Friday, March 20, 2009

CC: A Farewell to India

I’m going to miss India. But that’s not to say that I’m not glad to leave (or even that I could have dealt with another week right now). It seems to be the case that most people either love or hate traveling in India. Not being one to take sides, I’ve taken it upon myself to both love and hate if at the same time. There are few places where I’ve felt so happy and at peace, though nowhere that’s been able to frustrate or upset me to this extent.

To some people you’re a walking ATM from which the object is to extract as much money as possible, to others you’re some sort of freak to be stared at (and you have not been stared at until you’ve been stared at by an Indian for an entire bus trip), and to others you’re someone to be treated as a dear friend. For every fifty people who won’t accept your refusal to get in their autorichshaw, give them money, buy their drugs, or take them as a guide; there’s always at least one person with so much love and concern for you and everyone they meet that it almost makes up for everyone else. Some people won’t lift a finger without the promise of an unreasonable number of rupees, but some will take an hour out of their own time to make your day as pleasant as possible and refuse any sort of payment for the service.

It’s really just a massive paradox; one that any Indian will admit that they don’t understand themselves. Sometimes the religion seems like a commercial, meaningless, theme park like activity – while sometimes it hits on something so beautiful and profound that you can’t help but feel it.

It’s a culture where girls aren’t allowed to leave home from when they hit puberty until after they’re married (and usually bitter and overweight). Where people won’t treat others from lower castes as equally relevant human beings. Where hygene and environmental concerns are irrelevant. But it’s also a culture where everyone is on a spiritual quest. Where curiosity always trumps indifference. Where you can find people with so much love in them that you can feel it.

Even though it’s so completely foreign to your sensibilities you never feel alone. So many people are so happy to draw you into it that there’s no question you might have that will go unanswered. Or no bus ride where you’ll be left in peace. I’ve heard stories from people my age about their families and their arranged marriages, about having to sneak around with girls so their parents never see them together, or on the other end of the spectrum about militantly defending their conservative way of life against western influence.

No matter how you spin it there’s a lot to learn from India – both through imitation and through avoiding their example. And if nothing else you can’t help but admire their uncompromising pursuit of their way of life. But in the meantime I can’t help but pursue a little bit of peace and quiet in Nepal.

CC: On the Road to Rishikesh

The further along Swarg Ashram Road you go, the more the guest houses,touts, beggars, and merchants start to thin out until the road turns into gravel path and the only buildings to be seen are the small huts where some of the sadhus live by the river. If you walk right past the main turn off where guards are watching the gate, you can take a tiny path along the side of the fence, slip through the ineffectively placed barbed wire, and emerge into the ruins of the Maharishi’s ashram where The Beatles once stayed.

It feels more like walking through the ruins of an ancient city than a recently vacated spiritual retreat. The forest has reclaimed most of the buildings, and there are few windows or even toilets (western style) still left unbroken. Even more astonishing, no matter where you go, you’re surrounded by one of the rarest things one can find in India – silence. Apart from the singing of birds, the wind in the trees, and the rustling of an occasional monkey passing overhead, there’s not a thing to be heard.

It’s really quite a trip to be there. To walk by the room that (dear) Prudence locked herself up in, or the spot where George Harrison would have sat working out the lyrics for While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It's certainly felt more historically significant (for me anyway) than any of the palaces or temples I'd dropped in on so far.

But even stronger than that sense of historical significance, after spending some time exploring, was the slow revelation that despite the incredible things that had happened there, the geography – the exact physical location - was irrelevant. The inspiration for the white album didn’t come from that specific spot on the hill where they were staying. It came out of the energy of the place. It comes from being at the opposite side of the world, living in a bubble with other foreigners in the middle of a strange and exciting culture. It grows out of the community of people full of exciting ideas and dedicated to finding something bigger than they've grown up knowing. If I really wanted see where it all came from, I’d have done better off to stay back at the ashram where I was staying. The farther one travels, the less one knows.

Now if only I were a musical genius, I could really make something excellent of the experience.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

CC: Everybody’s Got Something to Hide

One of the things that upsets me most about my trip to India is that it’s lead me to hate monkeys. I used to love them so much. Before they started trying to steal my stuff and attack me. The locks on my zippers have so far protected my belongings not from people but from monkeys.

They wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t always travel in gangs. You’d better hope there’s someone else to help fight them off once there’s four or five of them hissing at you at once from all sides in the middle of a suspension bridge.

If you ever find yourself being cornered or stolen from, make sure to bend over and pretend to pick up a rock to throw as quickly as possible if you don’t want to fall victim to a gang of our primate brothers.


CC: Jai Sri Krishna

It seems that no one in India can understand or pronounce the name Chris. They either nod politely and forget what my name is or just laugh out loud when they hear it. So while I’m traveling the subcontinent, I’ve adopted the name Krishna after the hero of the Bhagavad Gita and favourite God of most Indian women. Krish for short. The name of a famous Bollywood star – as I’ve been told everytime I tell anyone my new Indian name.

Elementary penguin singing hare Krishna. Man you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allen Poe.

I still haven't mastered the art of holding a flute quite so erotically though.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

CC: Bollywood!

I’m standing at the entrance of a futuristic looking, blue pulsating club. I was originally meant to enter, escorting my female companion, down a grand stairway covered in brightly coloured flashing lights. Perhaps wisely though, the powers that be decided to cover the stairway with scantily clad dancing girls instead, so I’ve been relegated to the bottom.

“You will all groove to the music! I don’t want to see anyone sitting idle! Nobody!” An AD yells at a group of people seated on couches to the side of the stage.

“Before you start walking you need to react to the music. Look like you are having a good time,” says another AD to me and my partner.

“Yeah, just pretend that we’re fantastic!” Says Kylie Minogue as she walks by on her way to the stage.

My fellow clubbers and myself hanging out on the lot, (questionably) dressed for a serious night out.

The shot is set, the music starts, and it begins. Kylie starts lip syncing to her song that’s been played on the speakers all day as ten Indian men in shiny pants burst forth from the wings and start dancing. We all start acting like we’re having a great time. For about ten seconds. Then they cut the music and send us back to ones for the next half hour that it takes to set up another shot. Meanwhile the ADs continue giving us conflicting instructions and treating us like cattle. In the western style of cattle treatment that is – they don't just let us free to wander through the city and block traffic.

It seems like being an extra is the same thankless work in India as it is in Toronto. Except that since all the other extras are all interesting Western backpackers, you get to avoid the usual crowd of the serious over-actors, the clinically insane, and (as Dan Voshart would attest) vampires, that usually populate the extra scene.

And I got to be in a Bollywood dance scene with the green fairy from Moulin Rouge. So mustn’t complain.