Curing writers block with martial arts

Recently I got stuck on my next novel (a story about kung fu and artificial Intelligence). First I blamed how busy I got at work and adjusting our lives to the East Coast. But truly it was because I got so into my survival journey as a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that, despite my thirty years training striking arts, writing about non-grappling ways of fighting just wasn’t happening. Not surprisingly, like so many things in the process of writing this book, the answer was hiding in the challenge. On not resisting the threat, but using its own energy against it. Suddenly, it all clicked. I made one of the characters be a BJJ fighter who helps the main character develop her ground game, just like I am doing with my own skills. And voila! Writing is furious again.

Frame, Force and Flow

I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities and differences between different styles of #fighting. Not only their signature moves or their compared efficacy, but mostly how they structure training. After trying #martialarts from so many origins, and approaches so distinct, it occurred to me that all that those systems try to find is their own version of a balance between three elements:

1) A FRAME, that allows their body to take the most out of its structure and physics so it can take on opponents with more muscle power;

2) a method to extract the most FORCE (power in movement) through alignment of the body and timing to generate more impact a general person would; and

3) FLOW, which is a way to connect one move to another into a continuous stream of motion.

Of course, some systems do better on one part than another. I love how #boxing and #taichi train you to FLOW (and in very different ways) for example, or even how #mma is finding new ways to seamlessly transition between striking and grappling arts. Others, like #wingchun or #Bjj put so much emphasis on FRAMES that it’s worth learning them at least to understand the body better. On the other hand, #karate or #muaythai really dig into FORCE in a way that gives you a different perspective of how powerful someone’s body can be.

Each school manages their limited training time a different way. By choosing how much they want to invest on each, martial arts define their own version of that balance. That strategic decision determines the strengths and weaknesses of each art, as well as creates opportunities for innovators to rebalance this tripod from within.

But that’s just a feeling. Something I’ve been investigating recently. If you have practiced multiple styles and have an opinion about, leave a note on the comments.

Dummy Rant

The #wingchun #woodendummy is a trunk with arms. But it’s the trunk, not the arms! A tool created to help us visualize the centerline, fundamental principle of this art. To help us learn to pressure the centerline. Attack the centerline. Move around the arms and the legs… to attack the centerline. Yet, most people I see using it, are so focused on the arms they never take the true practical effect of this brilliant invention. They learn to fight an immobile opponent instead of moving around the attacker, of learning to flank him and go after the centerline from the new angle. The result: robotic chain punching robots that can’t use wing chun for anything real, who get the art criticized for having weak footwork, when in fact the more I train, the closer I think it is to boxing footwork (though a bit more rooted). Anyway, the next time you stand in front of one of these, forget the arms. They are just an obstacle to the trunk, the centerline. No matter where you touch, make that body shake.* ——————

* side note: there is a considerable difference between the wall mounted dummy and all the other ones in terms of the feedback you get. Once you try the wall mount everything tends to get clearer.

#boxing #mma #kungfu #mixedmartialarts

Hashtagananza

I learn so much when I start a new book. What other activity would allow me to have, on the same month, a conversation about 1) soul alchemy in daoism, another on 2) thought suppression on the brain’s neocortex, one about 3) antagonist algorithms in artificial intelligence, one on 4) the differences between playing and non-playing characters in Minecraft, one on 5) the different rooms at the White House, one on 6) take down defense in mixed martial arts, one on 7) intersectional feminism, one on 8) the similarities between the i-Ching and the divination systems in Nigeria?

Just think of the hashtags alone: #Wudang #daoism #neuroscience #minecraft #whitehouse #artificialintelligence #mixedmartialarts #taichi #literature #feminism #intersectionalfeminism #iching #yoruba #china

Crazy, but fun!

My name is Tigress

tigerstripes1

Girls should be at home this late. Especially little Asian chicks like me. Never running, alone, in the dark streets of Oakland. Except that when dudes see you so comfortable and confident by yourself, they think you are either crazy or are hiding something.I am both. Crazy and hiding.

From a fence ahead, I hear a scream. The mouth of an unsecured construction site. I go check. Behind a huge stack of lumber, a hooded figure holds a scantily clad woman by the wrist. She tries to shake him off, but he doesn’t seem into her plan.

The thing with Oakland is: it’s predictable. Shit always happen in the same places. There’s where the junkies get fucked up. Where cops get gifts. Where blacks get shot. Where dumb fights break. Where girls get roughed. If you want to avoid trouble, you stay away. Otherwise…

“Hey, Sir? This aint how you treat a lady,” I yell from outside.

“Fuck off!” He responds and laughs his drunken laughter. To my ears that’s an invite.
I pass the fence. He pauses. More intrigued than wary. With the sleeve of his jacket, a stained, too short jean one, he wipes the messy bush growing around his mouth and opens a wide grin. Yes, it was an invite.

Then I see a flash. Bright, blinding. When the light fades, I am somewhere else.

It’s been happening since the event on the lab. The flashes. Memories so vivid, everything seems like the present. A hiccup of conscience of sorts. They never come at a good time though. Now it’s dark. Night. A tunnel… The subway locals call Bart. Such a funny name. Perhaps the cabs should be Lisa and the buses Homer? The cable cars should be Margies! I am only 19, freshly arrived in America and life still feels like I’m inside a TV show. The train stops, I get in. The wagon is almost empty, just me and a man wearing a grass-stained khaki overall and a bright orange helmet full of partially ripped stickers. He looks at me weird, but I want no trouble, keep walking to the other end of the car. Sit as far away as possible.

The Bart moves and once out of the station and it’s dark, I hear steps lurking behind me. Remember to breathe, Yinyin.

Flash! Back to Oakland. Good. I march toward the asshole in the alley. “Leave her alone, sir!” The drunk cackles and lets go of her hand. “Huh, looks like the little Chink wants to join us, babe. Isn’t she cute?” He takes a pocket knife. Pathetic. I keep moving forward–same speed, same determination.

Another flash. The man in the subway. I look back, wondering what would possibly sound so similar to a zipper, just to see the eye of his dick staring right into mine. He grabs my hand. Bad move.

“Eat tofu,” I say, immediately knowing that didn’t come out right. In Mandarin, it would have worked much better. Whatever. “Fucking depraved,” I correct. Now he understands. I turn his wrist in one direction, twist his elbow the opposite way. So fast and far, I feel his tendon snap. He screams. I pull it the other way and stand, pushing my hip against his and up he goes. I sense his feet unroot, fly over my shoulder. Almost in slow motion. His helmet first and alone, ricocheting on the chromed bars and away from the skull it was supposed to protect. I think I hear the music. Shifu’s flute, playing calm long notes like the ones he used to pace my tai chi. Then BAM! The rest of him smashes the metal floor. Head first. He stays there. The lights from the windows blink on and off, he shows no sign of life. Shit! Did I kill the man?

The flash drags me back again.

The woman has giant legs and even bigger boobs. Both as exposed as she could without technically being naked. She looks at me and screams for the fence. “Somebody fucking help!” Thanks for the confidence. I gaze at the knife, crack my knuckles, then pounce. Watch that, bitch.

Real fights aren’t like those in the movies. They are messy and unforgiving. You have to deal with your dumb opponent, make sure you don’t kill the fucker, that he doesn’t kill you, and that you don’t step on a nail or trip on a ladder. I manage to avoid all that just to get hit by another flash.

The Bart stops. The creep still lays there like a rag doll and a memory of Shifu washes me in shame. He wasn’t a violent man himself. Would rather spend his time training people on the comprehension of the Dao and the healing aspects of Qigong. So, when he allowed me, and even pushed me to let my beast out, no one understood. “You will get it, someday, Tigress,” he told me. Daoists are fond of their paradoxes, like accepting of the wrong as a path to the right. “All the philosophy is packed into the moves. The yin hiding inside the yang. One day, you will see. But you must promise to avoid death. Daoists do not hit to kill.” A solemn oath I may have just broken. Above us, the dragons roared on Shifu’s behalf. Maybe he roared with them too. Then, as announcing an undeserved blessing, I feel a sting burn in my arm.

Back to the alley. In that moment of confusion, the blade nicks the side of my shoulder, right over the tattoo of my home town! Why did you have to do that?

Wudang, its mountains and fog, its mighty tigress and the swarm of bees Shifu cursed me with, are now all covered in blood. You’re so fucked, jackass. I grab his forearm and get my body against his, hit him with the back of my head. Not a pretty move, but it works. The blade is mine. One more kick on the chest and the fucker is on his butt, still trying to understand what happened to him. Yes, buddy. You’ve been owned by a woman.
I turn to the girl: “Go.”

But instead, she starts striking me with her tiny handbag. A dozen times. “Are you crazy?” A single little distraction is all it takes. The man comes back in our direction. I thrust her with my shoulder, right between her giant breasts and the blond flies three feet to safety. The guy now has his head and arms wrapped around my waist, the woman has her chest covered in blood. She shrieks. This time real loud, louder than Oakland. Police will come. “That’s my blood!” I point at my bleeding tattoo. “See?” She breathes relieved. Waves the handbag again: “Leave him alone!”

What?!

I let my stance sink so he can’t raise me off the ground, and over his back, I extend my hand. Stick my finger into his ass. Now he shrieks too, like a cartoon. Hooked in his rear end, I flip him on the air, he crashes hard on his back. He wheezes, searching for air, and I grab his scalp. By the hair, I force him onto his knees. He’s mine now. Him, the fight, the battleground. Everything. Sun Tzu would be proud. Peace at last. Suddenly, nowhere in the world is quieter than Oakland. I can hear the sounds of the tv from a neighbor somewhere. Enjoy the colors of the sign from the titties bar beyond the gate reflecting on a large trash bin. Blue, red, blue, red. From the wall, a cat quietly scans the place for rodents. From another, an owl stares too, probably looking for the same unlikely dinner. I think it’s funny. In China, owls are called cat-faced eagles. So it sounds like the beginning of a joke: a cat, a cat-faced bird and a girl nicknamed Tigress walk into a dark alley… The Dao can be funny sometimes.

The stink of booze, cigarettes, and lack of showering awake me from the wandering. The stench makes me want to throw up. Instead, I take a deep breath and stick the knife into his thigh. Right next to the crotch, full blade in.

He screams, and I scream back at him. Louder, crazier, inches from his nose. So deranged, his voice dries out and he stays there, bugged eyes and open mouth. I throw the bloodied knife away and say, “How about that, honey? You’re a hermaphrodite! Your own slit and all. Good, huh? Now go fuck yourself and get out of my sight.” He limps for his life, bouncing on walls, falling over himself, and disappears beyond the corner.

“Good job, Tigress,” I tell myself, then brush away some of the concrete powder and sawdust on my running clothes. A glimpse of a smile creeps in. Behind, the blonde continues to yell, “Stupid bitch! You are one person. He is every fucking man on the planet. Will you beat them all?”

Yes, I will, sister.

Hi. My name is Tigress. I am an immortal and I can help. But before you open the package I sent, you will have to listen to a story. My story.

 


This post is part of a book currently being written by author PJ Pereira.
Please don't copy/paste it anywhere. Links are ok.

The meaning of Kung Fu

Let’s go Wikipedia so you Westerners understand: “In China, it refers to any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete.” That’s right, the term actually refers not to martial arts but to extreme skills adquired through very hard work. Which is the kind of work ethics the old fighting masters always imposed to their pupils. Hence the confusion.

Now, since we are on this theme, it’s interesting how old school and new training is becoming so similar. Take a look at the photo above, then the video below:

This is the kind of shit an old Chinese monk would do to their students if they had the equipment. Repetition, conditioning, unbalance… until excellence is second nature. Kung Fu. #kungfu #mma

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Video is a Repost @paigevanzantufc

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@coach_dave_wl making sure I keep that punching power without irritating my forearm. UFC I’m coming back!!!!

Taichi for real fights?

I grew up doing Taichi under the shadow of Wudang. Shifu never explained why or how, but he would make us perform the slow forms with precision and power, then when we had to fight, he pushed us away from trying to use the moves and positions. “No fantasy,” he would say.

It infuriated me. Took me a flight to America and being in a cage with bigger men to understand the training. How fighting is timing, form and power, and how my slow and precise Taichi allowed me to move and hit with more strength and speed that my outside body looked it could do. Because of Taichi I learned to put my entire body, and gravity and momentum, on any different part of my body. If on top of that you know how to deal with someone coming to crash your skull, no matter how big they are, you can always knock him down.

In a fight, yin is difficult, yang is way more exciting. I am far from being balanced. Very far, in fact. But if there is one reason why I can put men to sleep when few girls my size can, it’s because of the inner power I developed with Taichi.

#taichi #taichichuan #mma #femalefighters #femalemma #internalmartialarts

* this account is fictional, for details check the link on the bio

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Instagram Repost @taichi_universal

・・・

Thanks to @georgethompson.uk for his amazing video. 🙏

The Inner Power that we are said to get by practicing an internal martial system such as Taijiquan or Baguazhang gives us a much more subtle and potent power; not for fighting a physical attacker, but for fighting off disease by keeping us in a constant state of balance and to enable us to cause ‘things’ to happen in our lives! This may sound mystical but it is quite a natural thing. The human brain is tremendously powerful with the ability to make us ill, make us well, make us happy or sad, and enable us to gather wealth or to change our circumstances in some way. And this is the Internal Power that we gain by doing for instance Taijiquan. But by doing Taijiquan in the manner it was invented, lends itself to an excellent way of self defence as an off-shoot of training to gain inner power.

By erle montaigue

Fighting, for women

For a woman, fighting is different. Technique matters more, intelligence matters more. We can’t rely on our weight and muscles so much. Need leverage, footwork, speed instead. But more than anything, we need inspiration. Not everyone is lucky to have been born in a family of fighters like me, to have been raised by one of the greatest Shifus to ever live. For everyone else, redemption comes from examples of other girls who show we can all be badass in our own way. Build our body the way we want, and kick any fucking ass that dares to mess with us.

The lady on the photo is Ronda Rousey. She had a couple of tough, painful losses, but she still did more to grow interest for female fighting that anyone I’ve ever seen.

Xiexie, Ronda.–

#femalefighter #femalefighters #judo #mma #ufc #rondarousey #femalemma #unitedbyblood

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Instagram Repost @rondarousey

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Favorite picture of my judo career, en route to winning my first World Cup at 19 – pic by David Finch

Insurmountable Mount of Balance

From everything, balance is the hardest. Yin, yang. Soft, hard. I know it’s possible and worth it. I’ve seen it in action. But I was born with too much yang. Can train both ways, but when I’m fighting, still have trouble letting go. The beast in me always wins.

#femalefifhter #taichi #mma #yinyang #unitedbyblood

Feat instagram photos by @paigevanzantufc and @taichi_universal

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* This account is fictional.

The Lesson of the Drunken Master

drunkchinese

“Where’s that waste of a cunt, rat spilled disgrace for Kung Fu whose honor is worth less than a fuck with a toothless, one legged whore?” The giant threw a table against the wall, the food for the moon festival all spoiled. Drooling, with his unruly beard and barrel waist, the massive monster roared and kept moving in our direction, spitting vulgarities along the way. It wasn’t until he got so close that I could smell his stench of pee that Shifu stood up. Outside, Master Chan – he said, so strong the big man ate the words. From back to back, I moved along, I followed them till the street. There were chickens, noises, cakes being sold so loud. All quieted when they stepped out.

“Where’s my money Master Yang?” – screamed the giant.

“I’ve paid you already, Master Chan” – answered Shifu.

Liar! – he screamed. And attacked. Chan had the shape of furious ox, his steps so heavy the sand would jump at each stomp. Shifu waited, though. Waited. Quiet as if his opponent was just a breeze. It was only when Chan was an inch from his chest that he moved away. Whack! The big man hit a tree. Disgraced, Chan pounced once again. Threw a wide hand Shifu escaped from below. A mortal kick Shifu dodged by an inch. A precise rain of punches, each missed at the last instant. At each of the attacks, Shifu would dodge with no effort, his indigo robes waving like magic, as if he was a spirit from the final hour of the day. Elusive, inexistent. It wasn’t long until the drunk ran out of steam. His ire demeaned, his moves turned sloppy. Shifu lets him get closer, hooks the man’s foot with his and pulls it so gently. The ogre falls like a tree. Yet, in a gesture of love and compassion, my master held him from the fall, protecting the giant head from crashing onto a rock beneath. Gently, he places the foe against a boulder. Water! – he ordered. And gallons manifested at once through the hands of the astonished villagers.

“Master Chang. I paid it already. Perhaps I should have been louder. Your horses had been screaming back then .”

Demeaned and confused, the man embraced Shifu and cried.

Under such impressive deeds, there would have been a story with a learning to be shared. Unnecessary this time, though. I’ve seen what I had to see. A moment that was legendary by itself, one which eventually become their own tale, used to share learnings from other times and places.

Like right now.

It’s morning and George takes his shower after a long night shift at his residency. I got us some dumplings and turn on the tv while I wait, and it goes straight into one of those UFC replays. A black guy in yellow shorts, a Brazilian named Silva who turns out to be quite skilled, has his hands down, stance spread wide, and waves his torso and head escaping the flurry from the opponent as if it was a pro fighting a kid. Or a drunk. Nice to see technique still being used in this world of thugs. Made me think of the encounter between Shifu and Master Chan, but there was more to it.

“Do you like that shit?” – asks the soaked body behind me. He has a towel around his waist and shakes his head fast, on purpose, to spill water everywhere and me. He knows I hate it. I scream, he laughs. I take one more look. Not sure how, but for a man that doesn’t work out, he looks good naked. Pretty good, actually.

Kind of like it, I respond. I enjoy the technical ones. But liked better when there was no weight class, and competitors moved through many fights in a tournament. You could tell who knew their shit by then, although the whole thing seemed a little rigged for the Gi wearing Gracies and their Anaconda style. I want to see which of these guys can still fight when they turn 60 or 70 like Shifu did.

The black man on the screen dodges four more punches in a row and throws a sloppy punch that hits his opponent on the jaw. In China we say tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. And what he was was a killing machine. The opponent’s chin shoots up and he dismantles at once. George’s face contorts. This is so gross and uncivilized, he says, and I agree. But martial arts need some action, otherwise it’s just dance.

“Like your Tai Chi” – he says.

I am not sure how to reply, so he continues.

“You can practice your technique without falling into the ugliness of violence.”

Violence isn’t all ugly, I push back. It’s beautiful when it’s a dance.

“Like your Tai Chi” – he insists.

No, like a person so in sync with another body that they move as one. “Weren’t you watching what that guy on tv just did?” I want to tell him the story of Shifu and the drunken giant, but he shrugs before I can open my mouth, the classic superiority of a son of Berkeley. Doesn’t deserve it.

“Don’t know, honey.”–he continues–“Maybe it’s the Buddhist in me.”

A Buddhist Doctor. Double cause no harm. Can’t stand it. Can’t even hear the sound of it. “But ok… if you want to watch it, let me know. I’ll go run or something. Hopefully this blood thirst of yours will be quenched fast.”

Fuck you, George. Fuck your intellectual prowess. I want to leave the room myself. Or dodge his arguments, be bigger than his crap. Though the Tigress takes over and I swing back at him. “Ooooh, so medical and philosophical. Did you know Socrates was a soldier, Plato was a wrestler? Have you ever seen Nietzsche’s scar, Mr. Enlightened?”

He stares at me, surprised and I hope he holds what he is thinking. I will punch him if he doesn’t. Thankfully, he does, so I can proceed. “Did you know Shaolin monks are Buddhist too? They kept things from going downhill. How? By learning to fight so they could both think better, and kick some ass when shit was happening. The Samurai? It was them that spreaded Zen and their no attachment mentality. Why? Because they needed to sever their bonds to life so they weren’t afraid to die! How about the ideals of chivalry and honor of the European knights? Ok, those are too chauvinistic. You guys in the east manage to get it wrong even when you get it right.” – Dodge that, prick.

Of course, he says. “Yes, because Asia is so feministic…”

From my side of the room I measure the distance. He’s my boyfriend, but I am going to punch him. Or throw a vase. Instead, I bite my own teeth and dive back into the argument. “What’s wrong with being prepared for violence? Why can’t people… why can’t girls learn Tae Kwon Do or Karate or this animalistic MMA thing as you say… isn’t it good that prey now can take a fucking predator and teach them a lesson?”

On TV, they switch to another old fight. A blond with a cute-face turned-mean. She’s so focused. Ronda, olympian, Judo medalist and shit. The boss at UFC said she is the female Bruce Lee and I am so jealous when I hear that. My finger stretches towards the screen and I feel all he sees is the finger. “See this girl?” I tell him there was a point Asians were bullied for being smaller than whites. Then came Bruce and suddenly we stopped being picked on, because every one of us may know some Kung Fu. Now there is her. So vicious and fierce, even men are afraid of those hands. Do you know what that does? Makes men wonder if the girl across from them is dangerous too. Since her, some rednecks see smaller women and wonder if they are prey or humiliation. It sucks that she lost her last fights cause a little bit longer she would have cause the same effect as Bruce. Maybe I will do that next.

“You mean you want to get into this UFC?! With… Taichi?”

“I told you, I don’t like the sport. But I care about the political act. You are from Berkeley. You should appreciate that shit.”

Breathe, breathe, breathe…

He tells me he gets it. There is a higher meaning behind the idea of violence. But prefers the way I do it. “Your Tai Chi reminds me a bit of Kung Fu.”

“You know Tai Chi is a kind of kung fu, right?”

“I mean the old TV show.”

Fuck George. You know how to infuriate me, sometimes. The racist series that replaced Bruce Lee with a fucking white guy.

“Calm down. Where did all that anger come from, babe? I mean the show with a wise Buddhist monk that taught philosophy and how not to fight. I loved that when I was a kid.”

“Until shit hits the fan.” – I repeat.

He agrees, only when it’s needed. Not blood as a trophy like in these barbaric fights. I counter. You can’t have one without the other, need to be able to fight to impose some fear; it’s called leverage. Like in a fist fight, I feel the excitement of a punch about to land. But he keeps frustrating me, making my arguments miss. A drunk fighting a master. Chan versus Yang. Will he pull my leg too?

“Bullshit” – he says – “this is training to crave blood. You program your body to hurt, so eventually you will need to hurt.”–and he catches me head–“Just because you don’t do it, it doesn’t mean the majority doesn’t.”

I stay quiet and try to hide the fact he has a point.

His phone shows up from somewhere, he types a few keys, shows me a photo of an old Japanese, kneeling, his sword resting aside and says, “see this master? Seating serene beside his weapon? Before that serenity, the fucker was an assassin, who found a way to justify his superiority over the less inclined to violence ones. Why do we need to support that kind of asshole thinking? Isn’t that what creates the predators you’re talking about? This guy is the violent white trash of the east. He pretends better. Nothing glorious about him, or these tv gladiators of yours. Just bullies. Enlightened bullies.”

Should I tap out? I think of Ueshiba, creator of Aikido. An assassin before his peaceful days, people say. Musashi, the wise, also a thug when young. Shifu… he could be nice with his friends but… he could kill too. Although, in his case, it was different.

“Come with me” – he says, still calm and relaxed as he was when he left the shower. He got dressed, somehow. I offer no resistance.

[*]

Inspired by Shifu’s spectacle of skill the day before, I take the first match I can to try the fighting without fighting. Put my hands back, use my footwork to dodge every hit. Shifu squints from a corner. I wait to move when necessary. It’s working! My eyes search for my teacher. Bet he’s proud as stallion. Then I get kicked on the liver.

On the floor, I feel my face twitch, the waist cramp. The ache drags my tongue inside and I can’t breathe. “It’s just pain.” – Shifu says from behind my head. No pride to be seen. He raises me with disdain. “That’s what you get for showing off.”

What? I don’t get it. Why is this any different from when he did it.

“You can’t fake compassion, Tigress. You have to learn that part first.”

[*]

Outside, it looked like any other little house in Berkeley. A porch hidden by trees baldened by fall, a door in the brightest color framed by a construction ordinary like everyone around it. Perfectly unassuming, including the ethnic chain of beads hanging from the door knob. A portrait of intellectual living. George rings the bell and I am struck by the heavy smell of incense. A skinny woman with brown skin and big eyes opens the widest of the smiles and gives him a hug in slow motion. Dr. Metha. Karishma, she insists. An Indian surgeon George met at the hospital. She invites us in.

Inside, her house is is so full of colors I can’t decide where to look. She serves tea. Smells good. Tastes even better. “So, you are Dr. Arlander’s feminist girlfriend. Nice to meet another one of us.”

A grin to disguise my confusion. Grab George’s hand and squeeze it hard. She stands and walks to the bookshelf on the back of the room. I never saw so many books together. Her hands go straight to a small volume she seemed to know quite well. “He asked me to tell you about a woman called Phoolan Devi, have you ever heard about her?”
My head shakes to the sides.

“We call her The Bandit Queen.”– she proceeds–“Because she ran away from her abusive husband, join a group of bandits, and when their gang was defeated by rivals, she was taken as a trophy and gang raped for days.”–the doctor clears her throat n a long, painful pause before she can keep going–“When they finally let her go, she took the remaining members of her old group, killed her rapists, mouled her husband and spent the next years taking money to the poor.”

The book on her lap. She brushes it with the tip of her fingers before her eyes lower. She opens as someone unfolds a holy cloth and searches for a holy image. A woman, multiple arms, each one carrying a different weapon. She rides a tiger. “People said she was a reincarnation of Durga, a warrior goddess who combats demons.” Under the image, a prayer she used her reading glasses to read, although I have a sense her eyes were somewhere else:

Sing of my deeds
Tell of my combats
How I fought the treacherous demons
Forgive my failings
And bestow on me peace

The words burn into my ears in a way I will never forget, then echo through my mouth in the form of a whisper. She reciprocated with a small grin of respect, placed her hair behind the ear and continued. Told me about how, after years running from the authorities, she finally negotiated her surrender in exchange for mild sentences for her people and a piece of land for her father. I wanted to know more, everything I could about her, except it didn’t make much sense. Why did George bring me there to hear this story against everything we had been discussing?

Then, the catch. After years in prison, Phoolan finally converted to Buddhism and put an end to her history of violence. She understood her fight against the patriarchy and the rigidity of the caste system had to continue, but if it ultimately came from the weight of personal expectations, it was only through peace and detachment that those problems could be fixed. As a result, she ran for the parliament and won with the promise of peace and solidarity to the poor.

Then they both went silent. Two tigers enjoying the sight of their defeated prey. Everything upside down.

She gives me the book. Gods of India. A gift. Hope it inspires you, in war and peace. That was the sign. George stands up, thanks her for her hospitality and we walk together to the door. We shake hands, I thank her and she closes the door. Her face, a monument to victory.

Then it occurred to me. A question. So I knocked the door, before George could tell me no. She opened quite fast, for she hadn’t had a chance to go too far yet. “What happened to her? Is she still in the parliament?” The doctor’s big eyes turned to the floor and her light faded a little. She was assassinated two years later, she said.

In respect to her clear signs of pain, even if George more than deserved, I refrain from celebrating with a “yes!” Besides, it would have been obnoxious, and dishonorable to the memory of a hero. My silence got him right on the chin, though.

He knew and that’s what matters.