Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Valentine's Day question

"I wonder what would happen if I treated everyone like I was in love with them, whether I like them or not and whether they respond or not and no matter what they say or do to me and even if I see things in them which are ugly twisted petty cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept all that and turn my attention to some small weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on that until it shines like a beam of light like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust it to burn away all the waste which is not never was my business to meddle with."

 ~ Ivor Smith-Cameron, "An Exploration Into God"

I'm sitting in the Chennai airport, waiting for a flight to Delhi and then on to Varanasi. I've left Tiruvannamalai, known as Tiru, after six fine weeks of spiritual teachings, fruit-muesli-curd-honeys and holy nonsense. Stories, incomplete and confusing, accompany the photos below.


This lovely looking gentleman with the kind eyes was at the Chennai train station.

Some of the best eats in Tiru: Paratha Corner. They can whip up some good grub and it's always under a $1.

At the annual Pongol Festival women decorate doorsteps with chalk designs. This is an unusual one.

A bizarre photo of a sunset.

One particular day of the Pongol festival the cows are decorated.

Bike race! I was all set, ready for blast-off, and when the whistle blew everyone came out at a snail's pace. Turns out the contest was to see who could take the longest to finish without falling off their bike.

The very groovy and relatively expensive Dreaming Tree. Such a nice place to hang out. Much money was dropped here - relatively speaking. ($4.50 for breakfast? Outrageous!)

This was my view for the last six weeks. We were studying Vedanta, or non-dual teachings. Don't know? Don't ask! (But here's a hint: You think you're separate. You're not.)

An early morning walk to one of the two caves that Ramana Maharshi meditated in for a total of 17 years. The massive temple complex in the distance is in the center of Tiruvannamalai, and dedicated to Shiva.

That's Ivet, who I traveled with in France this summer, sitting in Ramana's cave.

A combination motorcycle/pickup truck.

These oxen get a fresh coat of paint on Pongol.

This is in the center of Ramana Ashram, a temple dedicated to Ramana Maharshi, one of the modern saints of India. He died in 1950.


Lovely brats.

More lovelies.

I heard that jester's hats were designed after someone saw these painted horns. And by "heard," I mean, "made up."

I rented a 1960's 50-pound bicycle the whole six weeks I was here, and rode past these kids most days. Adorable.

This little kitchen-shop-on-wheels is best appreciated in motion. All the pots are hanging off the back of the motorbike.

A stereotypical south Indian meal, served on a banana leaf. You eat with your hands - but only your right hand. You use your left hand for other things, like going to the toilet. This meal costs 75 US cents.

The entrance to the ashram where the banana leaf lunch is served daily.

This giant was inside the huge temple complex that we saw from a distance above. He's trained to take a coin or a bill then "bless" you by bopping you on the head with his trunk. I got bopped.

Lighting candles as an offering.

Zohar from Israel and Ivet from Holland get their turn as celebrities. Many photos and smiles were shared!

Spiritual sacrifice or lice - you can't be sure!

OK, people! On the count of three, raise your hands! (Hey - it worked!)

This photo looks posed by I actually took it from my hip as he was spinning around. I don't know what his story is, but you see people like this so often you kind of give up wondering.

The celebrities basking in their celebrity-ness!

This sweet kid took our shoes while we were in the temple.

On full moon (seen in the distance) there's around 400,000 people who walk the 14 km (8.5 miles) around the sacred mountain of Arunachala. It's been a holy mountain for thousands of years, but apparently this tradition started only in the 1990's when it was made famous in an Indian movie.

Snicky-snacks for the peripatetic road warriors.

Do I love this kid? Guess.

Just next to this little building I watched them making bricks out of earth and mud. I couldn't tell what this was, and a local told me they'll wait until the bricks have thoroughly dried and then they'll light the whole thing on fire to harden the bricks. That's why there are pieces of wood stacked inside the structure. Then it will be dismantled and the bricks sold off.

I wonder if this is this guy's "mirror face." Maybe he always looks like this? He befriended me when I was hanging out before a funeral procession started.

An older man, being prepared for burial here, and his sister bought some medicine from a street vendor a day or two before this. They took the medicine at the same time, and within 20 minutes they were unconscious with blood coming out of their mouths, and died.

They had matching funeral cars decorated with flowers to take them to the burial ground. I was told they were buried and not cremated - but I don't know why. Hindus are usually cremated.

The women were really crying and wailing and showing their grief in the most dramatic way. It seemed almost like a ritual; maybe this is what you do when you grieve in this culture.

The procession moves away, with some people walking behind.

Most of the women came back, and some of them were just beside themselves. I felt like a schmuck taking these photos, so I pretended like I was a journalist or something. A schmucky journalist.

The flowers are pulled from the car and scattered on the ground as it goes. In front of the procession giant firecracks are exploded.

Mount Arunachala.

A beautiful sunset one night as some local people tend to their goats and chat.

An amazing moth landed on a screened window.

I visited an orphanage just near where the teachings were held, which I only found out about at the end of my time here. It's for children with HIV. Apparently 30 of the 35 kids are HIV positive. I only visited them once and didn't get many details.

The facilities looked quite clean and well maintained. The kids were obviously well into yoga, and others were taking karate classes.

HIV positive or not, they're just kids - beautiful kids!

It was a full-on scrum visiting them. Everyone wanted to show off their particular skill. "Uncle, watch this! Uncle, watch what I can do!"

You can't see the reason for the squirming. It's not cold water - it's the fish pedicure that you get, like it or not. This little lake/pond is spring fed and really refreshing on a hot day. That's Lawrence on the left, and Andy and Janine on the right, who were also at Anandwan this year.

Hippies? In India! Who knew! But I'm kidding, partially. This beautiful young woman was really talented with these fire doo-dad thingy's.

(The End)

Friday, February 01, 2013

"Are you crying? You ARE crying!"

"You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept."
 ~ Kahlil Gibran

About halfway through my time in Anandwan (the leprosy and outcast community introduced here) I started spending time with 8-ish year-old Neesha, who I'd written about recently and also last year. Neesha is blind and quite severely mentally disabled, so it's hard to know what she enjoys, though she hugs like a champ and really just melts into your arms when you pick her up. I took her one day to the deaf kids' playground and had her on the rocking contraption, since she seems to enjoy that. When the deaf girls got out of class they completely enveloped us - 12 kids on and around the four-person swing. They were really curious about Neesha, miming questions about where she lives (in the hospital just down the road,) where her parents are (she's an orphan,) and how old she is (no one knows for sure). The girls were sweet but also a little afraid, since Neesha does look different and they're not used to her. 

At one point I looked at one of the girls and she had such a beautiful and compassionate expression on her face as she looked at Neesha that I got the tiniest little tear in my eye. Another girl looked at me, looked surprised, and mimed, "Are you crying?!" I shook my head and said no, I'm not crying. She mimed, "You ARE crying!" I shook my head more, and said, "No, I'm NOT crying!" She ignored me and motioned to the rest of the girls, "He's crying! He's going to get on a plane, and fly home, and Neesha is going to stay here, and he's going to miss her, and he's sad, and he's crying!" All the little girls looked at each other, nodded their heads in agreement and mimed, "Yeah. He's crying."


Love to you!

Me and Neesha on the swing.

Another shot of the cabbage garden near the old folk's home.

The barber, who is also a leprosy patient and lives in Anandwan, in his barbershop, festooned with colorful posters of Hindu gods.

This is Sue from England, massaging the hand of a man with no fingers and one bent thumb.

This is the lady I described in a newsletter last year as "snaggle-toothed." She's the sweetest thing, but really having a hard time right now. When we first arrived and she saw Zohar, who comes every year, she burst into tears. She came to Anandwan when she was only a teenager, by which time she'd already lost all her fingers from the combination of leprosy and working with building materials. That would have been about 40 or 45 years ago.

This is Maria and Mausie, who I worked with last year doing wound care. Maria had that job this year and these two fell in love!

This woman was born without arms and uses her feet for everything, apparently, including making these stitched greeting cards. When I left she raised her feet together in a "namaste" position, as if they were hands.

These ladies are working in the big kitchen.

Tending the cows.

Up to no good, you can just tell!

You are so busted. You can't fool me just cuz you're cute!

A well-to-do couple was married in Anandwan while we were there, and we had at least one fancy meal. Yum.

My favorite pixy. She's so adorable.

Another one of the deaf girls.

More lovely deaf kids.

This is the girl we call "Lala," though no one seems to know where the name comes from, or if it's actually her name. Last year she was my favorite photography model, and I really like her - maybe because I didn't spend so much time with her. She's deaf but also has some emotional problems. Like the rest of us! She's a real handful.

The kids would move in a big circle as they're jumping rope. Impressive! They even got me out there. Not impressive.

My new favorite grandma. This lady can talk and talk as though you've known her your whole life, and as if you speak the language. I love her.

Beautiful Jyoti, just after a shower, and sitting up in a chair that the doctor recommended for her. She just refused to be left sitting up if we were leaving, since the old ladies are so rough with her. I'll bet she hasn't been in that chair since this photo was taken.

We met this older man walking down the road one day. He has a great face.

Poor, banged-up Sana. I wrote about her before - she's got advanced leprosy, pretty severe mental deficiencies, and she's an orphan living in the hospital. Maybe she's just accident prone, but also leprosy patients lose sensations in their extremities so they don't feel pain, typically in their hands and feet. I don't know what's going to happen to this little one.

This gentlemen works at the wound clinic.

We took Jyoti, at her request, to visit her family. We have no idea what's the "right" thing to do when we're in Anandwan - whether we should push Jyoti's family to take more responsibility or give them space or what. So we just hope for the best and mush forward. When her brother didn't want to come out of the house for a photo with Jyoti, I went in and said, "Get your ass out there - we're taking a photo!" Maybe I need to eat more tofu?

Towards the end of our time we threw a little tea party for the old folks, and Assaf and Peter were playing some Hindi devotional music, called bhajans. Fun!

I like these guys.

Just outside the tea party, a family was bathing the body of their mother so they could cremate her. That's her in the chair. So very "India" - it's in public, it's not hidden away, and it's just part of life.

The chapati factory (like wheat tortillas) in the new kitchen. Ladies on the outside are rolling the chapatis, which are first cooked on the metal stove top before being finished over the open fire. They get tossed to cool on the fabric laid on the floor to the left of the stove.

They could really crank out the chapatis in this place.

Rice was made in these giant pots, and a specialized shovel was used to fill the tubs, which were then carried on heads to be delivered elsewhere.

Jyoti smiles as she gets her hand painted with henna on the last day of our time in Anandwan.

After the henna party, this was our last hurrah - a night of "bhajans," the devotional Hindu songs.

Lala and her friend.

Sabiya, who lives in Anandwan with her husband and son, runs the small telephone office and helps out the retreat in many ways.

The work retreatants group photo. Six of us were in France this summer on the Dharma Yatra, plus I've known three others for around 10 years. Either way - we're all friends now.

(The End)