Posts tagged "India":
I spent most of the day working on the Israeli Thich Nhat Hanh sangha site, mindfulness-israel.org. It's completely voluntary but I enjoy it and it feels useful. This is a Wordpress site with the flexible Weaver theme, which sometimes frustrates me, but it is at least malleable, unlike many WP themes.
In between, I've been reading "Eight Mountains", which grows more interesting with every chapter. A sensitive writer with a good story to tell.
Al-Jazeera carries an item, in both print and audio, by Arundhati Roy: India is becoming a Hindu-fascist enterprise. Unfortunately I agree with her assessment. India, unlike some other troubled nations, is one that love and care about. I can't say why, or really what that means. Maybe it means nothing? However that may be, it is possible that I will never go there again. At least not while Modi and the BJP are in power, despite the temptation to do so. Not going there will, in fact, be a painful decision.
Israel is a shocking place too. It has an appalling human rights record, and the entire country is constructed upon an ongoing historical iniquity. On the other hand, it's the place where I live and for now I have little choice in the matter.
Nations, in terms of their governments, their politics, their actions and group identities, are almost universally repugnant. Some more than others. Ever since I lived there, I felt a distaste for the US, which has gradually grown over the years. And, particularly since Brexit, I feel anguished about the country of my birth and citizenship, the UK.
Of course, countries are more than their repugnant aspects. There is much to love about the culture of the US, the UK and elsewhere. The current or recent attempts to boycott Russian culture, such as music performances, are quite riduculous.
I will continue to love India; it's part of who I am. But it looks increasingly less likely that I will return there.
There are many instances of people loving a country in exile. Usually, it's their homeland, and the exile is either voluntary or forced.
There are no doubt similar instances of people loving a country but being unable to visit it. Usually, because they wouldn't be allowed in or can't afford to go there.
If we care nothing for a country and feel indifferent to its governance, politics or other forms of national expression, visiting it or otherwise matters little.
It's when we do care that it becomes a problem.
Still enjoying Fort Kochi, a town that is inherently interesting and enjoyable. Perhaps too many tourists, though thanks to them there are so many guest houses, restaurants and cafes. You can’t have it all ways. But the kind of tourists seems to be wealthier and older than in most places in India, which influences somewhat the prices. There are still enough backpackers to ensure that there are also cheaper places to stay and eat. Prices go as low as 250 Rupees or less for accommodation in dormitories. I would not stay in such places. I have a pleasant, though non-A/C room with attached bathroom. It’s clean and in a good location, close to the main tourist area, but on a quiet street.
I’m having trouble sleeping at nights due to the heat. I sleep best in the early morning. Then I wake up refreshed as if I’ve had a full night’s sleep. It’s true that I often have naps in the daytime. It’s always been a puzzle to me why hot weather makes it impossible to sleep at night but is conducive to sleep in the daytime.
When they are open, I have breakfast at the vegan dhaba – just about the same breakfast I have at home: granola (actually muesli) with chopped fruits and coconut milk, together with a cup of coffee. The fruits usually consist of pineapple, papaya, pomegranate and maybe apple. I refill my water bottle there too.
I have lunch in mid afternoon in any one of various restaurants, then have a snack in the evening – a chaat, a sandwich or a dahi puri or something.
In the afternoon to early evening I walk on the promenade by the beach and sometimes sit on the rocks. There’s always a pleasant breeze blowing from the sea. There are cultural activities, but these are of the kind specifically for tourists.
I’ve enjoyed taking many photos, just with my mobile camera, while here.
There’s a nice little vegan dhaba around the corner that’s run by two Japanese women. Yesterday I arrived just a little early for lunch and so had to eat there a second breakfast; a kind of muesli that was was more like a bowl of smoothie. There I got talking to a young English guy called Joseph who was in India for the first time. He’d just been writing his diary. I was telling him about the many Malayalis who come to Israel and the Gulf countries. He’d read an article about the mistreatment of foreign workers in Dubai, and said that after reading it he’d decided to cross Dubai off his list of destinations. I said that if I started like that I would need to cross off Israel, where I live, and India, which I often visit, and there would be no end to it. He hadn’t heard a thing about the latest political developments in India and said that he’d stopped watching the news.
I had a better meal there today; a miso soup and plate of mixed vegies and beans; good and worth the money. The place is frequented by foreigners, as far as I can see. A young Indian man stopped by on his bike and asked for some juice – maybe papaya? The woman told him they didn’t have any. So he asked for a smoothie, and she also said she didn’t have any. So, a little flustered, he walked out. I wonder if my understanding of the situation was correct? If so, it may be that she had weighed him up in a certain way. He hadn’t sat down to read a menu, as other people would, but walked right up to the counter. Maybe she decided that he was really there because he’d seen a pretty foreign girl seated in front. Probably her reaction was based on some previous experience.
Yesterday I was seated at a juice bar, Kochi Walla, just next to the field where all the young guys play informal cricket games, all day long. Five guys were seated there, as usual, chatting away the evening. Their motor scooters were parked out in front. A man walked by wearing an immaculate white vesti and kameez. All the young guys politely got on their feet and greetings were exchanged. I decided this must be a local politician – someone they all evidently knew and felt required to show respect to. Next door there are a couple of small municipal buildings; one called the “village office”, which is a bit strange, for a city, and another which seems to house an anti-drugs program, as there lots of scary murals about the damage caused by drugs, on the surrounding wall.
I arrived on Monday morning in Kochi, a direct flight on Arkia. The plane was full of middle-aged to elderly Israeli tourists, many of whom appeared to be part of organized tour groups. A few young people; two or three Malayalis returning home. But it was an easy flight. Arkia, unlike what seems to have been the arrangement a few months ago, took a route that skirted Saudia Arabia, heading down the Red Sea as far as Djibouti, then turning east. So it was longer than in could have been. But since it was a night flight, it didn’t make any difference. While on the plane and waiting for departure, I booked a room in a guest house. Although this wasn’t necessary, I think it makes a better impression with the immigration people if one has an address to give upon arrival. The room wasn’t great; full of mosquitoes, and cockroaches emerging from the bathroom grate at night. By the second day I found something more suitable, though still inexpensive.
In Fort Kochi this is at about the end of the tourist season. Southern India is beginning to heat up. I was once here in August, during the monsoon time, and it was more pleasant. But early morning and from about 4 PM the temperatures are fine. Today, I went out at lunch time, intending to visit the nearby Indo-Portuguese museum, but finding it closed, took a longer walk, shaded by my umbrella. The latter I bought in Kumily last year, but it was made in Aleppy, not far from here. As Dorab says, in India it’s always a good idea to carry an umbrella, because it is good against both the rain and the sun. And Indian umbrellas usually have a silver underlining against the rays of the sun.
I walked along the road that goes down by the ferry port, hoping to find a small cafe I had remembered from my earlier visit, but it seems to have gone. I found another, the Los Angeles cafe, which, despite its name, was very nice. I had a vegetable thali (supposedly a complete meal tray) and a glass of lemon iced tea. It was a tourist style variation on a thali, really – with papad, pickle, sabji and a whole grain, but quite good and nourishing. Here in Kochi the main speciality is fish and shellfish, but these are off the menu for me. It’s quite easy to be a vegetarian and now even a vegan however. Trying to be completely vegan is something I have not bothered with much in India. But here, besides the traditional vegan options, many restaurants offer more eclectic vegan portions and desserts. And I’ve discovered two entirely vegan restaurants so far.
Along the road by the ferry, there are many old homes with courtyards overlooking the sea, or rather the inlet between the mainland and the island. I snapped a couple of photos of these along the way home, as well as some of the graffiti on the walls siding the streets.
The Guardian today has one of its Long Read articles about India, “How Hindu Supremacists are tearing India apart”, which seems to give a good account of the troubling slide in secularism that worries everyone not subscribing to the ideology of the BJP. But so many quite ordinary people do. Just as in Israel, in the UK, in Italy, the US, and so many other places, inquiring into the views of one’s neighbors can be very disappointing. As the article points out, the danger in India, may be still greater than these other places, given the country’s existing propensities for civil unrest and its shaky union between so many disparate cultures, languages, religions, castes and ethnicities. The Muslim minority in India constitutes 180 million people.
While here I have been reading some of the writings of Paul Bowles, who I only recently discovered. “The Sheltering Sky”, his writings on travel, and now “The Spider’s House”. He’s an intriguing writer, with a fascinating life story. He was acquainted with some of the significant writers, musicians and artists of the 20th century. It was Gertrude Stein who persuaded him to go live in Tangiers, where he settled and lived for decades. I read a little of his travels here in Kerala today. What a different style of travel from today! He carried with him eighteen suitcases. He describes how at a border check between two Indian states, the customs officers were concerned that he was planning to sell clothing. “Why would I want to sell my clothes?” he asked them.
I think that the kind of travel writing that he describes has completely gone by the wayside today, and perhaps some people would say, good riddance. Especially that of white people discovering Africa and India. Amitav Ghosh’s book, “In an Antique Land”, was perhaps more interesting; a post-colonial traveler whom the “natives” (Egyptian villagers) saw as coming from a still more backward place (India). But that book too was published almost thirty years ago.
Bowles is a sensitive traveler. His novels are very well written, and obviously distance themselves from the views of their sometimes racist protagonists. To what extent, Bowles’ own views might be out of date, I’m not sure yet. Certainly, all writers are a product of their times; and earlier times usually equates to less enlightened than our own (though sometimes we’re proved wrong about that). But amusingly, it’s much easier to pick out the imperfections of earlier times, and much harder to notice the flaws in the mannerisms and ways of thinking of our own times. I’ve lived long enough to know that much.
I’m in Auroville for a few final days before returning to Israel/Palestine. I’ve been coming here for several years now, though usually for a much longer period. This year I decided to spend the majority of my time in Tiruvannamalai.
Auroville is the utopian dream-child of Mira Alfassa, an alternative international township based on the ideas of human evolution by Aurobindo Ghose. Today around 2500 people live here from all around the world, and the community continues to grow. Last year it had its 50th anniversary.
It’s a beautiful and inspiring place, though not everyone’s cup of tea. Sometimes I fantasize about living here though I was thinking today that it has rather too many rules – it’s something that Aurovillians themselves sometimes say – rules of entry, rules of conduct, whatever. Otherwise it probably would not preserve its distinct character. I always think that its truly a miracle that the place continues to exist at all.
Auroville may declare itself an international township, and have a kind of unique status, but it must still abide by the laws of India. So, in addition to Auroville’s own painstakingly formulated rules, are the limitations placed on it, and on those who wish to reside here, by the Indian government, with its ever-changing visa immigration laws. On the one hand these are generous, yet on the other restrictive. The number of questions that I was asked in Chennai airport this time made me think that I would not return again to this country. If they wish to ask questions, let them do so before granting the visa, not at the port of arrival, please. I hear of multiple cases in which people are actually turned away at the border or sent back home.
The journalist Robert Fisk once convincingly compared visas to a disease. Of course, that’s just a statement of a privileged white man. I haven’t let border controls deter me from traveling places till now, but I think I’m finally growing weary of them, as well as the accompanying invasion of privacy.
Meanwhile in Pondicherry it was only 37 today. I took the moped there from Auroville in the morning to have a new pair of glasses made. I had my current pair made there too, 3 years ago. Eye tests seem to be growing more sophisticated all the time.
Running around Pondy on my moped, I discovered a nice book shop, where I bought Amitav Ghosh’s new novel “Gun Island” and two books by Michael Ondaatje. Gun Island is Ghosh’s first novel after his non-fiction book “The Great Derangement” – which was the one I was actually looking for. There he addresses the failure of artists and writers properly to address the Climate Emergency – he says that future generations will be mystified by its absence in the literature of our times. So “Gun Island”, according to reviews, does weave the Climate Emergency into its plot.
Afterwards I had a nice pasta and pineapple juice in an Italian-style restaurant where I was the only customer, and then stopped in at the Ashram to pay my respects to Sri Aurobindo and ‘the Mother’. On the way back, feeling desperate again for something cold, I stopped at Marc’s Cafe in Kuilapalayam, and had some amazing nitro cold-drip coffee, served in a wine glass. Really better than beer. The coffee is grown locally in the Western Ghats and roasted in Auroville.
In Munnar I had some extra time so, for a lark, visited The Tea Musem, which traces.the origin of the plantations in the Western Ghats from the time of the British to the present time. Today , according to their film, the Kenan Devan Hills Plantations Company is 82% privately owned by the plantation workers themselves, and run with a bottom up management “the first and largest participatory management company in India, with 12,500 employees as shareholders “(2005). They have started to change over some of their plantations to organic teas and are doing research on organic methods. Unfortunately their teas, under the Ripple brand name, are available only in Kerala, according to the sales woman.
The man who gives the talk at the museum is an inspiring example of a person given a comparatively simple role of museum guide, but using it to advance a personal agenda to change the world. He started by saying that our lives would be permanently changed by his talk. He then launched on a deep discussion of the health benefits of green tea as a universal panacea. But he didn’t resrict himself just to tea, but advocated a healthy lifestyle that included yoga, cleansing of the bowels, proper ways to evacuate these and more. Daringly , for a tea company p.r. person, he pointed out that most indians have no idea how to make tea and were actually poisoning themselves with the stuff. He advocated a special green tea making device which is available in the gift shop by the exit. I think his talk was effective – i saw people buying it.