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) 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.


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...