A note on my three blogs

A note on my blogs

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

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

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


Friday, 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 river at Banaras, brown and muddy in the rainy season and the receptacle 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...

Thursday, 1 July 2010

India is calling yet again ♥

It's been almost two weeks since I finished the CELTA (TEFL) course, and I am now a qualified English teacher! Time is such an odd "thing". It was so intense, I couldn't wait for it to finish, and still it was over so quickly. The first week was the most anxious for most of us trainees, because it meant we were going to teach for the very first time, so the first week did seem to go on for too long. But once the first week was over, the following three went in a flash. During the week, we were diving, at the weekend we were allowed to breathe. But weekends were busy too and I had to juggle between assignments and meeting friends. I couldn't wait for it to be over, but at the same time I didn't want it to be over because I was enjoying Edinburgh and once it would be over, I would get back to France. So I enjoyed the moment. And besides the anxiety to teach -which turned into some kind of enjoyment yet filled with apprehension - the course was very interesting and enjoyable indeed. It was so intense that we made all the trainees our friends very quickly. And the trainees were our most important friends for the duration of the course because they were almost all the friends I saw. We were with one another all the time, and all our thoughts were turned to the course and the teaching. I'd go to sleep thinking of my next lesson, and I'd wake up thinking of my next lesson still. But I liked it. And apparently, I was good at it. My most personal lessons were my favourites and best.

And now I've been back in France for ten days. I enjoyed Charlotte Gainsbourg somewhat, yet her concert disappointed me. I've been downloading and watching lots of good (especially Hindi!) films. I'm playing quite a lot of Rummikub with the little sister, and seeing those members of my family I still have to see. I had a lovely weekend in Bruxelles with the twin sister, who finally met Niko after 11 years! I'd been talking about my best friend Niko for 11 years, still no-one in my family had met him. Now finally it has happened - it was funny to see my sister in his flat. Funny and good!

Elise brought back my cheap violin with her, and so I finally decided to re-string it and to tune it back to a western violin. That means my beautiful violin shall be Indian, and my cheap violin shall become occidental, for I have finally made the (scary but exciting) decision to bring my beautiful violin to India! So now I can finally play both Indian and occidental when I'm in France. It was too lovely to play with Lou again in Edinburgh (albeit for just 10 minutes!) and I just cannot resist. I love both styles! I've been digging out the old music sheets and practising old exercises and pieces again. It feels kind of lonely and pathetic to play duets alone, so I recorded myself playing one part and then I play the other part over the recorded bit. It is better than playing alone! I'm together alone! I can still play western violin, hurray, and some of my difficult exercises. It is SO hard to motivate myself to play Indian violin when in Europe, unfortunately. I think it bothers most people I stay with, except at my father's home, and I am clearly not in the mood here. India and the West are such different worlds that they have made me feel somewhat schizophrenic. There are things of my Indian life I cannot transpose or imagine into my European life. And European experiences that do not exist in Indian life at all. While it lasts then (i.e. just a few more days) I shall enjoy my occidental violin. Soon I'll be playing only Indian for a good six months!

For in five days I am flying back to India yet again. With Niko again! And quite happily so. I went to a lovely, sunny, wonderful, full-of-lovely-people party at the end of my Scottish time. I was having such a good time, thinking how sad I'd be to be leaving Edinburgh again so soon. And then towards the end of the night, an Indian guy turned up, and we got chatting until I had to go, about Indian music and culture and, of course, it got me all excited again to be returning to my India so soon. And to Vijay of course, who will be picking us up at the airport. Then we'll go straight to Varanasi, where I shall find my wee room again, and I'll renew my student visa for another year. I'll be travelling and spending time with some dear friends for two weeks to a month, until I return to Benares to start studying Hindi and violin again mid August...