Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Tribal Gujarat

Getting water from the well

Outside of the Himalayas, I thought India was a relatively flat land. But all those illusions were dispelled when we had to walk uphill to get to Pindval. In Pindval, we are interviewing a Gandhian author who has written dozens of books and spent the last 25 years working for the tribals. This area has some of the most overlooked folks in Gujarat. Actually it’s 99.9% tribal, according to the literature we read. It’s amazing to see how a 40 kilometer walk can completely change a community’s style of dressing, eating and speaking.

We’re about a few days shy of crossing the border in Maharashtra, where we’ll both have to brush up on our Hindi in order to communicate. So far, Nipun’s Gujarati has kept us very connected to the villagers. It’ll be interesting to be in a place where neither of us is fluent in the local language -- Marathi. Many people also warned us that we won’t find the Gujarati hospitality in Maharashtra and we’ll have some tough days up ahead with the monsoon. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. =)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Meditation and Love

Vimala Thakar, whose thoughts are along the lines of Krishnamurti, concludes one of her books with two things that purify: silence (meditation) and love.

Like we peel the layers of an onion, true silence leads to an unraveling of the ego. And love always asks for the ego to surrender and thus the “I” melts away.

I never quite looked at it this way but it’s an interesting summary of spirituality.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Living on a Farm (Part II; Survivor Gujarat)


As I walk into one of the two rooms on the farm to get something from my bag, I hear a sound. I can’t see too well because it’s almost evening and I don’t know where the light switch is. Maybe it’s a rat. There’s a loud shriek…it sounds like a big rat! I see something move. “That’s not a rat – it’s a snake coiled up between the two wooden cupboards?” I yell for Kantibhai. “Snake. I think there’s a snake in here.”

Everyone comes running. Kantibhai is as cool as a cucumber. He walks right in, as I get out of the way and try to look through the window. Unfortunately, I finally get a good look. To my horror there’s a green snake at least six feet long and two inches wide wrapped around a big rat. I move back with disgust as Kantibhai, who’s also a big animal lover, gets enough courage to say, “Let’s turn the light off since he's already half done and let him relieve the poor rat of his suffering” And without skipping a beat he goes back to his chores. Nipun, Vena, Paras, and I are equally shocked. “Is it poisonous?” I ask Kantibhai. “Who knows, but it won’t harm you.”

He goes on and tells us stories about the first year he moved there. They had at least 50 scorpions and since he doesn’t believe in killing them, he would take each one out. He was bit by only one out of the 50.

As I make a mental note to cross-out ever considering moving into a farm, we all sit around on a cot with our feet up just in case the snake decides to run out of the room. Kantibhai then casually tells us that there’s a lion on the loose and he was in the village the night before last and took two dogs from the neighboring house. We confirm the story with the lady that works there just to make sure he’s not pulling our leg. And I rememeber that another lady in town was trying to tell me that earlier but I didn't understand her Gujarati.

I realized that this is a part of life in the villages and as much as I'd like it to be different, it's a part of nature.

The conversation quickly shifted from scared to humorous. If there was ever going to be a “Survivor: Gujarat,” this would have to be it. We fill Kantibhai in on American reality shows as we try to decide if we’d rather sleep outside and risk getting attacked by a lion or inside where there’s a snake on the loose. Sometimes when it gets a little scary, the best thing you can do is laugh at it. We all got the guts to go in there and get our bedding at night with Kantibhai and Nipun leading the efforts. And luckily, everyone was in one piece in the morning. Waking up to the bright sky at four in the morning to leave, I almost forgot about the events that took place the night before.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Living on a Farm

Papaya Picking

We’ve been walking for almost two months now and just when we think we’re at the end of the rope with people to profile, we run into someone who knows a lot of interesting people. This time was no different.

Just as we were on our last contact, Anandbhai, an activist suggested several people that we should meet. Among them was Kantibhai, whose farm we’re currently staying at. He’s an enthusiastic young guy, who gave up city life to live in a small village and do organic farming. Kantibhai’s whole ideal is that we should live “in tune” with nature. He feels, that is what is best for our bodies, our minds, and our souls.

And staying here has proven that to be true. This has been a great treat for us. None of us had ever picked our own papayas or mangoes before. He has everything you can possibly want for cooking right here in his own farm. Sleeping under the stars on a cot, surrounded by the coconut, sugar canes, and big mango trees is one of the best feelings in the world. Suddenly, there are no worries.

You go to sleep when it gets dark and wake up when the sun comes up. And the first thing you find when you look up is that there's a baby calf staring you in the face wondering what you’re doing on his farm.

It’s the good life and I plan to relish every moment of it. =)

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Real Freedom

Just before Sunrise

We walk through a really sketchy part of town. Not sketchy in the sense that there's a lot of poverty and we might get our stuff stolen. But more of an old tribal, hilly area where people still don't believe in wearing clothes and they walk around with bows and arrows, for killing.

As one of the villagers (who happens to be drunk) walks us through the bad part of town, he mentions that if the naga (naked) men see women, they might get other ideas. For a split second my ears perk up, “Did I hear that right?” There’s a moment of silence as everyone tries to walk together now. For a second, I feel the fear arise as my feet start walking faster and the bag no longer seems heavy. What's there to fear? Doesn't fear ultimately come from "ego," being attached to the "I." What am I trying to protect? Getting our stuff stolen, getting harassed, beaten, raped, killed? Ultimately, it’s just a physical body, it’s just stuff. Aren’t these the very attachments I’m trying to work on?

This is not who “I AM.”

I think about the dozens of ants I kill each day walking, they’re precious life too. Why does my life matter more? Then it dawns on me: it doesn’t! I’m just a tiny speck in the universe like everything else. And like everything else, I have my own attachments, family, community, and so forth. There’s nothing significantly special about me. Rationally, I know all this but something about experiencing it today brings forth different emotions that are next to impossible to put into words.

I feel a type of Freedom that I’ve never felt before. Freedom with a capital F, a Freedom that a leaf might feel in mid-flight after splitting from a tree. Suddenly, I have absolutely no fear. None. And these emotions are not coming out of denial, like those times when you’re trying to be strong. They’re coming from the purest space within me that I’m seldomly in touch with.

What’s even harder to explain is the oneness I feel with all of nature. I can feel that there is something much bigger looking after me almost like a mother – protecting and guiding me. I feel like I’ve been this arrogant child, not giving it much credence, but yet it’s been there every step of the way. I KNOW that nothing will happen today. Even if it does, it doesn’t matter. These are all my own brothers and sisters. We all lose our way sometimes. But in this moment, I feel completely enveloped in love. My heart expands further than it ever has to welcome that love. I try to hold onto that feeling for as long as I can and keep walking with a childlike glee. The universe is mine and I, its favorite daughter. The only thing left to do is to love. Everything else fades in comparison.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

No other way. No other time.

Mind is starting to gnaw in on me. Now that physically I’m used to walking and can deal with the physical discomforts, there’s a lot of other stuff coming up. It’s uncomfortable, it’s painful, and all the negativities that usually lay dormant or go unnoticed are showing their heads. There are many things to work on, if only I can remain aware enough each moment to realize that they’ve surfaced. The world is both good and bad depending on my own eyes. It absolutely has nothing at all to do with anything else, as much as I think it does. That much is clear. I have to take on whatever comes my way, sooner or later, willingly or unwillingly. I might as well take it head on. No other way. No other time.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Chasing Butterflies

The mind is becoming more and more silent. Talking is an interesting activity. There’s so much more ego associated with it then I’d like to admit. The mind is constantly trying to beautify its own image. It’s constantly trying to make sure that others are thinking highly of it. And extremely hurt when someone says anything to harm that image of ourselves. Whether we really care for a person’s opinion or not, anything hurtful that anyone says always stands out more than anything neutral or good. Such fragileness. Even the most realized of people aren’t able to fully part from it. Trying to work at the ego bit by bit, but something tells me it’s going to be a life-long job. Silence is turning out to be an amazing tool.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Movin' On

Spinning Cotton

Gandhi once said that, “haste is a form of violence.” As subtle emotions are becoming more and more apparent, I think that perhaps even irritation is a form of violence. It ultimately affects the surroundings by carrying negativity to those around us…thus bringing in subtle form of violence. The more irritated I am about something, the greater the chances of “reaction” instead of “action” out of my own will.

It’s the last day of Gandhi Katha and we leave for the road again at 5AM tomorrow. Although it’s been amazing staying here, I’m looking forward to getting into the groove of walking again. There’s something really beautiful about walking even though there are a lot more challenges and unknown. I’m feeling ready to go.