09 March 2014

Photographic Interlude

Sunset at Carter Road, Mumbai

Namaste hands in Ahmedabad

Snack Wallah

Locals at rest stop in Gujarat

Desert Festival Parade in Jaisalmer

Entrants in the Mr. Mustache competition

Mr. Desert and me

Jaisalmer view from fort

Sunset over Jaisalmer

A boy and his camel

Sunset at the Cenotaphs at Bara Bagh

Bara Bagh

Bara Bagh

Bara Bagh

Local friend at Bara Bagh

Sunset at Bara Bagh

Sunset from Bara Bagh

Holy Cow

Wall detail near Shiva Temple, outside Jaisalmer

Shiva Temple

Ceiling of Shiva Temple

Rickshaw Driver at Shiva Temple

Clown at Car-Free Day on Carter Road

Sunset panorama at Juhu Beach, Mumbai

Hair Salon. Like the name?

Oscar the Cat.

27 February 2014

The Rhythm of the City

I was feeling the rhythm of the city today. The trick is to get out early, have a leisurely breakfast, get some work done, and then return home to escape the heat of the day for a few hours. Then, at 5 or so, head out again, and enjoy the Mumbai evening. Today, I did leave my room early, mostly because I was asked to, in order for the maid who clean the apartment I"m staying at could get in, change my sheets, and tidy up a bit. It's a little weird, but she comes with the apartment, and that's how it's done here. So I went out for coffee and breakfast at a place called Mochamojo nearby. It's done up in full 70's decor; vinyl booths that look like the back seat of old cars, bean bag chairs, end tables that look like Rubik's Cubes. The coffee was quite good, and for breakfast I had basically a Spanish tortilla; eggs and potatoes baked together in a pie. Over breakfast, I had a long phone call with Sonali, whom faithful readers will remember as the head of Dreamcatchers NGO, and who is getting used to the idea of becoming a mentor for younger people who are called to service but don't know how to begin. Truly, she's been a mentor for many for a long time, and is one of the most inspirational people Ive ever met, but of course no one sees themselves from the outside quite as others see them.
From there, I did go home for a few hours. The last few days have been very hot and humid, although it's still quite pleasantly cool in the evenings. I left a little earlier than usual though, and headed up to Juhu, the part of town a little further north, with its wonderful beach and grand Hare Krishna temple. The last time I was there, I discovered, around the corner from the temple, a Thai massage shop, and I went back and treated myself. The first time, I got a traditional Thai massage, and this time I opted for the classic Swedish. Sixty minutes, as professional as you'd want, for US$20. I could get used to it.
After the massage, I went to the Krishna temple, one of my favorite spots in the city. It's a whole complex, with a hotel, restaurant, snack stalls, library, and other services, but the centerpiece is a giant, white marble temple which displays all the grandeur and beauty befitting Lord Krishna and his consort Radha. The statues of the deities are lovingly cared for by a crew of volunteers, who dress them, cover them in flower garlands, and burn sweet-smelling incense to please them. All the while, devotees chant Krishna's name in the background, and we all join in, call-and-response style. I love going to the temple. It's a beautiful, peaceful place to give thanks for being here, for being alive, and it's always among the first and last places I go when I visit this country.
A new baby Krishna light I got at the temple.

From there, I headed to the nearby Juhu beach, which is always crowded with locals and Indian tourists who bring their entire families and baskets full of food. Some people swim, some sit together on the beach, lovers stroll along the shore, and children run and play freely. I watched the sun set over the Arabian Sea, ate some Pav Bhaji, and when it was dark, headed to my old neighborhood of Khar Danda.
There, I visited my old friend Sachin the saloon-keeper, for it was time for my weekly shave. And then I visited my old neighbors, the DJ brothers Sachin and Pravin. They were not actually there, but their sister and father and uncle were there, and I hadn't seen their father since I've been back, so it was great to catch up with him. He's had a really rough year, losing his wife and a younger brother within a few months. (I told him I understood.) And now, his daughter Poonam must take care of the father and the two brothers, because they are a poor village family, and that's how it's done. I wish she had the freedom to leave, continue her education (she did finish college), find a husband of her own, but they are a traditional family, and with the mom gone, she feels it is her place to take care of her father. She's perfectly happy though, and thinks it's weird that American families don't stay together forever and are scattered around the country. Indian families stay together, she says, and who am I to say that's wrong. It seems like she's happy with the decision, and doesn't feel forced into it, although it's hard to tell because in some ways it's expected of her. But she says she would choose to do it, even if she did really have a choice, and she certainly seems happy.Not everyone has to become a big shot or become super-productive at business. There's something to be said for a quiet, simple life, too.
From there, I tried to take the bus home, but I must have missed my stop, because before I knew it, I was at the last stop, the Bandra railway station. No problem. I hopped in a rickshaw and headed home. My apartment is near a Bollywood film studio called Mehboob Studios, and it's a great landmark that all the drivers know. I locked up the gate, as I do each evening, and headed upstairs. All in all, a great day in the city.

Tonight's sunset at Juhu Beach:

07 February 2014

To Serve, With Love

I’ve previously mentioned my friend Sonali, whose assistance in finding housing has been invaluable, and with whom I’ve had some incredibly enlightening and uplifting conversations. She is the founder of the NGO Dreamcatchers, with which I worked when I came here 4 years ago, and have started working with again. Dreamcatchers works with people who have suffered deep traumas, from victims of the 2004 tsunami, to urban slum dwellers, to kids who have taken to the streets to escape from abuse at home. While there are many great organizations working on housing and feeding these people, Dreamcatchers’ mission is to attend to their spiritual and emotional health, to cultivate self-love and -respect and –empowerment, to begin the process of healing these deep wounds and generating a sense of wholeness in the individual. They have experienced such deep traumas that they can’t see themselves as worthy of anything good, and sink into meaninglessness and hopelessness. Using storytelling, music, art, quotes, poetry, images, movement, meditation, visualization, and group discussion, Dreamcatchers helps to create experiences which give people a renewed sense of themselves and their own inner power, which is, in some cases, the only thing that they can give again to themselves. We seek to integrate the various aspects of the individual which have been separated due to the trauma, and restore to them the sense of self and wholeness which has been shattered.
The 2004 tsunami, for example, destroyed the culture of many small fishing villages in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Dreamcatchers did intergenerational work with these villages, helping the children to reconnect with the elders so that village traditions could be restored and continued. By using storytelling and imagery, the older generation could relay the traditions in ways that were clearly communicated to the younger villages, and the kids of the village could share their fears and dreams about the future of the village. Together, the villages could unite in a common cause of rebuilding, with a shared vision of the future, and the youth were more responsive to the elders in the restoration of the past, while the elders were more flexible with the changes that the younger villagers dreamed of for the future.
In many other ways, Dreamcatchers works with traumatized children who have lost a sense of self, and allows them the space to express themselves, discharge some of the heat, and recognize the ways in which they do have inner strength, power, and creativity. We can’t always change the difficult external situations in which these kids find themselves, but perhaps we can change how the kids respond, by giving them internal emotional, cognitive, and spiritual skills so that they don’t lose themselves and they don’t come to expect the abuse, or think they deserve nothing more. We help them to catch their dreams and make them specific, whether through drawings or narratives, and hopefully we help them see their own unique talents. India is a culture where the individual can be made to feel insignificant in the group or family for reasons of gender or class, and lose themselves in favor of others who are seemingly more important. It always amazes me how high the suicide rate is here; women killing themselves because they can’t give their husbands children, or men because they can’t support their families. There are so many who live unseen, unrecognized, and when this starts in childhood, it is tragic. This is what Dreamcatchers addresses; giving these people a sense that they matter, and they deserve love and respect.
Yesterday we met with two women from Protsahan, a fabulous NGO that works with girls on the streets of Delhi. The founder quit her corporate job because she felt a calling (she said her father cried for a week, but now is quite proud), and her partner joined last year, after she awoke to her own childhood traumas and wanted to save other girls from the same fate. They are both in their upper 20’s, and Protsahan (which means encouragement in Hindi) is really starting to get attention for the great work they do. The founder used to make corporate training films, and now Protsahan enables their girls to make their own films on subjects like menstrual hygiene, the importance of education for girls (in this population, the boys go to school, but the girls aren’t generally sent), and issues related to physical and sexual abuse. The girls make the videos, show them to their friends, and not only do the filmmakers awake to their talents, the rest of the girls are inspired to find their own talents, and are more open to the content of the films because they come from their friends. Both women are great; the future of India. We had a fantastic discussion about the work; about scaling vertically rather than horizontally, in the sense that we want our programs to be flexible enough to reach each person in an authentic way, rather than just increase the number of people exposed superficially. We also talked about the parallel work of healing oneself and serving others, and that you don’t have to wait for any level of personal development to serve, because the service itself is part of your own path of healing and integration.

It was a miraculous evening of conversation, dreams, hope, and love. Changing the world, one heart at a time. I'm honored just to be involved. 

06 February 2014

India 2014

One week in, 23 to go.
In some ways, it feels like I never left. The streets, the chaos, the animals, the smells, the smiles are all the same. It has been an adjustment though. Jet lag has been harder than I thought it would be. I was walking around like a zombie for the first few days, falling out hard at 5 or 6 pm, waking up in the middle of the night, watching tv or reading until the city woke up a bit. And this city wakes up late. Many shops don't open until 11, and stay open until midnight or so. I was hungry at some inopportune moments, and not hungry when I should have been. It's getting better, though, and I think I'm almost there.
I just moved into my third hotel. The first one is where I always start out, very comfortable and in my old neighborhood, but expensive at $45 per night (that's my discounted rate from them, actually). Next was a similar place for a little less nearby.  Now I'm up in Juhu, a neighborhood a little to the north, famous for its beach, its giant Marriot hotel complex, and its large Krishna temple. I've never stayed here, and it's a little quieter and more peaceful, maybe because of the beach. It gives me whole new areas to wander around and explore. I'm staying at a hotel/ashram only for people visiting the temple, but my friend Sonali called them as a reference, so I'm in. And yes, I'll be visiting the temple two or three times a day, giving thanks for being here, and opening my heart.
This whole trip is about opening my heart. I just recently got divorced. This blog started as a record of the two of us, and the beginnings can be found in the first few entries. Heather and I are still close, but long-term partnership was not to be. So I'm back, to travel solo again, to meet other travelers on the road, and to remember myself. Who am I now? What do I want, where do I want to be, what will be my future of romantic relationships? Before I am truly open to being with another, I must patch some holes, heal some cuts and bruises, and turn on my lovelight for myself, for all beings. I am hopeful that I will find a new partner someday, but in order for it to work, I must find myself again first. And no, it's not that I'm all that lost, I just need a little time to integrate the past few years, so free up the future.
Meanwhile, I've been taking long walks and reconnecting with people. Saw my old friend Sachin the hair-saloon keeper. Got my first shave from him, and a haircut too. Getting shaved by an expert here with a straight razor is one of the pleasures of India, which I have written about before. Last time I came I brought him a wristwatch, and he was still wearing it. And there's my good friend Sonali, I can't say enough about here. She runs the NGO Dreamcatchers, for whom I volunteered in 2010, and I'll work wtih them again this time. Our conversations soar to the loftiest heights, wherein we remind each other of our deepest selves, and I value her insight immensely. I've also seen a few times the Rajput family, DJ brothers Pravin and Sachin, who were my neighbors in my old building. (Sachin Tendulkar is India's most beloved cricket player, recently retired, and so it is a popular name.) I even met a couple new people, one guy named Adam, although when he found out I was het, I think he lost interest. I met him by complimenting him on his tattoo, so I can understand the confusion. It's an awesome tattoo; a stylized om symbol made to look like a meditating person.
I'm so happy and thankful to be here, although there have certainly been times that I've wondered what the heck I'm doing. But let's call that Jetlag too, or the vicissitudes of India. It's all extremes here, internally as well as externally. Keeps things interesting, at least.
I'll stay here in Mumbai for a while, and at some point I'll hit the road. To follow my heart, that is the key.