Monday, February 19, 2007

absence, nostalgia, reluctance

So I suppose you (one) could characterize my total absence and failure to 1) update the blog, 2) fix the youtube links for the audio in the last post, 3) tell you about everything that happened after we left the North of India, as a bad case of nostalgia brought on by my reluctance to accept the fact that the Indian dream is over. For now. I have been swept up in a Beefheartish rill, viz:

Run run morning soon Indian dream tiger moon
Yellow bird fly high go battle sky to shatter the moon

Anyway, I found a passage that pretty perfectly characterizes the topic of reluctance & travel memoirs, from W.G. Sebald's Vertigo:

"It was a severe disappointment, Beyle writes, when some years ago, looking through old papers, he came across an engraving entitled "Prospetto d'Ivrea" and was obliged to concede that his recollected picture of the town in the evening sun was nothing but a copy of that very engraving. This being so, Beyle's advice is not to purchase engravings of fine views and prospects seen on one's travels, since before very long they will displace our memories completely, indeed one might say they destroy them."

This is just as true of pictures we take ourselves, for those moments and the narrative that they create amongst themselves take precedence over all the minutiae, the slippery little bits of existence that keep escaping into the past, like smaller and smaller balls of quicksilver, as we move inexorably forward; or, in the common language: you can feel the experience slipping away from you the more you try to organize it into a narrative, mementos, or photos.

Despite all of this, once the fit of nostalgia has passed, I promise to fix the audio links, and post more photos, and tell you what they are photos of...

love from Bushwick, Brooklyn, to everyone... gb

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

unedited audio smorgasbord

Musicians outside Sufi saint Nizamuddin's Tomb, Delhi

Circling around Nizamuddin's Tomb

Dance of Shiva, performed at the Crafts Museum, Delhi

A walk through the bazaar in Haridwar

Seva in Vrindavan. What's happening while this bells ring is that pundits are offering fire and other things to the Krishna statue, which is unveiled just as the bells start ringing.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Here is the entrance to the Radha Raman temple area. The temple houses the figure of Krishna that you see being worshiped in the video in the previous post in the video -- a smooth black stone figure, which is said to have sprung from a Shaligram (one of those smooth black Nepali stones) of its own accord. Every evening we would go thru the archway you see here to the temple for the evening Seva, which always involved chanting and drums, and sometimes singing or dancing. During these services, sometimes 3 or 4 hours long, one could meditate or really think, surrounded by the kind of joyful concentration of those around... often others at the service would be overcome, and start dancing or crying, both of which seemed like extensions of the same emotion. The women wore stupendously beautiful sarees, heavy silks for wintertime with amazing prints on them, and thick silk shawls. This is a video of one evening seva:

Following is a picture of Mira Bai, another 16th-century saint and friend of Sri Chaitanya. She wrote great volumes of poetry to Krishna, and was considered an incarnation of Radha, Krishna's consort. Her poems, like most mystical poetry in India, are songs (Bhajans). She was a great inspiration, one of those women who broke all kinds of taboos and suffered all kinds of consequences -- and managed, despite everything, to leave a literary legacy. There is a temple to her in Vrindavan, which was being renovated when we visited, but the priest let us in anyway.

Following are pictures of Aaron drawing the children of Gambhira (Jai Singh Ghera)'s manager, Prakash and his wife Lakshmi. Prakash was absolutely wonderful to us during our stay there, and asked Aaron to draw his two daughters Amrita and Pragya. When Aaron visited Vrindavan three years ago, he drew Prakash and Lakshmi's son Hemanth.

Prakash and Lakshmi and the children had us over for tea. We had an amazing time with them -- Lakshmi showed us how to apply the sindoor powder that symbolizes marriage -- and told us that Aaron had to apply it to my head the first time, and that I could do it thereafter... she gave us a little container of sindoor and some stick-on bindis. By the time we left I looked like a proper wife. The girls seemed very very pleased with their likenesses.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Seva at the Radha Raman temple -- the pundits are making an offering of fire to the god.


trying a new trick... if this works, I'll upload more videos and some audio.

Vrindavan's Monkey Problem

Friday, January 12, 2007

Redux 3: artsy fartsy photos

Monday, January 08, 2007

redux part 2: Haridwar --> Vrindavan

Blogger is, annoyingly, making it difficult for me to match up text and photos -- I will try to remedy this, but for now, here's the next batch ----

Bunches and bunches of pictures! First, a termite mound: a very interesting thing. These dot the hills all around Haridwar, and all over India. They can be 20-30 years old, and because cobras like to live in them, they are treated as sacred (the cobra is a symbol of Shiva) -- villagers who have one will pour ghee or milk on it, and strew flowers on it... Aaron was fascinated by them and has many drawings of them -- perhaps I will requisition his sketchbook and scan one in.

This image is from our last evening in Haridwar -- goodbye to all the banana-leaf flower boats on the Ganges. The morning after this, we took an early (pre-dawn) train South toward Vrindavan, where we had a place reserved at the ancient ashram Gambhira (Jai Singh Ghera), the ancestral home of the Goswami family.


Srivatsa Goswami, the next Maharishi of the Radha Raman temple there, runs the ashram as a kind of scholars' retreat. We were lucky enough to be there for a Seva (festival) which ran for a week, and to experience daily services in the temple: singing, dancing, and all kinds of joyful expression of love for Krishna and between Krishna and Radha. Vrindavan is the place where that love story takes place, and keeps taking place... the Goswami family traces their lineage back 16 generations to a disciple of Sri Chaitanya, a 15th-century incarnation of Krishna.


The whole place is very dreamlike, since they say the Radha-Krishna leela (story) is still always taking place around you there, even if you can't see it. You can definitely hear it: it is a town of bells around the clock, and singing, and dressing-up! Krishna is all around you -- as a baby dipping his hand in a stolen butter-pot, a cowherd stealing the milkmaids' clothes while they are bathing, the lover of smitten beautiful Radha. The Radha Raman temple -- the Goswami heritage -- is home to a figure of Krishna which is said to have sprung of its own accord from a Salagram Sila (a smooth black stone from the Kali-Gandaki river in Nepal -- Vedic scriptures say that Srimati Tulasi Devi cursed Krishna to become a stone, and since then he has manifested himself as the Salagram Sila).
Here is more about the temple:


Here are some pictures from our stay in Vrindavan, which is particularly plagued by monkeys. We got no end of joy from watching them -- they are very funny and very very smart. Vrindavan's residents don't seem to find them so funny, though -- they steal everything that isn't tied down, and are especially fond of stealing the glasses off of people's faces, and holding them as collatoral for bananas. In this picture, Aaron has a big stick, which he periodically had to bang on the floor to keep the monkeys from stealing his pencils, etc...

Here is a monkey running across a rooftop with somebody's glasses. In this particular instance, the de-spectacled man offered the monkey a hot pepper instead of the customary banana as ransom for the glasses. The monkey was not amused, and bit the glasses in half before tossing them back down to their owner...

Here we are with our wonderful friend Robyn Beeche, who lives at Jai Singh Ghera and runs all kinds of scholarly programs, and does all the photography there. She moved from London in the 80's, where she had been taking photographs of everybody from Divine to Boy George to Adam Ant, to Vrindavan, where she takes divine photographs of the Radha Raman temple and its events, and travels frequently, photographing craftsmen and women and festivals all over the country.

Robyn lent me an amazing saree for our trip to to Agra, where we visited the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. Agra is a day-trip from Vrindavan (see the somewhat blurry photo of an extremely overloaded vehicle we saw on the way there!), but pretty much a horrible tourist trap. You have to dodge all kinds of touts (scam artists) to get to the attractions, but... in fact... the Taj is worth it -- we were particularly impressed by the quality of sound inside -- the decay is very very slow in the dim marble interior, so each tone seemed to go on and on forever. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that it is an octagon, so the harmonics are extremely vibrant? (Or perhaps that's a bit of Modern Jackass [see TAL Episode 293] -- any sound experts out there?) ANYway, it is such an amazing meditation on time and loss and monumentality and love.

You have to wear little booties at the Taj so you won't scuff the marble...

The Agra Fort is also amazing. The black stone slab is the throne of Jahangir -- see the inscribed marble stone to read about his Justice Dept.

Finally -- some pictures of an insane Italianate mansion in the heart of Vrindavan, built by someone with a romantic imagination and lots and lots of money. We had the good fortune to be joined in Vrindavan by our friend Fred Smith, a Sanskrit scholar who knows Vrindavan like the back of his hand, and took us around to meet the perfume-walla and see the Salagram temple and so forth and so forth...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

India redux, part 1: Delhi/Haridwar

hello lovles,
we have returned to Brooklyn... it is wonderful to be back. The cats are happy to see us, though our lovely subletter Sara Jane took great care of them and of our home, which made homecoming very sweet. PLUS we had almost a week in Trenton with my mother and stepfather, sleeping off the jetlag and catching up with ourselves and the fam.

I have decided upon our return to broadband to start posting the pictures that we should have been posting all along, with some explanations. This first batch is from our first week in India, in Delhi and Haridwar.

This picture is from our very first, very culture-shocky autorickshaw ride. We took a municipal bus from the airport into Delhi... and got caught in a traffic jam. Then we got left on a dusty streetcorner crowded with schoolkids somewhere near Connaught Place, where we had a room booked (at the YWCA). Later we found out that the traffic jam was due to the BJP rally that was taking place at the Parliament building -- right next to the Y. That first day in Delhi was a blur of traffic, dust, jetlag, and Hindu fundamentalist demonstrators on sitting on carpets covering the Samsad Marg outside the Y... this photo is a view of Aaron in the rear-view mirror of the autorickshaw we took to Samsad Marg, till we had to get out because of the rally and our first crew of Hijras (drag queens) met us, with our backpacks on... We gave them some rupees (it's supposed to be good luck -- bad luck if you don't! they are really beautiful in their sarees.) and stumbled in to the Y to get some sleep.

The next day we went to the Crafts Museum in Delhi, a really wonderful place if you ever find yourself in the subcontinent! -- they have a really amazing collection of arts from all over India, and samples of traditional huts and sculpture spread out over the grounds. We also stopped at the tank & shrine of a 14th(?)-century Sufi mystic, who is commemorated by earthenware pots stuck on the ends of tree limbs (???) It was a gorgeous spot, high up on a hill, and we were serenaded with harmonium and tabla. The shrine-keepers gave us prasad (sweets that are first offered to a divinity) and let us make the ceremonial circuit around the tomb.

Then we were off to Haridwar on the train, about 4 hours. Haridwar is what Aaron calls a "pilgrim mill," a destination for the devout... We arrived at night, and it was really cold there, in the Himalayan foothills. We caught our first bicycle rickshaw ride there -- I found it so strange to be perched on these little seats, with our backpacks, behind a man in a woolen shawl laboring to pedal us up the hill. Haridwar is full of shawls and pilgrims and steamy chai stands. It is somewhere between a town and a city, one of those places which has an extremely variable population depending on religious festivals. Every evening at sunset people sail little banana-leaf boats full of flowers and lit candles and incense down the Ganges -- it is the place where the Ganges comes roaring out the mountains. The water there is very fast and cold and blue. At one spot over the river, on a footbridge, some enterprising citizens with butterfly nets fish things out -- offerings that people have put in upstream (coconuts) and things that fall in (underpants!)... I spent the first couple of days in Haridwar with my jaw on the ground, trying to get out of the way of motorbikes zooming through the tiny crowded streets of the bazaar, vying with bicycle rickshaws and cows, not to mention other pedestrians... there's no peaceful strolling through there, and lots of beeping, ringing, buzzing, etc. Some of these photos are of old statuary, offerings left in the Ganges, that have been there over the ages.