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.


Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Coca Cola Protest in Varanasi

I went to a Coca Cola Protest on Monday 30 November to support the Medihganj community, some twenty kilometres away from Varanasi.

The reason for the protest was this; cut and pasted from the small poster I had made for this event:

The Coca-Cola plant is situated on National Highway 2 (Varanasi-Allahabad highway) in the outskirts of Varanasi near Rajatalab block, about 15 km from BHU (Banaras Hindu University). Since its establishment in 1999, the surrounding local community (Mehdiganj) has been facing serious water and health problems. They are completely dependent on agriculture, but Coke ruining the water through its exploitation has disastrous consequences: the community cannot grow anything, and they do not get enough water even to drink during the summer season, as all the wells dry up and the hand pumps stop working due to Coke's continuous exploitation.

Several scientific institutions have urged Coke to leave Varanasi as soon as possible because the ground water is contaminated with cadmium, chromium and lead now. It is a serious social and environmental issue but the government does not take it seriously as it is bribed by the giant company.

The surrounding community have been protesting against Coke continuously for the past eight years. Several plants have already been shut because they were endangering the ecosystem and local people's lives in the same way: one in Kerala (closed by order of the High Court of Kerala), one in Sivaganga (Tamil Nadu), and one plant in Balia district in Singhachavar village (near Gorakhpur about 200 km from Varanasi) was shut before any campaign even started.

More than 25 universities in the US, UK and Canada have banned Coca Cola products in university premises only because of the company's Crazy Work in India and Colombia.

I had tried to attract some foreigners with my poster by putting it in a few restaurants and shops populated by non-Indians - unfortunately just a week before the protest, because I thought that even a modest gathering of non-Indians may have some impact - since Coca Cola is obviously a non-Indian company. We were only four foreigners to attend the protest, only women: an American, an Italian, my Japanese neighbour and myself (French). But I was happy to be there. We set for the Medihganj community at about 10:00 in shared rickshaws. The community was gathered in front of a stage; many speakers were there. Extremely loud music was played when we arrived; it sounded more like a party than a protest! We waited perhaps a couple of hours before it started. It was amazing to be part of such an event in India. There were banners with Hindi but also English slogans. "Dirt means Coca Cola", "Save water, save life", "Coca Cola leave India", "Coca Cola water thief" etc. People were happy to see us there, clearly, and it was nice to be able to speak to them a little in Hindi. The children wanted to pose for photo holding their banners. There were many, many women; their sarees made the protest look very colourful! And men, and children and babies. It was not far from Varanasi but the change of scenery was radical; a very rural indeed, and a non-educated community.

Nandan told me that they had been expecting a few thousands people more, and trucks loaded had been on their way, but someone had told them that the police was beating people up to scare them away - with success. Coca Cola had paid a LOT the police force to guard the plant about 300 metres away. We reached a barricade of many policemen (and some policewomen!) on foot or on horses; we couldn't go further. There we stayed for quite some time. At one point, suddenly someone started running towards the field. In panick we started to run away also. It was very quick, suddenly I saw myself running, heart beating fast, away from the road. As if the police had become violent but it was a false alarm. We never knew what provoked this. For perhaps ten minutes after that I felt my legs shaking. But nothing had happened, to my knowledge and experience. My three foreign fellows decided to leave at 3:30pm but it was not over and I was too curious to leave, despite the risk of police beatings. I stayed another hour until it all ended. There were some more talks, and some of what I understood was "marenge nahi; mannenge nahi" - "we will not hit, (but) we will not accept". The crowd was very enthusiastic. Then the Coke demon was finally burnt down and it was over. The burning statue was surrounded by a gathering of excited, singing men. We were surprised that the police had allowed this; but It was peaceful.

Most of the time the police had seemed pretty quite curious about our presence. They were kind of looking at us with interest (I guess also because we were all female foreigners!!) as if we were distracting them from doing their jobs. I found it quite amusing. Some asked what we were doing in Varanasi, and later a policeman asked me why I had come here. I simply said "because I don't like Coca Cola!"; it seemed pretty obvious to me, but he was very surprised by my answer...

By about 5 o'clock we left. It had been an exhausting but happy day...

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Guruji's nephew's wedding

i was invited at the wedding of my guruji's nephew, yesterday. The day before the wedding I was also invited to come to the family house to get my hands tattooed with henna, as is custom for women before any marriage party. Guruji was playing a concert (with an wonderful singer, actually) about three minutes from my house that evening, so i went to listen to him and he took me home on his scooter after the concert. I wasn't quite sure that i wanted to go just for henna tattoo, but then i thought i should accept any opportunity to dip more into the indian culture actually. so i went. well, it was not yet even the wedding day but it was crazy in the house. the music was playing full blast, bollywood or indian pop music. a part of the "main hall" was made into a stage area, and members of the family were taking turns to dance in front of the excited audience. now i realised this was of course a musician family. they all danced so well! the women already were wearing sumptuous suits or sarees; i watched that bollywood movie with astonishment. a young professional dancer took the stage and he was amazing. when the dancers started doing something silly or perhaps move their hips a little more, the crowd started screaming with excitement. crowd, because there were at least 100 people in there - and this was only family! a soon as i got in my Guruji's wife asked one of the girls to tattoo my hands. it was fun. the groom-to-be was also getting all pampered and getting his hands all tattooed. soon it was 10pm and i was taken upstairs to eat with everyone. blankets were laid down on every bits of floor for the guests to sit on, and the food was served from an enormous pot into leaf-plates. i was glad i had eaten a little before going because it was those deep fried chapatis or puris, as is custom to eat during most festivals. it wasn't exactly easy to eat with drying henna on my hands, but i managed with a spoon, and all my fingers were not covered in paste, thankfully. Afte my dinner Guruji drove me back home on his scooter.

yesterday evening i went to my Guruji's house for the wedding day. i was wearing my best suit, but of course i was never going to be as shiny as any decorated indian woman. however much i may dare to decorate myself with glitter and make-up, an indian woman would always look ten times more stunning anyway, beyond my imagination. for weddings even more so, especially in a more well-off family of the brahmin caste. heavily decorated sarees, heavy gold jewellery, enormous nose rings chained up to the left ear, ear and forehead ornaments, half their forearms covered with shiny, colourful, jingling bangles, and pretty heavy make-up to. the women are not shy with black coal and here at least i know my blackened eyes will pass with success. so, i was wearing my best modest suit, the one i had bought for my cousin's wedding back in june. and i managed to find some modest lady shoes, pretty shiny for my style but "passe partout" and comfortable and flat shoes. This kind of shoe is called nagra; mine are made of leather and decorated with pearls. two other students of my teacher were present and it was good not to be the only westerner this time. besides, unlike modest families, this big-city, educated family is very used to the presence of foreigners, so we didn't pass for the main attraction of the night at all! it was lovely to just be part of it without standing out!

so when we arrived it was last-minute finishing touch time, people getting ready to go. pretty soon we all left the house. around six jeeps were taking us to the bride's family for the marriage puja (religious ceremony) and celebration. with so many people it took quite some time to get organised, we had to wait quite a lot - perhaps two hours in total before we finally got on our car. it wasn't too cold thankfully, and the shawl i had borrowed from my flatmate was sufficient. we waited with a chai. i was introduced with my "grand guruji", guruji's older brother who had taught him violin when he was small. it was lovely to meet my teacher's family - they are six brothers all musician of course, and three sisters although one has passed away. three brothers live in varanasi, two in lucknow (the capital of the state of madhya pradesh) and one in mumbai. it was lovely to meet them and to see similarities between them. it is a beautiful family. finally we got on the car. the wedding venue wasn't too far, although i was to engaged talking with leon, a new (french) fellow student who only started taking classes with sukhdev last week. this brave man, of my age, stopped going to school when he was only 11, because he had a brain tumour. it took numerous doctors and four years to diagnose the cancer; it took him a few years after to get through the treatment including a full year in hospital. and after all that ten more year to recover to full capacity. he came very close to death, and he was granted with quite a new sense of intuition. i was completely amazed to hear his story and wanted to ask him too many questions...

a few questions later we arrived at the first venue. it was a government school. there we had some sweets and coffee, waiting for the the groom's horse and band to arrive. all the time guruji was really good to his students. even though he was extremely busy with family and guests he was never forgetting us, explaining to us what to do or where to go and introducing us to interesting people. perhaps after one hour, i don't really know, the band and horse arrived. in an indian wedding the groom's family forms a procession to go to the wedding venue where the bride his waiting. so the procession started, with drums and shehnai (indian oboe) - definitely a musician family, as the music is a lot more pleasant than the cacophonies i have heard in weddings before! the procession forms a dense queue between two rows of small people (there was a tiny old woman there!) or children holding big decorated and flashing lights on their heads, and the groom follows at the very back on his horse. while we go forward people dance like silly sausages. indians love moving their hips, man! in this family, women were dancing also, and it was lovely to see. perhaps a more educated, and musician family takes the tradition more lightly than a less educated family, who is necessarily more blinded by it and tin a less educated family they seem to segregate men and women a lot more. here they were all more light-hearted, enjoying the fun all together. the atmosphere was for me was a lot lighter and fun too. of course guruji was the first to go and join the silly dancers; he is definitely the youngest of the six brothers.

we finally arrived at the wedding venue. it was very big, very beautifully decorated, inside an enormous white tent. there was a very long table with a buffet of amazing dishes. we arrived there passed 11 o'clock. i was happily surprised with how amazing the food was, some of it was LIGHT and delicate, no deep-fried puris! there we met some more interesting and lovely people, some other musicians whom i had definitely seen on stage before but i forgot on which instruments. in another large room the puja was going on on the groom while the bride was waiting in another room, i think hidden from her husband still.

finally, after the puja, the groom went on a stage to sit on his sort of thrown, on a swing! followed by the bride. before they sat they had to give each other a garland of mala flowers. the bride had to throw the garland around the groom neck whilst he was carried up by some of the men around him. this game provoked more screams and laughters in the watching audience, and the bride herself had to stop herself from laughing! this was lovely for me to see, because i had only seen serious or even sad brides before! the groom, too, was relaxed and happy. indians seem to know no shyness; it must be because of their strongly collective culture, and because they are so numerous that they live all together as family with little privacy. in a family of traditional musicians, of course they are all used to being on a stage from a young age, too. After the garland exchange the new couple sat on their seat ready for a photo session, with groups going one after next. we sukhdev students were also invited to pose behind them, which showed how welcome we were.

after the photo session, all the women of the groom's family had to return to the house, because traditionally women are not allowed to take part in the long puja that was to follow for the rest of the night. it was about 1 o'clock in the morning by the time we left and i was pretty glad not to be allowed to stay so late; i was tired! so all the women and children returned in jeeps back to the house, where we students were invited to spend the night. guruji had told ixchel and i we could stay in his room with his wife. on a three-person bed (equivalent western standard) we were seven to sleep. (granted, the children took less room!) it was a little crowded, but i love the sociability in india. we are all human and we share everything. but most women didn't go to bed til at least 5 o'clock. they started percussion and singing folk song, sat all together. when i woke up later they were taking turn to dance on bollywood songs, full blast. i was happy i had my earplugs, but it only prevented me to hurt my ears; it didn't help me sleep very much.... at 7:30 i woke up with ixchel who was leaving so i decided to leave as well to try and sleep better in my own bed. without much success...

and the party is not over: tomorrow there will be a reception, with even more guests... in india, it's like everything is western times ten. everything happens with ten times more intensity!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Weather & typhoid, violin & yoga... and dealing with (some) Indian men

It was two years ago that I left Europe for India, and my life has been here all the time since then. Since two years ago, I have spent five months in Europe only.

It has again been quite some time since I haven't written, but I feel like writing this morning, from my own computer settled at my desk, in my little home. It is about 10 o'clock and the light is crisp and beautiful. It is getting seriously colder now at last; evenings and mornings a jumper is necessary. Everyone has a cough and cold, me included. And man, how lovely does it feel to be able to wear my jeans or corduroy trousers with a long sleeve top, and at least a sweater after 5 pm! Last night at 10:00 according to my computer, it was 18°C.

I had not mentioned here that I had typhoid four weeks ago. I went to the doctor's straight away with my amazing Spanish flatmate, Rudra, who was very helpful and caring. I love having him as a neighbour. We always borrow utensils from each other, share tea, or offer each other our food to taste. So, that day I woke up with fever, probably because of that damn glass of local water taken the night before. We went to the doctor's in the morning; I took the blood test; we had to wait until 2 o'clock for the result to finally show it to the doctor after 6pm. Thus I was resting, cranky with fever most of that day because it took a lot of waiting to get the treatment, but five days of antibiotics later I was back on form. I took a second blood test some days ago; the result was negative. I am still taking the cure of pre/probiotics and multi-vitamines, and will probably carry on with chyavanprash and protein supplements all this winter because it is all good for me. I bought myself a thermos, too, and drink most of my water hot, which feels like much goodness too.

I finally started yoga again this morning, after over a month of idleness, firstly due to being in Khajuraho most of October, then having typhoid and last week Vijay visiting me. It felt great. It's really odd though; aren't you supposed to feel rusty after a month's break? Usually my neck feels stiff in the morning which makes it difficult for me to dohalasana (plough pose) and sarvangasana (shoulder stand), but surprisingly this morning I had no problem at all. No, I think breaks are good. For me anyway. And they are always good with violin, too.

Violin is going well. I felt seriously bored and uninspired a few days back, but that's because I hadn't seen Sukhdev in a few weeks. When I returned for class I made sure to tell him about my demotivation, that I didn't like when I played, I didn't feel good improvising, and I was sick of having to listen again and again to that bloody Teen Taal (sixteen beat). He just asked me why I felt bad about my play, because it is good, he assured me, he is happy with me, it's coming well; that brought a big bright smile on my face again and I was back on track. And of course, we did the alaap (improvisation) together and it felt all miraculously good again. And I am improving! I have started improvising freely and I don't feel bad or shy or embarrassed about myself. Slowly but surely I am letting go of the judgement, finally. I am better and better at copying Sukhdev's alaap and I enjoy it more and more. And I am able to hear the Teen Taal and finding the right beats within it now – provided that I'm not playing at the same time. I'll have to be able to do both together obviously, but it is a start. I couldn't differentiate the beats at all a few months ago.

Hindi is good. I have been pushing my teachers to come on time, and recently even took one to the Head of department's office to clarify what he was supposed to teach me from the syllabus. I've always let the Head know how upset I am when teachers don't turn up or if they come late (15 minutes out of a 45-minute class is quite considerable), and he told me that if he enjoys to teach me, he also gets quite “scared” about coming on time for my class now! But I always complain with a smile and some understanding, and we laughed about it. It works, and I am happy. These days I have a lot of composition to do – at least one text about something related to my life to write each week. It is a great way to study as all the vocabulary I learn in the process is related to me personally so I remember it better...

Rudra had a young Polish friend round a few weeks ago because she had persevering fever. She had to live with him because the fever wouldn't get down and she needed to be cared for. He took her time and again to a doctor and another; in a week she got her antibiotics changed four times. The fever would break for half a day and then come back again. In the end she was admitted to the hospital near my university. She took tests and it turns out to be malaria (although it wasn't found through her first blood check) and perhaps some other infection. She has been on perfusion for a week now and finally the fever is gone, but she is still pretty weak. Rudra is gone to Kolkata for a week or two so I go visit her everyday. She had no clothes with her; I had to bring her a rucksack from her guesthouse, and I washed her hair the other day because she hadn't been able to for a whole week. She has no-one else here of course, so I couldn't not do this. It's lovely to care for a stranger; it reminds me of the jobs that I once had...

Oh, and I received a surprising message through the Varanasi group of an internet community I'm a member of. It was from an Indian guy who has an NGO and works as a researcher and translator. It was to make an announcement about a conference on climate change taking place on 29 November, followed on the next day with a protest against Coca Cola. Apparently there's a Coke plant some fifteen kilometres away from Varanasi that sucks up all the water in the area, contamining it in the process, which has devastating consequences for the local community living around it... I couldn't help but reply to the guy; a couple of hours later we met as he conveniently lives in the same area of the city as I do. I was pretty excited, firstly because the issue is too close to me to ignore, secondly because it's the first time I have the opportunity to take part in any sort of activism in the country, and I am very curious about it. And finally, because it is very difficult here to meet local people with whom to be able to talk about deep topics. Of course, being a white woman in India forces me to be extremely careful with whom I speak to. I start being familiar in my neighbourhood but having a real, local, friend in Varanasi is another matter. The only Indian person I trust in Varanasi really is Sukhdev.

The contact I have with locals – mostly men – does not go beyond the hellos/how-are-you's or buying something to them or sitting on their rickshaws, or pretending I didn't hear anything because I'm sick to get attention only because I am of the female gender and I'm foreign – and it seems, for them, like the message “MONEY HERE” is written on any foreigner's forehead. Or else, as kind of regularly happens I have to say, it's the man who takes advantage of being in a crowd to pass you and brush your breast on the way with his arm, because men are mostly completely sexually repressed and extremely emotionally immature here. Or far less frequently but interesting to note, there's the bastard who comes passed you on his bicycle and frankly grabs your breast for a second. Is this satisfying even to them!? By the time you turn your head to look he's too far gone with bicycle, the coward, and you can only see the back of his head in the dark. That time, the only opportunity I would have had to communicate to him was to shout the appropriate abuse I had been taught in Hindi, but then even, caught by shock all that came out was in French...! But they do not scare or intimidate me. I feel sorry for them mostly and carry on my way. And that's the best way to deal with it really. Oh, but there was that fun time in the station, when Vijay and I were waiting for a train. The typical “inadvertently breast brushing” man passed me. That one however was really persevering, coming again and again to “brush” me, so I had no doubt that he was doing it purposefully. Vijay was ready to deal with him but it turned out to be unnecessary. Then the man went for a while; I thought he was gone for good... and again he came back. To my own surprise, I stopped to face him I felt the anger rise from my tummy up to my head, my eyes grew big and scary (or so I like to think!) when suddenly an enormous “HAAAATH!!!” came storming out of my mouth – that “hath!” Indians normally shout at cows when they are in the way. It all happened in a split of a second, and I was shocked almost as much as he was. He suddenly pulled back, started shaking, and the locals around burst out in laughter. After that, he followed us not to brush my breast but to ask Vijay whether we were actually walking towards the police station! We were not – we didn't know that there was a police station there! I felt really strong and empowered after that. I was so proud of myself, what fun! And Vijay completely amazed by my reaction. He was happy, because that made him realise that I am strong enough to deal with most hassling men on my own.

So. Being a foreign woman in India requires being alert, vigilant and firm. But don't get me wrong, I am happy in India, and I take the rare opportunity to use abusive Hindi vocabulary as further training on the road towards fluency (and spontaneity!) Most of the time people are very lovely, and I'm just a little tired of hearing “Hello Madam, which country from?” but with the understanding that I'd probably be interested in the same way if I was in their shoes (or sandals!) So all I do is ignore them politely... and from time to time, if I'm in the mood to answer I'll engage some light conversation, but making sure I don't speak TOO much in Hindi as it gets them quite overexcited at time... So yeah, I was saying that making local friends is quite a rare chance in India – and opportunities to befriend women even more so. But yesterday with that NGO guy from Couchsurfing, we were talking about Coca Cola being arseholes, the Indian gay community, woman empowerment, and even those mysterious of transgendered hijras!

And did I mention that I'm really enjoying my bicycle now? Or that I'm getting pretty good at making chapati? Or that receiving letters from my grandmother makes me happy?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Thursday, 29 October 2009

a compulsory late update

why is it so difficult to write these days?
there are moments of intense "indian experience" when i can see the stream of words before my eyes, but i am far away from computer or pen & paper. and otherwise i am too lazy or busy.

i was hardly in varanasi this past month. mostly i was in khajuraho with the family. first i went for a week during dehsara festival, end of september. on dehsara festival the hindus celebrate the death of demon ravana. so we made a big statue of ravana with paper and dried grass.

it was fun, the neighbouring kids packed up in the house courtyard watching vijay and ravi "a la tache". the mud pot filled with dried grass worked as the demon's head, and a boy covered it in calcium to make it white. i was given the task to draw the demon's face in... i can't remember what. then we filled in more paper and firecrackers, and after all the work, set our statue on fire. oh, and the following day, everyone eats PAAN, this weird betel leaf wrapped around a variety of ingredients which many men chew, sometimes all day, and then spit out in a digusting red paste.

i had never dared to try paan, i did now, but not for long. all this stuff in my mouth just made me want to vomit, and well, i know now why i never dared to try it. :P

it was lovely to see the family again. i can't remember exactly what happened now. i was happy to rest, oh, and i helped aman with his english homework. calm and quiet khajuraho is a lovely break from busy and noisy varanasi, actually.

i had a week off university, then another week at university, and then again an other week off university for diwali. diwali is big in india. if i remember right it is to celebrate the return from rama from a 14 year-exile in the forest, and the deliverance of his wife sita from demon ravana. i surprise myself remembering some mythology stories from my Hindi course, as i study some texts at university.

so after just 10 days again i returned to khajuraho to celebrate diwali with the family.

i was planning to stay only a few days, but then vijay developed a strong fever and i decided to stay. i just couldn't leave him in that state, i even developed an eye infection due to (i presume) anxiety. we went for a blood test and it turned out he had tiphoid - again. following day we went to chhatarpur (the bigger, neighouring town) to see a better doctor, as it's not the first time Vijay has tiphoid in too short a time. it turned out to be both tiphoid AND malaria. he was surprisingly well supporting the coming and going fevers, in between, most of the time he was kind of ok. still despite the medication his health didn't improve and again i lenghtened my stay. we returned to chhatarpur to the doctor's, who changed the medicines. on the following day he was better already, and he never developed another fever, the treatment is almost finished. i hope it is for good. i forced vijay to sleep under a mosquito net, and i bought a water filter for the family (despite the fact that i suspect that he caught the bacterias outside of khajuraho)... in the end i stayed in khajuraho for ten days. i got back to varanasi day before yesterday. vijay is a lot better now.

in the meantime in varanasi, there have been more new and lovely encounters or friendship, some great concerts, more violin played and more hindi classes and homework done. i am enjoying my bicycle, oh and my (miracle of all miracles!) new mobile phone and its Gayatri Mantra ringtone. and the weather is cooling down for good. it is quite a lot cooler in khajuraho where it can be chilly at night. i had to wear socks on the night train, and buy a shawl/small blanket. sweating is on holiday. i can wear my corderoy trousers with great joy, and wear my sweater in the evening.

i am becoming good at travelling alone. my hindi vocabulary is growing and so i am becoming pretty good at replying to annoying or dodgy men. they get really surprised from seeing a foreign woman with a small bag and very well used to the "indian ways" it seems. and they get REALLY surprised when i answer or speak hindi, because when it's not complicated sentences, i sound quite fluent. usually people don't bother me long, they get the message straight away and leave me.

i am home. i feel home.
and i am healthy, i am in love, and i am happy.

Friday, 25 September 2009

On the Westerner's living in Varanasi, and cycling in Indian traffic

Wow, I haven't written anything for almost a whole month. I have not felt like writing at all; perhaps this is because my life is more routinised than adventurous at the moment – or something. I am no longer travelling and considering myself “away from home”; I have just expanding my world. I guess I am lazy to write, too – I don't know. I have less motivation than I once had; I write almost by necessity, so that my life will not pass completely unrecorded – perhaps for a reason that will be revealed to me in the future. And I feel my expression is becoming more awkward somehow, probably from being in a “far-from-perfect-English-speaking” country. People speak “Indian-English” here; I hear myself “downgrading” my English and saying things like “it is more better”... and I bless the few times spent with native English speakers...

Anyway, life has been good of course, despite my silence. I live my little routine, which I enjoy; between university and the violin. I have met many more interesting, sedentary Westerners here now, who form a friendly community. With one of them, who I know from last year, I was sharing a sort of theory the other day. We both agreed that there seem to be different stages, or level, of “the westerner living” in Varanasi.

The westerner's “level of living experience in Varanasi”

(1) The Beginner I, the first-time comer, the tourist, who lives in a hotel. S/he visits the city on a surface level, visits temples and does the touristy activities, buying souvenirs and doing the must-do-Ganges boat trip, paying too much for it. Being a prey for the local business person, he or she doesn't know the “ways”, or the right price for things and gets ripped off most of the time. S/he doesn't know any Hindi. S/he is staying for a few days to a week, as part of a small tour of India, as part of a “holiday”. Starting to get a shallow taster of Indian culture.

(2) On the next level, let's call it the Beginner II, we have the profile that I filled last year. S/he is in Varanasi for one to a few months, staying in a guesthouse, most likely in the “Bengali Tola” area of the city, between Kedar and Harischandra Ghats. We can see him/her eating most days in the Monalisa Cafe or the German Bakery/Shiva Cafe. Perhaps s/he is staying the (in)famous Munna House, smoking shilom and enjoying similar “hippie” company enjoying the slowness of Indian life and the Holy City's atmosphere – perhaps as part of a longer journey around Asia/Australia etc. S/he is likely to be studying Indian classical music, or dance, or yoga or whatever art or teaching the old city has to offer. Perhaps s/he starts learning some Hindi. S/he is starting digging a little deeper into the Indian culture.

(3) On the third level, where I feel like I am at now, you get something like the Advanced I level. The interested individual has moved into a more long-term accommodation, perhaps in a family, and pays a monthly rent as opposed to giving is money day to day. S/he has a more independent way of living and perhaps a “mini-kitchen”, doesn't have to eat out all the time. His/her “home” may have moved around Assi Ghat where (it seems) longer-term westerners do gather. S/he comes to India on a regular basis, as part of a more serious, rigorous project. Perhaps s/he comes a few months every year to meet his/her music teacher, perhaps s/he is there for a couple of years like me. S/he is a serious student. S/he knows the ways here, doesn't get ripped off in shops, starts to know the price of things or knows enough Hindi or people to get to know it! S/he handles Hindi pretty well, enough to have a simple conversation at least, and is probably studying the language – autonomously or with a teacher here, speaking to the neighbouring locals, who have begun to recognised and know him/her, as a part of the neighbourhood. S/he starts becoming part of the westerner community.

(4) And then there is probably something like the Advanced II. The westerner who has lived in Varanasi for five to ten years, who is fluent in Hindi, who has a life of its own here. Who studies or who works. Who knows a lot about life here, and many people. S/he no longer feels the need to “learn” from living in around a family and has taken a flat.

Hindi & Violin

So life is good. I do a lot of homework. I am a little frustrated at my teachers when they fail to turn up, but I was prepared; it is part of the teaching as a whole – and it's not as bad as I thought. I am autonomous enough to learn and study a lot by myself anyway, and I have “a Vijay” who can help me, for even if he is in Khajuraho, we will see each other regularly. He came this last week already for a visit. Funnily a teacher had requested me to go and watch a play showing in a theatre of the university on Sunday. I was wondering how on earth I would get on with it and if I'd understand anything, but Vijay had miraculously decided to visit me at the right moment, so he came with me, explaining to me the gist of things along the way. Following class, the-said teacher who had requested me to see the play didn't show up. Never mind. I learn a lot. Some classes are easy but the refreshing nature of the class is welcome, others are quite challenging. I learn tons of vocabulary, tons and tons. And I write, and write, a lot, and I'm getting better, writing smaller and faster.

Violin is nice too. I am getting on a lot better on the aalaap, i.e. the introductory improvised parts of a composition. During the second half of each class I copy what Sukhdev plays. I used to be so nervous and “FIGEE” but it feels a lot smoother and more comfortable now. I can slide and do the twiddly bits that once seemed impossible. Now the challenge of course will be to detach myself from my teacher, to play my own thing, to improvise - my once-dreaded-yet-so-admired-skill. The Indian traditional way of teaching is all about impregnation. Immersing myself in the style, the sounds, the raagas, the feelings and the moods, moving from mind to heart. It is really fascinating. There is so much to “know” about it, yet I don't want to know from the mind – I don't want to try and remember; I want to allow the theory to take hold of my heart. And I feel like a total ignorant; still when people ask me about this and that musician I have no idea of their names, I “know” of four ragas, cannot recognise any raaga when I hear someone play, am completely lost in the impossibly sophisticated Indian rhythms. But it is not what's important. Slowly slowly, from practising – without worrying about any progress... And one day I'll realise that I start to “feel” the Teen Taal rhythm (16 beat) rather than having to count or check the beat on the mini-screen of my digital tabla. Slowly slowly, layers of hearing or feeling or awareness start to fill me. Because I am also studying Hindi, I can't practise as much violin as I used to – I feel I don't practise “enough” yet I'll remind myself that it's OK; I don't know where I'm going and all I want from playing violin is Love, and it's all in the moment. There is no goal, only a journey, so of course I am doing fine. And then another day will come when I'll notice that I can do something I couldn't do before, the confirmation that only a relaxed mind (and body) can learn. That as long as I am relaxed into it, just from diligent and honest practise the learning will come to fill me, the Consciousness will shape my mind and body to respond to my heart. There is nothing more than that, and this is all the beauty.

Cycling into Indian traffic

And I bought myself a bicycle! Back in July, when I was in Edinburgh, my friend Clement wanted to take me to a yoga talk by bicycle. I drove half a second and stopped in panic, saying I would never been able to do it. I do not drive a car, and I am far too scared of traffic. I don't know the rules at all. The thing is, in the west, cars and motorbikes are like fast, heartless machines. When you cross the road you consider the speed of the machine; you don't assume that the driver – the human being - inside of it will stop or consider your existence. Generally speaking.

In India, the traffic is an entirely new experience. It may be completely insane, noisy and crowded like you had never experienced it, with people and cows and bicycles and scooters and motorbikes, and the odd car or a bus, and auto- or cycle-rickshaws, or sweaty men walking and pushing a sort of “table on wheels” carrying mounts of chairs or bananas or twenty-metre long metal rods, or a three-metre high pile of wheat sacks. At first I was convinced that I would never even consider the possibility of taking part of the madness, sitting on a two-wheel vehicle where my trusted feet don't touch the ground. But clearly, walking forty minutes one way to university, and back another forty, and then having to go to my violin teacher's for another (at least) forty-five minutes in the opposite direction, I was juggling between going by foot and taking a cycle-rickshaw having to bargain again and again. I started to be haunted by the idea of having a bicycle, and to become envious of my fellow students who had one, despite the fear of being thrown into the madness. But as we “all” know, fear is the very wrong excuse for not doing something. When you fear something, that's exactly when yo should do that thing! So I got a bicycle, with Vijay. I was very nervous at first, because “I am not great on the bicycle” - but hey, this is an old statement now. I am not as bad as I used to; I am fine and I enjoy it - I have clearly become comfortable on the bicycle – thanks to India, to Khajuraho and to Auroville. The first couple days Vijay drove with me on a rented bicycle to check that I was OK and to give me some confidence.

The traffic is not that bad after all. The road home-to-university, at the time I have to take it, is not crowded apart from a small part – and once passed the university's gate, it is lovely and quiet. The way to my violin teacher is more tricky, but I will take it slowly. The thing in Indian traffic, is that you have to deal with human beings on wheels, not machine. And the traffic is very slow. And there are no rules, so you have to use your common sense, your awareness, your observation. It's a meditation to cycle in India; a lot more human than in Europe due to the complete absence of rules (well, apart from having to drive on the left). It can be awfully noisy, but do bless the horns, for they are the language in which drivers communicate between each other – when they overtake you etc.. And so, if I feel completely incapable of driving in Europe, I am feel OK in India (although... Varanasi is not Delhi). And what a sense of freedom! And the rickshaw-wallahs they stop bothering you with their “madam, rickshaw!” when you are sitting on a bicycle! I am happy with my purchased bicycle – It is the first time ever in my life that I own a vehicle...


And did I mention that we cooked paratha (a kind of thick chapati mixed with vegetables) and sabji (vegetables) and chapati in my room? And adding finely chopped spinach in the batter makes yummy pancakes, fusion between paratha and pancake. Hihi. And next week, due to some festival, I am off university for a week. So, on Sunday I am off to Khajuraho for a visit of my dear Indian family.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Settling in Varanasi (cont'd)

Life is good indeed in Varanasi, and I am already feeling well at home in my new, pleasant and practical, area of town – and my homely room. In fact, it's been almost two years since I hadn't had my very own little space. In Europe I was in Edinburgh in my previous flat but still felt the difference from being there temporarily. Or I was at my father's or visiting friends and family, and in India I was no more than three months at a stretch in the same place. Of course I've felt very comfortable and homely in my family, or in Edinburgh, or in Khajuraho and Varanasi before. But this is my own space. And I can cook my own food. And I'll be having a base for at least one – and very likely two – years. Before, when I left a place I would take all my stuff, shifting space completely. Now, when I'll visit Khajuraho, I will leave the rest of my stuff at home. Here I am not in anyone's space nor depend on any hosts. This is my little home, with my long(ish) term activities and studying, and oh, it is happening in India!

And it feels very good.

My room is rudimentary but luxurious compared to the places I've lived in before. I have a table and a chair to study, I have my computer and an internet connection 10 metres down the road, and even a small speaker-box for my MP3 player that allows me to play music in my room. I have a balcony that helps me go through power-cuts. I have good hanging space for my clothes and enough shelves to store all my stuff. I have a one-metre square kitchen space, which must sound ridiculous to my occidental readers, but that I have come to appreciate and enjoy completely. It has a shelf with all the things I need, including a non-stick frying pan and a kit to steam vegetables and enough cookery and a fresh water supply and even a filter water supply. And muesli! I have no fridge of course, but I enjoy buying my ingredients day to day from the small shops or stands down the road. There are fruits and vegetables including fun, exotic ones, Indian cheese (paneer) which keeps about 5 hours, dahi (yoghurt) which will keep for a day and a half, and milk which they sell morning and evening that I'd have to boil three times a day to keep fresh. I don't like to buy milk because of the hassle, so I only buy it if I'll make pancakes straight away. Paneer and dahi are lovely. And in the heat, I can only buy a small loaf of brown bread that I'll use for two breakfasts; after longer it starts to mould; then I have muesli. Proper muesli with a lot of fresh fruits and yoghurt! There are many small shop down the street from me, including the tiny, friendly organic shop that sells filtered water and brown bread and tahini and brown or red rice and many more organic/healthy produces; and soon it will even be the season for tofu. It is extraordinary to have such an health food shop so close-by, for they are extremely rare treats in India! I am very grateful for it indeed.

I do not cook everyday but I have virtually all my breakfasts at home, and maybe one every two evening I'll cook a (simple) meal. Lunch I always eat outside because it is more practical and I must still indulge in lovely Indian cooking (which I will start learning in due course). During the week before going to university I eat at that local Rs15-thali restaurant where the house woman already knows I love lady-fingers and karela, because it's quick and on the way, and they make simple homely food – it is just an outer room in their own house. But in the evening, I'll compensate with an intake of more healthy food by cooking red or brown rice (Indians only eat white rice) or steam my vegetables, and always have a lot of salad – with olive oil! I made spinach and cheese crèpes the other day – it was wonderful. It's interesting to experiment with Indian ingredients, too... and it's fun to cook sitting and using the stone floor as preparation space. The crèpes took a long time – but it meant that following morning I enjoyed (and shared) a very yummy crèpe-breakfast.

And I've been taking supplements, too. I take kala namak (black salt), as it is full of minerals and iron and it compensates for all the sweating. It's even good for digestion they say, so I'm having it! I also take a protein supplement (also enriched in vitamines and calcium that just tastes like hot chocolate (cold and with water instead of milk, but you learn to be tolerant in India so it's nice!) because the protein intake in Indian cooking is pretty low and of course I do not eat meat. I feel a lot better than when I arrived; it must all this homely goodness! It is a less hot, it's true, around 30-35 degrees, but we still sweat like pig-dogs due to the humidity. When it was 48 degrees, back in May-June, it felt so hot on your skin, but you'd sweat a lot less – meaning it's a lot harsher on your body (and my digestion was clearly affected) but now, it really doesn't feel so hot yet we sweat and sweat and sweat... It makes me wonder whether it is sweat, or humidity deposited onto the skin from the atmosphere (!?!)

But it is getting cooler anyway. There is clearly drought, the Ganges is low and it's supposed to rain heavily right now and it does not... but it does rain from time to time, and then the freshness is bliss. (And I noticed after writing this entry that the Ganga waters have risen considerably by at least one metre! Yay!)

And so, the healthy diet and supplements must work, for I have a lot of energy and feeling very good. I am constantly doing something, Hindi homework, or violin, or cleaning, or doing my laundry, or cooking, or tidying, or writing, or going to university or to Sukhdev's, or meeting people, and I am not too tired by sleep time. I really enjoy going to sleep in India somehow though – is it just those hard beds? I have also started a new pranayama (breathing exercise) routine, taught to me by my yoga teacher of a neighbour (he's been a teacher for over ten years – how handy!!) and it feels great! I had always been interested in learning more about pranayama, but it is difficult to find one's right thing, and my training has been very sketchy with bits irregularily learnt here and there, sometimes from a teacher sometimes from a book. Putting them into practice had scared me because one ought to be careful and vigilant with pranayama, so I had always kept to the basics, and even then not with much regularity or conviction at all! But my neighbour, just one week after moving in, taught me a complete routine connected to all the chakras, which seems to make sense to me . I have practised this one everyday since, and I find it suitable for me, a lot more than other meditation practises I learnt elsewhere that I had not found very convincing. So... let us see where that will lead me...

And university! I have completed the first week. It is clearly more slack that in Europe and I must be prepared to accept that; THIS IS INDIA! But most of my teachers have been attending class and according to my senior students, I must have been lucky so far. The best bit, clearly, is that I am alone in my class, so I'll be able to learn at my own (fast) pace, without being slowed down by other classmates. I can bombard the teachers with questions, too, and if I always prepare my texts in advance I'll be able to speed up the pace even more... Interestingly, dixit my senior students, the teachers will be more likely to show up if they know I am dedicated...(?) and they are aware of my dedication already. Most of the teaching is based on texts and stories (well-chosen and interesting ones) – plenty of new explanations and reading and writing, which I clearly need. So far, the level is not too easy nor too tough, just comfortable and fun... I am happy.

And violin! Sukhdev is away for ten days, so he asked me to help a new student of his, who only started learning violin last week. She is coming every two days for practice in my room, and it is a lot of fun to be helping her. It makes me feel that I am very good at violin (haha!), which is very pleasant indeed! It also teaches me to go back to the basics and to be observant.

And there are the people I meet. They are mostly long-term in Varanasi, most whom students. It is a little like a community of fellow foreigners, and in an otherwise Indian environment meeting them is quick. I have good company around me. Below my own roof, my floormates, as I initially felt, are lovely and helpful too...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Settling again in Varanasi

I've waited far too long for an update, but with such lovely company it was impossible spend any time on a computer to write. I arrived safely in India. Not exactly arrive fresh after a night on a plane and straight on to16 hours on a train from Delhi to Varanasi, but India seems even closer to Europe on a direct flight, and I did arrive, and happy. Despite the grey heavy sky, and the depressing view that the Ganges' water is very low compared to last year at the same time, by at least two or three meters! Ganga looks far less powerful when its waters won't reach all the way to the trees on the other side, leaving place to a thick line of sand. It hasn't rained enough they say; we seem to hear that often these days... Upon arrival, I was also struck by how hot it was; as always I had forgotten a little. And the powercuts, the cursed powercuts that leave you with no light and – especially – no cooling air. Just the sweat, the constant flowing sweat, along your forehead and your cheeks, all around your neck, all over your chest and your tummy and your back, and down your legs, too. Being wet all the time underneath your clothes, starting sweating as soon as you try to dry your body after a frustratingly short yet relieving shower.

I arrived at my homely hotel above the small cremation ghat at around 7am on 6th August. I got in the same familiar room, dropped my bags, and jumped into the shower. I was exhausted but I couldn't rest before I had an omelette on toast because I was starving. Looking down the ghat's activity from the rooftop restaurant... The cremation flames and the smoke, and the goats and the cows and the bathing buffaloes, and the men bringing wood, and the monkeys jumping from tree to temple top to electrical cable, and the constant bells and chants, and the bashing of clothing onto the stones in the river, and the people bathing, such extraordinary activities, and yet so familiar by now. I was at home but not quite because I was still waiting for Vijay. I was feeling odd from being back, still, and the sky was heavy and grey, and being in that hotel without him was clearly making me feel his absence. But he was on the way, of course. After breakfast I slept some necessary two hours; he arrived around lunch time and I finally felt completely at home.

By the evening I got a text message from Anusha, my new friend from an internet travelling community and who was coming to Varanasi at exactly the same time to study at the same university. I had suggested to her some places to stay. We ended up being neighbours for a good week, in the same hotel. She hugged me warmly when I opened the door to great her, and we had a lovely chat all evening with her and Vijay. Most of the week she would be great company, too.

We spent a lovely weekend, and on the following Monday went tp Banaras Hindu University (BHU) for registration. BHU is one of the best universities of India, and within its walls it is very beautiful. Big bright buildings joined by alleys boarded with trees, much greenery and cleanliness and quietness for India. Passed the impressive gate, the site is enormous and it took us four days to complete the registration process, having to deal with parts of the bureaucracy ourselves and going from office in one building to an office in another one, having to take a rickshaw between places because it was too far and way too hot to do it on foot. Every time we showed a paper we got given a new one that we had to photocopy before giving it to the following officer, having to go back to the copy shop all the way in between... I had to pay part of the fees in one place and the rest in another, and queueing in the heat, etc. etc. etc.. But Vijay helped me immensely throughout the procedure and saved me a lot of hassle and energy, because if he had not been there I would surely have gone impatient and confused and crazy. Four days later I did obtain my (somewhat rudimentary compared to our European digital student cards) 'student pass book' and I became yet again a student.

On the second day we went to Sukhdev's house, my violin teacher. It was lovely to see him again, of course, and I always love it for him to meet Vijay. He doesn't say but he knows who he is with no words. He knows the nature and the importance of his company. I would feel uncomfortable to put the words around it, as Sukhdev is Indian, but he knows beyond and we all know what there is to know – simply and with no labels. Soon Sukhdev indicated a good place for me to live. A family house where another of his students usually stays. He didn't know the name or address, but drew a map so we'd know how to find it. As soon as we left his house, that is where we went. We followed a narrow lane full cows and especially full of cow shit – I had seen a lot of shit in India, but never as much as in this street (!) – as it feels more like a cowshed more than a street, and found my new house. There was a statue of Ganesha above the entrance door which made Vijay trust that it would be a lovely place. Coming from Sukhdev, I new it would be good anyway. We met the owners, a lovely 60-something couple. Vijay spoke a lot to “Auntie Ji” and we both liked them and the place straight away. There were a spacious and bright and clean room upstairs, which I loved straight away and we agreed that I would move in the following Sunday. I have been here for three nights already.

And indeed, I love my room, the house, the family, and my new neighbours. The room is bright and with plenty of the Indian-style shelves “carved into the thick walls” like I love them. It is well furnished, with two beautiful chairs and a table for me to sit and study, and a double bed. I have enough space and shelves to make up a “kitchen corner”, with a small gas bottle. I really have all I need. With Vijay we bought some domestic stuff; I even found a good-quality non-stick pan which will be good for pancakes, horray! Vijay really helped me to settle well in my new, Indian environment. He bought a round mud pot like all families have to keep water in my room. In that pot I'll keep fresh (local) water collected straight from the ground for boiling and cooking. For the drinking water, there is a cheap monthly (or so) service supplying filtered water in 20-litre tanks, and that's what I'll use rather than the time- and gas-consuming option of boiling my own water. Vijay made sure to organise everything before he left back to Khajuraho, and he'd even go to the shops alone to keep the prices down – because if accompanied by my non-Indian self, shopkeepers usually put the prices slightly up straight away. On white foreheads they seem to read something like “has a lot of money”.

And that's how, the following weekend, I was fully registered at university and settled at home. Niko, our Belgian friend travelling for a month in India, came to join us on Sunday, 16th, conveniently staying in another empty room in my house. We'd spend a few days together and then he would follow Vijay to Khajuraho to spend some time with his family before flying back home. We had a lovely time again, the three of us together, but two days were far too short. We mainly spent time walking on the ghats along the Ganges while Niko took about 700 photographs of the affluent and varied activities (or non-activities!) Varanasi is an amazing place; there is always something amazing to see, at every corner. A madman (apparently) sitting on the soaking ground (for it had rained, finally granting us with some relieving freshness!) in the middle of everything and doing nothing but looking beautiful, the cremations (it's not allowed to photograph them, but it still works... from far away), the cows pissing impressive streams of urine or the buffaloes shitting, the goats resting on funny places or eating pieces of bark (yes, wood from boats), and the saddhus, the colours, the nnocent woman lighting a cigarette, the boats on the Holy Waters, the religious ceremonies... For our last evening together we went for a boat ride on the Ganges with Anusha and we went on the other, sandy, side of the river. Anusha had been told that there one can apparently find many remains from dead humans, including human skulls. It was true. Amongst many wrecks of underwear pants and flip-flops for a sample of the debris, we found a shoulder blade, a jaw, a piece of spine, a piece of a coccyx, adult and child legs and arm bones, and the top of a skull. According to Vijay some of them must not have been burnt completely because they were too clean or well-preserved... It was rather strange to walk along a beach dotted with human bones... On our ride back from the other side and on time to see the daily Arthi (the famous religious ceremony to Ganga), we went passed a floating dead cow... I had heard of all these things, but it was the first time that I could experience it. After all, death is but an ordinary thing, not?...

And all my friends have gone now, Anusha, Niko and Vijay, so I have started my personal routine. I have started cooking a little in my mini-kitchen, I have resumed my violin practice seriously and have had my first class with Sukhdev, and I have started my Hindi classes at university. I will have about two hours a day from Tuesday to Friday. I have photocopied all the required texts and bought the two requested books. It felt funny. I have met a few schoolmates - who tell me not to except European standards of teaching (I know it) and that the course setting up will be slow to start the first couple of weeks. There is a Beginner Certificate in Hindi, Undergraduate Levels 1 (me) and 2, and Postgraduate Levels 1 and 2. It seems like there are no more than three or four students per level. During my first class, today, I was alone with the teacher. He checked out my level and I knew everything! I hope I will stay alone in my class so he can speed up the pace (?)

And I am starting exploring my new environment, the new area of town where I live. There is, miraculously, a small, lovely organic café 10 metres away from my house, with free wifi to connect my laptop to the internet. This feels like complete luxury. It is even far too withdrawn to be well-known by tourists, so it is peaceful and calm. And I am getting to know my neighbours, who live in the other four rooms around mine. They are all students apart from the odd and intriguing 40-something Indian woman (but once she did start to speak, she was lovely). Two are also BHU students. There's the Japanese girl studying Indian religion, the Spanish yoga teacher studying Sanskrit, and the friendly young Indian man studying German, who seems to be helping everyone getting settled and organised. All seem lovely, and I am relieved that I will live with long-term floormates rather than travellers coming and going after a few weeks. All are helpful, we share stuff and tea and conversations, and are helpful to each other.

It should be a very interesting and fruitful year indeed...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Friday, 31 July 2009

And the Indian journey goes on....

and finally, at the end of it all, the visa application website did say... Processed application are received from Embassy and ready for collection - 30/07/09.

A few hours later, with some disbelief still, i was roaming round the streets of Paris, looking in admiration at that beautiful page of my passport saying Visa Category "S", for student, and "Banaras Hindu Uni-Varanasi"...

I will fly back to Delhi on 5th August, that's Wednesday... and arrive in Varanasi next week.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Back in Europe...

although it felt like i left yesterday, and my heart is still overseas... the indian journey hasn't ended, OBVIOUSLY.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


10 of June already...??
On the 17th I'll head to Delhi via the Taj Mahal...
And already on the 21th I'll be flying back to France.

Where has the time gone?
It feels like I only arrived here yesterday...

Monday, 1 June 2009

Teaching English to Indian children...

I love teaching Aman. Aman is Vijay's older sister's son. He lives with us and not in his parents' house because over there, in their small village, the schools are very poor, and because he is not a very good pupil. But I find him remarkable. He is only nine, and he is - I guess - a bit like a little servant. He has no toys, like most kids in India, and he does a lot of work in the house. Of course, like all Indians, he washes his own underwear when he showers, and there is not even a question of being spoiled and capricious; these seem like nonexistent traits amongst Indian kids - in rural India anyway. And it is he who goes to get milk from the neighbour's every morning, it is "his" task to fill in all the bottles and the water tanks in the bathroom. And everytime anyone needs to go up or down the stairs for something, they send Aman. "Aman, go get water, Aman bring down Mummy's food, Aman come here, Aman this, Aman that..." And he obeys, he complies, and he never complains. I wonder how he feels inside. And every evening when everyone else is downstairs watching TV, if I want to go upstairs for my dinner, it is usually he who comes up with me and serves me my food. Apart from that he'll just do nothing, or sleep, or sometimes he'll sit by the temple watching the other kids play - sometimes taking part. Or, a lot of the time, he studies with me and does his English homework.

I don't like how they treat Aman most of the time. I always want to tell them, "Hey, he's just a kid!" but I guess that's a very western reaction. Life is different in India where there is a lot of (domestic) "work". Still, sometimes they'll even call him when he sleeps or eats. Yesterday he was called to bring down a glass of water to the doctor during siesta. He woke up and moaned, but as I was awake, I ordered him not to move and brought the glass down myself.

If he is a bad student, I think most of the blame has to go to India's poor education system and its ignorance. I love Aman, and he is certainly a smart boy. I have been teaching him English for a good month and a half now, and I feel I am getting somewhere with him. It was difficult at first because he was clearly conditioned by his school's education system. Over there they learn things by heart with no understanding. At least with English anyway. He is in fifth's class and at first he didn't understand anything of his English book. Of course there are no grammatical explanations whatsoever and the children will end up being told the answers in class anyway. And the kids in India, as I understand it, come to fear their teachers, and they simply don't try because they'll just be shouted at or hit if they make any mistake.

When the kids first came to see me for class they'd tell me "Namaste Madam". They are certainly always very well dressed when they come to me (children were uniforms at school in India), and such "formality" amuses me. It has no importance for me of course, and certainly not in such heat! And in the first days they were very shy and impressed, and always apologising for their mistakes. But I don't shout obviously, I'll just raise my voice firm if need be, and I certainly won't hit anyone! (unless perhaps just a harmless slap on the head with their book...)

At first then, I kind of had to get Aman used to "my way of teaching", as well as trying to assess what he could and couldn't do. He has good vocabulary which helps greatly, and I feel he probably has implicitly learnt a lot from early exposure to English, without his knowledge. It's like I have to teach him reorganising what he doesn't know that he knows, and teach him confidence... At first, perhaps during the first two weeks, it felt like he was not learning and I was very frustrated. But then I came to understand that he had to unlearn a lot of shit and fear of learning. Because he had always be taught to study and learn under threat. But of course with a mind full of anxiety and fear and tension there will be no space for learning. Little by little I taught him to trust that I would not hit him. I gave him the tense exercises over and over again so he'd integrate them, and if on the way I received some new insight as to why he didn't understand and I'd learn how I could also improve myself and explain better, using a new Hindi word or asking for Vijay's help, I'd explain in a new way. Thus I teach and learn to teach in Hindi and to Hindi speakers. And I use my knowledge and intuition about the brain, and I learn to know Aman. I'll teach him to say funny things to keep his childish mind amused and interested. I'll get him to close his eyes to help him concentrate, I'll guide him and teach him how to study too. And it has to be fun. I want to teach not just English but also the fun and love of learning.

And thus I gained Aman's confidence and trust, and today he even asks me for more homework! We spend a lot of time together too. He tells me when he misses his family, and we share our straw mats at siesta time. He'll tell me "sleep well" in English, too. One night when we were getting the beds ready to sleep outside, I was lying looking at the stars. I started singing "Twinkle twinkle little star", the only English song Hindi kids know. We ended up singing it together, besides his being completely out of tune. And then he taught me a Hindi song. I love Aman. And I hope that as long as I am around the Khajuraho family I'll teach him English.

Three new children asked me to teach them the other day. They are eleven and don't even quite know the English alphabet yet, because they just won't get taught at school - despite the relatively high level of their fifth class book. I haven't got much time to teach them now, but I want to set myself to teach them to read and write properly at least. And then there's Rishi, the four-year old prodigy who knows so much for his tiny little age, who writes capital and cursive letters and reads so well, and knows so many words already. He is a real pleasure because whatever I'll tell him will enters his young malleable mind just so easily. He is sweet and fun, and how crazy he becomes when I get out the colour pencils...

I love teaching. I feel I am learning tons, and about Hindi of course - because I do teach in Hindi. I feel it is definitely valuable training for the future...

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Joy & Eternity

Often there is a storm in the evening, which freshens the atmosphere beautifully... the storms are scary, and it also rains, which is odd for the season apparently, and there's some water and a lot of dust coming in to the house. And as long as it lasts, there is no electricity. It can last one, two... hours... It is scary for me, but it is cooler at least. We sit in the stairs because a little wind comes in and it becomes the most comfortable place to sit in the dark house and wait until it stops and for the light to return...

Yesterday there was one of those storms, and quite a lot of rain, which was very cooling throughout the night. In fact, the weather was beautiful ALL DAY today with about 33 degrees. it seemed extremely fresh and pleasant, and it reminded me how easy life becomes in more moderate temperatures, when I do not need to sleep in the afternoon and when I have a lot of energy, and we are not slaves of the fans when inside the house... And it was Sunday, which means I didn't teach and I went for my weekly spinach omelet on toast.

And tonight, while we were sitting by the temple looking at the children play and I got tears in my eyes from the scenery, Ravi told me that "joy" and "eternity" share the same word in Hindi, "anand". I instantly knew I would have to come and post this out onto my journal... It makes me so happy to learn just how much Hindi reflects yogi philosophy...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Hot season in the Indian family

I decided not to go to Dharamsala at all. The heat is at about its maximum now (with peaks up to 50 degrees on bad days - around 48 otherwise - after noon), and I am somewhat miraculously coping well! I feel now that it would be pointless to travel some 48 hours and start from scratch again, to teach loved-ones I don't know when I can stay here and teach the loved-ones I do know. I am doing volunteer work here amongst my loving family. And I am on safe ground here, immersed in such a wonderful context to keep learning Hindi and about the Indian culture... And of course there is Vijay's company which I would just find too difficult to leave. Besides he is starting a six-month course right now, which involves a lot of English, and I have the greatest opportunity to help him with it...

Back to the heat, I have to say the first few days were a little difficult. About two weeks ago, I was lacking energy and half of the family (me included) had a weird rash inside our mouths due to the heat. It is common they say - in such extremely different environments your body starts reacting in ways unknown to you, and it is can be odd and scary but it's OK - like the strange rash-line I got on my left arm, because allegedly an insect had walked on me in the night leaving some traces of its urine on my skin! There is nothing to do and it is slowly going... All this, and also sensitive digestion (mostly half-constipation). But I am coping well, and my body reacts to the heat in similar ways to my Indian peers. The mouth rash soon left me, helped but those wonderful neem sticks with which we brush our teeth most mornings. And I decided to seriously tackle my lack of energy, for it is far too easy to become a vegetable in such heat. Thus if we don't go for the morning walk I at least do some yoga; I have resumed my practice, under the sacred fan in the shop.I also started taking some ayurvedic supplements to boost my digestive system (and balance my tridoshas for the connoisseurs - the product is called "triphala"). Since then I am pretty much settled. Teaching helps also, as the one-pointedness of my mind when I work with my little ones helps preserving my energy levels. But, I have to say - blessed are the fans and the air-coolers that allow us to sleep well at night, and the early mornings' and evenings' relative coolness! And cursed are the powercuts - though they are far fewer than they were in Varanasi...

Here in extreme heat it feels like there are two parts of the day, or two small "subdays" within one day. There are two nights: the ordinary night and the afternoon when heat is at its highest.

Morning we awake quite early; about 6.00 at best or 8.00 when the previous day was too hot or tiring or busy with too little siesta. Morning the heat is bearable, and it is lovely because we go for the early walk and once back I'll enjoy watching the peaceful view from the terrace, in some wind, and I'll eat my fruits sitting in the remaining shade. At that time I will not burn my bare feet onto the stone floor yet when I walk. I have started helping Vijay's two sisters with some house work too, now that Rita is gone and while Mummy is still recovering from her operation. I can't cook of course, because according to the cast system I am not allowed to. So I help with simple tasks like sweeping the floor or putting the crookery in its place. Every morning upon waking, my Indian sisters start sweeping the floor, and we fill the pots and buckets and the air-coolers and the 20-30 bottles of water to be kept in the fridge. Then they'll cook all the food for the day. In the morning I'll also do some Hindi homework or teach English to Little Nephew or write, or sit in the coolest room with everyone and watch some TV (mainly a lot of Bollywood dancing, or old and tacky Indian films or silly series to practice listening to Hindi, but best of all Tom & Jerry) - but mostly enjoy the coolness of the house's most efficient air-cooler. Air-cooler are huge, bulky metal boxes with gridded walls covered in dried grass and containing a fan and a lot of water to reproduce the coolness of natural watery/waterfall type environment. They make a lot of noise but at that point it doesn't matter for we clearly prefer coolness to quietness!

In the morning we also take turns for the blessed shower; that's when I'll throw pots of cold water onto my sweating body with great relief. I have also started to have "Indian-style" showers, which means I wash my clothes before shower. Before shower, because it is so hot in the bathroom and bashing and hitting my clothes means I'll be as wet before as after shower albeit with sweat... I also have to rub my body a lot more vigorously than ordinarily, because with all that sweat if I don't rub vigorously or exfoliate enough I'll still be dirty when I get out of the bathroom...

And then between 10.00 and 12.00 or when I'm hungry I'll have some lunch, but I have to be very careful not to eat too oily because of my sensitised digestive system. Usually we eat chapati and/or rice with cooked vegetable and/or lentil (daal). Indians eat little raw vegetable, their preferred one is onion and I don't know how they do it because onion feels far too hot inside my tummy when it's so hot outside as well. Instead I'll always have raw tomato and perhaps cucumber too. And I clearly eat less than normal in such heat, too.

Regularly family members come for visit or there's a festival, or like a few days ago, a family came to see my fourth Indian sister for potential marriage. During festive times the staple chapati is replaced by a deep-fried chapati (called puri), which my body strongly dislikes, and the rest of the food is heavier and greasier too. During hot season how they can eat this is beyond my comprehension. It's always at festival time that I'll get tummy bug - but now the family usually gives me chapati instead of puri. But a few days ago, Little Niece ate all my left-over chapatis and we ate late and I was hungry and I had to eat four puris, and there were too many people in the house and I had to look "as local as possible" not to do bad impression on my sister's potential "in-laws" and it was all too much and I went to cry in the bathroom and made sure my tears were dried and my eyes not too red when I came back. A little after that Vijay took me "to the market" (i.e to the small town centre) to eat curd (yogurt) to help my poor tummy, and where I escaped the family busy-ness and lack of privacy with great relief. In the evening all I ate was rice and curd; I slept a lot the next day, and I am back on my two feet now. The house is quiet too, thank God.

And then, in normal times, after lunch it is siesta time for everyone (except Vijay who has to go to school for three hours) and we gather in the coolest rooms on spread out straw mats on the stone floor, by the air-cooler. I can sleep on hard floor now, provided I have a thin pillow. It gives me a wonderful feeling of freedom and independence - because I can really sleep "anywhere" now. Thus we sleep one hour or two or maybe three, and my sleep is as tight as in the night. Upon waking the heat will slowly start to cool down, and like in the morning the routine repeats: I'll go for "half-shower" to refresh myself, I'll eat fruits, we'll start the water pump (it's an electricity-activated well that pumps up water from the ground 85 feet right below the house) and fill up the tank in the bathroom and the pots in the kitchen and the million bottles. And again the neighbouring girl will come to help with the dishes, and we'll sweep the floor (there's a lot of dust in India) with the small straw broom called "jharu", and in the afternoon my sisters will also mop the floor with cloth and water. And I'll teach English or give homework to Little Nephew, or study some Hindi, and at 5-6pm my clever 5-year old pupil will come for his daily class. And at the end of all this, the most pleasant time of day will have come, and I'll often go outside and watch the peaceful view and the neighbouring kids playing and the goats and the buffaloes pass, enjoying the cooling breeze. And then I'll have some light dinner, and soon darkness will fall and Vijay and I go to the market to buy vegetable or whatever or go check internet, and that's also when we'll sit in a quiet dark place for some stolen, forbidden hugs, and chat about what I may have missed or not understood during the day because I couldn't ask earlier in front of the family because it would have looked like we're too close. And we'll go buy fruit and fresh juice for Mummy, and curd for whoever's disturbed tummy, and go home and do some more homework and then it will be bedtime. It takes a while to go to sleep because we have to spread out the mattresses, burn dried cow dung and/or dried neem leaves to repel the mosquito in the house. If we sleep outside on the rooftop, we'll first pour out water onto the stone floor to cool it down before we can spread out the mattresses. Now I sleep on the rooftop with my two Indian sisters, under my mosquito net, watching the stars as I fall asleep, graceful for the next eight hours of coolness, sometimes thinking sleep is the best part of the day...

And sometimes I think about Europe where people have so much time for "non-basic" activities and a weird thing called "entertainment". There is hardly any of that in Indian life in a small town or village. Most especially during hot season when the extreme heat forces you to take so much care about your body's health and welfare that life revolves around survival, basically. And I think of Europe where people can do things like go to concerts regularly and go for a drink and go to the cinema and where children play with millions of toys and adults with gadgets, and how much more important the clothes we wear seem to be, and how easily and quickly we can "prepare a meal", and the countless choices of things and foods we have on display in our massive supermarkets. That massive, insane choice we have, how lucky we are to have that choice and yet how demanding and spoiled and greedy it has made us - and is it real choice or is it alienation?! And then I even start to understand the concept of arranged marriage, because even for a life partner, for someone to have sex and raise children with, even for that most Indians still hardly have any choice at all...

And I think now how simply my life has become when I'm here, and how different it is than what it used to be. How five years ago I would have found this life lame or "uncool" or downright unacceptable, and yet "slowly slowly" how I have come to love this life, for its purity and its simplicity and for the beautiful company of a family that I dearly love...

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The bride's farewell

Yesterday was Rita's farewell from her family. Hindu traditions never seem to end. Directly after the marriage (which happens in the husband's town or village) the bride goes back with her husband to her new home. But she will stay there just a few weeks or perhaps about a month, then she will return to her own family for some weeks again. It is when her husband's family comes to pick her up (without her husband who has to wait for her at home) and thus when they come to visit the bride's family for the first time after the wedding ceremony, that the real farewell will take place. I hadn't expected it. As usual with India, I don't ask anything and they don't explain anything to me before it actually happens. It is when the reality unfolds before my eyes that I see and understand how things work here.

So, two evenings ago, friends of the family came to help cook a massive amount of sweet pastries, made of gram flour and another four that I don't know. The women made crowns and designed plates and other beautiful shapes out of the freshly-made dough, to be deep fried later. Yesterday evening the women came again and set back to work. More fine pastries decorated with colourful patterns this time, and even one of them ornamented with one-rupee coins (and cooked)! All these gifts, for they would all be offered to the husband's family, were gathered into a huge basket of about one-meter diameter. They'd just wait for the two-kilogram bag of laddus (sweets) collected from the shop to seal the enormous gift with red fabric.

So much oil, so much sugar. The Hindu tradition is beautiful but to my religious-virgin mind and my dietary-concerned self, it is also a tradition of excess. And even for a family with financial difficulty it will be the rule and they cannot escape it. However much I love India these obligations are the very details that suffocate me. During the farewell-day all the women of both families were upstairs, while the men would stay downstairs sitting and talking. Because the women have to cover her heads in front of the respected men. Men and women eat separately. All day the women of the bride's family, helped by a couple of girlfriends, worked non-stop to serve and feed their venerated guests in the main room - feeding themselves later in the kitchen. Deep fried round breads replace the chapatis during festival or family occasions; deep fried and heavier food, which I have to accept with a sigh especially under the hammering heat.

In those traditional gatherings I do my best to follow the rules too and to appear as "local" as I can, but I am always concerned that I may do or say something wrong (although I know it would be OK). But the custom is heavy on me, and new people look and ask questions and I have to speak a lot of Hindi, and of course I hardly see Vijay so I haven't got much room for mental rest or questions. I am unmarried though so as such I have the right to go downstairs in the men's company. It is somehow easier in the men's company, yet I don't want to go downstairs too much to avoid questions and out of respect for my Indian sisters.

And then, early evening, the bride got ready to go. Decorated as heavily as a Christmas tree, in her shiny saree, hennaed hands, ornamented with heavy golden jewelry from head to toes, and with as many colourful bangles as to cover two third of both of forearms, jiggling whenever she moved and matching her saree. Married women have to wear a saree, and a red line (drawn in powder and/or lipstick) in their hair parting and a round bindi between their eyebrows, and anklets and toe rings, and bangles at all times. The jiggling bangles which I find beautiful when in a good mood, but which I come to loathe with feminist rebellion in Hindu-intensive situations, for then they sound like bells preventing animals to escape... It is extreme beauty violently stained by the inescapable obligation.

And once ready, which took some time, it was time for the young woman to leave her childhood's family for good. Sisters and mother cried like I had never seen them cry before. Hugs were shared, and the groom's mother is a good and understanding woman so there is no problem, but the married girl had lived here for twenty-three years and she was suddenly taken to a new home to live with complete strangers. Soon I couldn't help but join them in tears, although mine were of compassion and not of sadness. Slowly, the ornamented girl in her shiny blue saree, covering her head and hiding her tears, went downstairs. Notes (between 10 and 100 rupees) are always shared between hosts and guests at goodbye times. Although the money represents love, this is another rule-based tradition that can also exasperate me. And at parting time there is also colouring the women's feet in pink and sharing tika (marking the guests between their eyebrows with yellow and red powder), and then the members of the host family will do that beautiful hand-to-feet-to-heart bow which I have come to love.

And so yesterday I didn't do anything really, but by the end of it all I was completely exhausted. And I was told that at 2pm it was 50 degrees and I don't know how on earth my body copes but it does, and way better than last year...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The heat is still bearable; teaching is fun...

Life is good in Khajuraho. I am busy in books and noteboks, and if I started with two pupils I now have eight! At no set time but as regularly as we can, and when they have specific questions, I teach English to Vijay, his studious brother and the youngest of their sisters. In addition, six times a week in the evening around five or six (when the heat has calmed down and after siesta) I have a class of four or five children. With my first pupil, four-year old Rishi, and other neighbouring children between four and six and Vijay's nine-year old nephew Aman. But Aman is considerably older so I try to give him a separate class before the others come. It is India; there are no plans and a lot of unexpectation. They don't say when they arrive. It seems the news that the "videshi" teaches English is spreading, and a few days after he started coming for class, Rishi arrived with a little friend. Yesterday little naughty neighbour Tiger also joined (but frankly I don't know how long he will bother to come) and his cousin said he would come tomorrow. It was a little hectic yesterday! All the boys have different levels and affinities and it is a little mad to attend to all of them. But I must relax. I will bring what I can bring only and with love. I must inspire (some!) discipline but I want to teach the kids to see studying as fun, too. There will be no serious shouting with me (only firmness) and strictly no beating or ordering the kids to bend down and hold your ears through their legs without moving for fifteen minutes; for this they can go to their Indian school! For now, only love and fun, and learning all that I can learn from the new teaching experience. And that is a lot already in just about two weeks! And a lot to learn about what I can give and how I work and how imaginative I can be and about using my Hindi with the kids, and learning about them and what they know or don't now, and a million things about the education system from teaching such a wide age range and variety of pupils. Sometimes I'll use their books, sometimes I'll bring out things from the surprising depths of my imagination. And I get them to speak because they are young and most only begging to write, and I know the greatest weakness of the teaching system here is that they may learn for years and still won't be able to speak a word of English!

I use my intuition, ultimately, my feelings about what the kids can give and take. The beauty is that it is all free; free of money and free of any sort of standard or pressure, so I can work with my best friend and guide - my heart. Rishi is very impressive. He is only four, according to his father, although I don't know how accurate this is. Perhaps, maximum five years, but he has been attending school for over two years already, and his writing and reading are very good. He writes surprisingly neatly for such a young age. And he is a good and clever boy; I can see from his face. Tiger is a mystery. He is the very first boy I befriended in the neighbourhood and I know he came for me, not for the study. I have known and loved him, and been playing with him for a year already, but he is no serious boy at all when it comes to learning. Frankly he is a nightmare, his comprehension is very poor and he keeps entertaining the other boys. It will be a challenge to tame him if he keeps coming...

And when I don't teach others, I teach myself Hindi from my book and with Vijay's help. But nothing is ever sure in India; I don't know how long the children will come, and of course I don't know how long I will stay in Khajuraho. The heat is slowly increasing but there is a lot of wind and clearly, the weather is more bearable than last year in Varanasi when I had to flee to Rishikesh. I can bear the heat, and here there are hardly any powercuts which means the fans and air-coolers are on whenever required. And yet I am not quite sure whether it is any different outside of it is my body that adapts to the heat. I hear it sometimes peaks up to 45 degrees and it surprises me because I am fine, but at that time of day, after lunch, most days we stay in or sleep. My body adapts, clearly, and I even drink untreated water with no problem now. It makes my life so much easier and more relaxed and it gives living in India a further sense of homelessness and "normality"...

Friday, 10 April 2009

“D'amour et d'eau fraiche”

From time to time I receive a message from a relative asking me whether I will live d'amour et d'eau fraiche (from love and fresh water) for a long time, implying that perhaps I should start earning for my own living again. Many seem to blame me because I have stopped (for the time being) making money. But to me the truth is that non-lucrative life scares far too many people in the West. And I must say I used to be part of the fearful crowd, for it has cost me a lot of work fighting with my self-judging, conditioned mind. Some people have said to me that I am enjoying a bloody long holiday, but “holiday” no longer has a meaning in my world. Western-type “holidays” are only required in our dysfunctional, stressful Occidental lives. In the book I am reading currently (Pursue Happiness and get Enlightened), Ramesh Balsekar mentions a three-year old research done by professors of the London School of Economics looking into the relationship between money and happiness. India turned out to rate number five, UK (if he remembers rightly) about 46, and America 135... This says it all to me.

But anyway do we not often hear that the Occidental pace is unhealthily fast? Of course we know it intellectually, but few are those who do challenge that fact – or some of us may do but to some extent only. The Indian pace of life is incredibly much slower than the occidental one and I am overwhelmed by the difficulty with which to explain how living here (in a family in the heart of India especially) is turning my beliefs and standards upside down completely. The occidental way of life for most part is no longer a standard for me; there is no longer a standard but that of my heart. It is not science and western, “civilised” society that can know what is right for us. It is our hearts; that is all. Yet I know few are so lucky that their heart is louder than the overwhelming bulk of conditioning society has engrained in their mind, and it is understandable. But for me it no longer works that way. Yet it is not easy all the way, obviously. I have jumped into a radically different system, and the challenge into dropping my standards of living has been enormous. There are days when the idleness kills me because my environment and my surroundings, or the number of people present around and studying me, prevents me from “doing” anything for too long. Either it would feel downright rude and inappropriate given the situation to ignore them so I have to stay sitting amongst them, or else even if I retired from the situation its intensity would have exhausted me completely. Yet I do realise how my busy-ness-oriented mind does slowly lose its power over me, and how peaceful I have become most of the time in Indian family life. And in India the extent to which members of a family spend time together completely outgrows what we know in our individualistic Occident. It is heart-rendering for me when I think of my father's home, where we “do our own thing” in isolation from one another most of the time. And so I respect the people I live with, because despite all the differences that sometimes hurt me I love them with all my heart, and from all the events that we have shared I have righteously become a part of their family.

One of my relatives today again asked me whether I was going to live d'amour et d'eau fraiche for a long time, because I don't know whether or not I will work with orphaned children like I had “planned”. But I follow the flow of Life, and if the Universe changes the plans for me I will accept Its guidance. I feel I am not the doer of all my deeds; I feel it is Life Force, perhaps God, that acts through me. This is the conclusion of a life-long work on myself, but it is very difficult to explain this concept to many. It is what my life has lead me to understand as a fact, the ultimate law of the Universe, and going back would literally be impossible for me. It seems to me that many people would say that if they were given the chance, they would love to live “of love and fresh water”, but if the possibility did actually open, it would be so difficult for them to drop their beliefs and standards so engrained in the western society and in their conditioned mind, that they would not have the guts to go on and do it. It takes a lot of courage to do what I do – but then it would take me even more to go back to living in the western way and it would kill me. And then ultimately there is no courage involved anyway – only love and awareness, for “I” am not doing anything... It is the Universe that is acting through me. I have no choice in what I do...

And little by little, the conditioning weakens and I enjoy immensely this simple way of living. Finding out the other day that watermelons and melons grow in India brought me wonderful joy (I had not know in one whole year living here before). Watermelons and melons which I bought directly from the growers, organic, and not packaged in nasty plastic, juicy and sweet and more tasty than I had never eaten in my entire life. The smell emerging from the uncut melon was so strong and wonderful that I couldn't take out my nose from it, and just that turned me into a bubbly child yet again. My life is a project, a non-lucrative project guided by the growing love in my heart. I have been walking on this path with full awareness for at least the past eight years. To me simpler life is true progress, more than the money I could earn would ever try to make me believe. Honesty is the most important thing in my life and, I believe, in the world, and if I lied to myself it would only bring me to death. Many aspects of the occidental way of life have bothered me for years and the validity of its standard is weakening for me as I am introduced to simpler ways of living – in the “land of the Heart” that is India. The other day by “chance” I watched BBC World News for the first time since I've been in India this time round. As usual it seems my instinct takes me to the TV set just on time to keep up with the most important world news. It was the day Obama arrived in London for the G20. I tried to concentrate myself as much as I could to pick up some of what was said, but it only reminded me how meaningless all those “serious” speeches are in my world. However concerned or angry I may have felt (or I may have wanted to believe I was) a few years ago, today I could only but look with complete detachment. And those images came at the right time, when I needed to remember exactly that. It will sound harsh and irresponsible to some, but even then it felt like the world is perfect as it is. And so I must follow the path of integrity, and it is not easy everyday (to say the least) but I enjoy the experience and know with complete certainty that it is the right path for me. And so I drop the urge-to-busyness little by little from my mind. The voice in me urging me to “do something” is less and less suffocating as the days go by, sitting and enjoying the presence of my sisters, or standing on the house's terrace as I breathe deeply, enchanted by the wonderful scenery – the modest houses' rooftops and the temple and the tree and the lake, as the sun sets and the gentle wind blows, and as the buffaloes pass and the shouting children play.

But I know I am not lazy; I have never been lazy, and the statement “I would die if I stopped learning” is forever true about me. Vijay knows it too well by now and has been playing an wonderful role in helping me deal with and accept the challenge. So if I may sound like I am doing fuck-all to many, there are many projects growing in my mind and heart and life, and with all the awareness I can gather Life is taking me where I must go. I had said I would go and work with orphaned children. I have done all I could in the moment and it led me to a halt (in appearance at least) for now. Then I said I would instead go to Dharamsala and work with Tibetan refugees, but I am still in Khajuraho in the family. I am still waiting for the “unbearable heat” to deport me to the north, for as long as I am comfortable I can't take myself away from my Indian family and so much love from them and my Vijay. And the weather has been exceptionally mild for the season; the dark sky filled with such stunningly bright lightning – and thunder and unlikely rain – that I had to sleep with my jumper the other day! As if to keep me here for longer... I know that my heart in the moment is the ultimate guide, overpowering any initial plan I may have made, for I know the role the initial planning is to kick me onto the right road – the road itself guiding me as I go. And thus, of course when I appear idle my mind is resting and peeling layers of conditioning and digesting more Hindi. After a week or two of yo-yo-ing mood juggling between the joy of being in the family again and the harshness of my judging mind, I have now resumed my Hindi lessons (alone and with Vijay's precious help). And above all, I may not be helping orphaned children or Tibetan refugees for the time being; nevertheless I am helping my dear ones where I am now, in my own minuscule way, helping the G20 lessening the gap between rich and poor. My help is precious in the family today in a time of difficulty. And I gave blood to Mummy thus allowing for her operation. I started teaching him English seriously at last and he is making some progress. I may not be teaching English to orphaned children, but teaching Vijay is giving me surprisingly valuable insight into the Indian way of teaching – which I am certain will be worthwhile some day. The other day a friend of the family asked me if I would teach his son English; I had the first class with my 5-year-old pupil today. And I write all this as I go along, not forgetting about yoga and meditation and violin however difficult it may be at times.

I am very vigilant at all times. I don't know where I am going but I am walking steadily on a beautiful path I love with all my heart and would not change for the world. I love Life and my life, I know I am blessed and want to return those blessings to others and to God. I see my life as a project towards Truth, however many the people who may not understand me. And as I go, the questioning messages I may get have less and less ability to destabilise me as I go. I am sure that I am doing the right thing, because my heart is ever loud and present. More than any dubious comments I may get, those words sadhu Babaji told me, “aapka dil kulla hai” (“your heart is open”) forever resonate in me and I know his are the meaningful ones to listen to and follow...