Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mcleodganj and Dharamshala

The weather was wonderful. It rained a little, but there had been an IPL match in Dharamshala which I did not know about...I tend to skip sports news, which now run to three pages in daily newspapers, and its usually about money and potato chips. I always feel a little anxious when I go to hill towns and find that the people have no fruit to eat, and potato chips are the mandate of the day. The nationstate promotes potato cultivation because it is good commerce: they sell it to the multinational chips companies.  Fruit ofcourse reaches our towns and is pulped for urban dwellers.Fruit was wholly absent in Dharmshala, (some anaemic looking safedas sat in baskets, but no plums or apricots!) but I did manage to buy an excellent bottle of apricot preserve made by the Tibetan women's cooperative. The other aspect of the match was that there were immense traffic jams as the tourists just blocked up the little town with metal.
Dalai Lama's monastery is peaceful and overlooks lovely peaks of snow covered mountains. He is such a holy man he does not notice the drabness of the PWD architecture of the buildings... I was quite startled at how governmental it looked, that famous yellow paint, the cement and the stairs and the terraces really like those government schools we remember from the 1960s. The peace is palpable, like a steady heartbeat, and the monks go about busily with their work, and the pilgrims and tourists find what they are looking for. Outside the monastery two women sell momos to the hungry and the local hill men put out their wares of green leaf vegetables (Chinese spinach) of which there is a great deal of demand in the small eateries. The Tibetan jewellery is exquisite and there are lots of stalls, not competing, but communicating that a craft does not die when it has merchants and buyers. Ofcourse the merchants are the makers of these lovely things, (men and women beading and polishing as they wait) the colours of pearl and lapis and turquoise and amber gleam in the bright hot sun. When the rain is gone, the light is very clear, and the snow glints far away.
The temple of BhagsuNag is on the other hill. Aeons ago, a king called Bhagsu lived in Rajasthan. His people told him they were leaving his villages because they did not have water, and he was always lost in meditation so had never noticed.  He then travelled to the himalayas, and meditating all the while, filled his container with an entire lake. However on his return he fell asleep, near a Shiva temple. The King of snakes bit him,  killing him, and the water he was carrying toppled, and so emerged the waterfall one can still see today.
I went to the little church, where Lord Elgin of the Elgin marbles lies buried, courtesy of his loving wife, who left an epitaph saying her husband Bruce still speaks. There were lilies all around and a peaceful cemetry with other now forgotten and once loved humans marked by stones with words about their character. Unmarked graves are the best, because they allow the earth to rejuvenate.
Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, both gifted  and celebrated film makers were wonderful to spend time with, and the nunnery where I stayed, adjacent to their house had the most magical views and gardens. The nuns live quietly, doing their tasks with great and amazing joy...studying, debating, farming, dairying and supporting the crafts of their people.
When I returned to Delhi, the dust haze was incredible, and everything outside of the city was clothed in greyness: the sky, the cemented houses, the lack of trees in the border areas including Majnu Ka Tila (where the diaspora Tibetans live) were so desolate it shocked me. I saw a dead man in leafy New Delhi who had died from hunger and the heat. I crossed the privileged green bowers of MPs Quarters and then on to our own protected little planet of JNU where the laburnums were out, the research students moving around with dissertation deadlines, and then I was home again, ready to read Paolo Freire, where the intellegentsia of the people always recover and win.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

College friends

Just back in touch with a friend from college, who was a year older than me and we shared the same birthday. The odd thing about the BA is that it is completely fabulous, and Delhi University is particularly so, because of its proximity to the ridge and to Kamla Nagar which had bookshops and eating joints galore. When I studied there in the 70s, there was no road connecting Model Town to Filmistan, so we were saved from the onslaught of trafffic,  while walking to college,but yes,  thirty years ago,we had to walk two kms into the university. At seventeen you never think of this as a challenge. My friends and I would just enjoy the trees, and the rose garden, particularly in winter, and we sang a lot of songs walking arm in arm.  Those singers are still around  - Jethro Tull and Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan, but elderly like us!
My  three daughters, all who have done their B.A in Delhi University have  had startlingly similar  undergrad lives, and  it is always nostalgia that drives me to say, "But we did that thopa at the Tibetan Monastery." Our farewell for one of our teachers at Miranda House was infact at the Tibetan monastery and after our lunch three sets of B.A students,  the first, second and third year students, went in to light incense sticks at the Monastery sanctum. One of the Miranda House women from another batch went on to make a film on the Dalai Lama and those who follow his path in Tibetan Buddhism. I am talking of Ritu Sarin, who with her husband made an absolutely delightful film on the relevance of memories and the question of return to Tibet. I hope to see her at Mcleodganj this weekend, since she lives there with her family, when I visit with my old college friend Annie.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Summer in JNU

Its hot, and the mangoes are really disappointing this year, kind of pallid, or artificially ripened. Rain on and off is very cooling, but it affects the mangoes. The water melons are excellent though, and we are lucky to be able to afford them. The cuckoo is out early every morning, and so are our three kittens, who drive every one mad with their antics but still very adorable. We are going to block the two windows from which they come in and out, and then they will have to learn to evade the dogs and climb trees, and catch rats and birds like the other cats do. There is no point trying to domesticate them, they are wild Indian jungle cats, quite willful, and terribly intelligent. Their mother came with the house, she ambles in and out, and twice a year she literally litters. The father cat is a sweet fellow, who doesn't have much to do with all of it, except to greet his wife when she permits him. At  the moment, she is completely preoccupied with the kittens,  and since yesterday, she takes them out hunting at night. The dogs lurk about, and if they could they would kill them all, but the mother cat she is like a warrior with shining eyes who hurtles in their path, and they have to back and flee because there is something just terrifying about her when she explodes with rage that they are prowling around her territory. The most fearful enemy is the  large yellow tom cat, who last year leaped over all of us, and pierced the jugular vein of each of the three kittens born last year. That was the most tragic moment one can imagine, in a second, all the three kittens were dead. So this year, I hope the new trio will survive, little balls of fur each with a nature completely it's own. How lovely the world is in it's innocence and birth of new things.