Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Patna, India --Magical Moments

At some poiont (earlier if you travel fast) India overwhelms the senses to the point that they begin to shut by one. The pervasive smells of urine and garbage and thousands upon thousands of bodies rushing and working in the heat soaked streets go mostly unnoticed (unless, of course, you walk downwind of a public urinal). the ears stop yearning for just ONE MOMENT of silence or quiet and accept the constant cacophony of screaming, honking horns, chugging generators, blaring music, wailing songs and babies and bellowing cows. The eyes adjust to the insane patchwork of colors that adorn buildings an landscapes alike, to the crumbling structures and sidewalk shelters, knotted electrical wires, crippled, maimed and snot-nosed beggars, to laborers lugging sacks of grain that bend them nearly to the ground, to careening cars, trucks, buses, rickshaws, and bicycles, to temples featuring multi-limbed, garishly colored, elephant and monkey-like Gods and the eyes begin processing the chaos with barely a flicker. The tongue accepts the flavors of pollution, spices, exhaust fumes and smoke and the skin absorbs the veil of dust and dirt and becomes one with the earth.

The unusual and unique become the norm and you move through the throngs of people and bumper car traffic with comfort and ease. But even as you accept the unusual as usual, India continues to surprise and delight.

The other morning I got up at 6 am to go the the Ganga (Ganges) River for a performance by Khitish (a wise 23-year-old Orissa artist). A group of 10 or so where walking through the awakening streets enjoying the cool morning breeze and relative quiet. A bicycle rickshaw drove by and, as usual, the occupant, an elderly woman, craned her neck around the side of the rickshaw to get a longer look at the white people walking. I waved and smiled. Up ahead, the rickshaw stopped. I thought she was going to ask me if I needed a ride or something. Instead, however, when I approached her, she gently took my hands in hers and bowed her head murming a blessing (I presume) before touching her hand to my forehead. I smiled and bowed my head in return. And then I continued walking and she told her rickshaw to “challo!” (go!) The girl walking next to me looked and me and we both raised our brows. “Things like that rarely happen to me in Ohio,” I said, and we both laughed in wonder. I was at peace the rest of the day.

In Ranchi a similar thing happened to Kata and me. We were sitting on the steps of a small temple relaxing. Some boys were playing cricket nearby, people from the neighborhood were walking her and there going about their daily business. A young girl in her teens fo 20s with a small child walked by and I, as usual, said “Namaste” and smiled at them and joked a bit with the kid. About 10 minutes later, I saw the two of them coming toward us from a distance carrying something. As they came closer I realized it was a big bouquet of flowers (for the Gods in the temple, I presumed.) Instead, she walked up to me and presented the flowers to me with a smile and a bow of her head. she then turned and walked away. Kata and I looked at each other and the world was suddenly a very beautiful place.

Of course, I’ve come to expect magical moments when doing my bracelet project. Every time I tie a bracelet on someone’s wrist, a wonderful “something” passes between us. The beggar kids stop begging and, instead becomes kids and we joke around and laugh and talk. I gave bracelets to two adorable gap-toothed older ladies who wanted money for food. They giggled like teenagers throughout the process, patted me on the shoulders and head and then strolled away jabbering about the strange experience they had just had. (Two young Muslim men watched this exchange and by the time the ladies left, they, too, were smiling...and the Muslin facial expression is a tough one to crack!)

At the railroad station, I tied bracelets on a man with half a hand, a man so dirty he seemed to be permanently black from head to shoes, a beautiful young beggar mother carrying her baby, an entire family of street people, a cow (his horn) and a statue of Ghandi.At lunch we had the most adorably ancient waiter. He took such good care of us and we enjoyed jabbering in my horrible Hindi. I presented him with a bracelet and he seemed to actually GROW in stature as I tied it on and then be BLUSHED and giggled and looked proudly at the other waiters. Every time he returned to the table, he shook his gray head and chuckled with happiness. It’s a good project.... definitely making connections that run far deeper than I expected.

But enough of the serious stuff.... on to THE INDIAN EROTIC MOVIES

Eric, Kata and I decided it would be fun to go to see some Indian porn in the lowest class theatre in town. We arrived about a 1/2 hour late, but there were still about 50 or more mostly young men buying their tickets. One man, obviously concerned about our ignorance, came over and informed us that this wasn:t “a family movie” and that we couldn’t attend. When Eric asked why he said he didn’t know... “it just isn’t fair,” he said. We, of course, responded by going to the ticket counter and buying our tickets (despite constant warnings that this was not a family movie). But we bought our 12 rupee tickets (45 rupees to a dollar)... there were 10 rupee tickets, too, but you had to STAND downstairs in a mob (we might be crazy, but not THAT crazy!)

After climbing 5 flights or steps, we settled in our balcony seats...the movie was underway. Unbelievable. I thought maybe it was a filler flick before the real thing, but it was indeed the feature. It looked like it was made in the 70s (because one of the sexy girls was dressed like a hippie)... The film was badly scratched and marked and the “scenes” were segmented by black film with “lightning” scratched into it which was accompanied by crashing fake thunder... I can’t even describe the plot, but it involved two policemen, three sexy girls (the hippie, a very dark skinned girl and an Indian woman with her sari tucked seductively?? in her belt), several overweight mustachioed Indian guys, and -- my favorite character -- a MONSTER (yes, a big hairy, ugly monster man with huge fake hands hanging down covered with green fur) The monster lurched around, roaring and grunting until he found a sexy girl (usually on the bed having erotic dreams) that he could ravage and then kill. If he happened upon a man, he’d simply kill him. In between the monster shots, there were odd scenes in which some erotic act was featured (from unbuttoning a shirt to doing “the deed” which was captured by flashing from the man’s head to the woman’s head with groans of OOOOH! AAAAAH! OOOOOH! AAAAAAH! OOOOOOH! AAAAAH!)

Meanwhile the fellows standing downstairs whooped and hollered. (The ushers kept anyone from sitting next to us, but one guy sat two seats away and moaned “Ahh, boobs, I love big boobs! F***ing boobs! Yaaaaaah!” until our lack of interest sent him scurrying back to his seat.We stayed until Intermission (God only knows what happens during the break where hundreds of excited Indian boys are involved!) It really is a sad and pathetic comment on the state of sexual affairs in Indian. If hundreds of men and boys throng to see such horribly, pathetically bad porn, something is definitely amiss!

Other news--Two guys from Serbia joined the Karavan yesterday and my friend Anna arrives in the morning... the Karavan blogsite is up (although I haven’t posted to it) at ... it probably has some photos of me and the rest of the crew...

I gave a talk on Conceptual Art and my work at the college and the kids loved it (although don’t really quite get it)...Getting the equipment, power, plugs and screen was the highlight... the plugs were held in by placing rocks around them... the screen was a big white blackboard thing scraped and marked.... an electrician (and I use this term very loosely) had to come and twist some wires together and stuff them in a box... we got started about an hour late, but no one cared in the least..

Kata, Eric and I went to a “ritzy” Indian members-only club on the banks of the Ganga last night for drinks and snacks with the guy running the Patna leg of the Karavan and his wife (both of whom I know from the time I spent in Bodh Gaya). There were no other women there (they come on weekends).... just groups of guys gathered in circles of chairs in the grass and on the patio, drinking and eating...

Went on a siteseeing trip to a private museum... The Quila House featuring the Jalan Collection Unbelievable amount of stuff of all sort... the guy who accumulated it was obviously a hoarder of the highest level and had a bit too much money at his disposal! But it was interesting... and then on to the Jain temple (second largest in India?? or Bihar??)...

Jains are a separate religion from Hindu and Muslims (share some roots, I suppose)... they’re the ones who wear turbans. When we walked in, the temple display was bright and flashy and beautiful...but off to the side sat about 40 people counting STACKS of money and coins from the collection boxes... obviously, the Jains are doing A-OK.

Kata and I are launching a new project -- Non-Performance Art. We’re just going to go stand somewhere until a crowd gathers and then take a bow and leave. We got the idea when we went to the train station to watch a performance by some of the artists...they were painted with white faces and carried spoons with rice in them in their mouths...very dramatic. However, Kata and I simply standing there watching drew a crowd as big or bigger than the performance. Khitish, the Orissa artist, kept telling the crowd to watch the performance, but to no avail. Finally, I stepped forward and said *Hello, my name is carol Hummel. “I’m from the United states and I love India” The crowd went wild with approval!! Kata did a short speech, too, to the crowd’s delight! Khitish so aptly summed it up by saying, “Well, it’s obvious who the real works of art are” Hilarious!

And so ends my chatter for the next week or until I find an internet again. We’re having the end of Patna party tomorrow and on the 11th the Karavan goes to Lucknow, but a bunch of us are going to Bodh Gaya for several days to enjoy some monks and temples and Tibetan food.

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