Hitting the Street

May 12.

Dear Friends,

     After getting up late and spending a leisurely morning getting my electronics more or less set up, I had some tea and read from A Sadhu’s Reminiscences of Ramana Maharshi, a book Sherrie Mitchell gave to me as a going away present, and which Timothee, had given to her.   Timothee, a teacher who visited our sangha, was partly responsible for my trip, as it was after I told my wife Jennifer about his travels that she suggested I come.     Thanks, Timothee!   Thanks, Jennifer!   I can’t wait to visit Ramana’s ashram at the foot of the sacred mountain Arunachala.  He was one of the truly enlightened beings of the twentieth century. 

     Outside my window, right now, flitting among the bamboo and palms squawks a kind of crow or raven.  Black like a crow, and crow-sized, but with a grayish-black-brown head, and a raven’s beak.  A crow’s personality.  I’ve discovered that the streets are full of them

     In the morning papers:  Rahul Gandhi, a member of Parliament was arrested for taking part in a farmers’ land protest, resisting the taking of farmland by the government at unfair prices to create an expressway.   He was released on bail.  

    Evidently, the roles of wives and daughters-in-law can still be miserable in some areas, despite the modernization of India.  Just today in the paper, a high court ruled that a dying woman’s statement that her husband had set her on fire was insufficient evidence of guilt, without other circumstantial evidence.  Another woman, the paper reported, had hanged herself after ceaseless verbal abuse from her in-laws.   On the bright side, the two highest scorers on the national civil service exam for the first time were women, one a law school grad the other a tech school grad. 

             I’m reading an enlightening book, India Calling, by a first generation Indian-American who returns to India and writes about it.   The book is much about the current young generation being caught between their parents’ traditional lives and the new Westernized cultural values and sense of identity.   This seems especially difficult for many young women. 

             This afternoon, I finally ventured out into the street.   Wow!  I think I was putting off venturing out.  I got up late and had to get my computer and communication devices set up and working, but I think I was also anxious and putting off going out worrying about being accosted by the poverty, the mutilated, begging children, and scam artist, garbage and smells I’ve been warned about so often. 

     The first thing I was accosted by on leaving the building, however, was the heat and humidity.   After growing up the American South, and after arriving here from a cold, wet, snowy Logan , Utah, spring–Ah!—the heat felt wonderful!   Palms swaying in the warm, breezy air.  But then, I had to cross the street!   Before me roared a river of motorized black and yellow rickshaws (covered, three-wheeled, motorcycles), old and new cars, big buses and trucks painted with the faces of gods and goddesses, bicycles loaded with goods.   Basically, you create your own reality at this point.  You body makes an eddy in the flow, and you just move your little eddy across to the other corner.  I tried to move in the eddies created by other peds. 

             Then, I headed down a busy winding street shaded with big trees and lined with the most amazing assortment of shops and stalls and open-air cookeries and tea stands.   Little tailors sat in chairs on the sidewalks working at sewing machines before shops with shelves full of colored cloth.  Shops and stalls were stacked with big waist-high burlap sacks standing on the floor brimming with grain or cotton.  Fruit stands.  Photo shops.  Florists.  Shops for plastics, shops for bricks, for cement, electronics, copying, spices, teas, ornaments, jewelry.   I walked this street for several miles and both sides were lined with shop and stall after shop and stall.  It was just one average, random street in one of the biggest cities in the world!   The complete opposite of the Wal-Mart, Big Box, MacDonald’s culture of America.   Every little stall or shop had its own specialty and expertise, and its own owner.  

             Women, old and young, walked everywhere in saris of peacock, peach, sky-blue, ruby, brocaded in silver or gold.   Many wore more modern dress.  Most of the men wore Western slacks and button down shirts.  This was not an upscale neighborhood but also not the poorest.  Despite the wonderful colors, everything was also pretty dirty.  Behind the shops and stalls rose dirty, sometimes dilapidated apartments.  But I’ve yet to encounter the poverty that I know I’ll be seeing before too long.  And not one person accosted me or even approached me, except with smiles.  I’d been led to believe that beggars and con men were going to be constantly coming up to me, but none of that happened.   I was dressed like the locals and have dark hair, but likely stood out anyway.   I tried not to look as wide-eyed and as awed as I was inside.  

     The street was an eternal carnival, one that has probably been going on for centuries pretty much exactly as it is now.   What a joy to be wandering the shop-lined streets of this gigantic city, sweating and drinking in all the colors and sights and sounds.   I feel so blessed to be here. 

        (I’ll add some photos of the street soon!   I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of snapping photos.   I seemed to be the only non-Indian on the street!   This street is not a tourist part of town, evidently!)

      Thanks for reading.  Love and Namaste!


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