A note on my three blogs


A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

(Yoga &) first concerts

I am very happy. I still go to the new yoga teacher and I have had no difficulty motivating myself to cycle across the city early morning twice a week. I do love the ride, I do love the practice which is very different from all I had known before, and I love the company of this 76-year-old, fun yogi. Going to class I forget everything and for the time being let go of my violin/Hindi routine. I broaden my world and I feel it grounds me in some sort of timeless reality, reminding me of what is important (the heart, the present, love!) More practically, the pranayama cleanses my entire bronchial area and it seems to have been helping my chronically morning runny/blocked nose. I am very very happy with that. And of course, going to regular yoga class is refreshing my daily practice for the rest of the week. Thus is my yogic journey resumed, and I am very much looking forward to it...

And now on the violin... I was due to play for my first concert on 18th December here in Varanasi, but I have played two concerts already, in Rishikesh. I went there last week with my violin teacher, Jerome my “guru-bhai” (i.e. my violin brother, who studies from the same teacher) and his wife. Through their association, the French couple supports the C.J. Maa Music School for which I created a website, so for the school's benefit they wanted to organise two concerts by our teacher, as well as two workshops for the school's children. Predictably, Sukhdev asked Jerome and I to play with him on both concerts. I was very happy because I feel at home in Rishikesh, and playing for a reasonable audience including the children I know and love would indeed feel less intimidating for me. It was definitely a good idea before playing a concert on a big stage in Varanasi!

Both days before the concerts we enjoyed some great practice sessions with Sukhdev, Jerome, and Shivananda (our friend and the school's teacher) on tablas. All three are great musicians and incredibly supportive of me!! I am so grateful! The concerts were OK. Mostly I was nervous before, more than during, the concert, so I fell more shy than nervous. Of course I played a lot less than I play in class, but it doesn't matter; it's part of the practice and confidence will come in time. I love this Indian way: the teacher introduces his/her students on stage, who join in when possible. That way the teacher is responsible for the concert and the students don't have to worry about playing all the time. They can join in when they feel comfortable, and the more they'll play in concert and get used to it, the more they'll be able to play until they're fully “grown”. I love to say it thus: the teacher takes you by the hand and doesn't let you go until you're ready. S/he provides a kind of safety net. I think that's exactly what I need because the fear has been buried in me since childhood... I know I'm good, but I need reassurance.

And so we had a lovely time in Rishikesh. Boy, it was cold, nowhere near European temperatures but cold for bodies that have been more accustomed to heat! I bought a very warm fleece and wool jacket though; I'm very happy because it will keep me warm during the month of January, which was very cold in Varanasi last year. (Remember there is no heating inside houses, so it's as cold inside as outside...) That said I am enjoying cool temperatures. And of course wearing jeans and generally warmer clothes. Sensibilities seem to change in India. I enjoy simple things immensely, a lot more than I do in the west. I rejoice at brooming my room, eating a papaya, and going for chai in the street after yoga class. Change becomes shear delight. I think I'm even more childish in India because I love life even more; I laugh at it like a silly girl.

Back from Rishikesh. I am taking a one-month holiday from Hindi, although officially I don't think I'm on holiday. My progress on the Hindi syllabus allows for a holiday though, and I have decided to prioritise violin this month, with all these concerts. It started with the forthcoming concert on Saturday 18th, but like I said I have already played two, and two more are coming after that, on 20th and 31st. My teacher is pleased that I am motivated, and he wants to “kick my butt” and get me to play on a stage as much as possible to boost my confidence. Even if I don't want to play violin, he said, I can also sit on stage with him and play tanpura (one just has to pluck the four strings one by one to create the accompanying drone), just so I get used to being on stage, and be part of the music. I love the idea of playing tanpura...

So this month will be full on violin. This week Jerome and I are going to class morning and afternoon: morning is normal class; afternoon we will rehearse with the other musicians for Saturday. My main issue really is following the 16-beat (teen taal). Improvising and coming back to the composition on the right beat. I can improvise now, and pretty well. My fingers and my heart have freed up. Fear has dissipated. Yet I block when I have to focus on rhythm, because it is difficult to focus both on playing and hearing the beat at the same time. I need to practise, practise, practise, until I have internalised the beat cycle, so that I can do both at the same time. For this I also have to go beyond the tabla machine and play more and more with real tablas, which seems to be starting slowly now...

And I haven't seen Vijay for over a month now; he is coming Saturday and will stay with me for two weeks... at last.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Yoga in India

I have been doing Iyengar Yoga for almost ten years now. As much as I love this type of yoga for all the benefits it has brought to my life, something displeases me mostly about Iyengar Yoga in India: It seems very inaccessible to Indian nationals, as though attached to some kind of elitism. In the three years that I have been living in India now I only once found a satisfying Iyengar Yoga teacher in the very non-Indian city Auroville in Tamil Nadu, and she was Russian. Of course there was Iyengar Yoga in Rishikesh, and even away from the touristic, yoga-machine area I found an Iyengar Yoga school, which attracted mostly Indians. But there the junior teacher who taught for the month I attended was a very ego-centred person, who gave half the instructions, didn't correct the students' postures, and shouted at his students ordering them to contort in postures their bodies would not allow them to perform. One of the most important lessons Iyengar Yoga had taught me in Europe was one of self-kindness, not torture!

I did do a pretty good ten-day yoga retreat in Rishikesh after that, back in May 2008. However, there apart from a couple of rich Indians, only westerners attended, because it costed Rs 8000 for ten days (with food and accommodation). Here in Varanasi, I have tried three yoga teachers. All of them taught only westerners, and they took at least Rs150 for group classes, which means they would take at least Rs1000/hour for a group of seven students! This is an enormous amount for Indian standards. (Many hotel assistants earn a (meagre) salary of Rs3000 per month.) Now of course, Rs150 are only £2, that's “nothing” for a westerner. I am arguing because of the segregation which is systematically placed onto non-Indians when it comes to anything relating to money. A friend recently told me that he had found a daily yoga (group) class in Delhi, which mostly Indian attended, and for one hour of yoga every day he had paid Rs 200 per month!

Beyond the price, I have refused to go to classes that taught only non-Indian students, because, beyond the fact that I found them unsatisfactorily vague after nine years of precise Iyengar asanas, I refuse to feed into this dichotomy between Indians and non-Indians. Yoga is about union, about being All One. Yoga transcends all dichotomy, but most “touristic” yoga instructors make it a business. Iyengar Yoga seems even more elitist than that. I was given only the name of one teacher who could allegedly teach me according to the Iyengar school, and I refused to try him out after he gave me his ridiculous price for a 1-1 class: Rs 500. I know of no other “Iyengar Yoga teacher” in Varanasi.

And then of course there is the, official, Iyengar Institute in Pune, but one may be placed on a two-year waiting list before being allowed to enrol on a one-month retreat, which involves two classes a day I believe, and for which one has to have a certificate saying one has practised Iyengar Yoga for at least eight years. If I remember rightly, the candidate also has to be able to perform the headstand for at least eight minutes! The cost of the retreat is pretty high (and so is accommodation in Pune). I visited the Iyengar Yoga Institute three years ago and in the practice room I saw mostly non-Indians. Of course, BKS Iyengar is an extraordinary man. I cried in shock and emotion when I saw him in the hall. I saw him perform a strong back-bend for half-an-hour on top of his 90 years. Iyengar is wonderful type of Yoga, and it has indeed changed my body and my life. The visit of the Iyengar Institute was very moving and inspiring for me, but by no means do I wish to put myself on a two-year waiting list for a yoga training course. And why is Iyengar so unpopular and unavailable to Indian nationals? I did consider another centre for Iyengar Yoga in the Himalayas, in Dehradun. The cost of the retreat seemed even more elistic. Again, I can afford this price; however nowhere on the website did it say it had a more reasonable fee for Indian nationals, and the student was requested to stay in selected accommodation (and nowhere of his/her own choice if s/he found elsewhere) which was very expensive compared to Indian standard. If I had looked at it from Europe four years ago I would probably have jumped on the occasion, thinking it was pretty cheap. However, now that I have lived in India for that long, and I have learnt about the cost of things, I am revolted by this price. This is completely unaffordable for most Indians.

How can this dichotomy not be justified? It makes me sort of “angry at Iyengar”. And so I have been confined to my room, doing my yoga practice on my own since I have been in India. Recently it has been difficult to motivate myself, to say the least. The practice has been coming and going. There are periods when I'll practise assiduously, then I'll stop in rebellion, to finally take on again. My mood has changed. For a while a practised only as I felt, and I was satisfied with that. But lately again I've not been able to bother because I don't know where I'm going. I usually just practise those specific postures which I feel help my body (back, hips, legs) and then stop. My practice has become only exercise, although I know Yoga goes a long way beyond the body. And all that time, part of me knows that I must be missing on extraordinary opportunities to practise yoga, because Yoga comes from India from God's sake! There must be good teachers out there, but how do you find genuine teachers when your skin is white? I stopped thinking about finding a yoga teacher, but the latent thought that I have to detach myself from Iyengar and move on always remained at the back of my mind.

Two days ago a friend introduced me to a very inspiring young French woman. With a sitar teacher she has been learning Indian classical music on her clarinet for a few years. She lives on the other side of the main ghat, after the cremation ghat “Manikarnika”and away from all tourists, and clearly she felt very genuine and humble. She spoke of learning yoga so I asked her more about it, and for the first time in ages I felt inspired. Her teacher is 75 and looks healthy and has brilliance in his eyes. He puts great focus on pranayama (breathing exercises) and teaches Indians too. His price is reasonable. Learning yoga with him has changed her life. The problem was, though, that the daily classes start at 7:30 and he lives that far away from my area of town, after Manikarnika Ghat, after Chowk and even after Maidagin. Not to mention that I am already very busy! Still I took his phone number, and as soon as I got home couldn't help but phoned him. “After Chowk” had always sounded dauntingly far away for my poor orientation and cycling skills. The truth is though, it is not all that far; it is thick, maddening Indian traffic that makes the task of cycling far away so unimaginable. And I have improved a lot at cycling in this craze in a year, I have to admit – and modify my self-perception accordingly! I have even come to enjoy it. So, following day I got on my bicycle and went to meet the teacher for nine o'clock; at this time the roads were still uncongested. If I cycle to and fro before eleven I shall be able to avoid the traffic, hurray! What had seemed an impossible trek by auto-rickshaw at three o'clock when I went to collect my visa three months ago was now a pleasant 30-minute bicycle ride on a fine morning. Now the task that remains will be to manage to get up early enough for class twice a week...

The yoga teacher was indeed inspiring. He came to meet me on the main road and recognised me straight away (though that was easy I guess). Tall, beautiful Indian man, well-poised, healthy and friendly-looking. He clearly didn't look his 75 years although his voice may have given him away. He took me along the narrow lanes towards the Ganges, when suddenly I heard a clarinet. I looked around and there she was, the young French woman, sitting crossed-legged on the stone outside a small temple, closed-eyes, playing an aalaap on her clarinet. A few Indians women were listening. She fitted the local, picturesque décor completely. She looked beautiful, humble, honest. I felt like I was in the heart of Banaras, the Banaras that once was free of tourism, free and real. Once we reached the yoga teacher's home he took me upstairs on to the rooftop. For a second I thought I was in Chitrakut on the rooftop of Vijay's sister; it looked so similar except for the holy river on the other side. The teacher asked me to stop there. He went to fetch a big wooden stick on one side, and after he had chased the monkeys away, we walked on the free terrace and into a small room, facing the river. It was a small light room with a table bed on which the teacher sat. And then my introduction started. He spoke a clear, beautiful Hindi, telling a bit about yogi philosophy and the things I have to understand when considering yoga. The importance of breath. I knew (and loved) most of it but it was very refreshing to hear it again, and very interesting to hear it all in Hindi! I felt as though I was out of time. He showed me a few pranayama techniques. I asked him how he had learnt yoga, to which he replied that he had learnt it from his father, who had learnt it from his father, who had learnt it from his mother, and on and on and on... A real, traditional family of yogis!? Anyhow, I liked him straight away. Tomorrow I shall get up early and try out a 7:30 class. I like the prospect of the adventure, discovering more of Banaras, being grateful for my bicycle, and of course seeing what there is to learn from this humble man.. We shall see how that goes...

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Playing music in the boys' jail

I went to Khajuraho for Dashara festival and I came back. Then again I went to Khajuraho for Diwali festival with my housemate Nahoko and I came back. The loveliest (besides spending time with Vijay) was probably to see her teach Kathak dance to his sisters. And the family accepting my best Varanasi friend in with open arms.

Back in Varanasi life has been exciting on the social and the violin front. My violin teacher asked me to play violin with him and another "Guru-bhai" (fellow student of my teacher) next month. So I am learning a new raag (a south Indian one) and a new composition, and I am practising a lot with the tabla machine to be able to follow the 16-beat on my big day. I am very scared but very excited also. It feels different somehow, I am not sure about expressing how, like something is changing, progressing. I may dare to say that I feel more confident about playing in front of people. I focus and I try to transcend the fear. But I will be OK. My teacher wouldn't ask me to play in concert if he didn't have faith in me.

My Guru-bhai is a 50-something violin teacher from southern France, Jerome. He arrived in Varanasi beginning of November for two month with his wife; I met them last February when I went to Rishikesh/Haridwar with Guruji for two concerts and to see Shivananda and the children again. Jerome will play with us in the concert next month, which makes me feel I'm not alone. There should also be a tabla player (obviously), a flute player and a sitar player. Jerome and I will support each other. It will be my first real concert, and probably the most scary (although reality is always a lot different than imagination...) We have started having classes together and we will also practise together. I've seen a lot of them recently, and met many people. Varanasi is invaded with interesting people lately, mostly French.

I had wanted to write before and as always time has flown away. But today it is impossible not to write. Today was too exciting and noteworthy. The young volunteer from my friend's NGO Jimy Library contacted Jerome and I a couple of weeks ago, because she wanted us to play music in the "governmental centre for boys", which they are striving to improve in the frame of their NGO. We practised our impromptu concert two days ago with another French woman who rented a djembe for the occasion. The rehearsal was fun and exciting. We practised a couple of songs from Shivananda, and Fred improvised on the djembe. Jerome played one of his songs from his children in France, and some Irish music. I followed him, improvising. I was excited because it would help me transcend the "fear of playing in front of people" although I knew whatever we played we wouldn't get it wrong because the boys would be thrilled to just listen to some music, whatever we play. (And there was no fear actually, only the strange feeling in my tummy due to my experiencing this dilapidated place.)

The centre is located a few kilometres away from Varanasi across the Ganges. The boys may have lost their families, lived in the streets for a while and be caught by the police before they were sent to the centre, or they may have been taken there by their families if they could no longer support them for financial reasons, or they may be deaf or mentally handicapped. Whatever their stories, they are all society rejects and have been locked away in this centre which, practically, is more a jail than a centre. On the entrance gate it says "Home for Boys", but when our rickshaw-driver was asking his way to the locals, they all referred to it as a "jail".



The children welcomed us with bright smiles and respectful "namastes", but my tummy went all funny when I entered the gloomy place. The main corridor was so dark and grubby, with unpainted dirty walls. We walked along and saw the two bedrooms. The children's beds were basically two rows of wooden tables on top of each other, with no mattresses. Only two rooms where well-lit and friendly-looking, equipped with mats and tables and rudimentary school or craft equipment, but they've been so only since the two NGOs started working in the centre, less than a year ago. Before that the conditions of the centre were even worse. When my friend visited the centre for the first time before starting the work, there was no cleaner and the children were very dirty. There was no electricity after 4pm and no fans in the rooms, the children lived in the dark and the heat most of the time. And I don't even want to imagine winter time.

Today at least there are fans hanging from the rooms' ceilings, and an inverter for powercuts. There is a television in one room. My friend comes to distribute fruits every week to improve the children's nutrition,as they probably just eat rice and potato all the time. The NGO provides a psychologist/teacher and a sports teacher. At the moment a volunteer from France also offers painting and embroidery classes three times a week. And there is a cupboard full of school material but it's locked when the intervening staff leaves, otherwise the guards steal it for themselves. They stay outside most of the time, as though they don't want to mix with those untouchable, unworthy creatures. Evening and weekend they lock the children inside, who are then left to their own devices, without even one adult to look after them.

And so we were greeted with warm, bright smiles and "namastes" in this dark, gloomy place. Quickly we put all the table-beds to one side and laid down the dirty blankets on the floor of the "tv room", which landed on the floor with a thick cloud of dust. The children sat in front of us naturally without our needing to tell them to. Some were shy and quiet, others were excited, but all were curious and interested. We started with a simple melody, after which Jerome taught them one of his simple songs. They started singing, mostly very out of tune but very eagerly, "oh la la qu'il fait beau" (o-la-la-ki-fe-bo). We could hardly hear ourselves play when they started clapping hands. Then Jerome started playing the melody of a famous kirtan (devotional song) and they provided us with the Hindi "lyrics". I ended up with a quiet tune. Some of the children wanted to touch our violin bows. I told them it was made of horse hairs and they kept repeating "ghore ka bal, ghore ka bal" (horse hairs). After our little concert, another French girl (we were all French!) and her Indian teacher offered a short bolas show, while Jerome played tzigane music. The children watched with full attention. Finally the others volunteers who had come with us brought sodas, sweets and biscuits, which the children ran to from as much excitement as genuine hunger. Then they danced, sang and many tried the djembe and the violin. We spent about 2 1/2 hours there. When we left they asked us to "come back tomorrow!"...

We went back to our rickshaws. We needed cigarettes (not me!) and chai. I think we were all a bit emotionally stoned. I was very tired mentally, but happy to have been there and given a bit of joy to those lovely, rejected boys.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Routine and conjunctivitis

Again it has been ages since I wrote on this blog. I guess routine has started and therefore there is less to say. Quoique... Every time I set up to write I am surprised at how rarely I feel compelled to write (and read), compared to how often I had done up until two years ago. I suppose I don't write so much also because I have fewer questions about my life here. I am, just. I may repeat myself a lot, but it feels nice to express it: all there is is love; that is why I do what I do and I am where I am. Love inhibits the questioning mind; it stops it from wandering, questioning, judging.

So routine has started again, what seems like ages ago. GettinAgain it has been ages since I wrote on this blog. I guess routine has started and therefore there is less to say. Quoique... Every time I set up to write I am surprised at how rarely I feel compelled to write (and read), compared to how often I had done up until two years ago. I suppose I don't write so much also because I have fewer questions about my life here. I am, just. I may repeat myself a lot, but it feels nice to express it: all there is is love; that is why I do what I do and I am where I am. Love inhibits the questioning mind; it stops it from wandering, questioning, judging.

So routine has started again, what seems like ages ago. Getting up round seven, practising yoga and cleaning my room (releasing caught mice and brooming gecko poo...), shower, breakfast. Going to violin or Hindi class, then for my daily plate (thali) of same-y but nutritious and delicious food in the very homely cafe round the corner from my house. This will also be my socialising time with other non-Indians – mostly music students or volunteer workers, all with beautiful life stories. Or while I wait for my thali I'll decide to be anti-social and check my emails on my computer, as this second home of mine even offers wifi service. After that I'll go home for violin practice/ Hindi homework. Evening time I'll go down the street for some daily food shopping to be cooked for dinner, perhaps stopping by for a glass of chai with a randomly-met friend or a well-known shopkeeper. And after dinner I'll practise some more violin or do some more homework, or perhaps there will be a classical music concert to go to, or I may allow myself to watch a film on my computer.

My routine is not so strict since Nahoko has arrived though. Nahoko was my occasional neighbour last year. She comes from Japan to study Kathak dance between Varanasi and Rishikesh, but this year she will probably be more settled in Varanasi, which is great news from me as she has clearly been my best girlfriend since I have been living in India. It's just good to have her company under the same roof, and it means we can also cook together. I have three other neighbours now. The Thai monk, who has been keeping to his room for over a month since I told him off for being dubiously over-friendly before classes started, and two older men. One nice guy from Australia who will be staying for six weeks only, and a massively tall and broad fifty-something man from Germany who listens to a lot of seventies' and eighties' rock/hard rock music and er, also smells and pisses outside of the toilet hole. Gulp. He is a friendly man, but a little creepy, and rock music just feels out-of-place amongst the temple bells and Sanskrit chants of Holy Varanasi! When his door is open, mine is closed... Oh, and I forgot the landlords' daughter-in-law who married their son last June; although she spends most of her days downstairs with the family so she doesn't really feel like a “floor-mate”. She is very friendly though, and with her I connect a little more with the landlords, which is nice.

Vijay came to visit me three weeks ago. As usual, he stayed for a week during which I didn't do any violin nor any Hindi except going to classes. I am fully competent in chapati-making now though, I am very pleased to say! There is something very exciting in eating my very own chapatis; a simple pleasure of life, which India seems to make even more enjoyable. I think it rained everyday while Vijay was here; a very late monsoon until mid-September this year, but a pretty good monsoon indeed. The rain seems to be over for good now, and I am very happy the Ganges is high and we've had plenty of water! After Vijay left I caught a cold. The weather is changing and temperatures are slowly decreasing - slowly - but it has been odd, up and down and up and down. When I had this cold I often felt cold despite the sweat. Many people have had a cold, and another interesting bacteria has spread: conjunctivitis!

I had never had conjunctivitis before. One morning last week during violin class I started feeling strange, mostly bizarre and weak. At the end of the class I realised I had pain in my right eyelid. It felt a little like pressure on my eye, and I couldn't see clearly because some foreign body was wandering round and on my pupil. I cycled back home as quickly as possible to check my eye in the mirror. Ha! Sticky yellow pus it was! Disgusting. I quickly went to the eye hospital very near my home, which I had wanted to check out. Another thing I have learnt in India, is to take illnesses and other health-related bothers as experience, and to find them interesting! I was happy to finally check out this (good) eye hospital. The (female) doctor told me I had conjunctivitis and gave me some antibiotic eye drops. I was (happily) surprised she didn't prescribe any antibiotic tablets, but I prescribed myself a boosting cure of magical magnesium chloride (pour les francais, du chlorure de magnesium). I just love this magical powder, which poured in water becomes an effective antiseptic and a natural antibiotic (it also cures polio!) When I told Vijay about my conjunctivitis he told me many people had it in Khajuraho, and then I realised that many people had it in Varanasi too! The following morning I saw my neighbour the monk, to whom I hadn't spoken for over a month. When I saw his eyes I burst out laughing. “Hello conjunctivitis friend!” We've been friendly again since then. Thank you conjunctivitis! The landlady and her daughter-in-law have had it as well, so that's four people in the house! My eyes got better quickly, more quickly than most it seems – I am convinced it is the magnesium chloride. On the way to school one morning I tried to look at people in the eyes. But conjunctivitis-affected Indians wear sunglasses, because the superstitious Indian is adamant that you can catch conjunctivitis just by looking at the eyes of affected people. You'll say hello to an Indian friend and he'll turn his head and ask you to wear sunglasses. Of course, Nahoko to whom I showed my yucky swollen eyes a lot, didn't catch conjunctivitis.

Talking of the magical magnesium chloride, I discovered another miraculous little gem lately: honey! I had known for a while that honey had antiseptic properties and helped with healing, but I had never tried it for myself. Recently, in the strange weather of Sweatyland, I've had weird little wounds that wouldn't heal. One on my toe which is history by now, and a mysterious yellow scab underneath my nose that just won't go. (I was rather beautiful a few days ago with that and swollen red eyes!) So I tried applying honey on the affected areas; on my toe I had to cover the wound in a bandage to keep it away from dust – and the honey to keep it away from ants and flies! Well, the honey works.

The last two weeks were odd to say the least. Feeling weird and weak from the cold, conjunctivitis – and the Ayodhya court case! Ayodhya is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to the Ramayana (the “Bible” of India) it is where Lord Rama was born and, after his fourteen-year exile in the jungle, where he lived and reigned. I don't understand much of it, but a court case went on for twenty years to decide whether the area round a Hindu temple in Ayodhya originally belonged to the Hindus or the Muslims. The court case is twenty-years old but the whole issue is 350 years old. The verdict would be published first on 24th September and Hindu-Muslim violence was expected all over India, so people were told to stay home that day. Then the date was postponed to the 28th or the 29th I wasn't sure as different people said different things. So when should we stay in and when could we go out? Everyone was talking about it and I was anxious too. Finally the verdict was to be released on Thursday 30th September at 15:30. I could go to university in the morning but everyone had to stay home after noon, there would be police everywhere. In the end the verdict was published, but it has been a peaceful one. Now that's over and nothing has changed in the streets of Varanasi...
g up round seven, practising yoga and cleaning my room (releasing caught mice and brooming gecko poo...), shower, breakfast. Going to violin or Hindi class, then for my daily plate (thali) of same-y but nutritious and delicious food in the very homely cafe round the corner from my house. This will also be my socialising time with other non-Indians – mostly music students or volunteer workers, all with beautiful life stories. Or while I wait for my thali I'll decide to be anti-social and check my emails on my computer, as this second home of mine even offers wifi service. After that I'll go home for violin practice/ Hindi homework. Evening time I'll go down the street for some daily food shopping to be cooked for dinner, perhaps stopping by for a glass of chai with a randomly-met friend or a well-known shopkeeper. And after dinner I'll practise some more violin or do some more homework, or perhaps there will be a classical music concert to go to, or I may allow myself to watch a film on my computer.

My routine is not so strict since Nahoko has arrived though. Nahoko was my occasional neighbour last year. She comes from Japan to study Kathak dance between Varanasi and Rishikesh, but this year she will probably be more settled in Varanasi, which is great news from me as she has clearly been my best girlfriend since I have been living in India. It's just good to have her company under the same roof, and it means we can also cook together. I have three other neighbours now. The Thai monk, who has been keeping to his room for over a month since I told him off for being dubiously over-friendly before classes started, and two older men. One nice guy from Australia who will be staying for six weeks only, and a massively tall and broad fifty-something man from Germany who listens to a lot of seventies' and eighties' rock/hard rock music and er, also smells and pisses outside of the toilet hole. Gulp. He is a friendly man, but a little creepy, and rock music just feels out-of-place amongst the temple bells and Sanskrit chants of Holy Varanasi! When his door is open, mine is closed... Oh, and I forgot the landlords' daughter-in-law who married their son last June; although she spends most of her days downstairs with the family so she doesn't really feel like a “floor-mate”. She is very friendly though, and with her I connect a little more with the landlords, which is nice.

Vijay came to visit me three weeks ago. As usual, he stayed for a week during which I didn't do any violin nor any Hindi except going to classes. I am fully competent in chapati-making now though, I am very pleased to say! There is something very exciting in eating my very own chapatis; a simple pleasure of life, which India seems to make even more enjoyable. I think it rained everyday while Vijay was here; a very late monsoon until mid-September this year, but a pretty good monsoon indeed. The rain seems to be over for good now, and I am very happy the Ganges is high and we've had plenty of water! After Vijay left I caught a cold. The weather is changing and temperatures are slowly decreasing - slowly - but it has been odd, up and down and up and down. When I had this cold I often felt cold despite the sweat. Many people have had a cold, and another interesting bacteria has spread: conjunctivitis!

I had never had conjunctivitis before. One morning last week during violin class I started feeling strange, mostly bizarre and weak. At the end of the class I realised I had pain in my right eyelid. It felt a little like pressure on my eye, and I couldn't see clearly because some foreign body was wandering round and on my pupil. I cycled back home as quickly as possible to check my eye in the mirror. Ha! Sticky yellow pus it was! Disgusting. I quickly went to the eye hospital very near my home, which I had wanted to check out. Another thing I have learnt in India, is to take illnesses and other health-related bothers as experience, and to find them interesting! I was happy to finally check out this (good) eye hospital. The (female) doctor told me I had conjunctivitis and gave me some antibiotic eye drops. I was (happily) surprised she didn't prescribe any antibiotic tablets, but I prescribed myself a boosting cure of magical magnesium chloride (pour les francais, du chlorure de magnesium). I just love this magical powder, which poured in water becomes an effective antiseptic and a natural antibiotic (it also cures polio!) When I told Vijay about my conjunctivitis he told me many people had it in Khajuraho, and then I realised that many people had it in Varanasi too! The following morning I saw my neighbour the monk, to whom I hadn't spoken for over a month. When I saw his eyes I burst out laughing. “Hello conjunctivitis friend!” We've been friendly again since then. Thank you conjunctivitis! The landlady and her daughter-in-law have had it as well, so that's four people in the house! My eyes got better quickly, more quickly than most it seems – I am convinced it is the magnesium chloride. On the way to school one morning I tried to look at people in the eyes. But conjunctivitis-affected Indians wear sunglasses, because the superstitious Indian is adamant that you can catch conjunctivitis just by looking at the eyes of affected people. You'll say hello to an Indian friend and he'll turn his head and ask you to wear sunglasses. Of course, Nahoko to whom I showed my yucky swollen eyes a lot, didn't catch conjunctivitis.

Talking of the magical magnesium chloride, I discovered another miraculous little gem lately: honey! I had known for a while that honey had antiseptic properties and helped with healing, but I had never tried it for myself. Recently, in the strange weather of Sweatyland, I've had weird little wounds that wouldn't heal. One on my toe which is history by now, and a mysterious yellow scab underneath my nose that just won't go. (I was rather beautiful a few days ago with that and swollen red eyes!) So I tried applying honey on the affected areas; on my toe I had to cover the wound in a bandage to keep it away from dust – and the honey to keep it away from ants and flies! Well, the honey works.

The last two weeks were odd to say the least. Feeling weird and weak from the cold, conjunctivitis – and the Ayodhya court case! Ayodhya is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to the Ramayana (the “Bible” of India) it is where Lord Rama was born and, after his fourteen-year exile in the jungle, where he lived and reigned. I don't understand much of it, but a court case went on for twenty years to decide whether the area round a Hindu temple in Ayodhya originally belonged to the Hindus or the Muslims. The court case is twenty-years old but the whole issue is 350 years old. The verdict would be published first on 24th September and Hindu-Muslim violence was expected all over India, so people were told to stay home that day. Then the date was postponed to the 28th or the 29th I wasn't sure as different people said different things. So when should we stay in and when could we go out? Everyone was talking about it and I was anxious too. Finally the verdict was to be released on Thursday 30th September at 15:30. I could go to university in the morning but everyone had to stay home after noon, there would be police everywhere. In the end the verdict was published, but it has been a peaceful one. Now that's over and nothing has changed in the streets of Varanasi...

Monday, 23 August 2010

A violin class with real tabla

Today I had a violin class. I love how life here, and my Guruji, never allows me to stay in comfortable realms and challenges me. I feel so scared sometimes with improvisation in rhythm, I want to always just copy him while he plays. This is easy because I don't need the guts to improvise; I know what to play and he's so good at improvisation that all we play is nice and it feels like i am a great violinist. I can play violin well. The challenge is to know what to play. In western music you don't have to worry about what to play; you can read it from a music sheet and play amazing stuff composed by amazing people. It's emotionally easy, because you don't have to open yourself up. I'd happily just play what I'm told to play. Because improvisation feels like someone is pulling the guts out of me; it is so emotional to pour myself out like that, it makes me feel naked. And often I don't like what comes out of me, I judge myself and then I stop. but my teacher kicks my arse and just say "play". "Just play anything but play." That's when I just feel like "Aaaaargh!"

Actually, improvisation is getting better. With time it does flow out more and more, I do hear it. Iin india I'm more in the mood. What is difficult as hell is to improvise and follow the 16 beats at the same time. Improvise while I listen to the rhythm and come back to the right beat. It take a lot of listening to integrate that rhythm; it is very slow. Two years ago I could just feel the general beat, but it was impossible for me which beat I was hearing. It seemed hard like a block of concrete. Today a rhythmic melody is magically shining through; it has become softer and more translucid. For the first time I hear the texture of the beat, different subtleties. But I can hear the beat if I don't play. At soon as I play I focus on playing and I stop paying attention to the beat. Doing both at the same time is massively difficult. But like everything it takes practice and patience and life does the rest for you. One day I will feel the rhythm completely; whatever i play, therewill be a constant rhythmic background in my mind and heart. For now I try hard, although I don't have to try hard. I just have to keep on doing it like a meditation. Still sometimes I close my eyes and concentrate enormously and I do hear the beat more, but the effort hurts my mind more. And that's just a tabla machine; it sounds very artificial and it gives you the beat number too; so that's easy. In real life the tabla player is a real person and s/he can improvise, too!

Today I came to class as usual. We started the warm-up exercises as usual, when three friends of my teachers arrived. The woman was a tabla player. They seemed to catch up after a long time. Guruji suggested she take the tablas out and we play together. Gulp. A hint of anxiety filled me. The unexpected always happens in India, and Guruji knows I would have a tendency to keep with the easy stuff, and he doesn't allow me to me reposer sur mes lauriers. He always kicks me and pushes me to challenge my fears. It hurts inside my tummy, but I know I need that kick to just observe the fear inside me and go beyond. At the same time he offers so much support, always tells me when it's good. And he'll always think it is better than i would allow myself to feel. Today we went through all the steps there are to a piece of indian classcal music. From slow to fast, from beginning to end. It was scary but wow, it was good to feel the real thing a bit more...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Routine resumed in Kashi, and the loud work of God

And so my Varanasi routine has resumed. I had forgotten all about it and how much I loved it. When I am in Europe and before the routine started again, it was not rare that I doubted as to why I am doing the things I do. Of course society pressure is stronger when I am in Europe and around people who live more conventional lucrative lives. The doubts come fill my mind, although thoughts feel more like a vague background rather than overwhelm and destabilise me. I question myself and consider more conventional life options, although the options remain vague and unphrased, perhaps because I do know, deep down, that they have no weight against the obvious reality. This is very “me” I guess: I've always needed to be reassured, and these kind of doubts just assure me that there is no other way than the path I am walking on. The mind comes and judges while the heart knows, and despite the mind's monologue, the heart directs me on this path. The questioning thoughts of the mind have no power to change the route; I listen to them, let them go and carry on my way. But when I am here in beautiful Kashi - City of Light, when I live in my little home again, when I sit in class with my wonderful violin teacher or in BHU starting Hindi again, the doubting mind dissolve and disappears. Here there is no doubt, there is just what there is. And I love my life in Kashi and this reason alone is sufficient.

Hindi classes are starting slowly, but it seems the department is clearly better organised than it was last year. On the first day we were given our timetable and were told not to come the following day so we would not waste our time like we had last year while the teachers had had to organise themselves. On day three I was given my syllabus, on which teacher names were already indicated against the different topics. Last year it had taken at least two weeks for the teachers to know who would teach what. It seems there are more students in the department this year, with ten in the beginners' level. However I will again be alone in my class, which I am very happy about.

Violin classes have started more seriously. I hardly played any violin whilst in Europe, and hardly until last week because I was away and with friends a lot. I had felt so demotivated from not playing Indian violin as much as I thought I should during my long break. It is always a struggle to practise Indian music on my own when I don't have my teacher support for too long. Exercises are easy but boring after a while when they lose their purpose but mostly, improvisation is tricky as I no longer feel in the “Indian mood”, and I get discouraged working with Indian rhythms because it is difficult and progress is slow. But as always, I just need one class with Sukhdev to be motivated again. He told me he wants me to work harder this year, which I apprehend and look forward to at the same time. If I lack self-confidence I also trust my teacher who has faith in me. I know it may not be easy, as I expect this year of Hindi will also be tougher than last year. However, I have started working diligently with the dreaded improvisation/beats once more and found them less daunting this time. As though a few month of rest and digesting what I had learnt has itself helped me towards progress. As always, I need to allow that rest and stop judging myself for not practising; the road is such and it is right as long as I follow it with my heart.

I was very happy with my class today, because Sukhdev finally gave me the rhythm and bowing exercises I desperately needed to improve with beat integration and playing fast. I don't know how many times he had tried to explain how to play fast on “Jor” (that crazy fast rhythmic bowing he does which I love and desperately want to be able to do) and every time I had understood the idea but hadn't had the slightest idea of how I could actually get started. He would play so fast that I wouldn't hear anything, and consequently I would feel completely incapable of even trying to copy him. But today he has given me some slowed-down exercises which have helped me understand, and which will help me build up to faster speed. It clicked today, and I've been practising the exercises with great enthusiasm and diligence indeed! I have started playing more with eyes closed too; it helps with concentration...

As I type, the ashram next door is still playing its horrible, cacophonous kirtans (devotional singing) full blast with loudspeakers on its rooftop. I had never mentioned those neighbours in a post before although I had many times thought I should. Well, there is time for everything. The street I live in is very narrow, as so many Varanasi lanes are. I have no spatial skills but it must not be much more than three meters wide. On the other side of the lane, opposite my room, stands a big yellow ashram in which many renunciants live, from teenage students to old bearded sadhus. All male of course. Last year when I first moved in this house I thought it would be interesting to live next to an ashram. I was even hoping to have decent conversations with some of its occupants. Haha, the joke. From balcony to balcony, I'd watch my neighbours with curiosity or I'd even spend some time speaking to them. It's quite funny to be on each side of a street but still be close enough to have a conversation without even shouting, as though we'd be in the same room. But of course, I am a foreigner, and a female. I've had time to realise that after a while, chatting with those boys or young men isn't exactly pleasant. There's only one baba I like, whose room is closest to, and on the same level as mine. He has a peculiar voice and I hear him even with closed doors (NRLD: windows are never closed, except in winter!) He is the only one who seems to take no interest in the fact that I am a foreign woman; he'll say Namaste naturally and good-heartedly. For the rest, I feel observed as soon as I walk on my balcony, or even inside my room if the balcony door is open when I sit on my rug between my two doors during power-cuts. The yogi-boys are mostly harmless really, but I'd rather avoid them when I can; thus I try to limit my passages on the balcony to brooming and shaking bedsheets over the rail, and I keep my balcony door closed most times for privacy. And with my new magic rechargeable fan, I no longer need to sit between my doors for airing during power-cuts! Horray!

And the kirtan still goes on, full blast and amplified, past half ten at night. Part of me thinks it is the magic of Kashi: its constant religious chants and bells, and its multitude of other vibrant sounds from the daily lives of its countless people living in close proximity. Right now though, the other part of me wants to violently bash the bloody loudspeaker with a stick to destroy it, and to curse all Indians for their lack of neighbour consideration and their poor harmful-decibel-and-other-health-related awareness. This is a slight rhetorical exaggeration of course. On normal days, the renunciants' chants and bells start at 4:30 in the morning and they hardly stop all day. Not amplified thankfully. I hear the constant religious background from my wee room everyday. I don't mind the noise, even though they are far from the best singers in the world. This is the magical ambiance of Kashi. But a few times a year, the ashram holds various religious functions, which usually last a week and are amplified with no less than three loudspeakers for all the neighbouring area to benefit from the work of God. This week the ashram has been running a lecture on the story of Ram from 16:00 to 19:00 every day. It started the day I came back to Varanasi on 14th August, and I am very much looking for its end – last day tomorrow; thank God. It has not been easy to play violin with such a loud background... The talk is over for today; but from what I understand the last three days they are singing kirtans as well after the lecture. Badly sung kirtans accompanied with badly played tablas and harmoniums, made even more cacophonous when over-amplified with loudspeakers. I looked into their hall from the street; I think there were fewer than ten people listening to the talk inside. Magical yet absurd India at the same time, I do love You deep in my heart...

The kirtan is over now; it finished at eleven. All I can hear is the running ceiling fan. Oh wait, the power just went. When the power goes, the sound of the running fan is replaced by street sounds. Right now I hear the faint bark of a dog, some men chatting, and the neighbouring yogis chanting as always. My quiet magical fan runs and I can go to sleep.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Welcome to Sweatyland!

Tonight I had decided to have some rest. I'd make myself a pasta salad, have a shower, and read some Hindi before school starts again or something. I had a busy day, but it was not so much from tiredness that I wanted to rest; it was from sweat. But of course, Life (or some bastard city electricity officer perhaps?) decided otherwise, and today's third power-cut hit. So many thoughts come fill my mind with excessive sweat; it's incredible. More so when I have just had a shower and my skin feels clean (as opposed to yucky) and soft (as opposed to sticky).

At least I have a laptop and its battery is full so I can type this. And my “emergency light” was made in China so when I charge it all night it will only light me for half an hour, but now I've brought this amazing bicycle light from Europe (all Indians can cycle in the dark, but I don't!) and it also works wonders in my room! All I would need is an “emergency fan”; doesn't it sound simple? I don't know why it took me a year to try and get one! The only devices to deal with power-cuts I knew of were either the smelly, noisy, environmentally-very-unfriendly oil-generated generator, and the battery inverter which costs far too much for me. I had considered buying one last year; it could be affordable if I knew it would last long, but it is massive and heavy and unpractical and it was too much for just one little person like me. But today I went to an electrical shop near university and its shopkeeper told me where to find an emergency (i.e. chargeable) fan. Not too far, so off I went on my bicycle. I thought he had indicated a shop, but the more I asked my way and the more I approached the place I realised it was an area of Varanasi. At first it looked like just a street with a few electrical shops with many fans indeed. Every time I asked in a shop I was told to go to the next one. Soon I was directed to another lane off that first street. Oh my God! Fantastic! I think there must have been at least fifty fan shops! Fans everywhere, in all shapes and sizes! Apparently though, only one shop had what I wanted. I went in. A very small electrical shop with not many fans in it, but it kind of looked more “advanced”, or avant-garde or something. At first the shopkeeper showed me a tiny fan; it was an emergency one, but you had to buy a big, unsafe-looking battery with it and I didn't like the idea. Finally the man understood and showed me a brochure with what looked exactly like what I needed. Just like an emergency light that you can charge except it was a fan. Horray! I ordered it.

As I type this the power has still not returned and I bloody hope my anti-sweat treasure will indeed be delivered tomorrow, as promised, because I really dislike sweating especially after a cleaning, cooling, relieving shower!!! Sometimes I think I'd better not shower at all. When you've already been sweaty and sticky and horrible for a while you do forget about your gross condition, because it has become part of you. If you sweat any more there will be no difference anyway! You're gross; who cares!? Everyone else is! You forget what it's like to feel clean. You are constantly wet and smelly. When you rub your skin, small black dirty bits stick to your fingers. Your clothes are always dirty and you wonder where the point is in cleaning them at all, because after ten minutes they'll feel dirty again anyway. But it's alright. When you first came to India and in contact with the constant state of sweat, you resisted, you didn't accept, yuck! But now you live in this environment, it's another reality. It doesn't matter to be wet underneath your clothes. You have let go by now.

And then you decide to have a shower. Of course there is no fan in the bathroom so as soon as you step in your start sweating even more. No problem. It's quite a good thing actually, because your skin needs to be damp so you can rub the black dirty bits off your body. If you don't do this before lathering yourself in soap, after your shower once you dry yourself in your towel (although at this stage you won't know how to differentiate clean water from new sweat, so you should get out of the bathroom as soon as possible!) you'll notice the bits still come off, except they're no longer black. Well, it's still gross and you can shower again. So, once the primary rubbing has been performed you can have your shower. Feel the cool water splashing onto your hot body with great relief. Note that it's best to shower morning or evening, because the water tank is kept on the rooftop, so in daytime the water comes out hot! Noooo!!! Wow, a cold shower. On your body and then on your head. Yum. I'm clean, wow it feels so good! Shower over. Step out of the bathroom wrapped in your towel as quickly as possible and off to your room. Below the cooling and drying fan, wow... I am clean. Nice. And then...

The power cuts! Noooo!!!!!! Grab your manual fan, quick, and shake it as fast as possible in order to avoid the return of the evil sweat! “I will not be sweaty and sticky, I will not be sweaty and sticky, I will not, I refuse!” Oh yes it's lovely to have a shower. But that's when you're reminded that you are not allowed to rebel! Don't even try. You will sweat for another month at least! You had decided to enjoy say, one hour sweat-free. Don't even think about it! And this is not even the worst season. Mid-April to early July are hell; many Indians flee to the mountains and non-Indians back to their countries. If not they'll live by their roaring air-coolers, and curse the power-cuts unless they have an inverter. July was OK actually, to my surprise. With the rain came the coolness and the wind. If the power cut, last month, I could sit on my rug between the two open doors in my room and enjoy the breeze. This month though, the air has been sticky. The sky has been grey a lot so there is no dazzling sun, and it has rained, but there is no wind at all. The rain is cooling but when it stops the atmosphere is very humid, sticky and heavy again. Health-wise I am alright I must say. I find this easier to cope with than the blinding, piercing sun. It is just unpleasant really, that sticky sweat! When I'm dirty anyway, or if I showered long enough ago to have forgotten about its refreshing bliss, I forget about my gross self; I bathe in it; I've accepted it...

Some accessories make excess sweat more bearable though. Most important of all, I can no longer leave the home without my 30 cm-square sponge towel. After a few hours it's is damp with all the sweat I have wiped off my face and neck and arms, but it creates less irritation than wiping yourself with your hands all the time! The other important thing is talc powder. Most Indians apply it daily on their faces after washing and creaming. To be honest I don't see the point in applying cream or oil on my face; my skin is moistured at all times, and when I apply my cream in reality I apply a mixture of cream and sweat. At first I didn't get the point of applying talc powder either. It's nice for about one second, then my face is damp from sweat all over again. Well, it does help to prevent spots actually. Because yes, spots, that's another nice part of the story. Sweat is acne and blackhead paradise! Yuck! Two years ago I got really two disgusting spots and I had the stupid idea to fiddle with them. Remember? I had to go to the hospital in Aurangabad four days before my return to Europe because half of my face had swollen so much that I looked like a semi-hamster. I have learnt my lesson. I no longer fiddle with my spots. Well, almost. I have learnt which ones I can fiddle with (the small, pain-free ones with “white cream” – and the blackheads) and the ones I should never ever touch (the bigger, red and painful ones with – or without – nasty “yellow cream”). I'm not doing too bad with spots now though. I think as my body adapts with heat – dehydrates less quickly etc., so does my skin. Blackheads flourish around my nose and chin more than in Europe but it's invisible if you don't look closely, and talc powder helps. It helps with rashes too. I used to get rashes between my chin and my neck, which was very itchy and uncomfortable; now I prevent it with the powder. What is more notable with me (and this may sound too intimate but I think it's human and interesting!) is the areas between my thighs that meet and rub as I walk, you know, around the crotch. This provokes painful irritations in constant sweat. I'd find long skirts particularly comfortable in high temperatures (remember ladies, it's a bad idea to show your legs in India) if my thighs were thinner! For two years I kept skirts for the house or when the weather cooled down. I need cloth between my tights, i.e. trousers, so they won't rub against each other. Now however, Vijay has given me his old “house shorts” which he no longer wears. Hurray! With small shorts underneath I can wear skirts again; they are so nice because you know – trousers get sticky when even your legs sweat! Actually, I always wondered how Indians can all wear jeans in 45+ degrees, but it seems their legs don't sweat (dixit Vijay). I think my body will need some more adapting before my legs stop sweating...! But hey, talc powder does work wonders with my crotch too. Other funny, mysterious things happen in Sweatyland. When I was in Khajuraho last week, something really strange happened. My right inner wrist felt itchy and I noticed some tiny hairs around it. No idea where they had come from! They were quite stuck to my skin too. I asked Vijay to look at my wrist; he said the hairs look like goat hairs!!! Now farmers do pass with their goat flocks everyday in front of the Khajuraho house, but I won't even try to understand where on earth these hairs appeared from! Since then I've had some small, red, itchy spots, which I sparkle with talc powder...

In Sweatyland I find it quite a task to look after my own appearance. Well I do to some extent, and as I get more and more familiar with this oh-so-different environment, so do I slowly adapt on the fashion front. But I won't wear a watch or bracelets or rings for they provoke more rashes. My silver OM pendent gets black from sweat after two days, and I have learnt to clean it with Colgate powder! Make-up is long forgotten obviously. And I don't like wearing clothes too nice because I know they'll be dirty all the time. I bought a new Indian silvar kurta suit in Khajuraho but I've not worn it yet! (NDLR: I have now and it's really nice and comfy!) Finally, my hair is mostly wet and messy all the time because as soon as I wash it I have to tie it since the touch of hair on my neck is too hot and sticky and unbearable. So it's damp a lot of the time, and around my face the hair is wet from sweat. Indian women oil their hair. Mustard oil, coconut oil, avla oil, ayurvedic mixed oil, yum... I too like to oil my hair sometimes actually, and I know it's good for it, but I'll only do it in Sweatyland because when temperatures cool down I'm too excited about keeping my hair loose and the greasy look doesn't exactly go with loose hair! So, during sweaty times my hair is messy, tied up, wet and greasy. But this too is a good thing! Because with anti-sweat fans running most of the time (when there is power!), the shorter hair on top of my head flies around and in my face, which is really tickling! So sticky hair is good in Sweatyland. And if it looks too bad, I wrap it up in a scarf. One last interesting point about hair: in Sweatyland I lose my hair a lot, and so do all the panicked Europeans I have talked to. I don't know the reason. However, with so much humidity, hair (and nails – which in Sweatyland by the way, I must keep short at all time otherwise they're black with dirt!) grows really fast. In my goth days I used to cut some shorter streaks on each sides of my face for style. Today the streaks have grown naturally, because new hair grows all the time.

To finish off, because the power has long returned, the fan is running, the sweat has dried and it's time for me to go to bed, I shall quickly mention how some daily activities are affected by excessive sweat. Brooming the room is a difficult task because the fan has to be switched off so the dust won't fly off as you swipe it. You'd better broom your room before shower, because you'll be yucky again by the end of it. The following chore (but I only do this one once a week!) is to wipe the floor with a wet cloth. This is nicer because I switch on the fan again so the water (and my sweaty body) dries more quickly! Laundry is another cursed chore in Sweatyland. Obviously laundry here means hard work of bashing and brushing - and sweating - especially as it is done in the bathroom which has no fan and in which, as I said earlier, you sweat even more. You must do your laundry before shower! And during hot season you must unfortunately do it often too... Another thing you should try and do before shower is... poo! That also can be hard work without a fan... however the timing of this activity, unfortunately, is a lot more difficult to plan than laundry. Cooking can also involve sweat, because you need to switch off the fan before you turn the gas on. Otherwise the flames will be diverted and won't heat up your food efficiently (waste of time, money and gas = bad!) Finally, I love to cycle because the speed implies cooling hair. It is definitely a lot easier to cycle than to walk in Sweatyland (Indian traffic unconsidered!)

And then I've written such a fun and interesting and anthropologic post about sweating that I'm actually grateful for the power-cut! Tonight I had decided to run away from the sweat. Instead, India changed my plans as it always does, and I wrote on daily life in Sweatyland! Good night. :)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Karwi 2 - Living in an old traditional Hindu house, baby monkey and auspicious mountain

Gulli, her husband and two young children, Vijay, Rita, Mummy and I all stayed in this room. Every night we laid down the thin mattresses on the floor by the noisy air-coolers for everyone to sleep. Well, there wasn't room for everyone so the couple slept in the dark, narrow corridor before the entrance of the room, aired with a fan. Sometimes, during the day doing nothing the thoughts filled me: I have come a long way to find these (temporary) conditions normal. I slept comfortably on that floor (provided I had smeared myself with anti-mosquito cream, for there was no mosquito net there). Three years ago I would have been shocked but today I am comfortable, although I would indeed have somewhat higher standards for my own home! The days passed. I practised my understanding of the Bundelkhandi dialect while the family argued about whether or not to see a better doctor in Allahabad, or about various spicy family gossips. I kept myself as busy as I could, playing with the children – though reluctantly with Chotu I must admit, because he wears no nappies (though this is a great thing for the Indian environment!) and pees all the time. We constantly had to try and focus his attention away from the kitchen corner, as at one year old he grabs everything up to his mouth. I would sing, or play the plastic tube we'd call a flute. Or we would give him that cheap, pink plastic mobile phone with the unbearable Bollywood tune, which his brother would play over and over again. And Vijay would sit Chotu on the plastic chair and push him around the room as tough it was a car. Days were filled with noise: the fan, both roaring air-coolers, the horrible plastic phone and the unbearable television, the chair-car's legs pulled around the floor, the children crying or shouting, and the family arguing. If power-cuts are unbearable for the excessive sweat, they are bliss – as when fan, air-cooler and TV stop so does the loud, maddening noise, and silence fills the room and one can hear the forgotten birds outside sing again. When I needed a rest from the decibels and a moment to myself, or if I was just too bored of doing nothing, I would hide myself in the book I was too happy I had remembered bringing. Sometimes I thought I should write a journal, but I had no paper, I didn't want to raise the family's curiosity, and my mood was too idle to let me write anything anyway.

Three of the in-law's cousin children kept coming to see me, giggling with excitement or screaming with fear I wasn't sure, as soon as I would turn my eyes to them. After some time I had enough and ignored them, but one afternoon they invited me to their doll house room to show me a ten-day old monkey! His mother had died, therefore the rest of the monkey clan was going to kill him, so the in-laws had rescued him and were keeping him in their room. He was so cute, so tiny! He was scared and screamed some very high-pitched “Hee! Hee!” I didn't want to take him but I touched his tiny hands and head. Almost bald, it felt like a tiny human. But the following day, I was about to go on my daily rooftop expedition, water bucket in hand, when the in-laws stopped me. They all had gathered on the core floor before the steps; “Don't go!”, Bari Mummy said, “there are at least twenty angry monkeys on the roof! Big ones too.” They had come to retrieve their baby in order to kill him. The in-laws had placed the tiny monkey under a big basket covered with blankets and had locked him in their room to conceal his screams. Now they were waiting until the clan of angry monkeys would leave.

On the last day Mummy, Gulli and he five-year old boy, Rita, Bua (Aunty), Vijay and I went to Chitrakut for an afternoon out. We walked along the ghat on which Vijay and I had been staying two weeks ago with Niko. We even met our boatman again; it was lovely. It made me think of Niko and how much freer we had been then. If I love the experience of staying in a traditional Indian family it is for its “heart-softening” aspect. It is not always easy to say the least, especially the lack of freedom and privacy – but I accept go through it, obviously, because despite everything and above all, I deeply love this family. But that afternoon was just lovely. The family does know and appreciate that coming from a western background, living in “hardcore” traditional conditions can be tough for me, and I know they had organised the outing for me just as well as for them, so I can get out of the house and the boredom it can imply. I am grateful indeed! First of all Mummy went to bathe in the river. The ladies kept teasing me, asking whether I would do too. As I approached the water to dip my feet into it, Mummy like a child splashed me with water as she laughed, in a way that reminded me that I had a genuine place in the family. I only understood what our main purpose was when we set off to take a tour of the famous, auspicious mountain. I had heard of this mountain a few time before but not asked for further clarification – as often is the case in India, it is pointless to ask for explanation; you wouldn't understand if one explained anyway. You just have to see when you get there. Reality speaks better than words, and it never, ever, matches your imagination. Especially in India! It is Hindu custom to take a round of this auspicious mountain. What it entails, I didn't know, but I was going to find out. I was worried about walking barefoot on some rough, seven-kilometre path around a mountain, but Vijay reassured me: the path was paved all along, and bordered with temples and shops. Pfew, OK then. And off we went. There were groups of old sadhus sitting along the path, many temples which we entered one by one for prayer (the family) and darshan and to get our forehead smeared with colourful tikas. When the rain started we hid under a shelter for a chai. It seemed an easy pilgrimage road to me, but we saw some men crawling along the path turning around a coconut at each step (or crawl!) make it a harsh austerity!!! I wonder how many hours it took them to crawl the whole seven kilometers in this way!? I had not seen so many monkeys ever before. Monkeys everywhere! Monkeys playing, monkeys eating, monkeys running around, monkeys jumping, monkeys sitting doing nothing, monkeys breastfeeding, monkeys having sex!

We walked some more; the ladies stopped for too long at each saree or bangle or prayer accessory shop. I walked on with Vijay. Towards the end of the promenade we sat under a shelter by a (dried up) pool to wait for the ladies we had long lost on our way. A young sadhu was sleeping on a bench; he fascinated me. He couldn't have been more than twenty. He must have had polio: on of his feet was atrophied and his leg was stick-thin me no muscles. He had laid his wooden crunches under the bench. His dirty dreadlocks were wrapped in a rag of cloth, and all he was wearing was an orange piece of cloth around his waist and another one round his torso. I wanted to take a picture of him sleeping but I was too shy and I took too long. Soon he woke up and looked at me with a soft smile, and joined his hands to me in namaste. I loved him straight away. He accepted that I take his photo, but unlike most sadhus he didn't ask for the ten rupees. He just smiled humbly; he wanted nothing. He smoked a biddi and placed the packet and the matchbox in a folded corner of his cloth. After a moment he offered me a new namaste, placed his alms bowl upside down on his head as though it was a hat and left. Vijay and I started walking again and when we reached the end of the round we went to sit on the steps of a shop to wait for the ladies again. We had walked three hours. The same night we left back to Khajuraho.

Young Sadhu

Karwi 1 - an old traditional Hindu house and the toileting expedition!

After a week in Varanasi, on 31st July I left to Karwi. I had bought some biscuits and bananas for the train journey. When I arrived at the station I realised quickly that tying the plastic bag full of bananas to my rucksack had not been such a good idea: a monkey had climbed from the rail track onto the platform and was walking in my direction! I quickly turned and walked away from him to untie the plastic bag and hide it. Alas my nails were too short and of course, I should just have quickly torn the plastic. In no time the monkey jumped on my rucksack, broke the plastic bag in his flight and landed on to the other side with his stolen feast. I screamed, more out of surprise than out of fear, because half a second later the thief was already eating my bananas with great pride. I stared at him mouth open for a short while, then looked around me. All the waiting travellers had been looking at the scene with great amusement and, indeed, they were still laughing. A little embarrassed I smiled, walked to the nearest fruit stall to buy new bananas and quickly hid the new plastic bag inside my rucksack.

I had booked a train to Khajuraho but I stopped halfway in Karwi, where Vijay, his third sister Rita and his mother had already been for a few days in order to consult a specialist for some of Rita's recurring health problems. They were staying with Vijay's second sister Gulli who lives in her husband's family house. I was pleasantly surprised; Rita was clearly a lot better than she had been a week before. I stayed with them four days during which we visited various doctors for further checks and treatment. This didn't take much time of our days,and the rest of the time we just all stayed in that big, old, dilapidated home of a room in which Vijay's sister lives.

The household here probably represents Hindu's ancient family tradition in the most authentic way that I have come to see. The house is situated in an old picturesque narrow lane off the main road. It is over a hundred years old and resembles a huge labyrinth of interlinked flats all opened to one another. “Flat” is the only word I can think of and may not be the most appropriate to describe sections of the house consisting of just one or two rooms, mostly small, in which each couple of the family lives. Indian women, once married, have to leave their biological families to go live with their husbands' families. Thus, patriarchal families composed mostly of men may become very extended under one roof. In Vijay's house, the paternal grandparents have died, and of their three sons only one (Vijay's father's younger brother) is still alive. Even then, when Vijay's father was alive he left his own father's home to live only with his wife and children. Thus Vijay doesn not live with any of his paternal uncles, and his household consists just of mother and unmarried siblings. In the Karwi house, however, the whole paternal structure has remained: Gulli's father-in-law still lives with his brother, both of whom live with their own wives, their married sons their wives and children, and their unmarried children. Thus Gulli's husband lives not only with his own nuclear family, but also those of his uncle, brothers and “cousin brothers”. Although they live independently in their own little flats or room, all couple live within the same enormous house, door open constantly so they can visit one another at any time.

The property reminds me of an huge, interlinked doll house, organised around a main open area, the rooms around which are occupied by both eldest males occupy with their wives. All rooms, of course, are very traditional with thick painted walls made of bricks and with thick, inbuilt shelves. They are simply furnished, perhaps with a hard wooden bed that serves as sofa or table during the day, a big truck for storage covered with a decorative cloth, some rugs and frames, a television kept on a small table. Often there is no cupboard for clothes; instead they are kept hanging off a thick laundry-type rope, and kitchen hobs and utensils racks have their place on the floor in a corner of the room. On the walls, the stains that have come with age add to the décor's beauty.

The core of the house consists of a main room in which Gulli's father-in-law lives and which could be considered as the primary, welcoming room. Next door is the main kitchen (although separate couples cook in a corner or small room of their own flats) and opposite is the common bathroom, which really is just another dilapidated room full of many big water buckets and pots for bucket-shower. In this bathroom there is no toilet. One can pee in a corner of the room on the floor that is slightly tilted, so the pee is directed down and underneath an outside door, into an abandoned room. If you must poo you'll have to go on a small adventure upstairs! For this you must put on the untouchable flip-flops dedicated for the operation (which are kept in the bathroom), take a small bucket of water with you upstairs and head off to the rooftop where the two toilet cabins are located. But beware of the monkeys! There can be many of them, an entire family, so you may need to scare them away with a big stick (or ask a braver man to do this for you). Once the path is free, before you enter the meter-square toilet you must pour the water of your first bucket into a second bucket that never leaves the cabin, for Hindus do not mix untouchable and touchable buckets. After you've done your business and washed your behind with the water from the untouchable bucket using your left hand, you step out of the room and take the touchable bucket (which you had left outside in front of the toilet door) with your right hand. Off downstairs and back to the bathroom to wash your hands, remove the untouchable flip-flops, and wash (rince) your feet with water.



The core of the house is still in a reasonable state, but some peripheral rooms have fallen into rubbles. One room on the rooftop has been abandoned because it could break down at any time. To access Gulli's flat you need to walk along a half open, half dark corridor towards one end of the house. On your way if you can look down onto the ruins of what used to be another room long ago, but which has now become an kind of garden filled with red bricks. Gulli's home consists of two ugly old rooms and two small back rooms that are only used for storage,as they have no outside windows and are therefore very dark. I had come to this house about four times but had never noticed those rooms as there doors had always been closed. They have a real toilet room at least though, thanks to which I have been allowed to avoid the toileting expedition describe above. Although, I have not always been allowed to poo there in times of power-cut when there was too little water in the buckets (the water is supplied using an electrical device which pumps water from underground below the house) because they are too close to the habitable area! Back to the only habitable room, it is very old, with cracks in the ceiling and on top of the walls, and layers of dusts and cobwebs in unattainable places and corners, too old and shabby to bear the effort of renovation. At one end of this big room, there's a bed in one corner and a cosmetic area in the other. At the other end, a kitchen corner (i.e. a small shelf and two hobs and a gas bottle on the floor) on the left, and the TV on the right. A big rope hangs across the room on which the daily clothes are kept.

Friday, 30 July 2010

An interesting extract about the Ganges

"The Purification of the Living

According to Hindus, the waters of the Ganges are pure and cleansing waters. Indian skeptics and Westerner visitors alike have been astounded by this claim. Surveying the riverat Banaras, brown and muddy in the rainy season and the receptacke of the pollution of the city, the ashes of the dead, and the diseases of its million bathers, they see a very dirty river indeed.
At question here, of course, is not really the purity of the Ganges, but the cultural understanding of what it means for something to be pure or impure, clean or dirty. In Purity and Danger, the British anthropologist Mary Douglas has exposed the many ways in which these terms are cultural constructs. "Dirt" is disorder, "matter out of place," and what is considered out of place depends upon one's notion of order. The bacterial understanding of "purity" which is part of the scientific view of order, may contrast markedly with social and religious understandings of "purity", even in the modern cultures of the West. Quite apart from the issue of whether the Ganges is bacterially pure (and there are countless studies supporting both sides on this matter!) is the issue of its ritual purity and its symbolic purity. Hindus have affirmed for centuries that there is nothing quite as cleansing as the living waters of the River of Heaven. (...)
Running water especially is an agent of purification, for it both absorbs pollution and carries it away. The traditional etymology of the word "Ganga" is from the root gam, "to go". The Ganges is the "Swift-Goer", and her hymns constantly emphasize the running, flowing, energetic movement of her waters, which are living waters. So great is the power of the Ganges to destroy sins that, it is said, even a droplet of Ganges water carried one's way by the breeze will erase the sins of many lifetimes in an instant."


~ Diana L. Eck, in Banaras, City of Light" (1983, Penguin Books), pp. 216-217

Waiting for the studious routine to resume...

I can't remember where I left it off. I think we had arrived in Khajuraho; this was on 17th I think. We we were home again, Niko, Vijay and I. We waited a couple of days until our Swiss friends, Tamae, Pierrot and the small Eleo, arrived. We went to pick them up early morning at the train station. Niko and I hadn't seen them for two and a half years, and of course Vijay was meeting them for the first time. It was fun to meet in Khajuraho. With us they could avoid the overwhelming tourist-catchers and Khajuraho-boys. We directed them to the hotel nearest to Vijay's house, and once their bags were dropped we went for some breakfast. The usual, delightful spinach omelette on toast for me, with a compulsory chai of course. Eleo is a small boy now; he was only 6 months last time we had seen them. He was exhausted by the train journey (hardly had slept) but he was very funny and in a good mood. And so we spent a few wonderful days with our Swiss friends. It's rare and a special treat to have some European friends share my Indian life, even though we had met Tamae in India five years ago. They shared a glimpse of our Indian family life. Vijay's second sister was here too, with her 1 and 5-year old boys, so I was happy for Eleo. In the end he didn't spend as much time with them as with 9-year old Aman who became his good friend. These two kept playing together, and Aman was always asking for Eleo to come back. Eleo, with his musician-parents, already has a remarkable ear and taste for music. Especially drums and percussion, but also singing. He kept playing rock shows for all the family's amazement and laughter. The Indian family had never seen anything quite like that little boy, and me neither! He had a real audience.

Whilst in Khajuraho we spent much time in the fruit stall, drinking fresh juice and delicious mango shake, whilst Tamae took the place of the fruit-wallah and served very surprised local customers indeed. We visited the Western temple, which I had never seen because when Niko and I had planned to do so five years ago, I had instead been lying in bed, ill. So, finally after five years and over some eight months spent in Khajuraho at least, I visited the most famous and impressive group of Kama Sutra temples. We went to Pipal Ghat, some 45 kilometres away from Khajuraho, and bathed (not fully clothed this time, since we were the only visitors!) in the flowing river before the dark clouds covered the sky and the rain started to pour. And during his stay in Khajuraho, Eleo was the main attraction for the locals! He adapted really well to the Indian environment, a kid of gold, and played a lot with all curious local children. Oh, and of course we celebrated both Vijay and Tamae's birthdays, twice, in the family. The Swiss couple especially enjoyed the Indian birthday tradition, which consist for the birthday boy or girl in putting a piece of cake in all the guests' mouths. I must say I have to agree; it's a fun and very loving tradition!

Too soon it was time for everyone to leave though. On 23th afternoon Niko was taking a train to Delhi then a plane down to Bangalore, for his last three weeks of solo travelling in South India. And that same night the Swiss family and I were leaving to Varanasi. I had to pick up my passport and visa extension at the FRO, and complete the registration process at university – all done now. And the Swiss moved on further in their travels. So we took the train all together – finally the direct train from Khajuraho to Varanasi is in place now, so I can avoid bus journeys and a stop in Satna in the future. For their son the couple had to travel in AC class, so of course I joined them, and I must say I am so used to travelling in sleeper class, that travelling in AC was great luxury! A very quiet train (perhaps because it is a new one also) only filled with foreigners, no sweat, bed sheets and a pillow provided etc. I slept like in my own bed, and I arrived in Varanasi fresh and rested. It was lovely spending a few days with them in my place. Lovely to have them visit my little homely room, and to show them around. Of course Eleo had to try on my violin, which he played like a guitar, like his ukulele. I accompanied them in all the things they wanted to do; buying some Varanasi silk (very interesting for me to observe the bargaining process whilst not involved in shopping!), going to an music instrument shop, visiting an orphanage in view of their future volunteering project, etc. We even managed to get an Indian classical concert (tabla, sitar and Kathak dance) organised just for us, which Eleo listened to and watched with impressive concentration for a three-year old!

The Swiss left yesterday. I am alone in my home again now. I had a very quiet day for the first time after a long time. I played some violin, I watched a newly acquired Hindi film, Monsoon Wedding, and I am writing this. Perhaps I watched a film entitled “Moonsoon something” because again, I am craving for the rain. We had some all-night rain a few days go, and most of the last few days I almost forgot about sweating, because with the rain brings temperature drops by about 10 degrees. Powercuts were not a problem either, a dream. But now again since yesterday, life is back to reality in Varanasi: heat and powercuts. It's OK though, I enjoy a good draft when I open both my doors and if I sit on the floor in the way of the wind. I do have a great room.

I have a new neighbour since yesterday; a Buddhist monk from Thailand named “P”. He will be staying in the next-door room until the winter. He speaks very quietly and I find him difficult to understand at times, but he is very kind and gentle – obviously I guess. He is 30, and he's been a monk since he was 15. He is doing a PhD in Indian Philosophy and Religion (IPR) in BHU. And I have another neighbour for just three days – that's Fernando, the Colombian guy I electronically met a few months ago via a Varanasi group because he needed help to apply for a Masters, also in IPR in BHU but couldn't get in touch with the university. I had been to his department and acquired all the information for him. He was so grateful he brought me some quinoa from Colombia, which I've been excited about ever since he told me he'd bring me some. The quinoa is now on my kitchenette shelf waiting to be enjoyed in the near future. He is a lovely neighbour obviously, although he will not stay very long. We visited BHU together yesterday and he met another friend (and P!) who studies on the same course for information.

And so, I am all settled again in my home in Varanasi. I have another year's visa and I am all registered at BHU; Hindi classes will start mid August. Sukhdev, my violin teacher is coming back from Europe on 11 August, so now I have time until them to visit Vijay and the family again. I am leaving tomorrow.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Back in india, happy, and craving for the rain

Already more than ten days since our arrival in India. It is so hot, and for the first two days in Delhi I was literally obsessed with the rain. Vijay came to pick us up in the airport, thankfully. Every time I arrive in India after a couple months of break I still need a little time for adaptation, so this familiarity helps. I think it took me two days to be fully comfortable again. Still I am craving for the rain and pretty alarmed about global warming. It seems more present here because India is more affected. According to Vijay, it used to rain constantly for three months during monsoon. It hasn't done so since 2005. When it's so hot I can't help but think about it a lot. Still, when we were in Varanasi it wasn't so bad. It did rain everyday for five days of the week that we were there, to our relief. When it rains it's soothing and refreshing. I was fearing the powercuts and having to sleep in a bath of sweat, but it hasn't been so bad. Powercut-wise and heat-wise.

As soon as we reached Varanasi I had to go to the BHU and the FRO (Foreigners Registration Office) to deal with university registration and student visa extension. I wanted to deal with it as soon as possible so Niko wouldn't have to stay with us here for too long, as he wanted to visit other places as well before we reach Khajuraho. Bureaucratic work caused three or four days of shear exhaustion, a good deal of frustration, some tears of course, going back and forth between one office and the photocopier and the next office and the next administrator, and BHU at one end of town, and the FRO at another, and the bank for the visa fees further still. "Sorry counter closed" and another hour of rickshaw and wasted Rs300, and more frustration. And we don't need these papers but a whole lot of different ones, and back with more papers and more photocopying to do and more frustration with Indian bureaucracy, and why the hell do I live in India!? But with Vijay it was done quite a lot more quickly than last year, and thank to the rain the heat didn't add for more exhaustion. Now I just have to wait a week to ten days for my visa extension but I was allowed to leave Varanasi so I can travel a little before I go back and collect my passport back.

While in Varanasi we visited Sarnath, about 15-20 km from Benares, which is the place where the Buddha gave his very first teaching. I had been there previously but badly guided so I felt this was the first time I was there. It was a lot lovelier than the first time, especially some Buddhist temples a little further away from the main touristic site.

After Varanasi we headed to Khajuraho but stopped half-way to spend two days in a lovely town at the border of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Chittrakut. It is mostly unknown to tourists, although we did meet three French people in our hotel - but really they were the only ones. Local people are clearly less used to meeting foreigners there, and that was noticeable in their behaviour. Our presence raised authentic curiosity as opposed to the usual interested ("madame, rupees?") one. The general atmosphere was quite particular (in a very pleasant way). Chitrakut is a "mini Varanasi" for Indian people. There's the river, which is not Ganga but still revered as such. The ghats (steps), the temples along the river, the boatmen - with boats a lot more equipped and comfortable than in Varanasi. It is also a lot cleaner. There was only two hotels for foreigners. No others would have let us in because they don't have the required form which foreigners always have to fill in. Ours was located on above the banks of the river, and we enjoyed the view for a great deal of our time there. The hotel was lovely but clearly not well-looked after. It felt very "local", and there were long powercuts in the evening which meant we had to sit outside on the terrace/rooftop for hours because we could go back to our room to sleep, because the heat was unbearable without a fan or an air-cooler. It was pleasant to sit outside, and it rained a bit while we were there so it was OK. Most of the time, if not to say constantly, a ceremony/chant was going on very loudly in a temple on the other side of the river. It was so loud that it could have been coming from our hotel. "Sita Ram, Sita Ram, Sita Ram..." accompanied by cacophonous tabla and amplified with loudspeakers, and on and on for hours and hours, which probably added a lot to the whole atmosphere. In this local town, there were only two restaurants, both of which only served the traditional thali (tray with traditional rice/chapati, vegetable and lentil dishes, sweet dessert) but they were lovely and a lot better than any food I've had in Delhi (Paharganj). There was no ATM in Chitrakut, only one in another town 10 km away, but thankfully we had enough money until Khajuraho.

On our first day in Chitrakut we took one of those boats along the river. There wasn't enough water in our hotel for Vijay and Niko to have a shower so we decided they would go and bathe in the river. It was far too much for me! I washed them bathing in the cooling water with so much envy that I ended up in the water myself, fully clothed. We attracted a lot of attention and amusement! People took our photos, but of course not as many as Niko took of them! I left the water before my friends because I had to let my clothes dry, since I had none to change into. That was fun. Niko played in the water with many excited children while I took pictures. Then after more chai and more photos we went back to our local hotel with our kind boatman, a lovely guy who, after the death of his elder brother, married his brother's wife in order to secure her and her children's future. He ended up staying with us a lot and helping us with guidance. We also visited various interesting sites, including an interesting museum depicting the story of Rama and Sita (Ramayan) and a temple in a cave. Our rickshaw driver also took us to a very small local village a few kilometers away, at the end of which laid a contrastingly enormous ashram, which was as hideous and pompous as it was impressive (I don't even know where to start to describe it, there were the four enormous greeting horse statues on both side of the gate, ncountable kitchy statues depicting various mythological stories, some stern sages with decorated fluffy tigers etc etc.). On the second day we visited the Hanuman temple which lies on a mountain, and that wasn't perhaps a good idea because we had to climb about 700 steps at lunch time, under excruciating heat. I don't think I had sweated as much in my life before, but we had shaded places to rest and enough water to drink so we did OK. For the last few hours of our time there and before catching our night train to Khajuraho we went to visit some of Vijay's relatives, who live nearby, for some food and rest.

We arrived in Khajuraho yesterday morning. We haven't had any rain for a few days so again the heat is upon us. We are happy to be in the family yet again. We're at home here, really. Tomorrow our "Indian" friend from Switzerland is coming with partner and their three-year old boy, and we're waiting for them impatiently. We met her five years ago in Dharamsala, we haven't seen her in India since that time, and we haven't seen them all for well over two years; it should be a happy reunion...