Saturday, May 22, 2004

Some snapshots 

Man stopped on scooter in dark surrounded by fields under star-filled sky, enjoying a cigarette as he looks up. Woman combing daughter’s hair who combs her daughter’s hair. Saddhu and cow, both under colors and scarlet kumkum powder and saffron marigold blossoms, walking down street.

Just about the best advice gathered in my last pre-trip days was from Eddie: stay in India for a while, don’t get to Mysore fresh off the plane. This made sense back in New York, and is making sense on many levels in India. Also- from a lovely lady fellow student, who’s known me for a while: don’t get too caught up too quickly in the social scene. And I have but haven’t, visiting and taking meals with people but seeking out and savouring alone-time and space to watch the clouds billow by and really see the people and absorb the lessons and allow for things to sink in and find their way out- or in. Also- from a longtime student of Guruji’s, the kind of person whose light is so dazzling you can’t help but shine a little brighter yourself: don’t spend all your time in Gokulam, and get to know the Indian people. And I have been, to varying extents, and grateful for it.

The people who live near me continue to blow my mind every time I allow for space for interactions with them. Every time. Through sign language and gestures and a little English and less Sanskrit and more gestures, their warmth and frankness and bigheartedness still teach me and amaze me, every time.

The neighbor whose puppy I borrow and parade around, inviting me to the puja (ceremony) for the completion of their second floor apartment (three weeks ago, but still being completed as they tile floors and polish marble). The neighbor who accosted me as I mounted Scooty, handing me a fistful of still-warm laddoo. The kids on the corner who, upon spotting me on as I sat on my balcony, ears enveloped by Tori Amos, started bhangra and disco dancing on their doorstep, blasting music of their own. I turned the walkman off. The family across the way holding up a black and white fluffball of a puppy for me to see, gesturing for me to go see. I did, today. Sit on a stoop with the women and girls as they hand-roll damp black incense sticks (ready in one month) and hand talk and laugh and try to respond to their questions in Kannada aided by one-word English from a teenager. Jewelry is the thing, here. They admire my gold ring and diamond studs and try to convince me to concede that a nose stud like they all wear would be a good thing. They all ooh and aah over the Ganpati (Ganesha/elephant head deity whose affinity for laddoos I share) pendant I wear under my shirt. Even though it is silver. They cluck with approval at my bangles (today: bright blue and sparkly). Promise to come back. As I make my way cross the narrow green, am called over to the lowest of the three shacks next door. Through the smoke billowing out the chest-height entrance, the older lady shows me a mange-covered bitch with three tan-colored puppies tethered to the floor and to her teats. I smile and voice appreciation and gesture no, cannot take one but Namaskara anyway.

Radha from next door is in her final year for an MBA and takes refuge up the stairs on my landing for some view and quiet when she needs to memorize outloud from texts. She has asked me to teach her how to speak with an American pronunciation. Good luck to me, as my accent is neither very American nor very well-pronounced. But we will try, this weekend. Kids still holler “HI-YEE!” as I drive or walk by, and sometimes in Gokulam or in town I find myself initiating the greeting as they look at me, dark-eyed and half-smiling, sometimes greeted back by a continued stare as their eyes have seen many more Westerners than the kids up the hill near me. Last week, on one of my temple-seeking morning expeditions I drove up a cobbled street that was one-way. As I make a Uturn, a couple has brought out their toddler to check out the Auntie, who promptly starts bawling, evoking a belly-laugh from me and smiling admonishments by the parents. These things fill my heart, so known from my early years in Greece and so eclipsed in my recent years in New York. Will be taking so much with me from here, and it feels like the surface is only just being scraped. Excited and eager to see how it, and I, will evolve.

Sanskrit class has shrunk down to three of us, second month, and we are slowly starting on nouns and verbs. Chanting, also, we are three only, as the shala crowds are not so crowded (last week in led class, counted 16 bodies feet-up in headstand, as beginners were sent to back earlier). Practice is there, sharpening and shifting as I go about my days. As am I, it feels like sometimes. Half-joked, as I was leaving New York, many changes coming, this summer. Trying not to expect and anticipate. But I did, and they are, and of course they have been and will be different and deeper and more than I could or would imagine.

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