Monday, August 28, 2006
Okay hi everyone. I'm back in the States safe and sound, and I'm really grateful for the 'safe' part. We're putting together our apartment but we have some naked walls. So we thought, why not blow up some photos I've taken and put them up? To find out what it would look like, we took some pictures. Please give me feedback about what you think!
Monday, August 21, 2006
I can't believe it's over. I'm coming home. I'm in Chennai and soon to head back stateside, back to Utah, and back to a lot of headaches. Schoolwork? Job-work? Financial aid? Man, life's about to get a lot harder.
I spent my last night in India at a mosque in Bangalore, just by chance. I felt like going out alone for a walk, and as the sun was sinking a man sitting outside of the rather largue mosque motioned for me to come over and sit with him. He bought me a Coke and introduced me to his dozens of friends as they walked by in long white shirts and pants, caps on their heads. The time for the call to prayer was coming, and my new friend stood and beckoned me to follow him. We went down through a large underground parking area, then up and up flights of stairs to a room where we removed our shoes as the call to prayer was starting to sound from the loudspeakers in the pink light outside. I removed my shoes, walked through a door to our right, and found myself looking at the man who was doing the call to prayer over the microphone. The room we were now in was full of sound equipment - little lights and knobs and lots of cables - and the man held his hands to his ears and let these melodies float from his lips to the world outside. He sang, paused, sang again, repated the process over and over. I couldn't help but be moved.
The men I was with invited me to have a seat and observe the prayers led by the imam, then a long lecture given by a visiting scholar from Delhi. I was honored. When it was all done, my new friends offered me a Qur'an and left me with embraces, held hands, and kisses on the cheek.
I had felt a few weeks before that I wasn't finding my God in India. Yesterday it occurred to me that an Omnipotent, Omniscient God is working with men's cultures throughout the world to enlighten their lives. I'm glad I had my experience last night, one last night of learning in India.
Can't wait to be home though, of course. I'll see you all soon.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
We've visited a bunch of cities the past week, and I'm kind of sick of traveling. Which is okay, because I land in SLC on the 22nd. I've got a lot of coursework to cram in the next few days, including transcribing some interviews, finishing my footage notes, and writing up my World Religions and Cultural Proofs work. This is going to take some time.
Oh well. Here are a couple photos. First, from Sravalabelagola (say that five times fast - Kem just decided to pronounce a bunch of random syllables and hope people understood). This is a statue of a Jain deity, I've been told. Or he may have just been a Jain saint, a 'skyclad' ascetic who seeks spiritual progress by rejecting all material things. Notice the vines around his arms. I was unable to find out why they're there, but I wonder if they represent a union with nature, or maybe that he stood there for so long, ascetically, that vines simply grew around him.
Second, the palace at Mysore. A pretty romantic sight - too bad we're on a field study and that public displays of affection are pretty taboo in India. A few Indian guys were playing tag on the grass, and Marc and I joined them. They were a lot faster than Marc and I expected, and we embarrassed ourselves by tripping and falling down. But it was a nice place to be anyway. The guys we were playing with were really cool.
Finally, two photos of something called a Temple Chariot at the museum on the campus of the University of Mysore yesterday. Fascinating stuff - full of carvings meant for public education on religion, historical figures, and even health practices. I've included one photo of special interest to much of our group - a lot of the students were really interested in public health and/or women's health. The carving represents childbirth at the time, the woman giving birth supporting herself on two other women, and the woman behind putting pressure on the belly as the baby comes out. From what I understand, these chariots were used for one village or a group of smaller villages and served as their own sort of social education programs. Very interesting.
Okay, well I'm gone. I'll prolly update one more time before we leave India, and then from the good ol' U-S-of-A. Thanks, everyone, for keeping up with me this summer. I'll have things to write about as the semester goes on this Fall, especially about editing, so be sure to keep checking back. Maybe writing samples, film ideas, etc. I've gotten such good feedback on a lot of my writing that I figure I should keep it up. So thanks. See you soon.
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
August 5, 2006 - 08:47 IND
As I expected it might, Varanasi came at me in ways that would make any man do some falling-out-of-love with a town. Of course I couldn't have seen it, I couldn't have known right away that every smiling face I found was only looking for another way to slip more money out of my pants pocket. But the men offering their services as ghat-side explicators of funeral pyres, the boys inviting us to tour silk factories, the endless stream of rowers wanting to show us the holy sites along the river - every one of them, and the countless others who subversively approached us about like services without initially being clear about their purpose, spent their time turning the Ganges into something like a theme-park river ride. Like an ecstatic saint who's given herself up as a whore, too much of Varanasi has turned its mystical, spiritual being into a cheap thrill - and quite frankly who could resist her, at these exchange rates?
I actually have more to say about Varanasi than that; I think I've managed to resolve my issues with Varanasi in large part. I just didn't have the stamina to churn out the rest of my thought when I originally sat down a couple days ago to write what you see above.
Here's a photo from Bodh Gaya, taken especially for my brother Jed, who lived in Japan for two years. This is at the Nipponji Buddhist Temple, where I did some interesting observations of the temple and the meditations there.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
July 30, 2006 - 20:32 IND
Stepping off our train today in Varanasi and into our autorickshaws, we fully expected to be hounded by crowds and crowds of people fighting to get our money however they could - anything from selling their wares to picking our pockets. This was going to be a hot, sweaty, terribly crowded and bossy town we were getting ourselves into, this Varanasi.
But Varanasi met us with cool weather and cloudy skies. Riding through town on the main roads, I felt like something was different from how I imagined the whole city, and I think the weather was the first indication. And step out of our rickshaws, grab our bags, and follow our driver through the maze of paved back alleys, and we were all struck by just how much we liked Varanasi. Rather than feel cramped in its narrow backstreets, we were all taken with the simple beauties of everyday life here. I would even say these slivers of streets felt broader and kinder than even the generous, green plots of the Red Fort or India Gate. Blue wooden doors stood opening to sunlit staircases down halls of dark brick. Boys sitting with their fathers in shops shouted hellos between toothy grins. We met motorcycles inching through, friendly cows with swishing tails, and pilgrim after orange-clad pilgrim.
And then came the Ganges. Each step down our twisting, turning path had brought us closer to the holy river, and we hadn't even known - not until, suddenly, the buildings around us gave way and all that was left was a stone clearing, sloping down in stairs to the windswept brown waves of the river we'd come to see. There was no sound for a moment. No one moved. No one had known how sacred this place could feel. But under the majesty of weighty gray clouds, with birds soaring in the breeze above and naked-chested men bathing in the water below, graced on one side by balconies and temples and on the other by sands and shrubs, the scene - one countless vagabonds and holy men had come upon before we did today - could only stop our bodies from breathing. For a few seconds I felt the Mother Ganga welcome me to a home I'd never known.
I can't tell you exactly why I felt that way coming down to the Ganges. But I can maybe guess - and guess pretty accurately - at one of the big reasons. Every image I've ever seen of Varanasi's ghats, those platforms and stairs at the river's edge, has been one of the sun's scorching rays bearing down on hundreds and thousands of dark-skinned bodies, bathing and dipping in the river's brown waters, bodies lining the ghats in noisy confusion, an endless mass of frantic Hindu devotion. Today rather than stimulus and disorientation I found myself under the influence of an ambience of calm. That calm must have been magnified by the contrast between what I expected and what I in reality found.
I fully expect, in the next couple days I have here, to find myself dealing with the same culture shock I've experience anew in every town we've come to. But for now, durinig this 'honeymoon' phase of experiencing Varanasi, I'm pleased to announce that I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I'm liking it.
One more thing about today. We went down to observe some of the cremations on the riverbank, and on a balcony overlooking the scene, Shawna was talking to a man next to me about the particulars of these ceremonies. As they got onto the topic of who performs the ceremonies, priests came up. Shawna turned the conversation pretty immediately to things she wanted to know about - how often this guy went to temple, and for what god, and what he did there. She wasn't at all afraid to just ask the questions she wanted answered, and I feel like that's a trait I need to work on in my own research and fieldwork.