Happy holidays everybody!
Sorry about the lapse of blogs, I have been busy with a recent bout of educational surveys recently added on top up of other ashram work.
But in any case I wish that you all the best during the holiday season, hope your all with your families, well fed, and watch the sweet, sweet college football I miss so dearly.
For thanksgiving, Megan and I made the only dish we could with materials available; mash potatoes; to the chagrin of the whole community that wondered what this lumpy mush was. I thought it was delicious though, especially with daal.
But instead of elaborating on the inanities of the actually holiday, I will share with you a blog I wrote a month ago, an experience I likened to my own thanksgiving:
For those who are unaware, we are in the midst of a Hindustan Holiday/Festival Frenzy: I'm talking bout Eid, Dushera, Deepavali, all the holiday hits. And because of this families are meeting in quite a similar way to the holiday season in the state, this means I got an early Thanksgiving.
Two of the teachers I feel the closest to happen to be brothers and sisters, Rajneesh and Jaya, who also happened to be heading to their village for Dushera. Also their brother is on the path to pandithood, dedicating his life to sanskrit and Hinduism's ancient texts. His guru was sponsoring a yagya, an ancient fire ritual, and he was helping to recite text, which meant for 15 days he chanted sanskrit from early morning to 9 at night! The yagya itself was a bit out of my cultural understanding: big, incredibly abrasive loudspeakers continually barking out groups of people shouting sanskrit, a platform of probably six or so fires surrounded by purified Brahmins (all other castes were not allowed within ten feet or so of the fire), pouring ghee into the flames, and the decrepid guru giving out twenty rupee bills out to everybody.
The ceremony was undoubtedly interesting, but the oppressive heat and my cluelessness led me elsewhere. I found a nice shady spot on a outcropped boulder over the confluence of two beautiful rivers. Lying on my back, I gently observed the swaying leafy branches that cupped by body from the biting sun, and the lazy clouds wandering over the mountains, my nostrils filled with dhoop incense from above, the smoke of chillum pipes from the sadhus below, and the wild basil that surrounded the boulder. Occasionally, I would turn on my side to watch Sadhus performing river pooja in the chilly glacier rivers. In this spot, the chanting loudspeakers were quite pleasant especially when blended with sound of the passing river. It was nice.
It is really hard for me not to romanticize Raja and Jaya's home. From the main road, we winded through a maze of stairstepped wheat fields, stone hopped two streams, to reach his house. Village women were on their way back from collecting fodder and firewood, which they carried on their backs, a load probably pretty equivalent at least in mass to their own bodies, and each one we passed stop Raja to comment about his new beard, how he was becoming a man. Their simple two story cottage overlooks their own expansive terraced farmland and impressively steep Himalayan foothills separated by the pristine river valley of the Mandakani. Raja's parents have long since quit the farming profession, but maintain a modest field for their own needs. Raja's father spread fruit and nut tree seeds in the rest of the fields. It being walnut season, I spent probably the majority of my time there cracking walnuts then stuffing them in my face, from all my pictures, a bloated belly of walnuts is quite apparent. In the evenings Raja and I would explore his childhood river, skip rocks (a universal sport I discovered), and look for fish. He told me how him and his friends would skip school to go fishing. Instead of fishing rods, they would divert the stream, then spend hours trying to catch them with their hands or pots that they would eventually cook them in. The chef would bring a pocket full of chillies, spices, salt, and rice, and cook up a well deserved meal from their dedicated work on the riverbank. I withheld my jealously for his idyllic childhood. I fully romanticized, I apologize.
Because Dushera, Raja and Jaya's brothers ceremony, and the fact that they rarely leave the ashram, there whole family was in attendance, sisters, grandmothers, great aunts, cousins, aunts, were all in attendance. A feast was prepared that reminded of my Thanksgivings at home, of course in a vastly different context though. All of the women were huddled around the mud stove catching up and what not, while the men in the other room were turning up the cricket game to drown them out. Cricket by the way is my new love and substitution for all of the college football I am missing, and this match was a particularly satisfying Indian victory over those cocky Australians. The meal was exquisite, the standard subzi, daal, roti combination but in finer quality, with ridiculous amounts ghee, and a room of people telling me to eat more. After dinner I was joined by Jaya's Nani and her sister under this large comforter while I delighted the family with my renditions of classic Bollywood songs. I told them about how I missed my grandmothers at home and they instantly adopted me, I think I am going on at least five adopted Indian grandma's now. Its great.
The other fellow at the ashram, Megan, also came on this trip and we found out that Kedarnath, a famous mountainous Hindu temple, was quite close, so we gave the family a day off from coddling the foreigners and headed up the fourteen kilometer trek to the temple from the nearest city. Kedarnath is part of the panch kedar yatra, one of the five abodes of Lord Shiva. According to the Mahabharata, after the Pandavas victory, they wished to atone their slaying of Kauravas and pay homage to Shiva. Seeing them approach, Shiva disguised himself as a bull, but the Pandavas saw through this and tried to subdue the bull. The struggle that ensued tore Shiva's body into five parts, his back landing in Kedarnath, manifesting itself in the form of a large boulder in the current temple, which pilgrims decorate, cover with ghee, and touch their foreheads on. The temple itself was stunning, seated in a high mountain valley at about 12,000 ft. I left the temple with a greasy forehead.
Oh yeah, so I have been to a lot of HIndu temples in my days, but I had a quite strange experience at this one. On the way out of the temple, the prasad walla called me over to give me some food offerings from the shrine. I obliged, thinking he would merely give me some rice and I would be on my way, instead, he pulled me close to him, and proceeded to hug me, take off my cap and stroke my hair, all while making shhhh and kissing sounds. I had no idea what was going on and this had never happened to me so I thought that it was normal and allowed him to do so for probably ten minutes or so. But when he started trying to put his hands in my mouth, I said, that's enough, the hugs were pleasant, but he was beginning to cross the line. When I looked up at him he had this look of pure love, which really creeped me out, seeing that he had not done said act to any other person in the temple but me. I gave ten rupees and got out of there. Later Raja assured me that this act was not at all normal. But all in all it was a great trip, we reached the bottom with sore legs from the 24 km of hiking in a day, and to a two hour wait for our taxi driver who apparently was drinking with some yars. He navigated the dangerous mountain roads home smoking bedis and shouting at his friends who joined us on the ride home. eeeee.