29 June 2006
do you eat? www.somethingconstructive.net/jamanta
25 June 2006
and the moon is back again. in full force, after a sunny three week hiatus that worried me more than the rice farmers, it is now raining, effectively, all the time.
the latest update on the spacetime scene has our questionable protagonist moving, pathologically, once again. matt and i rented a filthy two-room concrete apartment for a thousand points monthly. it has a pretty maroon floor and we've expended 22 ounces of doctor bronner's favorite formula to tidy up it's full-spectrum vibrational presence.
we're going to be there for an eternal month, until matt heads to vipassana in madras/chennai and i welcome a suite (four) of lovely northwestern (hemispherically speaking) girls. for the first time in my hypercontinental adventures (now coming to eight months) i think i will have a kitchen.
to make dosa, naturally. overwhelming quantities of dosa. overdose. overdosa. overdosha. dosha, naturally, being the sanskrit term for "imbalance", used in ayurvedic shastras to describe all deviatons (quality, illness) our corporeal form endures in its ultimately illusional separation from pure satvic truth. an edgy, wet, and painful illusion that every moment teaches me how to engage with a compassionate presence while still smiling at the impermanence of it all.
there's nothing like aurobindo and rainy days to make that clear.
nothing except the infinite cycle of sa-ni-sa-ni-sa-ni that i can never seem to perfect on my bansuri.
nothing save the infinite cycle of "im learning", "i suck", "im learning", "i suck" that i can never seem to escape on my bansuri.
matt and mali are with me, separated by thin cubicle walls in the den of internet. my brother and my sister. the closest to me and the closest to me. and all i can feel is blessed. once again crushed by the weight of krishna's blessings, falling in large orange mangos and small red mangos and lank white men and beautiful malayali girls.
so, basically, this is all about Remya. sonnet still in progress and the homage of the eternal moment well underway.
Remya. Remya. posso escriver as lineas mais graciosas esta amanha. Remya.
we met at the margin-free market, under large yellow banners and tall shelves teeming with plastic.
she, who was one of many and yet, somehow, the only.
she who carried our basket with supple hands and policed our intents with watchful eyes.
oh, remya, how can an indian woman laugh?
oh, remy, how can an indian woman smile?
show us! show the world! show us the world!
lead us through lightbulbs whose compact florescents are but dim and expensive shadows of your own radiance.
lead us through mounds of airy markers which will dry up and crumble before your bindi and puja marks dream of smudging.
lead us through plastic clips for plastic clothelines and plastic cups for plastic buckets. lead to the paradise of home furnishing, to what it feel like finally to come home, for a month, but a month, and infinite month of writing and recording and singing and practicing.
remya! don't let them tell you that normal women smile or laugh or let their panjabis peek out from the folds of corporate smocks, for they do not.
remya! don't let them tell me that you can't negotiate with peons about the price or weight of candles, that we can't fold smiles out of monsoon evenings, for we can.
remya! how have you become that which we all roll towards? softly! how are you so nice! so beautiful! so normal! so carefree!
you, a sculpture of the one who reposes beyond and below, above and within, with no taint or runoff from the twisted knots of society...
do you eat? www.somethingconstructive.net/jamanta
23 June 2006
When I left off yesterday, I had just arrived at the Hotel Sangrilla on Nashik Road a quick ten minute walk from the Nashik Road Indian railway station.
I walked up to the Hotel and was hailed down by a quartet of Indian men sitting in front of two storefronts directly to the right of the Sangrilla's overly large entrance. It's taken me some time to know how to react to sudden accosting on Indian streets. Thus far, about half the time I've responded to a quickly, thickly called 'Hello!' the results have involved a very long, uncomfortable handshake-cum-handhold with some random dude who clearly has consumed a little too much water with arsenic in it for his own mental good. But the other half of the time, I've had a pleasant interaction with another wonderful Indian male, who wants to know all about my qualifications and how much my guitar cost. In this case, at this moment, since I was looking for the Hotel Sahara and hadn't found it, I decided to walk over to this quartet of Indian men and see what might come of it. And, boy.
Only one of the quartet, a Muslim man who owns the shoestore between the picture framing store and the photo printing store nextdoor to the Hotel Sangrilla, spoke functional English. What's more, his English was actually quite good, and accented with very interesting holdovers from his native Hindi. So he asked me where I was from and where I was going, and I asked him where the Hotel Sahara was.
"Sahara? SA-hara? Sa-HA-ra? Sa-ha-RA?"
"Ah, yes, the Hotel Suh-huh-ruh."
"Yes. That one."
"This hotel here will be much more suitable for your needs."
"Yes. It is quite comfortable, and reasonably priced. The Hotel Sahara is not adequate to your standards."
And so, I entered the Sangrilla and checked in, only to find out that I was the first Amerikan who had ever stayed in their hotel. Which quickly became like winning the lottery, as we shall see.
I hadn't even had a chance to place my stuff in the hotel room up on the third floor before the young hotel attendants began ringing the doorbell and suddenly barging into the hotel room inquiring about where I was from, what my qualifications where, and how much my guitar cost. This was new to me. Being from a country larger than India but with less than a third the population, I was used to a certain level of personal space. That level of personal space clearly didn't exist in the minds of even the hotel staff at the Hotel Sangrilla, and so, I quickly descended and found my Muslim friend once again.
I met his friends--Raju, the owner of the picture-framing store, Uttam, the tailor who worked behind both the shoestore and the picture-framing store, and "Harry Om," the very large owner of the photoprinting store nextdoor that dwarfed the shoestore and picture-frame store.
"Could you recommend a good place to eat dinner?" I asked my Muslim friend, whose name was Suresh.
"Yes, brother, I can. There is a wonderful establishment just down this road here called Hotel Rasoi. It will be quite suitable to your needs. I think you will find the food quite satisfying."
And off I went. It was about 7 o'clock in the postmeridian at this point, and I was famished. I rolled into the Rasoi, had the waiter recommend something Punjabi and very, very spicy, and awaited my first North Indian meal in India with a Lake Superior of saliva swishing around in my mouth.
The food arrived, a piping hot bright red-orange curry and my first Indian naan as well, and my God, I mean, I do like generally to taste the actual vegetable matter of my vegetables, and I even occasionally like to know what I'm eating, but this curry...it was divine...it was the explanation I would have needed for why and how Punjabi food has ted the consciousness of Americans in search of Indian food. The spice was intense, overwhelming. My brow broke out in thick beads of sweat, and the naan was coated in butter, which is to say, it was out-of-this-world delicious.
After the meal, I wandered slowly back to the Hotel Sangrilla. Before I could enter, my friends nextdoor accosted me once again.
Suresh: "Brother, you will join us for dinner later."
Me: "Oh boy..."
Suresh: "No, no, we insist. We will share Maharashtran specialties."
Me: "But why didn't you tell me this before you recommended a restaurant to me?"
Suresh stared back at me, choosing not to understand this batch of English.
Suresh: "You will come, brother. We will gather you at 9 o'clock."
Me: "Yes. I will come. I will come. Yes."
And so, I dashed up to my hotel room and confronted my fate. Laying there on the hotel bed staring up at the whirring ceiling fan, I compared the relative advantages of poking and choking my first dinner of the evening vs. grinning and bearing it and trustig in the good sense of my dinnermates to notice when I was about to pop from overeating. I would suffer forth and trust in the kindness of my friends downstairs.
Earlier than they said, and therefore right in line with everything I've come to expect from India, a knock rapped on my door and I didn't have time to get off my bed before the door opened and Uttam the tailor and one of Suresh's shoestore workers barged into the room and carried me off to dinner number two. It was like being trapped in Middle Earth, except I was in no way a midget, nor did I have an interdimensional gastrointestinal tract. That would come the following day.
So dinner occurred. Raju wanted us to go to a restaurant that served alcohol because all Americans drink, and Suresh came along with Uttam and Raju and I even though, as a Muslim, he had apparently never before been to a bar in all his 36 years. We arrived, and only then did I inform my new friends that I don't drink, at which point Raju expressed dismay and I assured all the gathered parties that it was really totally fine, I was used to being around alcohol, it didn't bother me a bit.
Uttam had somehow managed to go home and have his wife cook an entire Maharashtran feast between the time I went upstairs and the time he came and got me from my hotel room. So there I was, first being fed a masala dosa, vada and some stuffed Chinese-style chilies off of the restaurant menu, and then being stuffed with a massive download of Maharashtran food fresh off of Uttam's wife's frying pan. I ate, and ate, and ate. And good god, if there's one thing I can't stand, it's feeling overly full.
What's more, the food was so damn spicy, it was all I could do to keep from drinking everyone's glass of water at the dinner table. I restrained myself and downed only my own water, but the waiter kept refilling my cup so quickly and regularly that I forgot to notice that I was most definitely drinking unboiled water.
The dinner ended, they walked me straight to an ice cream parlor across the street, and it was only by demonstrating my distended intestinal tract that I avoided a dessert disaster.
Unfortunately, disaster hadn't been averted. Not by a long shot.
They escorted me home, Suresh continually referring to me as 'Come, Brother,' and debating Biblical theology with me, since I was a fellow person of the line of legitimate prophets and Monotheistic beliefs instead of these crazy Hindus he was surrounded by, God/Allah love 'em.
Sleep came swiftly, and departed just as swiftly.
After some point in the night, it became clear that I was in for it. I vomited curry in massive cascades of red reeking of garam masala. Oh God, I don't think I can ever eat North Indian food again, tasty and delectable though it may still be. I orbited the toilet, ejecting every last drop of liquid and solid from my insides back into the awaiting world-as-toilet-bowl. Over, and over, and over. If you've had dysenteric third-world experiences, you know what I'm talking about. It is HELL. Pure, unadulterated Hell.
I was in Hell. My ass burned so intensely I couldn't even flick water directly on it. I had to sort of jut my butt into the stream of shower water and then hope that I was somehow cleaning off the residue of my diarrheaic throes.
Along with the physical symptoms, I began feeling quite terrible about my entire alternative life project. My entire belief structure came toppling down. I was reduced to an intestinal tract and an apology. I prayed to God feverishly, please, to help me. I thought I might die, even though I'd been through a similarly unpleasant bout of intestinal disintegration back in April in Colombia and knew that it would all work out in the end.
So this is where India really became India.
I was definitely very sick. I wandered downstairs early and one of the kindly hotel young dudes ran across the street and purchased five bottles of water for me. Word apparently got out to my friends nextdoor about the sad state I was in. They took me to the doctor and paid for it themselves. I wobbled and nearly toppled as they held me and escorted me from my hotel room to the doctor's office, to the pharmacy where they paid for my meds, which I took for the first time in over five years because one simply can't resist India at some point, and they made sure I had everything I needed. They apologized like crazy. They were so kind, and their kindness overwhelmed me. I tried to pay. I tried to get them to let me help them in turn. They would have nothing of it.
And that day passed, my insides returned to relative stability, and I slept.
At the Hotel Sangrilla on Nashik Road near the Nashik Road railway station, there is a kindly 17-year-old female desk clerk named Manju who will check you in and attend to your needs if you come between the hours of 7 and 7 in the daytime. Manju took a shining to me during my stay because, "I like tourists," as she said.
After a day of feverish recuperation, the final over-the-top level of Indian solo wandering trippiness transpired. My fingers are about to fall off, and I'm sure noone's followed me this far down the dark and dirty path of Mangolandia blog entries, so we'll make this quick.
I was a guest in their hotel, remember.
But, on my final night in Nashik before my train would leave and carry me back to Ank's awaiting arms 26 hours away in Kerala, Manju and Aman, one of the male hotel workers, took me to my first Hindu temple. They purchased a Good Luck Chinese bell thing for me. The Hindu Temple attendant gave me a blessing and a small bag of some Indian sweets. Then Manju and Aman took me out to dinner. I seized the check at the end of the meal, but their combined Hindi fluency meant that the waitstaff refused to accept my proffered rupees. They then walked nextdoor and bought me three bags of Indian snack mix, a bottle of seeds and spices and things that one munches on lightly to clear the palate, they took me to pose with them in a picture studio for four different photos, and Manju gave me two wrapped presents with a note telling me to wait and open the presents until I returned to the U.S.A. She also bought me a bouquet of flowers. All of this happened. My bag was twice as full when I left the Hotel Sangrilla as it had been before I'd entered.
After dinner, when I parted ways with a crying Manju and Aman escorted me back to the hotel, Suresh appeared at my door with two large bags of golden sultana raisins, one for me and the other for my friends in Kerala. Then he had me hop on his motorcycle downstairs and he took me for a ride through the wind, honking and rickshaw buzzing to Nashik city proper, where he finally got his wish and watched me devour two different ice cream cones, one loaded down with Alfonso Mango ice cream, the other with Jambu ice cream. (Jambu is like a grape, but different. Don't ask.)
Finally, I did end up leaving Nashik. The train included a whole slew of its own stories, as India is wont never to relent. And since my arrival back in Bathery, Waynad, Kerala, the stories have continued to pile one on top of another. INDIA LITERALLY NEVER STOPS GIVING. Sometimes it's giving you what you want--copious, Kosmic levels of mangoes higher in mangitude than any you've previously consumed--while other times, it's taking you down deep to the dark places that you've been avoiding these past 27 years, the better to build you into the cosmic love engine that you Always Already Are. But make no mistake--India is on the scene, India is in control, and India will have its way with you. Your choice: to come quietly, or kicking and screaming.
About three weeks ago, when I arrived, Ank would anthropomorphize India like this, and I would wince. I thought he was making one of the most obvious metaphysical errors possible in the domain of interpretation. But you know what?
Ank's totally right.
Welcome to Mangolandia.
For those of you who haven't yet figured it out, this whole Mangolandia blog is about trying to convey the nigh-on inexpressible whatness of the Indian Is. I arrived on June 3rd, and since that time, I've noticed that Ank has certainly focused on the positive here in this blog. With good reason, to be sure--how the hell could a country called Mangolandia possibly dish out pain and suffering? Isn't the mango the symbol of all that's right with manifestation?
Though I did eat a mango in my first few days here that had cruelly concealed a pocket of writhing pulsing little white worms by appearing to be tasty, delicious and creamy. Damn near almost vomited that time...
...but since arriving here, I have to say, Mangolandia has presented a fair number of challenges. Some of these I deserve, and I won't go into those here. But my satchel of travel tales includes a very recent story that in so many ways exemplifies everything that's real, and also most that's right, with Mangolandia. So, without further ado, and only because Ank tells me to post things on this blog upwards of twenty times a day, the story of my recent travels from Kerala to Maharashtra:
The decision to leave came easily, somehow. Ank and I were enjoying a ubiquitous dosa, and after all the difficulties that had arisen for the Mangolandia crew over the past few weeks, what with the Chandrabose studio living situation being a little, ahem, SUPER ING INTENSE, and with India in general being pretty damn stressful, etc. etc., we suddenly made eye contact and both knew that I had to go. Ank has a whole set of theories, mostly well-tested, about India. One of his primary theories runs:
India only truly reveals itself in all its trippy One Love wonder when you're traveling alone.
I'd spent 24 hours traveling alone a few days before, and lo, it was indeed a trippy time. In just that 24 hour stretch, I:
Traveled to a remote elephant-infested location called Thirunelli.
Found the friend of Ank's I'd pilgrimaged there to meet very much Not At Home.
Practiced right-hand guitar exercises all afternoon sitting on the veranda of the Not At Home dude's fancy housesit looking out over a valley at a beautiful river and mountains just, like, Right There.
Ended up having this random local tribal guy who spoke three words of English to my one word of Malayalam come and decide to take care of me.
Sat in the bamboo tree fort he'd built, which overlooks the river quite literally, and frighteningly.
Ate dinner on the banks of said river, forcing down six onion frycake thingies and two plastic bagfuls of unnamed yellow curry and eight chappatis.
Watched tribal dude toss the collected plastic bag refuse of our dinner straight into the river and smile.
Met his family, his tribe, his tribe's tribe, some other people, etc.
Was force-fed a second dinner, more rice meal style with large piles of rice and a random other curry.
Slept shivering on the same formerly beautiful veranda from earlier, curled next to tribal unwanted caretaker dude who laid the thin bamboo mat out at the thinnest point of the veranda for some reason and then took the only blanket for himself, leaving me wearing all the clothes I'd brought and using my two trusty longees as blankets, when the damn things are thin for a quick-drying reason.
Woke up to find the Not At Home dude very much still not at home, despite everyone's contention that he was going to have been back the day before at 3pm, 5pm, 7.30pm and then 10pm.
Decided to bolt before I got paraded befor the tribe again for the breakfast hour, and was therefore escorted by (non)caretaker dude through the most spectacular jungle path I've ever walked, which literally in points looked as if it was some long-lost front from World War One. We marched through an overgrown former trench and came out near a beautiful mountain temple that I wasn't supposed to go near because I'm, alas, very much not Hindu.
So that was my former single day of solo trippy Mangolandia travel. Perhaps Ank has a point. I was resistant at first, even after that particular bout of travel.
But then, the decision to go.
So I checked myself into a tourist lodge in Bathery, the closest earsplitting Indian town to the Chandrabose studio where Ank and Neilu were living. The next morning, i woke up early and hit the road guitar in hand. I hopped on a bus headed to Kozhikode, which the English thankfully named Calicut so I'd have a shot at being understood.
I got to Calicut and jumped in a rickshaw bound for the train terminal. I paid twice as much as I should and noted as much.
Then I waited for the train. No, I'm not a German. I'm Amerikan. Yes. It's a guitar. I paid one dollar for it. That's forty-five rupees. Okay. Bye. No, I'm not a German. I'm an Amerikan. Well, maybe I am a German. My name's Mateo. No, it's not Matthew. I mean, yes it is actually Matthew, but God I Matthew, only my family calls me that, it's Mateo. Ma-Tay-Oh. Matthew. Right.
So the train came, and I got on the train, so many hours later. The Indians had taken all the seats and all the floorspace in the actual train part of the train, so I stood next to the latrines with the comatose woman in the really pretty red sari an the crippled dude who sat on a makeshift wooden square with wheels and shouted randomly in Malayalam before, after and during large well-hocked loogies. A moustachioed man stood actually between the two latrine doors, while I stood between the actual train doors, the woman and wheeled platform guy to my left when I faced back, toward the latrines and the moustachioed dude.
Ahem. Those of you still reading this--do you get how the entire project of this blog is ridiculous and impossible? Do you have any ideas how many details I'm leaving out, already? Ferchrissakes, my fingers are falling off from trying to convey a zillionth of the story, and I haven't even gotten to the Actual Parts, yet.
So anyway, the point of this stretch of the story is that the dude I was standing next to was Christian and also named Matthew. Even though I'm...named...Mateo. My family's...forget it. He asked me if I was Christian, I tried to discuss the difference between the fundamentalist dunderheaded mainstream Southern Baptist Christians I was surrounded by growing up and how I'm NOT one of those, but yeah, I guess I am Christian if you're talking about the radical anti-Imperial space-time bending tripper Jesus who actually appears in the gospels, not to mention in the gnostic gospels, the apocryphal gospels, the sea scrolls and Philip K. Dick's exegesis and VALIS trilogy.
So the train took way longer than it should've to get to Mangalore, an actual city name in Mangolandia I you not, and I made my way from the train to an overnight bus to Goa, because, you know, Goa is Goa.
The bus ride to Goa, thankfully, involved no detail whatsoever.
Arrival in Goa. I get on a random bus to a random beach in Goa and find the entire place shuttered due to the Monsoon. Which then makes itself present as an actual Monsoon, and I'm sitting huddled next to a beachside hut as the rain comes pouring down, wondering what the hell I'm even doing out on the road when I came here to India to see and spend time with one Ankur Shah. I was, at this point, pretty ed off. Like, on a scale of one to ten, maybe a six, which is really quite high for me, even when I'm not meditating regularly.
But so Goa came and Goa went, I made it to Mapusa, a Bathery-sized town in Goa but actually prounounceable, and I slept. The bellhop who escorted me to my hotel room bore a tatoo of a gothic cross on his right hand next to the thumb. Just to note a recurring Christian theme...
The next morning, I got up and asked people how to get to Maharashtra. The next bus to Pune, the only city besides Mumbai that I knew existed in Maharashtra, left in ten minutes, three hours, seven hours, late that night, and the next morning really early. I therefore got on the first bus that anyone admitted would actually go to Maharashtra, and one hour later I was the only white person to have ever hopped off a bus in this first and totally out of the way city in Maharashtra that no one had ever heard of other than those few folks who were actually there, in the most vintage Indian bus station I will ever see for the rest of my days.
From this bus station, the next bus to Pune left at 5pm, 11pm, tomorrow morning at5.30am, and ten minutes from now. And wouldn't you know it, a green bus pulled up and I jumped onto it and yes, it did indeed go straight to Pune, and it would get me there about ten hours later. So I paid the bus ticket dude, who handed me eight or nine flimsy Indian bus tickets, and sat in my seat with my guitar and backpack stored in the overhead luggage rack. To my right was the Largest Indian Man I Have Ever Seen, I swear to God he was a freak of nature and could easily pass for an NBA player or otherwise freakishly large human being.
And good god, this bus took its time getting to Pune.
But we made it there, and in Pune I found a single hotel in the bus station's area that still admitted to having free rooms at 11pm on a Saturday night. A kindly restaurant worker saw me wandering off into an apparently unsafe part of town and escorted me first to one, then to another hotel until we finally ended up at this one, at which I paid, not ting you here either, 1026 rupees for the right to sleep for six hours. Oh, India, you can be so very cruel.
But so I watched the World Cup instead, because I was several infinities away from Ank and Kerala and my anger had by this point rised to somewhere in the mid- to high 8 range.
India is this massive country teeming with people in every lado. It's unbelievable. Everywhere I'd been, I'd been surrounded by staring Indians, all of whom I was taller than except for my busmate, who I noticed debussed thirty minutes or so before our bus reached Pune that night.
I hadn't come to India to have Ank's India theories imposed on me, but there I was, traveling without a clue in Pune, India, a city by all accounts just as bad as Mumbai but lesser known. People and pollution everywhere, noise threatening to cave in your skull, the sweet stink of cowshit rivaled only by the stagnant pools of monsoon unleashings.
And the next morning, I caught a bus to Nasik.
Vintage rickshaw story. The hotel guy had told me that I should go to the Shivajaga Bus Stand, where I could catch a more direct bus to Nasik, the town I had decided to head towards only because I knew it was relatively close to the International Headquarters of the Dhamma organization, which teaches vipassana meditation for free to the masses, and where I hoped to take my second 10-day vipassana course in ten days' time. The hotel gent told me that a rickshaw to the bus stand should run 45 rupees.
So I roll out of the hotel with my guitarcase in hand and approached three rickshaws that were standing waiting to ligten my wallet's heavy burden. Can you take me to this random bus stand? Sure. Okay. I jump into your rickshaw. You seem like a fairly nice fellow. How much to get there?
Now, I understand that there are many vectors involved in this whole globalization thing, and the reality of 120 rupees shifts depending on where you earned your translatable condensed energy units. 120 rupees is less than three American dollars. But is it the principle? That by this point, I was three days into a journey that I didn't want to go on farther and farther from Ank, heartbroken, superangry, and I bore the ego blows of having been fleeced over ten or twenty times by all manner of rickshaw driver, mango salesman and roadside dude trying to get me to buy his no-doubt high-grade .
So I began getting the hell out of the rickshaw, informing him that I knew the fare was only 45.
"Petrol costs more now, Sir!! It is indeed 120 rupees."
His two friends, however, saw a 45-rupee fare and undermined him. One of them quickly hustledme into his rickshaw, going so far as to say that he'd take me to the bus stand for a mere 25 rupees, and off we went, the other red-faced rickshaw driver still putting up his charade of righteousness.
The fare, in the end, was indeed 45 rupees.
A solid Mangolandia lesson experienced by yours truly:
Some of you who know me know that I have, at times, degenerated into an unfortunate spitting habit that I picked up during my days playing little league baseball as an 8-year-old. Which is to say that I've been spitting loogs and launching snot rockets for a damn long time, and I'm quite accomplished at the entire gamut of activities that fall under the umbrella term 'expectoration.'
But as I sat on the bus to Nashik, which of course was scheduled to leave at 7.30am but actually left closer to 9am, I witnessed an awe-inspiring display of loog hocking and spittle launching by the combined forces of my fellow bus passengers that finally, completely rid me of my spitting habit. I mean, ferchrissakes, you can't just ing spit massive gobs of curry-tinged mucous out of yer goddamned bus window with impunity!?!?! Not a trashcan in the entire country, and their spitting these massive, Olympic-sized wads of mouth goo in long parabolic arcs that actually cause blast craters upon impact with our earth mother.
Anyway, the bus got underway, and I swear to God, not three hours later we were stalled by the side of the road with an angry motorcyclist screaming at the head of the bus wanting to know who the hell had just hocked a massive loogie straight into his face. His sunglasses still bore the mark of the offending spitwad, and people, hear me tell you now, This, too, Was Mangolandia.
But so we made it to Nasik, and after a mid-monsoon 250 rupee (this is only about seven or eight times more than I should have paid) rickshaw ride (wtih yet another Christian Indian in the middle of Hindu India who kept holding up his crucifix keychain complete with actual pewter crucified Jesus to indicate that we were playing on the same God Team since I had said, yes, I am Christian) from one train reservation center to another 10 kilometers away, I bought a train ticket to head right the heck back in the direction of Kerala, because by now I'd had four days of aimless rewardless wandering under my belt, and I was as angry as I'd ever been. I don't really know at whom, because I certainly didn't blame Ank for his blindness to the differences between traveling in India as a trippy Gandhi-emulating wanderer vs. being the tall lanky white tourist target who forgot his Lonely Planet at home. But I was angry, and I had to keep moving or I might explode. Besides, upon arriving in Nashik, I quickly realized that once again, I had managed to arrive in a location in India that had quite possibly not seen a non-Indian since the fall and removal of the British Raj.
And somehow, I missed the train.
So I started looking for a hotel. I was looking for the Hotel Sahara, but I ended up at the Hotel Sangrilla, spelled like it looks but intended like Shangrila. A cluster of shops with a cluster of men off to the right actually included a guy who spoke excellent English, and we struck up a fateful conversation that would lead into the rest of this tale.
But for now, I think I should leave off. I suffer from the distinct feeling that I am a voice in the darkness speaking just to hear myself speak, with no one in a thousand miles to hear my lilting witticisms. If you read this far, I probably owe you an overpriced rickshaw fare...
Love, for now,
22 June 2006
[ take the cynlinder off the steam valve and pop out the tube of goodness -ed]
-- take one unripe jackfruit from your tree in the backyard
[written by neilu, who was unable to figure out posting protocol -ed]
16 June 2006
yesterday at kuppadi:
06h00: wake-up and morning bowel movements
06h15: morning medication and yoga
07h00: practice (flute = ankur, tabla = neilu)
10h00: invited to breakfast (puttu) at muslim neigbhor's place. note they do not wear headcoverings unless strangers come to the door.
11h00: resuming practicing
11h30: chandrabose arrives. 1st lesson
12h30: lesson over, resuming practicing
14h00: fifteen minute break for jackfruit
15h00: fifteen minute break for mango
16h00: try to call mali. busy.
16h30: resume practicing
18h00: chandrabose returns. 2nd lesson
19h30: lesson over, nightly fruit/meditation
21h00: reading aloud from "the life divine" by sri aurobindo
the key takeway is that
a) playing music is very hard, mentally, and regardly of whether i ever learn how to play the scale correctly i will be a very different person after this month
b) sri aurobindo, technically speaking, is "the shit". if you've ever shared "the primary religious experience" either through management, medicine, sex, music, surfing, meditation, or (god forbid) organized religion, then it's for you. that experience is his unwritten premise and he does the best job of anyone i haven't met in clearing up the confusions and dark spots. of all the people that think they "understand" while they're inhabiting that Other consciousness, and wake up the next morning to find they've written "everything reeks of petroleum", he's the one that got it right.
just so we know. sri aurobindo. the life divine. do not try to read it silently.
matt was with us for a week and i got to relive some of the "virgin india" experiences through him. him being at times indistinguishable from the overwhelming human rush to him, being white and a Meditator and everything.
one thing now clears itself. this notion of "aura" which always confused me and inspired visions of middle-aged new-aged women in bookstores bursting with crystals. aura is real, alive, and well, here in india.
it works like this:
- matt and i are walking down the street (a red clay country lane) to the highway (a barely paved country road) and pass a group of three people (in public, people are male). they, naturally, stare. we walk past them and down the road. matt turns to note they are still, naturally, staring.
- i am receiving dinner on my gandhian pilgrimage from a modest family of gujarati villagers. the sixteen year-old son enters the room and of all the places to sit places himself touching and perhaps on top of his father.
- on the same walk i am received in the mansion of a rich patel family of "farmers" (while their "laborours" coast lavishly through "houses" of blue plastic and other forms of filth), the seven members of which all sleep downstairs in the living room, leaving the rest of the palace empty.
- it is near impossible to pass someone on a country road or in a village without a series of questions: where are you going? your native place? what are you doing? if there is any doubt as to interrogation, the undisguised staring is assured.
this, i think, is all about aura. the extent of our dense phsyical bodies is well-understood. you slip by people or bump into them. the aura goes furthers, extends some meters perhaps, and is insensible. to most westerners at least. in india walking _by_ someone on a road is also walking _through_ that someone's aura. bumping into them. just as it would be natural to say "excuse me" or "watch where youre going asshole" to us, its natural to say something to them.
the villager's aura extends to the domain of his village. if you are anywhere in a village it is not only legitimate but natural for the residents to ask what you're doing. you've walked into their home and bumped right into them.
the other half, the jaggery caring half, you see between friends, parents and children, and other pleasant non-sexual relationships. indians are always sitting as close to each other as possible, always touching each other, holding hands, having their arms around eachother. men and men, women and women, parents and children. not men and women.
my music teacher while have his hand on my knee, or holding my hand, absently during a conversation or while i am practicing. it's all about this aura thing, i'm convinced.
basically, after seven months of being here and two more to go, i have given up any hope of being "socially acceptable" upon my return to amerika. in fact i'm going to have to recreate amerika in a hypercontintal image (plus diversity and minus the fuckedup gender relations, of course). but this is just so you know why im not sitting _over there_ the next time we get together to grate beets or whatever.
back in sultan bathery without a reputable spacebar and enmeshed in the humanity. sights, sounds, and the Odor of some special funk on the computer-savvy may understand.
it's the worldcup somewherewhen and here in kerala amidst the sweezy blaring of a chennai and clouds of bus exhaust one distinguishes -- por todos lados -- huge posters of brasilian and argentine faces and uniforms, poised happily/aggressively (war is peace, aggression is happiness) around a soccer ball. a futbol. a fuchiboli, as it were.
everywhere. in seven months of mango'd wandering i ne'er saw a fo'otball and now they are everywhere. kids for once are not playing cricket but aiming penalty kicks through bamboo goalposts. brasilian and argentine flags are everywhere, with the occassional red burst of england. the other teams/countries don't seem to exist. maybe they don't. i have no idea who is in the world cup anyhow but according to indian propaganda its brasil, argentina, and england.
certainly not india.
these posters, i am told, are set up by fan's clubs, mainly, it seems, for the purpose of advertising and sponsorship. not sponsoring the teams mind you, but the posters. i imagine the hysterical excitement this creates is somehow tied to boosting the economy, or underwritten by the (mammot) keralan gold industry.
enough. just so you know futebol is alive and strong here and i already have two sandals and a thousand business cards with (detourned version of) the brasilian flag to show with whom my alleigances lie.
15 June 2006
sweet mother of all that is holy (as you would say, AMAZON)...
viz., my email of five minutes ago. how does it occur to anyone, ANYONE that it could EVER be a good idea, anywhere, to dynamite a mountainside into a several-km-wide pit, grind it all up and pour cyanide solution over it? i mean, really...
good lord. so i've been becoming quite active in the Asamblea Comarcal contra el Saqueo. what a great word, by the way, saqueo... must be related to sacking, in the sense of, "the visigoths sacked rome," and also to sacar. but i favor pillaging, myself. large assemblies of vecinos autoconvocados... lots of people speaking passionately about how this is a crime and we just can't let it happen, but also nobody has a bloody clue about anything... how to take on a canadian company, desde patagonia... we have no funds, we have no media on our side except (thanks heavens for their existence) FM ALAS, and radio nacional at least lets us speak our mind. and of all those neighbors willing to truck out into the street with flags and banners and make their presence known (this did hit the media, at the provincial level), there are precious few of us who are willing to spend their "free" time heading down to lago puelo to get together and talk press strategy, for example, or go to the radio and help make public some of these goings-on, or find someplace for the next assembly to be held and make sure there are actually chairs for everyone when we get there. to say nothing of going to the regional assembly in jacobacci last weekend—seven of us went, that was quite an accomplishment. i spent exactly 70% of my total monetary assets prior to the trip on the bus and train tickets to get there. that would be 50 pesos. do the math for what i'm left with.
and jesus. jacobacci. remember juanca, mapuche apprentice at ciesa who let my bread burn? his territory. jacobacci, town of 8000, surrounded by herder settlements out on the steppe, some of whom over 100 km away by dirt track across the scrubland. lots of illiterate people, lots of people who've never gone anywhere else in their lives except maybe headed to bariloche once in a blue moon for some kind of extraordinary circumstance (like going to a hospital, though most people don't do that because by the time they would get there they'd be dead already.) places where everyone lives off of the wool they shear from their sheep and the meat from selling lambs, there is no such thing as natural gas for heatingand since there aren't even any goddamn TREES, there's no firewood either and most people burn the horse dung they collect in order to heat the place. 20-below temperatures are commonplace in winter. i mean, we're talking about the hardiest, most resistant, and most beaten-down people you can imagine. nearly all of mapuche descent. and this is where the canadians decide to do business. the police harass the anti-mining organizers in the streets, poor claudia the 26-year-old who does the local news on the radio in the mornings does her best to educate people about the disasters the calcatreu mine project would bring, and as a result, when she leaves the radio at noon and goes to the grocer, the vegetable man refuses to speak to her. after all, the mine is progress and jobs. i don't know how many illiterate sheep-herders they think are going to be hired to do geological and dynamite work, but hey. the truth is that there's no mine work going to be done around here anytime soon, the permission letters are so preliminary there's no risk in the immediate sense, but jacobacci, man, it's so intense, and they're right out there on the steppe. and the company that has the permissions for el hoyo-epuyen, when you look on their website, this project doesn't even show up yet, but their major project at the moment is a pair of gold mines in north central el salvador. and no, they're not at all far enough away from guarjila... and even if they were, they'd be too close to someone.
so everywhere this is happening, and i log onto the mining company's website today and it's just so spiffy and clean and amerikan (even if it's canadian), and the big project on the website is "Calcatreu- Argentina", the graphic is a map highlighting argentina in the american continent. as if to say, it's useless of us to show you a map of where jacobacci lies in argentina, since you probably barely know where argentina is on a globe, so we'll start big. and there are all kinds of press releases and investment options, studies and figures and such, as if it were some kind of fiction... 6334 meters in 56 drill holes, finding 5.34 g/t Au (that is, 5 grams of gold per TON of raw material) in the Castro Sur site, feasibility studies for the extraction, samples being sent to australia, and so forth. and nowhere do you get the sense that what they're talking about is REAL, that its a real meseta, real rocks they have to dig through, real water they're using, real people who are going to start drinking water laced with cyanide, real sheep who are going thirsty. i mean, i look on the website and see a map that to 99.99999 percent of the people in the world is just some lines and names that mean nothing, but i was THERE, not four days ago.
i don't know man. that's what's on my mind. and i think of you... "never forget you are a warrior." well, the war is on, and it's been brought to our doorstep. but the last thing anyone wants is to wage war. as soraya once told me, "como hacemos para no hablar más de lucha?" why can't we overturn the world order like we planned, by planting vegetables and building with mud and singing with children armed only with bamboo flutes. world harmony through organic farming and music. i'm so with you, man. until now, we're here harmonizing our squash and our voices, and if we're not careful, both of them are going to end up with accumulated heavy metals. i know, maybe i'm regressing to the basics in the whole "do we change the world through direct political action or slow education and lifestyle-changing activity?" but what the hell, man. as much as we can opt for the latter, believe in it, work at it, throw our every atom towards it, at some point the former just shows up in your yard. i have no eloquent reflections on the matter yet. just nausea. no, not true. i also have this genuinely lovely sensation brought on by getting together with people i've never met and bonding passionately over our willingness to doanything to keep this destruction from being wrought upon us. i mean, how else would i have ended up on a train to jacobacci last weekend with the motley crew that we were, spending the entire 5 hours debating the best way to completely overturn the argentine national mining code... truly, it was great. invigorating, enlightening, and intellectually stimulating in a way i have been lacking lately. it has lit up an aspect of myself and my life that has barely had the pilot light on lately. and for that i am grateful, and for that too i share this with you.
so that's that. needed to put that out there. truthfully, it's not nearly as important for me to actually send this message as it was to write it, but i'm sending it anyway. even if you just write back with, "shit man, i know that must suck. stick it out, in solidarity..." that'll help.
matt coffman on guitar