Saturday, December 11, 2010

until next time spice lord

Delhi, I bid you farewell in just a few hours. What am I doing writing a blog post, you ask? >>>
Attempting to collect my thoughts right now, I suppose.
It’s unfathomable how I am about to leave this place, although it always seems hard to feel yourself in a different space when, you aren’t in any other space. There is too much I am going to miss about this place. India has swept open the arena of vast contrasts and contradictions, but there is something intensely grounding about seeing two polarized sides of life living inches away from one another.

I am going to miss long, bumpy bus rides where the driver speeds around windy mountain roads, stopping only for chai and cigarette breaks. I am going to miss when the boy dressed in a tattered, once-white silk short comes on to the bus and sings with his melodic rough voice while his fingers cackle on a drum, a performance worth so much more than the 10 rupees I passed his way.

I am going to miss walking the main road and seeing new things every day. I am going to miss the density and the chaos within that density. I am going to miss the disorder in which you can never really take everything in. I am going to miss how everything is available in a 1 km radius if you really look for it, uncovering the gems of unknown territory existing right under your nose.

I am going to miss rickshaw rides, haggling prices to and fro in a tennis ball match battle of number tossing. The powering of the engine working so hard to speed you along at a brisk shuffle.

I am going to miss the spices in the food, and the smattering of flavor that speckles curries like a sandy beach.

I am going to miss the everywhere chai in the small plastic cups, or glasses… it really doesn’t make sense to serve a hot beverage in a plastic container, nor glass, but it grows on you, it really does.

I am going to miss the plane of marble floors in our apartment, the splay of playground that allows me to do handstands and backbends and downwards dogs. The morning powdery light that filters through the front windows.

I am going to miss crossing the street in a frenzied dance between the flow of cars bikes rickshaws buses trucks elephants… the traffic that smogs the air, the women in saris covering their mouths with shawls as black exhaust curls up in our faces. The endless honking and screaming of vehicles in a permanent cacophony battering my ears.

I am going to miss making the fruits and vegetables, huddled together in large wooden crates pulled by bicycles through the streets.

I am going to miss the herds of people that mash onto the metro at rush hour; the necessary aggressiveness that is required to secure a sardined spot with no space to breath.

Etc. etc. and things and things.

There is so much here that functions as a force of life. When I came to India I received the appropriate advice to “surrender” to the experience – and honestly there is no better way to explain how one should go about living in this place. I have learned to expect nothing and to be open to everything. I have learned that vulnerability is not a bad state to be in – that’s the only way you can truly have these experiences, to know what you are experiencing at the deepest level. It might be hard at times, trying, painful even, but ultimately the most rewarding experiences have been under a complete surrender to this place. You can’t fight life!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

sweep it back up

I’m not entirely sure where all this time went. Somewhere, it has been lost in the South of India. For the first seventeen days of October I have been romping around the Southern parts of this spicy place. Hopping on trains and busses, only to sleep in dream-filled sleeps where I come to awake at some new beach-y coast where the sun or rain awaits me. Brings a rolling shore that never quiets. I haven’t seen a coast for sometime, so this trip truly has been a treat.

The Commonwealth Games occurred in the first two weeks of October. Imagine the Olympics, but smaller, and consisting of the Commonwealth countries. Surely, as we were granted a ‘holiday’ from school during this time, we escaped the mass hysteria of Delhi.

I can’t really begin to type of my travels. Mostly, I have learned that traveling really isn’t that much of a trial as it seems when you find yourself stationary in an area of inhabitance. And now that I am back in Delhi, I only crave to travel more…

Puducherry was our first destination. It took us a fourty-four hours train ride and a four hour bus ride to reach this initial destination. That’s a lot of fours. We were greeted by sky and endless tufts of white clouds. I can’t even tell you how much of a relief it was to be met by a site of expansive blue: Delhi is permanently covered by a cap of gray pollution, always. In puducherry there were bikes that took us places in out and beyond… To ride a bike is something I truly miss here in Delhi. We do see bikes everywhere, but all are rusted with an ancient creak. Covered in a thick layer of rust and dust. Not to mention you must ride them in thick dense traffic accompanied by cars and buses and trucks and rickshaws – all different speeds are swooshing beyond you on these bikes.

Beyond Puducherry, which sits on the Eastern coast of India, we trained to the Western side of this place - - - -
To Kerela! Kerela greeted us with unfortunate amounts of rain, but the coast of Varkala beach was all the more dream-like with a thick layer of moist mist pervading the water-lined horizon. Due to the rain that we encountered here, we mostly found ourselves in delicious restaurants/cafes/bars that offered us the best of seafood wrapped in banana leaves, spicy steam arising from each plate brought to us. We sat with warm ginger tea or deep milky coffee underneath awnings that protected us from moist fat drops which spattered the ocean ahead…

Every place on Earth is beautiful, really, even when drops fall from the sky ‘ruining’ a true beach experience…

From Varkala, we bussed up to Alleppey, where we found ourselves on a houseboat. One of those ‘must do’ experiences that sounds just as romantic as it actually is. We floated around the backwaters of Kerela and swam/bathed in them side by side with plants and a warm, slow current. We booked it up to Fort Kochi from here, which also greeted us with an unfortunate layer of rain – again we found ourselves diving into culinary pleasures. During the clear skies that we did get here, we marched our way around the city and ran across men sitting in a three-walled room with sacks of potatoes lining their surroundings. Thick black rats slicked with grease ran through disgusting ‘creeks’ that may have well been a sewage line. We smelled spices that followed our heels, and the deep blues that crusted themselves on the edges of moldy green buildings were especially bright… everything looked decayed, somehow, in the most brilliant way. Like a fairyland that you would want to run around in at age seven.

From Fort Kochin, we trained up to Goa, where the beaches sprawled and the sun yelled into our bleach-white skin. This was the most ‘relaxed’ part of our adventure, where we managed to sit still for four days, and soak up the glare of sunrays. The beaches of Goa are definitely something to behold; something that I was never too excited about, yet managed to puddle as one of the most enjoyable Vitamin-D packed parts of our adventures. You can’t expect anything from this place except the strange enclave of India that it is… People here seem to cling to the idea that Goa is a “party” place – you’ll see old men with rose-tinted sunglasses and thong speedos. You’ll see old women swimming out into the midst of a calm ocean trying to escape their own existence. You’ll see an egg yolk cracked over a blushing horizon. You’ll see an impossibly tan woman in crinkled brown skin, roasted and spiced. You’ll experience personal ecstasy, allowing your entire weight to float along on the gentle current of a harmlessly tumbling sea, back facing the ocean floor, front facing the bleating sun…..

From Goa we found ourselves trapped on an impossible train ride, where we didn’t think we had a place to sleep it was much past our bedtime. Would we find ourselves huddled in an isle way? Our damp sweat cooled by the breeze from the doorway that faces a dew-laden flooded rice field? We ended up finding berths for our bodies to find rest upon, and in the morning we landed in Mumbai.

In Mumbai our time was short. We mostly drank sugarcane juice and sampled other flavorful delights while walking around the crescent-shaped coast. Mumbai as a gigantic city is an entirely different beast that Delhi. Reminded me of San Francisco with an elder architecture. More of a college town, it seems, with females that can actually grasp a sense of independence; as I was able to walk around past eleven pee.em without feeling threatened or dependent upon a male peer.

I hate for that last statement to seem to glum in the existence of Delhi, but upon my return here I cannot help but feel more and more encapsulated by suppression. I don’t know why the hazy layer of pollution seems to be dwelling on my existence more so than ever, but after feeling as liberated as I had over the past seventeen days of travel, coming back to Delhi has reminded me that possessing white skin attracts attention of all sorts. I can never gleam a sense of anonymity when every eye seems pasted on me… I know that each eye is nothing, really, just a curious flicker of some other person’s consciousness; but I can’t help but feel intensely scrutinized whenever I step out of my apartment. Perhaps it is also the winks and tongue lolls that I get from passing males…

Anyway, my travels have landed me back in Delhi, ready for school work and dig into spirituality, philosophy, and the like. I have also signed up for another three day Vipassana meditation session. It seems to be something that my mentality craves. Don’t we all crave a little bit of inner peace every now and again?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I'm not sure [where] to begin

Quite often on this trip, we find that we are asked, “What do you think of India? That question usually pops up within the first few minutes of meeting someone. Depending on the circumstance we can delve into the answer more deeply or provide a more brief response, but we always, of course, verbally share our utter amazement with this place.

[For example]
Today as I entered the metro station, someone walking to my right got my attention by pressing into my personal space and catching my glance.
“Where are you from?” (This is ALWAYS: the opening question.)
“Oh, really? …”
In the brief moments we have before crossing through the security check point and therefore being separated for the rest of eternity (men and women are separated at the checkpoint) we talk about how long I am here for, the fact that I am a student studying psychology, and finally, the interview comes to the expected question:
“What do you think of India?”
“It’s CRAZY. I love it though – ”
“Really?! You like it here?”
“I mean, yeah – sure it’s chaotic and overwhelming, but I am really enjoying my time here. The colors, the food; it’s quite an experience.”
“So you like living here?!”
“Yea! It’s amazing…”

We nod at each other as the realization of the checkpoint comes into view and we go our separate ways to be pat down by someone in a police uniform of our respective sex. Why was this person so genuinely surprised that I am enjoying my time here? Often people seem to probe us for any troubles that we are having in India. Is there anything that I don’t like about India, is there anything that I find difficult about living here, what is the most different thing compared to America… etc. Why does this happen? Shouldn’t it be assumed that I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have some desire to experience life in this country? Mashed in between a cumin seed and a mosquito?
This somehow became a strange preview of events to occur later on that night. As if someone heard my curiosity to why that man responded to my answer with such surprise – oh, but isn’t there any situations which have left a strong impression on you otherwise? Don’t you have any experiences here which have perhaps left a sour taste in your mouth?
Granted, every place has good and bad. Every single environment we find ourselves in will have people will have positive will have negative it’s all part of this human experience nothing ever remains one way for very long and the world definitely does not cater to you to me or to anyone else; It. Just. Is.

After buying a book, eating a sundae, a couple rickshaw rides, sipping on some sweetened coffee, and a few beers… Kelly and I found ourselves in a massive sea of pressed bodies ‘in line’ for the metro at one of the largest stations on the line. This station, which is a transfer point, not to mention connected to a large populated circular shopping area with markets and people and buses and hotels, is usually one of the more ‘crowded’ stations. Tonight, however, I have never seen anything quite as impressively overwhelming as this. This gave a whole new meaning to rush hour. It was more of a chaotic endeavor to mash your body into the body in front of you in order to maybe thrash onto an oncoming train. Like a mute punk show.
Three trains went by as we were ‘standing’ in the mass of shoving nudging stubborn bodies waiting for our ‘turn’ to shove ourselves through the doors of a train that never stopped in quite the same place. I am always wary of stray hands in crowded situations like this – people (men) seem to take high advantage of the fact that a crowd becomes an excuse for inconspicuous touching of body parts. At one point, someone’s leather bag brushed my thigh and I almost began to yell, but luckily I looked down and saw that it was just an inanimate object made of animal skin and I needn’t make a scene.
Okay, I thought, I’m crammed in between pushing shoving squeezing bodies, but I’m okay. We’re all just trying to force our way onto the next metro train. Not get caught as the doors are pushed shut by metro attendants, as stray body parts and bags get in the way, people sucking in their stomachs to press themselves in as the final boarders.
Finally OUR train came. The one in which we were close enough to the door to somehow get thrashed through the doors in a giant flowing wave of eager people. As soon as the doors to the metro opened, the flood of people began to move wildly, and suddenly I found myself being grabbed in too many ways – it was as if the opening of the doors, and the movement of the bodies was a signal for the gropes to begin.
Kelly, much more proficient in Hindi than I, began yelling in foreign tongue shaming all the perverts around her. I, on the other hand, in my shocked state, stuck with the native English that I know so well, yelling,
“What the fuck?!
Do NOT touch me.
Get your HAND. OFF. OF ME.”
Things to this effect.
As we had been separated in the struggle to board, I looked back to catch a glimpse of Kelly’s flailing limbs, obviously wild with offended passion.
Once packed in on the train, people somehow made a path for us to be reunited. That whole ride, we were very liberal with our language, not bringing down our voices to discuss our most recent experience. We didn’t shield our disgust or our surprise at the hands that had meandered in places they shouldn’t have been. We didn’t stop laughing at the absurdity. I personally was in a state of shock. Do you, Mr. Man, really have to get off by grabbing a woman’s ass on a crowded metro? Does that fulfill you? Are you done now?
As a woman, I don’t think I have ever felt more stripped of my independence. I’ve never felt deprived of my ability to take public transportation without feeling like an object for use of entertainment. I don’t think I’ve ever realized the social implications of patriarchy. (Which I realize exists in the vast majority of the world. I am not trying to just pinpoint India.) It’s not even a fear of safety – it’s just the sense that you aren’t looked at as a human; instead, you are a thing, you exist as a concept. I have never felt so out of control among such a vast amount of people - - -
Am I not human? I am existing. I have a mind and a soul. Nothing warrants you to touch me. Not even in the most opportune of moments in the depths of a crowded metro stop.

The crazy part is –
If that man up at the beginning of this post, the one who asked me what I think of India, asked me this question tomorrow in the metro station, I would give him the same answer that I did earlier today. Of course I love India. Of course I love this experience, what I have gained, the smiles, the good; I even relish bad experiences here, as you always can in life… I don’t judge your country based on a metro stop.
Other than spurring a web of thought tentacles, an evening like this could never deter me from my enjoyment of life, and right now that life involves India.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Varanasi: Chug your chai, Henna your Hands, Rake your Rice

Varanasi this weekend began with a Twelve hour train ride. Twelve, Thirteen, maybe Fourteen; it’s a little hazy but so the traveling goes this way.

When I was younger I always thought that long rides – by car, by plane, by train – were excellent for writing or drawing or reading or doing something really productive. I loved the idea of delving into creativity or entertainment while being confined to a moving vehicle for a vast expanse of time. But now I am older and the sparkle and glow has tarnished slightly into reality. The older I get, the more I congeal into the mass of traveling bodies around me that rock in and out of dazed slumbers; my book hardly cracks open before my eyes begin to fall. Sleeping relaxed bodies that all move in a unison dance, bumping in an irregular rhythm produced by the turbulent ride.

Trains are actually incredibly comfortable. In fact, they are infinitely more comfortable than the public buses where you are mashed onto a seat slab, trying to keep your body parts within your boundary line without sacrificing discomfort. But on trains in the ‘sleeper’ class, you get your own BERTH to lay on. It isn’t a temperpedic by any means, but it isn’t a slab of wood either, and with a cushy backpack as your pillow and a shawl for your blanket, sleep comes quite easily.

A night lost somewhere on train tracks in between Delhi and Varanasi brought us into the station of the holy city, built by Lord Shiva himself – or so the story goes. The city reminded me a bit of a mystical Venice, if you will, perhaps a cross between Hocus Pocus and Venice and curry. Getting off the main road leads you into narrow alleyways lined with brick and stone. Tall buildings stand shoulder to shoulder and prevent you from seeing much but dimmed path in front of you. Also, the shore: Varanasi’s shore is shaped like a crescent moon right on the Ganges. Boats line the edge of the waters at the various ghats (a place where stairs lead down to the water) to row you up and down the river.

Part of Varanasi’s ‘holiness’ leads many people to die and have their bodies cremated there. Two of the ghats along the shore are where these cremations happen, and are completely out in the open air, something to view from a short distance. We saw cremations at both of the ghats – one of them while cradled in the hands of a boat, just off the shore. The other we saw from the top of a nearby building. Smoke constantly flourishes to the sky as five or six bodies are sandwiched in between large rolls of wood, aflame. A handful of loved ones come to give the deceased family member one last drink from the Ganges (pouring water into their mouths), adorn the body sheathed in white with orange flowers, and then witness the final release of the soul into the smoky sky. It’s all a very beautiful moving ritual to watch… To see this body left behind, as it was just a vehicle for this onward moving soul. Ashes, the last representation of the material manifestation of the soul, are then scattered into the Ganges below.

The wild Ganges! A holy mass of rapid brown water, chugging along with mystical powers!

Other things last weekend contained: Lots of chai, lots of excellent curries (a new favorite discovered: malai kofta), the best aromatic garlic naan I’ve ever had, the best thick creamy banana lassi I’ve ever had… lots of conversations. Lots of cultural crossings. Flash monsoon rain and henna on my hands.

And now I sit in the Delhi wet. Monsoon season this year has stayed much beyond its welcome. Normally monsoons have already packed up and left by this point, but somehow we have been lucky enough to experience the rains again and again. Day after day the roads flood. Day after day thunder claps in the distance and you hope that the taunting storm takes its path anywhere but towards you. Day after day the park in front of my house remains a pond of still standing water. Day after day men with turbans keep their shower caps ready just in case the clouds open.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Peacock Festers

Where do my fingers begin,
[I haven’t spoken for ten days, written for ten days, read for ten days, expressed myself to others for ten days in any vast outward communicative experience –
Where does one begin?]
Now, when I close my eyes, I get an immediate onset sensation of… well, sensation; of pronounced darkness behind my eyes and a swirling mass of movement of my entire body. This is Vipassana. Or at least, this is the beginning birthing of Vipassana. A 10-day journey, I had once thought a mere four or so days ago, was plenty to lure me into the depths of this meditative practice. Now, I see, that those people who go away for 20 days, for a month, are simply further solidifying and exploring this practice to the always changing full extent of their being. That perhaps someday I will again go for another 10 days, or perhaps extend my own experience.

Not that I didn’t get enough out of this; not that I didn’t experience something within myself that truly will resonate with me for some time, every step of my day. At least, I hope it will resonate with me. My fear is that it will dissipate like a line in the sand, blown away slowly, its intense presence decreasing into a dull vapid presence which I find it difficult to reincarnate.

Anyway, I think that a lot of what I learned and churned and entangled will stay with me. It’s not very often that such a compacted experience can leave such a deep impression on your way of being – but the acuteness in which this practice was implemented,
such as [10 days. 10 hours a day of meditation. 2 meals and one light snack. There was tea, boy, was there tea which I looked forward to. Rest and bathing and washing clothing. Walking along the same paths over and over, circles, lines, all sorts of shapes and moldings of your feet on the ground.]
has been a sure indicator of the effectiveness of the way this practice is presented to those who choose to live this life for 10 days.

What I liked most about this 10 day offering, I think, was that it was made clear that the idea behind Vipassana and meditation and its benefits can be easily intellectualized, and understood through the passage of speech and in sermons. However, to be fully understood, it is only fair and rational that we experience the very nature of the practice in order to understand and live within its benefits, to taste its fruit, to see for ourselves. That makes sense, nah?

Everyone can intellectually grasp the concept of ‘cravings’ and ‘aversions’ and how these underlying manifestations in the deep buried portions of ourselves will guide us through life like a ping-pong ball, bouncing away from things we don’t like and tumbling towards those things we do and we think will make us happy. So much on the outside we believe governs and controls our happiness. This or that made me happy or sad. This event, that person, this experience, those words; but is our life that much out of our hands? Is our happiness really implanted by others? Or is it something that we generate, something that we react to, something that seemingly uncontrollably arises in us so quickly and elusively slipping over us that we can’t seem to entangle this automatic feeling from reality.

Reality, truth, is blank and emotionless. ‘Emotionless’ carries such a negative connotation, so perhaps, objective would be a better word. Reality and truth are objective on a larger scale, really. And we can have such positive or negative reactions to this reality, so easily.

What I feel like these 10 days did, somehow, was entangle these positive and negative reactions enough so that I could observe them, understand them from a third-person sort of a view. Detach my ego and dissipate the need to be completely subsumed by my initial need to feel and react and react and react… How do these reactions create our mental and bodily space of happiness or misery? So easily that we find ourselves sitting in our own space of elation or depression, craving more elation or cringing away from depression – how to see the events of life as passing waves of and ever changing and arising and passing universe which we can simply observe. We don’t need to get lost in our own jumble of passionate emotions leading us astray from a resonating trueness that is baring itself within every moment.
Anyway I could obviously go on and talk hullabaloo for a while. Dripping as my fingers stretch themselves on this keyboard, doing their calisthenics playing leap frog over all these little black keys…

Some memorable moments of the days themselves:

Day 1: Shocking, but not as shocking as I thought. I thought I would break down in a tumble weed of stabbing emotions that left me wanting to run away. This did not happen. I think perhaps I entered this experience with a determined mind to explore this technique as honestly and openly as I could in order to give it the fullest fairest trial possible, and this provided an initial shell to protect my mind from slipping into feelings of deep frustration.

Anyway, day one. After two hours of meditation starting at four thirty in the dark morning, and the breakfast and tea, I walked around the complex a bit – the tiny restrictive paths our legs were confined to – and saw up top one of the women dormitories two male peacocks, their decorative feathers displayed in a flayed bouquet of color. The right front corner and left front corner each had its own peacock, spinning eagerly to vie for the attention of the females who were eating in the field below, clearly uninterested and not impressed with the flourishing display I was pleasantly gawking at. Thanks India, for that experience.

Day 7: Seize Her Day. Somehow on the seventh day I experienced my first seizure of life. I wish I could say that it was because I was so in the depths of my mind that some magical combusting reaction sparked such a strong resonance that it propelled me to seize! Pourquoi non.
At the time I had been meditating for four hours or so, five minute breaks every hour or so. Except the last stretch I had been sitting still and quiet for a hefty hour and a half, and it was in a meditation ‘cell’, so I was by myself, secluded in a small room with a mat on the floor, facing a tall blue metal door with a metal lock that needed to be jiggled into a crusty closed position. At five o’clock, I heard the kitchen bell ring to announce the tea break. Good. Eyes open. Go to stand up, little too fast. Remember leaning backwards to stretch out my back got many good cracks I remember that so many good cracks in my back and then my vision went a little blacker and then I remember nothing.

I came to while banging my head against the metal blue door. I was on the floor somehow. My eyes were open but I was paralyzed and could not find out how to feel my body or will it to stop methodically pounding itself against this blue door. And there was a grate at the bottom of the door. I remember seeing the grate and thinking I was trapped in some sort of closed jail cell. Couldn’t understand where I was; complete disorientation of my whereabouts in life. Saw a spark of lightning connect across my vision.

[that was cool]

I stopped shaking, finally – although this whole experience couldn’t have sprawled for more than twenty seconds I would say, perhaps less – I looked around for any clue of what was happening to me and where I was. I can’t recall quite what thoughts perhaps went through my mind; I wish I could remember my exact thought process. It was probably along the lines of –
‘what drug did I possibly ingest to disorient myself this much?? Wait, I didn’t take a drug did someone capture me? Am I being held captive? Wait, maybe someone drugged me and THEN captured me…’
Except all that and more was compressed into one or two or three seconds… then I stretched my eyes up and around looking for clues –
I can move again! Success!
I see the lock on the door. The metal lock that crusts and scratches itself into place. Suddenly I remembered I was at a Vipassana center. Only then did I remember I was in India.

[that was cool]

I ran outside of the hall which contained all the individual cells. I had been the last person in there; most people had been filtering out a bit before the bell rang… It was raining lightly. The sky was patchy with storm clouds and delicate breaks of light between them. The drops were light but misty. It felt good and it felt okay. My first reaction was to yell out to the first person I saw,
‘I just had a seizure!’
But I suppressed this quickly – the helpers here were merely volunteers that had themselves completed a course in Vipassana. Some were young, my age – there was no hope of any sort of ‘first aid’ here. Would these people give me some sort of solace I couldn’t provide myself with my own limited medical knowledge?
I felt shaky and edgy afterwards for a bit… but I realized that I had probably been experiencing some sort of nutrient deprivation, limited movements, lots of upward sitting and combine a calm mind with immediate standing harsh movement draining blood fast or rushing blood fast… I don’t know, it seemed that I could make sense of it.

Later that evening during one of the sittings, I sat with silent tears. This was my only sort of moment where I truly I lost myself in my a swarm of uncontrolled emotions. I could simply dredge up a word or a person or a moment and the tears would just push themselves out of the corners of my eyes. All of the emotions I had trailing behind such things were boiling beneath them and it was a truly amazing experience to watch the entire immediate reaction manifest in a sadness that could drip down my face.

I think I read somewhere once that we use the same muscles to laugh as we do to cry. Different sides of the same coin.

Each day was a different mental program for me.

I also heard a lot of analogies. If analogies were large amounts of water, I could fill the Ganges with all those analogies.

Things to go and places to do. This savage post that merely scratches the surface of a 10-day mental/bodily/spiritual examination could never exemplify exactly what I went through. But I realize that all of life is like that, nah? An experience is really only felt and realized and understood when it is manifested within you as an experience. Writing about it to be intellectually grasped is a beautiful ability that we do have, but ultimately I know that these words have to end somewhere and I know that the extent of what they can portray and relive for me will only reach as far as the word does go in our conscious mental understanding.

Things to go and places to do to do to do.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Rickshaws that Snake and Honk in the Night

So tomorrow I go into exile. Apparently. Exile of not speaking for ten days and for spending some quality time with myself. Vipassana. Steam.

This past weekend I found myself taking a scheduled trip (thanks, EAP) to Jaipur and Agra. I saw some amazing things –
One of which,
The Taj Mahal; ahem, THE Taj Mahal –
Materialization of a cotton wisp perched on a passing cloud… white marble bathing in the sun’s reflection and rolling over and over itself by my vision in an aesthetically elating view of construction.
Isn’t is amazing that we can put together something so delicate, yet gargantuan? Something so round, with carved floral patterns that breath from sandstone setting. The red mosques that contrast substantially with the white perfection of marble stone framing the palace, standing so beautifully and yet so powerfully overtaken by the beauty of the Taj itself.
And I’ll have you know, that the Taj was built for love; which makes it all the more amazing. Commemorating the love of Shahjahan and his wife who died prematurely in life during a tragic child birthing experience - - - - - - - - -
How romantic, non?

This weekend also made me realize the satisfaction of traveling on your own. We were shipped around via charter bus every place we visited. The sites themselves were breathtaking, but the means of getting there in languid processions was uncomfortable yet compensated by the bulging meals that our hotels offered us. It made me realize the value of finding your own way – of toiling over the journey itself to get somewhere. That’s all part of it. Getting there. When you cut that out, you cut out half the story.

Nevertheless, this weekend was a beauty. Full of forts – tall and bulbous and sprawling red sandstone and drawbridges and elephant rides and walls that outlined mountain ridges…

Vast beauty.

And now I am in Delhi. And tomorrow I go to Vipassana land! I guess you could call this apprehension – but laced with excitement! I know that some things you can only experience when you put yourself through the entirety of the experience (some things? Perhaps most things); there’s only one way to see what happens after you spend ten days sitting with your thoughts and your self and the world in a large simultaneous binge of silence and solitude. And that is to close your eyes and think really hard.
Or, to provide a probably more accurate depiction, just do it.
Ten days in the grand scheme of things really isn’t that long. I’m sure it will slip by in an eye blink – or at least it will feel that way when I look back on it for years to come. I’m well aware that the moment itself will probably exercise its ability to stretch itself into oblivion.

Oh god.

Tonight we also ventured to Kareme’s – an excellent restaurant attached to a hotel in Chandni Chowk – the metro stop that we embark upon for our spices and dried fruit and nuts and tea and tasty things like that. This restaurant is in close proximity to the biggest mosque in India and is only open after sunset during Ramadan. Doesn’t that mean it must be really, ridiculously good?


I still am overwhelmed by the massive amount of people that were flooding the streets at this time… after the shade of the hidden sun descended upon the city, this area LIT UP with floods of people and lights. Street vendors selling everything from fabric to chai to fried chicken to tandoori chicken to sweets to shirts to bangles and bangles and bangles just lined the streets and the people walked and bumped and meandered through the maze of buildings… and I found myself bumping into every person; impossible to stop unless you sit with a six rupee chai on a tin box while straddling buckets of soaking soapy dishes. Smells and sensations always here.

Always here. Always here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

and today I was groped by a four-year-old

Am I kidding?

You aren’t sure.

Am I kidding?

I wish I were. It does make a good story though –

It all begins with a long Delhi day. One of those days that takes you through the dust and the traffic and begins with a sensory overload and ends with a sensory overload. One of those days where you find yourself climbing over piles of red powdery bricks stacked in disheveled pyramids. One of those days where the mosquitoes rip you apart, limb by limb. One of those days where you ask for directions once, twice, three times, and always Delhi is such a maze, you realize you were only five minutes away in the first place. One of those days where you come across a large procession of disgruntled men yelling as they trudge through the streets for some unknown reason, specifically directing their attention towards your curious faces as they forcibly hurl plastic bottles in your direction. You cross a scattered mess of honking traffic in order to find a sweet shop with the “best samosas around” –
And damn,
were they good.
The kind of good that is full of cumin and potato and curried peas and raisins and cashews. And you dip the crunchy fried triangular dough into a vegetable sauce that somewhat resembles ketchup but is actually infinitely more flavourful.

One of those days where you take a bike rickshaw to Majnu Ka Tilla, the Tibetan commune off of the metro station two stops down the line. You watch the biker heave his body to the left and right pressing weight onto each pedal in rhythm with the steepness of the street a slight hill makes all the difference. The veins in his arms protruding underneath deep warm skin. His whole body an instrument of movement to propel you forward. Suddenly you find yourself on a downward slope and he stops pedaling and while coasting he navigates around the holes and the gravel in an attempt to ameliorate the bumps of the oscillating roadway.

One of those days where dinner explodes in your taste buds. It all starts out with a cup of milky masala chai and traces of the spices and strong black tea are swirling around dappling its surface and you can tell it’s going to be a really,
really good cup of chai.
Then when dinner comes you almost don’t want to eat it because you’d rather just look at it first; imagining all those tastes that are soon to be swirling around your tongue. The soup – the one with the vegetable dumplings cradled among vegetable chunks in a smooth salty broth. Those vegetable dumplings I hope you remember had the smoothest most delicate skin on them, which covered a flavorful conglomeration of spicy mush. Then the tingmo that you dipped in the broth,
the doughy, thickly rolled dough that looks so fresh was it even baked? But of course it was baked it’s just so soft and plush. Plush! Perfect word to describe this Tibetan bread. Rolled and wrapped and curled and tucked into itself like an infinite cinnamon roll, but a thousand times more and all plush. Perfect for sponging up the remains of the rest of your meal…

One of those days where you get off the metro station near your house. There is abundance of people and a lack of rickshaws that will schlep you down the road. Walk? It’s really only 15 minutes or so…
One of those days where halfway down the street a group of four-year-old boys come running up to you from across the road. You pull your backpack close to your chest and glance behind a couple times as they skip up to you and hold out their little hands their little arms. You turn back around and keep walking forward, and to your genuine surprise you feel one of those little hands grab your ass, more forcibly and less innocently than you could imagine. Whipping your head around, you point at the first boy you make eye contact with, the one with the most mischievous look in his eyes, and you point hard –
“NO. That is NOT okay.” (In all caps, you say these things.)
You turn forward again. Keep walking. The little dude again runs up to you and starts jabbing his little fingers on your thigh and your ass, again. Grab his arm and throw it off! What are you doing little boy! He doesn’t stop. Grab his arms and throw them away! Am I being too forceful with this child? Did I grab him too hard? He doesn’t stop.
A bicycle rickshaw pulls over to the side of the road and hops off his bike. He has passengers on the bench behind him. One of those days where you are saved by a man on a chariot and he chases the kids away. He yells and the kids and chases them away.
You walk faster and look back and see the rickshaw driver continue to yell at the kids and chase them away. He yells and chases them away.

It was one of those days. Where something bad happens but then humanity steps in and you remember that all the people surrounding you are going to be good and bad and up and down and heaven and hell and you run into both and you make your own. And that rickshaw driver just makes you appreciate everything good that happens in life ---

And those little boys with the little hands…
I’m not sure if I should be disturbed or surprised; but really, I am neither. Life is just ‘how it is’ here, for lack of a better description that is totally encompassing. There isn’t anything really that can impose itself over social rule. And sometimes things are more slackened because of it, and sometimes things are more restrictive because of it. Sometimes personal responsibility is prominent, and sometimes crazy things let loose.

Crazy things happen everywhere though – back home I can sue McDonalds for giving me a hot beverage that I so gracefully spill on myself. I can feign a finger in my chili and then ask you for a large monetary compensation. Sometimes I wait a whole 25 minutes for the next BART train.
Here, little boys grab my ass sometimes, I guess.