Under the Indian Sun: Some [of the many] Lessons in PERSPECTIVE

After a visit to the Red Fort, and then to the Lahore Gate - the stuff of history - I visited Rajghat. Knowing that Barack and Michelle Obama would be pleased, but also wanting to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi myself, I headed towards this simple platform, where he was cremated, and where some others were already filing past the guard and the eternal flame, paying respect.

Then suddenly, and for reasons as yet unclear, a uniformed guard informed us that the park was about to close. After a 15-minute look around, my guide took me down some stairs and into what looked to me like a park, but was actually a CAR park. And as I glanced up…


Republic Day Celebrations, which had begun a few days ago after Mass at Shantivanam with the hoisting of the small white-orange-green flag up a swaying bamboo pole, were ending here in Delhi. The Uniforms were preparing for a military parade in Rajghat, and I won’t even begin to comment on the irony, both of that sort of parade, and that sort of squad, near Gandhi’s grave, except to recall that Our Theme is PERSPECTIVE

Doesn’t it look as if I’m taking in the side angle of Humayun’s Tomb?

The truth is, I'm catching my breath after the trek up those steep stairs to the terrace.

Sometimes, it helps to get Up Close and Personal:

I’m checking out the restoration work on the Qutab Minar. At over 70m high, it is the world’s largest minaret. Or is it the world’s largest brick minaret (or does it matter)?

And finally, of course…you knew this was coming…DISTANCE!

HUMAYUN’s TOMB: early Mughal

Worth the trip up, and no, I didn't take a photograph of the 2nd Mughal ruler's 2nd wife's tomb, or even of his tomb, though I realized this fact: there are plenty of Muslim tombs, but of course, no Hindu ones. But I digress. This forerunner of the Taj Mahal is built of red sandstone as well as white marble.

TWENTY-EIGHT. Who needs StairMaster now?

A couple of the 30 acres making up the complex

For Peggy S. (and all your students @ MSB!): the tomb of the emperor's favorite Barber. Yes.

Old Delhi: rabbit-warren of medieval streets and alleys

This Rickshawalla took me through the narrow, winding streets ("crowded" does not begin to cover it) He could show Lance Armstrong a few moves, especially when it comes to elbowing-out the competition. He looks fragile. Trust me, he is not fragile.

Look up, see how little sunlight, how many wires.

Shopowners are not the only upstairs inhabitants

The shops in this area specialize
in wedding accessories, from henna for the bride's hands, through sequins and beads and silk, to... sweets!

I did say "CHAOTIC"? It may simply be be my Western Eyes. In fact, I am beginning to think much of what I sense, opinions I'm forming here, are the result of my American-centricity. Inevitable, I realize, but I really do see how startlingly Other I am.

Always, of course, there is this

...and this!

Jamma Mosque

25,000 people, men in the courtyard, women off to the side in the arcades, fit here for prayer.

I went for the mosque, I stayed for the rugs (which were just being laid, for the Friday noon Call to Prayer)

Koran - copies for anybody's use. The Imam was about to enter (read, as a woman, I had to get out), so I can't be sure, but assume...I wouldn't have been able to read any of those copies, even if I'd had all morning.

Another Ashram

A note: I’m writing this from a delightful hotel in Delhi, a hotel that still reminds me where I am: when I got up @ 5 this morning and turned on my lights, no lights; when @ 6am I turned on the flatscreen t.v., no channels but the game channel [TJB, where ARE you?]; when I requested coffee, “black”, at breakfast, it arrived with the sugar already added [you know me, you know I do not do sugar.
So, this is by way of introduction to this post, which I thought would be a quickly done add-on about a morning’s adventure a couple days ago when I was still in Tamil Nadu, still in the south, still on what had come to feel like terra firma.
But the computer is an Acer (Elizabeth is nodding her head; so is Barb J): handy, freely offered for room use, a great convenience, really…but the connection? Like molasses. In January, and that would be January in Minnesota.
Last night, unaware, yet, of speed issues, I loaded 50 photos onto the Acer Desktop, but could not get them onto Picassa (Note to self…This means there are Speed Issues). This morning I again requested the Acer. The Front Desk Manager, who is George Clooney-only-more-so-b/c-of -his- maroon -turban told me he had erased the photos from the Desktop for me. How nice. THIS, of course, must have been why I had forgotten to delete them all when I finished last night’s upload. So — long story short: I have much to say, but will, instead, let 2 photos speak the 2k words for me this morning, as I am off for a day’s sightseeing in New Delhi, beginning with Humayan’s Tomb, which I really hope I like, because then perhaps I’ll learn how to spell it, and ending with…you will not believe it…”The Great Adventure of an Autorickshaw Ride through the Streets of Delhi” YES. Yes, that’s what the printout says, that’s what last night’s tour guide (as opposed to the Driver) told me as he checked me into the hotel, and that’s what I said “Oh, sure, why not?” to…

During my visit to another ashram – Hindu, all women – I learned a number of thiings, among the more publishable ones, if still necessarily cryptic in (printed) expression: I am not Hindu; the ashram, which oversees about 100 young girls, is well-supported (is this why they not only gave permission, but in fact encouraged photography, even during puja?

Meditation Hall in this rare place: an all-woman ashram

Praying Amidst the Wasps

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Dedicated a year ago, the new temple replaced a wooden one, a temporary structure that served Shantivanam and Ananda for 20-plus years. Yes.
And, yes, there are wasps this time of year, but as a Yearner for The Orkin Man I am a Minority of One, so have instead perfected certain Non-Mindfulness Techniques. One is to distract myself by watching one of the dark winged creatures make its way up somebody’s white shawl or saffron-colored robe, figuring as I do that somebody behind me is probably watching one of the creatures flit up or down my own clothes.

Having moaned for a paragraph, I must acknowledge what an absolutely and unquestionably wonderful place this is to pray. It’s a generous space, from these curving pink and white walls that soar towards an enormous white and gold lotus in the center of the ceiling, to these cool marble floors, so welcome on the warm-to-hot days. The Hours of the Divine Office, the Masses – the arati after all those – I think it must all take on a different texture because of this space.

Thanksgiving + Palio + New Year’s = PONGAL!

PONGAL, celebrated for 4 days, is a harvest feast-cum-new year celebration-featuring games and sacred cows. At the ashram, it’s reasonably low-key, but we could hear the celebrations across the road and (from my place) across the river.

Selecting the chalk for Rongolis (those chalk drawings, cf Pondicherry but imagine them 3x the size, in the village - Kulithalai) )

The Stars of Pongal (note the new fluorescent pink leads, through the nose behind the ears)

At Ananda, we have curd (as good as Greek yogurt) at every meal. It’s from the cows. My coffee (Nescafe) and others’ tea are both laced with sweet milk – thank you, Sister Cow. The banana cream we have for breakfast is made from one or two of the three banana varieties (even green, they are sweet and soft) from ashram plants. The cream is seasoned with cardamon, lime, a tiny bit of o.j., then expanded and enriched with cream, from…you get my drift.>

Life and People: Ananda Ashram, Kulithalai village

I can walk to Thannirpalli, but the trip to Kulithalai requires an autorickshaw. Here is my conversation with the “auto” driver these days:
ME: Hello, Jeeva?
Jeeva: Yes, Shantivanam? What time?
ME: Well, I was thinking, I mean…maybe sometime this morning, say…
Jeeva: I come now?
ME: Right. Sure. Yes. Thank you. I’ll be at the gate.
Jeeva: [click]

I could tell you stories...and sometime, I will: the place would not function w/o these two.

This morning's Breakfast Crew. The MIA's *drank the water* if you know what I mean.

In case you fail to read it in my face:"There is nothing quite like that sweet milk and powdered coffee."

Surprised by Joy

I really was SURPRISED BY JOY.
I kept hearing about letters between C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths, the most famous (and most recent – he died fewer than 20 years ago)of Shantivanam’s 3 founders, so I decided to visit Shantivanam’s library to see if I could find a collection of Lewis’ letters, and among them see if I could find one to Father Bede. I’d been told that the library, awooden temple-like wooden, contained Bede’s library.

Once inside, I found a place that smelled like a library, if you know what I mean: musty, Indian-dusty, i.e. wonderful. I walked around – somebody has catalogued, like a Twin Cities used bookstore: Theology/Scripture; French Language/French Literature; English Literature/English Poetry… I walked over to the English Literature, scanned the shelves of Lewis’ works, and pulled out one of about 10 that had “Letters” in its title. I’d set my canedown on the cement floor and had settled in for a good long search ,but the book fell open, and I’M NOT KIDDING, to “Letter to Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, on the occasion of his ordination.”

Ayurvedic As I Never Knew It

The first 2 are bona vide Masseuses, but all were present THE ENTIRE TIME

Yet another Ayurvedic massage was not my idea; however, the daily 8oz glass of freshly squeezed o.j. with a tablespoon of glucose was not enough for the wonderful older nun who has put herself in charge of my health (i.e. my Greater Trochanter!). I’m quite certain it’s the Cane Factor (she also uses one). In any case, I went with the driver a couple days ago, to the city of Trichy, about an hour’s drive from the ashram. I am slated to do it again, but am seriously considering a request to replace another massage with 16 oz of oj a day.

Think of a liter of oil poured all over by 2 masseuses while doing a sort of dance – with their arms and hands – on your back/front/side. For one hour.

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