Saturday, 30 March 2013

My new best friend

Mahiri Dyana looks maybe 65.  She's stunning.

She tells me she is 78.  I can't believe it.  Her skin is smooth except for a little sagging here and there, a few wrinkles. She bubbles with energy and speaks English with a strong French accent and gets frustrated when Indians don't understand her.

She stops a mother on the street whose baby is bundled in heavy clothes and a blanket.

"He's too hot," she scolds.  "Too many clothes," she says louder and more slowly to the uncomprehending mother.  "Look at you - you're not wearing heavy clothes." Mahiri pulls at the woman's sari to illustrate her point.

At first the woman smiles warmly as do most people here in Mandvi, by the Sea of Kutch.  Then she realizes by Mahiri's tone and expression that she's being scolded.  She pulls her baby portectively away from the crazy French woman, her smile turning downwards into a frown.

The people here and in Bhuj are the friendliest people I've ever encountered anywhere.  Everyone smiles and says "Hello." On the street.  In restaurants.  Old people, women, men, children.  It feels incredibly safe and easy being here.

My new best friend's name was given to her by Osho.  As the woman with the overwrapped baby scuttles away, she mumbles a diatribe in French.  We sidestep mounds of fresh cow shit.

A motorcycle swerves past us.

"Polution!" she yells at the young driver pointing to the gray smoke pouring out his exhaust pipe.

We pass the "Movie Star Saloon Men's Barber."

Mahiri has founded a school for girls in one of the slums of Mumbai.  She has gathered sponsors for 130 girls in Calcutta.  Her Indian visa expires mid-June and she's on the chase of a man in Rishikesh who sells 'under the table' visas.

"They don't want me to continue my work here.  But I will find a way."

We walk along an old brick wall.  Two women in red and green saris look up at us from their work.  The saris drape elegantly.  The two women continue their work.  They shape cow shit into patties and press them against the wall to dry.  The wall is plastered with cow dung patties whose surfaces are covered with hand prints.  It looks like a modern art installation.  The dried dung will be used for cooking.  Or for the great mounds to be set aflame on Holi.

"Looks like itshould be in a museun," Mahiri says. "You know, I could die here," she adds.  "But I have too many things to do first."

A man yells at us: "Madame, your money is falling!"

The zipper on Mahiri's bag doesn't close and loose ruppee coins spill from her bag that she has somehow managed to turn upside down.

"Thank you! Thank you!" we call to the man and I bend to help her pick up the coins.

A large billboard advertises:

                      Multi Cousin Restaurant
                      Better than your imagination

The Tribal Territory of Bhuj

If Rose were a rose, she'd be a velvety apricot rose with a creamy center, edged in dark peach.

She's from California, now living in Brooklyn.  A writer and editor.  Jewish.  Smart.  Sensitive.  A perfect companion on this auto rickshaw excursion to the tribal villages North of Bhuj in Kutch.

As we bounce along a small road, we ply each other with question.  I want to know about this thirty-year-old's life in Brooklyn.  After ten years living abroad, I want to know about the states.

She wants to know about my life as a sixteen-year-old runaway in NYC in 1964.

 Our rickshaw driver and guide is Bharat - a tall strand of spaghetti floating in pressed blue jeans and a precisely ironed long-sleeve gray shirt.  He's minus a good bunch of teeth, but makes up for it by sporting huge tufts of hair curling from the lower outside of both ear lobes.  From the back of the rickshaw he reminds me of some sort of mythical goat man. His hair is cropped short - a color usually referred to as 'salt and pepper.' One long strand dangles down the back of his head, indicating that there's been a recent death in the family - his hair just growing back after the ritual head shaving that leaves the head slick and bald except for a strand of hair at the center back of the head.

"Did you ever see The Velvet Underground?" Rose asks as we buzz through country that could be somewhere in America's Southwest.  Maybe New Mexico, or Arizona, or somewhere in Nevada.

Visions of New York's Lower East Side suddenly flash before my eyes.  Long forgotten memories pop out of a dusty file cabinet in my brain like a scene from an old favorite movie.  Only it wasn't a film.  It was my life.

"On the night of the opening of Andy Warhol's 'Exploding Live Plastic Inevitable' I was walking back to my one room, cold-water flat on East 8th St, when I bumped into Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.  I had met them at poetry readings at Le Metro Cafe on 2nd Ave. Peter kept inviting me over to their apartment.  I showed up on a Saturday morning.  Allen was eating pickled herring and rye bread and asked me to join him. Anyway...Peter invited me to join them for this big opening of Warhol's 'disco', so I tailed along.  Since, I came with Allen, people there thought i must be someone important and let me in for free after that.  It was a great place to panhandle.  I'd hit up a few people here and there before leaving and always got enough money for the the next day's food." 

"Did you get to know any of the Velvet Underground," Rose asks.

"Well, I knew Niko. She was always lamenting the price she paid for her beauty." (I adopt a husky German accent.) "'You don't know what it's like. Women hate me.  Men are afraid to approach me.  I am always alone and lonely.  Heroine is my only friend.'"

Rose laughs.  "Yes, that fits exactly with her music."

The rickshaw pulls into a small village of white-washed mud huts.  My brain catapults forty-eight years forward from the ragged streets of the Lower East Side to the dusty lane of this tribal village in Kutch.

I leave my large purple shawl and sunglasses in the back of the rickshaw and step out into the welcoming smiles of a group of Rabari people.  The women wear a special blouse with brightly colored front pouches for the breasts.  It ties with two sets of ribbon in the back.  Their ear lobes have huge elongated holes from which dangle heavy gold earrings.  Around their necks they wear their marriage necklaces--a gold toothpick, a gold ear wax remover, and a rectangular gold locket containing a special prayer hang from a thick black cord.

Bharat emerges wearing my sunglasses and my purple shawl rakishly wrapped around his neck. He leads us to an open room where one man dressed from head to toe in off-white, sits at a hand-made loom weaving a tapestry. Rose and I watch as he slowly, patiently maneuvers threads and various wooden implements, creating an intricate design.

"All in his head," Bharat tells us.  "Interesting?" "Good feeling, Madame?"

We assure Mr. Hairy Ears that it's very interesting and that we feel good.

He repeats this refrain throughout the entire day like some kind of a mantra.  "Interesting?"  Good feeling?"

This leads me to picture Mr. Hairy Ears in bed with his wife.  I can see them having sex.  Mr. Hairy Ears repeating "Good feeling wife?  Interesting?"

Children surround us.  Smile bashfully. They sit near us.  I sit opposite the oldest and most open.  I begin a patty-cake game and soon each girl wants to play with me.

The day slides between past and present.  Between tales of me, Allen Ginsberg, and Peter Orlovsky marching down 5th Avenue playing finger cymbols and chanting 'Hare Krishna' (Allen and Peter had just returned from India) to tribes of people making hand-made laquered wooden goods, stitching incredible embroidery with hand-cut glass sewed in.

We stop for lunch in another village.  While waiting for a woman to cook our food, Bharat starts massaging my feet.

"Good feeling, Mam," he asks as he expertly presses his hard hands into the right places on my feet.  When he finishes with me, he moves on to Rose's feet.

A women emerges from her hut with metal plates of steaming food.  Rose and I sit cross-legged on a charpoy and enjoy home-made chappatis with dal and aloo.

The day is filled with "good feeling," everything is very "interesting," Rose is a perfect companion, and Mr. Hairy Ears turns out to speak every dialect of every tribe and be a font of knowledge as well as a wonderful foot masseur.


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

a good luck breakfast

The Cadillac Hotel in Ahmedabad is much more of a rusty old Ford than a Cadillac.  But when i arrived in my bare-bones room, one man immediately came into the room, sprinkled some sort of whitish liquid on the mirror and wiped it off with an old newspaper page.  He was followed by the ubiquitous floor cleaner.  A young man who pours some water on the floor from a metal pitcher and then using his foot, swishes a rag around on the floor.  Everything in the spartan room was very old and very used.  But it suited me. 

When I asked the manager for a recommendation for a good 'veg' restaurant, he directed me across the street to the Kailipa. 

As I approached the entrance, two young Muslim women were also entering.

"This must be a good place if you're coming here," I said.

"Please join us," one of them said as we entered the dimly lit but cool restaurant at the same time.

My two new companions are Ramana and Shabana.  Shabana is Ramana's aunt.  Romana is in Ahmedabad to take her KET English exams.  She has just married an Indian man employed and living in the UK and is in the process of doing whatever she can to get a visa to join him.

"Your English is very good," I tell her. "You will certainly do very well in your exam.  I know because I'm an English teacher in Turkey and I"ve given many KET exams."

"Thank you," she smiles a big beautiful smile. "I hope so.  Yesterday I did the speaking part.  Today, I must do writing.  I teach English to children, so I hope I will do OK."

We order our breakfast and chat. They tell me about the places they've visited: Chicago, England and Zambiye.

"We have relatives in many places in the world," they tell me.  "We are very lucky to travel to many different places."

When the bill comes, Shabana, the aunt, immediately takes it.  I try to pay for my part, but she refuses.

"It will bring me good luck," smiles Ramana.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ah Nasik

Why more tourists don't come here, I don't know.  I never see another white face or hear another language spoken when I'm here.

Nasik is the 4th holiest place in India and in a place like India with temples and palaces, monuments and sacred rivers around every corner - that's saying a lot.

In the morning, the Holy Godavari river glints like a mirror.  The wailing women in saris of blazing color, stand by the edge of the river, their doubles reflected in the river.  Families come here after the death of a family member.  Men sit and wait to have their heads shaved with only one special lock left in the middle of the back of their heads.  They are dressed all in white: white dhoti (the Gandhi, diaper-like garment) and white shawl draped around their otherwise naked upper body, and do strange rituals with rice balls, roots and twigs.

The temple bell clangs.  Priests utter incantations.  Women gather water from the sacred river in their cupped palms and offer prayers.  Burning incense fills the area as men walk into the river and submerge themselves and women walk slowly down a few steps into the oily water in their saris and dribble water over each other's heads. 

In the evening there is arti.  People come, buy little baskets of flowers with a candle in the center, light the candle and float the basket down the river.  Other people hold their baskets and circle them in wide arcs, led by the Hindu priest.

After evening arti, my rumbling stomach tells me its time to find food.  I decide to try the Manas Pure Veg Restaurant. 

I walk up the steps (there's no door) and enter.  The place is deserted.  Two men - one young, and one middle-aged, mustachioed man rush up to me. 

"Can I see your menu," I ask.

"Yes.  Yes," they both say.  Indians are prone to repeating things two times.  The older man indicates that I should walk to the back of the restaurant.  The younger man escorts me to a metal sink.

Do I look dirty, I wonder.

"Menu.  Menu," I say, now also getting in the habit of repeating things two times, as well as wagging my head side to side, as I mime holding a rectangular object that I've drawn in the air with my hands.

"Oh menu," he laughs and shares this joke with the other five young men who are not customers, but whose jobs I'm unable to ascertain, as they're just kind of hanging around doing nothing.

He gestures that I should sit at a booth and immediately brings me the ubiquitous metal glass of water that I won't drink because it comes from the tap.

"Menu," I remind him.

He scuttles off laughing and returns with a glossy six page menu.

Suddenly the restaurant fills with smoke.  Mr. Mustache parades through the restaurant carrying two half coconut shells from which great plumes of smoke pour out. I'm not sure if its incense as part of some evening puja, or if he's defogging the place for mosquitoes. The smell is terrifically strong and the place has gone so gray with smoke I can't see anything.   As my throat fills with the pungent stuff I grab my water bottle and take a huge gulp.

When the smoke finally clears I read the menu. When I look up, four young men, who I guess are employees, are leaning on the wall that surrounds my booth and staring at me.

"Hi guys," I say and smile.

They smile sheepishly and continue to stare at me until Mr. Mustache, the smoke distributor, shouts at them and they disperse.
 A young man in shorts and a t-shirt pours water on the floor from a metal pitcher, then squats down on the floor and wipes it with a dirty cloth.  He smiles up at me and happily continues his work.

The young man in jeans and yellow t-shirt who showed me to the sink, places a large and small metal plate in front of me.  When I move them, he returns and re-adjusts them to their original position.  Clearly, the smaller plate belongs on the right of the larger one and not the other way around.  Who knew?

A few minutes later he presents me with a medium-sized metal plate containing about three small red onions cut into halves, about six small lines cut into halves, and a small round metal bowl with a reddish-orange paste filled with slices of green things.

"What is this?" I ask.

"Yes. Yes," he says.  "You want juice?"

"No juice," I say, then point to the bowl of red paste.  "What's this?"

 His brows knit in concentration.  He looks into my eyes, then down at the plate. He tells me something in his language and smiles.

I put a tiny bit of it on my tongue.  Spicy hot. Salty. And incredibly strange.  I try a bit of the green bits.  Sour First sensation - I hate it and I"m sure my face is contorted with distaste.  But a second later an amazing thing happens.  I want more.  Each flavor is so clear and distinct, alive on a different part of my tongue. Hot.  Salty.  Sour.

The young ;man who was washing the floor returns in a pair of clean black jeans, a tan, button-down, rayon-looking shirt, and a dot of red paste in the middle of his forehead. Official waiter by night. Floor washer by day.

Periodically a young man wearing a cook's apron, and another two guys come over, lean on the wall, and watch me write in my journal.  Sometimes three other guys join them.  How many men work in this place and what in the world do they all do?

By now other families have filled other booths.  Drinking lassis.  Chatting.  Eating.

When I stand to leave, seven young men line up like a good-bye committee. They grin and wag their heads.

"Bye guys!" I say.

"Good-bye!" they sing out in unison like a scene in a Bollywood movie.    

I walk out into the street, doge the assault of motor vehicles, and make my way to Hotel Abhishek.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

toilet paper: a medicinal product or merely a toy?

I walk up to the front desk of the Hotel Abhishek in Nasik.

"Do you have any toilet paper," I ask.

"No Madame," the smiling desk clerk says. "You must go to the 'Medicals' store.  Medicals' store," he repeats. "Just across the street and down."  He points with his index finger in a vague direction outside of the hotel.

I wonder if in Nasik, toilet paper falls into the French category of hygienic paper.  Perhaps more medicinal than the  normal  American viewpoint on the matter.

Rickshaws dart and swerve, motorcycles cut in from everywhere. Four times I take a step forward only to have some motorized vehicle honk and jut in front of me causing me to take a quick little hop backwards.  On the fifth try I finally make it to the other side of the street.

Stepping up the tall marble step to the counter of the "Medicals" store (there is no front wall, no door) , I look at the clerk and say "Toilet paper?" an uplift at the end of my voice indicating that it's a question.

"Where can I buy some?" I ask.

"Toy shop.  Toy shop.  Two buildings down."  He points with his index finger.  I turn my head to follow its direction.

 Stepping down off the steep marble step, I turn left, walk past two buildings, and see a shop featuring lots of brightly colored plastic toys hanging everywhere.

Could this really be the shop allocated to the sale of toilet paper? This further confuses me as to how toilet paper is regarded here.  Medicinal?  A play thing?

"Do you have any toilet paper?" I ask, feeling a bit foolish inquiring in a toy shop.

The chubby clerk, whose brown short-sleeved shirt is straining at the buttons, revealing snatches of a very hairy belly, stares deeply into my eyes.  "Toilet paper," he asks.

I knew this couldn't be the right place to come,  but "Yes," I say, having to acknowledge my initial request.

"Toilet paper," he says the words slowly and with deep significance as if pondering a mighty spiritual dilemma.

Not knowing what else to do, I nod and say, "Yes.  Toilet paper."

He moves away from the counter and goes to the back of the store.  He emerges from the storeroom with a tall bamboo ladder which he leans against an opening in the ceiling, and with his pudgy bare feet slowly climbs rung by rung, finally disappearing into the attic.

He's gone for awhile and then I hear him call out to me: "How many Madame?  Just one?"

"Just one," I call up to him.

He lumbers down the ladder and places a tissue-paper wrapped roll of t.p on the counter.

"35 rupees," he says.

I pay the equivalent of 65 cents and head back to my hotel pondering the greater ramifications of this interaction .

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

riding the rails with the Hare Krishnas

the 4am train to Nasik makes a 2 minute stop at Thivim station.

I literally run down the platform scanning each car for the "S8" car. I haul myself and pack up the steep iron steps and plunge into darkness.  Feeling through my bag, I pull out my flashlight.  I had googled "Indian train seating," so I could find my compartment in the dark.  Holding a ticket for Lower Berth 57 made it easy, since it was the second compartment from the end.  I counted "1", "2," and sure enough there's a man sleeping in my berth.  I shine my flashlight in his face.  He's solidly asleep. "Hello.  Excuse me sir," I call out, "but you're in my berth." No response.

I shine the flahlight in the face of the man sleeping opposite him. He stirs, lifts his head, and looks at me.

"So sorry," I say, "but he's sleeping in my berth.

The man mumbles and groggily pulls himself out of the berth.  He shakes the other man, who I find out in the morning, is his son.  The son takes several shakings, proddings and yells before he can be aroused from his deep, train-rocked sleep.  He staggers, still half asleep, and stumbles about pulling up the middle berth and chaining it in place.  He indicates that i can now climb up, but I persist in my need for my chosen lower berth.  He finally relents and hauls his body up to the berth above me.

The rocking, shaking, clanging shake me into sleep and I awake to find myself surrounded by 7 Hare Krishna American youths on pilgrimage to the Krishna temple in Vrindravan, led by one amber-eyed, Croatian monk.

One young, baby-faced, blue-eyed devotee carefully drapes his sheath of pale saffron cloth around this waist, knots it, pulls out a swath of cloth in front of his body, pleats it, pushes it between his legs, grabs it from behind, pleats this end, and finally tucks it into the back of his waist as the Indian 2nd class sleeper train parade begins.

The leader, the chai wallah, struts through the coach bellowing "Chaiiiii! Chaiiii!"He's followed by his brother the coffee wallah yelling "Coffeeeeee! Coffeeeee!"  The circus continues with blind men selling chains to attach your luggage to the metal brackets under the seats.  Following them come men with two 5-foot-tall poles of key rings dangling from branches on either side of the poles.  Samosa sellers hawk hot deep-fried masala potato-filled dumplings.  Other men shout about their deep-fried potato balls accompanied by 2 small square buns and 2 very hot thin green chili peppers.  "Panni water cold drink! Panni water cold drink!" bellow young men.  Behind them a man pulls a huge sack of freshly popped popcorn.  One man carries a cardboard box filled with children's toy.  Another flips a dazzling light-twinkling top that spins its way down the litter-filled aisle.  And at the end of the procession, a aged woman with no legs scuttles along the aisle sweeping the litter before her with a palm frond broom and begging for money for her dubious endeavors.  And no Indian train ride would be complete without the Harijans - India's infamous transvestites, who prance through the train from coach to coach, heavily made up, in colorful saris, clapping hands loudly and demanding money from everyone and not accepting "No," as an answer.

"Man, how are you?" one beefy, disgruntled-looking Krishna devotee asks another who's been sitting crosslegged and mouthing chants, eyes closed.

He opens his eyes and looks at his fellow-devotee. "I'm fine.  You?" he asks.

"Man, I don't know.  Being trapped on this train...I can't concentrate.  I tried meditating, but man, all this 'Chaiii!' he imitates the call of the chai wallah.  "How can I mediate with all these people screaming and bumping into me and all this..." he waves his large-boned hand. "I don't know, man." He plunks down next to me as I sit up and swivel into a sitting position.

"Life getting in the way of your morning meditations," I ask, raising my eyebrows and smiling wickedly.

He pushes his dark-rimmed glasses  up on his nose, gives me an American once over appraisal with his eyes, and one corner of his mouth turns up slightly in a somewhat sneering smile.  He half turns toward me.

"No."  He shrugs and turns away, clearly not willing engage with some provocative middle-aged woman on a train.

But the Croatian leader of the group turns toward me.  We make eye contact, exchange smiles, and I feel instant recognition of a kindred soul.

The problem meditator gets up.  The Croatian sits down. Immediately we're talking heart to heart.

"I'm from Croatia.  A small town near the sea.  Not a crazy, big city, but even so, at fourteen, I looked at the world and it seemed so crazy and pointless and ugly.  And I decided to become a monk and devote myself to the life of the spirit."  His amber eyes are warm and soft.

I understand him completely and flash back to my fourteen -year-old self reaching out my hand for a copy of the New Testament.

A group of  Christian proselytizers used to set up a stand in the all-Jewish shopping center on Saturdays and attempt to hand out the NEw Testament to Jews enroute to buy new clothes or fresh loaves of rye bread from Bogaslavsaki's.

Reading the New Testament on my bed, door of my room closed, I wept with my first taste of spiritual rapture and thought: 'I want to become a nun and devote myself to contemplation of all that's holy and sacred and be a daughter of God, married to Christ.'

So yeah, I understand exactly where he was coming from.

For a Hare Krishna ordained monk he's refreshingly anti-proselytizing.  His interests range from bio-diversity in farming (he's setting up an organic farm outside the Krishna Consciousness Center in San Diego) to politics to health.

"I'm happy doing service where I can.  Doing whatever I can to make the world a little better."

After 2 hours of talk he gets up to help some of his "charges."

A young devotee takes his place next to me and launches into a diatribe on Vedic knowledge.

"Excuse me," I interrupt his lecture in a soft but firm voice and a sweet smile, "Did you confuse me with someone who had requested a morning lecture?"

He looks at me puzzled.  "A lecture," he asks.  "What do you mean?  I just wanted to have a heart to heart talk."

"Well, you weren't speaking to me from your heart - you were completely in your head, delivering information you'd read in a book."

."Oh," he says, "I thought you were interested in Vedic knowledge."

   "I'm interested in knowledge where ever I can find it.  It can come from the chai wallah or the Baghavad Gita, or the trash collector."

"Well, I've been reading the Vedas and for the first timer everything is becoming clear."

"That's good," I say, nodding my head in confirmation.  "So, what's become clear?"

"Well, before...I I used to eat but hours later I was hungry again.  So just eating for taste - it became disgusting.  And my girlfriend - after I saw her - I'd want to see her again and I saw how all these things were disgusting."

I interrupt him.  "We're in a body - this body - it's a gift we've been given.  It has 5 main senses and if we're aware, we can revel in the glory of what a good palak paneer tastes like; the infinite pleasure that comes when a warm breeze caresses our cheek - " Here I close my eyes and gently caress my cheek.  (I'm on a proselytizing roll of my own now) "The sweetness of the song of a bird," I continue.  "The smell of jasmine flowers at twilight.  And eyes to witness the glory of a crimson sunset!  What's disgusting about that???"

His mouth hangs slightly open.  His eyes are lackluster, dead. I can almost hear the wheels of his head turning.

It takes a minute, but he finds the right file cabinet of his brain, opens a folder, and starts reciting.

After several minutes in which he apperas to be speaking withough taking a breath, I again interrupt him.

"I'm sorry," I say.  "I don't want to be doing this.  I"m happy you've found something that works for you.  Good luck on your path.  I want to be quiet now."  I turn and look out the open window, through the 4 blue metal bars out to the hut-like stacks of hay.  At the scarecrows dangling from sticks in the field.  At the strange mountain formations with nippled peaks.

"Pani water!"

A new group of vendors enter at the next stop and the show starts all over again.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

good bye arambol

Entering Ganesh Travels, I'm told by the proprietor: "Ah Madame, these ladies are going on the same train as you.

I turn to see 2 women sitting in the red plastic chairs behind me,

"Hello," I say.

"Hello," they return giggling merrily.

The older of the two immediately asks: "Are you going to Delhi, too?"

"No," I answer.  "To Nasik."

And so I meet Oxana and Lisa from Siberia.  Oxana is 40-years-old, white-blond with honey-colored eyes.  She has one rasta braid attached to the back of her fair hair and is quick to interact with me.

"I love here, you too?"

"Yes," I say.  " I love it here."

Oxana continues.  "I love ocean.  Heat.  I love too much.  I very love here."

Lisa joins the conversation.  She's 27-years-old with red hair pulled back into a pony tail and big blue eyes."I love ocean too much," she smiles a huge smile. "My English not so good, but here friendly people.  Big smile every peoples.  I very much happy.  My heart feel good." She breaks into contagious joyous laughter and opens her blue eyes wide. They sparkle with vitality and happiness.

"Where are you from," I ask.

"We from Siberia," Oxana says.

"Oh my God! What's the weather like in Siberia right now?" I ask.

"Maybe minus 10, minus 15.  Spring start now.  But still snow up to..." Oxana waves her bronzed arm over my 5-foot-tall head.

We hug and kiss and laugh and smile and I finally depart with my train ticket and a plan to meet my new Siberian friends on the train station the following night.

                              *                            *                              *                                *

On my way home, walking the lanes of the little village where I stay, I hear a squeal of absolute joy.  I turn to see a little boy squatting in front of his door with a small blackboard and a piece of white chalk.  Next to him, his father squats reading a newspaper.  The boy uses his hand to wipe off his chalkboard and again squeals with delight.  He furrows his brows in deep concentration, draws a picture, and again breaks into unequivocal whelps of happiness.  He shows the picture to his father, who nods and says something to him which seems to make the child feel good.  The child repeats this process over and over with unceasing delight.  Each time the father gives feedback.  Images of the children of the western world flash into my mind - children who possess every conceivable electronic gadget known to mankind and yet seem to get so little joy from their use.  You draw the conclusion.

                            *                           *                                *                                 *

Back in my room, geckos scuttle along the walls as I pack my backpack in preparation for my departure at 3am tonight.  I think about my days in Arambol: Rising at 7:30.  Every other day yoga from 9 - 10:30.  A walk through the lanes of my village into town to Tender Coconut where the owner of the stand lops the top off a coconut, sticks in a straw and hands it to me.  I slurp the vitamin-rich coconut water, then hand it back to him.  He takes his hachet and slams it through the middle, dissecting it into halves, he then slices off a wedge from the outside for me to use as a scoop, and hands it back to me.  I sit by the road, watch motorbikes whiz by as i scoop tender slices of fresh coconut from the shell and feel so happy to be alive.

Maybe i take a walk along the beach.  Maybe i go to Dylan's for breakfast  where the tall Frenchman with the shaved head but for one circle of black hair on the back of his head, walks in, tosses his pack on one of the mats on the floor, extends one arm down to the mat-covered floor, and executes a single-arm hand stand, his long muscled legs, toes pointed, rise to the ceiling.  Or some days "Hat boy" practices his hat act in the center of the room, tossing 3 red felt hats from head to air to arm, through his legs, behind as back as customers lounge about on mats on the floor, sipping ginger lemon honey tea as the ceiling fan whirs. And then maybe back to my room.  Wash out some dusty clothes in the blue plastic tub and hang them out to dry.  Late afternoon jumping over the big waves when the sea is rough or floating on my back on calm days. Dinner at Magic Park or Priya or Sai Deep where I savor a freshly squeezed black grape juice.  And then on to live music.  A different concert every night.  Every night me dancing, swaying, leaping in joy to wonderful music.

I walk down to find my landlady to pay for my stay. She looks at my ali baba pants, loose magenta top, red shawl draped over one shoulder and she asks the question i've thought about many times: "Do you dress like that in your country?"

I laugh and say, "I do, but other people don't."

"How do people dress in your country?" she asks.

"They wear jeans and t-shirt."

Because i've thought about what a strange distorted view of the rest of the world the Indian population of Arambol must have.  With this place filled with freaks, alternatives, arrayed in the wildest fashions, hair in the unlikeliest of styles, juggling in the streets, singing and dancing and cavorting like a scene from a bad  60s B movie about Haight Ashbury, what possible conclusion must they draw of foreigners?  

So, goodbye Arambol.  Although I know that geographically speaking you're part of Goa, India, culturally you're part of some warm oceanic hinterlands of freakdom.  It's been great, but i long to see India.

So, i'm off to Nasik, 4th holiest city in India.  A city i visited 4 years ago and never saw another non-indian. 
It's been great, but i long for new challenges.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

my gypsy dream realized

i wake with a vague discontent.

"it's time to leave this little slice of heaven," i think.  "I want adventure, some travel in rickety Indian buses, crammed to capacity, bouncing over pot-hole-riddled roads - flying a good 6 inches off my barely-padded blue seat, followed by a tail bone- slamming thud that forces an unsought "Ayyyy!" out of my mouth, as my vertebrae ripple from tail bone to neck.

why would a 65-year-old woman crave such a thing? 
because it's a kind of cultural DisneyLand ride. a sublime challenge.  how much can i let go?  how much can i merge with a group of travelers whose lives are nothing like mine?  creating internal mantras that whisper: "as my heart beats - so does theirs.  as my blood courses through my veins so does theirs.  as my chest expands and collapses, so does theirs." 

besides, there are too many Russians in Arambol now.  the ratio of posters, flyers, and notices in the Russian cyrilic alphabet now outnumber those in English.  Russians everywhere.  tall powerful blond woman with babies suckling at their breasts.  naked blond Russian babies running jubilantly through restaurants and on the beaches. strong sturdy solid little tykes with broad smiles and determined faces.  hardly ever crying.  fat and content - looked after by their barrel-chested fathers and smiling amber-eyed mothers scantily clad in tiny wrapped and draped sarongs.

"I'll walk along the beach, then go to Dylan's," i tell myself, needing a plan to catapult me out of the oh so Shanti Shanti calm that envelopes me. "then after breakfast, i'll figure out where to go next.  maybe have a coffee to snap me out of this heat-lulled stupor.

and then my whole attitude shifts when Pierre sits down next to me.

1 hour after arriving in Arambol, I met the dancing Pierre and Emilie at the Prem Joshua concert.  on the free side of the billowing sarongs stretched to form a wall of color.  we just started dancing together under the full moon and hung out together like old friends.

i hadn't seen Pierre since, but now we pick up conversation as if we were long time best friends.  with complete openness.  with depth and transparency, we share ourselves.  for 3 hours we sit on the cushions on the floor and communicate our fears and longings, our joys and raptures.

leaving Dylan, i think: "what an amazing place this is.  i think i'll stay a bit longer."

then evening, after dinner at Magic Park, as a cool breeze blows off the sea of Arabia, i hear music as i approach Mohan's.  my step quickens.  my heartbeat speeds up.  a smile spreads across my face.

and sure enough, when i arrive, Sergei, the Ukranian accordian player gives me a full toothy smile.  Maria Peligro (a chilean singer that i know from istanbul) opens her eyes wide and flashes me a huge laughing welcoming.  Jaime, (the chilean guitar player who i also know from his playing with "Billie Not on Holiday" in Istanbul) welcomes me.  i lean over and kiss the head of my Turkish musican friend Firat, who is squatting on the ground playing darbuka.  he turns, hugs me and kisses me on each cheeks.  the other Ukranian musicians smile and nod at me.  AND OF COURSE, WITHOUT A MOMEMT'S HESITATION, I SLING MY BAG UNDER A CHAIR AND START DANCING!!! in the only place available, as the musicans and spectators spill out of the small restaurant, in the street.

Sergei swigs whiskey from a tall, squarish bottle and breaks into song while accompanying himself on his accordion.  the baby-faced tuba player puffs out his cheeks and blows the full bass notes.  the male and female violin players slide their bows across the strings of their instruments , then sing harmony.  Maria slaps her tambourine.  the full-bearded Ivan beats the bass drum, and 2 men play guitar.

song over, Sergei takes off his white panama hat, slicks back his long brown hair with his fingers, re-dons his hat, takes a healthy slug of whiskey, and shouts: "Let's go!"

the musicians rise and promonade down the dusty road to the beach playing wild gypsy music: "Ay tchiki tchiki..." as i swirl my purple and white shawl and dance exuberantly - part of this band of mad wonderful musicians.

we stop at ouside tables of diners on the beach.  i pull people up to dance with me. Russians join in, singing along.  and finally Sergie removes his white panama and extends it to the people, urging them to contribute.

we move through the sand as waves' foam fringes the coast, then recedes.  overhead Orion winks at me and Cassiopia rocks a littel moe vivaciously in her rocking chair.

like a scene out of a Tony Gatliff film.

i live out a long-held dream: to dance with a band of gypsy musicians in total abandonmnet, beneath a starry sky.

is life perfect or what?


Saturday, 2 March 2013

first day of summer in arambol

Friday, Narch 1st.

An explosion of sound at dawn.  The birds go mad in a riot of shrieks chirps trills tweets cries caws whistles whoops warbles and hoots that pierce my sleep and wake me laughing out loud. Plus it sounds as if maybe 3 huge birds are dancing a wicked watusi on my tile roof. Tiny gray squirrels scamper up and down the huge banyon tree outside my balcony at the edge of the rice paddies, chattering wildly. Cows low.  Bulls bellow.  Lizards 'hoop hoop hoop.'

It's nature's dawn alarm clock.  

"Wake up sleepyheads!  It's March 1st.  The first day of summer in India.  The meteorologists predict a high of 37 degrees Celcius (99 degrees Fahrenheit). So enjoy the dawn's fresh cool while you can!"

Friday, 1 March 2013

Mr. Stamina @ Arambol Sunset Drum Circle

the sun glows crimson as it sinks into the Sea of Arabia.  a swath of shimmering reflection streaks horizon to sand orange pink..  the wet sand reflects and mirrors a second red globe.  12 people pound drums, 3 shake rattles and shakers, 1 old, gray-haired, gray-bearded hippie plays a wooden flute, the melody of "Caravan" whispering above the primal drumming.  old hippies, neo-hippies, freaks, alternative types, a whole lot of vacationing Russians, and a few Indians writhe, shake, shimmy, jump, hop and skip, churning the silken sand under their feet to a cool gray powder.  dreadlocks fly, babies run naked through the crowd, parents twirl children in wide arcs.

next to the drum circle, crafts people display their hand-made jewelry, clothes, and other goods on sarongs laid on the sand.  Jugglers juggle.  poi twirlers twirl.  partners balance in acrobatic yoga.  other yoga practitioners view the sun upside down in headstands.  and of course, no sunset celebration would be complete without the requisite fire dancers.

a bare-chested young man in khaki-colored knee-length shorts and a tie-dyed shawl draped around his neck walks around near where i'm seated, looking in the sand, and muttering: "Where are my shoes?"

at one point, he looks down at me and says: "Stamina."

i hold his eyes and wait for more to come but he only repeats this one word.


he resumes his search for his shoes, then turns back to me.

"Stamina," he repeats. "Do you know what that means?"

Yes," i answer.

"Stamina," he says for the forth time.

"Yes?" i ask wondering where this one word mantra is headed.

"Stamina," he asserts, "I've got it."

"Good for you," i say.

he finds his shoes, tosses his colorful scarf around his neck.  it waves behind him in the sea breeze as he makes his way along the beach and a band of scarlet forms where the sky meets the sea.