Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Friday, March 25, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Well, the rain did come yesterday.  Somewhere.  We only got a few drops in Santiniketan though, but the storm did its job without local precipitation and lowered the temperatures so dramatically that I was able to sit last night for several hours without turning on the fan.  Even today, it remained cool enough to take a nice nap and then a sunset bike ride.

I have been hard at work making a website for the homestay I'm living in and another for Ahimsa, the NGO that Chandana works for.  I've been teaching kids how to do stage slaps and getting other kids to write a book of poetry.  Finally, I've ironed out some of my remaining travel plans.  I'll go up to Darjeeling for a week on April 4th, where the air at the moment is a little too cool at 37 degrees F.  After that, I will come down from the mountains to the Ganges and the holy city of Varanasi.  I've still got two weeks at the end of my trip to pin down, but it  looks like I might be going to Jaipur in Rajasthan after all.

Shifting my focus, even in the planning stages, to leaving Santiniketan has left me feeling unfocused.  I've tried to write several blog posts on things like the kids at Antaranga or the women in the Chitra group who all have stories worthy of their own best-selling memoirs.  I am so much IN it here now, in the world of this little town, into a routine, nestled into my house and alone time when need be, socializing and checking in with Chandana about work and life and gossip when the mood strikes that I'm finding it nigh on impossible to step out long enough to write from here.

I've thought once or twice over the last few days that I could easily be back in Seattle I feel so acclimated, so used to being here.  But now, in buying train and plane tickets for the next legs of my Indian adventure, I am reminded that I am only a visitor to this little town on temporary leave from my "normal" life.

It is a temptation to start to disengage and pull away from my new friends so the actual parting will be less painful, but, so far, I've managed to curb that impulse.

But the emotions are getting a bit jammed up and, like I said, I haven't been able to write.  It seems like all my thoughts and feelings and stories are now crowded in a small room, such a confined space that I can't make out any individual thread clearly enough to untangle it and put it down in clear, bright words.  It's like if every story I want to write for you were a person, they would be packed like commuters on a Mumbai train, pinned against one another, packed like the proverbial sardines, immovable.

Maybe I have to imagine all those stories at a train stop and wonder which one would get off now and which ones are still waiting to get off further down the line.

Hmmm.... Ok.

What would the first stop be called?  Let's try "Simple Pleasures."

The image that steps out of the train first is of two little girls, each 13 but small for their age who go to the night school at Antaranga.

I don't know their names.  I should.  They have told me.  But Bengali names and I have a little bit of difficulty understanding each other.  Plus, I don't work with the night school kids more than a few evenings a week.  We have been making a book of poetry.  I sent the students out to observe their lives and then asked them to come in and write short pieces in Bengali about something that made them happy.  Actually, I asked them to write about something that affected them, moved them in some way, and they all chose to things that made them happy.  Then we translated the poems into English, after which they wrote the two versions of their poem side by side and illustrated them.  As several kids were absent after the revelry of Holi, this process has been drawn out and students have been finishing in stages.

Last night I waited for the last 4 kids to translate and illustrate, which left me pretty much hanging out with the other 15 kids while they did any homework from their day school, the government school, where class sizes of a 100 students or more make it impossible for anyone to get individual attention.   As I sat against the wall on the floor, one of the 13 year old girls nudged her way to sitting on my right side, the other girl scooted in to sit on my left.  The girl on the right plopped her English book on my lap and started reading from it.  It was a lesson in the Past Tense of verbs.  The girl on my left leaned in and started to read out loud with the girl on my right who was sitting now with her elbow resting on my leg.  As they continued to reach deep into their brains to put sound to what they were seeing on the type-written page, their little heads leaned in and the three of us were almost forehead to forehead to forehead.  I would correct them, if needed, and they would try again.  It was the simplest of teaching moments, and one of my favorite ever.

When they were tired of reading, the two girls took to trying on my rings and generally being goofy and trying to tickle me.  The boys who were half-way working on the other side of the room started posing and asking for me to take "one picture please."

From an adjacent classroom, a gal of 14 or 15 was basically playing peek-a-boo with me, going so far as to sometimes get up and run in to my room and then run back out.

One of the two older girls who was still illustrating her poem, paused to tell me all nine of her names, this included her English name, Anita, and her nickname, Honey.  I loved that this girl, who I must admit is one of my favorites, had the same nickname as my big sister.  The Indian Honey caught my eye right off when Eva was here doing her art workshop.  Honey is a girl just on the line of becoming a woman, with a serious maturity that hints at great sadness which makes me love her.  I sense that she is fighting to become herself in a place that doesn't make much room for girls to own their power and their independence.  I have tried, as best I can without making it obvious to everyone else that she is one of my favorites, to instill in her my belief that she is someone special.

It's really unfair to say that Honey is one of my favorites, because when my mind wanders over all the faces from the night school at Antaranga, I feel such love for each one.  It's a group full of character and light.  And last night, as I sat there on the dirty and dusty floor, mosquitoes buzzing, I couldn't imagine any place on earth that was more wonderful.

There are so many simple pleasures here in Santiniketan.

The way rickshaw drivers sit in their rickshaws waiting for customers never ceases to please me.  They do it in such a way that it feels like they arranged themselves deliberately in the most beautiful and artistic way possible.

The way ticky tiks, or geckos, are constantly flitting across the walls tickles me daily.  Once I learned that geckos were called ticky tiks in Bengali they became even more fun.

The absolutely brilliant nimbu panis that Munglie, the cook here, makes for me every day.  It's a special lime juice that is calibrated to be just the right amount of salty and sweet as to be thirst quenching and utterly delicious all at the same time.

Seeing Saris drying on the lawn, simply stretched out on the grass.  It's delightfully colorful and completely practical.

The fact that tiny little food shacks that still operate much as they must have 100 years ago can be entirely covered in chalk drawn murals such as this....

....makes me want to literally jump for joy.

I could go on and on.  As my days here dwindle, I'm going to have to be diligent about soaking all these pleasures in without holding onto them too tightly.  Maybe finding out what other stops my writing train needs to stop at to let some of these pent up stories out will help.

I'll think on that while I climb into my mosquito-net tented bed, another simple pleasure that affords me a moment everyday of indulging in the sense of adventure that comes from going to sleep in a place that requires a mosquito net to cover the bed.


Kirstin said...

I can't wait to here about the train's next stop. Sending you love from T-town! xo

auntiemao said...

More and more wonderful each time...xo