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.


Saturday, 24 November 2012

Meeting with a saint

I think at least 95% of sadhus (wandering ascetics who have renounced to worldly life to work towards liberation) are “fake” in India. They may look impressive, especially to the western eye, in the cloths wrapped round their bodies and with their long hair or dreadlocks and beards. Some of them are even completely smeared with ashes. But many of them are just beggars, ordinary men in disguise, manipulators, or philosophers. By philosophers I mean those ones who try to seduce the naïve mind, often westerners, by exposing how much they know about Hindu and yogic philosophy to get something out of them, but who don't necessarily lead the life they preach. When I first came to India, like most western newcomers, I was very impressed by sadhus. I had read stories about great yogis and was very intrigued by enlightened or powerful ascetics, and sadhus looked exotic, as though they had come from another century or from another world altogether. In the very beginning they made me feel like I was an adventurer in an Indiana Jones movie...

Today I think perhaps a good way to tell whether a baba (sadhu) is “real” or not is to look at the people he is surrounded with. If he hangs around with foreigners, I just won't trust him; foreigners know little to nothing about their philosophy, so of course they can easily impress them. Most Indians just don't care about “fake” sadhus. If, however, the baba is surrounded by Indians, there is a great chance that he may be a wise man, whom they come to see for comfort and advice. Thinking back, I believe the first sadhu I ever met was a “real” one, which is quite amazing. His name was Kisigiri, it was in a palace in Orchha, and my friend and I had spent a whole afternoon in his delicious company. He was a stunningly beautiful man and his beard was an impressive one-meter long dreadlock. And he was surrounded by Indians. I didn't understand Hindi at the time, but a small group of Indian men and women had come to him and were asking him questions to which he would answer lengthily. I can't remember what we actually managed to communicate to one another except his trying to teach me a few words of Hindi and our constant smiling and laughing. He simply liked our company without asking for anything, and we loved being with him too. In the evening he took us out of the palace to see a temple and sit with him for a chanting gathering, and on our way Indians were coming after him to touch his feet.

Actually, writing this makes me realise I have come across two kinds of sadhus or babas or holy (or not!) men: There is the wandering sadhu, and there is the sedentary baba who lives in a temple. I trust the latter category more easily. I know a sedentary baba who lives in a temple one hour away from Khajuraho, in Chhatarpur. My friend's family visit him from time to time, for advice or for the comfort of sitting in his presence. I went to see him a couple of times too. His attire is nothing comparable to that of most sadhus; he just wears simple white clothes, his hair is short and his beard well-kept. He looks ordinary because he wants to be discreet; my friend tells me. Most of all, his eyes shine and he speaks only a little.

Yesterday I met another saint. I had gone out to a concert with a friend, because her new vocal teacher was playing and I had wanted to hear him. The concert took place in a temple on the other side of town. We rode our bicycles up to Chowk, one of the main crossing in Varanasi where traffic gets really dense, noisy and smelly. We were relieved to be engulfed into the narrow labyrinth-like lanes of old town away from traffic, but it wasn't easy with our bicycles because even the lanes were crowded with people and we often had to squeeze through to let motorbikes and passers-by go in the opposite direction. The walk was quite long and we had to check for direction with passers-by every few meters. Once we reached the temple, we parked out bicycles and got in. A tabla solo was going on far too loud, so we decided to go for a chai. We asked a man where the nearest chai shop was and he pointed to an even thinner lane just by the temple. There was a power-cut, it was dark all around, and the chai shop lane was pitch black, except for the flame underneath the teapot. We plunged into the darkness when a man suggested that we carry on one meter and take a seat. We hadn't seen the stone bench covered with blankets; we sat down with the man, who was kind and helpful. Actually, every passer-by had been very friendly to us; not the pestering westerner-obsessed kind which can be so irritating. Our thin lane was actually giving way to a small courtyard and then the entrance of another temple. There was a small gathering of men sitting down in the yard, and our new friend told me in Hindi that the baba was a great saint whom people came to see from all over India. “He has been here since childhood, and he feeds himself only on tobacco, chai and water.” I hadn't seen the baba because he was sitting behind a pillar. I looked more carefully and indeed, I could see a lock of white hair sticking out. The man was sitting on a wooden bed over which hung various devotional-looking items such as tree leaves and rudraksha bead necklaces. I am very skeptical with sadhus generally but I do know holy men still exist in India, so I was intrigued and curious. I liked the place's dark, mysterious yet friendly and inviting atmosphere. After we had drank our chai our passer-by told us we could go and look at the temple. It was a Muslim temple; he told us. I was a bit confused because the temple was Muslim but from what I understood the baba was a Shiva devotee.

We stepped in through the temple's entrance and into a courtyard, in the middle of which stood what we were told was a pomegranate tree. This surprised me because I have eaten tons of pomegranates in India but I had never seen a pomegranate tree before. This one looked old and dry, somewhat scary in the darkness; it reminded me a bit of the kind of old and dry tree you see in Tim Burton's movies. It was nice and quiet there, such a relief from the noisy, smelly traffic! Through all the shit we had reached a blissful place. Onto the right there was a spacious, open room, which contained four big tombs! The tombs of four saints, we were told. Saints are not cremated like the common people in India, but buried in tombs which are called “samadhi”. I love Hindi for the insight it gives into yogic philosophy. I was thrilled three years ago to discover that “eternity” and “bliss” are combined into one single word, “anand”. Yesterday I realised that “enlightenment” and “death” are both included in the one term “samadhi”, as to suggest that enlightenment is death; enlightenment implies death! This is true and I love it! After we got out of the temple we went to sit near the saint. One of the men sitting near him told us that he had “died” six years ago. I was puzzled, refusing to believe that the man in front of me had literally died and resuscitated! I thought I hadn't understood right and asked the man to repeat, but then he talked about “samadhi six years ago” and he added that the saint's work on Earth was now complete. Of course, what he had meant was that the saint was a fully-realised man, and resuscitation is precisely that: life after liberation, self-realisation!

And so we were sitting in front of the saint with his followers. It was dark so we could not see his face well, but his long, flowing hair and beard were completely snow-white, and his cheeks were very hollow. I didn't really know what to say and didn't say much, but all men were happy that I spoke Hindi. The saint was smiling to us heartily. Although I didn't know what to say I was feeling very comfortable sitting there; my friend and I too couldn't stop smiling. Soon the saint offered us some laddus (sweets), and he ordered some more chai. We said we just had drank one but he insisted. He also offered us some water, which wasn't filtered, and he would have ordered a bottle of mineral water if I hadn't told him we both carried a water bottle in our bags. From my experience with the Chhatarpur baba I think it is very special to be offered food by a holy man, and I was very moved. I told we were both Indian classical music students and my friend sang one Dhrupad composition to the men. Then suddenly the power came back and the area was well-lit. The power-cut clearly had contributed to making the place more obscure and exciting, but at least now we could see the saint's face clearly, and we both had a shock. The light in his eyes was so stunning and his smile so incredibly warm and loving that we couldn't take our eyes off him. He hardly spoke, really, and I loved that he didn't speak much because I've heard too many philosopher kind of sadhus before! He was here, in a smiling, loving presence, and that was all. The tea was late to arrive because the pot was empty and the chai-wallah had had to order some more from another place. My friend was getting concerned about missing her teacher's concert, but I could have stayed sitting there forever. At last after we had drank our chai we gave a donation to the saint, touched his feet out of respect, and left for the concert. My friend's guru gave a very beautiful and moving performance, from his silk-soft, heartbreaking voice, in front of an entirely feminine audience. Tonight had been a rare evening indeed, a real blessing.

On my way back home I recalled the main reason why I love India so much: Beyond all the noise, the stench, the pollution, the general mess, the corruption, as well as the growing westernised modernity that is endangering the stunning beauty of Her ancient traditional heritage, India still holds some of Her timeless, immortal gems. They are not easy to get to, but if you diligently learn and dig through all the shit with patience, faith and unconditional love, She will lead you all the way to them - like to pure moments in the presence of a saint...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The essence of Indian music

"Profound differences emerge between the [western and Indian music systems, which] mirror the opposing thought processes that drive the west and the east.

The ancient western position on music was that it was made up of patterns of sound with regular melodic intervals which reflect the simple ratios by which the world is organized and make sense to our organs of perception. Western theory is thus built around perceptible, rational ideas which the human mind can see, recognize, and find proof for.

Indian music is rooted in a fundamentally different assumption - that there is a continuous, unseen, and constantly changing reality which is the backdrop for all human action and perception. It is what shapes our karma or destiny, and helps explain why seemingly inexplicable things happen to us. The notes in Indian music are thus not categorical, separate, self-contained entities, but are connected through a subtle, elusive continuum of notes that can barely be identified by the human ear. They are, in the metaphysical sense, part of that reality which lies beyond perception. These in-between notes are called srutis, and they are the essence of Indian music.

In a very literal sense, these srutis are the half notes and quarter notes that fill the intervals between two notes. But that would be a grossly incomplete description. There is much more to the sruti, for it can entirely change the reality of notes. For instance, how you reach a particular note is as important as the note itself. It may be arrived at from below, or above, after caressing that hidden note that hovers next to it, and it will evoque a completely different sensation than if the musician were to meet the note directly."

~ Namita Devidayal, The Music Room, pp.18-19 (my italics). ♥

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Durga Festival & music in Khajuraho

I have been in Khajuraho for a week. I arrived just on time for Navratri Festival, the festival of worship of the goddess Durga. Also called Durga Festival, it lasts nine days ('nav ratri' means 'nine nights') and ends, on the last day, with Dasahra Festival, which celebrates the victory of Lord Rama against demon Ravana and the rescue of Rama's wife Sita.

Durga Festival is a celebration of the feminine, especially of unmarried girls who are considered to be a part of the goddess Durga. On one of the nine days of the festival, every Hindu family offers a meal to young girls of their neighborhood, and they decorate the girls' feet with pink colour which is believed to bring them good luck. During the whole nine days of the Durga Festival, music is played everywhere, day and part of the night, and every evening girls perform music and dance on the numerous stages built around town. On the ninth day, all the Durga statues that decorated the stages will eventually be disposed of in a nearby lake or river; this is an event in itself and each statue is carried across the town for people to see, on trucks playing pounding loud music and followed by processions of excited, dancing people. It always amuses me how western disco-type music can be associated with religion in India... But then I guess, disco music doesn't have the same stigma in the traditional Indian mind than it has in the Westerner's... Incredible India! And so, hard beats accompany devotional lyrics such as "Ram Ram Sita Ram" everywhere...

As soon as I arrived in Khajuraho I contacted the Pandit, my music teacher here ('pandit' means Brahmin (the highest cast in Hindu tradition)/ priest/ learned man.) From the following day I started my daily routine of giving violin classes to his son (his daughter no longer seem motivated) in exchange for the music classes he gives me. It is such a beautiful exchange, of pure dedication and love for music, deprived of all financial motivation. The Pandit straight away went on to teach me more bhajans (devotional songs), this time in homage of the goddess Durga obviously, and he also asked me to accompany him and his pupils on stage every evening of the nine festival days for the daily aarti (religious "fire" celebration)!

And so I have been involved in a wonderful routine for a week; my approximate timetable has been as follows:

6-8am: Yoga/meditation/reiki practice on the rooftop of the house, facing the temple, the lake and the pipal tree under the the rising sun.
10am-12:30: Personal violin practice.
2-5pm: Music classes at the Pandit's house.
7-8pm: Short rehearsal at the music school and accompaniment of the aarti/bhajans with the Pandit and his pupils.

I would never have dared imagine that such musical activity in Khajuraho could be possible... And it makes people here very happy. Most, if not all, of them have never seen a violin and so they are fascinated by the instrument. It is also quite exceptional for them to see a foreigner play their own devotional music... For me it is my own way to get to know a tradition better which would otherwise be difficult to dig into, and to feel closer to its people... One evening after the aarti, the Pandit told me: "You will have to play a lot more in the future." I don't know where this will lead me, but it is such a beautiful journey that I welcome it with open heart...

Sunday, 23 September 2012

My first encounters with India...

The first introduction I had with India was during my year of study in Leeds University in England, in 1998-1999. The Indo-Pakistani population is considerable in the UK, and there were many Indians on my course. Perhaps some were Pakistani but I couldn't make the difference at the time. I don't remember a lot about them except that I didn't have much in common and never knew what to talk about with them. I also didn't like the girls' style of dress because I thought it was very uncool and far too colourful - I was a “goth” back then and only wore black clothing... But most of all, it was their English accent that used to get on my nerves! I was madly in love with England at the time, and especially I loved the subtle round curls of British English, while the Indians' English to me sounded harsh, ugly and irritating.

My following encounter with India happened through N., whom I met in the summer of 1999, still in England, and who would become my longest boyfriend. We went out for almost five years and lived together for three. His paternal grandmother, who was Indian, had fallen in love with the British man who would later become his grandfather. She had left India to move the UK with him after converting to Christianity. N.'s father had left India in his teens, never to return, and N. had never been to India and really knew nothing of its culture. But he'd sometimes tell me he'd love to take me to India one day with his parents, and he absolutely loved going to Indian restaurants and cooking spicy food which we would eat with naan bread. I enjoyed the food, but it irritated me that his cooking was always far too spicy for my soft taste buds and I never seemed to get used to it. I know now that the “Indian” food we used to eat together didn't really have anything to do with the Indian food of India. By the way, the word “curry” in England is a generic term for “Indian” food whereas in India (or at least in the northern part of India that I know) “curry” - more precisely “kud̩i” - is a very specific dish made of yoghurt, chickpea flour and turmeric! When I think about N. today I think he would actually have a hard time in India, especially in dirty Varanasi...

Finally, my most significant introduction to India of course was to be yoga, although it took me a few years to even realise that yoga came from India, and later to develop a deep interest in visiting the country. At first I “kind of” knew yoga came from India but I didn't really care, because from what I knew of it (i.e. unfashionable clothing, a terrible English accent and food far too spicy for me) I wasn't interested! So I started learning yoga in 2001 at the age of 24. I decided to take classes after an inspiring friend, who had been going to yoga classes for a year, told me I should do it because I'd really like it. It struck a chord because I had always wanted to find the right form of exercising for me but had tried various disciplines and never managed to keep them up for long – dance, swimming, jogging, or doing gymnastic-type movements alone in my bedroom one day telling myself I'll just do that every morning for now on, but then feeling stupid doing silly movements alone in my bedroom the next day I'd stop until the next time I'd try again.

Before my friend told me about yoga in 2001, all I 'd had in my mind when thinking about this obscure discipline, I guess like many in the West, was not even an idea but just the typical image of a person sat in lotus position. Really I had no idea what yoga was, yet I, too, had that mocking stigma attached to it – kind of like “yoga is for weirdos”. So when my friend told me about yoga I realised I knew nothing of it and felt stupid for my conditioned value judgement.

At my very first yoga class the teacher told us to stand straight and to feel our feet – the contact of our feet with the floor. All I remember today is that I absolutely loved it and I felt silly for not having even thought of feeling my feet ever before! The yoga centre was five minutes walk from work so I'd go to class on the way home, once a week. For the first three years yoga was only exercise for me, but it made me feel good. It was a very new feeling: after each class I felt kind of light, more free in my body.

But it was only after I split up with N. that I started digging into the depth of Yoga – Yoga with a “Y”. I'd met a new friend then, G., who too was starting yoga, practising it everyday, and he was also learning meditation. He really woke me up. Clearly, I had never looked into the deep meaning of Yoga because N., my boyfriend, would never have understood it. When I left him I started my quest; I was so thirsty for knowledge! This came just before the summer of 2004, and at my job (I was working as a secretary at university) every summer was a torture because I rarely had anything to do so I had to sit at my desk 9-5 everyday trying to pretend I was working. So that summer of 2004, I spent all my time on the Internet quenching my thirst for Yoga philosophy and Buddhism. I learnt so much and loved so much what I learnt. It struck a deep chord in my heart, putting into words what I had always known but never been able to clearly express. I started practising yoga at home, I started breath awareness meditation followed by vipassana meditation, and devoured tons of books on Buddhism, zen Buddhism, Yoga, Yoga philosophy, Ayurveda... Finally, in August 2005 I decided to take my first trip to India with that friend who had introduced me to yoga in 2001.

But there was an even older encounter with India. Amazingly, it came back to my memory in a flash only about a few months ago. It is but a very faint image in my mind. I must have been about 10; I am pretty sure it was in the magazine I was subscribed to to help me learn reading, “J'aime Lire” (“I like reading”). It might have been in one of their short sections at the end, one small cartoon or perhaps a short cultural section. All I remember is learning that Indian women wrap a very long piece of fabric round their bodies for clothes, the saree. I think I even remember the double “e” in the word “saree”. And I very much liked the simple idea of it: wrapping fabric round the body for clothes. That very first glimpse must have lasted a few minutes before getting lost into a tiny drawer of my memory, and I was amazed to discover some 25 years later that it had not completely vanished... Isn't the human brain amazing?!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

In Michael Brown's beautiful words...

"Remember that the eyes of the heart are weak because we live upon a planet that does not consciously develop them or appreciate what they are able to show us. The eyes of the heart develop organically through our consistent use of them."


"[W]hen we consistently allow the past to physically, mentally, and emotionally die through us, we organically reawaken into (...) the fullness of the present moment. Then, we discover that these waves of death sharing the ocean of life with us are a blessing; that they come to show us "we must die consistently and consciously so that we may live fully". They come to strip us of the past so that each moment we step into is born anew."



It is up to us to give ourselves the experience of the consequences of consciously gardening our heart. If we require "understanding" before we are willing to take on this responsibility, it is only because we are trying to comprehend what is being offered here from our seat within the maze of the mental plane.

The heart cannot be understood; it can only be engaged. Only when we engage our heart do we enter a marriage made in heaven.

The following simple practice, when engaged consistently, shows us, through personal experience, that it is the garden of the heart from which all the fruits of a joyful, healthy, and abundant life experience are seeded, cultivated, and harvested. It is also from within the garden of the heart that we consciously awaken to the experience of the conscious death that fruits eternal rebirth. By tending to the garden of the heart consistently each day, we experience the miraculous. It reveals to us what it really means to "love and take care of ourselves"; to stand by ourselves no matter what. To initiate this encounter with the heart it is recommended we tend to our garden for a few minutes at the beginning and the end of each day, and also in the midst of any unexpected upset.This is how simple it is:

We sit comfortably in a quiet place where we will not be interrupted. (If we truly seek to be authentic when entering this practice, we switch our cell phone to "off". Otherwise, we are just doing this because nothing else is currently stealing our attention.)

We recall an upset, whether it is something that happened recently, or something currently festering within our physical, mental, and emotional experience.

We drop the story and the details of the physical events surrounding it, and instead place our attention fully on "how we feel about it".

Where seek out where we feel this discomfort within our body? We place our attention within this location and "cradle it".

While keeping the eyes of our heart upon the uncomfortable feeling within our body, we simultaneously keep our physical eyes open, and in a relaxed manner, we observe the world before us.

We observe how the inner feeling moves, and how, as it does, the outer world simultaneously increases in presence.

When we stray off into the mental again, we gently bring our attention back into the inner feeling within our body and simultaneously upon the presence of the outer world.

We cradle this experience for as long as we feel necessary.

NOTE: If we do not have an upset to consciously work with, we enter the practice by consciously placing our attention within the center of our chest and hold it there, following the above instructions, until we feel complete. The practice of consistently placing of our attention within the center of our chest is equally powerful in initiating "the death experience" that invites the blessing of rebirth within all unintegrated aspects of our life experience.

Eventually, through this practice, we discover that the feelings of discomfort underlying our unintegrated upsets are gradually integrated and replaced by stillness, silence, and a sense of balance and peace within our heart. Over time these feelings of balance and peace organically radiate into our thoughts and are reflected back through our outer physical circumstances."


"It’s not about feeling better – it’s about getting better at feeling."

Read the full text.
Le même texte en français.
Link to The Presence Portal.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

"Feeling" classes with a new teacher

I've generally been feeling quite confused about my practice recently. Indian classical music can be so overwhelming sometimes; having to improvise on a raag full of rules whilst having to forget about those rules enough so you can let go and play with your heart. On top comes the cyclic rhythm system inside which you'll also have to improvise, faster and faster as you progress on your musical journey - alternating parts of a fixed composition with your own improvisation. In the process of course you must care to listen to the rhythm cycle so you'll start your improvisation on the right beat of the cycle, and end on time to start the composition again (say in a 16-beat rhythm you must start or finish on beat no.1, or no.9, or no.12 etc.). Add to that those evil (for me anyway) "tihais" (the repetition of a phrase three times) which you must sprinkle here and there at the end of your improvisation cycles before starting the composition. Yes, that's a maths exercise within your improvisation - and yes that makes a lot of things to care for whilst having to let go so you can play with your heart!

Each raag you have to internalise, practise exercises within it so your fingers and ears and heart will internalise it, its feeling and colour, its typical phrases, its forbidden notes etc. In order to achieve this you listen to your teacher and play, everyday for months or years, and at home you try and improvise yourself for hours or days or months or years so you'll get the raag down from your head to your heart.

Exercises have always been my strength because I'm geeky and whenever I feel too emotional about practising improvisation or working on my weakness (rhythm!) I take refuge in practising familiar, risk-free exercises. I guess it's not all bad, because I've practised exercises and scales so much that I'm good at sliding on the violin strings to produce meends and gamaks. However I know that I cannot just work on that, and generally what has bothered me most recently is that - forgetting about rhythm for a bit - I've been feeling very confused about raags. I know many compositions in quite a few raags, but when it comes to slow (rhythm-free) improvisation, I can play but I don't really like what I play, and mostly I feel like a copy of my teacher stripped of the feelings. Alone, I just can't seem to create the feeling of a raag. Things take time and I've made huge progress in four years, but. but, but BUT, feeling is the most important, that what moves me the most anyway, and ignorant people may not know when you're not respecting the raag's rules or when you miss a beat but they'll tell if you play like shit.

FEELINGS. PLAYING WITH MY HEART. I want it desperately, and I know I'm good at it, I have an AMAZING ear for melody, but it seems I need something else that will help diving into raags... I came to realise that "copying Guruji's violin" prevents me from diving into Indian notes, because when I hear his violin notes come to me in French, and it also prevents me to listen fully with my ears because I can look where his fingers press the strings and do the same. Seeing prevents me from listening deeply. So I also needed to learn with a singer, a singer who'd sing Indian notes and whose voice my fingers couldn't just copy; a singer whose voice I, myself, me, would listen to and interpret through the violin.

I started singing classes at the end of last year which helped me in many ways, but after a while I found the teacher disappointing, so I stopped the classes. A good friend of mine, however has a great teacher who is a sitar player and singer. His soul is so pure and his love for music is so deep, he makes people shiver and cry. My friend has been studying with him for four years - and boy, how she feels when she plays. I met her teacher a while ago through her, and it was the first time after meeting Guruji that someone else truly tickled my heart to learn with him.

And so finally I did. Guruji came back last week from Europe and I came back from Khajuraho especially to start classes again with him, but the very next day he was off again on tour for another two weeks. There was no way I'd sit on my bum doing nothing for two weeks so it was a good opportunity for me to try out my friend's teacher. The next day I took my first class with him. I have to cycle 30 minutes to get to his place so to avoid the traffic (but at this time of year I can't avoid sweat) I'm taking classes at 8am, every two days. The next day I also (at long last!) bought myself a sound recorder to record the classes.

And wow, how refreshing. A totally new approach to dive into the intricacies of a raag... a new person, a new approach, forget about the rhythm for now, just take "feeling classes". How to approach the note, to touch onto it in different ways, and to feel them more directly through the body and voice... and relax, forget about everything, unlearn for now and be, just listen and enjoy, listen and feel, listen and play. Be you, play what you hear, and dig, dig into the beauty...

This morning I had my second class with him, I came home and listened over and over again the class, singing, playing it, one, two, three times. Then I put the headphones down and played; there was a lot more feeling in my heart... I feel and hope that learning with another teacher for a while and in the future from time to time, through voice - and new instrument, will help me take my practice from a new angle, deepen and colour it...

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Back in India and learning bhajans with a pandit

I have been back in India for over a month now. I didn't need the "usual" 2-day re-adaptation time at all this time. It is getting shorter every year. It seemed as normal to be in the Indian noisy-smelly-mess, as though I had never been back in Europe. I have a switch in my brain for languages, with a French option, an English option, and a Hindi option. In the same way I have a Europe-to-India switch in my brain.

And so everything is good. Monsoon came a little later this year, and when I arrived in Benares last month the Ganges water were very low, but after 16 days in Khajuraho I am back and the river is a lot higher, which is lovely. India is just so lovely when it is damp and green, it's like I can breathe better than when it is scorching dry and yellow. A breath of relief.

And I'm registered for the second year of violin diploma, and my student visa is renewed until the July 2013.

In July in Varanasi, I had a few good violin classes with Guruji, before he went to Europe for the whole month of August.

In Khajuraho, I started music classes with the pandit, who seems totally dedicated to teaching me bhajans (devotional songs). I went to meet him in the music school, and he gave me daily classes from the following day in his home. In the space of a week he made me play in two temple-houses at the beginning of the "Sundarkand", reading of the most beautiful part of the Ramayana in which Hanuman (the monkey god) rescues Sita (Rama's wife) from demon Ravana. The readings, in Sanskrit, last over an hour and religiously take place every Tuesdays and Saturdays (Hanuman's days) in temples or dedicated houses. There is no audience as such, just a gathering of the temple people and their families, and the music and the readings are amplified with loudspeakers for the neighbourhood to hear. The pieces I play are very simple, but most Indian people can identify and relate to them unlike with Indian classical music, which is totally inaccessible to the untrained ear of most Indians. And so playing popular music makes people happy; especially on a beautiful violin, which is a completely new instrument for most Indians. The temple's gathering was clearly thrilled with my contribution, and so was I - to see them happy.

I always feel somewhat shy to go to Hindu temples. I never really know what to do and how to behave and I sort of feel uncomfortable to stay in a temple for a long time, so music is a good medium to get me into a temple and feel and observe. It is wonderful to learn popular Hindu pieces not only because they make people happy, but because it gives me great insight into this huge aspect of Hindu culture and life which is religion. I learn it in Hindi medium obviously, and with the notes I learn the words and the meanings of the songs. The pieces are played accompanied with tabla or dholak (percussion), which is a great opportunity for me to familiarise myself with different types of rhythms (my weakness exactly). And as I feel it and as the pandit also told me, for Indians, a foreigner to be playing bhajans is amazing, so it seems I am winning a lot of respect from Indians in small Khajuraho... Finally, classes with the pandit are delightful, as he is a wholehearted, pure soul and highly respected as such. Although our relation is very shy and reserved I am enjoying getting to know him slowly and it seems to go both ways.

In exchange for the music classes, I have also started teaching violin to the pandit's children. They are responsive, especially his son who is very comfortable with the violin...

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Monday, 9 July 2012

Mata Ganga Orchestra needs help!


Below is information about this beautiful musical project I am actively involved in; the "Mata Ganga Orchestra". It was initiated by my friends Jerome & Marie-Christine from the association Partage & Culture Sarasvati of which I am an active member (webmaster & translator, and also violinist).

The Mata Ganga Orchestra is a Franco-Indian orchestra of teenage/ young musicians. In February 2012 the association invited 8 French teenagers from the music school of Cahors to meet 11 young Indian musicians of the C.J. Maa Music School from Rishikesh to share musical experience and play in concert together.

The youngsters had an amazing musical and cultural experience, and so Jerome and Marie-Christine from the association want to take the project further, and invite the young Indians to come to France (Feb/March 2013) to perform there this time!! Of course that's a lot more ambitious financially, as the young Indians come from modest families and can't afford plane tickets, so the association decided to publish the project on Kisskissbankbank, which is a website devoted to help people find donators to fund their projects. What's interesting is that (1) donors get a (fun and interesting) reward for their donations. It can be fun and interesting rewards too! And (2), I'm not sure if that works outside of France but I'll mention it anyway: as my friends' association is registered, donations qualify for tax cuts up to 66% of the deposit within 20% of taxable income

The project is published on the website for 3 months, and if the financial goal isn't achieved, donors are entirely refunded of their donation.

So! The website is here. It would be wonderful if you too could help (even a little bit!) for the project to be successful!

NB: Please don't hesitate to talk about the project to your friends, too...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

London without a handbag

1 June; 21:00

I am sitting on the Eurostar without my papers, without money or debit card, without my phone. I had misread my train ticket and thought the train was leaving at 21:03 when it actually left at 20:30; I had read the arrival instead of the departure time. This isn't the first time it happens to me. Last year I missed a train to Paris like that when I had a connection to go to Cahors, quite far south, so I'd lost and missed my entire journey. This time I had wanted to be careful and checked the departure time, thinking how silly I had been the first time – and still, I did exactly the same again. I had a funny feeling on the tramway to the train station; I know why now. This time though I didn't miss my train, because you have to arrive half an hour before departure to check-in before taking the Eurostar. So this time, I arrived 5 minutes before the train left, hopped on the train... but I forgot my handbag on the belt after security check. I ran all the way down to the end of the train and only when I got on my carriage realised I had forgotten my handbag! I tried to call a member of rail staff but there was none on the platform nor on my carriage; I started shouting out to everyone on the carriage whether there was one, it's amazing how inhibition suddenly dissolves when panic strikes.  All the passengers got to know about my plight, I started shouting, crying, explaining, telling people I wasn't mad but in trouble. They were great. Just before the train started I decided to get out with all my stuff (rucksack and violin) but then an announcement called me to go to carriage number 5 (I was in number 17). So with all my stuff I crossed the whole train back down to carriage 5. I was relieved, I was convinced that staff had my bag with them, but when I arrived, sweaty and out of breath, they told me they hadn't taken it on board! I burst into tears, asking them why they hadn't taken it, but they told me that since they didn't know if it belonged to someone leaving from or arriving in Lille, and they couldn't take that responsibility. I really didn't know what to do; I had no one waiting for me in London as I was supposed to take a night bus to Edinburgh; I told the staff. But they were really great; apologetic about the situation, and really helpful. This was the last train from Lille to London in the day, so I had to wait until morning and they'd send my bag on the first train; until then it was safe in a locker at lost property. In the panic I wanted to phone my dad but without a phone and without his mobile number in my head (I knew he was out) I couldn't. One member of staff kindly handed me her phone (another one a tissue, because mine were in my handbag!) and I phoned my sister who then gave me Dad's phone number; then I called him as I wanted the number of some friends in London – but then I realised it was too complicated and gave up; I'd spend the night in St Pancras station and wait for the next train near the Lost Property desk. By the end of it I stopped crying and started feeling OK – my whole trip wouldn't be ruined, and oh wait, I have my computer with me, I can give my email address to the staff so they'll let me know by email when and where I can get my bag! Then I'd just have to take another train or bus to Edinburgh after I'd get my bag in the morning. And I was happy at how kind the staff treated me – through the tears I laughed telling them not to worry, I was OK, just a very expressive person.

Back down to carriage number 17 I got back to my seat and collapsed. My seat neighbour asked me if I had my bag, I started crying again a bit having to say that I didn't. And then the thoughts started rushing. I inspected what I had in my rucksack, and wow, actually, I had my British checkbook – so it's not all that bad. And even though I hadn't got my phone I could listen to some music on my computer – Which I am doing while I'm typing this.

And then feeling of gratefulness started rushing. That music and that voice; just starting the music made me feel like crying again. I've switched from crying out of panic to crying with joy.

I realise now how this “panicky” situation, which really isn't one anyway (that's just how it feels at first!) has become exciting. The best in this sort of situation is, of course, that it forces you to live in the present. All plans are stripped and you are forced to deal with the now, without any judgment. This is precisely what makes it exciting. I don't know what will come next and I'm loving it. Now that my Edinburgh trip is no longer planned, I could even meet a friend in London before I catch a train to Edinburgh – woooooooow, who knows. Yes, that wonderful Unknown, which is always scary at first, but which soon becomes exciting, because it is Now, because it brings you back to what is important and what is truth.

2 June; 19:00

And obviously I couldn't ever have guessed what would happened next, as such was its intensity. But I feel that all that happened did happen for a reason: I helped that homeless lady.

I informed the first member of staff I saw about my situation after I got off the train. I was going to passport control without any proof of identity. A kind (Indian-looking) man escorted me to the desk where a tall, funny, typical English man with a delicious accent took my case with compassion and humour, and let me go through without any problem. I first had to try and get advice from various desks but most of them were closed and there was nothing I could do before morning anyway. So I set out to try and find a place where I could spend the night. I found shelter in the Costa cafe of the station. I informed the staff there that, having left my handbag in Lille, I had no money. They let me sit down with no problem, and the man behind me, who had heard my explanation, insisted to offer me some tea. I was a bit shy but he insisted. I thought he'd try to chat me up, but he brought me my tray – tea and a pasta dish at my table and then went to sit somewhere else! I was amazed by his kindness. It was quite warm and cosy, with free wifi (inside the whole St Pancras Station) and a plug for my computer, so I sat for a comfort internet session. In the cafe, the night staff were two young Bengladeshi guys who were quite funny. For a bit of fun I decided to speak to them in Hindi (Bengali is close to Hindi). They were quite surprised and asked me how come I spoke Hindi, but we carried on communicating in Hindi for the rest of the night, which made me happy.

I probably spent the worse night of my life. I lied down on a cosy carpeted bench, covered myself with my jacket and put tissue in my ears to muffle the loud music a bit and tried to sleep, but I had clearly forgotten that I was in the UK: After one hour two intimidating security women dressed in fluorescent yellow came to tell me this place wasn't a hotel, I wasn't allowed to lie down like that and I had to buy something if I wanted to stay in here. Again I burst into tears trying to explain my situation. A young French women, who had just arrived, offered me a second cup of tea so I could stay in the cafe, and as I was still crying, one of the security women told me off for not thanking the woman. I couldn't believe my ears, and through the calm flow of tears told her that I was dealing with a lot of emotion here, and I was trying my best! She shut up, at least. Soon they two left and I went to sit down with the French lady, a really nice au pair girl who had been crying all day; she too had had a hard time since morning including losing £95. She was waiting for a train to Paris in the morning. We started chatting and laughing at our situation together then tried to sleep. Mostly I slumped my head and arms on a table, with my (fabric) underwear bag for a pillow, and having covered my head with my black scarf, I closed my eyes, focused on my breath and gave reiki to my throbbing head all night. Closing my eyes in the darkness of my scarf and meditating was restful, but I didn't manage to sleep. I eventually sat back up at around 5:30, and for breakfast had the pasta that man had so kindly given me.

I spoke again to the French young woman, A., and we befriended another woman, C.. I had noticed her all night; she was also trying to sleep head rested on her table, in front of me. And she was beautiful, with silvery grey hair, probably in her early fourties but despite her grey hair all over she looked quite young. She looked like someone who could be my friend; perhaps that's why I was shy to speak with her. I was wondering what was her reason to spend the night here in the station. Eventually we started speaking with her, and she asked us if we could spare her a bit of money for some tea. We asked her why she was here; her case was a lot worse than ours. She was homeless. Something to do with a late refund for hostel accommodation put her in a position where she couldn't afford a shelter. This weekend (it was Saturday) was also a bank holiday, with the Queen's diamond jubilee, so she wouldn't have any money at all until Wednesday. Eventually she went on with her story. She had been a primary teacher, she'd been married with two young teenage children, and since her divorce two years ago she had lost everything: her roof, the care of her children, her job. One year later she had also lost her mother who had been very ill, and today she had her iphone stolen – the only item in her possession that had allowed her to look for jobs. I couldn't believe my ears; I had never met a homeless person before, at least not one I'd felt could genuinely be my friend.

When I told her I actually lived in India she opened her eyes wide and we talked some more; she had wanted to go there before her divorce but it hadn't worked out, and she had even tried out some Indian classical vocal at some point! She started asking me many questions about India, but they were punctuated with subjects dealing with the reality of our present situation. It felt to me like she couldn't really afford to dream so I didn't want to get carried away talking about my own life.

After A. had left for her train we decided to go together to check out on my bag situation; the first train from Lille would arrive around 9am. She had nothing much to do anyway so we'd keep each other's company. She seemed very humble and centred despite her tragic situation, and only through her presence was really helpful to me. She didn't do anything really, but the fact that her situation was so much worse than mine kept me centered and able to deal with every step of my situation. We first had to go to the Eurostar dispatch desk to ask if the staff knew about a black handbag being sent over by train, but they hadn't been informed, and were very skeptical that this sort of procedure would be allowed. There was all my ID, money, phone in my bag; they'd require proxy to send it, a proof of identity etc., and the bag had to go through security checks so it couldn't be handed over to a member of train staff just like that. I burst into tears yet again. But the staff was so kind and trying to help; they just couldn't really do anything. C. and I went to McDonalds, as she had a free token for a cup of tea and A. had given her £2 before she'd left us. So we went and came back at 9am but my bag wasn't there. I really didn't know what to do; I also wanted to check that my bag was kept in a locker at Lost Property. We phoned various places in Lille; I phoned my dad from the dispatch desk office; he said he'd go to Lille train station and check on it. Eventually the Lille station Lost Property desk confirmed they had my bag, and after I'd described its contain they agreed it was the right one, but still they couldn't send it across. I cried some more, trying out on some humour at the same time. The staff was just so kind!

I started to really wonder what I could do without money and papers. Nothing. I couldn't even cross the border again, and hadn't got any money to buy a new ticket – and Eurostar tickets at the last minute are horrendously expensive anyway; going and coming back with my bag would cost me about £400, it seemed completely mad when my little bag could simply, in an ideal world of compassionate and understanding beings, be sent over on a bloody train. Then I remembered that I had a copy of my passport on my email account; if I could manage to print it out, and with luck if my dad or another friend could buy me train ticket, would I be allowed to travel? The dispatch desk staff gave me a paper with the phone number of the French embassy (oh no, please not to go through the embassy; how would I even travel on the metro with no money!?) and instructed me to go to Eurostar departure to ask for advice to a member of the French custom police. By that time it was 10am and C. wanted to go to a nearby church for free lunch. I really didn't want to lose her so we agreed to meet again at a point in the station at 12:00. She'd wait 10 minutes and go if I wasn't there.

I said to the policeman that Lost Property wouldn't let a member of rail staff travel with my bag; he told me: “with you they won't; with me they will.” That's when my hopes came back. He was wonderful. I went back through departure security with him and into his office. He tried to get into my email account to print out the copy of my passport but it took some time. That's when I realised I'd better phone my dad to tell him he shouldn't interfere with the procedure at the other end. The very moment I phoned him, he was in the Lille station lost property office, who had agreed to send my bag! Dad spoke to the policeman and it was all sorted. The next train was just a few minutes later, and the train manager would take my bag and bring it to the police desk at noon. I was so, so relieved! I wanted to hug the policeman – and felt very grateful to my dad too, who had been totally non-judgemental and helpful despite his being very busy that day. I went to sit on a station bench again, for some more comforting internet session. At noon I went to wait near the departure lounge. After a few minutes I heard a happy “Bonjour!” behind me, turned my head to see a smiling man. I looked down, and saw my bag handing from his shoulder... I was jubilant and thanked the men profusely.

When C. came back from her free lunch she couldn't believe I had my bag with me! My case was dealt with, now it was her turn. I couldn't possibly leave her alone and decided to spend the rest of the day with her. I wanted to give her everything; a roof for the rest of the weekend, some food and tea, a new phone, a walk in the sun, some time to breathe and forget. Firstly we went to the library for her to check whether someone had handed back her iphone. No-one had. And check internet; her for her jobs and me for a new bus ride to Edinburgh tonight. With all those emotions I had forgotten again about eating, but after the library we went for some food. I had a pizza and offered her some more food. “It's the first thing normal we do today!” She exclaimed, laughing. And it was true. I was completely stoned, my eyes were stinging for having cried so much, and after a sleepless night I felt on a different plane, in a different world from all the people around. It was surreal. But the pizza was delicious and rewarding. After that we just went out walking; it was nice to be outside at last, away from that station, and the sun was coming out. It was such a relief to breathe some fresh air that I forgot about the load on my back. I just wanted to walk, anywhere. She wanted to walk towards Trafalgar Square to see some of the Jubilee, so we did. It was weird to see happy celebrating people and women with big cleavages and make up, and those silly flag-hats; we had other priorities. Then I told her I could buy her a phone. We went into a shop; she bought the simplest one with a new sim card; it wasn't much money really, and she'd be reachable again to resume her job hunt. She was clearly grateful although she didn't say much. It was a funny and beautiful situation; as though all had happened naturally, as meant to be. She'd been meant to keep me company during my bag quest, and I'd been meant to get her a new phone, after she'd been so distressed about losing her iphone. We talked a bit more, but I felt as though I didn't want to get her to dream too much – and I asked her if she wanted me to pay for her roof this weekend, but she wasn't clear; she was reluctant. I understood. Often she'd speak about her situation head in her hands, but always humble and centred. She never cried. She'd told us the previous night that she'd forgotten about crying, because if she started she wouldn't stop. She also told me that some nights she had to choose between food and shelter. It was as though I was a homeless for a day, wandering the streets randomly with my rucksack on my back, greasy hair and dirty teeth. And we walked, as she tried sending a text to her son with her new mobile phone. She has no-one to turn to. Her mum is no longer, her father rejects her, and her husband ignores her. She feels embarrassing to her children. And she said all with such calm. After we reached Trafalgar Square I sat on some steps. She wanted to go to the loo, and she'd mentioned going back to St Pancras Station. I waited for her and asked if she'd come back; “possibly”, she said. I was convinced she wouldn't come back. I waited 10, 20... 30 minutes. I started crying like I cry at the end of a film, although I was now part of that film. A film that had started with my running to catch a train, and ended after we'd both done our duties to help each other. I felt this emotional roller-coaster had happened so I could help her – and it had been well worth it. I was happy to have met her and shared a day of her life. I felt like if God exists, S/He had made me fall from the sky to help her after she'd lost her phone, and S/He had made sure I would find my bag thanks to her presence. It was the message of the film that made me cry. I eventually decided to leave, convinced that she wouldn't come back, so I went down the steps. But at that moment I saw her coming back. Feeling a bit silly I tried to dry my tears and walked back to her. She'd seen I'd been wanting to leave. She hardly looked at me; but I felt we both knew our story was naturally ending here; we both needed some rest alone now. I asked her if she wanted some of my contacts in London; she refused, and she was reluctant to my paying for one or two hostel nights. And I understood, because it must have felt weird for her meeting someone suddenly wanting to give her so much, unconditionally. I would have felt the same; embarrassed. But I was glad; I had given her the most important; she had a phone again.

I started wandering in London. I really needed to be alone, to recentre myself. There I was; Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. I had forgotten the beauty of London, especially on a sunny day; and I was happy to walk. Victoria Station was not far now, so I decided to carry on walking, as despite my bags I didn't want to engulf into a dark, crowded and stinky metro. I found another cafe, bought myself some deserved hot chocolate and carrot cake, and started to write down my rushing thoughts.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Concerts in Varanasi, music in Khajuraho & Indian viola in France

I haven't posted for a long time, and a lot happened since February. Most importantly a very interesting adventure with Mata Ganga Orchestra, about which I have been too lazy (and overwhelmed) to post on this blog, but there is material elsewhere so it's OK... I also played my "first solo" in a temple on the night of Shivaratri, which was, although I feel a bit embarrassed about my "performance", a blessed opportunity. All the musicians were students and it happened in a small temple at the other side of the city, thus with a very small audience, so the surroundings were a lot less intimidating than I had imagined thankfully. Finally, at the end of March I played a short concert in BHU with three Indian students. The setting was intimidating this time: we played in the university auditorium in front of all the teachers; we were involved in the (very Indian) prize-giving malarkey, and we played before great musicians. Our "performance" was only a very short 15-minute one, which was relieving and frustrating at the same time. I dealt with a lot of emotions, which was... a very good thing!

The latest, most amazing news is that music is also possible in Khajuraho. I hadn't known all those years, but I guess that's because I wasn't emotionally and musically ready. In fact there is a tabla player in Khajuraho - a very respected pandit actually - who teaches tabla, harmonium and singing to children/young people in a big school every evening. I finally went to meet him; accompanied the children in class once and played with him. He was happy to meet me and wants me to attend the classes when I'm in Khajuraho. I feel I will get a lot from this experience... We will see where that takes me, but I am thrilled to have found out that music is also possible in Khajuraho...

I came back to France about three weeks ago now. Time flies and I can't believe I'm here already. Time for my body to rest - although I was very healthy this year in India - time to see my family. Last year I was a bit worried about coming back, about what to do for all that time etc. but this time I am more peaceful and focused. I am lucky I still don't need to work to go back to India until next year, and I don't feel so bad (different, a freak, a lazy shit etc.) about being non-lucrative in Europe yet again. Perhaps because I feel more confident and trustful about what my heart is telling me, even more certain that I'm doing the right thing doing what I do. I have always been certain, but every time I come back to Europe society pressure is stronger, obviously - a lot stronger than in India... Not quite so this year, luckily...

This year I want to move around less and stay focused on my violin practice. It's always been more difficult to keep up practising Indian violin in Europe, as the western environment is less auspicious to Indian music than the Indian atmosphere (quite obviously!), but this year I want to keep the practice up seriously. Never lose the violin from sight. I think this is because I am finally less shy about affirming that that's what I want to do in my life, and that I finally feel that I can, indeed, do it. And by the way, this book is stunning and it's been helping me a great deal, so many, many warm thanks to you Dr. Deepak Chopra! ♥

So far I have been sustaining my practice quite successfully. I have also tried it on my viola, which has been fun! I didn't take in out of its case last year but this year I feel like trying out "Indian viola". It's the same as violin but bigger so there's slightly more space between the notes on the strings, and the strings are fatter so I have to press more on them - sliding is a little more tricky. But I'll keep at it for a while and see how I like it. I tune it a lot lower than the violin - going from D# down to A#, and wow, it feels a lot fatter and deeper. It's a nice change although somewhat discomforting, too...

Focus on keeping up my Indian direction even in Europe. No more western-tuned violin for me.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

From violin to Infinity

I am so happy about my violin practice again these days; that's all to do with playing with other souls at long last. Once the layers of judgment and discomfort are stripped, spontaneous music gives light to joy and energy - that bliss of the present moment.

I had started practising regularly with an Indian tabla student of my violin teacher's brother (my "guru-cousin") in September-October, but then life got in the way, we didn't meet for a couple of months, and I didn't know any other tablist I felt comfortable playing with either. After New Year I really wanted to start practising with tabla regularly again, and it seems like Life agreed with my plans, because I've practised with three different tabla players since January! Mostly I have resumed the practice with my "guru-cousin" from September-October.

I had been very cautious opening-up with him at first, as I always am with Indian young men - because men here too often only seem to be interested in foreign, female skin... Plus, in the tradition of arranged marriages, most young men here don't have much "romantic maturity", so they too quickly interpret friendship from a woman as romantic interest. Thus, for a long time we both stayed very shy, playing our respective instruments without communicating much other than nodding to each other to indicate one's turn to improvise. But he is a very disciplined, hard-working young man, and completely devoted to his religious and musical practice, and we are slowly getting to know each other both musically and personally. It has become totally comfortable and fun to play music with him now, and although still reserved, we're getting along well too. I know that many people think I'm cold or unfriendly when they first meet me here, as I am slow to open my heart up to others, but in India this attitude is a real saviour. Being too friendly too quickly with others here can be so distracting, and with Indian men it can lead foreign women into nasty situations. So I slowly open up and by the time I have done, Indian men clearly know that they have NO CHANCE!!!

So as we start enjoying our musical practice together, "my" young Indian tabla accompanist, whose name means "king of elephants", asked me a few weeks ago if I would play a concert with him in his temple for Shivaratri Festival (Shiva's night) on 20 February! My first solo!?! So I have started practising violin with him every morning in his place to prepare for the concert. "King of Elephant" is a young brahmin (priest) who half of the time lives in his tabla Guru's house and the other half lives in a small Shiva temple on the banks of the Ganges at the other end of Banaras where time seems to have stopped. At the age of 12 he came from another state of India to Banaras to receive dharmic (religious) teaching for three years in an ashram, followed by three years of Sanskrit at the Sanskrit University. Now he is responsible for the daily pujas (worship ceremonies) in this small temple over the Ganges, where he lives with his spiritual Guru. He lives in a very rudimentary room of the temple; on the floor of this tiny room he cooks chapatis, and on the same blanket on the floor he sleeps and plays tabla.

I first came all the way across to this area of the city to take yoga classes back in November 2010. I had loved the teacher, but at the end of the season I had decided to stop going because it was too hard sustaining the regular bicycle ride so far away at 7am, and it was taking too much of my time in the day which I preferred to dedicate to violin rather than yoga. But this "timeless area" of Banaras is also where "my" tabla accompanist lives, as well as the French clarinetist also previously mentioned, who is becoming a really good friend now. So again I cycle there regularly in the morning, not at 7am though and for violin reasons - with a good occasion to pay visits to my new girlfriend. :-)

I had not forgotten how much I loved going there. This part of Banaras feels so different from the area where I live, that it refreshes me every time I go. It is almost completely untouched by tourists and foreigners, and the locals there behave differently towards them. There is less cheating and pestering. The atmosphere somehow feels more pure and more authentic. It's only about 10km away from where I live, but it feels like I've travelled back 100 years into profound spiritual India. It is impossible to put it into words, but I feel blessed to be offered "access to such ancient authenticity". Going there makes me feel like the character of one of those books I read about old Banaras, Banaras that sacred old "City of Light" where Vedic spiritual teaching was still carried out in its purest, most authentic form, in a time where the poor and religious pilgrims were fed free food in dharmsalas (religious places). And I feel blessed to be practising Indian music with a devoted Indian who doesn't know English and only speaks Hindi with me and who is also a priest responsible for the daily pujas of his temple on the banks of the Ganges!

I am still and will probably always be puzzled by the fact that before "knowing India" I used to feel so "anti-tradition". My mind is adverse to remembering anything historical, I have had no catholic education whatsoever, I know nothing of the story of Jesus, I can't help but always forget the dates and meanings of festivals like Easter and Ascension, and I feel quite indifferent about celebrating Christmas! And then Life threw me into the land of deepest traditions; India!!! Although I have read many books about Yoga, Yoga philosophy, Ayurveda, Indian history and Hindu gods, I feel ignorant about Hinduism. Hindus' religious practices seem to me filled with beauty one day, yet totally absurd the next. I often wonder how it must feel to have a Hindu mind filled with so many fact-like interdictions and rules, such as the firm belief that "a married woman wears a saree" or that "going to a temple unshowered is a sin". There are tons of those interdictions and rules that I find absurd and senseless and ludicrous and even cruel; yet I feel completely comfortable and at peace in this old traditional city; I love speaking its language filled with yoga-related Sanskrit words and dressing myself in long, all-covering clothes, and it generally feels like this traditional place agrees with my disciplined state of mind, my temperament. I dream of knowing who and where I was in a previous life. Surely I was Indian at some point? It is completely beyond my comprehension, although today another thought came to my mind: It is perhaps just that beyond the nonsense of carrying out someone else's (our elders') rituals without really knowing why but with love and devotion, keeping tradition alive allows us to keep a connection with ancient times and back to infinity... like the flame that has been burning continually for centuries from which all cremations are started at Manikarnika Ghat. (I love this!) And perhaps then it doesn't matter which (ancestral or not) practice one does - as long as one does it with love and devotion. I don't do Hindu pujas in temples for I don't know how to do them, but I do feel like my little home is my temple and I care for it with love and devotion. With love and devotion I am also learning traditional music in a place where music and religion are intertwined...

I feel ignorant about history and religion because I wasn't there to see what happened and I don't remember facts, but maybe I love Banaras because here for the first time I feel history and religion. Maybe feeling history and religion just means feeling a connection to eternity. Maybe that is what makes Banaras such a special city and that is precisely where its unique atmosphere comes from...

Monday, 16 January 2012

A super-breakfast for top-form digestion in India!

I decided last spring when in Europe that I really had to keep my digestion healthy whilst in India, most especially to care about my liver and thus about the quality of the oils that I use. Luckily I visited a good friend in Geneva in May who has been fed a very special kind of breakfast since childhood, as her mother has been eating it for years, caring for her multiple sclerosis thanks to a very controlled and healthy diet - following Dr Kousmine's nutritionally-based medicine.

I had known for a long time that my friend was eating this super-food kind of breakfast everyday and I had been interested, but it sounded complicated to make so I had never tried it. Finally I visited my friend in her home last May and I shared breakfast with her. I was so impressed that I started to make it regularly every morning as soon as I got back to my father's - it is less daunting and time-consuming as it sounds!

Particularity of this recipe

1) Everything is organic, obviously - and raw
2) Using organic and first cold-pressed oil
3) Using freshly ground raw cereals and oleaginous seeds
4) All ingredients are fresh and prepared by oneself before eating. According to Dr Kousmine in the industrialised world we eat a lot of dead, empty food. For instance when we eat flour, we have no idea of how long ago the grain was ground; it could be a very very long time, so all its nutritious benefits are gone - that's why grinding one's own seeds/cereals is important.

So, this is the recipe of the "Budwig Cream" I eat for breakfast most days, and which has kept my digestion and health in general on top form in India for the past six months:


In a bowl, for 1 person, add, in this order:

1) 4 tea-spoons of yoghurt
Dairy or non-dairy according to your preference.

2) 2 tea-spoons of linseed oil
The linseed oil has to be carefully mixed with the yoghurt, using a fork, so that it becomes digestible. One can use other oils, e.g. sunflower, olive etc. but it is very important that the oil be organic and first cold-pressed, so it keeps all its nutritious benefits. In India I use olive oil (brought with me from Europe) because I don't have a fridge to keep linseed oil (linseed oil becomes toxic if it is not kept in the fridge - very important).

3) juice of 1/2 lemon
I also chose olive oil rather than linseed oil because olive oil oil mixed with lemon juice taken in the morning on an empty stomach are excellent for the liver).

4) 1 ripe banana
Or honey (but I prefer banana because it's more filling) to sweeten. Mash the banana with a fork.

5) 2 small spoons of freshly ground, raw wholemeal cereal
Ideally buckwheat or brown rice (no wheat) - only one type of cereal at a time, so either one or the other. Here I use red rice because its available, and I've heard it was full of anti-oxydants. It is important that the cereal is raw, to keep their nutritious benefits, but to ground it so it because digestible.

6) 2 small spoons of freshly ground oleaginous seeds
Again, one type at a time. So either sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, nuts (cashew, almonds, etc.), etc. In Europe I was using sunflower seeds but they are not available here so I use sesame or almonds or cashew nuts. Again the seeds must be freshly ground and raw.

You have to use an electrical coffee grinder to grind the seeds and cereal, or manual even more ideally.

7) fruits
Now with fruits, I don't think mixing them with the rest of the ingredients is good for digestion, unless they are berries. I mix pomegranate as it feels right (and inside the fruit looks like small berries), but if I eat other fruits I'll have them separately 30 minutes before eating the cream.

Things I've noticed with this breakfast:

Firstly, it is absolutely de-li-cious!

I was amazed by this breakfast because I am normally a heavy breakfast eater - I need food in the morning, more than later during the day. And the cream is not heavy, there's not that much to eat, but it does keep me full up until lunch time and I feel well-nourished after I've had it.

My digestion is on TOP FORM. I suffer none of those (mild but still) ailments I suffered last year; like frequent diarrhea or bloating. I ate puri (deep fried chapatis) at both lunch and dinner one day at Vijay's house over New Year, which normally give me systematic diarrhea the following day, but I was fine this time! And apart from one "mini-cold" which went away in two days, I have not been ill at all in the past six months. Now I never get ill in Europe, but it's the first time I feel as generally healthy in India as I normally do in Europe, and it's nice!

Many, many people keep telling me that I look thinner. I haven't particularly noticed losing weight (though I might have a wee bit more space in my jeans indeed...)

And finally, I feel less tired in general.

More info
Budwig cream (English)
The book from which I took the original recipe (French)