Postcard #15: Queries

I don’t know how to travel to India. I mean I know how to apply for a visa, get the required vaccinations and buy a plane ticket. Administrative stuff, OK, health stuff, OK, packing, OK. But where is your mind supposed to be? How are you supposed to travel from your comfortable western country to the developing world? What prerequisite knowledge do you need? Do you have to have something you’re going to take away from this? Can you understand something that is not yours?

I wrote this in the afternoon then realized at around midnight that I am asking the wrong question. The only way I can acquire some knowledge about this country or its people is just to experience it. All I ask of myself is to experience this place and its complex cultures (plural! India is not homogenous.) Experience can perhaps lead to some cultural understanding. May all of us be blessed with an open mind and the willingness to experience new things.

Anyway, if you’re asking why, it’s probably the wrong question. Passing the neighborhood park, I noticed that it had strange hours: 5:30-10am, 4-8:30pm. Why would the park close at the time of day when I would most be inclined to sit in the park? I’m sure there is a good answer, but don’t bother asking anyone, they won’t be able to respond.

Postcard #14: Freaky deakies need moon too

Tonight, during yoga class, we received some yogic homework to honor this auspicious cosmic moment, the super moon: eleven moon salutations (chandra namaskara) followed by meditation contemplating the moon to be performed between 12 and 1am. The purpose of the exercise was to absorb this uniquely potent moon energy to channel into fighting the dark cosmic forces occurring in the world.

To complete the assigned task, we were to unroll our yoga mats and practice outside to absorb the full moon energy. Unfortunately, the only outdoor space i have access to is a narrow strip of public balcony that is the corridor to the front door of the apartments here. Nevertheless, I unrolled my mat to practice outside, the moon just barely peeking out between the leaves of the tree across the street.

Luckily, I had the good sense to put on some leggings under my dress because I spent fifteen minutes playing chicken with the next door neighbor. How could I engage in my freaky deaky white lady spiritual practice when he is just lurking on the other side of the passage, in the light from his doorway? Just put on some pants, focus on your breathing and remember to alternate feet. Soak up that moon energy, because your neighbor went inside and turned off the light so more for me, sucker. Let me see you combat those daily dark cosmic forces without that moon energy we have been waiting 70 years to receive.

Postcard #13: Lal Bagh

If you ever want to feel like a weirdo, just leave the house. I suppose I’m a target, as a tall white lady in platform sandals. At the botanical gardens, walking among enormous trees with thick trunks and sprawling leafy canopies that remind me of elephants, people stare at me. At the glass canopy, a relic of English rule, a young couple asked to take a picture with us. No introductions, no pleasantries, nothing. They just wanted our visages next to theirs. Women passed scanning me from head to toe, lingering on my deformed, red swollen welty feet, lightly squeezed by my sandal straps. Taking a walk as a human spectacle.

Postcard #12: Someone get your uncle

After a sluggish Saturday, we went to the other side of town to a neighborhood called Whitefield, an amusing irony since this is a place where there are many expats living in gated communities with their golden retrievers and riding lawnmowers. The patio bar was hosting performances of a local music academy, where people of all ages were coming onstage for their recitals in a casual and modern setting (the pheads I’m looking for is non-corny). The audience was full of families gathered to watch the students perform. But, before 10pm someone’s uncle was doubled over at a perfect 90 degree angle, emptying his guts on the floor while the entire patio went silent, yet no one raised to claim him. The employees carried on and let him continue his retching. Afterwards, the poor fella spent the rest of the evening sitting on the floor of the men’s room or near the exit with his head in his hands. My feet and ankles are now swollen and red with welts from mosquito bites. Everyone suffers somehow in Whitefield. 

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Postcard #11: Puja Kunitha

I skipped my daily yoga class to go to Pierre’s work to see the Karnataka regional celebration organized by the company. Pierre, his colleagues, other employees and I sat outside in the courtyard where they erected a stage and sound booth with a less than capable sound guy. There was an inscrutable theater performance depicting Hindu folklore with dramatic makeup and intricate traditional costumes. To end the show, there were eight drummers and three dancers performing puja kunitha by balancing a brass pot with a square bamboo structure on their heads while dancing. The anxiety of the young female performer was underlined by the spectacle behind the stage. Just behind Pierre’s building, construction workers were working on the cement skeleton of a newly erected building. Most of the work had stopped for the day, as the men gathered in the holes where the windows would go to look down on the stage below. While the girl spun and danced, hesitantly reaching up to touch the object balancing on her head, a crane dangled cinder blocks and bags of cement over the worksite.

Postcard #10: Sweeping

Cleanliness is a sisyphean task in this country. Dust is everywhere. It erupts from the dry dirt at the bases of trees. It’s piled up along the side of the road. It is swept away daily only to return. The air is hazy from pollution and this dust. I wake up to the scraping sound of women sweeping the street and sidewalk, the scraping sound of their palm frond hand brooms as they kick up the perpetual dust of the city. The sweepers brush the leaves away while throwing the dust back into the air. The leaves are then transferred to bigger piles of organic and plastic debris, just a bit farther down the road.

 At 6pm, it’s already dark. When I leave yoga at that time every evening, the air smells like woodsmoke. The air is already hazy and obscures more with smoke. In the beams of headlights, I can see the dust particles. Sometimes trash is burning in the empty lots. People litter, not hesitating to throw something in the pile of plastic detritus. Piles of concrete, broken flower pots and old cushions pile up in front of the massive gated houses. My taxi driver opens the door to spit at a red light.

Postcard #9: Election erection

I woke up this morning hoping to open Twitter and join in the jubilee of a Hillary victory. I misunderstood the time difference, as Siri informed me that it was only 8:38 pm in Austin, Texas. I watched hope deteriorate all morning as the polls came in. As disconnected as I am from my own country, twice removed via France and now India, I allowed myself to experience the disbelief and then to mope not for myself but for the women, the POC, the LGBTQ community and the disabled. Then I tried to forget for a while. I went to yoga and forgot about the election. Afterwards, I came home and read people’s reactions and words of encouragement. I listened to Francois Hollande’s coded and luke warm congratulatory speech to Trump. As I try to absorb the results of American democracy, I realize that I don’t have anything clever or profound to react with. I chose to live my life elsewhere. 

Postcard #8: subjective experiences

Before leaving for India, when I told people where I was going, they told me, “People either love it or hate it.” I brought the subject up with my mom (who has been to India twice) and she told me “People either see the misery or the beauty.” These black and white statements don’t satisfy me. I want to see both sides, my reality of India.

Now that I am here, and I post videos or images I understand what people don’t want to see. Nobody wants to know about an objective experience where there are beautiful (sacred) cows grazing in a pile of debris near a construction site that is seventy percent organic material and thirty percent plastic packaging and other human produced garbage. I want to show the drain that runs adjacent to my neighborhood. Dirty water and refuse run through a canal that is bordered on both sides by colorful buildings. However, not many people want to see this reality of a developing country and their waste disposal and management difficulties. Beauty is a reality but sometimes realities aren’t beautiful. These aren’t even the most unpleasant things I can show you!