Friday, May 28, 2010

We are safe

News is sketchy about yesterday's train crash and reports continue of possible sabotage by Maoist Rebels. Municipal elections take place on Sunday.  I have decided that we will hunker down until all results and any subsequent reactions are past.  I have plenty of work to do here, so it won't be a problem to stay put for a bit.  Celia will continue with art lessons, etc.

Though this is a tragedy and many are suffering as I write, I assure you that we are both fine though quite sad.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Circumambulating & (not) blogging

Yes, I am failing in the blogging department. (Thanks, Maggie & Fred. Good thing I love you both.  Good thing also that I know you love me and that I know you're reading my blog.  Best of all, I've seen those endless cel-phone-photos-in-night-clubs-with-incomprehensible-captions blogs, so I know I'm nowhere near the top of the worst-ever list.)

I remember that I promised not to whine, so take this as explanation only, please.  We don't get much Internet and I'm awfully busy with everything else.  Though still not really accomplishing as much as I'd like.  I must focus on more pressing items much of the time, and everything takes longer and is more complicated than I'd hoped.  (Plus free time often falls when I am both Internet-less and too hot and/or tired to do anyting but throw buckets of water over myself and imagine breezes.  Twice recently, free time coencided with brief storms which inspired C and me to dance in the rain, rather than be otherwise occupied. And, of course, we know about being safe in storms, so don't worry 'bout that.) Lucky for me, C keeps up her blog. She can be a bit more current as she has the advantage of not being burdeoned with all those other responsibilities.  Unfortunately, she also is disadvantaged by having lower priority for computer use (yup, work before blog), so she can't blog nearly as much as she might otherwise.

Explanation complete.  Begin content (1).

So much has happened since I last wrote a thoughtful post.  As mentioned earlier, I compose blog entries regularly when I'm without pen or computer.  Most never find their way beyond my thoughts.  Most won't make it to you now.  Still, a few thoughts I will to share, beginning with the following:

Circumambulating Arunachala

Tiruvannamalai, in Tamil Nadu, was lovely, relaxing, interesting, fun.  We met new friends, visited villages, did productive project work, ate excellent mangos and papayas, saw temples, made pujas, meditated with a Mother, learned about the variety of spirituality that surrounds The Mountain, and got hit on the head by an elephant.

One of the many special things about Tiruvannamali is The Mountain, Arunachala.  Each full moon, pilgrims flood into to town to walk the 14 kilometers around The Mountain (2).   Shortly after our arrival was, I'm told, the biggest full moon of the Tamil year (end of April).  People travel from all over India for the event.  It's a scene like I'd previously witnessed.  So, of course, I had to do a little circumambulating of my own.

At about 5 pm, I headed toward the main road which was already packed full of walkers.  It took me just under six hours; everyone walks at a pretty leisurely pace.  I, and a few thousand of my pals, added a kilometer or two to the trip avoiding one area that was just too crowded for comfort.  Other than that, it was entirely moving, fascinating, uplifting, even fun.

I was the only Westerner I saw walking, though I'm sure there were plenty that I didn't see.  I noted several pasty faces on motorcycles, on the sidelines, staring or taking photos.  They got the pics, but missed the experience.

I loved the variety of participants and forms of participation.  Many walkers were silent, but many others were making a party of the night.  Families were common.  Every kind of vendor imaginable set up a stall or blanket to show his/her wares (3).  Food was for sale, plus free plates of rice, dhal and chickpeas were distributed at stands along the route.  Artists created chalk renderings of deities on the pavement.  And the 100,000 butter (oil) lamps were exactly that.  Spectacular.

Days later, I read in Chennai papers that the crowd was estimated at 2 - 2.5 lakh (200,000-250,000), and one automobile accident (with fatalities) was reported.  I like to think that that problems were not underestimated.  The night, and much of the following day - thought I didn't go out much while I nursed my feet (4) - was crowded, busy, hot, filled with noise, sights, people, and long queus.  I can only imagine the disaster it might have been had everyone not felt - or at least acted - thoroughly content to be there, watching, experiencing, worshiping, each in his or her own way.

Me?  I came with camera to walk, see, photograph.  I did take some pictures.  Then, as I exited one of the smaller temples, I saw a young, Western-looking photographer.  I watched her crouch below a small ceremonial flame in the entryway to shoot devotees as they placed camphor offerings into the fire.  I'm sure her images are wonderful.  Dark, devoted faces viewed through flames, framed by smoke blending to darkness behind them.

I had many thoughts over the next few minutes.  I even tried to photograph this photographer and her partner a bit later as they pointed and giggled.  They disturbed me.  Yet, I am no less a tourist.  I fight the urge to think that I am 'better', though I do credit myself with at least trying to be respectful.  Still, I'm here, with cameras, doing 'research'...?

As it became dark, I hesitated to unpack my flash.  I stopped stabilizing my camera on make-shift tripods to focus in the low light.  I let my camera hang, capped.  Only when someone asked me for a photo did I turn it back on.  And then I put it away.  And walked.

My Pradakshina began as a little adventure, evolved into introspection and grew into a four-plus hour a meditation on photography.  I formed many more questions than I could hope to answer.  I need to put more thought into this experience and this topic.  Much more thought.

They say that circumambulating The Mountain is very powerful.

1,  For nerds only, an old joke.
2.  The Arunachala circumambulation is called Giri Pradakshina in Sanskrit and the road around the mountain is called Pradakshina.
3.  Along the way, a man could (and many did) buy new clothes to change into when his grew to filthy from sweat and dust.  Puja supplies?  Of course.  Need a towel?  Buy one.  Souvenirs? Toys?  Housewares?  No problem.
4.  One is to walk barefoot as he/she is stepping on Arunachala, the incarnation of Siva, thus must show appropriate respect. Nearly everyone goes shoeless.  I made it +/- 3/4 around before I caved and put my sandals back on.  I was torn about it, but the ground became much more difficult in the last parts, so I suppose it had been necessary.  Even with footwear, my feet needed a lot of TLC after.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

By Request

Only because I've been asked, I post this photo of me taken early this morning by Santiniketan radio personality, photographer, and my friend, Arpita Chatergee.  Arpita joined me on one of my portrait outings.  Today, we visited a nearby Santal village.  I will return to the village in a day or two to deliver the portarits we took today.

Monday, May 17, 2010

We're fine but with little electricity

No more complaining about internet woes.  If the fan stays on, I promise not to whine.

We are just fine, back in West Bengal, but having too many power outages.  We're very sweaty, a little crabby, but otherwise fine.

Hope you are all well, happy, healthy and generally not to sweaty.

In case you read this earlier, I removed the weather link.  In addition to being Kolkata, which is 3 hours from here - the nearest weather link I've seen, though haven't looked very hard - it was wrong.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A few Tiruvannamali pics... since we have Nan's lovely Internet connection...

Arunchala Mountain and 'Big' Temple Entrance

Downtown Tiruvannamali

Note: Comments on the Picasa album are from Nan.

Click here for some pics from the House Beautiful (not really) photo shoot at Nan's house last night.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Paul Moore is my hero!

As you already know (thanks, Steve) we are in Tiruvannamali (plus various other spellings).  Our amazing guide/driver/translator/planner/facilitator/all-around-amazing-guy, Karuna, set us up in the loveliest rooms, view of The Mountain (incarnation of Shiva), kitchen, AC.  Plus, it's clean, pretty, safe and not too far from shopping and the Sri Ramana Ashram.  We are thorough enjoying ourselves.

Not only is our place great, but Karuna, the extraordinary, picked us up in Chennai and drove us here (>3 hrs), advises us on food and shopping and, best of all, has taken us to four villages for photos.  (More on that in another post as I am very tight on time.)

This is a great vacation spot for folks who don't want to do much of anything, like us.  As C reported, embroidery and AC are making us very happy.  To push us over to euphoria, this town also has cheese!  We are living it up big time.

There are, of course, difficulties, but lets leave them to another conversation.

When time permits, I will write about the villages, walking around The Mountain, the Kolkata workshop last week.  At least I plan to.

So why is Paul my hero?  Who do you think got us here, introduced us to Karuna, made all this possible?  You guessed.  Thanks very much, Paul.  I owe you.