A Final Blog!
There's so much to sum up about the last few weeks--Jaipur, and then the student-led portion, and then these last two-three days in Delhi. Where to even start?
I had a really busy time in Jaipur every day. Not only is it a larger city so one has to budget travel time and rely on cycle and bike rickshaws, but it is also less tourist-friendly than Leh or Dharamsala. There were touristy places but also a number of areas that were mostly just Indians. It's a wonderful city, though! I spent most of my time in the Old City, which is all painted pink and it's historical and pretty and jam-packed with little shops and stall and tourists and Indians and temples and things like that. My family was a nice, laid-back Indian family with two adult children and we spent our evenings after dinner watching American movies on HBO or Indian soaps, which I couldn't follow, really, but it was fun to see what all the actresses were wearing.
My two ISPs were shoemaking and kathak dancing and I loved them both, even if time was a little tight. During the first three of us learned how to make shoes, and I made a nice little pair of red slip ons with a fun pattern in front, out of camel leather. Yay! We spent maybe an hour and a half each day at a little factory (really just a house with a sunny, colorful yard and a canopy to keep the sun off) with a husband and wife shoemaking team--he did the leather, she the beadwork. We cut the leather and glued it and stitched it (hardest part) and attempted to speak some Hindi and listened to their attempts at English. Our translator was the shopowner's son, who was nice enough to spend his afternoons with us and our shoes-in-progress.
My second ISP was kathak dancing, and I went out to an incredible Indian mall on the outskirts of the city and walked to the studio and house of my guru-ji (and here I will touch my earlobes in respect) to have my lessons. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I joined the regular classes to practice with the girls who were taking long-term lessons (with live music! tablas and harmonium), and the rest of our days (well, not Sundays) I spent in her living room practicing on her hard stone floor and watching her and her three daughters rehearse and explain things to me. Kathak dancing is a lot of slapping your feet on the ground for good noise, with bells on your ankles. There are a lot of spins and crazy finger positions and eye motions. There are two parts--the technical routines and the expressive story dances. Both are really hard. The dances are about a lot of things but I think many of the stories are about Krishna. I learned a little Krishna description poem and also a poem/prayer to Ganesha that is really fun. I've taken to practicing the mudras as I walk or just whenever, because they're fun. None of the other dancing I've done focuses at all on the hands beyond flexed/soft/fist/straight--stuff like that. I was fortunate enough to be able to organize a kathak peformance for some of us in Varanasi on our last night and got a taste of real kathak, with live music and costume and everything!
Ah, yes, Varanasi. I only have a little time left until I have to rejoin the group and take Zach to the train, or whatever our insane last day schedule is, but: Varanasi. Wow! Okay, so a large number of our remaining group was struck down with some strange gulab-jamun-Ganga-water-ice-cube-India-dirt sickness and so spent the majority of their time in this amazing city in bed or recovering, but I had an excellent time. Although it was sad to go out for breakfast in the morning and see our sadly reduced numbers. Since we had so few days there I tried to pack in as much as possible--aarti puja on our first night, sunrise boat trip, walking in the markets, visiting temples temples temples (and a mosque) going to Sarnath to see Deer Park and Ashok's Lion Pillar (Yes my favorite!) as well as a Jain temple, doing some late shopping, aaaaand celebrating my birthday! I'm so old!
I had the best birthday in Varanasi and spent the day in a lazy long breakfast, then going to what we thought was a widow's ashram but actually housed men and women waiting to die in Varanasi, mahatmas/sadhus, and students learning Sanskrit. Then Nathan and I walked to a Nepali temple and at at the big cremation ghat for more than an hour, watching the Indians there burn bodies by the sacred river. It was an incredible experience (What a birthday reminder, eh? The impermanence of life?). After that we went for Chinese food and then went back to the hotel for cake, masks, and kind words. And a really cool candle. And then Harrison and I had a dance party.
Okay, by this time I'm going to be late but how could I stop in the middle of my reminiscing? And if this is my last blog entry I wouldn't want to rush it, after all. Today we had our last meeting and last council, and I am filled with all these concluding/beginning thoughts of India home home India.
If any of you Spring 2008 students are reading this, get ready for an awesome semester!