Rant and Raksha Bandan!

Anger, ranting is such a common pastime. They say that when one gets angry it releases endorphins, or one of those drugs our bodies produces which make us feel happy. Thus anger can fast be addictive.
Driving this morning for the last time through the empty streets of Dehli on the morn of Independence Day, I felt a rant surface within. The ugly filth of fungus crawls up the cement tenements and pakka houses of the cities.

In stark contrast with the village houses, kept pretty and clean. Even the buffalo houses look nice. The tiny stove/ovens are carefully swished with clay. Perhaps some manure is mixed in. I heard people use a wash with manure for wall plaster. Manure has antiseptic properties!! Woah, n’est pas?

Yet yet yet the cement palaces sprout like a pestilence creeping over town and country. All all all those who have lived in both kinds of houses concur, the cement house is less comfortable to live in. To make it liveable you must have fans, air conditioning, heating in winter, AND it develops cracks and leaks during the monsoon. All this I’ve learnt from Heid, she’s been told that the wooden house of the village is like natural AC. And the same is true of a properly built earth house.

It’s that tightness in the chest, that hopeless feeling in the gut. As the teeming millions of India swarm, as we all swarm, away from common sense and traditional wisdom, towards concrete.

What to do?

Here is the rain outside my room at the Tibetan Monastery. Their answer is prayer and meditation. And you can feel it has an effect. My brothers answer is making earth houses.

Thanks be that I have been in the Great Bharat or India as we call it, with my daughter and guide. To reminds me of my ants status in the enormity. And at the same time make me want to do my tiny cog work well.
I actually think my little friends here below from the monastery are doing their job too.


OH …Let it end in celebration. Today is Raksha Bandan! A national holiday to celebrate brother and sister. Sisters buy the loveliest bracelets and put them on the wrist of their brother.

Many myths here – Lord Yama is Lord of death. His siter Yamuna, a river in southern India, tied a thread round his wrist and granted him immortality. He was so glad he granted immortality to any brother who protects his sister.
The great Indian poet Tagore extended brotherhood and sisterhood to be between Hindus and Muslims and indeed between us all.

Today, this very day most of the 1.2 billion Indians will be celebrating their sisters and brothers with sweets and prayers and rakhi bracelets.

So that’s the end of Legendhunting, monsoon myths for this year. I leave you with brotherly and sisterly love and a picture of this man. He was one of hundreds of men wearing bright orange carrying strange apparently useless things who I saw running walking biking along on a pilgrimage last week. They seemed to be having fun.



Grandmothers story

An ignorant man had a clever wife. Not only was she clever she knew the secrets of the jungle and could understand the language of birds and beasts. One day he followed her down to the river. There was a fox barking at a dead person in the water. The fox barked an agreement with the woman that if she helped him to eat the dead corpse then the fox would give her the piece of gold in its mouth. But of course the husband couldn’t understand this and when he saw her undo the cloth around the body with her teeth he thought, ‘Æsj, how terrible, she must be a witch, she is going to eat a dead body!’
So he went to his dad and told him and said ‘Take her back to her village, I don’t want her’. There had also been talk in the village about her being uppity or whatever, so he had listened to that too.

So Sasur ( the faher-in-law) and the wife went. On their way they past through a city with a bazar where noone offered water or a place to sit and she said ‘The city is like the jungle and the jungle is like the city.’ ‘What do you mean?’ said Sasur. She explained that even in the jungle there might be a Sadhu (wandering Holy man) who would offer water or a place to sit in the shade, whereas here no one offered them anything at all.

Then they came to a stream and Sasur put down her clothes and rested a bit in the shade of a tree. As he was resting he heard her speaking to someone. In fact she was speaking to a small crested bird sitting on a branch of the tree who told her that under the tree a snake was guarding a treasure, and if she frightened the snake the treasure would be hers. However Sasur didn’t know who she spoke to and thought she was planning to do witchcraft. But she saw the fear in his eyes, and explained, and frightened the snake, and found the treasure and showed the gold from the dead mans mouth in proof, which was in her pocket. So he was suitably impressed, saw his mistake and took her back because he said she was worthwhile.

But the husband disagreed and stormed off with 500 rupees to make his way in the world. Met an armless man who said ‘Your father took my arm, give it back or at least give me 100 rupees!’ so he did. Then he met a legless man who said ‘Your father took my leg, give it back or give me 100 rupees!’, so he did. The same thing happened with an eyeless and an earless and a hairless man so now he had given away all his money. In the end he had to work for a man in his fields and got paid two roti at the end of the day.

The wife followed after him, dressed in mans clothes, and said to the first man, ‘Hey you, give me your old arm and I’ll replace it’, and he got so scared he gave her back the 100 rs, and she did the same to the legless eyeless earless and hairless man and in the end she had all the money back. Then she found her husband who by now was in a terrible state so she cleaned him up and kept the nails and hair that she had cut off him tied in a handkerchief.
When they got back the son tried to pretend he had all been fine, and not lost the money or gone to pieces. But she told her story and she showed the handkercheif with the horrid old bits of beard and nails in to her father in law as proof of the state she found him in and so they decided to keep her on.


Loss of limb

Ok I’m a storyteller it’s part of the job to embroider, exaggerate, lie. As well as to attempt to tell the Truth according to ones capability, which, not being God, will always be limited.

But the doctor said this is definately a sprain and after a week of rather acute pain every time I by accident put weight on it or even not, and it was looking more swollen and there was a black bit developing at the bottom. Then the good nun Lobsang took me in to the small town. She drove at first, then as she doesn’t have a license she got a monk to drive. The hospital was the size of a small narrow shop. But as soon as we got in the doc came, a small man with impeccable Inglish (Indian English which I far prefer), prodded a bit and sent me to Xray at the back. Yes, he confirmed, it’s fractured. First time for me, he put a half caste on as it was so swollen. He wants to come to Norway, said he would give me Norwegian prices, and charged roughly £22, or 220 kroner for everything. On the way back the monk put on some groovy Hindi pop. That music makes those rides so romantic, I see myself with bits of cloth blowing in the wind, gorgeous men dancing gaily beside the car.

I’m so limited. One leg gone, and I seem to shrink to 20% capacity.
I was last here, at this monastery, in this very room at the guest house 8 years ago. At that time with my mum and my daughter Mari, then 13.

Two events stand out from that time.
We had come in February for the Tibetan new year, the biggest festival in the Tibetan year. We stayed for three weeks and there were storms, thunder, lightening and rain most every day. Very unusual for that time of year. The rituals take place overs weeks but there is one day where they open and invite absolutely anyone who wants to come from the Indian communities around, or the spread diaspora of Bøn practioners. Food is provided for all, there is masked dances, a big party. Rain would really spoil it so when we awoke to a sudden change of weather and bright sun we were very happy.

Going out of the guesthouse early that morning His Holiness the Abbot was walking on top of the high monastery wall above and shouted down to us to come up. Then he showed us the kitchen where the biggest pots I have ever seen of food were being stirred with spoons the size of spades.

‘Really lucky about the weather,’ we said. ‘Actually, no, hard work.’ he said. ‘ Have been praying all night, must go and pray again now, you go drink Tibetan tea.’

The other incident also concerned him. Towards the end of the stay I was walking down to the guesthouse. ( Talented I was then, to be able to walk, a blessing.)

For some reason that day I was within the Temple of my body, and thus open to the great world around me.
He said to the monks there, ‘Look, she come here many years before, just girl. Now see, she meditating down the path.’
It’s a rare and wonderful thing to be truly seen. Not just your new nail varnish or broken leg, but seen in the fullness of your being.


Farewell Village, hallo broken limb

The last night in the village they made a special meal. This big leaf is called Herbi and tastes a lot like sorrel. They wrap them up in a bundle with their home-grown home-milled maize, leave it to soak and then chop up the bundles and fry them and we had it with maize roti, which is crunchy and of course washed down with buffalo milk Lassi.

As I started eating it the mum and dad were kind of gazing intensely at me to see if I liked it and when I did they were just grinning with delight.
I'm a bit slow but now I've realized that there is a clear reason why they just sit there in this kind of situation and watch you eat. I mean they have been up since about 5 or 6 in the morning working really hard and now it's round 10 at night and I keep thinking how hungry they must be.

But its so embedded in the culture, this respect for us the visitors. My friend Vinay told me that the host doesn't eat so they can serve you with clean fingers. Because that way they are not eating themselves.

Next morning we were to catch the bus at 7:30 which is quite a walk away. By the way breakfast here is the same type of food as other meals so it was the same dish, delicious.
The mist was clearing. Here i stopped to take a last picture of these mountains. This walk I have done before, but then it was in the moonlight and the glow worms were out like living fairy lights in large numbers, glowing it up. However now, the early morning sun cutting through the mist, now I could see how steep it is, and we were carrying heavy packs and were stumbling along in a bit of a hurry. A bit late out what with saying goodbye.

I remember, as we were not too far from the bus stop thinking, “it’s important to walk with care.” The next thing I remember is falling. What a crunch. Normally if you fall the pain lasts a small while and then it’s gone but this just stayed. I told Heid to take the packs and try and stop the bus. I just couldnt seem to walk fast.

The bus didn’t come and I couldn’t work out what to do as the thought of walking back seemed insurmountable. But Heid remembered that the milk car goes in the right direction, so a nice schoolgirl carried my bag as I halted stabbingly to where it drives. Was it adrenalin, but sitting in that car squashed in was nice. At the bus stand a man from the village insisted on buying me a tiny white plastic cup of Cardamom chai. He told me “like for my own mother”, and it really hit the spot. I sat on the corner of the goldsmiths bench and drank it and watched the show. The show this morning, as so often these last weeks was my daughter. Rather tall (easy for us to achieve in India), elegant in tailored salois chemise suit, silver anklets and matching bangles and holding forth to one of the women in fluent Hindi while a crowd of delighted onlookers peruse the scene. She recently said that she hardly counts as a person being a woman. I think how wrong she is.
The village man gets us seats at the front. The terror i felt travelling up here is replaced with wonder. Perhaps through the weeks of life in the village, or through the fall.
After this we changed bus twice more, each time stabbing pain and disbelief at my utter lack of progress. And finally

This is where we are now. Massive contrast, the lap of luxury, no fires to light, western toilet, check the menu.
We asked for a doctor, but were told this was impossible, then as we decided on a trip to the local hospitals they said that the doctor was on his way, and we must on no account go to the hospital. But meanwhile one of the staff did offer to smuggle Heid out without the others seeing, but without the patient she decided to stay.
The doctor came, large red dot on his forehead, and a pot of brilliant blue liquid. Felt my leg and said its definately a sprain, bandaged it and poured the bright blue liquid over it emitting a powerful odor. It was very reassuring and he utterly refused to talk of payment even when Heid tried to press it into his pocket he walked out without a backward look. I think it’s also connected to respect for visitors but it’s so extonishing to us.

Afterwards we looked at the blue bottle. It’s called Mega Ciprit and says Flammable, not for medical use. Perhaps that should have alerted us but as it was we were happily ensconced in the hotel for some days, me hopping or crawling to the bathroom, eating delicious food and sweet lime sodas and enjoying one another’s company.


Humbling toilet moments and finally some stories


I am posting this picture of myself above cutting grass to remind me of my former heroic strength.
Dear reader thanks for following me on this trip. How to package all the impressions that arise in a culture shock like this?
Especially when your bowels emit water, you've got your period and you can't walk.



Possibly it started after one of my trips to cut grass when I rested as usual in the shade with these women chatting on their way home. I was offered water from a cut off plastic container that looked as if the buffalo might be using it too. Previously I'd refused but now, perhaps feeling that 'nothing can touch me' type of feeling, I drank.

The toilet is in the centre of the courtyard where the sounds of dreadful watery farts ring out publicly. I actually like squatting loos, and not having loo roll is environmentally friendly but what do you do when the water pipe is broken and it hasn't rained for days? You dread going to the loo, you carry with you the old washing up water. You use toilet paper but old Nanny shouts aloud so all can hear, who has put paper in the toilet! Not allowed!

Finally you have to fetch the water from the ravine. It's steep, the path destroyed by the violent flooding which killed thousands earlier this year higher up the Himalaya. Then you carry the water uphill on your head. Or if you're lucky like me you have a daughter who can do it for you. Its womens work. I went down to carry washing as all our clothes were getting stinky. Yes despite, despite all that how lovely it was to sit on the rock and paddle and watch the huge black and blue butterflies size of small birds. The kind girls helping us.

These are the kinds of houses in the village. Made from deodar trees they took from the river where the British were floating them down in the timber trade 100 years back.

You might be wondering, why does she call it legend hunting? Is she looking for stories at all? Yes, yes I promise I have. On the one hand the way of life is such a story and is also the context in which their tales can be understood.
So we ask and ask, and usually they say no they don’t have any stories. Standard stuff, here as in the north of Norway. The presence of a professional storyteller and an anthropologist would put anyone off.
So the first place we went serious legend hunting was the old old ‘Nannie’ up the hill. Yes nanny is the Hindi word for grandmother. Possibly the most international word I know; nan, gran, nanny, nanna, anne.
There she was surrounded by a bevy of women and girls of assorted ages. And she told me soon enough that Heid was more of a daughter to her than to me now. Villagers don’t mince words. Several times I’ve told them I like their house and they just say, fine, you take it I’ll have yours.
So we said, Do you know any stories? No, I’m not an educated woman.
Ok I said, I’ll tell you one. I’d prepared something else but on the spur of the moment I told one eye, two eyes and three eyes. Just something about the hard work, herding the goat, the magical tree.

Oh, this was the most touching moment! Old Nannie, pretty blind. How her face lit up.
I was telling, Heid retelling in Hindi, her granddaughter in Bahari (the local language). In her lined face a pure joy of recognition of travel into the realm of Fairy tale. As if she were in her childhood again.

And then came her story. A shape shifter story of a girl who married a frog. And when he took off his skin, he shone like the sun. Nanny didn’t mention if he was a man. But when the girl finally burnt his frog skin efficiently he left, never never to return. Because he was of the Gods and lived in the sky.

Oh I like those endings when they wake you up. We’re so used to the happy wedding ending but it’s not always like that in real life, when you meet up with a God and try and own him or her.