05 February 2008

four frenchmen and mango juice

Seven in the morning on mangalwar [Tuesday] and I'm holding hands and
pretending to drink mango – out of season – juice with a bunch of
Frenchmen and natives I've met barely to never and cracking up on into
yogic pieces and of course how do I get here or anywhere.

Apologies for using a product which automatically capitalizes some
words. It's what I'm choosing to let Be for the moment.

The answer of course is a thousand dollars bicycle with 27 gears, a
built-in dynamo to power lights and charge batteries, seamless
shifters and perfect balance. Alongside, naturally, four Frenchmen
from France (which country?) a head and shoulder taller than every
Indian except their guide, an overwhelming Parisian Gujarati
Mountaineer who grew up between the Himalayas and the Alps and is as
mountainous a personality as his homes.
These four brothers (who aren't, in the western sense) have ridden
their bicycles – and yesterday took turns riding mine for a bit – from
France. To here. Ahmedabad. Almost 9000 km. I saw it on their gadgets.
Through Europe, Western and Eastern, through the Balkans and the
Hellenes and Turkey and Iran. They missed a visa for Pakistan and flew
from Dubai to Bombay, and have continued here, and will go onwards to
China. China. France. China.
Somehow they ended up at the Seva Café (the Ahmedabad Bigode, if you
remember) while I was there cooking on Sunday, and as such (being the
only Francophile and Francophone I know of here) I became the
unofficial Manav Sadhana tour guide. Which is different than spending
all day writing a book I should have finished months ago, but pretty
damn cool.
They are going to, in China, the world's first sustainable city, or
so it claims, Dong Tan, which produces more energy (and carrots?) than
it consumes. And will take either the Trans Europe or Trans Siberian
Express back (mostly) home, I can't be sure.

We met a man Manav [humanity] a few days ago who is lovingkindness
and passiveacceptance incarnate in a rare male form. He is a quiet
hero, humble in means and attitude, studying yoga, naturopathy, and
ayurveda for the last eight years.
Yesterday we spent the evening, with Manav and Jayeshbhai in the
lead, giving intense full body massages to these French cyclicsts in
their culottes as – of course, it's India – a room full of Indian men
looked on with idle chit-chat in the background. This guy Manav would
leap onto the bed, straddling a Frenchman, to use all of his weight in
massaging the brother's back. It was an awesome and comic sight.
So I don't know, this is what I'm doing. It's like this, different every day.
This morning for the third time in my short but eventful life we had
a laughing circle, mouth-closed post-yoga hand-holding circle of five
serious skinny bigode-d Indian men, three goofy French cyclicsts, and
myself, some lost cocktail of language and culture and totally at
peace. A around of mirthful laughing as meditation, another, and then
Manav stops everything to ask the Frenchmen

"Do you like Juice"
baahh, oui.
je suppose

Nodding, Manav holds out a fist as a cup and holds another hand
higher, a big thumbs down as a pitcher, pours twice into the cup – we
all follow along – and vigorously slams the cup back to his tilted
head and breaks into deep belly meditation, er, laughter.

"Okay! Okay! Again!"
And this time with gusto…

So that's the morning in Ahmedabad. Talking about partnership and the
race card, can you image what it must be like to be Four French Guys
riding through Asia? I got a bit of a glimpse yesterday during the 10
km from Ahmedabad to this retreat center at Sughad… they are more
popular than cigarettes, surrounded by a hanging smoke of smiles and
questions, motorcycles slowing on the road to chat and ask YOUR
COUNTRY everyone smiling and waving likes it's the NY marathon or the
end of the war.

The 30 minutes we road together was like a 22 km / hour parade (I had
a gadget! I could tell) and I felt, truly felt, how wonderful, how
truly wonderful, it would be not to be alone.

They ride together, go through traffic together, change tires
together, play chess while riding, hang on the trucks long Turkish

There is a chance a Gujarati poetess and Slovakian pesant may
accompany me on the next journey – planting seeds and songs from one
of Gandhi's Ashrams to another – Sabarmati to Sevagram, 800 km. The
pesant has a large flute and we're going to a Mango farm which means
everything could work out in the end.

At least, that's what the new bike is for.

back to mangolandia.


There are many ways to meet men in India if you're a man. And one of
them is playing the (bamboo) flute. I met a whole cast(e) of human
characters playing at the ashram Saturday morning, tucked away in a
quite corner between the parrots and river, at the border of the Neem
tree's shade. Waiting fruitful hours for a friend.

If people were on time I might never have time to practice.

But I'd like to write a little bit about Azad. Azad is older than your
average FYBcom ("first year business commerce") degree student,
because he's from a family where he had to work. He lives in a joint
family with three bothers (one of them married) and his parents, in a
small house with three stories and a lot of love. His two brothers
have rickshaws and won't let him because he's the youngest and there's
a lot of affection there.

So he's worked retail in various fabric showrooms I guess and at some
point got sent to Kerala to the main branch of some sari (Indian
womens' traditional dress, all the wedding pictures, you know…)
showroom. Ernakulum, Kerala for one month.

And the first day after work the Kerala people take the six new
Gujarati workers out to the bar. Now in Gujarat we have prohibition –
it's the only Gandhian thing they've kept around except the money,
perhaps – and Azad's family doesn't have the kind of money to go to
bars or hotels [Indian English = restaurant] anyhow. So it's his first
time and they ask what does he want:

Whiskey, Rum, Vodka etc.

That all falls under daru here and its strictly prohibited you
understand, both legally and morally. A convergence for once. So Azad
[freedom] says no and they say, well, will you have some "juvvar
pani"? It's good for your health, natural, and does no damage.

Of course.

The literal translation of "juvvar pani", naturally, is barley water,
and away they go, six Gujaratis and 25 healthy bottles of barley
water, and I think the phrase most appropriate, roughly translated is,
"much merriment was had by all".

From the bar they go to the hotel [restaurant] and have the typical
kerala rice meal some of you must know and love so well – a banana
leaf with a huge pile of rice, surrounded with different curries and
pickles and dark hands wet with coconut making big balls of rice and
curry with much tossing or shoving (depending on elegance and
background) towards the mouth.

The great part was the way Azad described the rice meal, insofar as
his amazement at the exotic foods and strange customs of the Keralans,
was exactly as an Amerikan or equally foreign national would have
described. Total amazement and pleasure at the use of the banana leaf,
incredulity at the quantities of rice, and positive disgust/glee at
the unprecedented (for North Indians even…) use of the right hand, how
the curries are dripping all the way down to the elbow!

This Azad would interrupt his studies to tell me that the very trees
were dancing from my flute playing, and that his boss would play Tabla
and note the flowers would freshen and crispen from the music. Welcome
to the poetry of freedom.

His family is Brahmin and he knows all the necessary rituals to make a
little side business during wedding season. Apparently the time before
Uttrayan (when the winds come, 15 Jan) is verboten for weddings,
because the air is stale. But some NRIs [non-resident Indians] do it

Azad says that NRIs may eat, drink, and live in a foreign country, but
they always come back to Gujarat to get married to a Gujarati girl.
Frequently they're in a hurry so their weddings are first, closer to
the forbidden time, and then the real Gujarati wedding season is on,
and ever goes crazy will silk and sarees and hopefully nice tips for
the priests.

If it's anything like the Mexican wedding and the waiters, he's got
nothing to worry about…

i bought a bike

I bought a bike.
A common man's Indian bike, but the pricey version.

2300 points. The normal version is around 2150

One gear
Free seat cover
All solid steel double crossbar frame
Extra sturdy (black) carrying rack
Free plastic reflectors
Big spokers
Rawlsom Punjab Tiger Back Tire

Pictures to come.