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.


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...

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Khajuraho daily life, and kites and juicy fruits

Our early morning walks have resumed; it makes me very happy because I had missed them. It took a while because we were busy somehow, and hadn't manage to get up so early. But the last three mornings we did get up at around 6 am and went for a walk in the fields, and it hasn't made me more tired during the day. My yoga practice is still suffering, ironically I guess since the very beginning of my time in India; it comes and goes although I never forget about it completely. I do still practise some yoga, a little perhaps every three days or so, and from time to time when I feel the lack too much, I'll do a longer, sort of “binge” session. But I can't get myself to practise daily for some reason. Perhaps Life is teaching me to detach myself from this healthy yet craved habit, so that I will no longer feel bad from not practising. Sitting in meditation is easier somehow, I guess because all I have to do is sit... And then, ultimately it is Advaita the real teacher, way beyond yoga asanas or sitting in meditation, and ultimately I have to do as I feel... If I am dishonest when practising yoga it isn't Yoga anyway! And the early morning walks are much more welcome at this point. Walking along the earthly path, in the midst of vast, eternal fields, listening to the country's sounds, the many colourful birds and the wind and the cows messing through the trees to find food, and the monkeys screaming in the distance. Stopping in the nearby farm on the way to get fresh milk, having a small chat with the tractor driver passing by – in the Bundelkhandi dialect which I surprise myself understanding almost well. And brushing our teeth with sticks of neem tree. It is good to get up early morning not only because it makes the mind fresh but of course because it is one time in the day when the temperatures are pleasant. Early morning the sunlight is still a little shy and the wind pleasantly sweeps our skin with freshness. I am almost cold when I get out but is so very welcome, when one hour later the sun will already start hitting our skin and the light be bright for our eyes.

Even more pleasant than early morning though is early evening, around five o'clock when the light starts to dim slowly and the wind returns with its freshness, all the more welcome after a whole day's heat. That is when people go up onto their rooftops with their kites, which will sprinkle the sky with black dots amidst the birds. When I was young I thought playing kite was completely lame and I had no time for that, but the other day I surprised myself with the fun it gave me. I was a child again, dropping obsolete beliefs and value judgement, but I guess becoming more and more childlike is what my life has been about in the last few years. Or perhaps playing kite would still be lame if it wasn't against the delightful view we have from the precious rooftop. I don't know. And we played kite, and one of India's greatest fun is to try to direct your black dot so it will reach that of other players, far away above other rooftops, and trying to cut their strings. Ashtosh's little brother was playing with his kite, happy that perhaps for once he could direct it well, when skilful Vijay, under our admiring and amused eyes, pulling at his string skilfully up and down and left and right and against the wind, guided his kite far away towards the boy's beloved toy... which eventually wavered down and onto the floor. One minute later, from the distance with saw and heard the boy cry to his Mummy and for the broken toy. And we laughed and laughed...

And life seems more and more peaceful as I grow more accustomed and at home in the family. I am getting to know my body in the new environment, and I could drink only unboiled water here now even though I still do take precautions. I eat many fruits in the morning and during the day which compensate for the lack of raw vegetable. Melons and watermelons are considerably more tasty and juicy and sweet than in Europe, and I am becoming very fond of pomegranate, for the fun I get cutting it and disentangling the red grains which will splash with sweet juice once in my happy mouth. Apples taste so boring in comparison. And so it makes me very happy to eat my fruits in the morning; perhaps living in a country where everything is more precarious makes me more grateful for what I have. I would also have been more demanding a few years ago about the nourishing quality of the meals I eat. Clearly I eat far less proteins than in Europe, since the family eats no meat and eggs at all, and rather little milk. But I don't feel any weaker, and like a nun I am happy accepting the food I am offered, for the love put into cooking seems most important to me now. Perhaps it is the love that is nourishing, ultimately.

And I finally tried on a saree. One of Mummy's, a black one, funnily enough. Black is good for me for the first trial, for I am still shy with colours especially coupled with such a peculiar attire as a saree. It looks so beautiful and comfortable on other women, but on me it is another matter! I guess I did see that it suited me, but I felt so shy and I had never realised how unpractical it is! I understand newly-married Rita now, who only wears sarees when she really has too... It is always fun to spend time with the girls, with whom I slowly communicate more and more thanks to my growing Hindi skills...

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Blood donation and Mummy's operation in Chitrakut

So much happened during the last two weeks, so much happened. I have wanted to write as it all unfolded, but it somehow was impossible for I was caught in the moment and imprisoned by the ever-so-Indian situations. There was no way I could write, no way I would have been quiet enough to let the torrent of words flow comprehensively. And above all there was no way I would have dared taking out my shiny, high-tech, computer, for it would have looked surreal in such localness and ruralness – where again, I felt like a monster on display in a freak show and where all eyes around turned to me. Eyes full with disbelief, or fear, or disdain, or shyness, or embarrassment, or curiosity, or enchantment, and the usual routine questions: Who is she? Where does she comes from? What is she doing here? How did you meet her? How long have you known her? Where is she staying? Oh, she speaks Hindi? Over and over and over again...

So we left Varanasi together on the 22nd March. Direction Chitrakut, halfway to Khajuraho where Vijay's second sister lives, and where his mother was due to have an operation in the big hospital nearby. Vijay started to worry before we left, because it turned out she would be too weak unless she was firstly given blood. The family had to find two or three donors and fast. When we arrived in Chitrakut, Vijay's brother-in-law had already asked many of his friends and acquaintances if they would donate blood, many had had their blood type checked but none was of the same blood type as Mummy. Brother-in-law was running in the hospital corridor with a file of piling-up forms, desperately phoning an looking out for more and more candidates, getting blood tests done, waiting a few hours for the results, all day. Only to no avail. As soon as we arrived in the hospital both Vijay and I got our blood checked. I was pretty certain that my blood type was the same as Mummy's. Vijay's turned out not to be, but indeed my blood was suitable, and after the doctors double-checked that it was also healthy, I was ready for the donation. But it was useless if I was the only donor, because 250 ml would not be sufficient; we needed at least one other donor. On the third day the nurses told us that they would release Mummy the following morning if we didn't find a donor. Brother-in-law phoned yet more friends, but none turned out to be of the required blood type.

It was a difficult day, and now fearing that we would find no other donor, our minds started feeling with negativity. We were walking along the corridors, waiting and wondering and thinking, going for a quiet rest or a walk or a chai once in a while, powerless. Most of the time I didn't know where the situation was standing and what was going on, and it was frustrating for me too.

And in the meantime I was the main attraction in the hospital. I was being observed from every corner, and Vijay answered question after question about the European foreigner. On the morning of that last day we met three young men who started asking about me and chatting to Vijay. One of then, funnily, reminded me of the French actor Michel Blanc. I could imagine my Belgian friend, if he had been there, asking me where on earth I had found this resemblance in my silly brain. It was now 3.30pm and we had received disappointing blood test results from our last batch of candidates. Then we met Michel Blanc again in the corridor, and Vijay told him of the situation. He had liked Vijay's nature and so agreed to get his blood-test checked. We regained hope and I told Vijay; “In Europe we say that touching wood brings luck, so we should look out for wood and touch it”. We walked along some trees but they were too far out from our reach. Right at that moment, a man carrying a long wooden stick on his shoulder came passed us in the corridor (it was a broom, but I had never seen such a European-looking broom in India before)! Vijay laughed when I went to touch it even though it felt like a silly thing to do. And then I touched more wood from the frames on the walls, and when we went for chai waiting for Michel Blanc's results I sat in such a way that my feet constantly touched the foot of the wooden table. I focused on my breathing, trying to be as aware as I could and keeping my heart open.

At about six o'clock we got Michel Blanc's test results. And his blood-type was suitable! After that it all went fast. Some minutes later we went to the pathological lab. I was sure that in Europe it would have been forbidden for any outsider to walk into the pathological lab of a hospital! But then the hospital experience in India is very different from the European one it seems. There is no confidentiality issue and members of family walk about with reports in hands; anyone can look into a lying file (like I did to understand exactly what was wrong with Mummy), family members are very involved with the patient's care (most of the time it is them who bring food to the patient) and rooms or dormitories are full with visitors at most times. So we went to the lab, I had a banana and two oranges and pomegranate juice and it was time for the blood donation. I had never given blood before and somehow it was surreal that it now happened in India. I was a little scared, more of fainting afterwards than of the procedure itself, but it went smoothly of course; I am stronger than I think. After it was finished we were given glucose drink and more pomegranate juice and a banana. We rested for thirty minutes and kept our arm folded upwards, tightly gripping the cotton-wool. I wonder now how different the procedure would be in Europe. Indians were very careful about feeding us properly so we would build the blood back quickly, but I don't think it is a big deal at all; I didn't feel particularly weaker.

Soon we went back to Mummy's room. Already she was receiving my blood through perfusion, and it looked completely surreal to me. I was very moved that my own blood was running into my dearest friend's own mother. I was already part of the family but I was becoming even more so now. Two years ago I had given money for Vijay's knee operation. One year ago I had had a foot operation and in their house the family had looked after me. And now I was helping again for the operation of Vijay's mother, with my own blood. Beyond the personal, it also felt like a beautiful symbol of universality, a living proof that we are all One, that races and frontiers are man-creation and thus illusory in reality, for deep down the blood flowing in our veins is the same red life-force. I had known it for as long as I had lived of course, but seeing it was incredible.

It took more than a day for Mummy to receive all our blood, so she was operated in the morning of the fifth day. When we arrived that morning the operation had already started, and Auntie and her husband were sitting anxiously outside of the operation block. With Vijay's sister, Brother-in-law and their son we joined them, and soon Michel Blanc came to sit with us too. I was not anxious but calm and concerned. It was an odd feeling; I have never actually spent so much time in a hospital for the care of someone else's operation. And quite a while later the door of the operation block opened and the assistants took mummy back to her room.

Quickly after we arrived to the room Mummy woke up slowly. At first she felt very cold and her entire body started trembling, which looked pretty scary. There were many people around her and they covered her with blankets. I can't remember why I left with Vijay, perhaps we went out for some food, but when we came back Mummy was more awake and no longer cold, and she had started speaking a little although very quietly. From then on I felt reassured. For two days she was completely bedridden and was only fed through perfusion, but three days after the operation she started eating fruits and getting up slowly and with help to go to the bathroom. She seemed to recover well.

The days passed and the longer we stayed the less patient I was becoming, from idleness and boredom, from too many people watching me, and from not knowing what was going on most of the time. I became more and more silent and frustrated and tearful, and I needed more and more time out of the room with my friend. Finally after we had spent eight days in the hospital, and when finally Vijay's third sister came with her husband to take her turn in looking after Mummy, we could go back to Khajuraho. Some four days later Vijay would send a deluxe taxi to pick-up Mummy. Because it was a last minute booking, for the first time I travelled by train not in the Sleeper Class but in the (lowest) General Class, where the compartments are so crowded that people get on the train from the windows and many people spend the journey hanging onto the carriage doors (but out of some miracle that train was almost empty!?), where the berth are bare planks of wood and where again, all eyes turned to me. But I didn't care because despite the discomfort I lied with my eyes closed, and almost even slept. Early morning we reached Bamitha. We waited for a bus in what looked like the most rural place I had ever stopped by (should I even mention the looks I received, as usual?), and after a few hours on a wobbly bus we finally reached Khajuraho, exhausted but happy. The house was quite. But Mummy is back now, and she is recovering well.