Category Archives: India

Kotumachagi and a storm that changes lives….

It’s been a long day – lots of driving over rough roads – Sikandar’s lawyer friend Nadaf came with us and sat and chatted in the front with Sikandar.

That left me in the quiet of my own space, sitting in the back seat, taking occasional pics out the window and enjoying the passing parade between fields and villages.

Finally about 2.30 we stopped for food at a nondescript looking place that had a table out under a neem tree where the motor bikes parked. It was cool there and the food was excellent!! an amazing lunch.

And then we arrived at Sikandar’s village. We are sitting up in the roof. There are two rooms here one even has a mattress in the bed. I have claimed that one for tonight!! It’s not usually used and in sort of in a store room of farm stuff.
This is a small farming village and right behind the house is a Hindu temple and two doors down is the mosque. So the call to prayer is pretty loud here!
The village sounds now are good. Very few vehicles the occasional motor bike. But all the houses are close together so there is a lot of people noise.
Chit chatting laughing kids noise, people walking past. Oh a tractor just started up. I am sitting on a plastic chair with my feet up on the wall. Sikandar is in his village clothes. A lungi and a t shirt that I bought him in Greece last year proclaiming ‘Athens’ on it with a Greek pattern. He is sitting on the wall chatting to a friend. No clue what they are talking about so it is just quiet noise to me.

The family goat is tied by the front door and is ‘meahing’.. maybe she is a bit hungry?
There is thunder In the distance and a bit of a storm hanging around but no rain here yet. Nice cool breeze though. Guess we will eat something in an hour or so. Hoping for an early night.

And then the rains came. I retreated from the rooftop as the first big drops splattered around me, into the small room built for guests – where Sikandar was to sleep. I took my plastic chair with me – Sikandar also entered with a friend, they talked quietly for some time but the rain began beating on the metal roof with louder and louder insistence.

A storm, lightning, huge thunder and incessant rain – so heavy .. I read my book for some time then suddenly the power went off.  As I sat there listening to the downpour, the fury of the weather beating all around me, I thought of the farms we had driven through all afternoon. Of the farmers there ploughing and putting in their seeds and some of them harvesting the early corn and other small crops.. and of Sikandar’s father coming home on his tractor in the afternoon.. he had been seeding – channa – chick peas and wheat.  What of those seeds now?  Where were they? Washed away.. washed out?  What of the coming crop – those tiny seedlings that were poking their heads through – washed away?  What of the fertiliser at Rps1500 a bag.. a precious 1500 when you don’t have much – also washed away?

A storm like this is not just a rain storm here .. it is a shift in the balance of economy in just a couple of hours, meaning the difference between a good year and a bad.. a hungry year and a bounteous year.

As I felt the full force of this storm the rain also came to my eyes.. I allowed myself to feel what each farming family in this village must be feeling .. the devastation of the rain. Yes certainly rain is needed,  but at this time – too late in the season of the monsoon to have a downpour like this.. the farmers confused in their normal timing of sowing and seeding.. not knowing when to start – when to wait.. the pattern is so changed.

Nature in her natural cycles – should be feeling the downturn of the rains now – what used to be  left of the monsoons more gentle, easily absorbed by the land – nurturing to the crops .. not belting down and tearing through the land like a ravaging flood.

But finally it begins to abate.. and it is time to go downstairs to the main living area of the house.. I try to huddle into the back of Sikandar struggling to shelter under a very inadequate umbrella as we go down the steps.. getting my back soaked anyway.

And into the house, where the small goat now nestles in the corner, lucky she is out of the rain .. and Sikandar’s mother and father move around the house, mopping up the flood that has entered through the cracks in the windows.. concerned lest the sacks of grains stored there are wet, shifting them into the middle of the room out of the way of the water streams.. most are safe with only a couple of jute bags with wet patches on the bottom.

and finally dinner..

We sit on the mat .. a plastic version of the older style straw mats.. and his mother brings food.. delicious food she has cooked in the light of a small candle.. two types of vegetables, channa with a green tastiness, and a green veg .. also delicious .. some fried green chillis with salt, chappati, pickle, the taste of home cooked farm food, so good. How did she manifest this feast over the tiny stove in the kitchen – in the almost darkness of the power outage?

We eat and I retreat back up stairs to read and sleep fortunate to find the window by my bed had held the rain back – keeping my bed relatively dry. Then to wake a little disorientated having been dreaming ‘Australia” and finding myself here in this room in an Indian village so far from the pictures of my native home.

And I think on the world and the weather chaos that is happening all over.. the hurricanes and floods and major disasters – and I realise that here too a disaster has just occurred – but who will hear of it? Who will know the hardship that will result in this village from the downpour of last night? The loss of the crops – the shortage of food in the future.. the confusion of the not knowing any more how to trust the patterns of the seasons.

These are the silent places – not shouted out like major events – but disasters just the same… the weather is changing – there is no denying it – ask the farmers in Kotumachagi – they know.  They need no scientist to tell them the statistics.. they overnight have become a statistic.

Embarrassed, shy? Get over it and smile.

I wake early on Saturday morning – its relatively quiet yet.. kids doing sport yelling deep in the background – birds – the occasional rickshaw sputtering. The sound of the mop and bucket cleaning the tiles downstairs. The metallic clatter of the dishes being cleaned has not yet begun – she comes a little later these days.

I have resumed my morning meditation but I am far from quiet.  My head wanders all over the place on inconsequential meanders.  Right now in this first couple of days back in India  I am feeling self-conscious – here safe in my room but at anytime I emerge, I am again shy, a little nervous. Aware of my ‘foreignness’ and my strange status as an older foreign female wandering around on my own.

Women tend to move in packs.  Not always true but in the male dominated ‘hotels’ (restaurants) there may be only one or two women with their husbands- or perhaps a table of 4-5 women together. At the hotel where I come to eat my evening meal,  no-one is alone like me. No-one foreign – just me. ‘ Is it okay?’ I ask myself constantly – always eyes are on me.

I am embarrassed – I don’t know what is available in the hotel – there is no menu – just what I see around me.  The man opposite me is finishing his ‘thali’.  I don’t want that.  There is pau baji – white soft bread rolls slightly sweet with a tomato based spicy sauce – also not tonight – but perhaps they serve dosa – so I ask for that.  ‘Masala dosa?’ the waiter says.. yes – that’s it.. relief….I have ordered.

The man opposite orders something – it comes – a sort of frothy lemon drink.  It seems cold with ice.. he appears hesitant but then begins to drink.  I catch his eye and ask: ‘Nice?’ he nods.  End of communication.  He leaves it half finished on the table and gets up to leave.  No recognition or nod to acknowledge his going.

My dosa comes just as I am trying to sneak a pic of the male dominated room.. my pic is blurred and full of waiter’s stomach.

But the dosa is great!!  I would like a lassi – but not many hotels serve these in this area. I don’t see them being given.  Only chai and it is too late for that. I am not ready for a sleepless chai fuelled evening.  So I let the thought of it go and signal for the bill.

That is easy in any language. 32 rupees – about 60 cents. It was a delicious dosa.  I wash my eating hand with the cup of water into the dish in front of me as is perfectly acceptable here.  I fish for my money, pay and move out to the street with some relief.

Next a little shopping.  Breakfast pre-purchased tonight – curd (yoghurt) and banana – easy.  The street is busy, cars, rickshaws, motor bikes – walking on the side with the traffic coming behind me – the Indian way – I reach a tiny hole in the wall shop.  There are 4- 5 people standing outside at the narrow counter.  And the lady inside recognises me – there is welcome in her eyes – we smile together and I ask for curd – doh pakit – 26 rupees and panch banana. Oh, mistake – I wanted 4 and I asked for 5! but I get them and pay and we are both happy.

I will go there again for the friendly face.

Why am I so nervous when really in the face of all these daily small challenges, the most important thing I need to remember is that I am the stranger.  It is up to me to find my smile, to jump over my shyness, my embarrassment at who I am, my awkwardness with my language barrier.

Smile Shazar – practice every day, every moment to catch the eye of the person next to you and smile for who are they but another one of you.

Don’t drink the water – on your first day back!

Being sick in a different land has its own challenges.  A wretched persistent UTI coupled with a dose of Hubli well water runs.. mmm.

Sometimes I am glad of the medical world.  Despite my gung ho attitude about all things pharmaceutical at most times.  Tonight after a day of being pretty much flat on my bed, Umesh – our young accountant from SRDS (where I am working) organised a trip to the Dr for me.  First, he took a token – Number 30 – at the doctor’s clinic around the corner.  The one who’s office waiting room is always overflowing.  An hour later he went back to see how things were progressing. There had been no progress and the Doctor, in fact, had not arrived as yet.  The crowd was even greater than usual.  “Come back at 9,” they said (it was 6.30) so he traipsed to 4 other clinics in the area – all were either not there or similarly packed.

“Ah but let’s try Dr Nayan the lady doctor.”

We hopped on the bike – me a little gingerly – tucking my long Indian style overshirt up so as not to get caught in the wheels and set off in search of this highly recommended lady doctor.

The waiting room was lit by a bright light – two rows of plastic chairs facing each other.  A drug company calendar on the wall, a big notice pinned to the door warning of the dangers of breast cancer.  And a small tasteful drawing of a lady holding a baby gently – with a sign which said “Save The Girl Child”.

After some time the door opened and a pretty woman in a bright sari – Ashwini – ushered me into the Doctor’s office.

Dr Nayan was a gem.  An older lady who had been practicing in that tiny clinic for 32 years.  She questioned me with interest about my purpose here – congratulated me on doing the work ‘at my age’  and gave me a thorough examination on her narrow bench.

Toward the end her husband arrived – (a Pediatric Doctor) we were duly introduced and he expressed great interest in our work of rainwater harvesting.  I should have given him a card – sometimes we forget simple connections like that.

Duly laden with pills and potions in a nice enviro bag I paid Dr Nayan the huge sum of
Rs 410 – less than $10 for a consultation that I was entirely satisfied with.  She has made a fan.  I know where I shall go if I need a doctor another time.

We rode back home – bananas and curd (yogurt) for dinner followed by my first dose of pills.

Work fast please – I have work to do.  And yes right now it is time to rest.

(Update two days later.. better.. rested.. ready for work tomorrow.)

Remembering Connection

The tears come – spring into my eyes .. and will not stop. I know if I let go the flood gates will open – so I breathe into it – the opening is there unbidden but rushing in. Gifted to me with no volition of my own. Simply being here – being for a moment still – and existence rushes in .. the flowers shower and the gifts of the connection of souls allow me to feel myself – to remember that which I have forgotten.

The music transports me .. I am alone – separate and yet it is the sharing of the space and the melting of the souls and hearts together that allows me to break open and feel the space of our wonderful Universe.

How interesting it is that my busy life takes me so far from this space and yet just a hint, just a moment of recognition and I fall back into that place deeper than ever before.
It is a kirtan event – singing of repetitive odes of joy to existence and the energy of the Gods – a birthday party for a friend – a gathering of beings together to celebrate and sing and dance. The voices rise and fall together, the harmonies intertwining and the drum carrying the beat. The chants beginning slowly – measured and considered – and then as the voices of all join, the tempo lifts and reaches into the place of joy and the abandon that comes when the Divine is invited in.

It is completely unexpected – my immediate response – that allows me to fall into a place of purity and depth of existence. As is said on the Desiderata that hangs on our wall… “In the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”

It had been a difficult week, I had seen too much of the bad news of the world – been caught in the snare of the media hype and taken on some shadow of what ifs?…
Here in the music, suddenly I am lifted out of the place of fear and anxiety into another reality – here is the parallel – here is the place of joy and of bliss and of interconnectedness… the place where I know.. all is well.. despite any of the turmoil and chaos that is around me – the political garbage, the stress of our lives – the pain and the suffering .. this too exists .. this too is real, this too is…..

And as I now stand and allow the music and the singing to transport me, and lift my arms to the heavens to feel the infinite joy of the energy of beingness, I come home to myself.
So many realisations – just out of reach of expression are falling in to me, along with the sensation that I am being showered with the blossoms of existence. My imminent departure to India.. back to the land of Kali and Krishna, and Gopal and all the gods of that infinitely colourful land. My knowingness that I go to India for me – that it is my time – my place – simply to open up and allow India to wash over me and transform as it will. Not to ‘help’but simply to be.. to allow what comes to me to be done and allow what is to be .. I have known this before that my work in India is for myself – but once again that sense comes home to me in full force.

It would seem that the leaving of Australia and all that is here for me is a challenge.. can be difficult … can be something that is done for altruistic reasons.. and if done in that vein then the struggle will be there. But if the realisation is as it truly is, that the return to India is completely and utterly my choice and for my own evolution then all suffering has to fall beside the path – has to be seen for what it is .. simply self indulgence of a ridiculous nature.
And in that I see too that it is time not to be hard on myself.. that when I do fall by the wayside into the ‘self indulgence’ that this too is part of my journey, intertwined in the learning of the whole. Is it learning? Or is it simply letting go? The questions that arise as the insights come – such a simple thing .. this kirtan, this chant, this space inside myself – to open the place for the unfolding to be.

Thank you to the kirtan – thank you to the community that has brought me to this place. Thank you to David who spoke at the outset of the ceremony of our aboriginal roots. As he was speaking of the welcome to country, as he began the afternoon’s blessing of music and dance, he spoke to those of us who were born here and absorbed the land through the minerals and the air and the dirt of country.. so that we too though white skinned simply need to remember who we really are..
Thats when the tears began to fall .. as the connection was made to my roots .. those roots that are to be transported again to India.. to connect again with my roots in that ancient land.. from one ancient land to another.
Where will this journey lead me? I know not. But I do know that it is right – and on the path that opens before me – revealed as my steps lead me on, I am cared for and nurtured and .. as I go….I do not go alone – I am forever guided on the way – for my existence is an extension of those who surround me and cheer me on as I go forward on this great adventure called life.

Contributing to the Community

I saw a doco about a man who paints on walls.. he painted in Vanuatu and there he contributed to the community. He painted a wall in a very obscure place – far from the tourist walks. He paints big walls in big cities, but this small contribution warmed his heart and here he understood the value of small.

I know a lady her name is Barb – she lives in South Freo.. she is the Queen of her street and she contributes to her community. She welcomes all the newcomers and corrects the spelling on the street signs. She makes a difference.

Sometimes we think we have to do great things – but in fact it is the ‘small things’ that add up to all the community faces joined together in a kaleidoscope of connection.
The street gardens, the soup kitchens, the one who simply refuses the plastic bag and so awakens the check out person to the possibility of a sustainable land. Making a difference.

People say to me.. ‘Oh you are so amazing.. you give up so much to go to India to do your work there.’ And me.. I shrug my shoulders and I am grateful that I am recognised for what I do.. for if I was not .. I would be not telling the truth.. but I know that what I do is no more than what you also do in your own way as you walk in beauty in this world.

For this is what the game is.. what the aim is ..
what the purpose is..
simply to walk in beauty as we do our daily life.

So India.. what is that about for me?
How can I tell you the joys it brings, the difficulty it is to be there sometimes, the special moments – the smile of the old lady where I buy my evening banana – the stares of those who wonder what on earth this old lady is doing in their land.

I often ask myself:  “What am I doing here?”
And the answer is that here is my heart. A split heart I have. One heart – part of it… is embedded deep in my family and my lover and my friends in Fremantle Australia.. but the other part .. somehow an older part – is in India.

I board the plane – leaving from Perth – stop over usually in Kuala Lumpur.. not there yet.. but when the next flight comes – and we are heading to Bangalore – at least half of the passengers are Indian.. and suddenly I am feeling almost home. Home to this place where I don’t even speak the language.. home to this place where I need to change my dress entirely to fit – home to this place – this place of simplicity and complexity and a culture far from my own.

Touch down.. I am back – the smells wash over me, the sound, the chaos, and the knowing that I am home. I haggle with the taxi driver, and I get ripped off anyway because that is par for the course on your first night in India. Ah the over night hotel… fortunately I know this one and it is reasonably clean.. I sleep – I wake to Indian breakfast – spicy dosa and milky tea. And the journey begins.

I will spend the day with my friend in Bangalore -she will feed me delicious food, thinking as she does I must be half starved after being away from proper Indian food for so long.. and tonight board the overnight bus to Hubli.. my place of choice. A dusty and noisy three tier town as they call it.. meaning simply .. ‘not too developed!’ Here are the ‘boys’ I work with .. a very male oriented office.. the NGO .. not for profit – working with farmers .. helping them harvest rainwater to ensure they can remain on their land for another season provided there is some monsoonal rains this year.

It is uncertain times – those who talk of global warming being a myth do not live in rural India. There is no question of it here. Where changing weather patterns are bringing disaster to families – to whole villages left without any water to drink in the long hot dry season. Creating a migration equivalent to those of war torn lands.. a migration to the city in search of elusive jobs.

But that is another story – and yes it is the story I follow with my work – but the day to day of my life in Hubli is that of connection with the young men who are dedicated to this work. The work of the water.

We joke, we laugh, we chatter and we drink chai and in between we write budgets and discuss heatedly how things should or could be done. I try to step back out of my bossy western ways and listen and fit my thoughts together with those of the Indian way.

Sometimes it works, sometimes I help, sometimes the western way tempered with some patience – adds some value and sometimes I have to step right back and re- look at the way I am .. at my impatience and sense of ego! For sometimes that is really what it is.. “I am the one who is working here.. I am the one who can focus and get things done.. you lot simply mess around and don’t really know what you are doing .. and read the paper and talk endlessly on the phone.. but I am the one who is working” … ha ha ha ha…

Yes Shazar .. and they are the ones who started all this.. who know because they are the ones who lived in the village .. who understand what it is to have no water.. who know how it is to be unable to send their children to school for lack of the money for a notebook and pencil. They are the ones who understand the value of community ..
not you..

You who come from the land of more is better – the land where often people will walk past you on the street with their noses down – not a glance for the ‘stranger’. And so once again I step back into my ‘box’ breathe – and thank the forces who have brought me to this land again – for I have been here many lives – but this life it is the time to learn again what is humility – what is gratitude, what is giving, what is true generosity, for this is what India has to share with me.

And finally to understand the value of the small things that are scattered throughout the day stitching this life together to make a difference.