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