Monday, November 19, 2012

India # 36 Soul-Speakers, Heart-Speakers

North Indians are an assertive and sober lot compared to southerners, which may be why three men I met in the last week in the north struck me as being “soul-speakers,” or maybe heart speakers, and delightful. 

Yoga Man —I could not call my teachers in Bangalore Yoga Nazis but there was a correct way and then there was my way and a lot of difference in between.  They were young and could touch their nose to their knees.  So when my Jaipur hotel advertised personal yoga sessions for $2 an hour, I signed up in hopes of something different.  (I also signed up for the ayurvedic massage at $14, very nice.) 

Ravindra Thalari was the opposite of the Bangalore youngsters.   Short and spectacled, he came in the same tan vest and simple garb each day, spoke slowly and always with deep feeling and dignity.   He began by thanking “Goa-d” for the day and ended asking that love rained upon us.  Every movement was to be done “Slowly… slowly!” and then “Relax compleeetly!”   When I could not balance, stork-like on one foot, he held me gently in place until I could manage a few moments.  My experience of “failure” was his occasion  to  relax even more “completeeely.” 

These classes must be a major source of his income because he offered to come any time on two hour’s notice.  I  saw  him the last four days.   When I doubled his fee he wanted to be sure I understood each time: 100 rupees for the hotel, 100 rupees for me?  This was my exception to no-satisfaction tipping.  I’ve promised to send him this picture and left him a little momento from the hermitage of my cousin Tom Keller, the diocesan priest and part-time hermit.

Govinda was my guide at a national park near Agra which was crammed with storks and other large birds.  Only 7 or 8 miles in diameter and set in a large, semi-dry agricultural area, the park is a Holiday Inn with free breakfast for birds on one of the big migratory corridors.  There were 350 species in all, plus jackals, large turtles and very large antelope.  Dusty on the outside, like the farm fields, the park was lush and exciting inside. 
He was born here, got a degree in wild land biology and returned as a guide where he expects to remain, notwithstanding that he can only work the migratory winter season, not monsoon or hot summer.  For him, every sighting seems as exciting for the l0,000 time as it did for my first: paraceets, kingfishers, snake birds, night and grey herons and the birds which always travel in groups of seven, an attractive starling.  The sound he makes to describe each bird comes from deep inside him, vowels lengthen and he conveys an awe and wonder I don’t know how to put on a page.  I want to slow down myself and look at his eyes.  How many of us can say our experiences are as fresh now as if for the first time?   Can we see the holiness in a refrigerator, as someone asked on the daily posting at Gratefulness,com? 

Rajish was my guide at the Taj Mahal.  I had resisted going to the Taj from day one.  Haven’t I already seen it a thousand times?  Haven’t you?   Moreover every Indian warns you about going there: watch your wallet.  And big portions of Agra are squalid and a bit threatening.   

My skepticism was not misplaced.  It’s a long drive along the “Golden Triagle” from Jaipur to Agra to Delhi--about 13 in total--for two hours at the Taj where you are encouraged to keep moving and hawking is relentless before and after.  Anyone want an inlaid marble box from the same stone as the Taj?

My guide standing in front of one of the marvelous banyon trees.

But Rajish was flush with excitement which it was hard to resist.  I knew something about "The Taj" from a book of the same name, including the house arrest of the creator of the memorial by his son who had murdered his brothers to gain the throne.  He reversed the enlightened rule of a series of his ancestors. which had welcomed all religion and reverted to strict Islam and the destruction of Hindu temples.
As you know, the Taj Mahal is a monument to the love between Jai and his wife, who bore him 14 children, seven of whom lived, and is a representation of the paradise where they will live and the four rivers that flow there.  I asked my guide about reports that in addition to being threatened by pollution from Agra’s industrial plants, the Taj might also be undermined as the river diminished from overuse and climate change.

No, he said, the architect anticipated this and built on a foundation of nine pillars sunk 300 feet deep made of teak and sealed in a combination of foodstuffs which make it impregnable.  Whether this is true or not I haven’t checked but his faith is as firm as that teak.  His greatest passion is for the marble, “the strongest in the world and the most translucent.”  The Taj is so luminous this is easy to believe.

The Taj took 22 years to build and Jai Jahan was imprison in “house,” which was the 163 acre Red Fork with its 16 separate buildings for his last years. 
In spite of what I've said, I'll make a separate post of pictures of the Taj.  


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