Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Week of Reflection

Main courtyard at guest quarters

Feb 26th

Life is good here at Gobind Sadan.  I don’t think I could stay here for a huge length of time, but I could probably handle many weeks of this – more if I had my own room.  The place is quieter and cleaner than just about every place I have been in India, and there is very little expected of you.  The food is not great, but at least it is served  buffet style, so I can opt out of the rice and load up on vegetables.  Unfortunatley, they make it without hot spices for the foreigners. Yesterday I went to the langar that is served in the huge open area for staff and anyone else who wants free food every day, and the dhal was spicy and excellent.  However, everything else was too sweet, including the rice which was sweet because it was Thursday and this has something to do with the prophet Mohammed – any ideas?  
down my lane at Gobind Sadan

            So, my daily havan duties are fine, and I am managing to wake up an stay awake for my 2 hours from 2-4am.  The scriptures that one is supposed to be reading are a bit annoying though – I have to say that with all due respect.  One is the Chari Di War and is this gory poem about Durga and other gods fighting a bunch of wars in the ages long before humans.  I have absolutely no idea what the purpose might be of reading this text, besides to acquaint oneself with some uncommon Hindu deities. And the English it is translated in is from the 1800’s or so. At any rate, it is the worst one.  The next one is the Hanuman poem by Tulsi Das, and it is just this short story in verse about how awesome Hanuman is and some of his great deeds.  After about the 4th time reading it, I have started simply reading the Roman transliteration in hindi – it is way more interesting and holds my interest at least slightly.  The third text is the Jaap Sahib written by the last Sikh prophet, Guru Gobind Singh and it consists of 199 short verses that praise the virtues of God.  I have a copy here, it goes like this:

            (189) Thou are unconquerable, indestructible, fearless, and eternal.
            (190) Unborn, unshakeable, imperishable, and all pervading.
            (2) All reverence to the Eternal One,
            All reverence to the Merciful One,
            All reverence to the Formless One
            All reverence to the Peerless One

            (96) In all directions everywhere,
            Thou are the Creator and the Annihilator
            Thou are the Giver and the Knower.

So, these are the things that I am supposed to be reading non-stop for 2 hours at a time.  Now, this last one is the best of them, believe me, but there is only so much of this I can read with a sense of something akin to devotion.  I started reading it too in its transliteral version, but now I am reading the actual hindi script alongside the Roman and I’m trying to figure out the hindi (devanagari) characters based on the word association.  So far, this is the most interesting and that way I can still say – strictly speaking – that I am doing my job and reading the texts.  At least I can do a few other things during the 2 hours – I can pour fragrant herbs and ghee as an offering on the fire (or just to get the flames going), I can adjust the fire, get more wood (1 per hour) and I can fill the herbs or ghee if they are low (unfortunately, rarely).  Oh, and I can fill the water jug that drips water onto the lingam in the corner.  Not sure why it is there, but there you go.  I have to admit though, that this afternoon I did a lot of meditating with my eyes open, trying to remember to turn the pages every so often so that if anyone is looking, they will think I am reading.  I am sorry if this is wrong, but in my book, connecting to the divine is precisely what reading these scriptures is supposed to be doing for those who are not used to doing so on their own.  I am sure in my heart that the Guru approves – but I don’t want to offend any of the 2 others on duty at the same time as I am.  

Kazhaki man at havan duty

            Otherwise I have been reading, meditating, writing and drinking tea.  Mary Pat has a decent library of religious books, so they have been useful – but the best one is the text that she has written.


I am having very good meditations, and sometimes quite profound.  I think my body is still re-adjusting after being sick for 24 hours – I emptied out but am now plugged up a bit after all this rice and chapatti.  There is a Kazakh woman who is on my 4-6 duty with me who really pushes my buttons.  She is bossy and looks like Sharon and she likes to tell me, in Russian, just how to put the logs or tend the fire.  It takes a special kind of idiot that continues to speak to you in another language that you don’t understand.  I mean, for god’s sake – use hand gestures or something!  There is a Chinese looking (but Kazakhi Muslim) man in my room who at least does this, and it works ok if you both try.  But this lady knows I don’t speak her language, and off she goes, bitching out orders.  I have taken the guilty pleasure of not only ignoring precisely what she is telling me – even if it is clear – but also of answering her in English.  I like to say to her stuff like, “I think it is time you take a pill for that, yes?” or “Yeah, I’m glad they gave us the back story on Boba Fett too”  or motioning at the fire, smiling, and saying, “I haven’t had a good bowel movement for 4 days.”  Well, when active minds get cooped up like that, doing havan duty, you get a bit silly.


So, I leave gorgeous Gobind Sadan tomorrow.  I have liked it here very much, but it is time to tackle this trip.  I cannot convey how completely strange it is that I have been in India for a month and that this is only about half-way for me.  God, that’s a long time!  I am sure that if I were going home right now, it would have been a very rich experience.  I bet by the time April comes I am going to be totally and completely ready  for home – and that is a good thing.  Too much in the past have I taken Canada, and my life there, for granted.  It will be a long time before that happens again, I can tell you.  God – just spend a few days in Varanasi and you will appreciate everything again.  It was an interesting city, but it was quite awful in a lot of ways.  In India you have to be careful what you touch and eat, but Varanasi took it to another level.  It was like the streets were sewers.  Have you ever had to dodge cow dung with your feet, at the same time as monkey piss from above?  I know it is supposed to be Holy, but besides having loads of temples and history behind it, there was very little that I could find holy about the place.  Have I said this before?  Hmm.  Well, it was just so dirty and so completely the opposite of peaceful, and you had to be so damn careful every single moment you were outside your door – it was just too much.  Way too much. 

So, last night Allan took me to the evening session over at the non-foreigner side of Gobdin Sadan. I was totally amazed that we were in for a recitation of all 3 of the texts that we read in the havan.  A leader with tabla and harmonium lead the chanting (kirtan) and it was really impressive.  He had the Jaap Sahib and Hanuman texts memorized, and so did many of the small audience who would reply.  It was amazing to hear them all like that, it made more sense to think of them in this way too.  The langar dinner was excellent too.  I ate there for lunch today – it was empty – and as I left Nirmal (the guy who is in charge of the havan) came in.  he is a real sweetheart, so I stayed and sat with him.  After his quick meal of dhal and chappati, he took me over to a place where they have Prasad (offerings) that is a sweet halvah made from flour, ghee, sugar and nuts. It is sloppy and not too sweet, and I have been eating it mostly because I need the ghee.  After that, he offered me some milk from a pail.  I took just a bit but it was really nice – lightly sweet.  As I finished my cup, I asked what was in it – he replied that it was milk, sugar, almond, spices and bhung.  Right!  Well, thanks for mentioning it after I have finished it!  Oh well, there must not have been much, since I didn’t notice anything peculiar afterwards, but my stomach is a bit wonky. 
So, I just have one more havan duty to go:  tonight.  This afternoon I spent the last little bit entertaining myself by ‘reading’ the hanuman Chalisa by looking at the drawings and making up my own captions – in the language of the text though.  (“We worship you, O Hanuman, for movies of fat furry men come out of your fingers.” “Oh, your name is chanted throughout the 14 kingdoms as your tail has a cute tinkly bell on the end.”)  Well, it got me through the last bit, and I had been really darn good for almost the whole rest of the time.   

Tomorrow I make my way to Hamdard University, which doesn’t look too far from here.  In the middle of the next night, Professor Darrol and the troupe should show up and he’s got the spotlight for the next 3 weeks!

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