The Inner Voice of Who Knows What

the pilgrimage: Henri Nouwen and my own topsy-turvy little heart

Archive for the month “February, 2009”

India’s pretty self-explanatory.

My new grandmotherly spritely friend Jay and I saw a Bolloywood film together in Bangalore the other day. Fun. : )

Although we couldn’t understand absolutely any of the Hindi spoken and sung, the visuals were India just as I am experiencing it outside the doors of classy Rex Cinema.

In my mind I conjured up this vision of a friend and I watching the film (probably with subtitles this time around) and him/her turning to me and asking, “Wow – so really, what is India like?”

In this vision I answer him/her simplistically and holistically as I point to the screen and shrug nonchalantly- “India’s pretty self-explanatory.”

And then I realized this is just about the foolish and untrue statement that has ever come out of my potential mouth. Psssht, what a silly thing to say!

India is not self-explanatory in the least, especially when the government posts signs in the park that read “NO ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES” – or when rickshaw drivers ask their brother, their acquaintance, their business competition, and finally you exactly the whereabouts of this place that you the foreigner are visiting in this driver’s hometown – or when you see a Bollywood dance routine where women are dressed more scandalously than you can ever imagine, and get back to the street to see women in burkas who may be watching the same dance routine – or when the shoe holders at the temple entrance keep the change from your five rupee coin, when the sign is clearly marked one rupee per pair of shoes, but apparently for foreigners is a more luxurious price – or when its tourists expect to be treated with special attention but are only willing to pay less than the local price – or when the post office’s request for “Q PLEASE” is literally trampled underfoot by the masses including yourself, who have probably never realized how one is supposed to spell queue. or queu… – or when cafe menus turn out to be six years old with half the items out of stock and the other half hilariously mispelled, and the cafe turns out to be a place that of course sells only dosas in the morning and nothing else – or when a sign advertises an education service for self-empowerment and entrepeneurship with “individual care for dull students…” hahaha… – or when its sacred cows are allowed to feed off the crumpled rubbish lining every reachable ditch – or when the joy and celebration of an Indian wedding is nowhere reflected in the haggard, stressed out faces of the bride and groom who have people yelling at them, music blaring at them, and huge cameras stuck in their supposedly-jubilant faces – or when a wedding attendee spies your camera and asks to see your camera permission ticket, looking very serious and important as he reads the ticket completely upside down – or when you are sitting and eating a delicious meal and wondering how in the world you can stand yourself when you see the handless, footless, toothless, speckled brothers and sisters in the street who would give anything for some naan but have absolutely nothing to give – or when you receive the most understandable directions, or the most unsolicited compassion, or the most uninhibited toothy smile and most reaffirming little head wiggle from the person you would least expect to share it with you.

Yeah, India’s pretty self-explanatory.


Beyond Sadhana Forest, day one.

Saturday night I didn’t get much sleep. Actually, I didn’t sleep at all.

There was a smashing reggae dance party that extended deep into the evening/morning, a joyous Delta Spirit-accompanied toilet stirring session in the dark, quiet Internet errand time, wonderful much-needed conversation with Julia and Andrew via the comforting bleeps of Facebook chat, some really solid early morning photograph time with colors so vivid I can’t figure out why I never had appreciated them this much the whole month prior… and a climb up our water tower to soak up the last morning of Sadhana Forest from a reflective perch, seeing the whole picture of the home I was leaving…

That glorious combination makes up for the lack of sleep, I think.

Last night I said my exceedingly, embarrassingly tearful goodbyes and walked out to Koot Road to grab a bus to Pondicherry full of giggling young girls shouting “HOW ARE YOU!” and gentle mothers trying to convince their little boys to wave to me instead of the easier act of simply staring at the sight of a really, really pale individual.

I crashed at 9:00, choosing to care only about fixing my sleep deprivation and not much else. I chose not to care about the condition of the room I found at Ajantha Lodge, because at $4.50 a night for a decent bed and a private toilet, and some free incense, budget-seekers can’t be choosers.

Well, maybe they can – but really sleepy budget-seekers shouldn’t be choosers.

Today is an amble around the city, grabbing samosas, chai, band-aids, pomegranate juice, mysterious but always tasty Indian treats, some antibiotics for a swollen foot, a new bag, postage to get rid of some the weight in my pack, and a taste of this coastal French-esque town before heading on an overnight bus to Bangalore.

Into the great wide open!

What are You Doing?

My friends in the next room are playing a game… a noisy, boisterous, ridiculous game that is rocking the thin bark beams of our main hut.

It’s called: What are you doing?

If you were to ask the temple down the street, it would say that it is celebrating its grand opening – with flowers, music, colors, and lots of joy.

If you were to ask America, it would say that is celebrating its day of love!

If you were to ask me, I would say that I am resting in the comforting knowledge that I absolutely adore this new home of mine. I would say that I am fidgeting in the discomforting idea of beginning to travel India, outside my home in the forest. I would say that I am reveling in the beautiful idea of how much I love my family, my friends, my Fresno.

Usually, what I do at 4:15 each morning – is burst awake to the poppy, energetic, nearly abrasive music blasted from one of three temples in our neighborhood.

6:15 – I wake up again, this time more sleepily, to more welcoming words from our wake-up call volunteer. My favorite by far… “Wake up, you sleepyheads. Get up, get out of bed! Gonna have some fun, digging a brand new bund; we’ll have some conversation on our favorite topic of water conservation. Good morning, Sadhana! Time to wake those weary eyes!”
Although I’ll admit that the newer song “Wake Up, Little Hippies” is a close second.

6:30 – I crawl out of my mosquito net, slap on some clothes that still have a few clean spots, stumble outside the main hut to our first work meeting, joining about one hundred other volunteers in collective sleepy tooth-brushing (with an awkward-tasting organic toothpaste I still haven’t gotten used to) and banana-eating and muffled greeting of each other.

From here we split up – some to cook breakfast, stirring delicious porridge and chopping loads and loads of pineapple, papaya, lime, banana, chickoo, and other tasty fruit… some to form a watering chain stretching from our mudpool to trees that need some thirst-quenching love… some to dig, some to plant, some to mulch, some to take care of the village’s inner workings.

8:30 – We hear a bell ring and draw us in with its call to breakfast. A stop by my hut to grab a journal, a pen, a good book, and maybe the camera, and then some time to relax before the moment of silence and a fantastically satisfying and well-deserved breakfast. Reading, writing, conversing, batting the flies away from my feet that now have way too many cuts and bug bites to count…

9:30 – More splitting up of work, perhaps building onto the sandbag eco-dome… cooking more delicious vegan lunch of rice, dahl, veggies, salad, and maybe even a banana mush dessert… collecting twigs for the fires… feeding the four dogs and three cats… learning to make charcoal and put out the fire at just the right time before all the work crumbles to ash… stirring the compost toilets to make sure the maggots haven’t discovered them… organizing, at least somewhat, the medicine box of foreign labels and homeopathic mystery… digging lots of holes and building lots of bunds to create space for water to collect…

12:30 – Lunch! Another well-deserved and almost always delicious meal. Of course that doesn’t stop most of us from venturing out to ice cream and chai for our dairy fix…
The afternoon and evening usually bring a vast spread of free time, for laundry or yoga or a mudpool visit or a bucket shower or workshops of all shapes and sizes, or otherwise milling about the place and making friends. Most of the people I’m close with are in a permaculture course each afternoon. (Permaculture… large name, even larger concept, but so worth looking into. It seems to me essentially the emergent church on a farm…)

The evenings here are indescribable… The late-night jam session bonfires remind me of how much I need live music to feed me, the late-night conversations remind me of how interesting people are, the simple act of eating together in a shared space reminds me of how important community is.

By far one of the best parts of the schedule in Sadhana is the times when one can get away from Sadhana… take a bicycle or motorbike out into India beyond this little oasis of beauty. To Auroville for more eco-friendliness, Europeans, and a grand gold structure called the Matrimandir; to Kuyilapalayam for internet, ice cream, toilet paper, and a slice of India; to Koot Road for the real thing. Koot Road boasts it all – chai shops, vegetable stands, electronics shops, clothing shops, mobile recharge stations, forgotten roadside shrines, traffic that would make the West dizzy, a world that is totally different.

Sometimes I feel like curling up at night on a squishy cushion in a corner of the main hut, listening to the conversations happening and the sounds of guitar and djembe experimenting together, soaking in the restfulness and peace in this place.

And sometimes I feel like running to Koot Road to lose myself in the chaos, and set myself free from the desire to make sense of anything, or understand it even a tiny bit.

This weekend is the cusp between Sadhana and India.
I have no idea what to expect outside this home of mine, but I am expecting to be blown away.

So far the unexpected has turned out to be amazing.

I lied. I said I was going to India.

I said I was going to India to plant trees and spend time in a cult called Auroville.

As it turns out… We only plant in the monsoon season, we in a hippie ecovillage called Sadhana Forest are way too diverse in belief to be any kind of cult, and we are tucked away in the wilderness far from Auroville. But I am in India, I didn’t lie about that!

We mulch, we sing, we cook, we dig, we garden, we clean, we laugh, we explore, we do our own thing. We eat delicious vegan meals together, we compost our leftover food and our leftover poop, we use a computer run on solar energy, we live in huts made of bamboo and coconut hair rope, we spend time with people from our homes and from homes far away. My newest friends are Australian, Israeli, South African, British, Spanish, Irish, Indian, Danish, French, Argentinian, Finnish, and Belgian.

I am doing my very best to soak it all up… I really had no idea what to expect here. I expected India, which I’ve only caught glimpses of so far. These last three weeks, which seem to have gone SO much faster than three weeks, have been spent in a place nestled in the midst of India in all its craziness. I’ve caught glimpses – in the Chennai airport; in food/cigarette/cell phone recharge/toilet paper/toothpaste anything you can think of to buy shops by the side of the road; in local Tali restaurants; in my friends Mohan and Praesh from the village Morattandi; in advertisements; in chai and chai and more chai; in the lack of sight and lack of hands on beggars by the side of the road; in the multitude of goats and cows that roam the streets and bravely face any motorbike futilely wanting to pass; in the mix of tourist trap and local economy; in a visit to see the Hugging Mother Amma and partake in a sacred Indian ritual that draws a pushing, shoving, jostling, noisy, sweaty, love-seeking crowd for one single five-second hug from Amma; in images of Hindu gods all over the place, gracing the presence of anything they will stick to or be drawn upon; in Westerners who come to India seeking a spiritual presence that they can’t feel elsewhere.

There is a presence here. I can’t put my finger on it yet, but it’s unlike anything in the West.
I am terrifically nervous, and excited, and frightened beyond belief to explore this country… I have two more wonderful weeks in Sadhana Forest to soak up, and then it’s off to Kolkata. Three weeks on the road, seeking out bargain hotels, cheap restaurants, and the many hearts of India.

Thank you, to all of you who send your love this way and remind me of why I love my home so much.

I always grew up thinking I was somebody who detested the thought of home… so boring, so stable, so familar. But now I realize that being away from my home makes me yearn for it… and very ready to embrace it on March 4.

So. Sorry for lying, but what I did not expect has turned out to be amazing!

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