Day 25 of the program- August 15, 2013
S.R.: Congratulations to India – Independence Day! We hustled up the hill to V-Lead, and had a pretty solemn ceremony filled with political songs, flag raising and an inspirational speech. This was followed by a breakfast of Uppma (yay! – spicy cream of wheat!) and “Sweet”, as well as great Mysore Coffee (I have 2 kilos to bring home). After this was an “intercultural event” as they are called, with fashion contest and essay contest. In a very bizarre sleight of hand, our dear Aaron Lopatin WON the essay contest, and Jonathan Hulting-Cohen delivered the winning essay, which, as it turned out, was a POEM!
Imagine this being read at a political gathering at a school or even in the media (radio/tv?) in the U.S. on the Fourth of July and you’ve come a long way in understanding the differences between India and the U.S.
WOW. I hope you agree that Aaron’s poem should be heard far and wide.
Day 24 of the program- August 14, 2013
S.R.: Here is the entire group! All the students, gurus, staff support staff here, as well as a bunch of students from Mahajana College (where we attended the Peace Festival). This picture was taken after the amazing final show. Intense, beautiful, joyful, stunning performances. I’m so proud of each and every one of them. I can’t say how humbled I am that these wonderful people (students) came here with me – on a wing and a prayer, and were so completely incredible and fun to be around for an entire month. I’m truly blessed.
Day 23 of the program- August 13, 2013
Day 22 of the program- August 12, 2013
As the end approaches, staying present becomes harder. My mind begins to stray ahead, reverting back to its habituated tendency for future-planning: How will I make the most of my last week home before heading back to UofM? In what ways will my sophomore-self improve on the incredible freshman year I had? What about classes? Clubs? Habits…Discipline…New friends?? AHHHH
And then I remember Rahmesh, our little-tough yoga instructor here: “Relax your face muscles…neck and shoulder muscles…arms, wrists, hands, fingers…Relax complete back muscles…nervous system, internal organs…Relax complete body muscles…Deep breathe.” (yes, pronounce that breathe).
And as corny as it might sound, I have come to realize that the answer to all of those anxieties is in that breath––there’s nothing more real than the breath you and I are taking at this very moment. So make that breath count, right NOW!
Before dinner, we had a dance-concert-reenactment of a part of the Ramayana. I’ll be honest: I hadn’t been uber-excited about the concept of a dance-performance and was a little irked I had to put down this incredible book about the Buddah I’ve been engrossed in (Old Path, White Clouds). For the first half-hour of the concert, all I could think about was how I would rather be reading the book…So unpleasant, I know! It reached a point where I finally closed my eyes and found myself meditating on my breath for a minute, and subsequently realizing how silly and stubborn it was to dwell on the past or on a future that could have been but wasn’t…Everything wasn’t rainbows-and-bunnies when I opened my eyes, but the dance was noticeably more enjoyable; The performer’s passionate facial-expressions that had somehow escaped me earlier, grabbed my attention; her emerald dress and intricate makeup gained the appreciation they deserved. The last thirty minutes were great!
So yeah, while we only have a few days left, we still have a few days left. No reason to leave early.
Day 21 of the program- August 11, 2013
S.R. -Comment 1: Let me preface the usual “update” and “wild stories” part of this blog today with a serious note. Things are pretty chaotic here due to the fact that one of our students is very sick, and some of the readers of this blog know about it. I want to put all your hearts at ease. We take care of students, even when they are in the hospital, being cared for by excellent physicians here in Mysore. This, too, is part of the program. My wife is an RN, and she has vast experience as a home-birth midwife helping women in hospitals – being their strong advocate, as well as “working the system” to make things happen. She is also a gentle soul, and can give warm comfort to a sad and struggling young person. In addition, the staff is bending over backwards to attend to her every need, especially shuffling us back and forth for visits/stays, as well as “working the system” as only they can (I mean that in a really really good way!). Case in point, the chief administrator of the entire hospital consulted with Merilynne at the end of yesterday about the entire case. Amazing.
Her hospital is here. Shockingly Modern: http://www.columbiaasia.com/india/hospitals/mysore#
We are in constant communication with the students’ parents (as is the student) and she is never “alone” (meaning that Merilynne is there, or one of the students is there – in her room – 24 x 7). She has access to a phone always. We are also being “official”, contacting the University, etc. In addition, we are co-ordinating flights so that she can fly back with one of us (me or Merilynne, or both) and supervising/assisting/helping with her flight home. It’s what we do, and this is not the first time. Don’t worry, please. This is not a “contagious disease”, and the other students aren’t in danger (nor really is she, she’s just really uncomfortable!). I”m respecting her privacy by not using her name or stating her illness.
But ….this is India, and these things happen. I have had about 10 students in the hospital out of the 100+ that have come here, and I have shared these stories (before coming here) with the students who are here now. Each one speaks in glowing terms about their time here, and wonderfully, it hasn’t colored their experience of the trip in any other way than positive. In all cases, people have learned from the experience – however difficult. But she is in pain, and your thoughts/prayers (if you are comfortable with that) would be appreciated. Thanks.
S.R.: Comments 2: Today was a wild and wooly day. Again, we are picture challenged (sorry this keeps happening…there are good reasons, and read on). We left early this morning after a leisurely breakfast for a trip to the Jagadguru Sri Veerasimhasana Mahasamsthana Muth (Say it out loud!). Muth – in case you tried, is pronounced “Mutt”. This means a place where monks live and are trained, yes, a monastery. It is in Suttur – in the outskirts of Mysore. http://www.jssedu.jssonline.org . Notice that it is a college, a social transformation site, a school and founder of schools, and MORE. It’s “not just another religious place in India”. Indeed..in India “religion and social activism” are deeply connected (see Gandhi). But in this case it’s a very intense involvement with the government.
Why did we go? Well..they were inaugurating the revision of a beautiful temple there, and so, naturally, they had a Music Festival! The “Mysore Brothers” held court – violinists with their own bands, and one gave a kind of techno-rock rendering (with Drum Pads!) and the other a more traditional band, but not really – Mrdangam AND Tabla, and (GULP!!!) Clarinet, spelled clarionet. It was humid and hot, and 1,000’s were there. We were in the front row. Embarrassing.
Then we “met the Swami”. You may have read about exuberant Indians rushing the Temple and dying in the process. It does happen. And now I know why. There was this mad scene to get blessed by him, and I was in the middle with the students. I pushed the students out of the melee, and then went to be blessed by the Swami and crushed by his admirers. Chaotic. Wild. Crazy. And then…well, Paige, Rachel and Caroline were incorrugable enough to do it as well. Pretty fun – or something. Here is the Swami – and by the way, he really is a great guy, humorous and friendly. A true sweetheart, and a wonderful social transformer.
The rest of the day was sleeping, followed by a visit to the fabulous Metropol. Stunning ex-palace, it was dining and feasting beyond comprehension. Many were dulled by “tomasic food” (food that numbs the energy with it’s spice or meat content), and will feel logey for a day or two. This is the effect of eating meat after being a strict vegetarian – or maybe it’s there all the time, and we simply are “used to feeling that way”. Makes you think, huh? Take a look at the Metropol! WHOA! –
Day 21 of the program- August 10, 2013
S.R.: Well, I won’t argue with Yardain about T.M. (see below), but for clarification’s sake I will say that “there are many paths to the same truth”. T.M. is largely for Westerners (even Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said that) and is here in India often said to be a kind of modern version of Vippasana Meditation – which dates from the time of Buddha (6thc. BC). So…you bet it’s powerful. 🙂
More about T.M. if you like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendental_Meditation
and Vippasana Meditation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vipassanā
In other goings on – A bunch of students went to the zoo today, with oohs and aahs about the giraffes, elephans and exotic (no kidding) birds there. They were thrilled!! Jonathan and Aaron went to the Jungle where Jonathan was able to visit a clinic where his Dad worked many, many years ago. Things coming full circle.
Nina is pretty sick, I’m sad to say, and this always tears me up – to see someone not thrive and get all she can out of the experience – but illnesses teach their own weird lessons, and she is a wise strong women who will learn something amazing from this – but meanwhile, it’s not fun. It’s wonderful to see Merilynne use her “wise woman” powers taking care of her. She’ll be okay, but it will be a while…..
Meanwhile…the rest of us will go to a rare Nadaswaram concert tonight at an Ashram. Nadaswaram is a long oboe-like instrument, mostly used in temple celebrations. It’s extremely rare to see an actual concert on the instrument, so we are thanking our lucky stars!
Listen to the Nadaswaram playing one of my favorite pieces, a Varnam called “Vatapi” here:
(yes, it’s like a really really wild version of an English Horn or Oboe, possibly crossed with a rabid goat! – I love it!)-
Day 20 of the program- August 9, 2013
Day 18 of the program- August 7, 2013
S.R.: Today I gave the keynote address at the Sixth Annual Mahajana College International Peace Conference. The theme was peace and religion, and the entire text is posted here. (Peace and Religion Conference Speech) There were religious leaders from the Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and Christian traditions, and each followed my address which was outlined by Yoga Sutra chanting by Nina, Paige and Yardain (my co blogger!). 5 students chose to stay for the afternoon program, which was a series of papers presenter by peace-making students from Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and the U.S. It was a lovely, amazing day, but I kept thinking what it would take for the University of Michigan to devote an entire day (or 3 days!) to Peace and Religion. Peace-making. Is it a priority or not? Maybe it’s time to rustle some feathers, make some noise and be a bit more of a squeaky wheel?
From the Conference:
Fun pics of the day:
Day 17 of the program- August 5, 2013
S.R.: Each day contains something, I swear, I’ve looked forward to for an entire year, then finally it is here- like it’s only yesterday since I experienced it last. It’s quite surreal. The joy of doing this program over and over is that this keeps happening. But then…does that make me jaded? I’d like to think not. Tonight- the Shadow Puppet Ramayana Theater. This troupe is a family, who lives very “off the grid” – to say the least. They go back many generations, and will present probably the battle scene from the Ramayana. Root for Rama, ok! Pictures below!
Here’s the invitation:
Tomorrow I give a keynote (again!) at an International Peace Conference at Mahajana College, here in Mysore. I will attach the speech tomorrow.
Day 16 of the program – August 4, 2013
S.R.: Well..we are back and firing on all cylinders. Students made it back from beautiful Kannur- and people are just glad to be “home”. These little trips do a wonderful job jelling the group, and making them realize that they have decided to “not elect a leader”, but all pitch in and be responsible. Of course that’s sort of like getting amoebas to race….so it’s hard to mobilize. But there is peace and love, and what more can I ask as a group leader!! Well…that and of course safety. I really was worried while they were all away – I’ll openly admit it. I’ll let Yardain (below) show and tell you how much fun they had.
Y.A.: I apologize for going AWOL over the past few days, but I have a good excuse: Us students were soaking up the monsoon (and a little sun) in the coastal city of Kannur—or Cannanore as most signs read because those Brits and their anglicizing ways—on an extremely-chill-weekend-beach-expedition. I say expedition because it’s a 5 hour ride through what was either a really wet jungle or actually a rainforest, on a single-winding-road that felt more like a roller-coaster, which I might have really enjoyed had it not been non-stop blind turn after blind turn on a slippery one-and-a-half-lane-road WITH TWO WAY TRAFFIC (Aaron was surprisingly the only car-sickened-fatality).
Side note: I have officially concluded that Indians are the best drivers I have come across on this planet; our driver Krishna Paa, saved our lives by a-few-stray-dog-hairs countless times by maneuvering our bus into safety from trucks barreling by in the opposite direction at speeds over 50Km/hr.
But enough about the ride. We checked into Mascot Beach Resort around 7PM on Friday. The resort was right on the ocean, and yes the view was incredible. We ate at the resort restaurant that night, a pricy meal (for Indian standards) that delivered very little quantity and only decent quality; Aaron, Joe, Gabe, and I ordered some fish and prawns which turned out to be 3 cubes of fish (I shared my cube with Gabe) and 10 tiny little deep-fried-prawns :(.
Breakfast the next morning (which was complimentary) was buffet style, so quantity was no issue. Krishna Paa then drove us about 15 minutes to the “swimming-beach.” It turned out to only be a swimming-beach since the waves were washing up all the way to the concrete sidewalk…But we definitely made the most of the swimming (Don’t worry mothers: we had been warned about the dangerous rip-current so we didn’t venture out past our hips). And then the monsoon arrived and everything and everyone was wet and I gotta say, we embraced the rain in stride: A pickup-game of rotten-coconut-baseball, sea-shell-scavenging, Gabe’s-cruel-snail-collection, frisbee, frisbee-lost-in-the-ocean, frisbee-discovered-many-minutes-later, friendly chatting with tourism-police, picturespicturepictures…and then a used-hypodermic-needle washed up next to Clay….so we decided it was about time to leave. Consensus: Indian beaches are a whole different type of fun.
Lunch was awesome (and a little stressful). The funny-nice-concierge at the front desk recommended Choice Restaurant, which turned out to only half-exist when we got there (a sign read “Choice Restaurant” over an abandoned/under-consturction?? space), so we went exploring down the main road on an increasingly-desperate search to quell our grumbling stomachs.
Note: It is difficult to make decisions in a group of 11 when no one wants to be a leader and no one wants anyone else to lead…It doesn’t help the situation when we are all really hungry.
We finally found an “Indian Coffee House” that served “meals” but not coffee. All 11 of us couldn’t get tables (us Americans don’t wait to be seated as you know [read in sassy voice]…) so some went elsewhere. A “meal” as I learned, consists of rice, sambar, dal, yogurt, chutney, chapati, pickle-something…It was delicious and they refilled your plate with rice and “sauces” as many times as your tummy desired…and might I add, alll at the reasonable price of 28 rupees per person (a little less than 50 cents). It was absolutely absurd, the 7 of us payed 110 rupees total (about $2.00).
Ok, I gotta hurry along here. We went back to the hotel to rest, read, chill, meditate. Around 530, I was reading on the veranda when Joe came out of nowhere and said: “lets go to the neighboring beach to catch the sunset.” We estimated we had about 25 minutes and the walk to the beach was about 15, so we ran the whole way. It ended up being a 15 minute run but COMPLETELY WORTH IT. This was an actual beach, with sand to lay on and everything (like Florida). Everyone else somehow had the same inclination and it was suddenly almost all of us enjoying the most incredible sunset I’ve witnessed in my life. I want to end here, because it’s late and this was definitely my highlight and I’m pretty sure a lot of other people’s highlight of the whole weekend.
Day 13 of the program – August 1, 2013
Today went smoothly with lessons in the morning, and then……students off to the beach! They will go to Kannur (Kerala) – almost all of them. Caroline and Rachel are going up to Bangalore to give a concert, and Merilynne and I are going to the “Green Hotel” in Mysore for a day – just to “Get Away”. Will the students be safe? Of course….they are only a phone call away from us – be assured. And they will be in the lap of luxury. So….we will disappear here for a day or two, not to worry.
Here is a “guest photo” from last years’ blog – of Kannur Beach. Wow.
Day 12 of the program – July 31, 2013
Hi, this is Merilynne Rush, guest blogger for the day. These photos are from our road trip into the tribal area of Sargur and Kenchenahalli, near Mysore. It was a great day, as you will see below.
Hard working people, commerce, colors and precariously loaded carts.
We were able to glimpse village life.
First we visited the allopathic, secondary care SVYM hospital in Sargur, built in 2005 and staffed by 15 doctors of many different specialties.
Then the rural primary school (1st through 10th standard) near the hospital.
Warli art is the folk art of Maharashtra, traditionally done by the women from the tribes found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai, in Western India. It depicts social life (as opposed to mythical figures). Murals are dotted all around the rural school.
We drove another 45 minutes, deep into the jungle, to visit the tribal school to sing and dance with the children. I was in heaven. The love of learning and pride in tribal heritage was striking.
After a brief visit to the Ayurvedic Hospital deep in the tribal region (built in 1988), and a sampling of Kashaya Tea, we arrived home exhausted in time for dinner. This was my fourth visit to these places of great learning, healing and service. Each time my appreciation for the work done here, the welcome we receive from the staff and villagers and my deepening friendships with the students renews me emotionally and spiritually. Om, shanti.
Day 11 of the program- July 30, 2013-
Quote of the day from Gabe Mizrahi:
“You know you’re in India when you go to buy pants, but the rickshaw driver takes you to his friend’s “Textile Shop”, and you’re propositioned by another man.”
A relaxing day here in Mysore. Lessons in the morning as usual, and a great lecture on yoga-philosophy by Professor H.V. Nagaraja Rao (no relation to Dr. Rao who started this program with Steve). The professor spoke in beautiful prose, which made sense considering he is the Honorary Editor of Sudharma––the only daily newspaper published in Sanskrit on the planet. I recorded the whole lecture and would love to delve into it, but I fear once I begin, I won’t be able stop. Sooo, I’ll just say it was quite inspirational to see (and listen!) to such a learned-man in the field (journalism) I seem to be gravitating towards, and can’t wait to transcribe the recording. Also, I’m noticing a new-exciting-sudden-burning desire to read Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras in full; I’ll have to get my hands on a copy from guru-Jayashri’s house on Thursday.
As of now, we have amazingly found ourselves with 2 hours of free time before dinner. Some of us (I believe Rachel, Nina, and Gabe) are currently en route to Desi (clothing store I hit up last week), others (Clay, Nadine, Aaron?) are headed to some western(ish) crafts store (Steve can advise on the name), while the rest of us are relaxing here at the hostel. Reading, writing, learning, meditating, yoga(ing)––really what else could I ask for in a day…
To leave the present moment for a second: Tomorrow is our day off from lessons so we are headed into the jungle to visit the Vivekenanda-hospital, and a bunch of other stuff I’m sure. I’ll leave you with the sunset we caught last night from the roof:
Day 10 of the program- July 29, 2013-
Yesterday was a day of “mingling”. There was a Cultural Programme – consisting of our group singing “My Girl” and the National Anthem (aren’t they the same ilk?), with Clay and Nadine doing an astounding trombone/flute duet of – essentially – Irish fiddle music! The Indians gave us a passel of amazing solo and group “Folk Tunes” and a set of dramas illustrating everything from unified religions (a continual sculpture of God that went thru Hinduism, Islam and Christianity). Oddly enough the end sculpture was Gandhi…which confused some students (ours). I reminded our students of Gandhi’s famous phrase, “I am a Muslim, a Hindu , a Christian and a Jew”, and it made more sense. And, well, I couldn’t agree more – by the way. The evening finished with a bonfire and singing (quite exCITED singing!) and a much more integrated eating situation – usually the Indians and the “Americans” eat separately. This was all very inspiring to see – obviously!
Day 10 of the program- July 29, 2013-
Much to process: big concepts, life-lessons––daunting, doubting feasibility…But processing is important, keeping it in my head won’t get me far. Yes, this is a brain-dump. No filter. The backspace doesn’t exist; I want to click it so badly, hearing phrasing I don’t like or word choice improvements. Slow and steady. Okokok, just bear with me as I try to bear with myself. Yoga lesson this morning was great, revealing, ground-breaking?? ehh, I’ve been thinking these ideas for a year now, turning and repeating them over in my head. But still, we push forward. We have begun studying the Bhagavad Gita, today chapter 2:
(47) Action alone is the province, never the fruits thereof. Let not thy motive be the fruit of action, nor shouldst thou desire to avoid action. (48) Act thou…without attachment, steadfast in yoga, even-minded in success and failure. Even mindedness is yoga. Work without attachment, being established firmly in yoga.
Bear with this anecdote:
I used to have a dream of being a professional musician, of having a band and touring the world. I would sit down at the piano to practice and in the back of my mind was this dream, always. Yet I always struggled to practice consistently; never more than 1 or 2 hours before I became too frustrated with myself or just lacked the motivation to push on. After 10+ years of “sort of” practice, I was decent, but was and still am completely dissatisfied with my skills; I know, sad, right? But my lack of practice confused me. If my dream was to become a professional musician, shouldn’t practicing be important to me, or most important?? I wasn’t naive: I knew practice was the only way to make it, to have a chance at making it (interesting topic to explore: What is “making it” and why is fame so tantalizing?).
The answer is in those last two passages in connection with this one:
(40) Here no effort undertaken is lost, no disaster befalls. Even a little of this righteous course delivers one from great fear
I was terrified of the dream, terrified of the possibility I might succeed, or fail…”even minded in success and failure”…All that was on my mind when I practiced was the fruits of action: what if I did practice 6 hours a day and STILL failed?? What if I succeeded and it wasn’t that great?? Better to not practice at all, then find out, at least that’s what my subconscious said––self-sabotage at it’s most devious extreme.
“Act thou…without attachment” because “Even a little of this righteous course delivers one from great fear.”
Yeah I know, easier said than done. Is it even possible to make choices without thinking of the results at all? NO, I don’t think so (if you can, please email me).
Example: You pick out a new book to read. Why? Maybe you wish to gain some knowledge on a subject, event, etc… Or maybe you simply want to gain some pleasure from it (David Sedaris for me right now, thanks mom!) Or maybe a little of both.Whatever the case, you notice that your decision to read that book came with an attached result, a fruit-of-action that was automagically created in your head. THIS IS OK, THIS IS NORMAL. To make decisions, a result must be conceived and imagined. The key to practicing action-without-attachment is to stop that “fruitful” (unfruitful) thought right there. Ach! To be continued…I’ll let Steve fill you in on the more “grounded actions” from the day!
MYSORE WEDDING!! Yes…we were invited to a wedding – the daughter of the owner of our clothing store – Parampara. We were greeted with a large marigold-decorated gateway, and the sound of Nadaswarams (again!). We came in, the priest was chanting mantras and doing the “7 steps” of the wedding (maybe you remember Gandhi re-enacting his wedding in the Gandhi movie..”and now the 3rd step”..etc.). We then received a lovely breakfast, during which we missed about 30 minutes of the ceremony (which was about 90 minutes long). We came back up and played a game of “we look at you, you look at us” with the audience…whose men were dressed like they were at a midwest sunday school meeting, while we were dressed lovely in our kurtas. The women? Mostly in resplendent sarees as were our women (and lovely!). We then took our picture with the bride and groom (?!) and then proceeded to a 20-course meal on a banana leaf, complete with sugar-naan and Betel. The students just couldn’t wait to get home and crack open their “prasad” (fruit take-away gift) and proceeded to gobble the coconuts and crack them on our balcony. Fun!
Day 8 of the program- July 27, 2013-
Where we live:
Things have definitely picked up here: Concerts, movies, temples…Much to catch you all up on and much more to come so must be quickquickquick (side observation: noticing a lot of Rushdie’s writing-style rubbing off on me from Midnight’s Children).
Start with the freshest: we just returned from a morning excursion to the Chamundi temple. Our guide, Ashok, gave us an elaborate rundown of the temple’s history and different rituals: originally built in the 12th century, added to in the 17th century; the idol housed in the temple (it may have been Shakti/Parvati?) is washed every morning, fed breakfast, taken on a stroll around the perimeter of the temple, fed lunch, etc. We luckily arrived as the idol was on its morning stroll and enjoyed the music (Steve can detail the instruments and style better than me) as it was carted around the perimeter of the temple. We then shed our shoes and got in the long ‘Q’ (cue..) to enter the temple. (Not from S.R. – the instruments were Nadaswarama and Tavvil).
Inside, the walls were lined with flowers and swastikas! Yes, swastikas. Steve explained that the original meaning of the symbol is ironically––”peace.” It was still quite disturbing to see people chalk the symbol and kiss the red-walls. I’m amazed (and weirdly disturbed) that I never knew the true meaning, and doubt I could ever really get over the evil-association that’s been molded into my soul.
Ashok then guided us down 300 steps (I counted and there were actually 306) to the Nandi statue, which he explained is the second largest in all of India. The view on the way down (and from up at the temple) was stunning––a complete panorama of Mysore with clear vision for miles. The bull was pretty cool, pretty massive, pretty scary, pretty secondary to the guys waiting to sell miniature-metal-deity-figures to tourists like us; we bought a bunch, boarded the van, and headed back to the hostel for another delicious lunch.
Yoga (asanas): Weekdays, 6AM, with little-guru-Rahmesh. For the past week, we’ve started with chanting (sutras that I still don’t understand), call-and-response-style. It’s very meditative and helps keep my mind from straying all over the place, but also difficult since we go at it for 20-30 min, and sitting cross-legged for that long puts my legs to-sleep pretty quickly. It’s quite interesting that chanting isn’t done in yoga-studios back in the States. Sorta makes a lot of sense though: processed, packaged, and delivered as best fits our American needs.
I bring this up because shortly, I’m headed out on my first solo excursion to meet Rahmesh for desperately-needed-massage. A few days prior to leaving for India, I flipped over my front wheel riding my bike in NYC (taxi stopped short and I only had one hand on the brake––unfortunately the front one…). I landed directly on my shoulder and have been nursing a deep bone bruise and tight shoulder even since. I must be compensating with other muscles, because the strain has now moved to other muscles down my back and I wake up completely tight every morning. Rahmesh diagnosed me by pinching the tendon between thumb-and-index on both hands and asking which hurt more; “left” which made sense because I fell on my left shoulder.
Now, the girls are getting their sarees adjusted, and at 5:30, we are headed out for our second concert (violin duo is the rumor) Here are some pics from the first concert (thursday night) and some other random shots I’ve been collecting:
Day 7 of the program- July 26, 2013-
S.R. – Shukruvara! What a day! Everything is going super smooth, and – no surprise – this is a fantastic group of students! The cook and the staff surprised us with 4pm “tea” and “American Food”. Well…sort of! It was Macaroni, quite Chinese-style with green peppers and chilis. Delicious, but hardly “American”. What delighted me most was a plate of cucumbers and tomatoes, fashioned after the middle of the Indian Flag (I’ll post two pictures to illustrate soon- pictures are coming!!!!!). Art as food. I love it. Politics as Art as Food? I”m THRILLED. Our response to the Macaroni? Of course – we sang Yankee Doodle Dandy with special emphasis on the last line. (Shame on you if you
don’t know what it is).
In the evening we explored our feelings about Indian heritage even further by watching the famous “Ben Kingsley” movie Gandhi. Tears were shed, amidst some laughter at Gandhi’s many depicted witticisms. This is a very very tough movie, and I admit, there are times when the landscapes in that movie (esp. sonic) meld with the actual landscape of being here..and you’re not sure if you’re watching a movie or just looking out the window. Truly disconcerting.
Day 6 of the program- July 25, 2013-
Rickshaw-(n.) the word rickshaw originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha (人力車, 人 jin = human,力 riki = power or force, 車 sha = vehicle), which literally means “human-powered vehicle”
I can’t get enough of the word, or the buggy.
Libby, Nadeen, Paige, Clay, Aaron, and I, just rickshawed (now a verb) to Desi, a modest clothing store located about 30 minutes from the hostel. The guys found some nice-and-airy pants and the girls were delighted with the tops. On ride back, our rickshaw broke down right on cue (in the middle of the highway) and monsoon season reminded us it was still around when the skies opened up and drenched those sitting in the “aisle” seats; it was too much fun. Tomorrow I wan’t to go somewhere just for the ride in the rickshaw.
Yesterday, Steve gave a demonstration of the Hindu ritual of Puja and led a great discussion on the Bhagavad Gita. Puja is quite a unique ritual and there is no Jewish ritual that I can compare it to (see the second-commandment for reasoning). The basic idea is giving thanks/showing gratitude for the material (food, money, clothing, etc.) we use everyday by giving gifts to a specific Hindu-deity (Steve uses Ganesha).The concept hit home because gratitude has recently become a major focus in my life (Thank’s Irwin!). I also weirdly enjoyed the smell of the “frankincense” (crazy incense Steve used that most of us sneeze). Gotta get my hands on some…(known here as “Sambrani”).
The Gita discussion was great. I read the Gita on Steve’s recommendation before arriving in India (check out Gandhi’s version if you’re interested) but have been craving discussion and clarity on certain parts. The biggest struggle we all seemed to have was over finding/following your Dharma. In the Gita, Arjuna’s Dharma is clear from the start (he is an expert bowman). But how can one ever be so clear as to what one’s Dharma is? How do you find it? Should you find what you are most passionate about and follow that road? Or does it even matter what you choose? as Joe wondered. Steve had one word of advice: Find the thing that when you do it, time flies by fastest. An obvious, yet sometimes easily forgotten piece of advice.
The visa struggles continue…Nina and I are now the last two standing (not sure how apt a phrase this is…) We have now recorded over 20 attempts (on 4 different computers) to register our information on some sketch-Indian-website, only to dismally find out––after filling out the 4-page-document–that the “submit” button at the bottom simply doesn’t work; both pounding angrily at the mouse or gently coaxing the mouse also makes no difference. To look on the bright side (as is good practice), I now have my passport number, visa-number, issue and expiration dates for both, and the extremely-long-address at the hostel pounded into memory for good…Thankfully (or hopefully), Dharmesh––whom we have grown quite fond of––has assured us deportation is unlikely. Lets all pray he’s right.
Things are picking up! The women shopped and were fitted (camisoles) for sarees, the men are getting Fancy Pants, all in preparation for the wedding on Sunday (the daughter of the clothes shop we love called Parampara). Meanwhile, there is a great deal of anticipation about tonight’s concert- tis all a surprise – the start and end-time, the artists, the program itself. And it will be amazing. The name of the venue: Gana Bharati Vana Shoshana Bhavan! The “Vana Shoshana House (Bhavan) for Indian (Bharata) Singing (Gana)”.
A few students are still (STILL!) wrestling with the Student Visa Registration. I can’t believe it. It’s horridly frustrating and seemingly endless. Tears and rending of garments, beating of brows, and screaming don’t seem to solve it. Ach. Learning curves…all reminding me that patience and a sense of humor are so important here. But, when someone is at the end of their rope, neither humor nor patience exist!
Tomorrow – according ot the rumor mill – we are having some sort of “high tea” at 4pm. Weirder yet, it involves…ready??…..Macaroni! I promise to post pictures of this event, it will probably be just that weird. If I could post a taste of this dish I would. Maybe next year.
We’ll go from “high tea” to watch the epic Gandhi movie (yes, the one with Ben Kingsley, Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen). I’m not sure I’m ready to see it again…it rips me up every time.
The students were deeply touched (and a bit disturbed in a good way) by my lecture on the Bhagavad Gita. Maybe Yardain will explain in his next blog entry. No doubt the idea of detachment while being perfect, following your Dharma, or – who’s kidding who – GOD – are really tricky topics for young people from the USA? No doubt! It’s not much easier here. These are hugely complex concepts, and I’m so thrilled to see them all wrestling with them in a respectful and thoughtful way. What a great group of people. Wow.
Day 5 of the program- July 24, 2013-
I”ll let the pictures tell the story- people are practicing and taking lessons – and having a blast! Tomorrow- our first concert!
Just returned from our second lesson with yoga-guru, Jayashri. No, Paige, Nina, and I are not practicing asanas with her; this is yoga philosophy/history/anything-we-want-to-learn-isy. Information overload! Today (like yesterday) began with a twenty minute chant of Pantajali’s Yoga-Sutras. The chanting can be compared Torah-cantillation, although the trope is much simpler. While Jayashri explained the general concept of the sutras as a foundational text of Raja Yoga and tool used to help achieve moksha (release or liberation from the cycle of rebirth), we don’t know the exact meaning of the passages we are chanting as all the sutras are written in Sanskrit. This is somewhat disconcerting and reminiscent of my years back in Yeshivah where Hebrew prayer every morning was a requirement but never satisfactorily explained…I’m still hopeful some translation will be given in the coming days, though I’m aware my utter ignorance of Sanskrit is a severe impediment. I won’t bore you with everything we learned, I’ll just say the parallels and similarities I’ve noticed within both the histories and philosophies of Judaism and Hinduism are amazing–making connections feels so satisfying! The three of us left the lesson with smiles and goosebumps (Paige was actually so moved, she cried the whole car-ride home!) and plan on going through Nina’s notes and my recording of the lesson later today.
Our classroom in Jayashri’s home
Everyone else also seems to be enjoying their lessons too. Yesterday, a few people from the “music” group (in India, music is synonymous with singing) seemed concerned about the logistics of such a large group (7 students), but after talking to them today, they seem to have embraced the size. Other lessons: Libby and Nadeen (flautists) are trilling away at the Indian-flute, Caroline (violinist) is shifting gears to Carnatic-syled violin, and Gabe (jazz-guitarist) is plucking gently at the veena.
An observation on communal living: Over the past year in college, one of my biggest goals and semi-failures was an attempt to create meaningful and useful habits. I did a lot of research on the art-of-habit-making and hoped to create one new habit a month so by the end of the year, I would have 12 completely new habits! (It takes 21 to 28 consecutive days to create a habit). September was journaling, October: flossing, November: 80 oz of water-per-day. All was going relatively smoothly until December/January when I began to slip…I was working on a meditation habit and one day realized I hadn’t journaled in a few days; or teeth brushed, I lacked motivation to floss and would make a lame excuse and promise myself to floss in the morning (which I wouldn’t)..Fast-forward to May: I was still struggling to hold onto those three habits and couldn’t even fathom creating any new ones.
Okok, so you’re wondering what this has to do with communal living? Well, habit creation requires a massive amount of self-honesty, discipline, and MOTIVATION. During the year, all of this motivation was self-created. Self-motivation was no problem at the beginning of the school-year because I was an incoming freshman at the beginning of a new and exciting stage of my life…But by January, I was grinding away and more settled, so a lot of that motivation from the start was gone. Thus, sticking to those habits and creating new ones became way harder. But motivation does not NEED to come from the self solely. External-motivation can also be extremely powerful as I’m now discovering from living with these other students (now my friends!). Journaling, meditation, yoga, and reading (all activities that I struggled to create habits out of during the year) have suddenly become way easier because all of us are practicing to a certain extent. For example, yesterday Nina and I discovered the meditation-hut and enjoyed a tranquil 20 minutes, did some yoga, and then ventured to the roof for some reading (a day away from finishing Midnight’s Children…I hope). The simple feeling of others practicing the same activities as you is a powerful motivator in itself; to actually practice with others is even more powerful.
If you’re interested in learning a little about habits check out this stuff:
- Leo Babauta was extremely inspiration for me when I began researching habits. Check out his great blog here.
- This is also a blog I read a lot.
- If you really get into it, read this book by Charles Duhigg for an exhaustive look at habits (great birthday present too!).
Day 4 of the program- July 23, 2013-
S.R.: Sometimes things just go pretty much as planned. Cars show up. People go to their lessons, and everybody is thrilled and extremely happy! Today is one of those days I’m happy to say. Students were ecstatic about the teachers and the lessons – and everyone was pretty much overwhelmed with the difficulty of the material. Excellent (better than the opposite!). I discovered an old list from about 3 or 4 years ago, listing myriad problems with electricity, toilets, internet, and various student diseases/turmoils. It’s amazing, and a tribute to the staff here, that most of these bugaboos have all but disappeared! Comfort and smoothness abounds, with one nasty exception – the Student Visa stuff still is eating our time! In the afternoon many of the poor students were stuck our offices here or at the “Commissioner’s Office”, simply registering themselves (to avoid, well, deportation!). This is all a new wrinkle, and the staff here is hanging in there with calmness, clarity of purpose (Dharma), including a fantastic staff member ironically named (perhaps) Dharmesh! People here so often live up to their names, including the Veena instructor, who’s name, of course, is Saraswati, after the Goddess Saraswati who plays the Veena! We will all persevere. Perhaps clarity will be even better tomorrow after my lecture on “Gita for Westerners” – which is not an interpretation of the Gita for Californians. The Goddess Saraswati
Day 3 of the program- July 22, 2013-
Y.A.:There is truly no better feeling than living a whole day in the present moment. I have to think back two summers–to a six week trip across Israel with my summer camp–to find days that are equivalently jam-packed with activities and spontaneity (Rachel and I concluded this adventure is way better than camp though). The day began with water. I think I’ll dwell on water for a second. Still jet-lagged, I was up at 5AM and just like home, require a morning-shower to start my day right. “Why do I care about your shower?” do you ask. Because all us Americans (I am included) are voraciously wasteful pigs when it comes to water. Let me explain.
This is our hostel bathroom:
Yes we have a shower head. But thankfully there is no temptation to use it because it only outputs freezing/cold water.
Some of you are likely familiar with the bucket’s usage and others (like me, until I was given explanation) are assuming its some odd shaped kiddy-tub-bucket in which you dunk yourself in fetal position. Don’t be embarrassed, you were close…sorta. It’s called a bucket bath and this is how it works:
- fill it up with hot water (or cold if you’re into that).
- lather up.
- dip the small handled ewer into the bucket and pour over body, soap-off.
- repeat steps 1-3 as necessary.
Yes, easy enough ehh, but you’re thinking: “definitely not as appealing as a nice, warm shower head massaging my back for 10 minutes.” Let me share the guilt I’ve been carrying around all day: I decided to do a simple test this morning and see how long it would take the shower head to fill up that bucket. Any guesses? With all the water from the head completely focused into the bucket: 78 SECONDS! YES YOU READ THAT RIGHT–less than a MINUTE AND A HALF. If you take a 10 minute shower, thats roughly 7.5 buckets…Now let me make it worse. To completely bathe yourself (body-soap, shampoo, conditioner), you need LESS THAN HALF OF ONE BUCKET (I even had enough left over this morning to shave…). Just pause for a moment and think about the liberty and privilege we allow ourselves everyday WITHOUT EVEN A SECOND THOUGHT. There are many Indians who don’t even get half-a-bucket (I’ve been told 3 ewer scoops). Ok ok, so now some are saying: “And that’s why I live in America, so I canafford a shower.” But come on, say that aloud and tell me you don’t get a bad taste in your mouth. I’m not saying we should all just throw away our shower-heads and start bucket-bathing tomorrow; I highly doubt I could come back to the U.S. and do that in a day. But what if you just tried it. And then maybe, just maybe work a bucket-bath into your life one day a week. You gotta start somewhere. And let me tell you, the most surprising part is how refreshing it feels: to control the exact location and amount of water that touches your body is a new sensation I can’t get enough of. What’s the worse that can happen? Sorry I got a little worked up there. I promise I won’t guilt-trip you anymore (at least today). Steve outlined the next part of the day really nicely. I’ll just add some pictures from the orientation and guru meetings.
Caroline hitting it off her guru.
Birthday-girl-Libby with Steve and Sindu.
Da whole crew.
After the visa nightmare (which will hopefully be over tomorrow after a visit to the police station), I was planning on writing this post, but as spontaneity and living-in-the-present goes, I found myself in a rickshaw headed to the Mysore market with Clay, Rachel, and Caroline (sorry I wrote Catherine in the last post!)…A rickshaw can fit three uncomfortably so adding a fourth requires lap sitting and contorting hips and shoulders. The ride took about 15-20 minutes and we bartered the price from 150 rupees ($2.50) down to 120 rupees ($2.20). Go us… We got off in the middle of what vaguely reminded me of the Arab-shuk in Israel, but much dirtier: long muddy alleyways with tented roofs, and store after store of crap I don’t need to buy but will because I’m a tourist…Our white skin attracts all the eyes. “Where are you from?” “Canada,” I lie (Clay explained it makes them bother you less…not so sure how effective this technique is). “French or English?” “What is is your name?” “Do you like incense? I make myself in factory down there. Come, I give good deal.” Little boys, no older than 10 pitch powdered-face-paint, bracelets, machetes, with complete confidence. To them, all I am is a naive tourist with rupees in my wallet. At one point we had two kids about our age–Muhammed and Rakesh–who followed us around the market FOR OVER AN HOUR trying to sell us a wooden flute(ish) looking instrument and a useless wooden-cat-box with different secret compartments–both “guaranteed handmade.” Their persistence was astounding: even after throwing away all our niceties resorting to rude, snarky comments (“We don’t wan’t your useless cat-box”), they weren’t fazed. I realized they were hoping to harass us to the point that we would pay them to leave us alone. I can proudly say we didn’t give in. Before heading back to the hostel for dinner, we stopped in a little bakery for some Indian sweets…Indian sweets are not for me. Imagine the sweetest thing you have ever tasted and multiply it by 5 and you now have an Indian sweet; the sugar is so overwhelming that finishing three bite-sized dough-balls between 4 people was impossible. Instead, I recommend mango. We picked out 4 mangos (120 rupees total=$2.00) and brought them back to the group for dessert at the hostel. BEST MANGO I’VE EVER HAD (I hear it’s right at the end of the season.) Ok, I’m done. Sorry this was a long one… Yoga at 6AM tomorrow and then we are all off to our gurus for lessons! Goodnight! S.R.:“India is a land of great contrasts”. This might be the most worn-out cliché one hears here in India, maybe next to “there are many paths to the same the truth”. Both of these hackneyed phrases? TOO TRUE!! Today bore this out in bold strokes. We had a cathartic, lovely, and delightful morning orientation session – resplendent with jasmine blossom leis, Aarti (the fire ceremony) and a brief sung prayer in praise of Saraswati, the Goddess of learning (and music). Fill by promotional films for SVYM (Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement), tea and biscuits, and Libby’s birthday cake (and rousing versions of “Happy Birthday” and “Mazel Tov”), we met the gurus, set up the program, expressed our joys and expectations, and finally began the program! The students were filled with awe and (in the old sense) “fear” for their gurus – almost speechless in some cases. Too fun, ecstatic, and just plain amazing. What a morning! THEN- BOO…..reality hit. Due to student visas (a new thing for the program this year), all the students had to register online, with the mighty staff of SVYM. It was one brick wall after another. Passport photos (10, not 8!), computer program failures, and a demand for piles of meaningless data – all causing the poor jet-lagged (and now nearly demoralized) students to sit in an office for hours – mostly to no avail. Poor Clay will have to pay a fine to the police tomorrow, but hopefully only after taking an inspirational voice lesson in the morning. These details can suck the life and joy out of the program – but the students took it like champs, and persevered – accepting the fact that this new system was rife with a steep learning curve, and patience (and a little sense of humor) will rule the day – in the long run. Joys! Travails! On!
Day 2 of the program- July 21, 2013-
(note: this blog is co-authored by Stephen Rush, the director of the program, and (Y.A.) Yardain Amron, our fantastic student blogger! S.R. : Today we 1) shopped for clothes and 2) went to the Mysore Palace. Completely touristy, in a way, but spurring on deep discussions of “belonging” and “otherness”, architecture, economic policy – these students are deep rivers! The group is healthy but sleepy (jet lag prevails) and people are “dreaming weird dreams”, no doubt a direct result of being so far removed from their home culture, as well as, probably, anti-malarial pills. Weird. I’ll turn this blog over to the student blogger, Yardain, who has his wonderful take below (under the palace pictures). Y.A.:First, need to get this out of my system: I’M IN INDIA!! Ok, now… Most reading this blog are friends or whatevers of Steve, so the name above is likely unfamiliar and a short introduction may be helpful: I’m a rising sophomore at U of M with a hopeful major in English and minor in yoga (jokes aside, a university should create this…). I took DME (Digital Music Ensemble) this past Winter Semester under Steve’s incredible instruction, and subsequently heard about this crazy-Indian-adventure he takes students on each summer (I was immediately on board). When I asked Steve about blogging while in India, he kindly offered me space on his own blog for a student perspective. So here I am and I’ll be chiming in regularly. The past few days have been a blur and time (never thought this was possible) actually lost its constancy. Recounting the legs of travel might be interesting:
- 7/18, 6:15PM– Flight out of JFK (EST)
- 7/19, 7AM—Arrive in Paris (Paris time)
- 7/19, 10:40AM–Flight out of Paris (Paris Time)
- 7/20, 12AM–Arrive in Bangalore, India (India time)
- Sleep at the Presidency Hotel (Beautiful, delicious breakfast)
- 7/20, 11 AM–Depart for Mysore
- 7/20, 5PM–Arrive in Mysore
The group: in one word–eclectic. We’ve only been together for a day but I already sense some great communal potential between the thirteen of us. We are undergrads, recent grads, and masters students, studying anything from composition, sustainability, saxophone, English, music-education, inter-arts (I know I missed a few, sorry…). I realize this is a superficial way to describe the group, but you gotta start somewhere (more details as they arise). Some of us have been traveling in India for the past few weeks (Gabe, Clay, Aaron, Nadeen, Jonathan), others two months (Joe), while others (Rachel, Paige, Caroline, me, Tim, Libby, Nina) just arrived. I’m excited to learn from all these interesting individuals and bond as a group (this feels like camp a little…) While embarrassing to admit, I still have yet to get my drivers license (I live in NYC if that’s at all an excuse). After a day of road travel and close observation of Indian driving culture, I believe I’m finally ready for the test. Here are my notes:
- Sidewalks are for cows and dogs. People use the streets.
- The streets are also for cows (they don’t know the difference).
- Some roads have lane-dividers, but you best pretend they don’t exist (record thus far: a two lane road fit approximately 1 car, 1 truck, 3 motorcycles, 1 rickshaw, 1 cow, and two dogs)
- Signaling a lane change is a laughable offense. Squeezing a bus between two motorcycles with less than 2 inches on each side is barely impressive.
- I have yet to see a traffic light.
- Motorcycles can fit four comfortably.
- To prevent accidents, speed bumps are placed sporadically along highways (these permit extreme nausea)
- Honking is neither rude nor taken personally as it is necessary for survival.
- I witnessed ZERO accidents. Indians are either the best or worst drivers and I don’t know which is truth.
- A rickshaw feels as sturdy as the word sounds.
Our rickshaw driver, Swami.