Monday, June 9, 2008

Oh! India

  • Its among the most difficult of places to travel, and the most rewarding. Some say India stands for “I’ll Never Do It Again”; many more are drawn back time and again because India is the best show on earth, the best bazaar of human experiences that can be visited in a lifetime. It has been said that there are 330 million gods in India, and there are at least that many varieties of experience available, religious or otherwise.

- From the introduction to ‘Travelers’ Tales INDIA’ edited by James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger

  • Gange Cha Yamune Chaiva
    Godavarai Saraswati
    Narmade Sindhu Kaveri
    Jale Asmin Sannidhim Kuru

    (O Holy Mother Ganges! O Yamuna!
    Godavari! Saraswati!
    O Narmada! Sindhu! Kaveri!
    May you all be pleased to be manifest in these waters with which I shall purify myself!)

    Prayer to the Seven Sacred Rivers recited by every devout Hindu at the time of taking his bath

- Eric Newby, Slowly Down the Ganges

  • In India, conversation often seemed to go round in circles. In Chittaurgarh (City of Valour….), the man at the guest house knocked on my door and said, “Sir. Good evening but your country of origin is what please?”

    “You’ve already written it down five times on five different bits of paper,” I said

    “What is the first name of your father?”

    “You’ve written that five times as well.”

    “In the morning,” he said, “you are wishing for a breakfast mealing?”

    “Yes, that would be very nice. You have porridge?” I inquired hopefully.

    “Porridge – yes.”

    “How much your porridge?” I asked, surprised.

    “Porridge three rupee only.”

    “Okay. One bowl porridge in the morning please.”

    “Porridge? No, no porridge”

    “But you just said porridge – yes.”

    “No. Omelette, chapati.”

    “Do you have yoghurt – dahi?”

    “Dahi, Yes.”

    “Okay, I’ll have dahi then.”

    “You want omelette?”

    “No, just dahi.”

    “No problem omelette.”

    “No, just dahi”

    “Just dahi?”

    “Yes, just dahi.”

    In the morning, I was presented with a bowl of porridge.

- Josie Dew, The Wind in My Wheels: Travel Tales from the Saddle

  • The ancient Hindus chose their temple sites with great care and they sometimes spent years looking for a place with the right power and energy. They would search for an area where cattle liked to graze. In a big pasture the cows always had a favourite place.

    Likewise, dogs were considered to be a good sign. If dogs were found wandering among the cattle, then the site was perfect. But any sign of a cat in the field, and the site was abandoned. According to the ancients, dogs and cows attracted positive energies, whereas cats were definitely negative.

    The priests tethered the cows and left them there for forty-one days. Then they slaughtered the cows and checked their internal organs. If any of the beasts showed signs of disease then the priests looked for another place. If the cattle were all healthy, the construction of the temple went ahead

- Peter Holt, In Clive’s Footsteps

  • ……It is karma that brings joy or sorrow
    Willing or unwilling, we live by our karma.
    Observe the potter shaping his pots
    Some break on the wheel,
    Some crack after removal from the wheel,
    Some spoil when wet, some when dry,
    Some burst while being fired,
    Some after removal from the kiln,
    Some shatter in use…..,
    So some of us die in the womb,
    Some immediately after birth,
    Some a day later,
    Some a fortnight later, some a month,
    Some after one year, some after two,
    Some in youth, some in middle age, some in old,
    Their karma determines it all.
    This is the way the world is -
    So what is the point of grieving?
    Swimmers dive,
    then emerge from the water;
    So creatures sink into,
    and emerge from the stream of life.

- The Mahabharata of Vyasa (The Eleventh Book: The Woman), as quoted by Mala Sen in India’s Bandit Queen: The True Story of Phoolan Devi

  • Dense clumps of sugarcane had spread through the fields here and provided refuge for numerous cobras. A lot of people were bitten by them, Ranjan said, but forceful eradication was impossible for religious reasons. Instead nonviolent persuasion was traditionally practiced.

    The great event took place every year at the time of the November half-moon when a large contingent of snake charmers appeared on the scene. The snake charmers located the ants’ nests in which the cobras had taken up residence and played music to induce them to leave their holes. They were then fed with milk, molasses, and the only recently discovered gastronomic inducement, popcorn, which had become their favourite food.

    The ceremony of feeding at an end, each cobra was presented with a new dhoti, afte which the priest would wish them a happy and successful year and beg them to cease to bite members of his community

- Norman Lewis, A Goddess in the Stones: Travels in India

  • When I stopped in London on my way home from India, the city appeared empty, and disarmingly quiet. I felt, most of all, ignored: I actually had to hail the taxis, rather than wait for them to tear up beside me and shout me down with offers. Londoners left me alone, and I was lonely for the first time in months. The streets seemed like dormant movie sets – how I imagined Disneyland would look at five in the morning.

    Shoppers paid whatever the price tag said; cows were confined to Cadbury advertisements. As the Swedish sadhu had warned, I was bored within days. After the novelty of leavened bread and tap water had worn off, I’d grown impatient with the city’s pace.

    I boarded a shiny bus for Hampstead. People sat two seats apart, eyes averted, and coughed silently to themselves. I got off the bus at the Everyman Cinema and bought a matinee ticket for Salaam Bombay!

- Peter Jon Lindberg, “The Confounding Allure of India,” The New York Times

  • “I’m losing my serenity,” I hissed at a bank clerk after having spent all day trying to untangle currency problems which would have taken ten minutes to solve at home.

    “Madam,” he answered, “it takes many years to attain serenity. One does not lose it in a day.”

- Cheryl Bentley, “Enchanted”

  • 54 million tribals in India are roughly the equivalent of the combined metropolitan populations of New York City, Calcutta, Rio de Janeiro, London and Shanghai. Put another way, this is nearly the entire population of France, or Italy, or Egypt, which all weigh in at about 57 million

- James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger

  • No other nation has ever known such a natural diversity of tongues, the result, for the most part, of slow evolution since the beginning of mankind. No other country has lived with so complicated a past so equably, assimilating everything that has happened to it, obliterating naught, so that not even the intricate histories of European states have produced such a rich pattern as that bequeathed by the Mauryas, the Ashokas, the Pahlavas, the Guptas, the Chalukyas, the Hoysalas, the Pandyas, the Cholas, the Mughals, and the British – to identify only a few of the peoples who have shaped India’s inheritance. Nor is there another land that constantly provokes in the stranger such elation and despair, so much affection and anger, by powerful contrasts, and irreducible opposites of behaviour; wickedness and virtue, caring and indifference, things bewitching and disgusting and terrifying and disarming, often in quick succession. India has nuclear power and other advanced technology close by some of the most obscene slums in creation; she has never failed to hold democratic elections at the appointed time, yet those too frequently elevate men whose own votes can be bought with rupees and other emoluments; she has a high and mightly self-esteem and a taste for moral posturing which equals anything suffered by her people when the British were here; she has been capable of unparalleled generosity to her last imperial rulers, but she bickers endlessly and meanly with her closest neighbour and twin; she gave birth to the creed of massive nonviolent protest and once practiced this effectively, yet in the first generation of independence she has assassinated three of her own leaders, starting with the begetter of satyagraha….Such contradictions and anomalies as these run through India from end to end and help to make her incomparable.

    …………………….Plenty of Westerners do not survive their initial experience of the subcontinent, fleeing in anxiety, in disgust, and with indignation from its darkness, condemned never to know it properly. But many more are vouchsafed in that first encounter a glimpse of something so enchanting, so inspiring, so utterly and attractively outside all previous experience, that they know they will return as often as possible, to be thrilled by it afresh.

- Geoffrey Moorhouse

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