A note on my three blogs

A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.


Saturday, 27 December 2008

Khajuraho paper diary

I have now typed (and edited) the paper diary that I wrote when living in Khajuraho, in order to depict Indian family life more spontaneously and in detail than I could ever have done in internet cafes... For the first two weeks everything was so much that I wrote almost everyday...

I have inserted them in chronological order amongst the blog entries of my online journal in the section of my website about India 2007-08. They are marked with an asterics (*).

It will be easier to find them below though:

24.01.08 - Arriving in Khajuraho
25.01.08 - First day in the family
27.01.08 - Exploring a culture
28.01.08 - Learning family life and Hindi
29.01.08 - Learning more family life and Hindi
01.02.08 - A taster of teaching English to Indian children?
05.02.08 - Visiting the first school, and Indian planning
07.02.08 - On Indian daily living, and a dead sadhu
20.02.08 - Visiting the second school
22.02.08 - Foot operation #1!
23.02.08 - Foot operation #2!
29.02.08 - Cleaning the wound; and a colourful Brahmin
06.03.08 - Recapitulation, and facing the Unknown
20.03.08 - Walking again, and planning ahead
24.03.08 - Brushing our teeth with neem, and preparing for departure
29.03.08 - On Indian 'shower', and the joys of returning to Nature...

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Thinking of India...

I have no interest in Christmas whatsoever; it means nothing to me. And I am glad Indian people don't celebrate it, because I could phone Banaras Hindu University (BHU) today to ask about their programmes in Hindi for foreign students. I love the idea of going to study in India, to explore Indian education for myself. But then, their programmes only start in August, and they only consist of part-time evening classes which would take 1-2 years; I know I can learn Hindi a lot faster than that, and I don't want to waste all that time anyway. I found another centre though, Bhasha Bharati, which looks really interesting and that may very well be suited for what I want exactly: a context of immersion (living in a family), lessons suited for the individual, and six intensive hours of Hindi everyday! besides the founder of the centre is said to be a renowned linguist from BHU whose technique gained interest after a conference in America - which would probably suit my linguistically-aware frustrated self. I could perhaps start as soon as February, and! It is in Varanasi, too, and I really want to go back to Varanasi (1) because I LOVE this place, as the world already knows, and (2) because that is where my violin teacher lives. Perhaps six hours of Hindi everyday would not leave much room for violin, especially if it is unbearably hot by the end of the course, but who knows - it opens the possibility anyway. And of course Varanasi is not too far from my Khajuraho family, either.

There is also something that keeps bumping into thoughts in my head; so often that I am comfortable to talk about it to people now. I never finished my MSc in Developmental Linguistics, because I had a big obvious blank as to WHAT to write a dissertation about. It was the summer of 2005; I went to India for the first time instead. But today I am completely intrigued by English education in India, and the further I go on my path, the more it bugs me. If I was in India learning Hindi, as a preliminary step to teaching English to (orphaned?) children I might well have the perfect dissertation subject on language acquisition - and the perfect research environment around me. And if I want to work for an NGO, I don't want to apply for a job from here and to wait to see what happens, sitting on my bum, here. I might as well just go there and not waste my time and start the work on my own.

And although it hardly happened in India this time round, God knows I have been thinking of working with those lovely, poor, orphaned kids for a LONG time - the word "orphaned" resonates, full of love in my mind and heart, just when I think about it. "Orphanage" has ALWAYS fascinated me since I can remember. And the kids that I did meet, for there were many, they loved me and I loved them. I must I must I must, work and give love to these children for my heart overflows from it. Perhaps it is because I lost my mother so young...?

Since I sang in Belgium I feel I have completely let go of this feeble, unrealistic path I was vaguely dreaming of for so long. Now that I have recovered from the whole Beesque, emotional experience, I feel altogether different. I am glad we didn't spend more time together too. I feel it was a distraction I can finally let go of, which frees me to carry on on the right path for me. And the right path for me, clearly, takes me back to India. but I feel, this time, it will be a lot more focused. When I went to India last year I had so many ideas and dreams in my head, from studying Ayurveda to going on a Yoga course to living in an ashram to learning Indian music to volunteering for Mother Teresa to working with children to learning Hindi to living in Vijay's family to going on a meditation retreat, to following whatever path life was otherwise leading me to in the moment, gasp! And on top of all that the Beesque dream wasn't yet leaving me. Now that I have had a taster of all that, that I know India a lot better, that I know my body can cope in this oh-so-different environment, and that over there I have the best, caring and loving friend who will help and support me in whatever I choose to do, my new Indian journey wouldn't be a quest but a very focused enterprise.

Learning Hindi to start with, and then using it to work my way to orphaned children and teaching children, and whilst I do all this keep my analytical, linguistic-orientated mind alert to study any English language acquisition/educational issues at work in North India. This is only a plan, an idea, a problematic haha, but it is what I want to do. and I have enough time and money to take things as they come, to do things with awareness and alertness but kindly and slowly and with my heart.

This is what I want to do. hey, I said, it, I said it! THIS IS W H A T I W A N T TO DO! Oh my god; this is what I want to do! I know it! I know it, and it feels like a beautiful miracle that finally came to me, and it fills me with a lot of liberating energy!

* * *

I got used to my new shiny laptop finally; even sorted out a nerdy problem on Linux alone and entering the required code in the terminal, oh yes, that felt nerdy but cool. what I have most notably done in the last few days, also, was typing all that I had written in my paper journal when I was in the Khajuraho family. I was writing a journal regularly to write all that happened to me because I couldn't go to the Internet and type it all the time; all those incredible things that happened I had to write spontaneously, on the spot, to remember. I did write less as time went by and as I got used to life in the family, but I still have a good 20 pages of text, which i will soon edit to be able to add it in the journal of India on my website. Reliving this journey through the journal was very interesting and took me back to India - and I am amazed again by the foot operation and seeing the dead Sadhu and daily rural Indian life.

The other day when I met my friend's Indian flatmate, I was telling her how I had lived there where women cook on the stone floor and where a brother looks for a good man to marry his sister and where we go on a cart pulled by bulls to the neighbouring village with no running water or electricity and where no westerner had ever been before me. She had only lived in big Indian cities and was amazed by what I was telling her; she had only seen all that on televisions or in movies!! She had never known that Indian way of life herself, and she told me I was more Indian than she was...

Maybe in a way she was right...?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


I am back in scotland now.

Imagination is always more exciting than reality. Reality is. No-thing is exciting in reality. Things are, full stop. It is only in the mind that the excitment is. In reality excitment doesn't exist. It seems so fucking clear to me right now.

And so, I was pretty excited by the idea of coming back to Scotland, but really it wasn't that exciting. Seeing the castle lit at night was just the castle I had seen for years. As I arrived I saw in myself some reactions that are solely conditioned to my living in Scotland, like thanking the bus driver when I got out, which was lovely. Seeing fat people eating crisps clearly wasn't, and reminded me why I had wanted to leave at the first place...

But it is nice to be here. It feels like home, a little as if I had never left. The best was to find the homely flat again, and Robert, and 'my' room which doesn't feel empty like it did when I left Scotland, since I've been living in empty rooms with just my rucksack in India for a year. I need nothing more. and I am glad to be here because I feel a lot more independent than when I was at my father's... This context makes evolution possible - like nothing could happen further for me in France as there is no way I would build something there; I was in a dead-end now. That said, I don't know if I will start something again in Edinburgh either, but at least being here will allow me to find out...

The big difference, I guess, is that I feel like I am from another planet. Even more sharply than before. The meaning I have of life, I feel, is radically different from most people around me. I am here to be; I have nothing to do. Robert feels the same and that's why I'm happy to be here: at least there is someone from 'my' planet in the flat...

That said, Life is a miracle and Life is good.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Singing with Birch Book

B' & I

It was on 4 December in Leuven/Belgium,
(With Birch Book supporting on Wovenhand's tour)

Sunday, 30 November 2008

No more black!

I have just been spending some ten days non-stop on my father's computer. More specifically, I have completely updated, relooked, and extended my website.

The older parts have been revisited and re-organised; and I've added more - more images in the photograph gallery, and a whole new section about my year in India...


If you choose to have a look, I hope you will enjoy your visit.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

La suite...

... In the meantime I was for twelve days at my twin sister's in Munich, spending a lot of time kissing and cuddling and playing with my nephew and nieces, getting better at handling babies, and at time frustrated by the fact that I could hardly practise Yoga or violin. But it's OK really, family time even when not always pleasing for my ego is always most beneficial for my heart. I know and I trust and I am softer and softer in my heart, everyday. Twelve days and no single arguing with my sister, and always happy to help her with kitchen work. And the situations that I used to bitterly judge, a year in India later I find them easier and easier to live.


Back at Daddy's, I have found a good Yoga centre here, and even with some Iyengar influences. I am here in France for about a month and so I really wanted to find a place - I had found that one before on the Internet, but they only accept students for a month at a time, not less, so I had never tried. I finally have now. And the Yoga teacher is Indian, from Delhi, and he has been doing Yoga all his life and been studying with BKS Iyengar in Pune! I have been to his class twice already and it is a very good class indeed. A tad bit expensive, but for what feels like a miracle it doesn't matter; and priority wants that I take it, since I need it. After all I have not been to a Yoga class since Rishikesh, back in May, and it is a great practice refresher and booster. (And very soon, as I will go to Scotland mid-December, i will also be able to go back to my beloved Edinburgh Iyengar Yoga Centre, Haaaaaa, the joy!)

So, a good Yoga centre at my Daddy's place = real happiness. And yesterday when I came the teacher started to speak to me in English. With surprise I asked him why; he had thought from my registration form that I was English! After the class, the phone rang and he answered in Hindi. it was so nice for me that I could understand everything he was saying (and it felt weird, in France!) that, upon leaving, I told him 'I understood!' in Hindi. It took him three times to understand me because - I guess - he hadn't switched to Hindi mode but was trying to understand what I was saying in French or English mode. When he realised I was speaking Hindi he was so touched to heart - he said with a bright smile and light in his eyes - he carried on in Hindi and insisted that I sat down and waited to practise! I was slightly taken aback, not quite sure I was inspired for this; I was a little shy to speak, and the other students were leaving the centre looking at me funny on their way out. We started talking about what I had been doing in India. When I said I had been studying violin with a traditional teacher from Varanasi, he asked me who. I told him the name of my teacher; he asked me if he was the youngest the three brothers!! I was amazed! He had some family in Varanasi and knew about my teacher!!! Before I left, he told me I could come whenever I felt if I wanted to practise Hindi! I felt a bit silly that I hadn't been practising since I got back really, although my Hindi was not at all that rusty - it seems India regularly does come back to me and prevents me to forget Hindi. Still, when I got back home I took one of those Hindi children's book I got in Varanasi and started reading. And then analysing and finding the new words. And then practising writing copying the whole story. And then even looking for some bits and bobs in my grammar book. I ended studying about two hours in total. Man, how I do love this language and do want to become fluent in it... some day...


The day after tomorrow will be a long awaited highlight for me... I haven't been to a concert for over a year - well, apart from the few, cross-legged seated Indian classical concerts I went to in India - but I mean a loud concert with standing and dancing. So, on Saturday I will go and see joyful Wovenhand; I can hardly wait. It is a concert in Courtrai and I won't be able to come home after the gig as I don't drive, so I looked on Couchsurfing.com for a local host. I had thought only if this works out I will go, since I will also see Wovenhand on 4 December with my friend Niko (and with Birch Book!), but I will try anyway. The first guy I wrote to, I wrote to him because he had a 'good' face and from his profile he may have 'appropriate' musical tastes. Well, not only did he write back and could host me, and lives 100m away from the train station AND the gig venue, he is also a fan of DEE and so now is also coming with me to the gig!!! I couldn't believe it. Oh, and now, he even got me a ticket!!! Life never ceases to amaze me...


And did I say I am looking for a job? Well, kinda, or hm, vaguely, and certainly stress-free. After a 'serious' and lively chat with my dad, I was miraculously motivated to start looking into working for an NGO, even have updated my CV. Working in a NGO is something I have been thinking about for years... With relation to India now obviously... I don't yet quite know how to start but I have made a slim start... Will try to do a little thing everyday. Contact one place or get info on the net or something. Surething that makes my father happy, and at the annual family dinner last week, the fact that I could say to the numerous members of my family who asked me the eternal "so what are you going to do now??", without lying, that I had started looking into working for an NGO was a more relieving answer than "I don't know where I'm going but I'm going", or "I no longer plan preferring to focus on the present moment and seeing where that leads me."


And as always there is the violin. And the playing with the little sister. And the daily morning meditation, which these days lasts for a miraculously spontaneous hour. But also, here and there, in between feelings of 'all is well' and confidence in my non-lucrative, 'parasitic' (as my father sometimes says to tease me) life, there are moments of total demotivation for everything, Or of 'what the fuck am I doing?' Or of utter loss. Two days ago I was on the verge of emptying myself onto this journal, but it has now become a conscious regularity (not to say a [blind] habit) that I do not write on here when I feel down. When I feel like shit I do still know that if I was to write it down it would just make it worse, because it would turn a latent, yet unmanifest, thought pattern or feeling into something concrete, manifested. So I prefer to watch the bombardment of judgemental thoughts and negative feelings, and even the urge to write, without giving in, until they go - reminding myself that, however real they feel, no, they are not real, and they will not last forever. I am beyond them, and I am ok. Just feelings like that day when I went to town and hated passionately every fucking shop I passed by. And every fashion victim with it. And I even started to talk to a fundraiser for Medecin du Monde, who agreed with me that I was useless right now for the cause given my present 'parasitic' situation. Still he gave me a joke to make me smile, and for a minute or two the feelings of utter 'blaséeness' left me. Sometimes I do have to force myself to go out for some fresh air, most often with nowhere to go because I so dislike going 'downtown' and there is hardly any greenness around near my father's house. Not even one film in all three cinemas were appealing and I was out at an in-between time anyway. And I didn't even find a bloody postcard for my dear Alan with Down's syndrome. Thank God I was going to choir with the family that evening; the day was not completely wasted. I don't know by what miracle the bitter and dull mood eventually lifted; I was back to bubbliness and happiness and silliness before the choir! I don't know by what miracle, Oh wait, but Life is a miracle so I do know! :D

I have been fine ever since. not even thought I had a fat arse. Well, of course, I know, the real I am always fine. Beyond silliness and beyond dullness or fatness... And I feel so fucking blessed to understand Advaita...

Friday, 24 October 2008

Avec Micha

Last Sunday I took the road again; I left my father's house to go to Fursac, a small village near Limoges, in central France. (The train journey seemed so quick and smooth after a year of Indian travelling!) I hardly know 'my own' country besides the north and the south, my father being from northern France and my mother from Corsica. I always lived in the north, going to Corsica or southern France for summer or whatever other occasions, up until I was 17. In between the two extremes I have hardly visited any place; I can only think of somewhere in the Alps when I was 8 and 13, the Massif Central when I was 9, Auvergne when I was 16, and near Bretagne at 19. Apart from that whenever I have had time, since my early teens I can only remember having spent it abroad.

So apart from spending a week with Micha, it's kind of interesting to visit a new place in France. Even though it's a tiny place, surrounded by woods and trees and nothing much to do apart from going for walks with the dog and food shopping.

It is so lovely to see Micha again. I hardly recognised him because when I left Auroville last January to go to Khajuraho he had become so skinny and weak from a long episode of 'consciousness shift' that had drawn out all his energy. Most of my time in Auroville he had hardly been out of his room, had almost stopped eating, had been sleeping most of the time. When I left Auroville I had seriously wondered if it was the end of Micha, I had been worried about him.

And at the train station, on Sunday, Micha was a lot more robust, hiding behind a coat and a hat and a new beard too. I hardly recognised him. I am surprised by his health and vitality now, for a 75-year-old man. He is truly amazing; and he dances like a silly boy with his dog; and he sings and whistle all the time, and he plays his guitar. He truly is an immortal little child in an old man's body.

And so we meditate and practise our Yoga everyday, and he tells me countless stories of his amazing life like he knows so well how to - he is an amazing story teller - sometimes for hours and I forget the time. and we go for walks with the dog in his square 28 year-old car; there is river and lake and many trees and fields and a cold but sunny weather that makes the greenery shine with energy and love. After a year in india iI had forgotten about the beauty of automn and its falling multicoloured leaves, too. We go for wallnut picking in the woods, looking through the dead leaves for the most beautiful ones. We laugh a lot; I tell some stories too though I'd sometimes rather shut up and listen to his all the time. We share music, and I practise my violin, and eyes closed he listens in awe to the CD of my violin teacher. I help him with bits and bobs that annoy him on his computer and we try out making useless videos on his camera. I look after him, cooking buckwheat pancakes which he eats making funny sounds showing me that he loves them, oh and I cut his hair - and trimmed his beard even; that was a lot of fun, as I had never cut hair so short before - a little experimental, certainly not at all regular, but it worked somehow, making him look like a little boy with well-kept hair once more. We watch funny movies and comment on the news on TV. He tells me more stories, of Auroville and Mère and Sri Aurobindo, and the many women he had in his life, and of his children. I really am amazed at how vivid his memories are, of stories that happened in his childhood 60-70 years ago, his school-years, or in the 70s when he was a hippie travelling to India through Crete and Turkey and Afghanistan in his truck, oh and his drug trips. And a couple stories about German soldiers during World War II when he was a small boy, too. It reminds me of the movie 'Green Fried Tomatoes at the Whisle Stop Cafe' where the old woman recounts her life story - the film - to a middle-age woman as their friendship deepens. It is wonderful to be here.

And I can't help but think of the time ahead too - but should i? - trying to get organised for the days to come. Early next week I will go to Paris, stay at my cousin and meet other family members probably. And hopefully even meet two friends I have not seen for 10 and 20 years respectively. Then onto germany to visit my sister and her family. I spoke to B finally; there possibly will be a good gig where we can meet somewhere in Europe. Plans slowly taking shape as the days come, falling into place in their own accord - and I won't have the choice - as always it will work as it will.

Yesterday was a difficult day, things falling on to me again, being discouraged and slightly disturbed - though I can see the issue is thinner as it used to be. the present as always is the only way. Still it's nice that Micha is with me, like a second father, perhaps he was one in a former life? I love him dearly, like a father most surely.

The energy is good here; his house a little like an ashram with the greenery and the quietness around helping me with Yoga and meditation practice. I am glad I have my Yoga mat with me, and I am surprised at how little I need to eat as if the energy alone was feeding me.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Life goes on...

I have been back from India for a week now.

Life is good. I have finally saved my entire Livejournal since 2002, onto Dad's computer - to burn a CD later, that with all my Indian photos and videos. It took me ages. But it was very very interesting to go through the journal again; how trivial my life seemed around 2002-2003, up to splitting up with Nathan, discovering Buddhism and Yoga philosophy, the difficult 2-month depression in early 2005, and work, and learning Swedish and going back to university for the MSc in Developmental Linguistics, and Mr Wong's love and the care home, and buying the violin. And of course my trip to India that really started when I started deepening my Yoga practice, around the time I left Nathan. I read posts of 'thinking of India' as early as January 2005. A great retrospective, how welcome now when recentring myself etc. In the end I move a lot geographically and may sound unstable going here and there and in this and that direction, and I know my sister has told me many times that she has difficulty following my life journey, but really there is a definite steady, reliable direction. It's been a few years now since I can tell there are only three things that sum up my life aspirations; they are:

- Yoga/meditation
- Music/violin/singing
- Helping others

That is all. Nothing else. And all three support and deepen one another; all three are part of one and the same thing, following Dharma, doing what I feel I am supposed to do in this Life; progressing on my path, one step at a time. It is very simple and clear.

So I have been able to carry on with my sadhana as best I could. Every morning up on waking up I sit in meditation; practise Reiki on myself, and do some Yoga. I started yoga again more seriously since I left Rishikesh. I have found my Yoga mat again and it sort of makes it a lot easier. I have some distraction wanting to follow my family's routine; but it works still with some determination. I practised Reiki onto my little sister the other day. I was initiated to Reiki last month in Varanasi and it was the first time I gave Reiki to someone else. It was interesting; I didn't know how she would react to this 'new, mysterious' thing - giving energy with my hands. She hardly laughed; and half of the time she had fallen asleep anyway. After the 'treatment' I asked her if she had felt the energy; at first she said no, but then she kept saying that it had been so good, it had been nice on her painful knee, and she had felt some heat in places. My step-brother wanted to see and he peeked through the door; I could hear him laugh, but I didn't get distracted. After a year in india I find myself more centred with these things, Yoga, meditation, Reiki; focusing on my inner-world. I am not distracted by their curious stance, I have more confidence in myself. I get less and less peer pressure (from my family) into leading a conditioned lifestyle, too; I can breathe. I do feel I have gained a lot of maturity and calmness somehow, and I feel a lot kinder, less judgemental towards myself. Iit is nice!

Last night, at choir with Little Sister, Father and Step-Mother (they go to a choir every Tuesday and I am going along with them to keep myself into some sort of singing practise - and also to share that with them), the conductor was going through a difficult part of the song with us, soprano. He told me at one point, to show the other; 'You, sing it, you did it really well'. I was so much taken by surprise that I opened my eyes very wide in amazement - it lasted some seconds. I was unable to sing it alone (old singing phobia here we come?) and everyone laughed at my bewildered look, but somehow inside I was very calm, observing myself as well. I was unable to sing in front of people, not feeling fear or discomfort but because I felt unsure of the key on my own. I was feeling I didn't sing well that night, either. So I asked my little sister could sing the part with me, but started laughing, and somehow it was clearly impossible. Throughout the episode though I remained completely calm, like it was perfectly ok to be taken by surprise like that and to not be able to do it. My little sister kept laughing at the incident but I carried on with the choir as normal, calmly.

And so there is Yoga and meditation and Reiki and singing.
And violin, of course!

When I finally took again my viola and beautiful violin 'Devendra' I got extremely confused. the viola is so big; I tried to play it in indian-style posture (sitting cross-legged, resting its neck on my right foot), it was so large that I had to rest it on the floor instead. It also seemed extremely loud, but most of all the viola seemed superfluous now that I prefer tuning the violin low pitch - almost down to the viola's pitch... So I have put the viola back in its case for now...

And then I took beautiful 'Devendra'. Its sound felt so much fuller than the cheaper violin I had in India! I had forgotten! Its strings were all floppy and I had to retune it completely - western-style to start with - but its sound, and the now seemingly extremely high-pitch western E string startled me! With some time, and with help of the piano, I retuned it though, and played a little western-style to refresh my memory. It felt so odd; and playing it in western-style posture, tucking the violin between my neck and left shoulder, the loud and high sound went, unbalanced, into my left ear only. I love the sitting Indian posture because the violin sits more balanced between the two ears - and not too close to one ear compared to the other. I played my old duets again - it was not too bad: I was rusty but not too much, still it felt odd and not very fluid. But playing western-style now is sore on my neck. Aand so I put my beautiful violin back into its case for a few days...

It was yesterday when I was going through my Livejournal, and especially reading about how much I had loved my beautiful 'Devendra', that I felt silly not to play on it again, just because I felt I should have one western and one Indian violin, and because I feel I'll go to india soon where again I wouldn't take my beautiful violin - so best to carry on with the one I use now. Sod it. I restringed my devendra with the indian strings, tuned it more easily than i had thought I would given its new, full sound, and started to play it indian-style. Suddenly I remembered that - although a trivial point perhaps - 'Devendra' is actually an Indian name and so it should be played 'Indian-style'. And I played and played, and got used to its full sound again, and low-pitch it's even nicer, and I hadn't played on 'Devendra' for so long and never 'Indian-style before and still it was not detuning itself as I played, as if it was meant to be played Indian-style...? That's probably my over-enthusiastic mind playing tricks on me but nevermind...

I was rediscoving my long-forgotten, favourite CDs, too, and how much I had loved playing onto them before I left India. And Sopor Aeternus and Francesco's Banchini's music, which were my favourite music to play onto, seemed to be even easier to play with my new sliding skills and on a lowly-tuned violin. It was joy, joy, joy... just joy.

A friend of mine I haven't seen for three years is miraculously(?) back in northern France and wants to record music with a violin. He is my only friend who shares deep love for Francesco's music, too. We will meet tonight.

And so life is going well. But I cannot stay here too long of course - I have to do the things that I want to do too, that is to visit important friends on my journey. Sunday I will go to visit Micha, my 75-year-old friend I met in kerala and with whom I spent much time in Auroville. He is like a second father to me. He is going back to India at the end of the month and I want to see him before he goes. And I may see Mmorgane, whom I met in Auroville too back in January and who was like a friend I had known all my life. And then I will go to Germany to see my twin sister and her newly born child, a baby girl. And then I hope there will be B'ee, too, who is on tour in Europe... when time comes, and if life grants me to see him again. It would be lovely to see him again though, and good to see how I feel about him...

Friday, 10 October 2008

A retrospective

Since I got back from India, I've been spending most my life in front of Dad's computer. The day after I got back, I spent time to download and retrieve from the Internet all my pictures, and to sort them out. The work is not quite finished yet. Yesterday I spent 6 hours writing my previous entry about vipassana, hospital stay, and meeting Ramesh Balsekar.

Last night, over dinner, my father suggested that I should save all my Indian blog entries off the Internet in case they get lost into space. Of course! Why hadn't I even thought of it myself? I had thought finally I had finished most of my work on the computer and would finally seriously start practising violin again. Instead, it's now mid-day, I'm still in my pyjamas and I've spent all morning going through all my journal. I was going to retrieve all my Indian entries, but then of course - where should I start? - The journey didn't start on 13 November 2007; it started a lot earlier. I started posting ideas on going to India in the beginning of 2007. So I went back and back and back - and decided to save ALL my journal since its beginning in November 2002.

I quite enjoyed reading my very first entries - even though they seem so far away now, a lifetime away. And before my year in India I was feeling very silly about having a journal, somehow, keeping most of my entries privatised, because they all seemed trivial or crap or meaningless. Re-reading the entries or even writing them would often make me feel ashamed and uncomfortable, yet I had urges to write from time to time, the entries that are there now.

Today when I re-read the entries I am very happy I wrote them all; just feeling lucky that all this exists. I no longer feel silly to read them, but nonjudgmental, loving and kind to myself.

One entry in 2007 caught my eyes immensely; I had completely forgotten about it and was very very very happy to read it again: the one i wrote on 7 February 2007, the day before I turned 30, which I had spent so much time writing, found beautiful, yet somehow had been completely unable to put out on the journal: if a few people could read most my entries, this one I had kept completely private. Today when I re-read it though, I feel so blessed and grateful that I did write it; I feel like me-back-then is a close friend, and I am telling this friend, myself, with deep love and compassion: 'No, wait, it's great! Beautiful! Why do you feel ashamed about it?!'

So today I will make it public; open, yes, like I feel good to open my heart out now, and it feels lovely and liberating...

It is a retrospective on my life; when I wrote it at the time, it had just happened out of me.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

My last (rather intense!) week in India

So, where did I leave it off? I was going for a three-day silent meditation retreat in Nagpur, halfway between Khajuraho and Mumbai...

Meditation retreat in Nagpur
The three-day retreat was pretty 'ordinary', as far as what my inner voyage was concerned. Not overly difficult nor overly easy (of course not!) A little like my first retreat, not like the second where I had been hammering that hard pain in my back with my mind crying everyday and had been able to identify what I was working with. This time I didn't know what was coming out, though perhaps from the pain in my right hip the work would help my sitting posture for the indian violin? I would have to see when I pick the violin again? Tsss... But don't try to analyse with your mind, it's a distraction! Go back to your meditation! And so there was a lot of pain in my hips at first, but it quickly moved to my knees and then my neck and then back to my knees. Thoughts were passing quickly. Interestingly though, during the first evening's discourse, teacher Goenka said that because only old students can go on a three-day course, all students around you work seriously so your meditation progresses more quickly. This means one can work through as much impurity as one would on a ten-day course!! I really liked the idea... Saving seven days of work and pain! I could perhaps relate to this because the emotions and thoughts and physical pain were passing and going and changing very quickly, as if they had been moving in 'fast-forward' mode.

Now, vipassana environments and settings are all the "same" everywhere. Centre in the countryside, 10-15 km away from the city. Same timetable of ten-hour meditation from getting up at 4am to going to bed at 9am. In silence, orchestrated by the ringing of bells or a gong. So somehow I felt like on very familiar grounds. There were dormitories but I had given a room for myself, with private shower even. In silence I could almost forget I was in india; the women couldn't rush to me and ask where I was from madam, since they couldn't talk to me. But through the rigidity of vipassana rules, the indian ways could pierce out, sometimes funnily. Some women were clearly still speaking together. Rules are slack in India - to say the least - you know. Like the lemon water at 5pm - our only food intake in the day after 11am. It was so full of sugar that I almost spat it out. And then to ask for "nibbu ka pani, cini ki bina" i.e. no sugar in my lemon water!! Breakfasts were typical carbohydrate heavy plumps made of rice or semolina and banana, that made me crave the wonderful stewed dried fruits I got in the vipassana centre of England!! And despite the fact that I was always asking for no-chilli food, I could never make out whether my food was really cooked in a separate pot because it was still spicy. At the end of the retreat when I started speaking to people I suddenly remembered where I was. I was sitting in a chair with a group of women around me; all wanted to shake my hand and know all about me. Full of wonder at my speaking Hindi. I realised then once again that I had opted without trying for a very Indian, non-touristic place. The centre manager told me that very few Europeans came here and so the servers were not so accustomed to meeting our needs, and the place was more simple than others. And I had always had to go and speak to the male meditation teacher, because the female one spoke no English. But it was OK for me, of course; I was half-Indian by now... Throughout the meditation though I had felt how much the lady in charge was doing all she could - sometimes far too much - always concerned to make sure that I was OK, as though I had been her vulnerable little girl...

And so the meditation retreat ended quickly. I had decided I would then go to Aurangabad, further on the way to Mumbai, in order to visit the Buddhist caves of Ellora. I had not visited any touristic sight in over six months, but I was going to indulge in some sightseeing to finish my trip, yes...

Growing infection in Aurangabad
At the end of the retreat the centre manager had given me perfect instructions on how to get the bus to Aurangabad and so that went perfectly smoothly. However, I had had a spot on my right cheek near my mouth; I had been fiddling a tad bit with it and in the last hours of the retreat it had started to get infected... During the very last hour of meditation it was becoming big and red and it started to hurt me. I knew what to do from a previously infected spot and what medication to take once we'd be back in Nagpur city so I didn't worry. In India, with the heat and sweat, bacteria spread very quickly, and fiddling with your spots is a very bad idea indeed...

Back in the city before catching my night bus to Aurangabad I went to a pharmacy and bought the antibiotic tablet. I took one and I mixed some of one tablet with water to make a paste and I applied it onto the spot - like had worked fine before. The bus was a sleeper bus. A comfortable bus, a bus that I found fun because it looked a little like the buses glamourous musicians travel on when they tour, you know. As soon as the bus started though I realised my misery: my berth was right above the back wheel... Each road bump made my whole body jump! And then despite the antibiotic the spot and the pain kept growing; at one pipi-stop out of the bus, I had no change and had to beg a shopkeeper for some ibuprofen. I didn't sleep much that night obviously. When I arrived in Aurangabad at 6am, exhausted, I had to bang the hostel's door to wake the owners up so they'd let me in; I went straight into my room and fell asleep for some two hours. When I woke I was Vio: half-woman, half-hamster!

My cheek had swollen so much from the infection, up to my eye and all the way down to my jaw-line. I scared myself in the mirror. It was painful but also very uncomfortable because the infection took a lot of space in my face. I ran down to the housekeeper's office in tears and asked him where I could go to the doctor's. He and his wife were quite an old couple who always looked concerned and compassionate for me. Despite my concern (I had to fly back to France four days later!!) I did realise my luck: the spot had started to grow right at the end of the meditation retreat; otherwise I would have had no doctor and it would have been hell to try and meditate. And now, right opposite the youth hostel stood a clean nursing home/hospital with good doctors, they said. I crossed the road into the hospital and begged for a doctor. I was too early; I had to wait. I started crying even more, I was so impatient to see someone who would reassure me and start a treatment! Eventually, one hour later, a doctor - hands in gloves! - examined my cheek, and prescribed me some strong antibiotics and a painkiller/anti-inflammatory and a anti-acidic liquid and a fourth tablet I forget what for. For four days. Still in tears I phoned Vijay who spoke to the doctor because he wanted to know what was going on. It reassured me that he was involved. I was alone in a big city I didn't know and with no company.

That first day in Aurangabad I didn't even know where to go for food, and it was hot outside and I didn't want to go out far not to sweat on my spot. I rested in the dark hostel, cried a lot, rested some more focusing on my breath as much as I could to keep my mind somewhat clear and relaxed, I relied on the kind hostel-keepers to feed and look after me, and I read and gave Reiki to my spot. I returned three times to the doctor's because in the meantime another small spot had started to grow (I never touched that one and it never became a problem but in my worry I thought everything was going to go wrong) and my face kept growing bigger and bigger. When I went back in the evening there were no doctor though and - "Receptionist, please phone a doctor for me so I can ask them what do do!" - I was so impatient to see my face shrink that I held the firm belief that the medications I'd been given didn't work. And "should I not put something on the spot?" And "how do I clean it?", and in the middle of my sobs, ten times "But I have to go to Mumbai and fly to France in four days!!!" And 'Please I don't want to scare my dad at the airport!" And 'Vijay please speak to them from the phone for me", and and and... Eventually I saw another doctor who said "If tomorrow night it's not better I'll give you the address of a good skin-specialist"...

The following morning my face was even more swollen, up to the upper eyelid now, and my cheek was so big it looked like it was hanging from my face. The tears returned and once again I crossed the road up to the hospital, again too early, begging the receptionists to phone the doctor I had seen the previous night or at least to give me the address of the skin specialist. Eventually thesaid doctor agreed to come outside of his shift and see me. That relieved me greately so I went to wait outside to happily eat my bread/banana for breakfast followed by medication, and believing that I would be OK this time and I'd stay calm, yes. When I saw the doctor one hour later, he agreed that I looked worse although I was pretty serene and fine now and everything was not hell and I was going to be OK soon, yes, yes, yes.

But then he said something that really scared me and made me burst into tears once more. He asked me; "Would you like me to admit you into hospital?"!!!! WHAT?? HOSPITAL!!!?? NOW!!?? My dramatising mind of course made everything sound worse than it was. A stay hospital, alone in India three days before I was due to fly back home, with a horrible hanging cheek; in my worst moment I even wondered if I was going to be operated to remove the crap inside me... Besides the doctor told me that my spot was located in a dangerous area near some nerves that go into the brain - anywhere else on the body would have be OK. Silly sausage, the words "dangerous area" couldn't leave me for a while... On the one hand the concept of being admitted to hospital alone in India scared the shit out of me. On the other I was going to have people look after me; the doctor was promising he'd look after me personally and his brother worked there too etc. - I'd be better than in my dark hostel where they could only cook bread, omelet and chai because there were only two customers. So, in tears I went back to my room, in tears I packed my bags, in tears I told the hostel-keepers that I was going to bigscaryhospital, and in tears I instructed my rickshaw driver to drive me to bigscaryhospital. Once in the hospital, in tears I gave my name and did all the formalities, in tears I reiterated to everyone involved that I HAD TO FLY BACK TO FRANCE FROM MUMBAI IN THREE DAYS and that I wanted my daddy to recognise me at the airport, too. Then I calmed down but in the following room they took me to I saw that syringe pointed at me, and in tears I asked 'WHAT'S THAT?!' before realising - "Duh!" I'm getting blood tested. And finally once in my room they took my blood pressure and then I collapsed for two hours of relieving sleep.

I had asked for a semi-private room because of course I wouldn't stay in the free un-intimate dormitory, but I didn't need a room alone that I found too expensive anyway. I was paying 200 rupees for my room, just like in a guesthouse, hihi. Across the separating curtain I was sharing the room with a 60-odd year-old woman who looked quite poorly and kept sighing loudly. Her grumpy-looking husband was sleeping next to her bed on the floor, and she had many visitors. That reminded me well that I was in India, and it kept me entertained. It was interesting to be in an Indian hospital and to share my room with an Indian woman - that too was a new insight into Indian culture. I have to say seeing my neighbour also helped me put things into perspective and calm down. Of course I was OK and had never been that bad. And I was now in hospital and so I could let go and 'surrender to the people looking after me' and I had a bed, and the hospital didn't provide any food but the floor manager arranged the floor guards to buy food for me from a nearby hotel, all I had to do was give them the money required. I asked for rice and non-spicy daal and salad and got just that, with a huge amount of tomato and cucumber and carrot and onion that I couldn't even finish. It was a lot better than myself trying to find a good place to eat in that big unfamiliar city. I had quite a few visitors too: obviously I was subject of curiosity in this hospital. The nurses and the assistants and the cleaners and the senior doctors and the junior doctors and the surgery doctors all came to see me. Whenever a doctor came to see me he was followed by some ten other people rushing to stand behind him, with folded arms and looking at me with great seriousness and curiosity. Not so much staff came to see my neighbour because I guess for them she was quite ordinary!! It was funny; most of the medical staff wore a blood-pressure 'thingie' around their neck just as if to look more serious or credible, or as part of their outfit.

In the end, apart from confirming from my blood test results that all I had was an infection and that my body reacted well, the doctors had to do nothing. The medication was taking its effect and my cheek was slowly deflating. Obviously by now I had completely let go of the idea that I could visit the Ellora caves. And I had given up the idea that I could go and visit Ramesh Balsekar on my last day in Mumbai, too. But at the end of the first day a doctor said I would be released the following morning, so I became really excited at the thought that I could go to Mumbai on time to visit him - Ramesh Balsekar accepts visitors between 9 and 10.30am everyday...

I was very well looked after in the hospital. When I finally understood that my case had not been serious, they had solely admitted me in the hospital so I'd recover quickly on time for my flight, I was very very grateful indeed at how they had considered my problem. The floor manager especially was very very good to me, he even spoke with me in Hindi to keep me practise, and he joked a lot; I could go and see him anytime I needed anything. My main frustration during this one and a half day in an Indian hospital was the irresistible "Indian-style timekeeping"... In the morning of the second day I had been told a doctor would check on me in "5 minutes" then I could leave the hospital. One hour later I went out to ask where the doctor was and was told that he would come at 12 noon. Slightly discouraged I went back to my room. But then it was 2pm, and then, actually there was a conference on hernia that finished at 4pm so the doctor would come after that, and eventually he came at 6pm. It was 6pm on 5 October. I was in Aurangabad, 10 hours away from Mumbai by bus, and I was flying in the night of 6 October. I wanted to do all I could to meet Ramesh Balsekar before my flight; I had been thinking about this for months...

When I was finally released I had no money at all because I had not been able to get to an ATM before my admission. (By the way, my whole stay with room and food and care and medication cost me 3000 rupees, that's about 50 euros, hihi.) So my good friend the floor manager got a hospital guard to drive me to the nearest ATM on his motorbike! They were so kind!!! I had been prescribed another two days of medication, to make sure I would be OK all the way to France. When I got back to the hospital, the floor manager called me a rickshaw and made sure the driver went to the right bus stand and for a reasonable price. I left full of gratitude. I thanked him from the heart; "dil se", I said in Hindi.

On the way to Mumbai, and Ramesh Balsekar
I first heard of Ramesh Balsekar six months ago from Michael, one of my travelling companions on the first two months of my Indian journey. He too went to visit him before his flight from Mumbai back in April, and I had loved the photo he had posted on the internet, I didn't quite know why. Looking at it now I also realise I had kept an altogether different image from the man: younger, stronger, somehow... I had liked Michael's idea of concluding his Indian trip with the visit of this man, even though I knew nothing of him and had no real motivation to check the website Michael had suggested me to check (www.advaita.org) because I don't like reading long passages of text on a screen... A few weeks later, in the Rishikesh ashram, my Russian-American friend had spoken to me of a book called 'I am that' - talks by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. "You should read it"; he had said to me. From what he was saying about the book, its wisdom, I was inspired. The following day I had gone to a bookstore to see if I'd be motivated to buy the book if I saw it. I had literally put my eyes onto the book as I had entered the shop and so I had bought it. Then, in May, I went to the yoga retreat and learnt about Vedanta from my Sanscrit-swami-teacher, which is actually the same as Advaita. Later I read and did like the book. Then my Russian friend disappeared but I met him again a couple of month later in the ashram, end of June. Now he spoke to me about a book by Ramesh Balsekar, who actually was a disciple of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj... I remembered Michael's photo and the connection was made. Two realised men, but simple householders, who had had visitors everyday in their houses in Mumbai. I wanted to go too.

When I left the hospital the rush resumed: I arrived at the Aurangabad bus stand and went straight to the counter to get my bus ticket. "Last bus at 8.45pm", the man said. It was 7.45 so I had time to go for some food before the bus. I had asked the man about five times for the bus' schedule - "Yes, 8.45." He had said each time. I went to wait a little, sitting by the right platform. After a few moment I double-checked the bus ticket: "8.15" it said!! It was now 8.14 so I ran to the nearest bus to ask someone when exactly the bus to Mumbai was. I had 10 minutes the man said; I asked him if I had time to go to the toilet, he said yes, and I jokingly said he should ask the bus driver to wait for me should the bus arrive. While in the toilet, I remember thinking that if 'Indian-style timing' is slow and frustrating at time, at least one cannot miss one's bus... When I returned to my platform I went to see for the bus and looked around: suddenly a man (another one I had never seen!) came to me shouting 'Madam, it's your bus! Seat number 5! go, quick!"!!! I couldn't believe my ears; how the hell had he known!? I ran to the bus, already departing, and hopped onto it - as best I could with my big heavy bags. All the men were quickly helping me and I was amazed at how kind they all looked to me. I had almost missed the last bus on time to meet Ramesh Balsekar, but I had made it...

I arrived at 6am in Mumbai after a bouncy night on the bus (seats, not berths this time). Again I was exhausted. I went straight to the Salvation Army hostel; I wanted a bed just for a few hours, and to sleep before I'd go to meet Ramesh Balsekar for 9am. In the end there was no checking-in before 9 and I found myself looking for another hotel with two guys who had arrived the same second I had, one of whom lived in... Edinburgh! We went round in circles to try and find a hotel with an indian man who was clearly trying to rip them off on the way. When I realised this I went back to the Salvation Army hostel, which I knew was cheap and convenient from spending a couple nights there a year before. In the end I never had to check-in; i could just 'borrow an emtpy bed' from the dormitory and keep my luggage in the store room. I had a very relieveing shower too. I never slept again this morning anyway because my spot decided to burst out... You know, when you get out the yellow or white from a zit. Except it was a massive, huge, monster of a fucking spot, and it took me almost an hour to get all the shit out of it. It was absolutely HOR-REN-DOUS!!! It took so long; I wonder what the other women from the dormitory were thinking - What is this new woman doing, just dropping her bags down and filling tissues and tissues of shit in front of her mirror?!? But I was so happy and relieve all this crap was leaving my body... Eventually the shit emptied out by 9.15 and I hurried to get a taxi. Mumbai is so freaking huge. I started to forget I was in India, with those clean and wide roads and those skyscrapers across the seafront.

I arrived in Ramesh Balsekar's house - relieved - I would see him finally! As I got in I was warmly welcome by one of his students. It was a lovely room filled with some fifteen listeners. A talk orchestrated by two students asking questions, about astrology, Hitler and the war, the world, and of course that whatever you do something will always happen anyway. All you have to do in this life is do what you feel, what you're supposed to do. I didn't (consciously) learn much from the talk, yet somehow I was very happy to be there, feeling blessed to meet this enlightened mind/body complex of 91 years old who looked very much like a little boy trapped in an old man's body. He spoke lively, with no teeth, and he laughed and smiled a lot. I didn't quite know why but I was very happy to be there, and, like Michael, I was very happy to end my Indian journey with such a visit. At the end of the talk I got one of Ramesh's book; with some students we went for lunch; one student gave me another book. I had planned to buy a few things to bring to Europe before flying, but Mumbai was so massive that I would have had to take long taxi rides and all Ii had energy for was to go and get some strings for my low-tuned violin. Then I went back to the hostel and crashed for some two hours of sleep on a borrowed bed. Then I went to check internet, I wrote my last entry from India and I went roaming the nearby streets of Colaba tears in my eyes, for a short while. I phoned Vijay goodbye and went for some dinner. Whilst I was waiting for my food, my violin teacher, who I had thought was in Europe but had not gone because of visa problems, phoned me to say goodbye. I was so moved that I burst into tears once more. From the day I was travelling alone in India my time had been orchestrated around learning violin with this man; now he was last to tell me goodbye, literally an hour before heading to the airport... I didn't cry anymore after that. Perhaps because deep down I know that I will go back soon...?

Oh and Dad recognised me at the airport, and he hardly reacted when I said I was just out of hospital. I've finished the course of antibiotics now and I look fine; the spot is almost gone...

Monday, 6 October 2008

Goodbye, my beloved India... (for now...?)

I arrived in Mumbai this morning at 6am by night bus. I am going to the airport in three hours. I feel odd and I feel not that odd. I don't know and it doesn't matter; all I have to do is feel it.

Last night, in the bus stand of Aurangabad I took some notes from all that happened in the past week, because I wanted to remember everything so I would be able to post it on this journal later. But there is so fucking much - I just cannot believe how much happened in just a small week. The vipassana meditation retreat already feels like a month ago, because all the rest was so intense that it made me forget it all. I don't have the energy to write it onto here now though because it would take too long. I hope I will still be in the mood when back in France but we will see.

The meditation retreat was good. The funny bit probably was when I met the scorpion in my bathroom - almost reacted with equanimity, carried on with my shower with great awareness of the whereabouts of my visitor, but did point it to the course manager when she came round ringing the bell for meditation... She went "Oooooooh..." and called another woman who picked it up with a broom and the biggest bucket and then through it away. "Dur", I requested (meaning 'far away'!)

But anyway. I should go. I don't want to be in front of a computer screen - though I don't really know where to go until I go. Perhaps I will go to the seafront, looking at the Mumbai skycrapers in the distance, which have already made me feel a little bit like I am back in the West...

I will land in Brussels tomorrow morning. My Daddy shall pick me up, with my coat in the car. Ha! Ha!

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Bye-bye Varanasi

I am leaving Varanasi tomorrow night. A month gone already. A bloody good month too despite the difficult hammering heat most of the time. Varanasi in the winter must be amazing. I leave behind me some good volunteer work (though not as much as I'd hoped, because of the heat and a need to rest), a training in Reiki, some really amazing and musical company, and a lot of progress on the violin. I am very happy.

Of course though I feel odd about leaving the place. Doing nothing about it, just observing... tomorrow I'm going to Khajuraho for another goodbye-week or so with the family before I head for Mumbai... and Mumbai Airport. It really does feel odd; I can't quite believe that I've been here almost a year already, though it does feel weird to say to people I meet now that I've been here since November 2007!! And yet at the same time India has become so normal to me and I can't believe that I'll be in "anotherworldly" Europe in less than three weeks.

Tonight on the way back from my violin class I was thinking though how easy it is to just walk the city-streets in Europe compared to India. In Europe walking in the street is pretty obvious and pretty straight and smooth. Here, I'm quite glad to have my hiking sandals actually because you have to always go round or up something, you just cannot go straight all the time. In the super-slow (and thick) traffic you have to give way to motorbikes and bicycles and cycle-rickshaw, who drive around and just by you. And the hardworking sweaty men with the scarf round their head, effortfully pushing stackloads of bananas or piles of long metal sticks or sacks of grounds or mounts of plastic chairs on their wobbly wooden carriages. And you have to go round the many many people around you because streets are so fucking crowded, and round the numerous slow or stationary cows, and the massive cow-shits, and the sleeping dogs, and the piles of rubbish, oh and the long queues of heavy, turtle-slow buffaloes, and all the mud, and the chai and food stalls, and the shoe-polishers or bits-and-bobs' sellers or even the neem stick seller who just run their single-squere metre (or less!) "businesses" sitting on the street's side. And there's so much loud noise and deafening multi-sound horns and traffic noise and people's noise and "Madame, rickshaw!?" here and "Madame please come my shop!" there, and the kids running shouting 'Hello!' behind you. Just noises from there being so many people or living beings in this crazy country. So, often on my way I'm amazed at how alert you have to be to just walk in the streets, a little like rodeo...

The last time I came to india, for one tiny month, when I got back to Europe the streets seemed empty and miserable to me. After a year I can't yet imagine how the hell I will feel walking the streets in Europe. No doubt they will look un-be-lie-va-bly CLEAN to me though, and the dog shits on french pavements (pavements!) will just look ridiculous to me.

But obviously it's not just walking in the streets. It will be the whole way of life, the not-easily-being-able-to-live-with-your-heart thing I guess that will strike me in Europe, though I am pretty clueless as to how to express how feel right now, and I can't possibly know yet how I will feel because it's not now yet.

What will I do? Where will I live? Friends have started asking me in emails for quite some time now. When I initially left I thought I would know after I get back. A year has passed and I have no clue. But as always the present works for me, and I won't be homeless and pennyless so I'll be OK. It's just, as always, the big Unknown that I have to deal with. Difficult sometimes, but as time goes on, I am becoming pretty good at dealing with It... In the end, if it looks like I do so many things in so many places, I just feel like I always do the same tiny thing all the time: put one foot in front of the other one, and again, and again, and again. Focusing on how I feel at the time, looking at the lead of the pencil - that unchangeable tiny dot - not the big changeable or intimidating drawing that it manifests into. I do nothing but being, what form it takes is secondary. I guess though being will manifest in a form a little like; taking some time to "recover". To rest and recentre myself. To meditate so that I can see what comes in front of me. To see how I feel in Europe. In France, in Scotland. I guess I will have to visit Scotland. I want to visit Scotland, yes! I see it sunny and breezy and beautiful! Edinburgh, its castle, its green hills and its amazing architecture, and Portobello Beach - I remember how amazingly beautiful it looked to me after I had left it for just three months in 2005. I want to see my friends! My family! I'm so happy I'll see them all again - yet at the same time I know it won't all be easy because I'll feel disconnected from such a long, disconnected time away - but I get used to it, don't I. I've been feeling disconnected for a long time from having friends everywhere and therefore never quite connected with anyone. But I'm happy to be who I am, however disconnected I have to be.

And blah and blah and blah. But for now, mind, please would you kindly keep quiet. I am here now. Another violin class to go still. And I'm slowly ending my trip - thinking of what to bring "home" and what to leave behind; the clothes I'll never wear in Europe or those that are slowly dying after seven-ten months from being of poor quality. I've been to the dentist, too, because it's so cheap, and had a 150-rupee eye check-up, and bought a one-year provision of lenses for 20 euros (ha!ha!ha!) I've bought a lovely pile of books and about hald a dozen Hindi/English children's books :p (I am motivated, yes!?) and bits and bobs I won't find in Europe and a lovely OM and a bansuri for a friend who asked me for one. But what else? I clearly do feel like I'll come back to india in the near future (but what do I know?) I don't feel like "I have to bring back souvenirs because I will never see the place again". I feel not like it is an end but a beginning. Despite some hardships (the heeeeeaaaaaat....) I feel so unbelievably comfortable here or at home!? I have no clue about what comes next but there are feelings up in the air - misty, unclear, pale and vague, like a landscape under a dense, thick layer of blinding fog, piercing out, slowly, shily. I can't say what. I can't see it yet, I can't possibly express it yet. I can only slowly discover it as the cover lifts up...

We will see...

I am still here now.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

"Topcon" (pour les Français)

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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Today I bathed in the Ganges... accidentally...

Yes. Today I bathed in the Ganges. I had not wanted to really though. In about two weeks the Ganges is drying phenomenally quickly. Seeing from the temple that was submerged in the water before, Ganga is 2-3 meters lower than before. So, on the way back from work today I was going to go home walking along the now drying ghats. Well not completely dry that was. And the muddy grounds are still so wet that they are very swampy indeed. There was a very swampy bit I didn't expect, and pfloof! I sank down to the level of my thighs. I was not exactly proud. It was so hard to get my feet out; each step out I had to press down to get my other foot out and in the process sinking the previously released foot back down. So I screamed! And three kids came to rescue me!! It was not easy! Especially with my sandals who were so muddy that they made my feet more heavy! Man. That's so clumsy-me! In the end the kids put a big wooden stick onto and across the swampy ground so that I could put my rescued foot on it and release the second one. After I got out obviously I had to bathe my bottom half in Ganga to remove the mud. And I gave 10 rupees to each of the three kids for "saving my life"! Haha.

I went back to my guesthouse with completely wet trousers and a muddy bum. What I hadn't realised until I got home though was that my trousers were completely torn at the bum. Ha. What people could see from my bum that I will never know. Haha. I wasn't very proud of myself, though it was kind of funny really. And it made me realise how dirty Ganga is - and how much rubbish people throw in it. Which makes it rather ironic that they would ask you to remove your shoes (like in a temple) before going walking through Ganga's water. ahem...

Anyway. I changed guesthouse, yet again, the other day. But this time I am very happy. In the end I had decided to move in this big house with all the Western musician-people so I visited some - very dirty - rooms which the owner said he would clean by evening. By evening the rooms were not clean, and the family (though they had promised) did not know which other rooms they were to show me. So I had also visited the next-door, clean, lovely, cozy, homely and cheap guesthouse (less than £1.50 for a room!) so I moved there. And my room is right below my friends' room in the building across, separated by a lane wide of about 50 cm. So I am still close to my musician friends, to say the least. I am very happy there. The weather is slowly cooling down (very slowly!) and my room has many windows so when I open the door I get wind even though the light/fan does not work all day! There's pots underneath my bed, a mosquito net is provided, I get all I need here, and the owners are friendly - a lovely family really. So. I shall stay here until the end of my time in varanasi, this time. I feel very good here. Horray.

Today and yesterday I am doing an initiation/training in Reiki with the lovely German neighbour. Ii'm looking forward to my first practice session this afternoon. I also practised the violin with a great Israeli guy who is learning tabla - great for him to practise with me, and great for me to get used to the so-intriguing-complex Hindustani beat, which I'll have to learn soon... I'm so happy here - oh and my lovely neighbours (the German bakery) has finally opened again after their six-month break (they close during hot season) so I can have great food and breakfast and great bread and yum, yum, yum...

I'm so happy in Varanasi - did I mention it? (Yes, I know!) Oh but less than four weeks to go In India; I can hardly believe it...

My camera sometimes works, sometimes makes very very odd pictures. Mostly it doesn't work though - so I should really try to get it repaired... But there are some mad photos here.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

This morning a monkey was looking at me

This morning when I looked through my barred window, a monkey was behind, holding onto the window and looking at me. Behind him on the temple rooftop, a monkey family with a mother grooming her child. Perhaps I really should try and get my camera repaired. I didn't have barred windows or a view onto a south Indian temple before. I have changed hotel because I couldn't cope with bathing in my own sweat in bed at night, because the light would go and the fan would stop. One night when I was preparing to go to bed, the light went, so instead of going to bed I packed my bags. By the time they were ready the light had still not returned and so I left to the next-door hotel who have a generator with 24-hour power. That changed my life. Now I can sleep all night and practice my violin whenever I want. I have come to like my room very much too. I pay a tad bit more but "expensive" still is far from appropriate to describe reality. From my asking around it seems that I am lucky to have a room with 24 hour power in Varanasi. There are other guesthouses and a lot cheaper (i.e. £1 a night or less!) and they have very open windows and nice open rooftops and a lot of air, but at night I don't know, and I don't feel ready to sleep amongst the monkeys yet. Those guesthouses are packed with Westerners and it's tempting to live with them, but it feels better for me and for my practice to be on my own. My guesthouse is small and quiet and I like that. The hotel people are nice yet perhaps somehow "trying too hard to keep me", but mainly they live me alone so it's OK. In the last few days I have met many Westerners, many of whom also are "long-term" or come and go to Varanasi to study Indian music. It's great because it feels like I have a (home-style) social life for the first time in six months (since Auroville). Many speak Hindi, too, and it's very very nice for me to hear. one French guy has been coming and going to India for eleven years and speaks very good Hindi. Another French guy has just started studying violin with my teacher too. A german woman who speaks perfect French and teaches Reiki also studies slide-guitar. Many artists around here and most of them in the same area and/or guesthouses, but yes, I am happier to be a little more aside.

A few nights ago there was an Indian classical festival in a VERY big temple; three nights of concerts in a very highly kitch-ly, over-the-top-ly decorated temple. I was struck by the decorations, millions of hanging leafy-garlands and fruits and bananas and apples and lights all over its ceilings and walls that put Christmas decorations to a shame. I went to this concert because my teacher was playing. And his brother on the tabla. And his other brother on the sarangi. The whole family. And many other musicians, on a sarod and on many sitars and one on the santoor and some amazing (crazy!?) singing, and some very surprising dancing too. Oh and a very good violin player that I wanted to go and watch play but in the end I never looked at his violin because he was putting on so many funny expressions while he was playing, that I stared at his face continuously. It was amazing. Very very beneficial for my understanding of Indian classical music. But mostly I had never heard my violin teacher play like that, and it struck me (again) that I am very very very lucky to have him as my teacher: he was stunning. I went to the concert with a group of five francophone people and suddenly it felt like I was going out with friends in Europe, and I even went back home at 4am (in the car with my teacher, not alone in the streets of Varanasi!!) and I hadn't been to bed that late in a very very long time. But it was fun.

In the meantime, I really like my work at the Mother Teresa Institution. The fact that it's every day at the same early time of the day keeps me somehow grounded. My routined part of the day, a bit like my yoga classes in Rishikesh. The laundry is difficult and I come out wet from water and wet from sweat, because it's hard work and it's really hot at the moment. But I like it, somehow. I like watching the other women work while I work. It's always the same funny woman who fills the huge pots of water, that funny woman who always covers her head with funny clothes and who smiles at me cheekily. And I like to see how the chain works. How it all gets done. and the work goes from most difficult to most easy. first comes the difficult laundry with hitting the cloth on the stone table, to rinsing and vigorously wringing it. There are many many clothes to wash everyday. The Indian women are so good at it, from bashing the cloth with a wooden stick to brushing it on the floor, and they are astonishingly efficient at wringing the cloth in one go. It's amazing that one can be so good at that sort of thing! Then when the clothes are washed we all take buckets of them upstairs to hang. And that means we're up on the roof and there's the view on the Ganges and the air to dry the sweat and water off my body and it's a lot easier. Many of the "less-able ladies" help in that part of the work and I communicate with them more then, one especially who always call me 'Auntie! kapra!' (Auntie! clothes!) (They all call volunteer workers 'auntie' or 'uncle') so I pass her on the clothes and she hangs them. When laundry is finished I go to the kitchen to make chapati, which is not difficult for the muscle. I'm so keen to learn to make chapati that I forget everything - especially when I roll them out onto the wooden stool because it takes a lot of my concentration to learn how to make them nice and round. Yet sometimes the woman in charge won't let me roll, So I can only take on "less advanced" tasks like making balls of dough, because my chapatis are not (far from!!) perfect. But! I am improving! My three months of observation in the Khajuraho family have proved very useful! Another lovely thing about going to work is sitting with Margaret, before and after work.
I met her on my first day when I went to leave my sandals before starting work; she called me to leave them in her room. Her perfect English struck and welcomed me. Perhaps in her sixties, she has lived here for three years since she can no longer walk. She has a broken leg but doesn't want to do anything about it, she no longer wants to go outside anyway. She just happily sits on her bed with her books and embroidery. She is Indian but of European parents; she has always lived in India but speaks perfect (British) English, so it's the first time for me that I can have fluent conversations with an Indian woman. She tells me about her life and about everybody and everything about the institution! After my chai and my chapati I go back to get my bag and my sandals and sit with her before returning home for a SHOWER!!!

The rest of the day I think about music and violin. This week my teacher is away for concerts in Delhi. I love him because he really is keen to teach me. Because he left today, yesterday I had two classes, one in the morning and one in the evening. So I missed work yesterday but there at his house I met an Australian guy who studies sarangi with his brother. And he told me about an open-mic, improvisation evening in a cafe nearby. I went and ended up playing music with him on the sarangi or lira (another bowed instrument, from Greece), with a tabla player and a bass player. And a small stage and with a microphone and with people listening, and oh my God I would never have dared to ever do that before!! And there was no fear somehow. I had always secretely dreamed of such a thing, but it had been covered with thick layers and layers of fear, so much that I couldnt see it or I felt too bad to talk about it. Still I feel funny writing it onto a blog now... I have been removing the layers one by one, slowly slowly, for a few years now. And yesterday it felt like a miracle had happened. I was only focused on the music, with no impinging fear or discomfort, naturally. Really there were some moments were I had nothing to do but focus, for it was automatically coming out of me.

I like varanasi. It is the most 'European' time I am having in a way though in India at the same time perhaps... Oh, but I won't put that into words now because just the first line makes it all sound inaccurate and awkward. Sometimes (all the time?!) words belittle and distort reality completely. And so it is better to keep silent because it is not ready to manifest itself yet.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The worst bus ever!

This is the worse bus I ever travelled on in my life.
Somewhere on the way to Varanasi.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Khajuraho again

It's so nice to be in the family again. Time flies and I have had no motivation whatsoever to spend time on the internet, hence a few weeks of silence. But it's all good here. And my Niko from Belgium has been here for over a week, and it's so nice to see him here again - and so nice to see him and vijay so happy to look at each other's face again with amazement after three years. On the first two days they looked at each other for long moments, with all smiles and emotion. And of course it's lovely, lovely to be the three of us together again.

Six months ago it was very difficult for me to find the inspiration to go on the internet regularly and share the moments I lived onto a screen. Perhaps because it was too intense, too much happened yet nothing happened; somehow I was speechless. I feel the same again now, I guess.

Just like when I was in the family six months ago (!) we don't do much during our days, yet a lot happens here. India, India. Magical India. it's quite incredible to share a good extract of the strong experience I've had here before with a homely friend. At least I have a friend now who knows what I talk about. For really, words (and static pictures!) cannot convey the richness, the strangeness, the magic, the frustration, the joy, the tastes and smells and sounds and colours, the weirdness of the moments I've had here.

My camera is broken but Niko takes tons of photos of everything. Some are incredible, for he is more talented than me at taking pictures. We've been cycling around Khajuraho and to the temples like we did three years ago. But unlike three years ago the sun is not always hammering and blinding-strong. There are some clouds too and we welcome the rain a lot; it contrasts with the heavy, humid heat. Like three years ago we drink a lot of chai. We speak a lot and smile and laugh a lot. We play with the neighbouring kids, like crazy, and Niko has been taking hundreds of photos of those beautiful faces; he could open an exhibition hall when he gets back to Belgium. Niko agrees with me that the buffaloes are very funny with their super-straight necks and funny faces and their slow and "sleepy walk". he likes the goats, too, and how they always have to climb and stand onto something; a wall, a broken tree. He has shared with us the early morning walks in the country side and brushing our teeth with fresh sticks from neem tree. Oh! and the countryside is so green now! I was amazed when I arrived; because for the first time in three years Khajuraho has had a rainy season! So the grass and the trees are rich and full and green. And in front of the house, the previously dry lake is full of water now, so the landscape is completely different from six months ago! Niko also enjoys the food immensely and has fun eating with his fingers. And he too finds his second trip to India a lot easier than the first. We generally have similar reactions to the oddness and newness and fun-ness of family life in India, and now that I am familiar to it, it's funny to see him react just how I did six months ago. It's funny to see the family laugh at his European habits or awkwardness at eating "Indian style" the way they laughed at me before. We spend time playing "Ludo" with the family. I translate Hindi to French for Niko. It doesn't sound weird for him to hear me speak Hindi, he hardly notices it.

Tomorrow the three of us will go travel outside of Khajuraho for a few days. We have a night-bus booked for Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh.

And I have just about two months left in India now...

Monday, 21 July 2008

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Bucket of smelly bugs

Explanation: This are some disgusting insects called 'dirties' in Hindi, which grow in cow-shit (!) after the rain during monsoon, fall off the sky and into your shirt in the evening, die the next morning (what a shit life!), smell horrible when you touch or walk on them (once I was having dinner out and one fell on my pizza and I ate it; it tasted like it smelled!), and love to gather in lightened areas (needless to say most people, shops etc. switch off their lights in the evening and Khajuraho is dark at this time, but somehow this hotel was still full-lit; urk! (Yes, all that!)

Violin love (and off to Khajuraho)

It has been an excellent week in Varanasi. I had violin lessons with Sukhdev everyday. Apart from a break yesterday I practised four-five hours everyday. And I feel the emprovement after a week of intense practising. I am very happy. So tonight I am going back to the family in Khajuraho with new exercises and recordings to play with whilst I will be there. I am very happy.

I don't really know why I am learning Indian classical violin. When I decided to come to India for a year, I just thought I would take my violin with me so I wouldn't be out of practice for too long. And literally a week before I left Scotland, in an Indian supermarket in Leicester, by "chance" i found a CD of Indian classical violin. I had never heard of Indian violin, I had not had the slightest idea that violin could ever be played in india, so this struck me and I had to buy the CD, quite obviously. And i liked it...

Some eight months later, in Khajuraho I had been wondering for weeks where I would go next. A week before I left Khajuraho Michael met "possibly THE best violin teacher of varanasi" and told him about me, so I didn't really have a choice but to follow that path. Where else would have I gone? I had been practising my violin on and off, unmotivated, feeling stuck playing the same old tunes over and over and having no-one else to play with. And I know now to focus on what I do have, rather than what I have not. And so I knew no-where to go but to Varanasi to meet Sukhdev. Before and after Nepal. Then he went to Europe and Varanasi was too hot so I went north up to Rishikesh where, recommended by Sukhdev, I should find Shivananda. In Rishikesh I started my quest to find him, and right when I thought it would be no good and I would go to Dharamsala, completely unexpectedly I did find him. So I stayed in Rishikesh and studied Indian violin for another month. And then during the ten-day yoga retreat I ended-up practising four hours of violin everyday, then met the south Indian singer in that ashram and played violin with him for a couple weeks, then at panchakarma I found the excellent Indian music book by Swami Rama and practised with that for another two weeks. And then Sukhdev came back from Europe and on the same day I came back to Varanasi to meet him again. And that is me now. Did I choose I would learn Indian classical violin? I don't think so! I think I had no choice. I think the Indian violin chose me. Or perhaps Life chose the violin for me.

Yesterday was Guru purnima, a festival that celebrates the student-teacher relationship. So we did a puja (worship ceremony) at Sukhdev's house. It was my first puja-performance! I had bought some mala (garlands of worship flowers) in the (very crowded indeed) mala market to which kind rickshaw driver had taken me. And I had also bought some prasad (sweets) for offering. At Sukhdev's house a few students had gathered for the puja - and with his brothers, too, who teach tabla and sarangi. So i was to offer the mala flowers to the statue of Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge, studying, and art); then, using my ring finger I gave her a tika (mark with red powder in between her eyebrows). then i gave a tika to the photo of the family's uncle too, because he was my teacher's teacher.
And then I kneeled down in front of Sukhdev and to him too I gave a tika. Then he gave me a tika and tied a "goodluck bracelet" of red strings onto my left wrist. (You get them often in temples; but I hadn't had one in months.) I was happy to pay respect to my teacher that way. I love Sukhdev! It was a very beautiful moment and I was happy that I happened to be in Varanasi on that very day, "coincidentally"??! and I am happy to be wearing his bracelet now. After the occasion I was invited to eat with his family.

So tonight I am leaving to Khajuraho, and I should stay there for a few weeks. No longer than a month I don't think. Obviously it will depend on how it goes with the family, and with Nikoooooooooo from Belgium lalila. ^_^ And then, I now know what I will do: mid-end of August I will come back to Varanasi and - surprise, surprise! Study violin with Sukhdev for a month. What else would I do? I have done all I wanted in India, from ayurvedic panchakarma to yoga retreat. There has been no real prospect of formally working with children (yet...), although I did have a lot of contact with children and did (very) little informal teaching. Proper volunteer work, I can't see it happening before I leave india now. It would be no good building up something with children now that I have just a couple month left here. So, focusing as usual on what I do have here and now rather than what I don't have or what I think I should have, it is again violin. I am happy.
(Did I say I was happy?) and the hotel will give me a good price if I stay there a month, and they're like family almost now, haha, and I'm at home on the burning ghat. I even have a young new friend, little 10-year old Manissa, whose (tiny!) shop is literally two metres away from the hotel. (It is so good to speak some Hindi with children!) I have everything I need in this neighbourhood, too, which I have come to love. And I live walking distance from Sukhdev's house. So. Violin, violin, and more violin.... And after all that I'll have just a few WEEKS left in India. OH MY GOD!! @_@ !!! And I still have no idea what to come back to! Focus on the present moment!

And did I say I was happy?

So, I will be in Khajuraho in a little over 24 hours now. And did I say I was happy? On tuesday Niko is flying to Mumbai. So in about ten days I will see Niko. Niko from Belgium! Niko!!! And did I say I was happy?!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Back in Varanasi

Today I have been in india for eight months. And I am back in Varanasi. After a further two disciplined weeks of daily yoga, violin practice and Sanskrit class in Rishikesh.

On the last two days, a very insightful doctor my Russian friend had told me about countless times, was back at the ashram. Russian friend had told me I should meet him and he would help me very much with my yoga practice. What I didn't know was that the day before I left rishikesh, that doctor started a three-week self-transformation course, which a few Indian and Western people had come to attend. I was invited to join in for their first two days and so I had three very, very insightful sessions with thesaid doctor! Of course it is all connected to Swami Rama's excellent scientifically-based yoga (East-meets-West) teachings - and the doctor is from the institute where I took my panchakarma. So I deepened what I had learnt during the yoga classes at panchakarma, and again we were to learn how to breathe diaphragmatically. But also to sit and to walk. The doctor attended everyone's needs individually, observing our habits and giving us suggestions for more awareness and corrections in our daily practices. For instance I knew from Alexander Technique that I walk pretty well (good posture, strong back, healthy feet etc.) but I further learnt that I should walk with my hip-width apart, otherwise with time I will hurt my hips. So we practised walking with "mindful conscious awareness". He also observed my breathing and for the first time I understood fully the difference between abdomen and diaphragmatic breathing. Now I clearly felt the difference too, so I know how to work on improving my breathing. Which of course is also helpful for singing and violin. Finally, I asked the doctor to quickly observe my sitting posture whilst I played the violin; he offered me a one-hour session of precise observation, priceless advice and suggestions to help me practise without hurting my back and knees... And that will also be useful for my sitting in meditation!

So I left rishikesh after two very, very insightful days, with a mind ponding with so many new ideas that I had to really make an effort to keep it quiet and let it digest all that wonderful food.

Twenty-four hours on the train later and I arrived in Varanasi, last night. I am surprised at how overwhelmed I feel to be back in Varanasi. Emotional and happy. It is truly impossible to describe how strong the atmosphere of this ancient city feels. Off the train I could already feel, compared to "easy-Rishikesh", the intensivity of rickshaw drivers and generaly people wanting "help" you and escort you and cheat you... I realise how much I've been learning by just being in India, and how priceless Vijay's help into understanding the culture, and dealing with people has been. I felt I was doing pretty well at dealing with aggessive rickshaw drivers, and I had some fun at it, too... And soon I arrived back at the same, now homely hotel. The staff was happy to see me back and I too was glad to be back on familiar grounds. It feels amazing to only go to "well-known" places in India. Not to have to look into a guidebook to find my way or wonder where I should go. I have the same room I had before going to Kathmandu; the same one above the burning ghat, again, except now the Ganges' waters are a lot higher, that cremations are being carried out right under my window! I can't help it; I can only find the closeness of death beautiful and touching, and somehow it makes me feel alive and happy. So, the Ganga is twice wider and a lot higher than it was in April. I cannot explain why, for I do not know why, and I have no-belief in the holiness of this river. It may or may not be true; I don't know and it doesn't matter to me. But what I feel is, and indeed I feel blessed to have spent almost four months by River Ganga; somehow I feel touched to be by its side. Seeing it again so full and powerful makes me very happy indeed. The view, the life there is on this ghat - the goats and the buffaloes, the monkeys screaching, playing and fighting, the cremations and the puja ceremonies, the kids playing and the women doing their laundry, the resonating bells, drums and chants - all in such a confined space below my eyes, I observe it with wonder every time I go to the rooftop restaurant, not minding how long I have to wait for the food! This morning naked kids where jumping again and again into the holy waters, from the rooftop of a submerged temple.

And this morning I went back to see Sukhdev, my violin teacher. He got back from his two and a half months of touring in Europe, just yesterday. The session was wonderful. It's always a source of inspiration and refreshment to see a teacher after some time. I showed him all the things I learnt in Rishikesh and in those two-three months of practice. And in return I got more techniques, more advise and suggestions. More new things to practise, a renewed impetus and motivation to practise. A lot of encouragement and help, too. I am so happy to be learning from such a talented violinist. I left his house feeling quite overwhelmed, a little drunk somehow; with a somewhat heavy and happy heart walking in the streets of wonderful, smelly Varanasi...