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.

Enjoy!

Friday, 29 February 2008

Cleaning the wound; and a colourful Brahmin

[Typed from paper journal]

It has been a week now since the operation. It is a bit like a meditation retreat, the routine with going back to the doctor's everyday on the borrowed motorbike or scooter, then coming back and rest, staying at home all day unless my caring brother takes me with him to sit at the exhibition stall for a few hours. And basically just being in the present and letting the day unfold, a little isolated here in my room, or sitting on the front steps of the house hoping for something to happen. Hoping for the goats to come pass the house, the tourists to come to the shop and notice me (but they really don't), and the neighbouring children to come visit me. And of course, to be able to deal with the pain I have to focus on the present moment. I think overall it will (have?) last(ed) for about ten days, just like a meditation retreat. So I have to focus on the present. Each morning I dread to go to the hospital for my daily screaming session (though the pain does lessen everyday) and so when I wake up I have to focus on going to the loo, enjoying my breakfast (banana sandwich with the ever-so delicious cup of chai), and getting dressed and resting while Vijay goes to pick-up the bike. I like the ride to the doctor's; it takes me out of the house, and it is nice and sunny and people say hello to me. Then, we arrive in the hospital, which has now become a little like my second home. I get in, greet the doctor if he is already in, and settle on 'my' wooden table. Then I notice my breath; usually it is a little agitated and I need a few minutes to calm down. I used to shout and cry that I don't want them to touch me. Now I am aware of each step. Three days ago I even saw the wound, which was no longer that scary. So they open the bandage; I no longer scream when they do now. Then I ask them to pause to gather my breath. Then they pour in some cold liquid of hydrogen peroxide, which has almost become pleasant. Then they clean out the dirt or pus which my body still releases, and that is when I scream. Then they just have to put in some medication-impregnated cotton to fill the hole and I scream a bit but that's OK, and then they put a new bandage and I am relieved. After that it is time for the hip injection which I can hardly feel at all in comparison. Then I can rest while Vijay goes to buy some vegetables and without having told me he brings me some freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice, but I know it. Finally we go back home on the motorbike, and I can rest or have some sleep – I am relieved until next morning.

Food is always a great pleasure. As I cannot walk upstairs, the family brings my thali (tray) to the bedroom and I eat sitting on my bed. After over a month I am not fed up with what they cook, and it does not make me ill even though I have stopped taking the tablets of grapefruit seed extract. I love that delicious food, and for me eating it is a ritual everyday. And then I go out in the shop or sit outside on the front steps of the house to watch life.

Yesterday, for the second time, a Brahmin man (that's a man from the highest caste) unexpectedly came for a visit. A good friend of the family; he is like an uncle as I understand. He was wearing a white dhoti (a cloth around his bottom and legs) and a yellow shirt. His hair was white and covered with a funny sponge-type, kaki hat with a kind of 'tongue' coming out on the side. He did not have much hair left, but I could see it was in a pony-tail underneath the hat. He also had a long white moustache, and a long beard died up in a round knot. Both moustache and beard were long but straight; it reminded me of Tibetan or Indian American hair. And his skin was wrinkled, his cheeks were very creased, but his eyes very shiny - and I loved looking at him and his eyes while being as aware as I could. Mainly he was sitting 'Indian style' on the chair, half cross-legged, half squatting, and when he was adjusting his position he had to raise up his dhoti otherwise I would see his pants - just black cloth folded round like a g-string, but for a while it was dark and I thought I had seen his penis as I couldn't see any pants.

And so he came round and sat on one of the shop's four plastic chairs, and we all were there around him – Mummy, Preeti and Rita and soon Vijay came back from the market too. He greeted the Brahmin with that typically Indian greeting that I love: he bent down to touch his feet with his right hand, stood up again and put his hand up to his third eye and then heart. I could see myself greet people like that some day. Soon the Brahmin was telling things about me, which he could not have been guessing just like that: I have two sisters, and my father has had two wives, and God was going to give me two brothers but then changed his mind. Conform to what the Vedic astrologer in Haridwar three years ago had said, he told me that I would get married within two years and that I would have three children. Glups! This made me blush I think. And then he said that God had been planning for me to have an accident but because he could understand my feelings or something like that, he had only given me this small foot operation! Vijay was translating to me as the Brahmin spoke. I would love to understand Hindi well soon, but I guess I am glad I understand some bits and bobs already. When the Brahmin left, he put his hand on everyone's head warmly. I liked it. He put his hand on my head and said I shouldn't cut my hair. I think he said something else, but I have forgotten now.

In India I love how people don't talk about materialistic things, like having a house and kids and a wife and a car, and if you have all this you should be happy so, in the West, no-one asks you if, actually you are happy. People in the West ask about your new curtains and how badly people drive their cars. Here in India, reality seems different. People ask you if you are happy. Sister and mother groom each other, and there is no privacy, but at the same time there is still privacy because these things are normal and so we share them without judging them. Perhaps something like 'implied privacy'. Like toiletry I guess, and grooming, and well, I am not sure. But people talk about themselves and their feelings and the meanings of their lives and God, in a way that I like it. There is life in everybody's eyes when we talk. Here is a reality that is different from reality in the West. A reality more profound than just the outside world and the things we 'possess' or the tangible things that we see with our ordinary eyes.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Another experience...

... Much less pleasurable but nonetheless very interesting...

The bowl of my left foot had been bothering me for a while, vaguely, the pain coming and going. I don't know how and when I got these pieces of glass and wood stuck in. Perhaps it was at the village last week, perhaps a little before. I thought it was the blisters, then wondered about an insect bite, then the doctor told me that I was walking too much. But in the end, two and three days ago Vijay took me to the 'hospital' where I got operated. First to remove the small piece of glass. The following day to make a one-centimetre deep hole in my foot to remove the old piece of disintegrating wood and make sure everything around was clean.

I am getting better now. Apart from a few minutes of excrutiating pain in the mornings for operation/changing bandage, really I am pain-free. So I've been spending the last few days in 'my' room, sleeping - though today I didn't need to, reading, listening to music and/or singing to it, working on my Hindi; yesterday I even played the violin. And all of Vijay's family is amazing to me, providing me with food and anything I ever need, and love, and company, and games and laughter. And when the heat is not too strong I can always sit on the foot of the door outside, and watch life passing by, the cows, the buffaloes and the goats. And the kids from the school I visited last week they keep coming to see me everyday, and the neighbours and passers-by all stop and ask me how I am, and really even though I am 'stuck' here, I am not stuck at all, and I am in India and still a hell of a lot happens everyday, and most of the time really I completely forget about my foot.

The experience with pain has been very difficult but very interesting. At first I couldn't but think of myself as Cate Blanchett in Babel when she gets shot in the shoulder on a bus somewhere in Morocco, though of course my condition is nowhere near as scary as hers. But there's the 'dodgy' hospital, the locals taking over my health, and basically the lesson that I am here, that the hospital may not be a big anti-bacteria-obsessed, chemical Western palace but just a small dirty room where doctors smoke and eat tobacco, they will be the ones to look after me and I must surrender. There has been much fear and me asking the doctor to wash his hands before he ever touches me and generally judgemental ideas taking over my mind that this place is dodgy and I don't want them to do this to me and I don't want this to happen and it cannot be true. But I guess deep down, even though it was not expressed with clear words, I've always known that 'something negative' would happen to me here, as well as all the positive - for such is life. And I love and I accept life with all my heart. So I must accept the situation, and the pain. It will not last forever.

I screamed a lot, a hell of a lot. But Vijay has been incredible, holding my hands while, lying on the wooden table, I had to bury my head in the pillow and focus on the darkness and on my screams to be able to bear the deep, excruciating pain before local anaesthetics took effect - and the day after the operation when the doctor had to clean my foot yesterday, it was the longest and most horrendous, and I had never screamed like that in my entire life.

So I watch my screams and my gasping breath, trying to release tensions in my upper body as much as I can detach myself from the pain, that is not much. I keep wanting to know what is going on and what they are doing to my foot but Vijay and the doctors have to tell me to forget about it, to not speak; of course I know I don't want to waste my energy. And then when it's all over I rest on the wooden table, gathering my breath and crying with relief or emotion and then singing to help with the slowly slowly withering pain - as long as I need until it's bearable again and I'm ready to go back home. But Vijay and the doctors have to support me to walk, and yesterday and today I had to come back by rickshaw because I couldn't climb on the motorbike.

Yesterday I was reading some of Satprem's Sri Aurobindo or the Adventures of Consciousness. As usual, but always to my amazement, the books I read have direct relevance to what happens in my life at the moment. Yesterday it was about pain, how with no reaction it is possible to detach from the pain, the pain is not me, and it is possible with self-work not to let the pain overwhelm me. Of course, it is very difficult work and I am very far from being good at it. This morning my body remembered yesterday's pain and was shaking at the time I had to go to the hospital. But this morning on the wooden table, it was not all that difficult. The pain was a little less intense, but I was more gathered and calm, and I was mostly singing rather than screaming. And whilst I was singing, I could observe the pain and almost be OK about it; it was just another sensation albeit a very intense one indeed. And if I screamed I felt it was more controlled screams than yesterday's fearful screams. And then I observed that singing low pitch helps with less intense pain and pitch increases with pain intensity. And then it was over, a lot more quickly than yesterday. And I didn't have to cry today. My foot is getting better. Hopefully the pain will lessen over time. I have medication and painkillers during the day and an injection everyday to fasten the progress, but I don't need the sleeping pills at night. And during the day I almost forget everything. And the 'hospital room' may be 'dodgy', but I around me there is probably a lot more love than in most western hospitals, and that helps a lot with healing. And mostly there is this: a year or two ago, Vijay had an accident and I sent him money for his knee operation, because his family couldn't afford it. Today he and his family are looking after me, and it makes me most grateful that I am going through this.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Foot operation #2!

[Typed from paper journal]

The kids came back yet again yesterday. Mainly little Tiger and Gumti. We almost had a proper conversation and I said I'd see her 'tomorrow'. Perhaps I will; perhaps I won't.

So this morning, Vijay and Ashish took me back to the 'hospital' on the motorcycle. I was due to get my bandage changed; I ended up on the operation table yet again. Today I noticed the pile of rubbish (empty bottles and syringes and packagings and things) in one corner of the room. The assistant (I guess) opened my bandage, and with Vijay noticed that there was some “white” again. Still infected. I started to panic, well, not as strong as a panic – but I was scared. We waited for the doctor for quite a while. Ashish was smoking in the room, the assistant eating tobacco – I had to ask him to wash his hands before checking my foot. But I know I am here and I have to accept the conditions. There may be fewer facilities, and not so obsessively clean as we have in Occident, but I feel the love. I am moved by Vijay and my pupil's care anyway. So I have to surrender; I do know. And I always knew, deep in my heart, that my Indian adventure would not just be easy and beautiful, so this is my time. The doctor finally came, and soon as was lying down on the operation table again – somehow less awkwardly than yesterday. They operated again, I screamed again – until the anaesthetic shot I got right into the wound took its effect. Then I did understand – for I hadn't quite understood what they were doing to me before – that although they were fiddling with my foot I would not feel any more pain. Well, I did a little, but shouted less loudly, and mostly from fear and strong emotion. The rest of the time I breathed loudly, focusing as much as I could on my breath and on the hand tightly gripping mine. It is funny that I sent him money for a leg operation just a year or so ago. Now he is repaying me with his moving care, or so it seems to me. And today I am even resting on the same bed and in the same room as he did a year or so ago. I hope to God that they don't have to operate again tomorrow. But I don't think so because this time they made a 1-cm deep hole in my foot, and removed a piece of wood – that had been in there for a while because it was soft and breaking.

Vijay saw the whole procedure. They kept telling me not to talk and to look, and I was hiding my eyes in my left hand. There is blood on my trousers now. So tomorrow I will go again and get an injection, which – they say – should help speed up the healing process. I wonder how long it will take until I can walk again. Let go of yoga and meditation. Let go of teaching children at school. Let go of any plans for now. But I do love the care that I receive. Today family and friends are visiting the family, and often they come down to see me in my room one by one. Ravi is lying on the bed next to me and looking at me as I write. Just being present. Vijay told me today that they would move another bed in my room so I would not sleep alone at night, and I could wake them up should I need anything.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Foot operation #1!

[Typed from paper journal]

My visa will expire in two months. I do not know where this small piece of glass came from. Perhaps from the small village last week, and that monster blister, or perhaps after we had come back...? Nevermind. The pain in the ball of my left foot came 'back' a few days ago, maybe three; it was difficult to identify what it was. Another blister underneath all that dead skin? Too much walking, as the (silly!?) doctor said? Throbbing, stinging, all that stuff. It really hurts. He gave me tablets for three days and a cream. After three days it became clear to me that the blister (?) was infected – the white stuff started to grow and gather, after which I thought they said it would pop out. Last night the pain was so bad that I (carefully) popped it myself. With a safety pin sterilised with alcohol. Not all came out, and it was still painful. I put cream on it but it stung so much that I preferred a compress of magnesium chloride. I slept in the end.

Before 7.00 I woke up. Painful. I looked; all the white had returned and the pain seemed deeper. I felt guilty but didn't think that that I had intervened had made much difference. I saw Mummy and Sonam, and they decided to wake Vijay up upstairs. Of course, my caring doctor was not happy that I had not woken him up in the night. He went to buy some biscuits and oranges so I could eat and have my tablets. Soon I managed to go upstairs to sit in the sun for a bit. Stuff was coming back from my foot. A few minutes later Vijay reappeared and announced me we were off to the 'hospital'. He had borrowed my new English pupil Ashish's motorbike (I will teach him how to read and write, for aged 19 he cannot); Ashish came too. I went barefoot.

That very bare 'hospital' reminded me of the film Babel, albeit a little less prehistoric. The doctor said he would have to cut all the dead skin and operate. I freaked out a little; soon I was lying on the hard operation table with three men operating on my foot. The needle for the local anaesthetic came out of a sealed plastic, thank God. But then I removed my glasses, held my protective turquoise stone tight in my hand, and closed my eyes into the pillow. It hurt and I screamed and cried, though perhaps more from fear than shear pain. Towards the end Vijay came to hold my hand, the men put a tight bandage round my foot, and I rested with relief. They gave me a tetanus injection too, although I had had it done again just before coming to India.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Visiting the second school

[typed from paper journal]

Yesterday, Vijay took me to another school, a proper school very near the house. I don't like to go to the first school anymore; it seems just a nonsensical, disorganised thing. I cannot teach those kids, there is nothing and I do not like how they just tell me "teach!"; when I don't even speak (enough) Hindi. And I don't really feel comfortable around them either.

So I went to another school yesterday. When we arrived, straight away I met the principal. A young-looking man who looked very nice. It is no nonsense here. I was offered to visit each class; there were three levels; 3, 4 and 5 I think, or 3rd, 4th and 5th classes. The children stood up all at once as soon as I got in, screaming 'Namaste!' to me and in laughter. I laughed, too, even though I'd been told that if I want to teach I must be firm with the kids. I was invited to sit down in front of them; Vijay and the principal were standing behind me talking. I was embarrassed at first. Part of me had not wanted to go because I am scared, and hanging around is an easy option, I guess. Of course the other part of me still has had enough and was adamant that I should visit the school today.

So I sat in front of the children, with all the presence that I could gather. Saying hello, pausing; then I asked to see one of their English books. I had a look, felt somewhat reassured that with a book just in English, and that also means some structure, I could do something. Soon I visited the next class, smaller children, and was asked to get them to repeat the alphabet. I laughed, because I have the French pronunciation in my memory so I blocked half-way through. In the end the teacher agreed that he would get books for me. I should get them and pay for them in a couple of days. We will see what I can do though, because term finishes soon, within a month (to start again on 1st July).

The principal was pleased, though, as with my proper English I can only help - I know grammar. Later Vijay told me that the principal had also asked him if I should get a salary, and he had answered no.

In the afternoon, to my great surprise, as I was sitting reading in front of the house (as usual), about five children ran to me. They said I was going to teach English in their school and so they had come to see me! I had to ask if I had seen them in class because with so many kids I couldn't remember their faces. And so they hung around with me and we spoke a bit in Hindi and English, introducing ourselves.

This afternoon, one of them, Tiger, maybe the cutest, came again to see me. I am still a little apprehensive but somehow life seems to be smiling to me. And it is very touching; the fear stays there in the background, hardly visible as I get used to how to deal with it. And as I write this, in front of the house, Tiger is running back to me yet again. Five to ten children followed him. I went to sit at the foot of the temple for some shade. One by one hey gathered round me, trying to communicate with simple Hindi and broken English. They played with my pen and book; we somehow shared a fun time together, pointing and naming things etc.. Soon the girl I always see also came. Many asked if I was going to teach, and so she, Gumti, brought her school bag and showed me her Hindi and English books, asking me to read in English – and also in Hindi! One kid arrived later; he was a little older – ten, maybe. He spoke some English and invited me to his house for some chai. I was going to go but I do need some rest for my 'over-walked', painful foot, and Mummy made me understand that it may not be a good idea. It seems that she meant he was a bad boy. That, though, I am not sure that I understood right.

Monday, 18 February 2008

A village remote, remote, remote

Yesterday U got back from Dalpatpur, a village six hours away from Khajuraho where I visited Vijay's married sister, who therefore lives in the family of her husband. It was very, very intense. In this village there is no running water, hardly any electricity, and no white person had ever visited. So I was treated a bit like a venerated rock star, if not more.

We went there for an 'important puja ceremony' - I forget exactly how, but it's a Hindu religious ceremony that only happens five times in a lifetime, and so it is very considered important. My friend's brother-in-law was involved. It took place in the next village; and we travelled by wooden carriage pulled by two big bulls. Once there, there were lots and lots of people, about 1000. And a white person, me. Every one was turning to look at me, asking questions to my friends about who I was and where I was from and what I was doing there. There was a cameraman who asked permission to film me while I was walking round the 'religious fire', and I was asked to pose for a picture. My friend had to hide underneath the 'restaurant hut' to eat because we didn't want to cause too much interest, still people were gathering around the hut to look at me eating. For four days, everywhere I went, people went or turned to look. The fact that I spoke a little Hindi made me even more adored, or so it seemed. People came to visit especially to see me, everyone wanted me to go to their house, visit their family, eat food and drink chai. Some people looked at me puzzled, some scared, some happy and deeply touched that I visited and liked their remote place.

In this village, because there is no tourism, no money was involved. People were doing everything with their heart. Three people in the family gave me a ring. One time when we were walking round the village I heard some music which was being played in one of the house and so U asked to go and see. I came, I and sat and listened. It turned out to be a radio programme for the next 'big' city. The man of the house spoke to my friend, who in turned told me that he'd said it was such a joy that I had come in and showed interest. The man was saying I had brought good luck to the village.

In the evening people came round especially to see me. We were eating in the light of a candle and the women were cooking in darkness. The oven was just a round stone wall on the floor in which to put a log of wood to make fire and on it just the space for a pot. There was no running water and everyday the women had to go to the well to bring pots of water for the day. There were no toilets, just a corner of a room with a hole to drain.

There is so much more I could say, so much happened that I forget what. I think so much attention actually robs away your energy, because it made me very tired at times.

Monday, 11 February 2008

School!

I went to school this morning and seven kids were there; sitting on a big sheet in the yard of the school, in two rows. Two of them very dirty; all of them very cute. I have never taught kids before - but then, I don't think a Western experience of teaching would be of any use anyway! I started saying hello in Hindi, to which they all burst out laughing. For a while I just sat with my friend and the other two teachers; obviously it was very very informal. I sat for a while saying nothing and looking at the kids because I just didn't know what to say. The other teachers asked a couple kids to stand up one after the other to count in Hindi and/or English, and to recite the English alphabet. But apart from that no kid speaks English at all. I was probably as embarrassed as them. I eventually asked them their names and ages, in Hindi. A couple kids didn't know how old they were. They all answered shyly and I had to ask them to repeat what they said. I asked for their names a few times to remember them - it's not easy to remember Hindi names because they all sound very odd to the Western ear! I'm getting used to Hindi though... The 'class' didn't last for long, about an hour maybe. I asked why: because the kids have never yet been to school and so it is good for them, for a start, to get used to coming to a place and sitting nicely for a while and go. I must admit I was relieved when the other teacher sent the kids back to their homes, because I also need to adapt to this new experience! I need the rest of the day to process all this information and gather some inspiration til tomorrow.

This morning Vijay and I managed to get up early; 6am. Thanks to him who wants to go for a walk early morning from now on. Last night I had asked him to wake me up, and I too will try to get up early, go for a walk and then go back home for yoga and meditation before school. It was rather difficult to walk that early and in the cold, but right now I do not feel more tired than usually. Since my birthday I have needed to sleep less, somewhat miraculously. I have also been putting kajal in the inside of my eyes before bed, which is said to help for tiredness and work as an eye-cleaner, so maybe that did help me? I do not know but I will carry on putting kajal anyway and see...

Quite a few of Vijay's friends have asked me to teach them English now. I am not quite convinced that they would be that studious though; most of them prefer to hang around in the streets and catch tourists. They learnt English that way. They can communicate well although their grammar is poor and their reading and writing even more so (if not non-existent). So they keep asking me to teach them English but would rather joke with or tease me. I have been hanging around with them for a while now and, quite frankly, I am getting a little tired of it. I did not come to India to hang around - though it has been very much fun and part of the learning game, of course. But now I want to start serious work. And I am glad it is finally starting with the school. One of Vijay's friend has always looked more serious and honest to me, and so we have decided I will teach him English too. I see that he genuinely wants to learn English. He is less silly than the others and his eyes shine more. This early morning Vijay suggested that decide to go and see him on the way, because he's been telling me that he milks the buffaloes every day at 5am and then practises yoga on the rooftop of his farm. So we thought it would be funny to check out on him! When we arrived his sister had to wake him because on this occasion, he said, he had had to go to bed very late. I have always believed him. We spoke a little and agreed that he would start coming to see me tomorrow morning at 8.30 for English school.

After I got back from the walk, I did meditation and yoga. When I came out of my room at about 8.30am, Ashish had not waited for tomorrow but already come round; he was waiting for me near the temple opposite the house waiting to start learning English. He had also brought a notebook and a pen. So I sat with him and started. That's when I realised he couldn't actually read or write. English AND Hindi. I paused. I started writing the European alphabet in his book, and with the help of Vijay's little brother we wrote the corresponding Hindi letters also. Thankfully he does know the English and Hindi letters so he won't have to memorise them... But I had to explain to him how to combine consonants and vowels to make syllables...

He is 19 and he cannot read or write. But in two months, with all my heart I do believe that he will do...

Saturday, 9 February 2008

31

Yesterday I turned 31 and I was in Khajuraho. I am very happy that I turned 31 in Khajuraho because I was in the company of my two dear friends. And they made my day wonderful. And life did, too.

They took me to the mountain, near where we had been two and a half years ago. There were six of us. On motorbikes but somehow with them I feel safe, and it's fun to ride motorbike on the passenger seat (and here there is not much traffic; even less near the mountains). In the evening, we were hanging out in the streets whilst Vijay was coming and going I-never-knew-where, to organise my birthday. In the end they took me to one of the kids' farms but there was no electricity so even though we started making a fire it was too dark and we left; instead they had rented the room of the hotel of a friend (for free) and there, they brought pizza and egg curry and cake(!) and there was even Indian (Bollywood) music because they had plugged in amplifiers to their mobile phone. And the cake said 'Happy birthday Violette' and there were candles and everything. I had never had a cake with my name on it before, I don't normally care about this sort of things, but somehow in India and with my friends it was all very very touching. :)

Somehow in the afternoon I also practised my violin for 2 hours, even though I hadn't practised in three weeks and never yet in Khajuraho because I was two shy in the family. I had felt odd most afternoon but this brightened my day.

And after that, a group of French tourists came, to my surprise, with a guide who had met Vijay before and had him as a contact for his excursions round Khajuraho. So suddenly there were 15 French people on the roof top of the house and I was talking a lot with the guide, who knew Hindi and it was very funny to speak with a French guide who can speak Hindi indeed! They all came back today for lunch in the family, and then Vijay guided us round near his house, telling us lots of details and little wonders about life here today and in the past, and about customs, Gods etc. It was very interesting; he amazes me everyday about all the things that he knows.

Ihaven't started working in the school yet because there are no kids. Hopefully they will come to school from next week on. Things are slow to start here, with Indian timing. If someone says to me 'see you in half-an-hour' I know I will see them in one or two hours; it's similar to start a school. It's not today that the kids will come, but in a few days' time. I will go again on Monday.

I sleep a lot here; I am surprised everyday. I sleep up to two hours more than normal. It sometimes frustrates me because I would like to get up earlier, and I had to miss yoga and meditation two days in a row. I think somehow I get tired from the new environment; my mind gets tired from all the information I get in the day - and the Hindi.

So I plan nothing and yet a lot happens everyday. We don't just hang around; we let life throw happenings into our faces. Every time I say this but in India life is even more a meditation than in the West. Or rather, in the West it is too easy to forget that life is a meditation - In India you have to make life a meditation otherwise you wouldn't survive, because you are always in the unknown - if not, I guess you're something like a tourist, you're not part of life, but a spectator of life. I don't want to be a spectator of life. I want to live life. That's why I love India.

Three days ago, the day before my birthday, a great sadhu died in Khajuraho. Everyone knew him because he was a real sadhu, a yogi and a sage. And he died in samadhi. I was on the internet when suddenly Vijay appeared in the cafe and told me about this; I opened my eyes very big. I had read about this in books and had taken a LONG time to believe it could even be possible - sages who know the time of their death and so when it comes, sit in meditation, voluntarily stop breathing and Go. The readers of this journal will probably think it's all a lot of rubbish, like I did when I first read about it. But the evening before my birthday, I opened my eyes big to Vijay and asked if I too could go and see the sited body of the dead sadhu. And so we went. There were tons of people there and the police to regulate the crowd; it reminded me of when people push in the crowd to see the face of Amma just for one second, back in her ashram in Kerala. And so we went to the temple where he had lived, removed our shoes, made our way through the crowd, and I saw with my own eyes, the body of a dead yogi, over 100 years-old, sitting in meditation. Needless to say it was a shock for my system to see it. To make it a reality... I felt odd all evening after that, and on most of my birthday, too. But it was also very very touching and beautiful.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

On Indian daily living, and a dead sadhu

[Typed from paper journal]

This morning I went to the school to check whether the children had arrived. None. Children will arrive when they arrive. It is a new school and Indian timing, so I guess it takes its time to come into being. Tomorrow I will not go because it is my birthday. Perhaps I will start working next week?

It is funny here with school. It seems very common for children to go to school as they please. I have been here for two weeks now and have only seen Preeti once come back from school. Ravi seems to be the one who goes most often, and he does his homework almost everyday. But when they would be late for school, they prefer to miss it completely because being late is considered unacceptable, Ravi told me. I asked Vijay for some clarification, because given the 'Indian style of timing' I am surprised that being late for school may be unacceptable! The explanation is this: if you have an excuse for being late then you can go. With no excuse it is best not to go to school at all.

Before school this morning I watched again the daily puja (religious offering). In the kitchen, there is a shrine with statues of their gods on the stone wall's shelves. Every morning, one of the women of the house (and from time to time Ravi, too – but never Vijay) clean their gods, give them food, and clean them with water from a bucket in which they had added red roses. Then they dress the gods, decorating them with the roses. After that they recite some mantra and finally, perhaps to announce the end of the puja, they ring a small bell whilst offering a stick of incense round and round in circles to the gods. This morning I saw something I had not seen yet, though they do do it everyday too: they burnt some dried cow dung on the kitchen hobs, then placed the burning ashes into a wooden (?) pot, making sure the smoke has filled the kitchen and the main sitting room before leaving it to burn outside on the terrace/rooftop. I asked Vijay about this practice. It is to repel 'bad things' from the house. The cow is considered as a Mother in India; therefore cow dung is seen as holy and good luck here. Burning (dried!) cow dung is also a good mosquito repellent. And as I saw for myself at the picnic the other day, we also used it to make fire to cook chapati onto, and it was very efficient indeed. I have heard it is also used to build houses, though I am not sure which parts, perhaps walls and roof.

So there were no school kids. We hung around a little in Washim's family and then went to visit another of Vijay's uncle and their newborn baby boy. I had met this uncle in the street two days ago and liked him. I forget how exactly he is related to Vijay - family is widely extended in here - but it is by law. I was very welcome in this family (as I was again yesterday in yet another of Vijay's aunts!)

I love the houses in India. When I first arrived in Vijay's house, two weeks ago, I was feeling odd because my conditioned western mind was reacting negatively to the modesty. For instance in the kitchen, the fact that they have nothing but a hob on the floor 'plugged' to a big gas bottle, a cupboard and a cutlery shelf, and that they cook on the stone floor. But today I love this, and I find the roughness simple and beautiful. Everything. Walls look just like painted stone, with holes and stains in them. I especially love those shelves directly carved into the thick stone walls, that remove the need to have separate cupboards. And the hard beds - basically like a wooden table - with thin mattresses, which for the human back are a lot healthier than super-soft beds and a mountain of pillows.

So we arrived in this rough, light blue stone-walled room with nothing but a bed and a small wood table/stool and the house's heating system: an big iron pot of burning ashes in the middle of the room. The baby was wrapped in numerous blankets, warm, sleeping, beautiful; he was only three days old. Soon, they asked if I wanted to hold the baby - from what I gathered I could, as a woman. So I was instructed to wash my hands with water, hold a 10-rupee note over the baby's heard and body and making circles for good luck. Then I took the baby and held him in my lap. I was obviously very welcome; Vijay's uncle soon said I too was from his family, and when we left he asked me to come back soon (people often do, here!) Uncle also spoke of Vijay's innocence and honesty, and he had not know of Vijay having European friends because he is not aggressive with tourists like many other boys. He is not a 'tourist catcher'. The family also like that I learnt Hindi fast. It is true, and I also pay a lot of attention when people speak around me to tune my ears and mind to the sound of Hindi. Sometimes now, I can understand the subject of conversation, especially when people talk about me: 'do hafte' (two weeks), 'do mahine' (two months), 'dost' (friend), etc.. I try to listen and catch not tourists but Hindi words, and to differentiate a word from the next. I already can see that fewer and fewer people here try to catch me ('please madam! Please come to my shop!') because they know I am Vijay's friend, not the typical tourist. And so that way I slowly enter deeper and deeper into the Indian culture...

Still on 7 February; 11pm

Tonight I went on the internet to talk to my twin sister for the first time since I have been in India, the day before our 31st birthday. Vijay was at work. Around 8.45pm I wasn't expecting him to see him at all; it was like a shock, a surprise. He sort of appeared with Washim. 'A sadhu has died tonight and we are going to see him', Vijay said. He used to know him, the sadhu who was over 100 years old. (A sadhu is an ascetic, a sage, a yogi - well, a real sadhu that is, and to my understanding there are many sadhus but not that many real ones...) Whenever he felt tense he used to go and see him and sit near him for a few minutes; the sadhu's presence made him feel better and refreshed. I was completely amazed. My eyes grew bigger; Vijay had said he had died in samadhi... I had heard of the word 'samadhi' before, read it in fascinating books on yoga that were too much for my imagination. And so I had to ask again, hardly able to believe it; 'he died in samadhi!? Sat in meditation!?!” Yes he had, and I had to switch off the computer and leave my twin sister. I took a few minutes to finish what I was doing and went to meet my friends in the shop just cross the street. Off we went to the temple where the sadhu had lived. It was dark; I took my little brother by the arm, and soon he took my hand. There were crowds of people; he had been famous in Khajuraho because he had been a real sadhu. The pushing, excited crowd reminded me of the madness of Amma's ashram - people pushing to see an inch of Amma's dress or hand or face if they were lucky. There were a couple of policemen too. We had to remove our shoes, go underneath the fence and push our way through the crowd to see this 100-odd year-old dead body, indeed sat in meditation. It was a short peek, perhaps it lasted just ten seconds. But I was amazed; I actually ushered a quiet 'wow' to my own surprise. Amazed. He was sat in meditation against a sort of shrine, I don't know, with orange sheets, and he looked comfortable. And he was dead, with creased cheeks and a long white beard. Those ten seconds later, Vijay took my hand so he wouldn't lose me in the crowd and we left. We found Washim again and walked to the Shiva temple just behind. Vijay did not want to go inside, up the stairs, because his jacket was not clean. Perhaps we can go tomorrow evening, he said, after I will have had a shower.

I felt very odd after this. I have read numerous times about enlightened beings, lamas, sadhus, yogis, who had known the time of their death so had prepared for it, sat in meditation and stopped breathing when their time had come. So intriguing! After a while I had even come to realise that it could be possible. But tonight I have seen it. With my own eyes. Experienced it. Tonight it is a reality. And it is so touching, because I am with my Indian brothers here in Khajuraho. But I don't want to write anymore now. I am tired. Grateful; amazingly grateful. And tomorrow I will be 31.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Visiting the first school, and Indian planning

[Typed from paper journal]

Yesterday we had the picnic; it was fun.

So, this morning I had to go to Washim's home to see the school his sister is opening. It is right opposite the house, just two small rooms. Simple rooms with hardly anything in them. Funny-looking for a western girl; but what else do you need but a room and a heart to teach children?

I never quite know what is going on here, plan-wise. Indian-style plans, with appropriate times only. Sure thing is that here I will not worry about being late for work; it seems that it is not important. Vijay can sometimes be one hour late at work or go as it pleases him, if he feels like it – or so it seems to me. Perhaps I do not quite understand; I hope I will do more when I understand more Hindi. Yesterday for the picnic, they were talking of going there at 11am. Then going to the mountain on rented bicycles. We never went to the mountain in the end, and went to the farm field by motorbike. They had not explained that Indian-style 'picnic' didn't consist of snack or sandwich or quick food but was going to be full curry with vegetables and chapati and everything that goes with it, either, and that it would take three hours to cook and that I would be starving by the time we finally ate!! No, in India between 'plans' and reality there is a whole world, and before reality has actually happened I am in the complete Unknown. I very much have to focus on the present moment because that is all there is and often I do not know what is. It is a question of survival here.

So, I came to the school. I had been asked to come on Monday but on Monday we went to the picnic. I was then asked to come at 10am on Tuesday, but we arrived at 11.00 – roughly I was on time. I met the other teacher. Washim's sister was explaining things to Vijay who then translated them to me. I had initially been told I would teach in English to children from age 6 to 13. Today I am told I will basically work in an equivalent of kindergarden (or French ├ęcole maternelle) for children aged 1 to 6; play, give food, I don't know what else. Shock. And how many children? 100. Shock. I put my head in my hands and focused on my breath. But still I am here, in Khajuraho, in that school that came exactly at the time I arrived here. Am I not supposed to be here? Of course I am. Vijay knows I can do it. I do know it too; there is fear above that knowledge but well, not that much actually. I have my heart. Vijay said I just have to give love to the kids. That is all there is! And 'with love there is no effort', says Amma. And at Amma's ashram back in the beginning of December, I was told that a guru does not let approach to him/her, those who s/he does not want to see, wasn't I. Therefore I was meant to approach Amma; I was welcome in her ashram. And so I am meant to be here. I have never done this. I will have to speak Hindi, I will do it. 'I am comfortable with my discomfort'.

Vijay has now left me to sort his studies out, and I am sitting here in Washim's house. I do not know when I will see them both again because this is India. And it is OK, because it is life as it is. For how long have I dreamt of helping poor children in India? For this school, I am told also without having to look for it, it is a school for poor children some of whom have no parents. I am amazed, really amazed. It is falling into place (or is it?) Perhaps that is the profound 'intention' which Micha and Fabien were talking about in Auroville? An intention so deep, from the root of the heart, that has nothing to do with the ego. And if you follow your heart in the present moment, since the intention comes from that very same place deep inside, naturally the heart, the guide, the light will guide you to it. There is nothing to do but to follow your heart, for those things which you deeply aspire to. And so I didn't know it, but perhaps when I met Washim and Vijay two and a half years ago, Life, the Heart, was already guiding me towards this adventure of today. I visit my friends, my brothers, because I love them. And here I am today.

Friday, 1 February 2008

A taster of teaching English to Indian children?

[Typed from paper journal]

So, every evening five neighbouring children come for class at the house, with one of Vijay's sisters. They give them extra work after school. The kids are aged four to twelve. Three of them are the cousins I visited the other day - with Rajul the super-cute, irresistible naughty boy. The other two are another brother and sister, including Neeha the adorable, tiny four-year old girl. The children sit against the wall, cross-legged on straw mats. The sisters give the children a variety of exercises to do, or rules and lessons to learn. Then one by one they come stand near the teacher to show their work or recite their lessons. Sometimes the kids have not done their homework so the teachers raise their voices, which usually make the children lower their heads down in guilt and become very small with a very small voice. I often sit with them during the 'class' and it always breaks my heart when this happens. I feel their pain in my heart - sometimes they cry - and I would rather give them compassion than punishment if I was the teacher. Some of the work the children do is English; very simple work since the sisters don't really speak English at all. The work usually consists of spelling simple vocabulary (e.g. the days of the week), reciting a 'poem' ('The cow has one leg, one mouth' etc.), or even - for little Neeha - just writing and reciting the European alphabets or the numbers from 1 to 10.

I have sat often during the classes and Vijay's sisters show me the kids' work and get me to participate in the teaching. It melts my heart. My first taster of being a teacher to sweat Indian children maybe. They are so 'sweet' that I had to look for the word in my English-Hindi dictionary to tell Neeha that she was ('tum mithi ho', 'you are sweet') as she was leaving the house the other day. The children like my presence, also because I am a pupil too - learning Hindi. I make them laugh a lot. Today I taught Neeha a little to count in English. She was not able to write '9' and forgot the '6', so I asked her to come to me after she had showed me her slate. With the translating help of Vijay, I got her to take the chalk piece and with my hand above hers I showed her how to write '6' and '9', and '7' also. Where Rita would have asked her to go back to her seat and start again, I gave her contact (love) as well as tried to explain the work in a fun way. '9' is '6' upside down; I showed, turning her small black board round and making a funny sound as I did so. I asked Vijay to explain to her in Hindi too. She then recited her numbers properly and could write '9' better. Neeha always looks miserable and scared in the class, but I had make her laugh one time; I was happy.

Soon I was asking more Hindi words. I went upstairs to get my book and became a pupil; I went back to the wall, sat on the floor next to Rajul and started to write in my book like the children. This made us all laugh, and I had to take a picture with them too. They were all excited when it was time to look at the picture on the camera screen. Then, I wanted to know the parts of the body in Hindi and wrote them down in my book. I drew a funny man in my notebook to write the new vocabulary around each of his body parts. Soon Rita asked me if the man was Rajul. Yes, I said in Hindi, 'Rajul hai'. The kids burst out laughing once again, and Rajni lent me her own Hindi book which had all the required vocabulary in it so I could copy it happily. Huhu, I love these little kiddos!

A wedding

It started with a sort of rally, of all the men going to the wedding venue. It was a sort of procession, with drummers and a funny shiny fayre-type vehicle on which a man was playing toy-sounding like keyboard, very loud and very badly. The procession was lit by two rows of kids holding big lights on their heads. And the broom, on his golden decorated horse was following the crowd, and dancers. More like pogo to me than dance. It was all a bit surreal, and the night was cold. Very loud, very ugly music, very Indian somehow, funny and heavy.

This procession lasted quite a while. The women were going to the venue separately but the Spanish girl and I were amongst the watching men, with our two male friends. Finally we arrived at the venue. In a big sort of yard, with a space with chairs and a throne on the stage, and its left side a small lit dance floor. The music was very loud techno dance, and the men, mostly young men and teenagers gathered to dance and jump and be silly and loud. It was fun to see my two Indian brothers like this, it was nice to see, they had so much fun like two little children.

But one thing strucked and shocked me. For sure most people here don't understand the lyrics of these techno songs. Or do they?? "Baby move your body you're gonna get all the girls crazy", basically musically terrible pop songs all based on money, fame and sex. Sex. And orgasm sounds in the music, even. And then the wife arrived, decorated like a christmas tree, in a red and golden sari, with henna on her hands, shining in all sort of rich, golden ornaments. But she is not shining, I didn't see her eyes all night because she looked down all night, miserable. And that side of the tradition which I do not understand, of not even choosing a husband (or did she???) - and those sex lyrics...

A big clash in my eyes and ears. Do they really want to be like Westerners? Sometimes, like with the ads on TV, it looks like they do. I don't know.

The broom didn't look too happy either. Both look like they are about to cry on my photos. And everyone around was happy but all that fakeness was difficult to watch.

* * *

This morning I need to be alone. It is difficult to be alone here, especially as a woman (?) despite all the good intention that the family has. I have had very few moments on my own in this past week, which is why I cherish my daily hour of meditation and need my half hour of yoga in the morning. More if i could. For if I stay in my room a little too late they call me and I have to go upstairs to share time with everybody. When my friend has to go and do his work to support the family (for he is the only grown man amongst four women and a teenage boy) I am left with them in the house. There is a lot for me to do and see, learn Hindi, I watch and listen, learn and observe. It is all fun and we laugh and I share henna and learn or watch the cooking and the ways and habits of the family. And if I really dare be a little less present I can read my book. But how long will this last? This morning after the wedding I needed to be alone. I had my music in my ears for almost two hours, got up a little late. Everyone was waiting for me. A little later my Indian brother again had to go out. And I decided I, too, would go out. I had to go alone - for the first time in a week. In the town centre on my own, for a walk, for internet. "why?" did the little brother ask me? "Internet" I said. I also wanted to transfer some music on my MP3 player. And write this text, and write to my friend, and have some time for me. I hadn't been out five minutes than someone asked me where Vijay was, like why I wasn't with him.

And after thirty minutes Vijay's little brother has arrived in the internet cafe to watch my every moves and I cannot believe it. He is sitting behind me as I type this, a little too close to my screen, and I don't want him to read so I have reduced the window and the size of my text. And I really dislike keeping people waiting for me, but I didn't ask for him to come here and wait for me and I will not let my un-ease stop me from writing and doing what I need to basically stay mentally healthy (pratyahara I love you). Sorry boy, but if you want to wait then you shall wait...

Can women be alone a little in this country? Have they got a space apart from the home? Oh India I love you but really I cannot understand the whole of you.