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.
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.