found the upper right corner.
We now have to wade through a few teams of mild talent to play the team we drew against in our first game, a game marred with bad defensive plays on our end.
You can keep track of our progress at

I like religious iconography of all kinds. I like maps even better. There is something very comforting about both.