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“It’s strange to be here, the mystery never leaves you.” The late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, wrote these words at the beginning of his book, Anam Cara.  I’ve thought of them often during these past 10 months in Garhwal.   On a sunset walk through Buddha Field, appreciating the silent meditation of the Eucalyptus trees; crushing cardamom with a heavy blackstone and making chai with raw buffalo milk; engaging Anand ji in a discussion about the “mind-field” and David Bohm’s experiments with “spontaneous dialogue.”  Poignant moments of connection and awareness. How strange to be here; how strange to be alive.  Anand ji has often reminded me that this sensory world is all Maya—an impermanent mirage.  And that may be, but it’s sure been one hell of an illusional ride.

I write this final reflection in a plane somewhere over southern Sweden, 3500 miles from home.  Home in the relative sense, of course.  Home, if defined as one’s place of permanent residence, has been 4 different countries (India twice) over the past 7 years.  But home will always be where family and friends are. And that means home will always be spoken of in the plural.

So, I’m coming home (to one of my homes) and I couldn’t be happier.  India will continue to be another home and one that I undoubtedly return to many more times.

With Love and Gratitude for sharing another journey with me,

John

Tale #1: Pipola

“It’s going to be dry and hot” Naresh warned as we wound our way down the mountainside from the main road.  “The trees have all been cut and the rains won’t be here for another month.  So, our only option to stay cool is to go down to the Alaknanda” (the river that joins with the Bhagirathi to become the Ganges).

After about 30 minutes of stumbling and sliding down the steep dirt path, the village of Pipola appeared in the distance.  From our resting spot, it looked like a thumb jutting out of the mountainside, a village peninsula surrounded by valleys rather than water. I dropped my bags off at Naresh’s home and had a cup of chai with his Mom and two younger sisters.  Naresh promptly announced that our first activity would be a hike down to the river (which he hadn’t done for 8 years).  “Oh no you’re not!” was the curt reply from his mother.  “The water level is too high and it’s not safe.” Naresh adhered to the admonition and we decided to watch a Bollywood film while his mom and sisters went off to work in the field.  Halfway through the film the power went out.  Naresh gave me a look that didn’t need to be supplemented with words.  We were going to the river.  I looked at my watch and said “2pm.” We had 2 hours until the next chai break when Mom and sisters would return.  As we slipped on our sandals Naresh said, “John bhai, you told me earlier that you ran a marathon, now you’re going to run a Garhwali marathon!”  With that we took off running down the mountainside and reached the banks of the Alaknanda in 45 minutes, a trip that would normally take 2 hours walking (and keep in mind we were both wearing $2 flip flop Bata sandals, which are the only acceptable footwear for a Garhwali marathon).  After catching our breath, we climbed atop a massive white rock and watched the emerald green water flow gently on by.  As the heat of the mid-day sun began to intensify, I suggested we take a plunge.  “Oh no, sambhav nahi hain” was the surprising response.  “Not possible?”  How could it not be possible to take a swim in this placid river?  “No one here goes swimming, it’s too dangerous.  Your foot could get stuck in a rock and you might drown. Plus there are alligators.”  Nonsense, I replied.  You disobeyed your Mother and now I’m going to disobey you.  Anyways, I’m half fish, so don’t worry.  And I highly doubt there are alligators in this river. With that I plopped in and enjoyed the ultimate refreshment.  Naresh was deeply relieved when I climbed safely out of the water.  I looked at my watch—“3:30pm”—no way we could make it back in time.  Nonetheless we scuttled our way back up the mountainside and reached the village just before 5pm.  We even stopped to climb an old Mango tree, which Naresh claimed had been there for at least 150 years.

Naresh bhai climbing a tree (not the Mango tree)

The Garhwali marathon was complete, but instead of cheers at the finish line we were greeted with a scolding for being an hour late and a look of malice when Naresh’s mother learned we had disobeyed her warning AND went swimming in alligator infested waters.  After a silent chai sitting, we decided to leave the hostile environment and fetch water in an attempt to placate his mother.  On the way to the waterhole, which was a good 30 minute hike from the village, I noticed an enormous structure on the other side of the valley.  “What is that? A resort?” I inquired.  No, no, that’s a home.   “Must be a massive joint family.” No, no, just one family.  In fact, a family with 7 daughters.  The father is a famous baker and works in England. “Are any of the daughters married?”  Only 1.  “Well, let’s visit!”  I imagined they were all incredibly gorgeous. The Baker and his 7 Daughters, it was a Garhwali fairytale in the making. We put down our water jugs and took a ridge path that led around the valley to the mountain mansion.  When we reached the gate, it was eerily silent.  Finally we spotted a woman working in the field, who turned out to be the Baker’s wife.  She was understandably suspicious and asked what we wanted.  We hadn’t prepared a clever response so Naresh mumbled“ummm, we’ve come to look at your house.”  “Well, here it is, have a look” she replied with a trace of sarcasm.  We awkwardly walked around the perimeter of the house and then prepared to make the return journey.  On the way out I spoke in Hindi and said, “You have a beautiful home, thank you for letting us have a look.”  This seemed to impress the woman quite a bit, enough so that her response was to invite us in for chai.  “Yes!” was my immediate reaction.  This was the opening I was hoping for. But, “No” was the response that came out of Naresh’s mouth.  The sun was setting and we were once again going to be late.  “Maybe tomorrow we’ll come back,” he said.   As we walked out of the gate, I peaked back and saw one of the daughters emerge on the veranda.  Indeed she was a gorgeous Garhwali maiden. I gave a wave, and a silent promise that I would return.

Back at the house another scolding ensued, but was mitigated by the fact that we brought back much needed drinking water.  By 10pm I was ready for a restful night of sleep, but Naresh assured me that this would not happen as the night was far from over.  Ten minutes later two friends arrived with flashlights and we were on our way to a village theater production of The Ramayana—a Sanskrit epic that tells the story of how Rama, along with his brother and the monkey king Hanuman, rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka.  The play happens every year in villages all over India and takes place over 14 nights.  Only boys and men act in the play.  Women and children make up the majority of the audience (and the women amazingly go to work in the fields the following morning—while the men sleep). We picked up a troop of folks along the way and by the time we arrived at the outdoor stage we numbered more than 20.  Another 100 or so villagers were sitting on blankets and a stonewall waiting for the performance to begin.  What transpired over the next 4 hours was a combination of theater, dance, stand-up comedy, and a lot of cross-dressing village men! It was outstanding entertainment. We arrived back to the house after 3am and thankfully no one was awake to administer another scolding.

The following morning I woke up to relieve my bladder and was greeted with excruciating pain.   A urinary tract infection, unbeknownst to me at the time, had come on suddenly and severely.  How to communicate this in Hindi? Or even in English.  “No, my stomach is fine, the problem is that I’m having a lot of pain…in my penis canal!”  A little while later my stomach was not fine, and then a sharp pain in my kidneys arrived. I vomited twice.  I was in absolute agony for an entire morning and the whole village found it incredibly entertaining.  This surprise health misfortune was the impetus for my early return to APV School.  I said goodbye to all of the wonderful and bewildered villagers and promised to return some day, perhaps for Naresh’s sister’s wedding, or perhaps to have another chance at meeting one of the Baker’s 7 daughters.

3 days I suffered from the UTI until I found some “Citrawin”—Disodium Hydrogen Citrate Syrup in the Anjanisain market. 2 bottles later and I was cured.  I have never been more grateful for a constant and painless flow of urine.

Tale #2: Dobe

Hand Wash, Foot Wash, Mouth Wash.” I heard this command 4-5 times a day during my stay in the village of Dobe, where I spent 3 days visiting one of the APV teachers, Shanti.  Before every meal and after every trip to the bathroom, I was carefully monitored to make sure I properly cleaned myself.  I think the villagers had a slightly disconcerting image of foreigners.  In addition to hygiene, I did my best to prove my “Garhwali-ness” and show that Americans could also chop wood, use a machete, and carry pitchers of water on their head.

Whenever I reflect on my time in Dobe, it’s not the hard physical labor I think of  (although there was a fair share), it’s food. Lots of food. Ungodly amounts of food.  The amount of rice and lentil I was forced to eat could very well be considered a crime against humanity.  On the second night, I simply did not have the physical or mental strength to stuff the last handful of turmeric rice into my mouth.  I tried to make light of it and said “Me Bhagwan kiliay chordo”—I’m going to leave it for God.  This joke was clearly not appreciated as Shanti’s father responded that it would be a sin not to finish all of the food on my plate. So, I finished my plate, and began to dread meal times.

On my final day in Dobe I brought wood from the forest, worked in the field cutting wheat with a machete, carried a big jug of water on my head, and made kali roti (black millet chapatti)—by hand.  This last feat gained me a bit of legendary status and sincere respect from the elder women as some of the younger women couldn’t make it by hand—they used a rolling pin.  My tortilla training in Colombia and Guatemala proved very useful.  After my kali roti performance, Shanti’s mom told me a story about another foreigner, a British man, who had visited the region some 50 years ago.  The story went that the man was given a kali roti (which can be quite large) with some cooked vegetables on top.  After he finished eating the vegetables, he handed back the kali roti, thinking it was a plate.  At the end of the story she broke into a wonderful cackle that made it clear from whom Shanti got her notorious laugh.

In the evening, after another unbearably large meal, we sat in a circle of about 15 relatives and sang songs.  It was quite special.  We were all laughing and merrymaking when suddenly one of the younger kids decided to sing the Indian National Anthem.  Immediately everyone stood up as straight as a board and put on a stern face.  After the song everyone went back to silliness.  I was quite amused.  After the singing, one of the newly married women invited us to watch her wedding video.  I had seen an Indian wedding video once before and it was not an experience I cared to repeat. Thankfully, Shanti’s dad saved me from what would have been at least a 5 hour ordeal.

The next morning I departed after breakfast (I was originally planning on leaving in the evening, but I simply couldn’t endure any more gigantor meals).  All of Shanti’s family—cousins and relatives—came out to wish me off.  Shanti’s mom cried and gave me a big hug.  The younger women joked that they would find me a Garhwali woman to marry so I could come back.  “Sorry,” I wanted to say, “but my future Garhwali wife is waiting in the home of the Baker and his 7 daughters.” I promised everyone that I would return one day, with or without a Garhwali wife.

Tale #3: Anjanisain to Hindolokal and Back

This tale epitomizes why I love India, and more so—Village India.  Some time ago I needed to use the internet and go the ATM machine, which is located about 45minutes from Anjanisain in the bustling market of Hindolokal.  It was late in the afternoon and buses were unavailable.  I asked a taxi driver how much it would cost and he said 1500 rupees round trip—way too expensive.  I sat down for a chai in the shop of Mr. Singh and after a few minutes some folks I met at a wedding the night before sat down beside me.  As luck would have it, they were also heading to Hindolokol and offered to give me a free ride. Great!  I arrive to Hindolokal and the internet is down. Bummer.  It’s been out for over a week, new road construction cut the line—I’m told by the shopkeeper.  Someone in the store taps me on the shoulder and says, “hey, I have a USB wifi card, come to my office.” Great!  I take care of my internet needs and have a nice chat with the friendly man—who turns out to work as a road construction contractor (hence his awareness of frequent internet cuts and preparedness with the wifi card).  I hop back on the road and flag down the first shared taxi—it’s going to Jaminikal, which gets me about a third of the way home.  20 rupees and 15min later and I’m there.  I get out of the taxi and remember: “Garima (one of the APV teachers, and a newly wed) lives here.  I should visit.”  So, I ask a Samosa shop man  how to get to her home and soon enough I’ve found it.  As luck would have it, Garima is at home for one day, along with her sister and another friend, Mumpta (who also happens to be a former APV teacher).  We look at wedding pictures and share some good laughs.  They try to convince me to stay the night, but I say I need to get back to APV.  It’s too late, they say, you won’t find a ride.  Well, let me try.  Sure enough, I can’t find any taxis that will take me back to Anjanisain.  I’m getting desperate so I flag down a car that is going in the right direction.  The driver is a man in his late fifties and the passenger is a younger man, I assume his son.  Incorrect.  The driver is a high school teacher who just bought a car and is learning to drive. The younger man is also a teacher, and a driving instructor.  Sure you can have a lift, they say, but be prepared for a slow and jerky ride!  And that’s exactly what it was, to the point of making me want to hurl brown dal out the window.  A Garhwali mountain road (and India in general) is not the place to learn how to drive.  Given the pace we were moving and the havoc being wreaked on my stomach, I decided to get out and walk.  So, I dismount in the picturesque village of Kras and now I’m walking along the road, the sun is going down, leopard feeding time is setting in.   20 minutes of walking later and I hear a jeep approaching and then slowing down.  It’s someone from the Ashram (whose name I can’t remember)!  “John sir, aiyeh, hop in!”  I get back to APV School at 7:45pm, enough time to gulp down a hot chai and arrive for 8pm meditation.    So, that’s the tale of how I got from Anjanisain to Hindolokal and back for 20 rupees (50 cents) and a day full of adventure out of an otherwise monotonous errand!

Not the jeep I traveled in, but similar--just add wheels

Tale #4: The 30 Thimble Challenge

“John bhai, I have an odd request,” Sir ji casually tells me during afternoon chai, “we need 30 thimbles of various sizes.”  That is an odd request, Sir ji.  Where does one find thimbles in Anjanisain, much less of varying size?  “I believe you’ll have to make a trip to Rishikesh.  You should find them in the Old Market.”

2 weeks later and some visitors come to APV School who want to visit Rishikesh on their way back to Delhi.  I agree to accompany them and mention that I will be on special assignment.  They find my task particularly intriguing and ask to join me on the mission to the Old Market.

A shared rickshaw drops us off in the center of the Old Market, in the center of chaos.  I should have had the foresight to learn the Hindi word for “thimble”, but I didn’t, and so was reduced to mime.  After many failed attempts I meet an English speaker.  He tells me, “There is such a place, you need to go to the Thimble Wallah (wallah is a common word for man or person.  i.e. chai wallah, samosa wallah, rickshaw wallah). “You’ll find him on a one-way alley that’s not too wide and not too narrow.”  Those were his exact words.  So, the Goldilocks alley, I chuckled to myself.  Sure enough the Goldilocks alley did exist.  It was wide enough for a car and a motorbike to pass by each other, but not two cars.  Not too narrow, and not too wide.  At the end of the alley was the shop of the Thimble Wallah.  He was a man who looked to be in his early 50s with a finely chiseled beard.  The shop was full of old Aunties (the word commonly used for women above 40).  The Thimble Wallah was a busy man, constantly on his cell phone while juggling demands from the Sari-clad ladies.   I made my request and he produced several boxes containing thimbles of various size, design, and color.   I chose 40 thimbles—of various size and design, but stuck with the classic silver color (I’m a bit of a traditionalist in that sense).  The Thimble Wallah didn’t seem at all surprised by my request.  He gave me a smile and handed me my bill—200 rupees (about $5).  “Would you like any thread?” he inquired.  Sure why not, give me three rolls of the white.  Thick strand.   We shook hands and he held my gaze.   A look that said “Well done, son, you found me.”  Mission. Completed.

2 Videos

 

Tale #1: “249121: The Anjanisain Post Office”

The Anjanisain post office, which I call the Blue Cavern, is an unassuming, faded blue plaster building on the opposite side of town about a 30-minute walk from APV School. The only indication that it is anything at all is a small, haphazardly painted sign that says “Post Office—Anjanisain. Pin—249121”. A rather large and unfriendly monkey often sits above this sign, further dissuading people from entering. Inside the Blue Cavern sit 3 men—I don’t remember their names so for the purpose of this tale I’ll call them Mohit, Vinod, and Pushpender. They each have a particular job and, as I’ve learned on multiple occasions, they only perform that particular job. For example, Mohit is the stamp-man—only he can distribute the stamps. Sometimes Mohit is gone on an errand and then I have to wait until he returns before I can buy my stamps. On one occasion I challenged this system and suggested that maybe it would be possible for Vinod to distribute the stamps in the absence of Mohit (since really all that it involved was opening a small desk drawer and pulling out the booklet of stamps and then tearing off the requested amount of postage). “Absolutely not” was the answer—“Sambhav nahi hain”—not possible. On another occasion I came to the post-office with one of the grade 9 students to pick up his new ID card. Pushpender, who sits in the back of the office and is responsible for incoming mail, was the only one in the Blue Cavern at that time (the other two were on lunch break). After the customary post-office greetings and small chat, we politely asked him to check if the ID card had arrived (since Pushpender is very sensitive and irritable, it requires great care to have him perform even the smallest of tasks). “No, I don’t think it has arrived,” was his answer. But would you please check?—we insisted. “No,” he briskly responded. No? What do you mean no? “I mean–No, I don’t feel like checking right now.” But that’s your job, and you’re sitting right next to the pile of new mail! “I’m going on my lunch break, you’ll have to come back later. Bye bye, jao jao (get out of here).” Sigh… While the number of frustrating experiences far outweighs the positive, there have been a few joyous moments in the Blue Cavern.

Mohit doing his thing

For example, when my Mom’s Xmas card arrived and I showed everyone the picture of my family members, when a special delivery package arrived from my Dad and half the town seemed to know about it, when 2 post cards from Hawaii sent a month apart arrived at the same time. And then the time when all three workers, for some unexplainable and truly phenomenal alignment of the stars, were all in a jovial mood and invited me to join them for tea. After drinking tea, they showed me a big package that had been sitting in the post office for months. The labels were all in English and they couldn’t make out what it said, so they asked me for assistance. The package was for someone in another village and the labels said “fragile”, “handle with great care”. The package had certainly not been handled with great care. We shared a good laugh. Most likely another unfortunate foreigner living in a rural Garhwali village.

Tale #2: “The Leopard and the Chappals”


A story, that is constantly being revised, has been winding its way through the villages of Tehri Garhwal. It began like this: 2 months ago a girl from the village of Dobe disappeared. She was working in the field alone and never returned. When family members went in search, all they found was a pair of blue Bata chappals (sandals). And a small pool of blood. It was determined that she had been eaten by a leopard. A very rare and tragic occasion, but the only explanation. Fear spread throughout the valley and everyone was cautioned to be on the look out for the woman-eating leopard, and to kill it. Girls were advised not to go to the forest alone and especially not after dark. Two weeks later a new version arrived. She had been murdered. The killer was on the loose in the forest. A man search was initiated. No one was found and no new evidence produced. Two weeks later and this report arrived via word of mouth: the girl had been discovered and was now in prison in the city of Srinagar… with her lover. A few months prior to this event the girl’s marriage had been arranged and a wedding date had been set. Her lover, who was not the man she was expected to marry, had created the deception and they ran off together in pursuit of romantic freedom. Why were they placed in jail? For their own protection. The village people were in a rage and wanted both of them murdered for bringing shame to the entire village. To my surprise, many people I spoke with agreed with this sentiment—both lovers should be fatally punished. A true Romeo and Juliet of the Himalayas. I’m still waiting for the conclusion of this tragic saga. I’m afraid there will be no happy ending.

Tale #3: “A clandestine delivery truck, a landslide, and a dip in the sacred Ganga”

Recently I took a trip to the mountain oasis of Auli where I had the exhilarating experience of snowboarding in the Himalayas. That alone was enough of an adventure, but the return trip was even more of a thrill ride. I was traveling with another volunteer, Nicole, and we missed the last bus out of town. It was getting dark and the only vehicle that looked like it was going anywhere was a shabby, but colorfully painted, truck. We asked if we could hitch a ride to the next city. Sure, was the response, just help us unload these packages along the way. So, about every 20 minutes we stopped to unload 30kg boxes of “books” at increasingly odd locations—an abandoned hostel, a small street restaurant/shop, and someone’s home—where no one was home. The ride also included obligatory chain smoking of beedies (beetle leaf cigarettes). With all of the stops, we probably would have reached the next city just as fast on bicycle. But, we were enjoying the adventure! Except for the smell…the two men with whom we were traveling had been living in the truck for several months—delivering their “books”—and apparently had not made it a priority to bathe.
We spent the night in a small town, the name of which I’ve forgotten, and caught a bus at 6am the following morning. After about 2 hours we were stopped by a jeep heading in the opposite direction—“There’s a landslide about 5km ahead, I suggest you turn around.” Did the bus driver heed this warning? Of course not. We continued on for 5km until, sure enough, we were forced to stop by a landslide that blocked about 300ft of road. Land was literally sliding down the mountainside and I was standing right at the edge of the live action event. It was incredible! Soon, large boulders the size of basketballs starting tumbling down from above. After an hour a large crowd had gathered, made up of passengers whose drivers had also failed to heed the warning. And then something unthinkable happened. Groups of people, including women and children, started running across the landslide! Yes, running across moving land and flying rocks that could easily result in decapitation. Was wherever they were going so important that they were willing to risk their lives? Apparently, yes. Or maybe it was some sort of morbid sport—evidenced by the cheering crowds shouting various forms of encouragement and commentary: “stop!” “run!” “you’re almost there!” “Well done!” “Oh…I don’t think she’s going to make it…”. It was horrifying, and at the same time very difficult not to watch. Finally, our bus driver determined that the show had gone on long enough and since we were at the front of the line there was enough space to turn around and head back. We arrived back to the town where we had spent the previous night and hired a jeep. Two alternative routes were affected by the landslide so we took the third and final route, which basically cut around the mountain and resulted in a breathtaking valley drive. 6 hours later we arrived at our destination and received word that there had been a landslide fatality. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hit by a flying boulder.

After all of this drama and exhausting travel, Nicole and I decided that a plunge in the sacred Ganga was a good idea. So, that’s what we did. We spent the night at an ashram in Haridwar, in the morning I dipped my head in the river, partook in a pooja ceremony, purchased a really cool hat, and then took my picture next to a giant Shiva statue.

This past month I took advantage of the Fellowship “exposure visit” and made the train journey to Jaipur to meet with fellow education Fellow, Stephanie Dorman, at her NGO—Digantar.  Jaipur—The Pink City(and shades thereof)—is where my first India adventure began 3 years ago at the Nischay/Neerja Modi School (see this archival blog for stories from that experience: www.johninjaipur.blogspot.com).  During my 3 day bide I had the opportunity to accompany Stephanie on a visit to one of three Digantar schools where she introduced a new English curriculum she developed as part of her fellowship project.   I observed many similarities between APV School and Digantar: music, poetry recitation, peer teaching, independent learning activities, and teachers with a passion for teaching.  These were all inspiring signs and I left feeling that APV and Digantar could mutually benefit from future collaborations.

The following day I joined another Fellow, Joey Stromberg, on a visit to Jawahar Nagar, where he teaches a bi-weekly English class to kids from the slum.  Despite the torrid heat of mid-day Jaipur, the kids displayed a high level of enthusiasm and participation.  Although there were many bright students with considerable potential to do very well if given the right educational opportunities, Joey said very few (if any) would proceed beyond 8th grade.  The lack of family support and pressure to earn money are simply too immense.

The challenges faced by slum kids in Jawahar Nagar are very similar to those faced by students in another Jaipur school where I taught 3 years ago—Nischay—a school that offers free education/uniforms/meals to girls below the poverty line.  When I was there in 2008 the school went up to grade 10, with only a handful of girls in the upper classes.  Now the school goes up to grade 12 and the number of students has doubled.  There is also a new computer lab and sewing/craft room. These were all very inspiring signs!  I arrived in time for the final day of classes, which was also the annual “bicycle give-away”.  It was an exciting reunion made more exciting by the fact that we could finally share a meaningful conversation due to substantial improvements in my Hindi and their English.  Our time together concluded with a Mehendi session and, just like old times, a Salsa/Merengue dance lesson.

Dancing with Nischay Girls

Miscellaneous updates:
~ I started a bi-weekly English/Computer class for APV Alum students during their summer break. Fun!

APV Alums

~I got a urinary tract infection. Not fun!
~I was invited to give a TEDx Talk on Holistic Education in Orissa. Awesome!
~The TEDx event has been postponed indefinitely because a lead organizer ran away with the sponsorship money. Not Awesome!

Finally, here’s a song I recorded (with a little help from The Bunny Rabbits) for the Kids Music duo, The Okee Dokee Brothers, in honor of their trip down the Mississippi River in my home state of Minnesota (www.mississippialbum.blogspot.com)

Basant Aiya!

From APV Spring Holi

(NOTE: This entry was originally written in early May)

For the past two months we have been singing a song in morning assembly with the chorus “Basant Aiya”.  I finally asked one of the teachers why we were constantly singing this song.  “Basant Aiya—Spring has come!” was the response.

Indeed Spring has come to our perch in the Garhwali Himalayas.  The Rhododendron flowers are in full bloom and I, along with the school children, have been enjoying the edible petals.  A myriad of other flowers and trees are also in bloom.  One project that is in progress is to work with the children and community to identify as much local flora and fauna as possible—English, Hindi, and Garhwali names.  I recently met with the Botany Dept. at the University of Srinagar and they’ve also agreed to assist with the project.

In this blog entry I offer you a photo peregrination through the vibrant colors and wonders of Garhwali Spring (Including the delightful chaos of Holi—the festival of colors).

From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi
From APV Spring Holi

The past 3 months at APV School have included visits from 3 AIF Clinton Fellow alums (and 1 current Fellow).  Two of the three fellows, Chad and Charlie, had their placement at APV. The third, Brian Heilman, was placed at a rural school in W. Bengal.  Current fellow, Joey S,  and his sister, Caroline, graced the APV campus a few weeks ago.  All of these visits by past and current fellows have provided a significant support to my work.  The insights that were shared have been helpful in putting my experience in perspective and appreciating the uniqueness of APV School in its long-term connection to AIF.  APV has received fellows every year (except one) since 2003. The majority of those fellows continue to maintain a close relationship with APV and provide support in many ways.  Several fellows (including myself) hope to one day start similar schools/mindful-living communities based on the APV model. While APV School has not yet “scaled” (to use the development lingo), it has certainly inspired all those who have had the privilege to visit and work.  It has proven that another type of education is possible.  An education that is founded on mindfulness, encourages inner and outer knowing, and nourishes a life-long passion for learning.  As a recent visitor from Canada, who happened to be a retired teacher, put it: “India needs more schools like this.  The world needs more schools like this.  And I think the time is ripe for it to happen.”

Me and Charlie at the SBMA Camp Office-Dehradun

Me and Brian in the village of Kras

Me and Chad w/APV kids after an epic Holi

3 Videos

Xmas Mubarak Ho!

 

Hauling away the Xmas Branch

Friends,

A little Holiday Cheer I would like to share in the form of a video I made with the help of my new band–“Hello Mr.Bunny & The Bunny Rabbits”

Also, please take a gander at the new APV Newsletter: APV Update-Khuli Ankhiyan

Ho ho ho!

On Cold and Community

My Minnesota pride has been severely humbled during the past few weeks of winter weather here in Anjanisain. I am the only person wearing wool socks (most of the teachers and students go barefoot in flip-flops). I am the only one who sleeps in 3 layers of clothing, a goose-down jacket, and a winter hat. I am the only one who is constantly succumbing to sinus congestion and colds. And there’s not even any snow yet! Kya hua?! We Minnesotans have a lot to learn from these Garhwali mountain folks. My saving grace has been wild rose hips, which are boiled in water with ginger and a little sugar. I drink about 3 cups a day and have a thermos of reserve fluids constantly at my side.

The recent cold (which will only get colder in the coming months) has been a significant challenge. The other challenge of equal magnitude has been community living. When you spend 17hrs a day/7 days a week living and working with the same 10 people on the side of a mountain, tensions are bound to arise. In the past week we, as a community, have made some important breakthroughs in establishing a space for healthy (and much needed) communication. During the English class I conduct with the APV teachers, I posed these 4 questions: What are the challenges of living in this community? What are the joys? What would you like to improve? What do you need to be a good community member? The answers led to a whole week of discussion (at times quite impassioned). The end result was that we made a decision to set aside time every Sunday for a community “check-in”.

In addition to the English class, I usually write 1-2 reflections every week and post it on our community board so that the teachers can practice reading English. I’d like to share this week’s reflection, which (surprise, surprise) is on community.
Note: Sir ji is the director of APV School and guiding teacher of our community.

A Reflection on Communityby John Sir

Earlier this week Sir ji asked us all: “Why are you here?” I think this is a very important question; perhaps the most important question one can ask oneself.  Why are you here on this earth? Why are you here in this body? Why are you here at APV? In a community striving for mindfulness the answer should be:  I am a seeker on the inner journey.  I am trying to know myself, purify myself, and experience what the mystics claim to have attained—fana—annihilation in God (death of the ego).  Or, as Rumi puts it, experience the state where the two worlds become one.

Here in Ganesh Bhavan we live in a very unique community.  We speak different languages, we come from different backgrounds and cultures, we are different ages, one member has a family, and another member will soon be married.  We live and work together in a relatively isolated setting.  There is no escaping the challenges of community living.  Through our life together in community and our work in the school, we are constantly “stirring the muck at the bottom of the river.” On one hand, this presents many difficulties to maintaining a healthy and balanced community.  On the other hand, because of these challenges, and because the “muck” is being forced to the surface, there is enormous opportunity to grow and go deeper on the inner journey.

I find Sir ji’s analogy of life as a “drama” very helpful.  The stage for the drama is like Rumi’s “Guest House ”.  Everyday a new actor comes to perform some emotion, present a challenge or reveal a new awareness.  If we can learn to be simple observers of this drama, then we will be ok (we can even learn to laugh at the absurdity of it all) and progress far on the inner journey.  However, if the Ego gets in the way and convinces us that we ARE one of the actors rather then an observer, then we fall off the path.

To offer a concrete example, let’s say I have a conflict with another member of the community.  The first reaction is usually one of Ego—“This person has offended ME!”, “I am angry”.  Who is this me? Who is this I? The Ego has convinced us that we are the actor. The next action of the Ego is often to respond with an attack on the other person’s Ego.  Now both people assume the role of actors in the drama.  They are consumed with Ego and have fallen off the path that leads inward.

Let us, as a community, strive to reach the field that Rumi talks about in this poem:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.”

Finally, here is a video I put together documenting the visit of 25 Elementary Ed. students from Gargi College in Delhi. The video includes a slide-show of pictures, music from APV kids, video footage, and a few interviews.