Day 19- August 7
Thursday - The RAMAYANA PUPPET SHOW!
The internet woes continue…alas…no pictures – which is truly sad, because today we saw the leather shadow puppet theater….a retelling of the Indrajit section of the Ramayana –LOTS OF FIGHTING and DEATH and RESSURECTION and MONKEYS!. Just think about the New Testament meets the Wizard of Oz….but the monkeys are the good guys here. Our wonderful family that has been presenting this program for the last 7 years has suffered deep tragedy. The patriarch of the family – the main booking agent and actor (as a puppeteer, mind you) “is no more” (translation for westerners, he’s passed on), and the matriarch, the voice of many of the most hilarious and wonderful roles, was in the hospital as of last night. So the remainder of the family pulled off a miracle performance. As usual, there is the perplexing question of “what the heck is actually going on here!”, but then there was sheer amazement and amusement with the performance. Staggering brilliance, rough-hewn music and acting, and fantastic puppetry of India’s finest folk. We are so lucky to have seen them/heard them. (Huge thanks to Sindhu Suresh for working the phone so diligently…it took her many many hours to pull this off!).
Day 18, August 6-
Wednesday – “buduvara”….we used the day wonderfullly….going to the wonderful and bucolic bird sanctuary seeing 100′s of egrets and ibises, and hearing the lovely bamboo groves “creak” as they sway. Very very nice outing. We all had a fantastic ice cream treat with Heath bar nuts…finished off by stray dogs. Hm.
The afternoon was sleepy, dreamy, while some shopped and practiced, but to finish the day we went deep into the world of Swami Vivekananda by watching the sort-of-stiff but still deeply poignant Indian production of his bio. His dream for a collective religion seems to resonate deeply with a number of us on this trip – and it’s fodder for more discussion, probably once we’re home. It’s too fresh and the nerves are frazzled here.
Day 17, August 5
Tuesday – BOLLYWOOD! This perhaps deplorable term needed deep exploration, and we DID it. We saw the new movie “Kick”, a wild blend between Die Hard, Batman, Bruce Lee Films, and …well, of course…..old Bollywood films. The dance numbers went from “Gangnam Style” stuff (K-pop), to Lady Gaga and Beyonce (at their most average). The leads were stunningly gorgeous, but most of us felt like we were watching “The Rock” and Penelope Cruz in an action musical (okay…I’m making it sound pretty good, huh?). The theater was lovely and comfy and clean, and they sold popcorn for 50 rupees (about 85 cents) a small box. And it was, if you must know, darn good! Tomorrow I’ll recover the students’ souls a bit by showing a movie depicting the life of Swami Vivekananda…:)
Day 16, August 4
Monday – or “Somavara” (literally day of the Moon!). We are back to “program”, meaning lessons! They are revving up, taxing, and longer. The Gurus are now comfortable giving us extremely challenging material, which means the hostel sounds like a Music Academy with drums, flutes and chanting permeating the brick walls – and bouncing everywhere in a cacophony of Carnatic cosmicity. The building is also “full up” with “100 new members”, a state-wide leadership conference sponsored by the SVYM training program. It’s a building bustling with people, and new friends will be made!
I took the open evening to use a little time to share my “faith” with the students in a friendly, humorous, and perhaps even academic way – a demonstration of the Puja. Puja, which means, “flower play” in Sanskrit, is the traditional ritual done in many Hindu homes around the world, and involves chanting many Slokhas (lines of prayer) while offering various “things” to a deity – in this case Ganesha. We were lucky to have Rushi with us – being raised in a Hindu/Indian household, as well as a guest, Priya, who was raised in a Jain/Indian household (she has befriended the group – not an “official U-M group member). Both Rushi and Priya had a lot to say especially about the ubiquity of the tradition of Puja. It was a delightful experience for all of us, especially tossing petals of the flower at the feet of Ganesha as I chanted in Sanskrit, and the sharing of the Prasad (gift of food for the deity) after the Puja – in this case a Parli-G, my grandson’s favorite cookie in the world…and just happens to be an Indian cookie.
If you would like my explanation of the Puja for westerners, please do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are horrified that the internet is so slow – we can’t post pictures!!! you can see some photos at Merilynne’s Facebook site (Merilynne Rush, my best friend….!).
Day 15, August 3
Sunday- a day of rest (or shopping, or movies, or practice or journalling or yoga!). Yes…all those things got done, everything from Caddyshack to Quentin Tarantino movies was watched, students went on a “pilgrimage” to Ramson’s – a HUGE government-owned emporium for trinkets, furniture and virtually everything you can imagine. Sadly the internet speed here is super-slow- and i can’t upload pictures- the funnest part of this blog – I know. Sorry! We’re working on it.
We had a very inspiring meeting last night with the entire group – a “check-in” as it were. People gave different accounts of their “place along the way” emotionally. It was teary in parts, cheerful in others, and we all were reminded that time in India – for us anyway – is deeply precious, and we should spend it well. It is also a kind of “survival test” for us Westerners (even those that aren’t “western” in the group are still in the same boat, it seems. We do have a Taiwanese, Japanese and US-born Indian in the group.
Tessa really helped us along by reading an astoundingly appropriate poem by the great Rumi (the 12th c. Sufi Poet/Saint – ..uh….Rumi, not Tessa):
Why ask about behavior
when you are soul-essence
and a way of seeing into presence?
Plus you are with us. How could you worry?
You may as well free a few words
from your vocabulary why and how and impossible.
Open the mouth-cage and let those fly away.
We were all born by accident,
but still this wandering caravan
will make camp in perfection.
Forget the nonsense categories
of there and here.
Race and nation and religion.
Starting-point and destination.
You are soul and you are love,
not a sprite or an angel or a human being.
You are a Godman-womanGod-manGod-Godwoman.
No more questions now
as to what it is we are doing here.
Day 14, August 2
Yesterday we went to the jungle- to see the hospitals and schools established by SVYM (our organizational host – Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement). It is “not religious”, in that they are not out to “convert people to Hinduism”, but they are out to IMPROVE INDIA. Whatever it takes…and the best choice, for them, as a team of trained doctors in the early 80′s was to build a hospital, then an adjoining school (which they did, amazingly, TWICE!).
We were lucky enough to walk thru both hospitals, have lovely Kashia (many spellings) tea at the Ayurvedic hospital, dine with the students and play/teach/get crazy with the students at the “tribal school”. The school for tribals (aboriginal Indians) was truly inspiring, and we really had fun learning English/Kannada, dancing, and playing sports (SOME of us). The down side was the excruciating bus ride to and fro. The country roads here are akin to 2-trackers in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Unpredictable, washed out, and super-tricky. The problem here is double tho – because buses, motorcycles, farmers, sheep, cows and goats all use these roads too. It’s crazy!
Overall, a very inspiring and tiring trip. The idea that we could do something truly great and not expend energy was naive…I realize.
Day 13, August 1
Today we had saree fitting (no, I’m not showing you a picture) as well as a wonderful lecture on the Panatanjali – the great Yoga scholar from 2nd BC (?!) by N.V. Nagaraja Rao (not the co-founder of the program, but another one). He gave a fantastic history of Yoga, completely explaining all 8 “Angas”, the Eight “Limbs”- as in Ashtanga Yoga. Students were rapt in attention at this very dense and difficult lecture by one of the true great scholars of Sanskrit (he’s taught at U. of Chicago) as well as other places.
It was also kind of a day of recovery. Still lots of sniffles, etc., but for the most part people are gearing up for our big weekend trip “to the jungle”, to see the hospitals and Montessori schools in Kenchenaholli and Sargur. Sit tight everyone…..this is the 1/2-way point!
H.V. Naragaraja Rao lecture’s on Yoga
Days 12, July 31
Samantha, Kripa-ji, Dr. Rush, sir
Dance CONCERT!!! Our wonderful guru, Kripa-ji entertained, stunned, thrilled and amused us with a one-hour staging of the entire Ramayana! This annual tradition, started by our co-founder, Dr. Nagaraja Rao who “is no more” as they say, is a foundation to the program. A sort of aesthetic test of our collective abilities to remember the basic story of the great Ramayana. Most of us passed!
On the log drum – Mrdangam, the teacher Ramanujan! He’s a genius.
Days 10, 11-July 28 and 29, 2014
catching up here…it’s all happening so fast! Monday we had “lessons as usual”…and found that everything is harder, ESPECIALLY Yoga! Yoga-ji is pouring on the Asanas, and they are tough (if sometimes darn levitational!). OW! Lessons are also harder…and gurus are giving us more than a full cup. Very exciting, challenging, scary and loving all at the same time!
Monday afternoon we did the “Ramayana Party”, one of my favorite activities. Merilynne said this was the best one ever…I don’t know….they all are pretty delightful. I buy a bunch of snax (including Parlee-G! the best cookie ever) and we “group-tell” the story of the Ramayana. It’s at it’s best when people interrupt with juicy and wild “back-stories” or point out the sexism in the story, or commonalities to things like the Bible or the Legends of King Arthur. This group has this story DOWN! And it’s a truly great story…if often confusing…..
And yesterday we had a double-treat…a Ramazan party in the Muslim section of town (yes….). A wonderful friend of Sindhu’s welcomed us in, gave us a lovely meal of mutton/vermicelli, Halvah, and Pomegranites (almost sounds Biblical!) and then treated us (?!) to a video of his daughters’ wedding. The reactions were strong to the video – and a fabulous discussion about gender in Muslim culture ensued, as well as arranged marriages and even the notion of caste (we were all asked pointedly, “what does your father do for a living”. Hmmm.
Then…Ramanujan-ji, the mrdangam teacher, “accompanied” an amazing concert of duo violinists (taught by Murthy-ji, our erstwhile violin guru..and a huge Mysore institution). We stayed almost to the end – it was a 3-hour concert…gruelling, lovely, fantastic, leg-numbing, and just impossible rhythmically. An AMAZING treat!!!
Concert with the Mrdangam teacher!
Day 9-July 27, 2014 On we go! It’s a Sunday. Husbands and wives out going for walks, most of the staff is gone, but fun is happening. After a wild breakfast of hot rice, spicy coconut chutney and delicious Mysore (Nestle, probably) coffee….people split up to go to naps, stores, practice and did I say naps? India WILL take it out of you, physically, emotionally and spiritually (and put it all back in differently, if you catch my drift!).
Most of us went to the “Green Hotel”, a very eco-friendly and beautiful hotel, for lunch – then some shopping at the bazaar known as Devaraja Market (some of us are almost addicted to bazaar shopping, and there’s a joke in there somewhere!). More napping on this delicious cool Sunday (about 77-degrees and overcast), and then off we go to a Vocal Concert! Many surprises in store, hopefully most of them musical .
Day 8-July 26, 2014
It’s just not possible we’ve been here a week in Mysore – or it seems like a month! The land of contradictions! We spent the morning visiting a very very busy Chamundi Temple – it’s the Chamundi Festival, and we waited 2 hours, only to have an extremely hectic view at the idol inside. Then we walked “down the mountain” (only about 400 steps of the entire 1000) to the Nandi Bull and the Cave Temple – it was redemptive, delightful and, well, fun!
Nandi Bull at Chamundi Hill
The afternoon was very sleepy, followed by a big trip to the Devanaraj Market/Bazaar (or Bizarre!) for bangle and incense shopping and more! PEOPLE! LIGHTS! CRAZY!
Personally…the day was a tad overwhelming – Merilynne and I snuck off to a Bollywood film, “Love is Poison” (we could only deal with 1 hour due to smoke and pretty pumped-up speakers). It was nice to “go out” just the two of us. We returned to, basically, some sort of Music-School frenzy of practicing and jamming, and just an overall lovely party. I did my best not to interfere!! Good to see the bonding and joy, and frankly another amazing reminder that people CAN have fun “without substances” – something too easily forgotten in the West, I’m afraid.
Day 7- July 25 – 2014 Flute concert! Lecture on Caste and Gender! Another jam-packed day! We somehow muscled through 4 days of lessons in a row…and the students (and me) are exhausted, especially intellectually. This is an extremely unusual thing we are doing, taking 4 lessons – and long lessons – all in a row. Whew!
Dr. Indira (U of M…meaning Mysore!), lecturing on caste and gender
The lecture by Dr. Indira from the University of Mysore was amazing. She somehow encapsulated India’s issues with gender and caste in one fast-paced hour, helping us understand the patriarchal weirdness of caste, as well the ramifications caste has for women’s rights. She was disgusted (as we all are) by the rather cavalier attitude some politicians have toward lower-caste rape, and yet proud of India’s laws against rape. The laws are good, but the enforcement isn’t, she said. It raised many fantastic questions, and the students are buzzing with dialogue about the topics of the day.
The flute concert was fantastic. It was a protege of our flute teacher, Prakash-ji. There were lovely drum battles, ecstatic flute and violin playing, in the context of a delightful little Venkatalli temple. Lovely! Again…another lovely day!
Day 6- July 24 – 2014
We are actually kind of chilly! Some students (believe it or else) are getting the sniffles….not what you’d expect, right? Things are spinning along nicely with no calamities (knock on Sandalwood!). Lessons and Saree shopping – women only! (pictures will be coming, but there’s a lot of tailoring to be done 1st!).
Tomorrow we have Dr. Indira coming to lecture on “Gender and Caste” in India. This decidedly feminist author/scholar has challenged us for years in this program, introducing the students to a non-Western feminism that is both powerful and frustrating at the same time (more about that!). She is brilliant, and we are anxiously awaiting a stimulating dialogue about…among other things….sarees (is the saree a symbol of women’s oppression in India?). Should be …ahem….”fun”. Meanwhile – I’ll wear a kurta!
Rock Stars in India (rainy day)
Day 5- July 23 We are getting along smoothly..but I won’t lie…there’s a couple pretty iffy cases of “Delhi-Belly” . We’ll be okay, but it’s inevitable. India – Food – things can go wrong. Of course…the crazy rides to and from places are enough to wreck an iron stomach – and they do!
The day was filled with extras – shopping at the Super More with Noniko and Sam (I needed Carom pieces and Ping Pong Balls..essentials..plus a couple of Ramayana comic books!). Simon, Grace and Tessa all went to the Police Commissioner’s office (fun!) to get their Visa’s registered, while Merilynne ventured into the jungle to see the final Cornell student projects at the Ayurvedic hospital. yeah.
The day ended with what is basically “classical Drag Theatre” – Yaksha Ghana of Kerala. It’s a fascinating combination of screaming, singing, whirling and FIRE!!!!!! It was loud, rowdy and utterly insane!!! What a day. Whew. I can’t believe everybody got where they needed to go! (there will be a Yaksha Ghana picture from the concert here tomorrow…but it’s late!!).
take a look at the stuff here tho, to get an idea what we saw!!
it’s CRAZY! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AEWd8z7qXo
YakshaGana (those are all guys!)
yakshana gana (those are all guys!)
Day 4- July 22 The first day of lessons! I can honestly say that every single student was ecstatic after their lesson. Flute students have flutes! Mrdangam students have a mrdangam! Annick (Veena) has coconut oil to spare! And Sam is a stomping’ the Bharata Natyam grooves. Success!! We’re in!
Dance Teacher! Dance Student! Kripa-Ji and Sam!
Day 3- July 21 We met out Gurus! We began the day with a very relaxing “spoke yoga” session on the roof of the hostel (“spoke yoga”, where everyone faces the middle, and sort of feeds off from each other, almost leaderless…..). Then we had the orientation session, including tea, tours, documentary viewing, tree planting, and finally meeting the gurus! See the photos.
Veena and Vocal Students!
This afternoon I led the group in a discussion about the Gita – “Gita for Westerners”, although I’m not sure I still completely qualify as a Westerner…..perhaps once a “westerner” always a “westerner”? The discussion went far and wide, including discussions of life and death (and rituals associated with them), deep and heartfelt discussions about purpose, meaning, love and —oh dear, Religion! We discovered that there is room in the group for widely diverse approaches to these things, and plenty of room for confusion! (Thank God, or Thank no God at all) In the end, we were all more confused than we were at the beginning of the 2-hour session. Mission accomplished!! One of the deepest signs of maturity and intelligence is the “suspension of the need to have it all figured out”. We win. Sort of!
Mrdangam Students and Teacher
Day2 In retrospect – today was a very busy day! Mediation – led by Rushi – and interrupted (for some, in a good way…) by pigeons having an epic battle over our heads. What a lovely way to start the day. Very calming at 7 am.
A Breakast of dhosas (YEAH!), then off to the big annual shopping trip at Parampara (tradition) to get people duded up in Indian Garb. Lookin Good! (see the photo!)
people behaving at the Mysore Palace
Lunch (a veritable feast at SVYM), naps, and some shopping at the local “7-Eleven” known as More for essentials (Nutella?). At 7pm we went to the beautiful lighting of the palace – gorgeous – accompanied by the Brass Band playing hits like the “Marine’s Hymn” (for pity’s sake). Dinner at 8p and boy……zonked citizens are we, but truly loving each other – already. Nice!
and a little less crazy- at the Mysore Palace
Day 1- We are here! (july 19,2014)
Everybody but Tessa, who arrives Monday from New Zeeland(!), is here in Mysore at the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement Hostel. The ride down from Bangalore was an eyeful, even for those who were here for a while (like Annick, Simon and Rushi). Bumpy, hot, and long. We all ate Thali plates at the Indradanush (Indra’s Bow) restaurant, 1/2-way down to Mysore. After we arrived at the hostel we had chai and oreos (!), and chilled out in our rooms. Around 7 we had our first feast – Chana Dahl, a cabbage dish, spicy hot rice, and payasam (my favorite). Tomorrow…shopping and the palace- and way more pictures. We are tired!
..at “Indra’s Bow Restaurant”. Thalis for everyone!
Welcome to this Blog!
Welcome to the University of Michigan’s Summer Program In India BLOG! Here we will try to keep you up-to-date on our activities, safety, and enlightenment as we learn about music, yoga, life, and, well…more!….in Mysore, India. Send along requests to srush@Umich.edu…and feel free to send the link to friends and relatives who may be interested. We’ll try to keep it light, and packed with photos – to the best of our abilities. Day 1 is really tomorrow…but here’s a shot of our hotel, the “Hotel Presidency” in Bangalore. Yep. It’s pretty nice.
Only Grace is here with us now, but Simon, Yuma and Annnick are roaming around Bangalore, so we think! The chickens all come home to roost tonight!