Friday, August 5, 2016

From ‘A Journey with Elsa Cloud. A mother and daughter odyssey through India’ by Leila Hadley

When you have leisure,
Wander idly through my garden in spring
And let an unknown, hidden flower’s scent startle you
Into sudden wondering –
Let that displaced moment be my gift,
Or if, as you peer your way down a shady avenue,
Suddenly spilled
From the thick gathered tresses of evening
A single shivering fleck of sunset-light stops you,
Turns your daydreams to gold,
Let that light be an innocent
[Rabindranath Tagore, Gift]

“I miss Western art in India,” she says. “Indians don’t go in for paintings all that much. Why do you suppose that is? Is it because their life is their art?”

The artist’s spirit is as much a presence in the object the artist created as everyone who is important in my life is present in me.

My meditating is not the same as her meditating. She lets her images come and go. I cling to memories, want o decode them, give them a framework, set them in order, know what’s what, get to the root of things. No just recollecting, but re-membering, an active, purposeful task of reconstructing, different from the fragmentary, flickering images and feelings that drift along like flotsam and flottage in the flow of consciousness.

“You have to expect that in grungy, tenement areas like this,” Vernoica says, as a woman in an iridescent saffron and purple sari edges by, and then another in a marvelously risky color combination of magenta, electric blue, and orange, balancing a burlap sack on her head with graceful ease, a woman from some outlying country district, the light scintillating on her silver ankle bracelets, her wine-jar hips swaying as she walks. Then a man in a lime-green turban, another woman in a fire-bright orange-red, a man in a turban the color of a robin’s egg.
Tenement area? Elsewhere in the world, poverty is gray and brown and seems far more dangerous, unrelieved by dashing color, flash and sparkle.

“To ask how many cows a man owns is as rude as asking him how much money he has in the bank,” a Zulu chieftain had told me in Africa.

She has the look of many Indian women, an expression common to nuns, of women deprived of sexual pride. The sensuality of stone-carved faces in Indian temples and museums is rarely visible in the flesh.

In India more than anywhere in the world, I am aware of hands graceful in motion, gracefully poised with beautifully shaped nails and delicately spoked tendons. Here in the market, hands silent as paintings, hands stretching, reaching, holding, hands pinching vegetables and fruit for the feel of freshness, these hands possess the sensuality that the faces lack.

Trijung Rinpoche projects goodness and serenity the way an electric fan creates coolness.

To feel pleasure and to be able to share that pleasure is the only antidote to loneliness that I know.

The Indian gift for giving beauty to commonplace objects charms me. The simplicity of artistically embellished cow dung cakes comes as a relief after exposure to architecture that is massive and immensely intricate.

With the extraordinary hospitality offered to strangers travelling in India, chapattis are given to us….

A fire-tailed sunbird comes to perch almost within arm’s reach….I’ve never seen such an extraordinary bird that close, that still, in all of my life. In India, small birds and animals seem to have no fear of human beings. Perhaps they know they are protected by the Indian policy of non-injury toward birds, animals, and snakes, particularly if they’re the vahana or vehicle of one of the gods.

In his Memoirs, Babur, the sixteenth-century founder of the Mogul dynasty, fretted that the country of Hindustan was “greatly wanting in charm.” Among other things, there were no good horses, no first-rate fruit, no ice, no cold water, no hot baths; no candles, no torches, no candlesticks, no walls to the orchards, no running water in the gardens or the residences. The residences and gardens were constructed all on the same flat plane, he dourly observed, and the residences were without fresh air, regularity, or symmetry.

Mulk [Raj Anand] once told me that Hindus never possessed the innate need for extravagance flaunted by the Moguls.

… [Alwar museum] …Some day, I hope I shall come back to see the Memoirs Babur penned, the emerald cup, the jeweled swords of Akbar, Jehangir, and Shah Jehan. There is no end to India’s glamorous ghosts.

Mulk [Raj Anand] told me that anthropologists claim the Rajput rulers were very close to the Scottish Highlanders in temperament and in their clan loyalties….

Night falls with the suddenness it does in the Far East.

In India, the strange duality of the ascetic and the erotic is glorified in the worship of Shiva.

Nothing in the world is as freshly green as a rice paddy, not even a Scottish lawn after a morning shower.

“’Poy, Sala!’ or ‘Hoy, Sala! (Stike, Sala!),’” his followers shouted to Sala, legendary head of the Hoysala Dynasty, as they urged him to kill a menacing tiger. King Sala struck the tiger, felled him with a single blow, and this heroic act became the emblem and the rallying cry of the Dynasty.

On my first visit to India, I couldn’t understand why there should be such a plethora of erotic stone nudity when the only live nudity to be seen was among celibate holy men and beyond-the-pale international sunbathers.

As I look at passing monks and lay Tibetans, my first impression, formed ….. that Tibetans have faces that might be American Indian, Mongolian, Indonesian, Chinese, Burmese, Eskimo, Filipino – seems as fatuous to me now as it did then, but no less true. There is no definitive Tibetan look except for a pleasant and serene cast of expression, and a way of moving without wasted gestures or motion. Even children no taller than my waist seem to have a degree of this inner control, this concentration on whatever it is they happen to be doing. Nothing seems to disturb their parents’ poise, to unsettle their capacity for absorption, their deftness of movement. Other than the most discreet of passing glances, they betray no interest in us.

…the Chinese….atrocities ….One monk told me that he had seen his mother and father swaddled in cotton, crucified, and burnt alive. Another told of his grandfather, a high lama, forced to eat bowlsful of human and animal excrement. Another told of public trials in which each member of the crowd was ordered to kick the victim’s teeth, pull out the victim’s hair, pull the victim’s nose until it was broken, or pull the victim’s ears to the point of tearing them from his or her head.

To have suffered and witnessed torment, torture, and destruction and still to believe in the invincibility of the human spirit, that is what endears the Tibetans to me. That, and the faces of the aspirant baby monks who are now gathering on the verandah, enamel mugs and plates in hand, waiting to be served their evening meal. For a moment, their maroon robes, their shaved heads, and their solemn mien distort their reality…..But…..the moment their teacher’s back is turned, they stare at me with mischievous dark eyes, smiling, giggling, and free-spirited, irresistibly lovable because they appear so openly ready to love, to have fun, to play. One of them runs across the dusty path and up the steps to give me a hug that is strong enough to last a lifetime. Then, embarrassed, he runs away.

Veronica …..reminds her of a holiday she once spent in Crete, in a village near Knossos, where she could never wander in the thyme-scented hills without shepherds following her. “When they found I wasn’t available,” she says, “they just stuck a sheep’s hindlegs inside their boot tops, and used the sheep instead.”

[Savoy Hotel]….. there is a pervasive smell of dampness in all the rooms except the bathroom, which smells of Dettol, the way some bathrooms do in English country inns.

In India, perhaps as nowhere else, there still exists a devotion and compassion between master and servant, servant and master.

British Victorians were inclined to be contemptuous of other cultures, and often took it for granted that any custom different from their own was wrong, barbarous, or even wicked. The standards of their youth – honor, decency, truthfulness, cleanliness, doing everything “properly” – were those they adhered to, and a century later, among the dwindling old guard European community ambered in the hill station preserve of Ooty, these standards remain.

Parvin says that Kangra really means kan gara, ear shapers. During the rule of the Sikhs and Moguls, he explains, a common form of punishment for criminals and unfaithful wives was to cut off their ears and noses, and for centuries, Kangra has been a center for plastic surgery. A British traveler in the mid-nineteenth century described the procedure. The patient is rendered senseless with a quantity of wine, bhang, or opium. “They [the surgeons] then tap the skin of the forehead above the nose, until a sort of blister rises, from which a piece of skin of the proper shape is then cut and immediately applied as a nose, sewed on and supported with pieces of cotton.”

Veronica says that the Tibetans use only minerals ground to a powder with millstones for their thangka paints.

…..Dilgo Rinpoche says.
“There is a ritual meaning and significance to man’s last hours on earth, and Tibetans place special emphasis on the conditions of consciousness at the time of death. In the Tantric system of Buddhism…..there is a vague indication that appears near the time of death as to the nature of one’s rebirth.”
“The hours preceding death and the hours after death affect the journey to Bardo, a dreamlike state that is the transitional stage between life and death. A dying person’s emotional and mental state will influence and, to some degree, control, his afterlife and rebirth pattern.” ………
Dilgo Rinpoche goes on. The nature of the Bardo experience is influenced not only by the degree of enlightenment attained by the dying person, but by the supportive services of the attendant family members, friends, and lamas as well. The rites of passage are very important. In the act of dying, the departing spirit must have peace and time to leave its physical house…..and the dying are urged to make a mindful effort to assure that this is so, to meditate so that their individual consciousness is better able to let go its hold on that forever in-flux state of human life and to experience the clear light of the void. A person who dies without much physical deterioration will remain in the state of the subtlest mind, the mind of clear light, for about three days. Some people can identify with the deep nature of their mind and are able to realize it or recognize it, and remain in it for a week or even a month. The living and the dead are divided by only the most diaphanous of veils. All living things are perfectible. Just as life begins slowly in the womb there must be the balancing state of Bardo at the end of life…. The act of dying, not just passively letting life ebb away ……but actively participating in one’s own death, is a new idea to me, and I find it strangely comforting…..

They [Tibetans] tell me that the Hopi [Indian] word for “sun” is the word for “moon” in Tibetan, and the Tibetan word for “sun” is the Hopi word for “moon.” …..Hopi Indians once used dry-sand painting in their ceremonies, the only culture outside of Tibet to do so, but the Secretary says he understands that the Hopi taught the Navajo the technique, and now the Navajo excel in sand painting and the Hopi seldom make sand paintings any more…….Tibetan Buddhism accommodates Bon, and Bon is not unlike the shamanistic practices of the Hopis.

“Tibetan monks radiate mildness and yet have wills of iron,” Veronica says.

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