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Journal 2008-09-02

Last day and a half in Rishikesh. Yesterday at the German Bakery I ordered a rice pudding, in search of the ultimate rice pudding. A mistake, since it had chewy fresh coconut bits, which apparantly aggravated a broken filling I have been having a bit of trouble with. Anyway I have to hope it doesn't get infected before my return. Problems with teeth was one of the things I feared before coming here and consequently had a check up before departure. But I could have predicted that something like this would crop up anyway. I think there is also another broken filling.

I will now be happy to return home. It could have been at least a week shorter, which was my original intention. Moral: go with intuition.

i had a masala dosa, curd and honey-ginger-lemon tea at a dhaba - possibly the same one I remember in Lakshman Jhula from years ago. The masala dhosa is good there, though I found a hair, and there are small cockroaches that crawl around the room - the same as I found on two occasions in my bedroom.

The meal seems to have passed uneventfully with regard to my broken filling. I tried to chew on the other side.

Afterwards I spent half an hour in the internet cafe - there was no new mail so I caught up on the news.

Then I made the trip back to my room, where I have been reading The Stone Woman. Tariq Ali's stories are by now fairly predictable, or at least familiar. Political insight, depth of emotion, tainted with a little sleaze.

Someone is spraying in the room next door - perhaps for cockroaches? Yesterday evening I saw a truly enormous bug, which also had wings. These are jungle creatures. Like the monkeys that cling to the bridges, nursing their young. These symians are so human in their ways. I think that western scientists would have come up with the theory or evolution much sooner if they had lived around monkeys. In the vedas, there is an evolutionary theory, though it isn't conceived exactly as in the west.

In the street, jeeps with loudspeakers keep passing, carrying the message of one political candidate or another. Earlier i saw a western woman with her fingers stuffed in her ears. I didn't see any Indian with a similar gesture, or even anyone express impatience, let alone anger, at the raucous sounds of the Indian street. They seem to accept everything as natural. I was thinking earlier that all the talk by western sympathizers for eastern spirituality, in which they speak of a union between western technoological and scientific know-how and eastern spirituality, seems to have been proved wrong by India, which, being steeped in its spiritual heritage, has now acquired western materialism. The mixture, to my eyes, is not a happy one. Motorcycles, cows, horses all encountering one another on a narrow street. The street itself made narrower by dhabas, dukans, juice stalls and the rest, with crowds of people in front of them. A hopeless mess.

The monsoon seems to have ended. Three sunny days in a row. The beaches on the eastern shore seemed to have less expansive channels and rivulets across them than before. Ferries have begun to transport passengers again, just south of Ram Jhula.

They travel across at a very odd angle, almost bearing straight into the current in order to cross at something like a straight course.

Are foreign countries always places where compatriots of one country or another come to find and mingle among themselves? Just as India is such a place for Israelis today, it was once so for the British. And there are similar places today where young Germans or Italians meet. No doubt there is something always special in such an encounter, something worthy of literature or film.

But as for me, this has been more of an encounter with myself. Such encounters are all right for a time, but then you wonder what if they remain permanent. Would it be bearable, or all that bad?

Of course I would feel more cheerful in my own space, with my books, music, my computers, around me. Being in a strange room gives no homely feeling. Perhaps there is an art in living in foreign rooms. You can bring along the things you need to make it feel like home. As for this trip, I wasn't sure that is what I wanted to do at all. I wanted to come into contact with myself, not bring along substitutes for home. Maybe it's foolish. Maybe you can meet yourself better, when you bring along something of the familiar. On future trips of this nature, I think I will want to keep my world intact, bring the items that help me be more like myself. Goodness, I didn't even have a camera.


Reading Thich Nhat Hanh makes me realize I have to soften my aspect, my expression, my approach. The clothes I wear, the words I speak and write, the thoughts I think. It costs me nothing. The opposite. What exactly am I trying to protect with this armour?

In the afternoon I went for a walk north. There is some sort of rich man's home or unmarked institution, set in a well-maintained garden. A sign of the gaping class division, perhaps. Then after the garden there is a path down to a lovely beach, with the grey sands of the Ganges. Nice places to sit and meditate. I should have discovered it earlier. And if I were a bit more serious about meditation, could have got up early each morning and spent an hour there. but I am not really serious at all, any more. I have optimal conditions, but don't use them wisely. I am not sure if I was ever great at meditation but lately I seem to have lost the magic. Or lost the illusion. Whatever. I don't have the necessary belief. At least not here, away from home. I have sa a little almost everyday. But nothing interesting happened.

I seem to believe in a quiet life, but not in meditation itself.

Exercise in appreciation

Living alone like this for a month actually makes me happy with what I have got at home, and in the village, and in Israel. A good stable job, a home, a wife and children, and people I can talk to, if not really friends. Maybe I complain too much. Instead of complaining, I should be working out how to make it better, how to make our lives more enjoyable and fulfilling. I should be investing creative energy, rather than stagnating. And I really should be making friends, instead of closing myself off to people. and closing myself off to the country. And I should be learning Arabic properly, a little each day, just as I began to learn Hindi. I am leaving too much aside, while simultaneously I develop strange areas of expertise that no one in my natural environment cares about, such as social networking sites (lately). I need to develop interests that are more useful. I also need to develop spiritually and academically, but not in such a way that it creates a distance between me and those around me.

Sannyasin ideal

I think that this is an urge that has finally departed from me. I have been developing a kind of culture of portability for years now, a feeling that I ought to be able to just pick up and go. But for a month I picked up and went, and what do I find? First that I don't feel like moving on once I'm here, and secondly that I don't feel sufficiently comfortable with what I have with me. So all this portablility didn't do me much good, eh? And also the myth that I could somehow feel at home in intternet cafes and have enough web applications to just settle down at any computer, proved to be false too. I didn't feel at home there. So actually I need a home around me, not a rucksack. Of course, what our stable lives do not sufficiently give us is the knowledge of how to set up home again, if this one is ever taken away from us. That's something that it would have been good to learn sooner rather than later. And also I personally am missing the challenge that many people have in reconstructing their social world. I haven't even managed very well with that the first time around. But all one ever really needs is faith, confidence, openness and generosity of spirit - in all things.