10 October 2007

IN INDIA WITH LOVE

*François de lamaestre resting on Ladakh hill*

François de Lamaestre whom I know by his nickname Franck is a twenty-six-year-old Frenchman, who came to India in 2004. Many foreign tourists visit India and return back to their own lands with impressions good or bad or simply neutral. To some India is queer and mystic. This is because India is a weave of undivided time-ancient and modern.

Nowhere else in the world will you find so many temples and so many pilgrimage spots for all faiths dotted throughout the length and breadth of this country-even after its partition in 1947. On the insistence of Md Ali Jinnah, Pakistan was formed as a separate Islamic state, as Jinnah believed in a “two nations" theory with Hindus and Muslims. But to show how unrealistic was Jinnah in his ‘two-nations’ concept, India shelters more Muslims than does Pakistan. India is a land where all cultures and faiths find a congenial one atmosphere under her sky where all can breathe, exist, play and grow. This uniqueness has attracted many foreigners from immemorial times. In India, it’s a different time. If you want to feel and understand India in your own sense of time, you will be disappointed. She exists in a time-zone not determined by the Sun. She has existed from unknown ancient times carrying and combining the breath of all the collectivities that have treaded on and through her receptive bosom.You can feel the presence of Lord Buddha, the great Shankaracharya, Guru Nanak and even you yourself are joined with a mysterious past when the great Upanishads and the Vedas were born. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are not mere epics in India. They are a vibrant and living reality deep within the Indian psyche. Islam arrived not so long ago in the past. The Muslim rulers have gone like the Christians. But hundreds of thousands of Muslim saints and Sufis as well as Christian saints are vibrantly felt in the air of India even in the anthills of Mumbai, Chennai and in the hundreds of cities and towns of India even today. India forgets none. She took all and made them her own.At the same time she appears shocking to the visitors of the West, with her poverty, the dwellers on the road-side pavements, the lepers, the beggars, the squalors and the unhygienic way of life of her people.

India has her natural beauty with mountains, hills, forests, springs, seas and rivers. But India cannot boast of these assets as unique to her, as there are several lands in the world which are as beautiful as heaven. So for outsiders India appears in many different lights. Both the Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists think that they are separate collectivities with different cultures. But this is sheer ignorance. Even the most conservative Muslims are not aware that they breathe from the same cultural atmosphere which helps Hindus to retain their Hinduism. India is not sectarianly religious. She is deeply religious, but with a spiritual overtone. It is difficult to understand the essence of India. It is a seat of spiritual seeking. For thousands of years India devoted herself to this seeking. So the air and the soil of India still contains this essential spiritualism. A Muslim has a greater opportunity here in India to be a proper seeker of Islamic truth than the people of Turky and Syria. Pakistan contains this same spiritual atmosphere. So A Hindu fundamentalist -if he would like India to be a home to Hindus only-would be attempting to cut and divide the air with a Hindu sword. A Muslim in India is not simply a Muslim. Islam is reborn in India-in Indian Muslims. Hinduism is not a religion like the organised religions of the world. It's a way of life. It always tries, seeks and asserts to base life on a truth that is eternal. So both Hidus and Muslims in India are basically-if anything-Indians. The religions are personal ways of seeking. But collectively we are the same Indians. I relate all this as Franck's experiences in India were basically from the Hindu religion and festivals-including the pilgrimage spots. But Franck’s love-an overwhelming love and attraction for India-is unusual, though not unheard of. It is an intense and infatuating romance. It is interesting to hear his romantic tales. So I requested that he write them up for this blog notwithstanding my awareness that feelings in matters of love are always inexpressible. Here is what Franck says about his encounter and relationship with eternal India. My earlier statement that India forgets nothing and none and that she took all and made it her own finds resonance when Franck says, “I was amazed at how quickly I was accepted - such a contrast to the difficulties in relationships in my own country”.
Nowhere in the world you’ll find so many temples and so many pilgrimage spots for all faiths dotted throughout the length and breadth of this country-even after its partition in 1947. On the insistence of Md Ali Jinnah Pakistan was formed as a separate Islamic state as Jinnah believed in “two nations”- theory with Hindus and Muslims. But to show how unrealistic was Jinnah in his ‘two-nations’ concept India shelters more Muslims than Pakistan does. India is a land where all cultures and faiths find a congenial one atmosphere over the sky of her land where all can breathe to exist, to play and grow. This uniqueness has attracted many foreigners from immemorial times. In India, it’s a different time. If you want to feel and understand india in your own sense of time- you will definitely be mistaken. She is within a different time- zone not determined by the Sun. She has been continuing from the unknown ancient time carrying and combining the breath of all the collectivities that have treaded on and through her receptive bosom. You can feel the presence of Lord Buddha, the great Shankaracharya, Guru Nanak and even you are joined with an immeasurable far when the great Upanishads and the Vedas were born. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are not mere epics in India. They are vibrant and living reality deep within the Indian psyche. The Islam came in not from so far a past. The Muslim rulers have gone like the Christian. But hundreds of thousands of Muslim saints and Sufis along with the Christian saints are vibrantly felt in the air of India even in the anthills of Mumbai, Chennai and hundreds of cities and towns of India even in 2007 AD. India left none. She took all and make all her own. At the same time she appears shocking to the visitors of the West-with her poverty, the dwellers on the road-side pavements, the lepers, the beggars, the squalors and the unhygienic way of life of her people. India has her natural beauty with mountains, hills, forests, springs, seas and rivers. But India can not boast of these as it is not unique with her and there are several lands in the world which are as beautiful as heaven. So for outsiders India appears in many different ways. Both the Muslim and Hindu fundamentalists think that they are separate collectivities with different cultures. But it is sheer ignorance. Even the most conservative Muslims are not aware that they breathe from the same cultural atmosphere which helps Hindus to retain their Hinduism. India is not sectarianly religious. She is deeply religious-but with a spiritual overtone. It's difficult to understand the essence of India. It's a seat of spiritual seeking. For thousands of years India devoted herself to this seeking. So the air and the soil of India still contains this essential spiritualism. A Muslim has a greater opportunity here in India to be a proper seeker of Islamic truth than the people of Turky and Syria. Pakistan contains this same spiritual air as we find in India. So A Hindu fundamentalist -if he likes India to be a home to Hindus only-his attempt to to do this is as if to cut and divide the air with a Hindu sword. A Muslim in India is not simply a Muslim. Islam is reborn in India-in Indian Muslims. The Hinduism is not a religion like the organised religions of the world. It's a way of life. It always tries, seeks and asserts to base life on a truth that is eternal. So both Hidus and Muslims in India are basically-if not anything, are Indians. The religions are personal way of seeking. But collectively we are the same Indians. I have to tell all this as Frank's experiences in India were basically from Hindu religious and festivals-including the pilgrimage spots. But Frank’s love-an overwhelming love and attraction for India is rare-though not a singular instance. It’s an intense and infatuating romance that is not usual. It’s interesting to go through his romantic tales. So I requested him to write it down for this blog notwithstanding my awareness that the feeling in matters of love is always inexpressible. Here is what Frank –says about his encounter and relation with eternal India. My earlier statement that India left nothing and none and she took all and made her own finds a resonance when Frank says “I was amazed at how quickly I was accepted - such a contrast to the difficulties in relationships in my own country”. [Introduction part written jointly by Kathleen Sutherland and me] Frank is an extraordinary photographer. With the delight of seeing one's lover from as many angles as one's never satiated heart wants, Frank, with his camera, seeks to hold innumerable sights of India in his camera. Some of these photos are published here with his kind permission. I am greatly indebted to him for this. INDIA-My love I've been to India twice. The first time was in 2004, when I stayed for two months, mainly visiting tourist places like in Rajasthan or Himachal. The second time was in 2006; when I told my relatives that I would go back again to India, they all asked me, "Why? You've already been. There are a lot of other countries you could visit, so why go back to a place you’ve already seen?" First of all, I don’t think that in two months I can presume to know a country that is such a multi-cultural mosaic, with such an ancient and complex culture, and moreover, a country which is seven times the size of mine (France). But this is the official explanation; my true motivation has nothing to do with any logical explanations, but during the two years separating my trips, I was craving going back; India was in my thoughts and dreams, as the image of a beloved face...I had fallen in love. How did that happened? 2004 Was it during that first rickshaw ride, from Andheri to the railway station, when a group of boys and girls waved to us (this first time I was with my girlfriend)? Or was it when this kind family in the train to Ahmedabad took care of me when I was experiencing the first symptoms of hepatitis? Or when that rickshaw driver saw I was having troubles and stopped to make me drink some lemon tea? Was it during that moment shared with two students in the same train, watching the Gujarat landscape while discussing the world? Was it during the Aardh-kumbh mela in Hardwar? The truth is, there was no beginning, it was a diffuse experience that is hard to describe. Since 19 years of age, I’ve been fascinated by India, reading books and watching documentaries about it, but nothing prepared me for the actual experience. Marseille, 2006. After a struggle to find a teacher able to supervise my master’s degree about India and finding none, I decided to leave the university and to extend my plane ticket from two to six months. I had chosen to study anthropology in that country, and if I couldn’t do that through the university, then I would have to do it by myself. This was quite an impulsive decision, but I followed through, just me and my back pack. Nothing could have me prepared me for the experience. One week after arriving, Palitana, Gujarat. There was a procession. Around 300 pilgrims came from Ahmedabad by foot, going to Shuntraya, a main Jain pilgrimage place. There were musicians, charriots, horses and elephants, decorated cows, traditional costumes, and such a relaxed mood. I stayed around, I didn't want to get too close as it was a religious observance and I am not Jain. But soon, one of the men leading the procession approached me. We started talking, and he invited me to join them in the procession, in the dancing. They were all eager to explain things to me, and I was introduced to many of the pilgrims; the procession lasted two hours - two hours of smiles, dance, and joy. Arriving at the first temple, I thought I’d have to go; but then they invited me to the puja, offering flowers and breaking coconuts, all sitting on the ground of the temple, the smell of incense and the happiness of these people. Then came the time to eat; in guide books, they say dharamasala are forbidden to tourists; so I started to leave, but one of the pilgrims fetched me back, and wouldn’t let me go until I ate with them in that dharamsala. I was overwhelmed by that kindness, that true and direct acceptance; did I deserved that? I spent such a marvellous day. And the day after, I climbed the 6000 steps to Shuntraya with them, watched saw a huge ceremony up there, was fascinated by this huge 866 temple complex, and amazed by that easy sharing of smiles and friendship. From this very moment, India has never stop smiling at me. Talaja, Gujarat: while waiting for my bus to depart, a teenager approached me and made me visit his village; then he brought me to his house, where I met his grandma and sister; his grandma insisted that I take their own Shirdi Sai baba statue, to give me luck for the trip. She wouldn't let me go until I accepted it. Maheshwar, Madhya-Pradesh A very ancient fort, very ancient ghats on the banks of the Narmada river; in the fort, a cave; in the cave, a very old man, 90 years old, a sadhu; coming back for a three year Narmada-pilgrimage, his legs as thin as matches; everyday, people came to him, bringing milk, fruits or rice. I was invited to this cave, and at night, people would come, brahmins and sudras as well, and this old man would start singing bhajans; people would take instruments and start playing, and it could last for hours..there also I was amazed. Certainly I had heard about sadhus, but during my first trip, I only encountered a fake one, a "duplicate", as they say. Once again, , I was amazed at how quickly I was accepted - such a contrast to the difficulties in relationships in my own country. I also felt like a kid who is offered a very precious. I also felt like a kid who is offered a very precious gift: a glimpse of true India. I had a multitude of such moving experiences during my six month stay, not just involving human relationships but also viewing countrysides (the road from Manali to Leh, I am convinced, is the most beautiful, fantastic, amazing road in the world), discovering new tastes (dosas, multiples kinf of thalis, fresh fruits and vegetables, and my beloved snack, kachoories), new sounds... (well, excepted for this " Jhalak Dikha Ja", I think I heard it more than a thousand times; but Lata Mangeshkar songs, and plenty other are still part of my musical library). I made plenty of new friends, had plenty of feelings, sometimes difficult ones (as when I saw for the first time people with leprosy), but I had an overall impression of being alive again, all my senses awakened; the place of nature (we know about cows, monkeys, goats...but it is very different to see them for real), the rhythm of life, well, everything. As a confirmation of the my special link with India, the second time I went to that country in a total trust, no vaccinations, no precautions, drinking local water, even bathing in Varanasi ("are you serious? you're stupid to do this, this water is infected with cholera and many other diseases!" "So what? it's holy water..") I had this strong feeling from the very moment I got off the plane: nothing bad could happen to me…and nothing bad did happen to me. India showed me many marvellous things, taking care of me every time I needed it. Once I had an accident in a small village, and a sadhu came to me and put ghee on my wounds. And I can’t count all the times I was invited to eat with sweet families. I don't know why I feel like this, it sounds like nonsense to my relatives, so I can't explain this love, but who can explain love? I just know that in some way I am linked to that country, and you can be sure that when I travel again, my destination will once again be India. Manojit Bhattacharya From Calcutta comments: "Upon reading through INDIA-My Love by someone Frank (nicknamed, I believe)the very first comment came in my mind is : "Beauty is Truth, truth beauty / And that is all, all ye ought to know." In this prosaic form the author has poured his poetic juice of a particular flavor--love of beauty--in the recipe of India Mixure.... When mother is loved by my neighbor's child, prompt he becomes my friend, isn't not a fact? Same has fallen on me too. Thank you Frank.....may God of all Gods keep you always in such state of perception !!!"

1 comment:

Manojit Bhattacharya said...

Upon reading through INDIA-My Love by someone Frank (nicknamed, I believe)the very first comment came in my mind is : "Beauty is Truth, truth beauty / And that is all, all ye ought to know." In this prosaic form the author has poured his poetic juice of a particular flavor--love of beauty--in the recipe of India Mixure.... When mother is loved by my neighbor's child, prompt he becomes my friend, isn't not a fact? Same has fallen on me too. Thank you Frank.....may God of all Gods keep you always in such state of perception !!!