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