India Trip Notes
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3-25-11 - Random observations and Botox ants attack
Peacocks on the roof of the Ramanashram as usual this morning. Noting the intricately sculpted gopurams atop that building.
At the end of the morning service, watching the dark-skinned altar boys clad in white skirt get their spoonful of warm sweet milk in the right palm from the priest before the line that wraps around the marble fence. Tastes like sweet condensed milk.
Marvel again at the lack of regimentation. Just people sitting wherever in Ramana's meditation room, bowing as they please or not upon entering and leaving. Aside from an a priest coming in to walk around with smoking, incense pot, woman wiping some items, there's no one watching or leading. Just us chickens. Actually there are some roosters outside I saw upon entering. Ashram wide, people coming and going here and there doing whatever as they please not paying much attention to each other. Some restrictions - wouldn't want to try to walk counter-clockwise around an altar.
Read a good word in the paper for the massive hump-backed zebu cattle that are called Brahma Bulls in the US - bullock. But they can't be all male. Must check that word. Anyway, I love it when they go by pulling their carts. I love it that that still works here. At the tea shop sadhu Sekar says old India is not only here amidst the exhaust, that one can go places where people still say, what is a car? What is a phone? I just gave him 200 rupees to do a three day pilgramage to pay respects to Lord Venketeshwara at Tirupati. He said all he needed was the round trip bus fare, that food and lodging (a floor probably) would be free.
That's the most I've given anyone here and I won't do it often but I've gotten to know him. He lived in London for three years working as an accountant for Benson and Hedges. Now he's associated with the Arunachala temple downtown. Maybe he lives there or near there. I don't know.
I've had Indians say I'm paying too much for this apartment - 6000 rupees, $132 a month, for the off season anyway, the hot months like March through September. But they're not including the perks - the rooftop and the women downstairs. They take care of me - my landlady Dhanam, her sister, mother, and sister-in-law. I hang out with them some and they want to do everything for me - make all my meals, wash my clothes and clean my apartment every day. It's not free though it's quite reasonable. But I can't afford to do it as much as they want. I have to hold them back - limit the meals to one a day and then tell them they're giving me so much it takes me all day to eat it. I say them but I only negotiate with Dhanam, the landlady, the boss. She's tough, authoritative. And she's just thirty.
Can't get a cheap haircut here with massage like in Jaipur. I ask around - what do regular Indians do? They just tell me it's not done here like there. Gotta pay 200 rupees though I found one for 150. No cheap massage like in Thailand or Bali. I have a shoulder injury and would love to get it worked on regularly but so far not around here. Just expensive Tibetans, Aryuvedic from Kerala, foreigners - there's a German woman who has a good reputation and she's cheap for America, $20, but that's not in my budget. I know I could get a massage for ten dollars but that's also too much for anything regular. (It's always woman on woman, man on man) So I say, okay, I'll look for a cheap prostitute and get her to rub my shoulder for fifteen minutes a day for a dollar but I'm told they're seriously illegal here and I don't even know if I could find one anyway. Actually, I can reach it myself and know how to rub it and exercises that would help, but it's so nice to have someone else do it and Katrinka's not here but even she can't work on that shoulder as much as I need. I think about the women downstairs - Dhanam, her sister, mother, and sister-in-law. What about bringing it up and seeing if maybe say Dhanam's mother could rub my shoulder a little every day while we're all together. Would they be offended if I brought that up? I asked Kama from Jaipur if he thought they'd be offended if I brought that up. He didn't know. Oh, I'd be too scared. Dhanam's brother who lives next door to me up here on the first floor (2nd in the US), is sweet and friendly, but what if I ignorantly went too far in uncharted territory. I think of an article I read in the paper recently about a rickshaw driver who decapitated a friend of his for having an affair with his unmarried aunt. It was even adulterous.
Back to the peacocks. Their calls are omnipresent, high pitched, reminiscent of cat screechings at times, at others of babies crying, and at times I think of cartoon characters' goofy screams when slipping on banana peels or falling off cliffs. Let's see, what other sounds are there - other birds, crows, vehicles, mainly small motorcycle and autorickshaw engines but trucks and busses and cars too. The rattlings of bullock carts. People talking in normal and raised voices, sometimes sounding like they're fighting when they're not, women chattering away the most prevalent. Music, never Western (no Hotel California!), music coming from a home or coming and going in a vehicle, being played in a bus, man with a flute at the tea stand, Banging of work being done. Dogs barking some, especially, unfortunately, at night. My favorite is cows mooing. Least favorite a nearby mosquito in the dark. Oh yes, the wind.
Descriptions tend to forget the olfactory, what the nose takes in - the whole cycle of the tropics from pungent flowers to rot, incense from a passing shrine, vegetables and fruits sending messages from their stands, exhaust and other mechanical byproducts floating to the nose, dried urine in places, open sewage slowly draining with plastic bags, unvented plumbing the norm so toilet rooms even in hotels tend to have a mild aroma of decomposing excrement. I do not notice the strong odor of people I've encountered in busses filled with workers going home in Mexico (a robust, healthy sensation), or in crowded places in the States - but there's lots I don't notice. More likely here to notice the fragrance of a woman. Walking by cows, their sweat and excrement. There's a manger under my bedroom window - the bovine odors mixed with straw. From another window the field sends a complex array that mixes with waftings from women making meals.
I read a complaint recently from someone about the food being too spicy and the lack of "decent quality fruits and vegetable" in his diet. They were limiting themselves to what they got in a meditation center and probably afraid of a lot of the food on the street. A friend who's basically a wandering sadhu, said that yogis in ashrams tend to get unhealthy in their forties from a diet that's too restricted. Not necessary. As for too spicy, not for me - I'd say less challenging than Latin American food in California. I get lots of milk in the tea and occasional yogurt which they call curd, both from local cows or more commercial. There are eggs and cheese available and paneer which they translate as chees but which is from soy like tofu. Venka, my autorickshaw driver brought over some incredible fish steaks the other day. I'd just eaten and left them on the counter with rice and vegetables, each sealed in other stacked containers. When I came home, the women, who had cleaned my place, had all that stuff downstairs and were trying it out. Left me most of it. I offered it all to them but no no take it.
Here's a list of vegetables and nuts I've eaten recently: cauliflower, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, squash, carrots, a spongy soy product, beets, cashews, peanuts, cabbage, a spiny long green pod-like thing that we picked from a tree but I've had it served here - you chew it and spit out the course fiber, okra, beans.
Now for the fruits: oranges, lemons, papaya, bananas, coconut, cantelope, green and blue grapes, a heavy brown skin covered fruit called chiku I think, durian if you can eat it, pineapple, apples, figs, watermelon, a bitter one that looks like green cherry tomatoes, mangoes are out of season now.
On the long bus ride from Chennai a couple of weeks ago, I drank mango juice and orange juice and ate cooked by somewhat dry aduki beans then later sliced cucumbers, both sold trough the window wrapped in newspaper for a dime.
I could have gotten some of the battered and fried goodies, samosa is what at least one of them is called, with some vegetable in the center, and I love that stuff but I try to limit my intake of it. I buy those for a rupee and a half each to hand out to beggars.
Break here to make breakfast. Had to stop making breakfast to write the following.
When I came home last night I had two of the little samosas left and ate one while visiting with KC and Kama. This morning I just ate the other one while writing this and I've had an extreme reaction to it. My upper lip is swelling rather rapidly. There's a hardness on the inside of my upper lip. It's like an allergic reaction. Maybe there was a spider in it or something that shouldn't have been there.
I'm reminded of a friend who was hiking in the Himalayas and got tired of the hiker's food they'd brought along and picked some green plants that were growing there, cooked them up, and ate them and almost died from it. His throat swelled up and he could hardly breathe and he got very sick but finally it passed and he felt like he barely lived. Back to me. Gee, it's getting bigger and harder and spreading to the lower lip. It's like my lips are balloons in the beginning stages of getting blown up.
[stopped writing there]
At that point I called KC and told her what was happening. She told me to call my rickshaw driver and go immediately to a hospital up the road out of town past where she lives. She said they had both homeopathic and allopathic medicine. I called Venaka and told him to come right away to take me to the hospital. He said he'd be ten minutes.
I put the food I was working on in the fridge, saved this file and closed the laptop, got my wallet, phone, pad, pen, glasses in black cloth bag, turned off the lights and fans, locked the door, went downstairs, and called Dhanam.
She was in back making lunch and came around. The other women looked at me with some alarm. I told Dhanam what had happened. She and her mother looked more closely and conferred. Dhanam brought me inside and held a mirror up. What I saw was truly shocking. My lips were swollen enormously, making me look like Homer Simpson, making feel like the Elephant man. They were so swollen they were pushed inside out in a circle. Dhanam looked closer and started pulling something off my lips, then from the inside of my mouth. She was laughing and said I didn't need to worry. I asked if she knew what it was and she said yes but she didn't know the word. Then she started brushing things off my tee shirt. I called Gita and gave the phone to Dhanam. Venka pulled up and he could hear what Dhanam was saying to Gita. He started brushing things off my shirt. Dhanam gave me my phone back. Gita said it was ants, tiny ants.
I remembered back when I'd first absentmindedly put the samosa in my mouth and started chewing. Immediately there was some sort of reaction going on like my lips were chaffing. It felt like I was pulling all the skin off my lips, there was all this stuff there and they were getting numb. I kept brushing my lips as they expanded. It was ants. I'd broken a household rule and left food out. It all goes in the fridge. I'd picked up a samosa covered with tiny brown ants. So many. Maybe they were inside and outside of the Samosa. So they either stung me en masse or all the acid on them gave me an allergic reaction or both. Dhanam thought it was ants from the shirt cause they'd just done my laundry but I said not it was from the samosa.
Venka and I ran upstairs and I dumped my tee shirt outside the door and put on a clean short sleeve shirt which he inspected and shook.
The hospital was a fairly small one story structure in a fenced in compound of buildings with grounds, a bus, a few cars, and motorbikes parked to the side. Venka drove me to the front door. A man at a table outside looked at me, everybody looked at me. He gave me a small piece of paper on which I wrote my name, age, sex, the date, and where I was living - I filled out "Across from the Ramana Post Office with M. Dhanam." They asked me for twenty rupees. In a minute he took me to a bench where two young women helped me weigh on a cheap looking little bathroom scales - I wondered if it distorted me too low - 101 kilos. I think I was about 108 soon before I left the States. Took my blood pressure. It's never bad but I can't remember what the numbers mean. I went to two offices to talk to two women, doctors maybe, then I was getting a shot in each hand from another woman assisted by another woman and eight pills from their pharmacy to take today and tomorrow. Total additional bill, twenty-three rupees.
I came back to my apartment, went quickly inside to avoid grossing out people walking by, took a shower scrubbing well, running hands repeatedly through hair to rid myself of any other ants, none of which I'd ever seen. It still felt grossly deformed, like there was a baseball sized growth on the front of my mouth. Clay called from Goa. He wanted me to take a picture. I refused, not really into that type of side-show. KC called with concern. I wanted to call Katrinka but was too tired to open computer. Then she called. I was out of it from the shots, maybe they were anti-histamines, and slept for eight hours, till nine thirty, waking often and coasting with various mantras, for several hours one was, "lips getting back to normal now, thank you." I was comfortable. It was pleasant, detached from the world of form. The swelling from the Botox ants was gradually going down. I sat on the floor downstairs with the women and watched South Indian sitcoms and drank tea.
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