Saturday, February 10, 2007

Wind Down and Return

My final days in Mumbai (Bombay) included going out to see a just-released Bollywood film which was a Hindi adaptation of "It's Love Actually" featuring six different couples (all hot Bollywood stars) struggle with the ups and downs of romantic love. Not understanding a word of Hindi, I took in the atmosphere...a buzzy Saturday night crowd, loads of singing and dancing...a built in interval (intermission), lovers in separate beds (e.g. American film in the 50s) and no on-screen PDA (public display of affection).

The next day we attended an arts festival, featuring ethnic dancers, puppets, public art and fair-trade handicrafts. I felt as if I was almost home. The attending locals had the same curiosities about the presentations as I did; they were photographing the exact things I was!

Later that evening we packed up our stuff (including two sitars which we had dedicated many hours the day before in purchasing) and boarded a series of planes towards our 30+ hour return to LA. Seated next to me was a 20-something young Indian man who works in high-tech in Florida. He'd been visiting his parents who had lined up a potential wife for him to consider. It hadn't worked out in that he hoped to find a woman with a career who was open to immigrating to America. The young lady his parents had located was willing to live in America for perhaps a year, but truly wanted to raise her family near her parents in South India. The young man was clearly caught between two worlds. While he wanted to honor his parents and accede to an arranged marriage, he'd come to face that he himself had better access to the sorts of women he'd be most open to marrying. Ultimately he admitted that he would consider a "love marriage"....he just had to find the right Indian girl, ideally someone who is now living in America.

My return back home has had its own challenges. Life for me in Los Angeles is not at all as interesting as life in India. I have my patterns and my friends and my job. For a brief while I could glimpse at the uniqueness of the world I call home. The air (relative to India) is fresh and very few people are coughing and sneezing. The traffic is light. Drivers rarely honk...and the kind of mad gridlock we'd experience in the auto-rickshaws in Varanasi and Jaipur doesn't occur. LA women tend to wear muted colors--blacks, greys, and tans...barely anyone wears the hot pinks, wild turquoises and sizzling electric greens of India. And the food? I can't believe how much packaged and frozen food we eat here. In India everything we ate was fresh and freshly made. Other than downing several much-missed bars of organic dark chocolate, I'm already missing the much more delicious foods of India!

My Own Saree

I had much assistance in properly draping my new saree--an absolute skill for a well-dressed Indian woman!

Mumbai Arts Festival





Bombay (Mumbai) Waterfront


Bombay Sunset


Friday, February 2, 2007

Winding Down India in Mumbai (Bombay)

The day before yesterday we caught our final 3rd class Indian train from Pune to Mumbai. Having been to a zillion temples and museums during most of the trip, I've felt perfectly content to take in the Mumbai ocean breeze and go shopping. Through Kathleen's contacts we were invited to stay in the home of a wonderful Indian family. They live in a high rise apartment building with wonderful ocean views.

Last night they took us to hear Mohammad Yunus, the recipient of the nobel prize for his work with extending micro-loans to impoverished women in Bangladesh. I was absolutely captivated. Finally a leap from all of the spiritual stuff I've endeavored to be open to to a very tangible discussion of what poor women do when they are extended credit. They do very practical things like buy chickens so they can generate a profit selling eggs, or buy a cow and sell milk. And very rarely do they default on their loans. And who benefits first? Well, their children...who rapidly become better nourished, finish school, etc. More recently the women have been invited to take out loans to buy cell phones...which has led them to be village phone entrepreneurs. And overnight illiterate women figure out how to read the numbers on their handsets...and can even dial with their eyes closed!

Afterwards our hosts screened a DVD they'd produced on water issues in remote Indian villages. Considering that often women may spend upwards of 4 hours a day carrying water back to their homes, the need for safe available village-based wells has made a dramatic difference in their lives. Partnerships with village women and potable water technologies were beautifully documented in their production. I was given a copy of their DVD which I'd be delighted to share with you.

Tomorrow we fly back to America...a long journey back through Malaysia, Taipei and then into LAX, arriving midday on Monday Feb. 5.

Night Lights At Osho Party


Being An Anthropologist/Tourist in Osho Land

Having travelled so far and having heard of the Pune (Poona) Osho Center for so many years, I felt compelled to take the leap and join (for a short while). The very first indicator I had that my desires and curiosities might not be a perfect fit was when I was being processed for membership and the center volunteer looked under the computer's pull down menu for my occupation...under A's there were occupations like Astrologer and Acupuncturist...but no such thing as an Anthropologist. We scrolled all the way down to see if there might be a Sexologist (on the way passing Massage Therapist and Palm Reader)...finally I settled on "Scientist."

Processing included an HIV test...when I commented that there are many many others STDs that might also deserve testing, I received no response. Ultimately, I came to realize that rules and considerations at the Meditation Resort reflect the concerns of Bhagwan Rajneesh when he was alive. (He's now been dead for 17 years.) One day he decided everyone should wear maroon...and that all other colors would be distracting. So maroon it has been. And as soon as I was processed I was immediately escorted to an on-site shop to purchase a maroon dress.

So what did I do? Everything to absorb this world as much as I could in two days. I participated in every meditation from the 6 AM morning one to the special white robed evening one, danced a lot, participated in an introductory workshop, and chatted up as many people as I could. Many had been coming for upwards of 30 years. Their lives (and often their careers) revolved around Rajneesh's teachings. Some had travelled in India. Many simply fly to Mumbai (Bombay) and take a bus/train straight to Pune. For them the meditation resort could be anywhere. Some of the Taiwanese visitors told me they were spending two weeks at the Osho meditation resort followed by two weeks in Goa, India's swanky beach-resort.

So why is it in India? Well, Bhagwan was deported from the US (Rajneesh Puram, Oregon) in the late 80s and the only country that would take him was his motherland, India. While he was never well-received as a guru to India's poor, his message resonated exceedingly well to the rich and disaffected youth of the Western world. Today the resort attracts old-timers (now in their 50s and 60s) as well as young seekers from places including England, Australia, Brazil, China, Israel, Russia and Japan. While English is the lingua-franca of the resort...many attendees are hard-pressed to carry on much English conversation (though I tried). Mostly they dance, engage in meditation (which involves a variety of energy release processes including hyperventilating through the nose, jumping up and down, yelling and screaming, and sitting in pin-drop silence).

My conversations with the fluent English speakers invariably led to queries of "what are you here for?" When I'd reply, "to learn about what's going on here," it was clearly not enough. While it had been fine for me to be a tourist/anthropologist during the rest of my visit to India, my "what's going on" questions were generally not welcome. I was gently instructed to get involved. E.g. get some counseling, some personal instruction, or perhaps wear a 'silence' button. When I'd retort I don't have anything that's troubling me and that I'm having a good time talking to as many people as I can, they'd just smile, advising that I'd need to plan to stay a lot longer to receive any personal benefits.

I was especially curious about the white-robed evening meditation. Back in 1987, Bhagwan proclaimed that for the evening it would be necessary for everyone to wear only white. ...not cream-color...just pure white. The theater of 1,000 meditators from all over the world wearing white in the marble floored, pyramid shaped meditation auditorium excited me. I had to attend. And by the time I'd decided I needed to do this, the center robe-shop was closed. I spent the next hour trying to chat up various women who seemed to be about my size, hoping they might have a robe to lend me. Unfortunately there were no robes to spare. ...and so I headed out to Pune's street vendors and asked if one of them would rent me a robe for 50 rupees. They wouldn't. So finally I bought a potato-sack-like-gown for 200 rupees. I rushed back to the center just as the gates were closing and scurried in. The guard advised me that the main auditorium was already closed and that I'd have to go to a smaller room where people who could not maintain pin-drop silence were meditating. (All of these people had coughs and colds).
I danced around for a minute or two and felt none of the energy I was seeking....I was determined to get myself into the big auditorim. I rushed to the front entry way and told the guard that I'd travelled from half way around the earth to attend and could she please get me in. She agreed, advising me to pack up my valuables in a small bag (my day pack was too big). As I was extracting my cell phone and camera, she pounced on me and told me it was too late--that I had taken too long to gather my stuff and that the auditorium was now absolutely closed and that I'd have to go back to the coughers and sneazers. There was no budging her. I just stared into her rule-driven eyes and said "I want to respect your process." Back with the coughers and sneazers, I joined in with all the coughing I could (still having a cold, I did just fine). At one point they began to play a videotape of Bhagwan on a small TV (in the auditorium the tape plays on a projection TV) and everyone listened attentively. I couldn't believe a deadman draws such an audience every night...but then again Jesus Christ, while never videotaped, nonetheless compels even larger audiences.

The moment the process ended I rushed out and witnessed the throngs of white-robed meditators leave the pyramid-shaped auditorium. I filled myself up with their procession.
Afterwards, a huge dance-party filled the main plaza. Lots of wonderfully sexy dancing with people from all over.

And the next day I managed to resell my shmata white robe to a young Israeli who had just arrived. And when I came back to my hotel to pack up, the hotel manager asked if I wanted to change out of the red robe before heading to the train station. He knew very well, I'd been an anthropologist/tourist....

Osho Land


Entry Gate...During the Day All Participants Wear Maroon

Meditation Dancers

I Become A Rajneeshie


Monday, January 29, 2007

Osho Land--First Impressions

Two nights ago we took the mother of all trains rides, boarding our 3rd class AC sleeper car in Calcutta and disembarking this morning in Pune, the home of Bhagwan Rajneesh's notorious ashram. The train ride was a bit like a sanatorium with everyone cough and sneezing all night (us included). I thought I'd caught my cough/cold from the dust and smoke at the Kumba Mela while Kathleen believes hers came on from all the auto rickshaw exhaust in Varanasi. In any case virally we're full-fledged Indians.

On board the train we met Shakti, a 51 year old Indian woman who was returning from her daughter's wedding. As for being an unconventional Indian she pretty much takes the cake. And much of this comes from her 10-year involvement in the Osho world. While she was forced into an arranged marriage with a man she did not care for, she made sure her daughter's life would be different. And it has been. Her daughter graduated from medical school and just married a man she's been living with for the last ten years. Her stuffy father did not approve and boycotted the wedding. And for the last 10 years Shakti has been living apart from her husband...and taking in much of the Osho message of sexual freedom.

The Osho center (called a meditation resort) appears a bit like Esalen does today. Something that was inspired by someone who is no longer here...and with travellers from all over the world arriving to grok what's left. The cafes here are populated by Europeans and Australians wearing maroon garb. I'm tempted to join for the day...how could I travel so far and NOT take it all in? Same time the whole thing looks so dizzying...

Meanwhile we need to find some cough medicine!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

More on Sex and Marriage in India

As I've noted previously India seems to be on the verge of a sexual revolution...one inspired by international TV shows (e.g. Sex in the City), the activities of Bollywood stars, and the stirrings of India's discontented youth. As for hard numbers, arranged marriage very much remains the norm, but much is shifting. Assisted marriages wherein a friend/go-between rather than parents facilitate introductions occurs as do out-and-out love marriages. And for many of the 20 and 30 something parents we've spoken to who are themselves in arranged marriages, they foresee love marriages for their children. And ideas about family have shifted, too. While previously Indian families had upwards of five or six children, now many young couples consider two children the ideal.

Arranged marriage has been practiced in such a way where ones' parents are full party to the activities of the nuptial couple. They declare how many children they should have, when the bride's tubes should be tied, etc. What Westerners might consider personal decisions very much function as family decisions.

While divorce does occur in India, it's considered shameful...and especially in the context of an arranged marriage, it is avoided at all costs. This condition has certainly contributed to what have been considered dowry deaths. While dowry has been legally banned since the 1980s, nonetheless a wife does inherit wealth from her family that can be considered the property of her and her husband. Untimely deaths (the first seven years after the wedding) are investigated. While the husbands' family routinely reports that the bride was unhappy and must have committed suicide, the pressures of arranged marriage are often at the core. Sexual incompatibility can be an issue. Brides report that they are being used sexually and that their husbands don't treat them in a loving way. And grooms claim the bride doesn't excite them...that perhaps she's not as pretty as the picture her parents' received.

From a safe distance I wonder where young India is headed. Will they embrace their version of a Western way? Will they push aside the prudery of the conquering British and before them the sexually restrictive Muslim Monguls and fashion their own versions of an enlightened Kama Sutra? It IS a very interesting time.

The Bengali Way

Kolkata (Calcutta) is on the Eastern end of India and embraces a whole other way. Rather than the Hindi that's used in Northern India, much of the chatter we hear is in Bengali. Its more tropical here...there are palm trees, hot afternoons and warm evenings. And we've taken in many temples. Yesterday we visited a Vedanta center--on the edge of the river...we meditated along with the other visitors and resident devotees. For many Indians a vacation or a weekend outing is centered around visiting one or more temples. Religious rites are absolutely embedded in daily life. As we sat in semi-lotus position amongst the crowd of meditators Kathleen nudged me and whispered, "some thing's about to happen." Suddenly the doors were released and a life-like sculpture of a Vedanta visionary was exposed and everyone rushed forward and made rupee and flower offerings.

The most intense temples have been the ones featuring the goddess Kali. She's a bloody wild woman who invites intensity and animal sacrifice. Yesterday we patiently waited in a line for about 20 minutes....and then as we neared a small doorway, the intensity blew open. Temple priests were grabbing offerings of red flowers and rupees and we caught the smallest of glimpses of this black eyed dark goddess. Kathleen noted the shoving and screaming were as if we were at the New York Stock Exchange...Kali does set the stage for some very intense yelling/emotional release.

Across the way were a series of perhaps ten lingum (penis) temples. Visitors came to each one, pouring water and depositing flowers and rupees. For a culture with such ambivalence about public sexual expression, these clearly offer important relief (and release).

I Join An Indian Family


After taking in the Saraswati hoisting rituals, an Indian family asked me to pose with him. (I remain astounded in how exotic I look to everyone here!)

Saraswatsi--Goddess of Education




Likenesses of Saraswatsi were hoist into the river...and then eventually they wash ashore in the rubble of flowers, candles and other offerings. (The pollution here is unbelievable...but these rites absolutely override reason!)

Temple Snoozers


Men taking a snooze on the steps of the red temple in Varanasi.

Jain Temples, Calcutta





The Jainism came out of Hinduism...a highly acetic practice that prohibits sex. Unlike the American Shakers, who are nearly extinct, the Jains fortify their ranks by adopting children. The temples were truly exquisite...filled with silver, gold, and shiny mirrors.

Calcutta Book Mart



Adjacent to one of Calcutta's universities are countless stalls selling all kinds of books at very good prices. Makes Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue look puny. Then again Amazon.com has not yet hit India!

Human Rickshaw, Calcutta

Victoria Memorial Calcutta


Looking More Indian in my new Punjabi




Friday, January 26, 2007

India Day in Kolkata (Calcutta)

Sixty years ago India gained her independence from the British. Here in Kolkata we witnessed parades, family outings, as well as many rituals and ceremonies. The most intense for me was witnessing a baby goat being sacrificed at the Kali Temple which is near Mother Theresa's hospital/infirmary. The little goat squealed as it was hoisted into a press and then with one swift whack of a hatchet it was split in two...the back half continued to thrash....

The culture here is quite different from the heavily vegetarian Northern areas we visited. Rather than seeing cows wandering the streets (and even on the train station platforms), here they're served for dinner (and breakfast). Beggars abound...and its a city rich in culture. There are no bicycle rickshaws nor auto rickshaws, but there are human ones! Strong barefoot men tow riders by walking...We dropped by an art opening...witnessed families picnicking in the parks, and likenesses of Saraswati ( goddess of education) being hoist into the Houllihy (part of the Ganges) River.

Yesterday I decided it was high time to start dressing more Indian and purchased the making for the typical woman's dress...leggings, top and shawl. Dropped them by a tailor and tomorrow morning I should be set!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Varanasi (Benares)

Varanasi is one of the oldest (2,000 years) and still habited cities in the world. And it is a most sacred place. Kathleen and I hooked up here the day before yesterday (me returning from the Kumbha Mela and she filled with adventures in gem shopping from her week in Jaipur.) Everything feels sacred here. The temples abound...each with its own flavor...some with intense dioramas of Hindu gods ripping their hearts out and others the transmutations of Hinduism (Buddhism and Jainism). The streets are filled to the gills with auto-rickshaws, bicycle-rickshaws, horse-rickshaws and cars, too. Skills needed by Indian drivers include a quick foot for braking and ready access to their horns to warn pedestrians, etc. that they're inches from being hit! The light here in the evening and the morning is especially beautiful...and particularily along the Ganges (Ganga) River.

As for me I finally washed the Kumbha Mela dust and smoke out of my hair, slept a bit more soundly and very much took in the beauty of this gorgeous place. It is the prime spot for Hindu cremations...bodies are transported by foot, car and plane from all over India for riverside cremations. The fires are witnessed by family members...and are too sacred to allow photography.

We're off on an overnight train to Calcutta (Kolkata) this afternoon....

Morning Bathers in Varanasi


Sunrise Over the Ganges (Ganga) River (Varanasi)



This morning we woke up early to take a beautiful ride along the Ganges (Ganga) River to witness sunrise and morning bathing.

Varanasi (Benares) At Night


The town was all lit up last night for a special festival...and weddings abounded. It was a most auspicious evening to get married!

Sarnath Mound Containing the Remains of Buddha




Sarnath features a fabulous archeology museum with relics going back several thousand years.

With Indian Tourists...


Some Indian tourists thought we were an amazing attraction and asked us to pose for their family photo.....

Durga Temple in Varanasi


Most of Varanasi's temples are so sacred and so exquisite that one cannot take photographs from the inside. I caught this photo a block away through its reflecting pond.
Inside the temple we made offerings...and felt as Hindu as we could.

Varanasi (Benares) At Night




We took a fantastic boat ride in the evening...and were witness to amazing pujas (ceremonies) along the Ganges River.

Indian Puppy Pile


While the lives of many of the dogs of India look difficult, these pups appeared to all be in good shape!

Kumbha Mela Audience


Some of the gurus commanded huge audiences....

Bindi Packets for Sale!


Colored Powders for Applying Third Eyes...


There were countless vendors selling these powders to enhance ones' ritual experience!

Sarees Laying Out to Dry


Kumbha Mela Bather


For Women to bathe at the Kumba Mela it involved immersing oneself in the Ganges (Ganga) while wearing ones' saree...and then rinsing the saree off...

With My Guru...


I visited my Guru, Anand, the following evening at the Kumba Mela. While there was this part of me that so enjoyed being in his presence, I sensed I could take that feeling with me ... and keep it forever. A wonderful gift!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Find My Guru!

Yesterday evening I carefully wandered off from my camp, doing my best to not get lost. I walked down a path of night-lit time temples and played with my camera settings to get dreamy looking shots. As I approached the last temple on the row a young man invited me in. He wanted me to meet Anand, his guru. Anand, a very composed 65 year old man with dancing eyes, was holding court around a small fire. He immediately acknowledged me and asked me to sit. He was decked in pretty bracelets and necklaces and popped a variety of questions my way. After awhile I got up and explored more of the temple, as I was about to leave he led me into a private room and introduced me to a couple from Holland who have been visiting him over the last 20 years. They began to explain that unlike other gurus he's a "social worker," he offers private consultations on a variety of worldly matters often to do with sex and marriage. We all chatted about the challenges young Indians face re: family expectations vs. their own dreams. Next he led me into another room and had his cook fix me some chapati and dahl. (I did my best to eat a little though honestly I was not hungry for food.) Then he began to ply me with Ferrer Roche hazelnut chocolates and bottled mineral water and we began to laugh. I sensed that he could follow my mood. That I made sense to him. He invited to stay at his temple...I was tempted. I took some pictures of him...and afterwards when I'd look at them, I'd get this feeling of calm and delight when I'd see those dancing eyes and knowing smile.

I get it! Never knew I'd find such an appetite in myself for such a connection. Very sweet!