Thursday, July 23, 2009

Squeeze Sneeze Cheese (Blue Cheese June 23, 2009)

Dear ones,

Since last we cheesed many moons have passed. It was new moon then as it was last night. I asked what you thought of darkness and emptiness and spoke of new beginnings and old questions, and you wrote back to me of moons and dreams and identity and faith and Living the Questions Now.

You might find this cheese more conventional than others so far. Maybe its because so much has happened since the last cheese that I find I have to squeeze it all in and squeeze away the stream of consciousness, speeding through because I want to squeeze this out while it’s still a newish moon. Maybe it’s because I’m tired today, from doing my best to support my grandparents and mother as they struggle with flus and bad backs and the process of ageing, which all came crashing down on us these last few days, and now I think I’m coming down with the flu too. Maybe it’s because I’m growing up. (Ha. Fat chance.)

When last we cheesed I wrote of writing. Denali and I lived in Ahmedabad from September to April, during which we were hired for a writing job, and then fired, by a dear friend. I’ve never been fired before. I tend not to make myself available for hire, and the few times I have been, I’ve left before I was even close to being fired, restless native that I am. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have minded being fired. It’s something I believe everyone should do at least once in life, like shaving your head. But not in this way, this heartwrenching way. We spent months working in an office at a computer, becoming more and more miserable by the day, our energy draining away for what we believed was a life-long friendship. By the end, we found we were facing some of the deepest pain we’ve felt in our lives, and with each step we were shocked at how much more painful it could still become. We have yet to learn what lesson we could take from it (in view that every blooming flower to every broken bone can be a teacher). The experience did, however, confirm that I find office life entirely alien, so much so that I was reminded how much I want us all, not just myself, to be free from it.

The conflict was never resolved, but at least it ended, eventually. Just as it was dragging through the last and most grief that seemed to have no relief, we found community. When we first arrived, we had started exploring activity in Manav Sadhna, a Gandhian service organization working mainly with children from the nearby slum, but hadn’t been able to settle on a project that made sense, and as the writing job progressed we made less and less time for the few scattered things that we had started. We had moved away from the MS volunteer house to a tiny ground floor apartment nearby, both for the privacy, and because we felt we weren’t doing enough at MS to justify living at the house. With all the time we spent at the office, and on the bus to and fro (and that’s a rant for another time, the public transport situation that represents how systems in India make people behave inhumanely and unjustly to each other) we found ourselves alarmingly friendless, except the two friends for whom we worked, and one of those relationships was rapidly becoming the source of our misery. When we left, there were few international volunteers, and the house felt empty, though we had tried to make it lived in. In the meantime, new volunteers had joined, some living in the volunteer house, filling the emptiness with love and laughter. After one very agonizing day we came to the house and told them we hadn’t brought anything to contribute to dinner, and were miserable and weren’t even supposed to talk about it, but just needed company. We were hugged and fed and loved and laughed with, and we went to sleep that night so grateful.

Around the same time we also started two projects, a perfect transition from the job. Through Manav Sadhna, we were developing materials for organic food and farming and helping to start weekly organic food in Seva Café, a gift-economy restaurant born from the MS family. We became friends with the main farmer involved in the project, a wonderful soul, and spent time outside of Ahmedabad at his beautiful bird-filled farm. Meanwhile, Denali had also started music workshops for teachers and students in another slum school organization my father had started working with, and we had a lot of fun with that.

Unfortunately we also had problems healthwise. Denali was plagued by headaches coming from his upper back and neck, which he eventually figured out was linked to his flute playing. This was and is still devastating, even after the headaches stopped (when he eased off on playing the flute every day) because learning the bansuri, North Indian classical bamboo flute, was a crucial part of why he was in India and why we came to Ahmedabad. And then in March we both got very very very sick with what the doctor first thought might be typhoid, and then said was a “strange virus”. Humph. Anyway, for a few days after that everything around us seemed dirty and dangerous, before we returned to our any-water-chugging ways (I exaggerate. We’ve actually always been reasonably careful and sensible) so now I sympathize a little more with those crazy NRIs (non-resident Indian) and foreigners who go around rubbing disinfectant gel on their hands all the time.

The virus scare made us think we might not be able to carry out our plan to join Ankur, once he got to India in April, on a walking pilgrimage along the Ganga to the source of the river, but fortune fawned on us and shined blessings on our entire journey. The three of us recuperated fruitfully (seriously. Lots of fruit.) and rejuvenated and meditated with our wise friend Mukeshbhai in Santram Ashram in Nadiad, and then left Ahmedabad on the day after Vishu (the Kerala new year). We passed through three hotspots of revolutionary activity in Rajasthan: Shikshantar, MKSS in Dev Doongri, and Tilonia Barefoot College, on the way to Haridwar. From there we walked to Rishikesh on the car road in a day, decided that that wasn’t where we were wanted, and took a bus with Manav Sadhna folks to Uttar Kashi, which was where we had been advised to start from in the first place. We walked for 8 days on the mountain footpaths, including one rest day at Ganganaani hot springs, from Uttar Kashi to Gangothri, staying in villages and ashrams, being bathed by Gangaji all the way. We eventually made it up to Gomukh, the glacier from which the river is born (where we took a 7 second dip), and even up to Tapovan, a magickal meadow tucked up above the glacier. We came down and decided to keep walking, and made it more than halfway to Yamunotri, crossing paths with an awesome and awe-inspiring pastoral cattle herding tribe, the Van Gujjars, and a very cool American guy who was traveling and living with them for a month. After starting back down again in aim for the famous and fantastic Futanes organic mango farm in Maharashtra, we diverted back up the river to study the Tehri dam and its achingly submerged history. We eventually reached the farm, in all its heat and glory, before returning to Ahmedabad for Denali to leave two hours after his visa expired, and for my dad and me to rush home to my back-thrown mom.

I’m giving you the bare bones of the trip, but the flesh is still waiting to form, one of these days when I can finally sit down and bash it all out on this machine that I’m still so terribly dependent on. When it comes, I hope I’ll be able to give you some small inkling of how significant our time in the Himalayas has been for me, even though I’m sure I myself won’t know the extent of it for years to come.

One immediately visible effect is that I lost some weight. Welcome to what my friend Maya’s mom calls Earth Gym. Take yourself on a walk with some nice big elevations and drops, put yourself in the care of the locals, eat whatever the universe puts in front of your grateful face, dig holes, shovel horse manure, and pound rice whenever you find a chance, and say goodbye to your expensive gym membership and metabolism pills and detox shakes.

But seriously folks. Some of us are dying to get skinny and some of us are dying to be more than skin and bones, literally. Most of us on this list, I think, live in the society made up of the former. And the fastest, easiest, most revolutionary, and most enlightened way out of this disease, in my loudmouthed opinion, is to Do. Manual. Labor. All of us, whatever our education, gender, age, or identity. We have to change our relationship to our bodies and to Work. A few cheeses ago I expounded on Work a little. It’s become even more real and accessible to me since then, and I hope never to let that experiential wisdom go. As always, let me know what you think, eh?

One more thing, in three parts, before I squeeze myself out, as follow-up to the last ferment on identity, on being a dancer and wanting to be Shanti Sainik, so many moons ago. a) Since last we cheesed I completed and sent in the application for training for Non-Violent Peace Force reserves (see (For Shanti Sainiks: Amma, Acchan, Denali, Ankur, Allio, Ava, Maya, Lauren, Neilu, Shahir, Lauren - I’m attaching the application for you to look at and comment). b) In the last few months I’ve gradually been coming back to dance. In the last week since I’ve been back here in Kerala I had been dancing a lot, and working on some pieces which might actually come to fruition. c) I haven’t been doing much dance in the last couple days, because, as I said, my dad and I have been trying to help my grandparents and mom kick this flu, and keep my granddad from falling again like he did a couple nights ago, and get my mom’s back to a place where she can at least travel to where she can get more professional help. I’m grateful to them for this. I’m grateful to them for having provided me with the physical and spiritual nutrition I needed to grow up healthy and happy and wise enough to come back home and give back, and I’m grateful to them for providing me a place where I can come back and feel not only loved because I’m a general affable person, and tend to be reasonably well-liked wherever I am, but also very very needed, in a very physical, practical, concrete way. I usually wander around doubtful about how useful I am. Nowhere else like here, especially in the last week, can I know with full certainty that without me, life would be difficult and unequivocally less happy. I believe we all need this certainty, and secretly hunger for the social situations that can give it to us.

On that note, we’ll all be much happier if I stop being sneezy, kick this flu I’ve stolen from them and can go back to being useful and cheerful, so off I go in that endeavor.

As always, to each of you whom I love and always wish to be more in contact with,
thank you for being with me,
I love you,


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