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.


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.