24 March 2008
Why should I listen to my elders? The young-becoming-man asks the shaman in the jungle. Jaguars near in interest. It is neither his shaman nor his jungle but the question, who am I, is his.
Yes, the question is his.
Who is the elder of your elders? The shaman asks and spits a red juice on a log the snakes avoid. They are many vines to climb and tangle as the two brothers follow the question and back through time.
"The One Without A Second"
And why should you listen to "The One Without A Second"?
How can I not? The "I" is within its context. The "I" floats in a Salt Lake of gratitude.
The young-becoming-man draws fences and barricades and labyrinths and subducation faults for the columns of faithful ants with a single toe.
And if my elders somewhere when why forgot or misheard their own elders?
Do you trust your innocence more than their misunderstandings? Your elders are a clay vessel bewtween you and the fire of "The One Without A Second". The are the only net between high and low. They are the reed and you beneath the water in the Great Sweet Lake. They are the media. They are here to guide and to protect you from the ardent truth.
I don't want to be protected from the Truth. I want to be burned.
You will be. Burned. Broken. Drowned. Go ahead! Choose your own spouse, make your own path, make your own jewelry. You give up nothing and will have no one to blame. Nothing between you and destiny. Between you and joy. Between you and terror. You will be burned.
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Reliance Fresh and Capitalist Markets
In the last year, since I left in March, Reliance (one of the big trusts in this robber-baron phase of Indian Capitalism) has launched a nationwide chain of grocery stores they call "Reliance Fresh". I remember reading about it last year -- how Reliance was not merely going to market the produce but to buy the land and control the growing as well, dictating what and how and when, etc. They have clearly studied and traveled to learn from Amerikan agrobusiness conglomerates, who have succeeded in cartlestic control and vertical integration.
The agrobusiness companies graciously take the burden of profit upon themselves and contract out the risk to formerly-land-owning farmers. Obviously, in India, nobody believes in control of individual destiny anyhow, so in some sense its just big business following spirituality.
What's much more interesting to me this morning than another example and critique of corporate power and control -- because really there are so many positive popular power victories to write about -- is the benefit offered to the consumer.
Anarben, a sort of mother for me here, is married to Jayeshbhai, director of Gramshree (marketing exquisite handmade textiles to NRIs, starting women's cooperatives, paying in money, rice, and wheat (which commodities are harder to gamble and drink away for the husbands...)), social worker, night-time MBA student. She shops and sends her help (which is me, sometimes) to shop at Reliance Fresh because it's fresh (good advertising) and the prices are fixed. In the markets and carts you have to haggle (get to haggle?), check the quality of every piece (if you have haggle well, they try to give you the shitty specimens, sometimes), and generally need Time and Awareness to get what you want, or, to put it less charitably, to avoid being cheated.
This is both theoretically and literally the Market System. Everyone is a price maker, no-one is a price-taker. At every moment you the consumer are in control, can go to the next illiterate old woman, and try for a cheaper, redder tomato. It's the same in Amerika -- as an employ of an organic farm and regular Farmers' Marketeer, I can vouch for the Market System.
So the irony I see here that makes me laugh from a different chakra than Manav's mediations is that we have been sold on the Capitalist System in the name of the market, the Open Market, the Free Market, proclaiming the virtues of the Invisible hand the anarchist power of deregulation. The pandits and mandarins and economists have sold us on Capitalism over Socialism, freedom over authoritarian central command, and slipped in private ownership of the means of production and labor as a commodity (with the lovely insecurity that must entail) on the side.
And yet, in practice, the consumers -- Anarben is exceptional in her beauty and commitment to social welfare, not her vegetative preferences -- want fixed prices, not to haggle, not to have to know anything, but to spend as little time in the Market sphere as they can so they can get home to studying or cleaning toilets or whatever. Distributing wheel chairs. Bathing kids. (all things we/they at Manav Sadhana do regularly, by the way)
The consumers want control. Systems. Authority. They don't want the power to make their own prices, to be the "consumer is King" that the ideology portrays. Isn't that funny?
The fourth irony is that one of Manav Sadhna's first stories -- or maybe even how it started -- tells of a woman who was walking by selling vegetables from a basket on her head, when Jayeshbhai and his brother Sanjaybhai invited her in for tea. She lays her burden down, has a cup of hot sweet milk tea, burps (likely) and gets up to go her merry way. Jayeshbhai helps lift her basket to put it on her hand and find it weights almost 40 kilos. He is amazed further at her strength and grace but wonders, Auntie!, why won't you have a rolling four-wheeled wonder cart?
It must be the money.
But Jayeshbhai has the capital so he lends or gives her the money (I don't recall) and everybody's lives are changed forever.
Now I know this is partly because I meet this woman with her cart every few days. I remember buying vegetables from her the first time (probably to cook lunch for the gopis last year) and was overcharged. Dammit.
And you don't even know how many times I've been sold bitter oranges in this country. Dammit.
And yet you know and I know Reliance Fresh is creating jobs by putting that Auntie out of business. Creating jobs by converting small independently owned farms into contract vegetable factories. Creating jobs for the (slightly, at least) educated (I imagine there are some such requirements, though I have not done the research) by putting independent micro-businesswomen like Auntie on the sides of the road.
Luckily there is here an awareness of Ahimsa, Sat, Chit, and Anand. The circular nature of time.
Perhaps Auntie will sell her cart to put her oldest daughter to high school so she can get a job at Reliance Fresh and her youngest daughter will continue going to the Central Market with a basket of miracles, miles and kilograms every morning until one day in our near future my sister Sansu will smile, open her heavy wooden door, and invite the young lady in for a cup of tea.
ANKUR -- this -- what you are feeling right now -- is your original life.
The life you normally lead -- tension, desire, sex, thoughts -- that is not your original life. That is a mental life.
Totality relaxed, normal, no desire, no thoughts, totality experience I no body I only soul. What you just experienced, that is your original life.
Soul feeling is my original life.
Wherever your mind -- whatever guna -- it abides in the soul. The experience of totality is my original life.
The hand can lift and the eyes can see not from their own power, but the power of the their root. The center. You are that center, that root. You are the soul, not the body.
The root of all emotional and mental condition is what? Three things underly everything and do not change.
Shanti. Ananda. Prem.
What is main? Soul. Soul is my life. What you have just experienced is your true nature. There is no reason to listen to anybody or read any holy book -- this experience is your life.
I am not these thoughts.
I am not this body.
I am soul (neti, neti).
Thus every experience you have of samsara is gateway to understanding your true nature.
What we have done is thrown the covers off of the light of the soul. Slowly, in your daily life, these covers -- I am the mind, I am the body -- may come back to cover this original light.
When you watch your heart, observe your experience, deeper and deeper, deep deep deep deep deep, you do so with love, the same love that you eat your favorite food, the same relish and appreciation, you point at your heart.
Ankur, love is very important. Soul love. Guru love. The first point when starting to meditate. Clean love. No love is no meditate.
As much guru bhakti as you have -- prem and submission -- so will your work be easier. Very easy. Submission.
(the word guru is used generally to mean the soul or the universe, that undivided piece of god within us. it is also used occasionally to mean mukesh himself, the "media guru", or connecting piece between your present interpretation of reality and your true nature (the soul, the guru))
The media guru's role is to uncover the real guru. Very easy for guru when you have love and faith in guru. This love is then reflected back to you many fold.
As ripe as your guru bhakti [devotion to the teacher] so deep will you go into your soul. You should have so much love that you should feel the meditation the minute you see your guru.
All this depends on your feeling, your love. Without that love you cannot learn and grow from a teacher.
Look at Nilesh. How many years he has studied Ramana and how many years have we lived together. And yet has no faith in me, no respect for what we do, so he can take no benefit. My own neighbor! We eat together every day. And yet there are people who come from Japan and Hong Kong and Swiss and America and their whole lives are changed. They leave with a new life!
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(loosely: action, divine union, devotion, and knowledge)
A. That which is the source of all, that in which all live, and that into which all finally merge, is the heart referred to.
Q. How can we conceive of such a heart?
A. Why should you conceive of anything? You have only to see where from the "I" springs.
20 March 2008
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19 March 2008
17 March 2008
Abhivyakti and Shikshantar
April 20-25, 2008
Welcome friends to the third annual Swapathgami Kabaad se Jugaad and Zero Waste Meet!
This year's meet is being co-hosted by Abhivyakti and Shikshantar, in Nashik, Maharashtra, from April 20-25, 2008. We hope you can join us!
We would like to invite jugaadi-walas (those who make useful things from waste) and those committed to zero waste in their lives for a gathering to share and explore:
What kinds of creative and useful things are we making already out of waste? What kinds of new things can we make?
How are we connecting 'upcycling' with art, architecture, music, performance, farming, festivals, and many other aspects of daily life?
How can we expand our understandings around Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Regenerate, Upcycle, Unlearn, etc.?
How can we earn a healthy livelihood from our waste creations?
What kinds of things can we do in our daily lives (especially as related to our consumption) to become more zero waste?
What can we do to nurture 'zero waste' in our families and communities, in our organizations and workplaces, in our neighborhoods and cities?
and many other questions related to creativity, waste, nature, and our selves. A large part of the time will likely be spent creating things with our own hands. On the last day of the gathering, we will have an open sharing with the citizens of Nashik on what they might do to create a zero waste city.
The gathering will be hosted at Nirmalgram in Nashik, Maharashtra. Nirmalgram is an initiation by Sarvodayee, Navrekar Family. The place is inspiring and energetic. They are doing many things to practice zero waste living on a daily basis. Vishal Singh (Shikshantar – Udaipur) and Sandip Chavan (Abhivyakti – Nahsik) will help to facilitate the learning exchange among the participants.
We are asking that people cover their own travel to-from Nashik, and also contribute Rs.120/day to the cost of food, lodging, bedding, supplies, etc. The actual cost will be higher, so additional donations will welcome. However, please do not let money be a barrier. Scholarships are available; just contact us to learn more.
Please share this invitation with friends and neighbors who are doing wonderful things with waste. They make be working with industrial waste, household waste, or the 'waste' of nature (i.e., coconut shells, wood shavings, corn cobs, etc.). We hope to have about 35-40 people come and share their creations, experiences, and fresh ideas. Youth, adults and children are all welcome.
Please confirm your participation with Shilpa Jain by email <firstname.lastname@example.org> or Vishal Singh by phone: 0294-245-1303 and Sandip Chavan by email <email@example.com> or by phone 0253 – 234-6128
Every day, people in the cities of India are churning out mountains of plastic and non-biodegradable waste, which are threatening to eclipse our living spaces. Even biodegradable waste (food scraps, peels, garden clippings, etc.) are not finding their way to composting or animals' bellies. Many of us feel overwhelmed by the scale and endlessness of this problem. We are seeking ways to transform some of this kabaad (garbage) into jugaad (useful, durable, beautiful things). We are also trying to change our own lives, to make them eco-friendly and zero waste. In this regard, we are trying to not purchase packaged foods and drinks, compost and garden at home, walk and cycle more, conserve electricity and water, support local producers, and reduce our reliance on technologies (which creates a lot of Electronic e-waste).
Many of us find inspiration in the zero waste living of most of the traditional cultures around India. They receive from Nature and return to Nature. Each and every thing is to be used and re-used, until its own unique place and purpose has been found – sometimes as a building material; other times for creative art; still other times for new useful functions. Thankfully, in small towns and villages around India, as well as with experimenters around the country, this tradition of 'upcycling' and zero waste living continues. But how can we expand such thinking and actions, especially in the face of globalization, development and big-city lifestyles?
16 March 2008
12 March 2008
We get to Aslali fifteen minutes after setting off again. India and myself. On the way into town I receive a call on my portable phone from a reporter who interviewed me yesterday. He offers to notify friends in Surat for my arrival. I get the impression he is collecting information for a follow-up story and my energy chills. I give him short answers and will the conversation to end.
Why? I am walking in the sunshine and singing. Why not be open and loving to a man who is offering me shelter somewhere down the line? He is disturbing my profound journey, my careful solitude, with his questions and generosity! How criminal!
His intention is pure, I know. Then it is me. Am I afraid to be seen with this phone that was pressured upon me? Then leave it! It is both who I am and not who I am. It is my choice and my acceptance. I must understand the distinction – between who I am and what I wear – and then absolve myself from the worry of judgment.
We worry about the judgments of others while we have not yet concluded with putting ourselves on trial.
The town talav is on my left and the town unoccupied youth (it is Sunday) is on my right. I throw my phone to neither and tuck it back into my (single) pocket. The highway and trucks fade into the background as I progress down a small paved road, through thick and curious stares, to the panchayat office. The youth in front of the office look vaguely threatening and vaguely respectful. Maybe they saw me on television. They tell me the panchayat is closed (it is Sunday) and I should talk to a couple of older men, hanging out in concrete gazebos across the street.
I note -- as I turn, more nervous than tired, to talk to the men -- that I have not prepared at all for this moment. I have no idea what I will say.
Ten minutes later and in spite of some protest I am on the Mayor's motorbike shooting towards the school where Gandhi spoke seventy-six years ago, today. The Mayor spoke some English and I spoke some Gujarati and the communication predated the both. The Mayor is Krishna and like most Krishnas in the kaliyug, he's a little strange.
The Mayor first reads me the plaque on the panchayat hall, where Gandhi had spent the night. Then we ride to the school. One school building dates back to the British era, the others are newer and plastic. After the last earthquake they installed a number of Sintex “lightweight fiber” buildings. As the Mayor explained, when the next earthquake hits, it won't hurt so much when they fall. It's still unclear to me whether Sintex is the name of a material, enterprise, or worldview.
We also see a new (non-plastic) building named Gandhi Hall. There is no need to go inside, I am told. Next on the tour is the shiny Swaminarayan temple, some propaganda about how wonderful the Akshardam is, and a note that tonight Pramook Swami (the current head of the Swaminarayan sect) will be here in Aslali giving satsung. Maybe we'll attend. I meet the mayor's wife and she smiles at me.
When I explained the purpose of my yatra to the Mayor, he immediately understood:
“I will show you where Gandhi stayed, where Gandhi spoke, and you cannot spend the night there now so you will stay with me”.
When I suggested we walk the 300 meters (downhill) to the school he countered succinctly,
“No. You take bike now and I bring you back. You walk tomorrow”.
His breath smelt somewhere between alcohol and ripe chickoo. I've eaten five chickoo today so I would know -- they're very sweet, almost alcohol already.
A little bit about the village, Aslali. It is all Patels:
“You won’t find a single Mohammedan or Darbar here. Only Patel and Takkor and Harijan.”
What does Takkor mean?
“We have farms but do we work on them? No! The Takkor work on the farms.”
The Mayor has three viga (some have 100) and a viga might mean 2500 square meters (six tenths of an acre?). At this stage of my Gujarati, it's hard to be sure. He works vaguely in government service – he's not actually the Mayor but he enjoys the title.
How big is the village? 5100 people. By people he means Patel, the people of his caste. There must be, then, at least as many workers (Takkor) as people. And God only knows how many of his Harijan. But big enough that there is a medical center behind the panchayat where people from the neighboring villages come for care. Four to five hundred children in the primary school.
It's easy to ask questions and hard to establish context. People will always give you a straight answer for what they know, but anything they are unclear about translates to “never” or “impossible” or some other form of “zero”.
I am hot and want a shower so the Mayor takes me on a tour of the different parts of his village. The Patel neighborhood has big houses made from reinforced concrete, often two stories tall. The Mayor lives in a three-story house, the tallest in the entire village. You, too, can see it from across town.
The Takkor community sculpts its houses out of mud and cow dung. Draped straw over a wood frame forms the walls, applied with dung on both sides. The designs are beautiful, individual and perfect. Though all the houses are made in the same style with the same materials, each reflects the hand size and attitude of its residents. Each house has two rooms, one for storage (utensils, food) and one for living and sleeping. Everyone sleeps in the same room. A low curved wall protects a porch area from wind and animals, and each porch has a chula built-in for cooking.
I take chai and talk to the farmers (the ones who work on the land) and ask about the usage of chemical poisons and pesticides. Here they are called “medicines”. The parallel is only too true. The Mayor says there are no problems and one of the Takkor gentlemen speaks up to say the older farmers are experiencing strange ailments, problems with their hands, and cancer. They tell me they get to the fields at seven, lunch at one, go back when the heat fades, and come home at seven or eight. They say rice was the major crop and I saw mostly wheat.
I play with the children and one family’s mortar and pestle. They seem fascinated that I knew how to use it. I am surrounded by people, left suddenly alone, and surrounded again by people with handfuls of tamarind. Fresh from the tree. Ask and you shall receive. Or, don't ask and you shall also receive.
Back on the bike and to the Harijan part of town. Harijan – the people of God – was Gandhi's neologism for the untouchable castes of India, who suffer fierce personal and systemic discrimination. On the way to their neighborhood the Mayor offers me whiskey (turns out it wasn't chickoo on his breath after all) and tells me not to drink the water they offer me. I pass. He stopps for paan and cigarettes. I pass.
“Fruit not available but ice cream available”.
I pass. The idea in not carrying money is not to make others buy you ice cream, I think. I'm still new to the idea, of course.
A quick spin through the Harijan vas shows me run down concrete houses (government built?) and kids who know very little about Gandhi. Not surprising. Everybody seems to know the Mayor, however, in all three parts of town. Maybe he is the Mayor after all. And everybody was playing cricket, in all three parts of town (it is Sunday).
We talked to Harijan and Takkor people who were working outside of caste, in government service. The result of strong affirmative action politices post-independence. Perhaps to give me the idea that caste isn't fixed. I did not, however, note any people (Patels) cleaning toilets.
Finally to the Mayor's residence to put down my backpack. I am shown a terrible scene from The Bandit Queen. An eleven year-old girl is sold into marriage. It is violent, I need a shower and am unsure of the point of it all. Finally, the Mayor orders his daughter to bring me chai and goes off to arrange dinner. I take a good shower, rinse my Brasilian sandals, massage my feet, and soak my clothes. I have two pairs of clothes and must wash one each evening, trusting in Krishna and the far-off monsoon.
My back is sore and I'm excited. I feel clean and beautiful, like I'm doing the work I was meant to be doing. It's been a long and wandering path before this long and wandering path and in neither have I seen the sun set on my first day. But there has been no office, no problem set, no essay, no program, no kitchen, and no side of a classroom that has made me feel this content. The only call that comes close is working with the land – farming – but somehow this walking seems to be an even better use of my spacetime. More observation than action. Like I'm finally trying to shut up and listen to the mother.
I'm excited about the pains in my body, about the body it is becoming. I'm excited about the peppery gingery chai I'm drinking as I note the day. I'm excited about having an hour to sit before dinner, and I'm excited about dinner. For years I have wanted to do this walk, to respect Gandhiji in this way, to take this walk around the self. And it's nice to be so taken care of from the start, to feel that people understand – much better than I do – how my steps are connected with their own.
I could imagine so much good coming out of a couple traveling here. They could call a nightly meeting – segregating men and women of course – to ask people about their lives. You would have to speak the language much better than I do, or have some more comfort with theater. But the people are ready – of all castes – to treat you like a star. To listen to you lecture. All they know is that I'm foreigner (which is half true, even), and that I'm following the Dandi kooch. And they know that nobody follows the Dandi kooch and for some reason my respect for Gandhiji is to be respected.
All we need is someone who deserves their trust, their excitement, their openness. It's been half a day and already I know it's too soon for me. I'm too young, too ignorant, too proud, too rough. But somebody. There is so much room, so much potential, for somebody to really be, here. Someone to take advantage of all the stares and attention instead of getting bothered by them.
Here – in the villages, in the cities, in India, in the Anywhere – you are always watched and always judged. But where are these judgments, where is their hive? In the minds of men – ours and the judge's. Can we feel judged if we think of the judge as merely observing? Or are we party to the judgment? Do we give in? Do we create it? Do we make it possible out of our own weakness, insecurity of purpose?
When my relatives ruthlessly criticize my paths and peregrinations – does my resolve weaken? Do I entertain their suggestions? Must I? When they ask me to find a bride do I discuss the color of the bridle? Why? Can I blame them? Or Anyone?
A few years ago I can remember every discussion with friends and classmates over our paths to have been singed with comparison, judgment, jealously, regret, and insecurity. Now? I have neither envy nor scorn towards more conventional educations. I'm too busy walking and supporting the walks of my friends. It is and I am originally one, and manifestly (in terms of space and time) other. I have learned not to be free of these desires but to accept them, and to realize them when necessary – I have given up trying to argue against the temptation and turned to the purity and efficiency of becoming it and moving on.
Hunger stirs. Only when I truly feel hungry will he return, so I have time to wash my clothes and to play the flute. Tonight I will have a peaceful dinner, meditate, and sleep long.
When life is a fragrant lake of cold destiny, why have we a burning throat? Why hold on to our desires and judgments of ourselves? What we learned from the bullies and bosses, the friends and lovers, we must now apply to that last mirrored joker, the self. Annihilate it, realize it, understand the whole lake is ours for the drinking and the playing. Desire is the middlehuman and the steel glasses are private cages. Let there be a storm of tickling mus--
Enter the Mayor. My reverie smashed out of lotus and into the synthetic amber honey of the whiskey glass. Krishna wants to get drunk. His friend Anilbhai arrives to give him company since the Dandi yatri is sworn to uphold the dogma of the master[i]. Apparently there's another hour before dinner will be ready (where? who? what?) so he turns on the TV to gerba at full volume:
Thirty-two. So very India.
He has six speakers for surround sound all pressed together surrounding each other in a cute line on top of the television. We begin to dance but it's not loud enough so he breaks out the dhol.
The dhol is a very, very loud drum. Louder than thirty-two, even. We dance and drum until the consolation of whiskey turns the Mayor and his friend towards the consolation of philosophy. They drink it (the whiskey, not the philosophy) Indian style – a shot of whiskey into a tall glass, and filled with cold water. As they get progressively more involved, the water becomes warmer and lesser.
First, they appreciate Gandhi:
“Gandhiji was my father and India's father – without Gandhi there can be no India. And Gandhi is a Gujarati like you and me.”
Gandhi is from Porbandar, the Mayor says. And then he tells me a story, a sad story that hurts him to tell it (he tells me). He tells me how Gandhi's house in Porbandar is now in control of a Muslim man (minor chord) and this Muslim man (minor chord) uses dear Gandhiji's very room to store daru.
Liquor. The ultimate in disrespect. This to show, I think, that since Gandhiji's death, there's been no respect for Gandhi, to the extent that if I'm running for office, it's best not to mention him. Exhilirating. This is exactly what I’m looking for – or part of it – how Gandhi is seen today by the people.
And furthermore, “If anyone challenges this, you send them to me. Even Sonia Gandhi! You have my address”.
I note his address. I sense some dramatic tension between the story and his pungent exhalations, and ask why there is prohibition in Gujarat: It's the only state in India with such a law.
“Because of Gandhiji! Gandhi didn't want daru and now Gujarat drinks the most whiskey of the twenty-six states!”
He points out how you have home delivery in Gujarat (hard to tell whether he's laudatory or critical at this point) and how that facility doesn't exist in other states.
They continue to intoxicate while I continue to hungr. At one point the Mayor confesses he is the master of ceremonies of the town's epic nine-day Diwali celebration. He is the lead drummer and spends 15,000 points over the ten nights of the ceremony (unclear on what), and plays the drum from 22h00 to 3h00 without a break. Whiskey is his stamina – he will occasionally tell his nephew to bang on the drum for a minute while he sneaks into the bathroom for a quick pack.
The Mayor whirls around at this point and wants me to know, “In the 26 days of your journey not a single man will be known to you compared to me.”
I have no doubts. We prepare to leave, and will stop by Anilbhai's house. Anilbhai lives, it seems, from his father's pension, who was a freedom fighter. To qualify as a freedom fighter, you must have spent six months in jail under the British raj for political agitation. We get onto the bike and ride to see Anilbhai's father's tamalpatra plaque. A man who suffered so that his country might be born. Perhaps the most matronly act a man can perform.
We get on the bikes again to go to dinner. They are both terribly drunk. I am reminded of the journey some friends[ii] took through India, “in search of the good”. Is that what this is? Have I found the Good, in the Mayor and his friend? It seems I seek not the Good but the Weird. Bottles and blackouts of collegiate karma haunt my fragile attempts at a sattvic present. We roll drunkenly to the Takkor section of town and my mother calls.
Timing! Yes, mother! Everything is wonderful. You saw me on TV and Krishna is taking good care of me. I have no money and a place to sleep in the biggest house in town and I'm going to dinner. And I'm not going to lie to you because I'm walking in Gandhiji's footsteps so please don't ask if I'm involved in reckless and drunk driving through a dusty Indian village!
We stop outside a beautiful mud house and stoop to enter the veranda. It’s been night for some time now and there are at least two dozen forms squatting in the shadows watching, and a single kerosene light to blind me. No electricity in these parts. It's the house of Kantilalbhai. Anilbhai's mechanic.
There are no women outside the shadows.
The Mayor embarks on a twenty minute prelude seemingly designed to torture a hungry pilgrim. The food is ample and two arms' lengths away. He waxes poetic and wanes gibberish, fumbling between tradition and respect, demanding I say namaste to the cook, demanding the cook present herself to be namaste-d, etc. We altercate over the consumption of milk. I have never liked drinking milk. I think I am starving.
My Krishna is quite drunk and has achieved a point beyond fun for a non-drunk, non-enlightened companion. Enlightenment is inhabiting a salt-bath of The Flow and remembering to laugh at everything. I'm hungry and incapable and complain to myself that his actions choke the flow. Except that nothing could possibly choke The Flow -- just my image of it.
NOTHING CHOKES THE FLOW, PILGRIM. IT'S YOU.
I ignore the message from Beyond and continue to get annoyed and hungry against the better intentions of my will. I am allowed to eat, finally, and now the Mayor interrupts every moment of the dinner with inane (though memorable) proclamations (“India is best!”). I am taught how to eat with rotla. I am forced to eat Anilbhai's wife's handwo (quite good). I am forced a second helping rotla and shak. The shak excels in quality and quantity. I force Kantilalbhai, our pressed host, to eat with us. He eats half a plate and disappears inside. There is a huge amount of food. Everything is vegetarian of course. How much am I expected to eat? What is the deal with these people? Are they hungry? Have they eaten? Will they eat? Why is the host so unhappy?
“This is my fast friend. This is my house”, the Mayor says.
I fight the feeling of imperial shittiness. This is what they mean by the violence being oppressive to the oppressed and the oppressor. No! I am a guest! I have a sacred duty to be thankful! I am flowing. I am chewing meditatively, sending love to Kantilalbhai. He starts to smile more. I say silly things about looking for a diesel scooter to convert to vegetable oil. My language skills aren't quite there yet. Nobody would understand that I'm serious anyhow. My command of the language makes the shadows laugh. I am offered kitcheree and forced more shak. I am the guest! I eat it. The energy has changed, I can sense it, we're nearing the end. Anilbhai has arrived with a new bottle of whiskey, but he can change nothing. His friends from the police call, “Yeah I already got it”, and they all smoke.
No thank you. I have a long history of allergy and intolerance of smoking and yet am relieved that Kantilalbhai is smoking. He relaxes and enjoys. Anything for him to relax and to enjoy. Thank the gods for the vices. We go.
I opt to walk with a gang of young men, scared of flowing off the road with the Mayor's drunken bike. They are short and talkative and all have something to do. Chai-walla, government service, high school, mechanic, etc. None wants to walk with me tomorrow. Good. The Mayor picks me up along the road and we go home. He stops at the paan shop and a kind old man offers me ganja. Apparently all you have to do to get free drugs in this country is start a pilgrimage in honor of Gandhi.We pass the Mayor’s wife on the road and he doesn't pick her up, ignoring my protests. She is coming back from the temple satsung. At home, the sobering Mayor copies my itinerary[iii], word for word. I refuse his kind offer for “easy toilet medicine” and opt to sleep outside on the terrace. I thank the waxing moon and the waning Mayor. He is Krishna. Amazing. I can feel the structure of the trip, the true depth and intensity of reality, reflected in this day's progression. I am in love. I meditate and go to sleep .
[ by ankur shah ]
[i] gandhi did not drink. See ashram observances
[ii] nippun and guri (cite)
[iii] see appendix X (yatra programme)
Welcome to India.
I had no idea at the time. Who these people were and how blessed I am to have been a part of their story. To listen.
“Did you bring any money?” Lizza asks me. Lizza grew up in the Punjab, spent a few years working in Amerika, and recently walked out[i] of the matrix with her husband, returning to India.
They are people, wanting to work with people, for people. They want to take their time and rethink the way they are living. She has been shaped by the idea of the gurudwara – the Sikh temple that welcomes pilgrims at any hour with food and refuge. I can see her becoming the gurudwara, herself. As Osho said, let the ashram be found within each disciple.
Lizza's parents, of course, are concerned. They want her to have a job and curtains and children. As I see more clearly the irony shades towards beauty – how so many of our generation, shaped by our parents' courage and values to do something different, find ourselves with neither support nor understanding from those very models. We are just trying to live our inspirations.
Yes, I say. I see myself taking the bus the day before, from my uncles in Nehrunagar to Jayeshbhai in Ranip, finding exactly 312 points in my pocket. An auspicious number, so I let the money be, though I had no plan to use it on my pilgrimage.
Lizza tells me of a man, Satish Kumar, who planned to walk (for peace, I guess) from India to John F. Kennedy's eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery. When he went to seek his guru's blessing, the man – great and bearded in my imagination – gave him one piece of advice:
“Do not take any money.”
By taking money, apparently, he would deny himself the true experience of pilgrimage, and deny those he met along the way the opportunity to take care of him.[ii]
I am easily convinced, find my 312 points, and hand them to Lizza as we walk. She refuses, reminding me I have to come back somehow, and leaves me with 200 points I promise only to use for the vuelta.
We reach the irrigation house at Chandola Lake, Gandhiji's stopping point for midday. Serenity. Around 10h30 and four slow hours of walking. Jayeshbhai, Anarben, and Anjali had walked me out of the reporters' range, until we crossed into the old city. Lizza, Mayur, Janesh and I sit together on the quiet lawn and listen to the birds, gentle and part of the quiet. We meditate and Lizza brings some chickoo.
I woke up at 4h30 this morning, following Gandhiji's example, performed my morning practices, and was ready to walk at 6h30. Seventy-six years ago, to the day[iii], Gandhiji woke up at the same time, performed his morning practices, and left his beloved Sabarmati Ashram punctually at 6h30.
Jayeshbhai and Anarben live a few minutes from the Sabarmati Ashram, in a beautiful house infused by the love of their lives and work. During one small season in their lifetime of service, they spent a year in Kutch, helping to rebuild an entire village after the 2002 earthquake. In the years since, many of the artisans from that village have come to Ahmedabad to ply their wares. They often stay at Jayesh and Anar’s home, decorating it in appreciation. As such, it is full of thickly carved furniture, traditional mirror- and mud-work on the walls, and brightly colored embroideries. It's the richest home ever to have held me, for a time.
They sat down with me last night to give me some advice, to share some of their radiance:
“Play with the children. The key to parents' hearts is through the children.”
“Sleep is free medicine.”
“Faith. Faith. Faith.”
It is the only advice I have ever received in the Motherland that had something to do with me, relevant to this incarnation and consciousness, and not merely some old man – precious corner of the universe though he may be – wanting to be heard. And they are the only guidelines I have besides the map and list that another friend, Janeshbhai, kindly photocopied for me, arming me with the names of the villages where Gandhi stopped each day, and the distances between them.[iv]
Janeshbhai also, kindly, called the media. When we arrived at the ashram at 6h00, we found its ritual peace invaded by camerapeople and politicians. A woman in white spoke to me in languages I didn't understand, draped me in an Indian flag prominent with her party affiliation, and turned me towards the TV camera. I was cleanly shaven and smiled.
They seemed to want scripted responses and were satisfied for whatever language they could get. It's a rare thing when anyone less than old pays attention to Gandhi and rarer still, perhaps, that the media pays attention to him. It's a rare thing when a foreigner makes a commitment to Gandhiji and rarer still, perhaps, when the foreigner is not, exactly, a foreigner.
Jayeshbhai and Anarben seemed to have been through all of this before and kindly invited the circus to pray with the lions, a sure method to ensure quiet if not apathy. We sat together on Gandhiji's hallowed Prarthna Bhoomi, speaking the holy words from many religious traditions collected in the Sarva Dharma Prarthna.
Om Tat Sat Sri Narayana Tu
Purasha Tama Guru Tu
Siddha Buddha Tu Skanda Vinayaka
Savita Pavaka Tu
A closure, a silence, a signal from Jayeshbhai, and we leave. Anarben, Jayeshbhai, Janeshbhai, his cousin Mayurbhai, Anjali, Lizza, and myself. And a group of TV camerapeople and their wires walking backwards. Me in Gandhiji's footsteps and malice in my heart, trying not to wish that they tripped. The woman in white, whom I imagine to be Sonya Gandhi (without knowledge or other justification), implores me not to eat in hotels and always to sit on the ground. All good things.
We leave the last of the morning media at the intersection known only as “Income Tax”, where they had set up establishing shots of Gandhiji's statue in preparation for my darshan of it. I skip the photo-op, paying my respects while walking. A while later we stop at Kochrab, where Gandhiji had established the ashram before Sabarmati. There I absolve myself of the wreaths and flowers I had mysteriously acquired in the morning festivities, offering them to a huge mural of the man himself.
It’s time to go. I bid farewell to my friends and rejoin the road, already in progress. I walk for over an hour, leaving Chandola Lake for a gauntlet of large trucks, busy intersections, and greasy air. My escorts had left with me with chickoo and goodbyes, and yet I do not, yet, feel alone.
This is India. The omnipresence is omnipresent. You are always watched. Janeshbhai emphasized as he asked his leave – always ask for directions, at every intersection. Only possible, I think, in India, where at every intersection you will find a group of humans who want to tell you where to go and what to do. Humans who may have walked to the Himalayas and back, or who may never have seen the next village – either way they know which way to go. Nobody ever minds, nobody is ever bothered, nobody ever feels crowded, nobody ever needs personal space. Except me. It's a fact.
Before leaving, Janeshbhai's friend had come from a local newspaper for a final interview. The reporter asked what my message was, what wisdom I was carrying to the people of Gujarat. I am not terribly interested in the media.
There is a subtle game I am learning to play, though. I must be okay with it – it exists. Pushing myself into the calm, taking advantage of the ephemeral power to promote some positive memes instead of abdicating responsibility, “I have no message...”.
I tell him the message is LOVE and it doesn’t belong to me or to anyone else. All I'm trying to do is carry it on down the line, to walk a few days with such a slippery package without making a mess of everyone involved.
It doesn't even matter so much to me whether it's love for the Mother or love for Gandhiji or love for the Gujarati people or love for the Self. All spectacular flavors in the great candy store of the soul and the point is the flow, the faucet opening itself to the flow.
Soon after noon I want to rest and come to a grove of chickoo along the road. No one official in sight but an electrician who gives me casual permission to enter. I get the sense property rights don’t quite work the same way here. There certainly aren’t enough guns to enforce them[v].
I sit down amidst corn and chickoo on hard ground and feel comfortable. Relieved. A little time to practice music or to write. A little peace out of the sun. It occurred to me on the road that all sorts of universe will happen to me. Some “good” and some “bad”. If the mystics and ayurvedic physicians are right:
1) all these actions have a cause
2) that which I find in my life is a microcosm of that which we find in the universe[vi]
Which means I will meet George Harrison and George Bush on this epic journey and should be shy with neither. The “unfortunate” is diagnosis and homework, the “fortunate” confirmation and temptation.
Temptation. The chickoo floats in front of me. Have my sore shoulders earned me any right to steal fruit? Or just to carry less? The faint perfumes of Saint Augustine's pear trouble my memories[vii]. Did he ever make it to India? Would he pick these chickoo? They are not his and why should he respect that? If Proudhon is right, Property is Theft[viii]. If it's Jesus we're after, then Caesar deserves his fruit and we our hunger[ix]? And the Matrix's Morpheus: none of this is real and yet “the body cannot live without the mind[x]”. At last the errant mind returns to Gandhi: how can you seek truth without first controlling your hunger?[xi]That settles it. I fold my legs and sit.
[by ankur shah]
[i] Swapathgami, to make ones own path or whatever, ref edition which has her story
[ii] the real story is that there were X men, they went for nuclear peace, and to the four nuclear capitals of the world, and the disciple was Vinoba Bhave. I knew none of this at the time.
[iii] according to the Gregorian calendar, for what it's worth
[iv] see appendix
[v] financial power too comes from the barrel of a gun (doug henwood)
[vi] lok purusha samaya (cite)
[vii] augustine and the stolen pear (cite)
[viii] Proudhoun, property is theft, cite
[ix] cite give unto ceaser what is ceaser and god what is gods (cite)
[x] cite from the matrix part I (morpheus, cite)
[xi] see ashram observances: control of the palate
i am here in india and it is amazing. know that. details are probably not forthcoming for techinical reasons. but i will, in lieu of the present, be starting a presentation of the book i just finished writing.
we call it
"sometimes we walk alone: notes from a pilgrimage"
it is a sort of diary and record from my recreation of the Dandi March two years ago. gandhi, and i, started today, march 12. the former in 1930, the latter in 2006. the edition i will publish here is a sort of Request For Comments -- it has not been published and could use editing. a glossary is forthcoming.
please bear with the techinicalities. if anyone knows a place to post these chapters that would enable more people to have access, i am open to that suggestion.
love all serve all
01 March 2008
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Maybe, though, that was the reason for the smiles, and the quiet voices.
One chef was Palestinian, one Israeli. They were members of Chefs for Peace.
There are now 45 Chefs for Peace, drawn from Jewish Israelis, Arab Israelis and Palestinians.
The group sprang out of a visit, 12 years ago, by four chefs - two Jewish Israeli, one Christian Arab Israeli and one Muslim Palestinian - to a slow food festival in Italy....
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(worth reading first)
On March 12, 1930 Mohandas K. Gandhi began walking with 78 satyagrahis from his ashram at Sabarmati, through the Gujarati countryside, to the Indian ocean at Dandi, to break the law. When he did so, on April 6th, through the simple act of making salt from seawater, millions of his soon-to-be countryhumans broke the law with him, and the Indian independence movement entered a stage of massive non-violent civil disobedience.
That's the short version of the story. Clearly, there's a lot of pregnant background. Thousands of years of pregnant background that this book will not provide.
Instead I have chosen to focus on another journey. On March 12, 2006, I began walking from Gandhi's ashram at Sabarmati, through the Gujarati countryside, to the Indian ocean at Dandi, to understand a little of Gandhiji's life and message.
I have provided glossaries of words, concepts, songs and recipes that I consider necessary to understand the text. Please use it. It is an extremely limited introduction to the vast and united territory of Indian philosophy and culture.
There is a mountain in the South of Indian that is Shiva (a God). We call it Arunachala, Arun being the color between black of night and the first red of the dawn. Since Arunachala is Shiva and the rocks on Arunachala are Shiva and the dirt shimmying down the side of Arunachala too is Shiva then she who would seek the end and extent of Shiva should walk, it seems, unto the sea. And then even, she, in her dedication, may not be sure to stop.
So it is with the pregnant background.
In the glossary you may also note a frustrating diversity of titles and suffixes to peoples' names. In general it is impolite to refer to an elder by their first name only, sans respectful suffix. For historical personages, such as Gandhi, I tend to use the "ji" of respect when I am referring to him as a personal influence, and to leave it out when I am referring to him as a historical figure.
As for the text that follows, it is a transcription and translation of the scragged journals I kept while walking. I typed them into a computer two weeks after reaching the ocean, at a computer in Sri Lanka, fearful I wouldn't be able to read the handwriting any longer. Over a year later I spent two weeks at Nash's Organic Produce in Sequim, Washington revising, correcting, clarifying, and translating from my private dialect to something shapely for public digestion. And now, almost two years from my first footsteps, I have returned to the tranquil campus of the Environmental Sanitation Institute to assimilate my editor's corrections.
I have resisted a great deal of temptation to insert sentiments, reflections, and supposed wisdoms that I have accumulated over the past two years – I want the book to reflect the pilgrim's progress at the time. If I have caved, you will note the phrase "I see that now" or some such construct to indicate a willful anachronism.
The epigraphs I have used to precede each chapter are all from a book of Gandhiji's writings called "My Non-violence", published by Navajivan in Ahmedabad. It was the only book I carried with me and though I did not record on what day I read which passage, it served me as a faithful guide throughout the evolving moral and physical topography of rural Gujarat.
A great deal of thanks are in order, for those who have helped this become whatever it is. To everybody's Gods, to all those who have walked before, to Jayeshbhai and Anarben and everyone mentioned in the journeys that follow, to Mattji always, to Malavika, to everyone and their computers at Nashs's -- including Neilu, Scott, Shaun, and Stella -- to all my teachers, to Adam for not preferring, to Ishwardada and the staff at ESI, to Kate and Samantha for reading, to the music, and to Erikbhai, my editor. I hesitate to involve the names of others, being unsure of the value of these words that follow, but I can say with confidence that no harm was intended in the writing, and all errors are my own.
Finally, a note on the title. The most common question I fielded during my pilgrimage was "you are walking alone?". I would be asked over and over by the same person in successive moments, with total disbelief. I should normally have said "yes" – I had set out with the intention to walk alone, in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, to Dandi. But due to the interference of the observer in the experiment, I would be required in the interest of Truth to say "no". For anytime I was being asked, I was not alone. And – remember, this is India, mystic and sacred and superpopulated – I was always being asked. Hence the title, "Sometimes We Walk Alone", which I conveniently remembered from a beautiful stanza in the song "Eyes of the World" written by XXXXXXXX and first performed live at Maples Pavilion, Stanford University, on February 9th, 1973.
"sometimes we ride on your horses
sometimes we walk alone
sometimes the songs that we sing
are just songs of our own"
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