Wednesday, February 17, 2010

dilly daze

15 feb, 2010, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Delhi Branch

Know only that unique Self
on which are strung
heaven, earth and space
the mind and the other organs
and discard other speech

this is the bridge to immortality

where the nerves are pinned
like spokes on a wheel
that One moves
becoming multiform

thus with the OM
think of the Self!
no hinderance for you
for the further shore
beyond darkness
(mundaka up. II.ii.5-6)

I don't keep it up when I am at home unfortunately, but the last few times I've been here in India I've been trying to learn a little more Sanskrit, just enough to make out the devanagari script, and read the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita in the original, with transliteration and translation, of course. The above is my own rendering of some verses from the Mundaka, possibly hopelessly misbegotten, but fashioned after one version of the Tao te Ching I have that doesn't fill in all the implications in the blanks, instead leaving the words raw and, to my mind, even more powerful. Of course, Hindi is a simpler form of the same script, so I'm able to read Hindi painfully slowly, just enough to impress the kids. I like to pass the time in the bus or car or walking trying to read signs. I had two humorous discoveries. The first was: I wrote a paper for the Abhishiktananda centenary on the various meanings of the terms "purusha" and "guru." I listed six different meanings of purusha, for instance. With all that deep metapysical speculation floating around my brain, I arrived at the Delhi airport and was trying to find the Men's Room and sure enough I was able to make out the sign: PURUSHA. In spite of our modern American and English penchant for avoiding exclusive gender language and someone like Valerie Roebuck's insistence on translating "purusha" as "person," in ordinary everyday Hindi, it simply means "man" as in "male." I wanted to add that into my otherwise quite erudite paper as yet another meaning of the term, just to bring a little levity--"Holy things to the holy!"--but I refrained. The other discovery I made was that the exact transliteration of Delhi is not "Dayl-hee" but "Dilly," which I find pretty funny. Hence the title of this blog.

This is just going to be a bunch of travelogue rambling, so please don't be disappointed if there is no deep message herein, just a description of some of my Dilly Daze.

Yesterday morning I was sipping the long anticipated morning tea outside of OM Bhavan Guest House at Sri Ram Ashram in Haridwar at 6:30 AM with another Californian, waiting for the kids to arrive so that we could do PT (physical training!) with them, and I mentioned to him that Gitanjali, Laura and I were going to take a taxi back down to Delhi after all instead of the bus. He asked why we would have even thought of taking the bus, and I said that I had taken the bus up from Delhi. He said, "A tourist bus? (one of the those big air-conditioned jobbies) and I said no, the regular ISTB bus. He said with a perfectly straight face, "Did you do that as an austerity?" I found that very funny. I was always think I am not traveling "close enough to the ground." Once we got here in the taxi, I was glad for the sake of the two others that I had not subjected them to that. It wasn't a bad trip up really, just a little long, dusty and bumpy, but that was early morning, not very hot nor crowded. Coming back yesterday afternoon, it took longer in the car than it had on the bus, and it was miserably dusty, crowdy and hot. It's a holiday weekend here. There was Shiva Ratri on Friday and a government holiday--as always the second Saturday of the month--and so, we were told, folks turned it into a five day weekend. (If you can figure out how two days off turns into a five day weekend, you're ahead of us; we kept scratching our heads about that one.) Anyway, that's the end of the story, and I'm back in Delhi until I fly out to Singapore tomorrow night. Sri Aurbindo Ashram is quite a ways south in Delhi, far from everything else I'm familiar with, but it's clean, quiet, inexpensive, with three simple vegetarian meals a day, it's a direct line from here to the airport, and it is an ashram. So a full day to myself with a an evening and a morning on either side to regroup and close out this time in India.

After the Urs, I still hadn't figured out my travel plans, but Gitanjali and Laura really wanted me to accompany them to Haridwar on what would be their first visit to Sri Ram. They already had train tickets, but after a lot of negotiating and consulting it seemed that even if I was on the waiting list I wouldn't have been able to get on. Everyone was heading north for the Kumbha Mela, which happened to coincide with the big feast of Shiva Ratri this year. The Kumbha (perhaps you will know of it from the movie "Shortcut to Nirvana") is the gathering of sadhus that happens in a different city along thebanks of the Ganges every three years. Reportedly millions pour in for them, well-known babas who are advertised on billboards and speak before huge crowds as well as countless little camps for lesser known sadhus, often performing incerdible feats of tapas-austerities. (The monk who hasn't lowered his arm for five years, for instance. That's a lot more impressive than riding the ISPT to Haridwar.) The river Ganges is said to flow from the locks of Shiva's hair, and once year people from villages all around make a pilgrimage to her (she is worshipped as a goddess, Ganga Mata) and bring some Ganga water back to their village, carrying these wonderfully colored containers balanced on the shoulder that looks sort of like a large bow, with a bag tied to each end where the water is. The roads are lined for days with various groups of people and trucks blaring music. And this year twice as crowded due to the crowds gathering for the opening of the Kumbha Mela.

At first Delhi seemed like an impenetrable asphalt jungle to me, with a river of cars running through it. Even though I have been through here a number of times now, I've never really gotten to know much outside of the YWCA Family Hostel and Connaught Place. But I had made the trip over to Nizamuddin a number of times by autorickshaw, so by Monday, after I had traveled again over to the hotel where Laura and Gitanjali's group was staying, I felt like the layout of at least that part of the city was making sense to me. After quibbling with a rickshaw driver over how much he would charge to take me to the famous Khan Market, I decided to head out on foot. I asked a traffic officer to point me in the right direction and made it quite close without having to ask again, just by following the big signs that said "Khan Market" with a big arrow. My experiences in Italy have led me to only half trust signs like that, mind you, so at one point, I turned around and asked a young man who had crossed the street behind me and was walking my way if this indeed was the way to Khan Market. He said, "I am only going there now myself," and he allowed me to tag along. We headed off the main road pretty soon on, and I must admit I was beginning to wonder if I had met another young hustler who was going to walk me to an goverment emporium or a travel agency selling trips to Kashmir--those are the two big things the guys on the street are up to. But, no, he was polite and didn't seem to want anything. His name was Prakash, he was not from Delhi, but from Himanchal Pradesh, farther north, and was only stationed here, midway through a 15 year enlistment in the Indian Navy.

I wanted to get a duplicate of Amasamy's shirt made while I was still in India, Gitanjali's teacher Shabda had given me the name, phone number and some vague directions of someone there. When we got the market, Prakash contiued to help, called the place and found out where they were, stayed with me while I talked to the tailor, and even helped me pick out the right color of fabric. When we were done I offered to buy him a tea or some other refreshment to thank him. We wound up at a place called Amici's, an Italian restaurant, and talk a good long time over a couple of fresh lime sodas, and when we were done, he wouldn't let me pay. "You are in India. You are my guest." I was a little embarrassed, but after all the shysters on the streets of Delhi, I was also awfully grateful. I told him I had a bunch of little errands to run and he was welcome to accompany me if he wanted, but he said he only had about a half hour before he ahd to get back to base for some personal business, but he would walk me as far as Ashika Road, from which I could easily find my way home to the Y. We walked to India Gate, the large impressive monument to Indians killed in war. He told me it was his favorite place to some for some quiet. It was actually quite crowded, mainly with school kids out on field trip, but he was quite happy to be there and share it with me. I thoguth we would part there, since Ashoka Road was in sight, but he stayed on with me and walked me all the way home, a good 45 minute walk. He also seemed concerned that I have a contact number of someone in India, and made sure I took his number down in case I needed anything. I was going to take him for lunch yet, but he got called back to base for some kind of emergency, so he left saying "We can meet again when you want."

The main problem with the trip to Haridwar was that we were told the roads going out of Haridwar were going to be closed due to the Kumbha, making it impossible for us to get transportation from the railway station to the Sri Ram, about 10 km out of the city. Both Gitanjali and I had come up with the same solution--that we would walk it. But they needed me to be there to guide them, since I was the only one who had ever been there. I finally decided that the solution was going to be for me to take a bus and meet them at the railway station. I had booked an extra night at the Y (or so I thought) because they weren't going to go until Thursday. So I got up Wednesday morning full of energy to get everything ready, feeling like I was really getting good at making my way around the city.

Everybody kept telling me that getting a bus to Haridwar was easy, but everybody also had different information about how to go about doing that, so I decided I needed to make an advance run to the ISBT station myself and figure things out. An act of kindness: after Mass and breakfast, I asked an autorickshaw driver to take me to the ISBT station near Kashmere Gate. He could have charged me and arm and a leg, but instead he said, "Get inside and I will take you to the Metro right here. It will take you ten minutes. If I take you it will take 40 minutes." When we got to the Metro Station, I asked him how much he wanted and he said whatever I wanted to give him. Delhi was slowly redeeming itself. I consulted the Metro route map, and had the folks at the ticket counter sell me an all day pass since I looked as if it went everywhere I wanted to go. I headed up to Kashmere Gate, wandered around the bus terminal long enough to figure out how it worked and how much, (143 rupees, a bus to Haridwar every fifteen minutes starting at 4 AM), and then headed back down to return to the Y. That's when things started going wrong. The first thing was, I got hit by a taxi! It's always quite an adventure to cross the street in Delhi anyway since no one stops and you just have to part the waves, and of course they drive on the left so I always have to think twice and look three times, but I had gotten pretty good at it all. So I was crossing the street, looked left, looked right, and looked left again as I started to cross and suddenly got smacked on the right arm by a taxi who had skipped around of the traffic jam on the other side of the cement barrier and was going the wrong way! It wasn't serious, just some scrapes, but my heart was in my throat. Another second and that could have been very very serious.

So I got back to the Y nursing my sore and slightly bleeding arm and, since my next stop was to go back to Khan Market and pick up my shirt, I called Prakash to see if he wanted to join me. He did and we set it for an hour hence. But then as I was going up to my room I found out that they hadn't actually extended my stay another night and were wondering when I was going to be checking out. So we discussed that... by now they couldn't let me stay another night in that room, but might have something else if I came back later. So I rushed up to my room, packed my bag in a flash (I was actually prepared for any exigency and had my bag half packed already), but then had to go through the whole round of paperwork checking out and putting my backpack and guitar in storage. Got that all done and headed back to the Metro with my all-day pass, and then on to Central Secretariat where I was supposed to catch the Violet Line that went straight to Khan Market. But when I got to Central Secretariat, I couldn't find the Violet Line, so I asked and was advised to go back to Rajiv Chowk and transer there. Rajiv Chowk is the busiest station, jammed with people transferring and cheek to jowl in the train itself. So, same thing, when I get there I asked how to get to Khan Market but this time I was told, "Go back to Central Secretariat and take an autorickshaw." The Violet line hasn't actually been built yet. By the time I got to Khan Market, I was laughing to myself about my plans for conquering Delhi and was delighted to see Prakash waiting for me in the exact place where the autorickshaw let me out.

We picked up my shirt and then I told him I needed to go back to Nizamuddin to talk with the women, but if he would come with me I would treat him to a great vegetarian thali at a little reasonably priced place that I knew. This was all a part of Delhi that he didn't know, so now I was the guide. But as we turned down Mathura Road his gaze drifted over to the left and he said, "Do you know what's there?" No. "The zoo. I have never been. Do you want to go to the zoo?" Yes, as a matter of fact, I did want to go to the zoo. Again, he wouldn't let me pay, even though "foreigners" were 40 rupees more than Indians. We had a great time. He was very happy to see all the animals, and was naming all the trees we were passing for me as well, and telling me how each of them was used for medicine and cooking. When I asked how he knew so mch about trees, he told that he had lived with his grandparents in the jungle for some years. I couldn't get much more out of him about that. After an hour or so we headed to talk to the ladies and then ate the delicious thali (which he pronounced good and reasonably priced as well, though he gradugingly let me pay for it.) He escorted me back as far as India Gate again, but made me assure him we could get together again tomorrow (he too is gone home to see his fiance for her birthday over the "five day weekend") adding that he wants to go to the airport with me to see me off. I don't know how or if that will all work out, but I'm quite touched by the whole thing.

By the way, they did have a room for me for the night at the Y, though I was anxiously preparing myself to spend the evening wandering Delhi in search of bed for the night, or spend the night either on an overnight bus to Haridwar to wait for them to arrive, or huddled up in a doorway somewhere waiting for the 4 AM. Of course when I finally got to my room, a smelly sweaty mess from my day, the hot water wasn't working, so I had another delay while maintenace came up to work on my hot water geyser (pronounced here as "geezer") before easing into the evening, pretending to say my evening prayers and meditate. I wound up only getting 12 hours out of my $32 room, but rarely has a hot shower felt so good nor a night's sleep been so welcome. The only reason I had to spend time out in the chilly Dilly night was because I got up way too early and sat at the Metro station for 45 minutes before it opened--someone told me they started running at 5 AM but they didn't start until 6. When they finally opened, the turnstile at the entrance I was at wasn't functioning correctly, so they sent us underground to the other entrance, where my unlimited ride pass didn't work. I finally got to the ISBT terminal at Kashmere Gate in time to get on the 6:30 bus to Haridwar, breathing a sigh of relief to be finally out of the city.