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India Trip Notes

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4-13-11 - Poor Mousy

I'm used to the word Samadhi meaning a deep state of meditation, but in India, at least in southern India it is more commonly used to denote a tomb or shrine. Maybe because the death of a guru is called their Maha Samadhi. Likewise, it's not usually said Buddha died, he entered Parinirvana. So I guess this shrine represent their Maha Samadhi. I'll ask someone over there if I think of it.


When I go to the Ramana Ashram in the morning I hand my sandals to a man who slowly takes them, puts them in a cubby, and hands me a tag from the cubby with its number written on it. A lot of people just leave their sandals outside of that building but my Keens are necessary for my delicate plantars and are irreplaceable here - except with the other pair Katrinka brought when these new ones broke - what are they starting to make them in China? Anyway I got them fixed by a guy sitting on the street who did a good job.

As soon as I step away barefoot on the dirt I feel a refreshing cool nakedness and proceed enjoying this feeling past pecking peacocks and women leaning over sweeping the leaves and bits of paper into piles. Inside the first door of the main building. I pass a statue of Ramana sitting, enter his mother's samadhi which is also a Shiva temple I think. I walk three-fourths around it clockwise and enter the large room for Ramana's samadhi which I also walk around three-fourths, exiting on the other side to step up to the meditation room.

After circumambulating in a few whole numbers, after the shirtless boys on the mandapam (altar?) of Ramana's Samadhi have chanted, after the flame of the morning puja is out and sweet milk slurped, hands and mouth washed, I'm back at the sandal stand. The man or one of the men takes my tab and looks at the number. I watch him slowly turn to go for the sandals and am ready to point if he's lost because I've learned they don't know the order of the numbers. They must just be trying to match the shape on the tab with the shape on the face of the shelf. Same guys everyday wearing the wrap-around white skirts, barefoot, quiet.

On the way home this morning a tiny black rodent, a mouse I guess, scampered along the edge of a long wall shooting back as a motorcycle approached, then forth again. It was out of its field and going the wrong way. A crow swooped down toward the bird only to be cut off a few feet away by a hawk coming from the sky above the wall. They both flew up then arcing away from each other, the crow alighting on a branch, the rodent continuing faster, the hawk correcting its course in a circle and without competition zooming down to snatch critter up with deft talons and fly off. All in a flash.

I didn't stop for tea and paper, needed a nap - was dreaming a block of multi-color that was in the way of waking till a bird call from out the window instantly disintegrated it and bang - nap over.

Back at the tea stand a woman at the side door begged for food with her friend. I'd just handed out the last of yesterday's samosas on the way up and covered a sadhu's five rupee tea. Five rupees I told her. The idli was two and a half each. They wanted two each. I refused. She threw herself at my feet pleading.

A friendly, funny Israeli guy came in. I gave him part of my paper - he wanted the sports. His English wasn't very good which is unusual for Israelis I meet. He said it wasn't good enough to read the paper. He wanted a dictionary. I thought his best chance was some sort of digital device, hopefully cheaper than an iPod, which would support an app for - I guess Hebrew-English--English-Hebrew. Today's election day in India and he didn't know that word or "vote" but he knew "prime minister" and "choose" and in this way we meandered through a few subjects and parted with names and smiles.

Dhanam, my landlady who calls me father, is gone for four days working in a village on the election. She called me yesterday full of concern because her brother Shankar called her and told her I was sick. He'd gone out to get me tablets - antihistamines I assume. I had another lip swelling. Not extreme like the last time [see 3-25-11 - Random observations and Botox ants attack]. Not AS extreme anyway. I don't know what happened. I was just sitting here and I felt something in my upper right lip which I thought might be the onset of a herpes inflammation. I don't get them often or there, usually on the left corner of my mouth. But then it was a bump inside and not where a cold sore happens with me. And then it was bigger and bigger and I knew it was the same thing as before but I hadn't eaten anything that had been out or recently. I'd been drinking tea. Maybe there were some ants on the cup - but it touches my lower lip. So maybe they got on my lower lip and crawled up - but it kept swelling and wouldn't it take more than a few to do this? It was hard and after an hour took up most of the upper right lip. It didn't hurt or impede more tea drinking.

I told Dhanam no problem, it was fine, and answered all her questions and admonitions with "Not that, not that. No - I don't know." Finally I gave her the unsurpassable Meher Baba line, "Don't worry, be happy, love life." It was pretty much gone this morning.

But the bugs aren't gone. Anything I leave out or don't wipe gets tiny ants. I guess they're all ants. But it seems like there are tiny black specs that crawl on me and bite me now and then. I get these welts about the size of a shelled almond - on my arms, back, neck, chin, and now my forehead - they don't hurt or even itch much and they go away in a day or two. They seem to be different from mosquito bites but there's usually a mosquito or two around. I don't know. I'm constantly putting a hand in my shirt or on my neck. There's a little ant walking across my computer screen now. A while ago I blew one off my desk. I put on a tee shirt yesterday and felt a little sting on the inside of the elbow. I couldn't find anything there but a welt came up. I looked at the shirt with glasses and good light but couldn't see anything. I looked at all my clothes and bedspreads and pillows and on the floors and cement corners like one where Katrinka had found an opening ants came in and sprayed it with Jungle Juice and they've never used that since. I can't use Jungle Juice on me because it makes my arms swell and skin break out. But it's great to put on the bed posts and anywhere ants may be passing by. Got an ant stick too.

I still imagine the tiny specs I see on myself and I pull up with a fingernail to be some sort of bug I don't know on a first name basis. I feel them crawling around on me and wonder if it's my imagination. When I was a little kid I took a bite of a jelly sandwich on the counter in our kitchen and it had ants on it and after that I started getting this feeling in my stomach of lots of little things crawling around. I wonder if some of the tiny dark spots on my skin are these bugs, having burrowed in. I envision them laying eggs in me their host for a whole civilization. Maybe it's not even them but an allergic reaction to the milk I've been getting or something. But I don't freak out. I think, oh well, I'm getting a lot of work done.

I've been studying up to do the next installment on my experiences in Dharamsala back in the fall of 2003. There was one main event that I wrote a report on and a bunch of emails which were all nicely saved in a folder and I went through them and have been thinking about how to present it - it's just too much information.  It centers around a man named Sharma who people identified as Sharma the blackface.

Speaking of too much information, I was at a tea stand listening to two young American women talk about how uncomfortable they were with Indian toilet procedure. It's common knowledge that Indians (and some other peoples in Asia) eat with their right hand and use their left hand for the toilet. But some people wonder, well, exactly then what do they do?

Please correct me if I'm wrong on any of this, but there's always a little bucket of water and a faucet by the toilet whether squat or Western, and there are different ways to use the water like pouring it down from behind the rear or holding it under. Then the hand is used like a rag or brush and then the hand is washed. I too feel a bit uncomfortable with this method but sometimes I have to use it and it works though it takes some time to figure out how to do it best since we're not little kids and no one's going to explain. However, almost all toilets these days have hand-held sprayers which are quite efficient and generally render hand assist unnecessary. It's like a douche for number two. Toilet paper then is useful only as a monitor and to dry one a little. I always take a shower afterwards as well - not that I feel I absolutely have to, but in weather like this, anytime is a good time for a shower. Anyway, I think the sprayer system is so superior that using toilet paper now seems sort of icky to me. An Indian guy told me he thought of it as a way to just spread rather than clean.

OK, that's out of the way. Now, in reading through the emails and reports in preparation for this Sharma the blackface story, I came across a long email from Dianne where she related that story of Hari on the motorscooter I'd told as mine in Dharamsala I and then realized it was hers in the sequel. Here it is word for word plus a bonus story.

One day I was riding with Hari on his motorbike and a man rushed out in front of us, stopped the bike and started yelling at him. They yelled back and forth for about ten minutes. When we left, I asked Hari-what was that all about? He said that his cousin had used the telephone at the man's telephone booth and left. Oh, I said, didn't he pay? Oh no, he had walked out with the man's pen and the man wanted it back!

Also Hari called me the other day all excited to tell me that he was at the bank and had just made the last payment on his motorcycle. He told me this about ten times in a minute so I kept saying, How great!, How wonderful!, Aren't you glad? Lucky you!, What a thrill, etc, etc. He finally told me that the bank was so happy because he had always made his payments on time that they wanted to give him a party, and in fact, at that very moment he was at the party and having a great time drinking tea and eating cookies with the bank employees!! Such is life in Our Town.

Dhanam's sister who lives in the next building over is out there yelling - at what? I go to the window. Can't see. Her husband? A family member? A cow? It could be a cow. They have a bunch of them and I've seen her yell at them when she's moving them around. There are a lot of cows walking around on the streets and in the lots, but I've come to realize that there are a lot that are tied up a good deal of the time - like here. The little ones are tied up so much. I pass cows that are tied up everywhere. The ashram has over 120 cows and most of them are tied up, and tied up so they can't move much. There's a beautiful big old bull, a Gir with the hump back but not a bullock, that gets brought out from his sleeping quarters every day and tied between two trees, the ropes around his neck and like a bridle. He can hardly move at all and makes sad cries all day. They have a nursery, kindergarten, grade school for different age cows who are mostly tied close to their food and water. There are some different types of cows and bulls they keep in a fenced in area I guess so they won't do any improper mating, but mostly the bovines are tied up.

I'm sure there's a lot I don't understand about all this but it goes against my gut feeling to do this to these animals who I assume would like to be able to move around more. A man who lives at the ashram was there and he showed me which cows were for milk, the facilities for the cows of different types and ages, and so forth, and he was proud of how well they were taken care of. This ashram is no exception to the general Indian reverence for cows. He pointed out that their manure was used for the garden and plants and to generate electricity and that sizable operation was next to their sophisticated water recycling operation. But it does seem that maybe there's a blind spot.

Americans of which I am one, live in a country that is a massive Auschwitz for livestock and we cannot criticize Indians for tying up their cows. In fact, the way I see it, we can't really criticize other people for anything due to other shortcomings in various areas. So these are merely observations of a world citizen.

Water buffalo here are slaughtered - no problem - Gita and I watched a truckload of them going down the road ahead of us a couple of weeks ago, a row of heads close together sticking out. She pointed out that they weren't drooling, weren't being given water. Off to the gallows. But not cows. I read in the paper last time I was here about a minister in a remote rural area who told his flock to eat beef to show they weren't under the spell of Hindu superstition. An angry mob set fire to his car with him and his two sons in it and would not let them escape.

That reminds me of a story Bob Pruitt told me. His father was a Presbyterian missionary in Africa when Bob was young. There was a belief that if the tree in front of one's home died that someone in the home would soon follow. So Bob's father told a woman to cut the tree down in front of her hut to show that she believed in Jesus and god. She did so and soon the local witch doctor was there dancing in front of her place and she died.

I went out for a walk over to the Yogi Ram Ashram, I only discovered it recently from the guy who said it cured his knee problems when he circumambulated Yogi Ram's samadhi thirty-six times. I did it nine times and am not sure if my shoulder is better or not. It's an impressive place. There are a number of buildings and women sweeping. The meditation hall was round and had large pictures of famous gurus going around the circumference of the wall including Sai Baba, Ramakrishna, Ramana and Krishnamurti and Gandhi and Tagore. There was a giant main hall big enough for a basketball stadium with statues and photos and a shiny blue-green stone floor. His samadhi was in there. Outside there were signs with sayings of Yogi Ram. My favorite was one that said no one is beyond criticism, that everyone gets criticized. If Rama and Krishna were here they'd be criticized. Don't run away from it.

I walked out, looking forward to doing some work at Quo Vadis, a Christian community where I can study in their cozy thatch roofed wooden structures, upstairs in the loft is my favorite - and drink tea and eat when their restaurant is open. As I crossed the large parking lot of the Yogi Ashram a woman came running up hand to her mouth, a friend standing back. Same woman as this morning, the one who threw herself at my feet. "Chai, chai!" she said maybe referring to the fact that we'd been introduced that morning at the tea shop. I was glad to see her because I felt bad about having not been more generous earlier. I gave her ten rupees which I hardly ever do. A sadhu whom I recognized saw our transaction and set out toward me. I walked fast out to the street.

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