Monday 30 January 2012


I remember traveling when I was younger, that I had to learn again and again to trust my intuition. I'd step into something I wasn't sure about and then realize that I'd ignored what I'd already sensed in advance. Often too late, though not distastrously so, luckily. This may be an advantage of being an older traveler, or at least in my case it is. I've learned to trust my instincts and intuitions, gut feelings and desires. I'm both more flexible now and more certain. How to explain that paradox? Well, the place for paradoxes is India -- a string of fresh marigolds hanging in a tiny, grimy mechanics shop, dazzlingly clean white kurtas and turbans in a backdrop of cows grazing on garbage and men pissing on the roadside. Purity and filth, dignity and indignity.

The novel I'm currenty writing and researching begins in India and comes from a story I once I heard (or read?) that caught my imagination. It's a small anecdote really, just an opening into an idea, but it's stayed with me through the years. That story has come together in my imagination with a story set in rural Manitoba. Why? I don't know yet. But again I have learned to trust my intuition in writing. If nothing else, it makes the process a lot more interesting for me. I put things together because I sense they belong together. I don't work from an outline, although I do have a pretty good sense of where the story's going. I feel like an outline would take the fun out of it for me. New characters sometimes appear who take the story in a direction I hadn't expected. Main characters refuse to follow the plot I've envisioned for them. But once I've written a first draft, then I do go back and make an outline of what I've done and look for holes, etc.

I also have a policy of not talking much about the novel, or letting anyone read it, before it's written. It's almost a superstition, like a playoff beard. Once, when I was a kid, I snuck a look at my Christmas presents before Christmas morning. I never did it again. I think you can spend your ideas by talking about them too much. Afterwards, when it's written and I'm revising or feel "done", then sure. But not before. The one exception is the talking I do with David, my husband. He listens but doesn't pry. Often he's half asleep and just grunts a bit which keeps me talking. He may seem bored (probably not a pose). And sometimes he suggests things that I initially dismiss but that later return to me and I end up using.

I'm back at Sangam House today, just for one night, then taking the night train to Hampi with two writers I've met here. Then to Bombay. Home soon.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Enterprising India

The day before yesterday we travelled to Fatehpur Sikhri. Akbar built it intending it to become the new capital, but a shortage of water led him to pack up and move the palace, along with all the shops and services that supplied it. Fatehpur Sikhri is interesting, but it's swarming with both tourists and Indians wanting to make some money from tourists. Lots of little impish kids who know a few words in about six languages and have various little items to sell: postcards are common, but also dolls, bracelets, anklets, books about the site, pens, etc, etc. A sense of humour is extremely helpful. Our Indian tour leader taught me the phrase "na heeng cha-ir" which means something like "I don't want anything." He said to say it forcefully. I remember in Morocco the word "walloo" (nothing) was like magic, so I tried it out, (the Hindi phrase, that is, not the Arabic) except I'd written it on my hand and didn't have my reading glasses so I said "nee haang" and then upped the insistent tone, repeating "Nee haang, nee haang" thinking I'm very clever but getting only blank stares. They've never heard this language before. One boy, a young smiling smart-ass teenager (I know this terrain!) said, "Nee haang? What's that? Chinese?"

So I stopped and checked then corrected myself and said "Na heeng" and some kids ran away in shock, except the teenaged boy who said, "Good Hindi." So he hung around me for the next little while and enjoyed the show as I used my one Hindi phrase. He did correct my pronunciation as well. Then I bought four packets of postcards from him and we both were happy with the deal and he left me saying to his friend, "Nice lady." Charmer.

At Fatehpur Sikhri there's a pool; I assume it was a kind of cistern. The stagnant water in it was green sheened and slimy looking. Three young men in just their skivvies stood by it and when they saw us coming they hailed us and one ran to the edge of the cistern, prepared to dive in. I was horrified and felt sure he'd crack his skull on the stone ledge around it. But in he dived in and then he quickly climbed out to the cheers of some of my travel companions and of course he ran right over to collect for the show. I admired his enterprising spirit. He had nothing to sell but his young bravado and it worked.

But not to give the wrong idea. It's really only in these tourist hot spots that we've been hassled like that. This week I'm travelling with a G adventures tour and there are 15 of us, and most of them are young women of around 25, along with an Anglo-Indian man (40ish) an American man of 53, and two other young men, UK and Germany, also around 25. We have a great group, really respectful nice travellers. I'm realizing the advantage of being older. I can walk out on the street alone and no one bothers me at all, except for the occasional "hello" from someone. But it's not the young women who get bothered most; it's the big American male. Holy!

We're in Jaipur now. Pretty crazy busy. I'll need my earplugs to sleep tonight. To the Amber Fort tomorrow.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Horn concerto

I'm in my hotel lobby (where I get wireless access) listening to a horn concerto, ie. horns of every description: car, motorcycle, bus, truck, bicycle, rickshaw? Some do these riffs, up a few quick notes, down again, or a repetitive tattoo, half note blasts, quarter note toots.  Do rickshaws have horns? I'm not sure, although I've found something peaceful about riding in them, autorickshaws, that is. I've seen bicycle rickshaws, too, but none pulled by human power, thank goodness. The rickshaw drivers are famous for taking you to markets you don't want to go to, but I've found if you're firm, they're great. I just came back from coffee (where I parted with my travel mates; they went to a market). I caught a rickshaw back with an old guy. We got stuck in traffic because of some kind of royalty (from Singapore? or was it Oprah who is in India for the Jaipur literary festival?) coming through in a cavalcade: loudspeakers clearing the road, horns blasting. Dogs, cows, goats, pedestrians and all of us had to move over and sit for a while. There in the back of the rickshaw, I could watch it all unfold.
Volunteer at Sikh temple
In spite of the noise, the chaos, I've felt peaceful here. I think I mentioned the feeling of surrender when I was younger and travelling in a wildly different place from what I knew. But yesterday as I actually listened on my ipod to a Mozart clarinet concerto, my dad's favourite piece of music, and the crazy traffic horns provided an accompaniment that made me laugh out loud (because they kind of matched), I tried to identify this peaceful feeling, different from that feeling of surrender. And I realized it's gratitude.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Daytime in Delhi

It's 2:17 p.m. in Delhi, which means it's about 1 a.m. in Canada and about 8 a.m. in London (I think!). The usual crazy traffic coming in from the airport, horns constant, no one in their lane, pedestrians rushing out to tap on windows for money or to sell something, military everywhere, ie. young men in uniforms every hundred feet or so on the middle boulevard, holding rifles, road work that looks like it will never end at the pace workers are tapping with pick-axes at giant chunks of concrete.

I'm sad to say that I got hoodwinked immediately, as soon as I stepped out of the airport to catch my cab. No real harm done, except it annoyed me. I'd been told to get a pre-paid taxi at the Delhi Traffic Police stands. That way you can avoid getting taken to someone's uncle's hotel, etc. No one warned me to watch out for the police. He told me it would be 320 rupees, so I gave him a 500 rupee note. Then he asked me how much luggage and how many traveling. I looked away for a moment and when I looked back he said,"That's 320 rupees" as if I hadn't understood the first time, then he handed me back a 100 rupee note. I said, "Oh what did I give you?" which of course was what he intended, that I would think I had made a mistake. I didn't clue in until I'd got in the taxi (with a very nice and honest driver). Argh! It kind of put me off my first experience of Delhi. You shouldn't annoy an Irish woman. She gets kind of testy. (but to put it in perspective, it was about an $8 rip-off)

And I hate to be the kind of tourist who is always thinking someone's trying to rip her off. Indian people are also very kind and have a gracious hospitality like nowhere I've ever been. Before this, I hadn't experienced the rip-off paranoia at all.  But it may be because I've been with locals, and also everyone says Bangalore is much more easygoing. So, I clearly need to pay more attention. The north is much more touristy than the south, so the fine art of the scam has obviously been perfected.

On the brighter side, my colleague, Divya, is from Delhi. She kindly lent me her India phone (which has come in handy a few times) and while I was in the taxi, the phone rang (to my surprise) and it was Divya's Delhi relative welcoming me and asking if everything was okay. He'll meet me tomorrow  before I go on my tour. Very nice to have a local contact.

I almost forgot to mention the Waterstones 11 event on Thursday night. That was the reason I interrupted the India trip to go to London. Shelter has been chosen as one of the best UK debut novels of 2012 by the Waterstones bookstore chain. We were under strict "embargo" until after the gala on Thursday night. During the day we went to a photo shoot of the eleven authors, then later to a reception at their flagship London store (4 levels, and a restaurant on the 5th) where the list was announced and wine and champagne flowed. This morning I picked up the Guardian in the airport. Leonard Cohen was on the front page and there was an affectionate three-page story about him and his new album. And on another page was the story about the list of Waterstones 11. I was honoured to have my name in the same newspaper as Leonard!

P.S The first person I met in this hotel is a woman from Kelowna who in a former Okanagan College instructor. Funny. She now lives in Saudi Arabia.

P.P.S I think that wireless will be harder to come by from now on, so the postings may be sparse for a bit.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

A few days in London

Church of St. Martins-in-the-Fields
I've come to London to meet my UK publisher at Virago Press, Lennie Goodings. I'm so pleased to be published in the company of so many fine women writers, including Margaret Atwood. I have many Virago books on my shelves at home. Here's a little about the press:

If you look up "virago" in the dictionary, here's what it says:


noun, plural -goes, -gos.
1. a loud-voiced, ill-tempered, scolding woman; shrew.
2. Archaic . a woman of strength or spirit.
Strange and sad how the Archaic meaning changed over the centuries to become the modern one. But I'll gladly claim either definition.
Lennie Goodings is actually a Canadian who came to Britain in about 1978. She's been with Virago ever since. She grew up in southern Ontario and lived in St. Catharines, probably within about a mile of where I lived until I was ten. She went to the high school across from Dennis Morris (my sister's Catholic high school). She comes from a family of 5 (we have 6) and her brother is known as Mr. Safety, Patrick's nickname in Shelter. That last bit may be the oddest coincidence.
I have a fairly light schedule here, so today is a sightseeing day. I'm going to walk to Kensington Palace, which is not far from my hotel (the very gracious taxi driver told me about it last night; it's where Princess Diana lived), then to the British Museum. Everything here resonates with associations. Yesterday I went to the church of St. Martins-in-the-Fields, which is where the Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Fields originated. They produce some of my favourite classical music with Neville Marriner conducting, including the sublime Mozart Piano Concerto #17 with Alfred Brendel playing piano. After the switch to CDs from vinyl, I searched for years to find this recording again, and finally did. The others just can't match it.
I also went to the National Gallery and may go back today if I have time. So much to see, you could spend days. I loved this painting, Combing the Hair by Degas. (this is taken from a postcard!)
Tomorrow there are Shelter activities. More later.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Last day at Sangam & Bangalore part 2

I'm sitting in the last of the sun on my last retreat day here at Sangam House/Nrityagram. I'll miss the bird sounds, the one that sounds like a tap dripping, the mournful doves, the musical twittering of the parrot-like birds (I think), some kind of swallows, and even the crows who wake us up at between 6 and 8 a.m. every morning by pecking on the high windows. And I'll miss the food, the sound of drums and singing most of the day, and most of all the gracious people.

I'm heading to London early in the morning for some celebrations for the UK release of Shelter. I'll be there 4 days and then back to Delhi to continue my India travels. I actually get to return to Sangam House for one day to meet up with two friends I met here and then we travel together to Hampi. I've been very lucky to have this gentle introduction to India.

But to finish the Banglore story. After our bookstore tours, our taxi took us to Fabindia. If I could, I would insert here a dramatic ascending note, raga-style. Everyone told me I had to go to Fabindia. It's a store that's been in India for over 50 years, carrying textiles and furniture made in India in beautiful traditional patterns and dyes. I could have spent hours.

In a post-consumer haze, we got back in the taxi and got the full-on Bangalore traffic experience.  We headed to the Toto awards for young (under 30) writers and visual artists. We got there a little late, (blaming the traffic, not the amount of time we spent shopping) but still in time to hear a few writers reading in English and Kannada. Since I've read a shortened version of the Mahabharata, I recognized the references one writer was making about narrative. I also heard references to Koshy's where we were going for dinner later. It's kind of an institution in Bangalore, a place with Indian, Chinese and Western food. In fact, when we got there and the owner heard there was a woman from Korea in our party, he went to the kitchen and brought out kimchi (I think that's right), a kind of hot pickle made with cabbage. She pronounced it (sotto voce) "fake kimchi" but politely told him it was "unique."

After dinner at Koshy's (our table ordered everything from pork chops to egg foo yung to scrambled eggs to kofta and palak paneer--that was my end of the table. We also had Indian wine, Seagrams Nine Hills, not bad), it was late and time to head back to Sangam House. At one point in the road there was a checkpoint, mainly for trucks who take the back routes to avoid the tolls (sound familliar, Neil?) but our taxi was stopped. The guard seemed puzzled by this taxi heading into the countryside with an Indian driver, a  white foreigner in the front seat, and one in the back, along with an Indian woman and an Asian woman. He asked the driver the same set of questions twice, apparently to make sure he was telling the truth, then he asked my name and I said, "Francie." (as if, surely you've heard of me?) He said "Francie," nodded, and let us drive on. We all laughed about that afterward. "Francie Madam" Nabina kept saying. 

Saturday 14 January 2012

Bangalore part one

The writers hit Bangalore bookshops
What a day we had in Bangalore on Thursday. After the surreal peace and languid pace of Nrityagram, it was a dramatic change, but also welcome. As soon as we hit the road, it felt like "Hang on for the ride." I had the front seat.  Nabina, Eugene and Birgitta were in the back and not so close to the "action," so they were laughing at me, because I let out a little gasp every few minutes as the driver negotiated around the cows, pedestrians, whole families on motorbikes, slow-moving trucks (oh...aside....I hear the Archies singing somewhere...You are my candy girl! I think it's someone's ringtone), bicycles laden with a truckoad of merchandise. But our driver was good. I thought David would appreciate his driving. He used the horn (as they do here) to warn other vehicles and his concentration must have been total. (I once asked David, "what do you think about when you're driving?" "Driving," he said. This man was like that.)

We drove through the outskirts of Bangalore (known in the local Kannada language as Bengaluru. I love the sound of it) past new apartment complexes, roadside shops of every kind, piles of vegetables and fruits, machinery, furniture (woodworkers outside sanding beds in the sun), cows, garbage, cows foraging in garbage, wreaths of marigolds and bouquets of flowers for sale, goats in rubble, lots of rubble, big billboards advertising expensive watches, small roadside piles of burning debris. And people. There are so many people.

Since it's a big city, people are of all kinds. One of the traveler's perennial concerns (or mine at least) is what to wear so that you don't stand out like a sore thumb. After experiencing Bangalore, I won't worry about that any more. Many people are dressed in western clothing, but usually with a certain Indian flare. One of the most common outfits for women, especially young women, is the kurta, the longish shirt with slits on the sides and jeans or a slim legging type thing underneath. (It's pretty common for men too). This is a flattering and practical garment and I couldn't wait to buy one. (Another aside: I'm sitting outside and watching a cow walking along with a white bird riding on his back)

We made a stop at Arshia's apartment (we were so lucky to have our daytrip all mapped out for us by locals), then to a street lined with shops of all kinds. Birgitta, the Swedish editor, recommended a shop called Cottage... something.  Ack! I'm not much of a shopper at home, but I do have a real weakness for textiles of any kind. This shop was an Indian textile kingdom, full of tablecloths, scarves, rugs,and bedding -- so gorgeous. The colours are the colours of India: rusts, cayenne oranges, indigo blues, saffron and turmeric yellows, curry leaf greens. Natural dyes and many hand-embroidered. The salesclerk saw my interest and began pulling down bedspreads and shaking them out to show me. When I said he didn't have to pull down everything I touched, he said, "It's my job Madam."

Since I'm going to London in a few days and had already planned to ship a bag home with my London clothes, I thought it was my chance to buy something I never would have bought when I traveled as a twenty-four year-old backpacker. After falling for just about everything he pulled off the shelf, (creamy white embroidered with browns and golden yellow leaves; the softest pink with fine, vine-like green flowers...) I decided on a rusty orange (Khal would say "orange, of course!") to remind me of the colour of this Nrityagram soil which has already stained my feet and shoes.

After an hour or so, we called the driver and he returned in about two minutes with the cab for us (!) and took us to Church Street to Coconut Grove restaurant for a Kerala style lunch: meen pappas (fish curry, very fresh), kozhi nadan kari (chicken), malabar poratta (paratha bread), sadham (plain rice) and of course chai. Oh but first a glass of lime water (soda water with lime squeezed into it and a bit of sugar--delicious) to chase the shopping.

Nirmala, a journalist who works with Sangam House and a born and bred Bangalore-ite who loves the city, met us at lunch and we went next to Blossom Bookstore. Very much like my beloved Penticton Books n Things, they have a framed letter from the renowned Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. Apparently someone bought one of his books there and found the letter, dated Dec. 27, 1931 and returned to the store to give it back to them. Some of the Canadian writers' books I saw there: Rohinton Mistry, Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood.

I bought a beautiful old book of poetry by Rabindranath Tagore. Birgitta, who is a wealth of information on literary India, said there are better translations than the ones he did himself (this one in 1918), and probably the best are by William Radice. But I do love this: "In the light of this thriftless day of spring, my poet, sing of those who pass by and do not linger, who laugh as they run and never look back....Do not sit quietly, to tell the beads of your past tears and smiles,--do not stop to pick up the dropped petals from the flowers of overnight, do not go to seek things that evade you, to know the meaning that is not plain,--leave the gaps in your life where they are, for the music to come out of their depths."

And with that in mind, it's back to work with me. More on Bangalore later.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Things to do when the power goes out

Nabina, Mangala, & Birgitta

I've come to look forward to the momentary gasp when the power goes out here in this starlit little part of the world outside of Bangalore. I forget if I mentioned that the constellations seem to be upsidedown. I can recognize Orion's belt, but it's much higher in the sky, almost directly overhead, Cassiopeia, which is also upsidedown, and the little dipper. I can't find the big dipper. Tonight as soon as the lights went out, we looked for the moon and couldn't see it. A few minutes later it rose out of the clouds, as orange as the past two nights. There's a lot of smoke in the air and maybe that's causing the effect. I'm not sure where the smoke comes from but it's always there. I did notice on my walk the other morning that they'd been burning fields. Reminds me of the prairies back in the 70s. Do they still do that?

Last night when the power died just as darkness fell, Nabina taught me a raga, called Yaman. It's one of the first ragas that a student of Hindustani classical music will learn and the lyrics say something about "My love is far away in a foreign land and here I am staring at the stars." Fitting. Also, it's an evening raga, meant to be sung in the first quarter of the evening, around 6-9 p.m. It was beautiful to be standing in the dark, looking out at the first stars and singing.

This morning I woke up before dawn. I guess I'm still off-kilter with the time change. I lay awake as it got light and then finally at 7 o'clock I got up and went for a run. First thing I saw was several green parrots twittering in the trees.

Tomorrow we have a big trip planned to Bangalore. But first, we eat sausages for breakfast. A blip in our incredibly healthy diets here.

Monday 9 January 2012

Another moon

The moon tonight rose a huge, vibrant orange, like a harvest moon. We all rushed out with our iphones and cameras trying to capture it. The picture can't really capture it, but at least it can remind you: I was there, smoke hung in the air, dogs were howling, the breeze was warm. The nights here are magical, but so are the days. When the sun goes down, the mosquitoes come out. But it's nothing like I expected when I was warned to bring my Deet repellent. I have lived in Winnipeg. I've camped in the Whiteshell. I pictured clouds of them, so that we'd have to retreat to the safety of our rooms. There are a few buzzing around, and by 7 o'clock they're mostly gone. Still, I'm taking my Malarone malaria medication, because my doctor told me to and everyone seems to think it's best to. I've had no ill effects from it.

We were talking earlier about whether it's the right word to call the accommodations here "spartan." For me that word has positive associations. I think I may have been a monk in another life. Sometimes the word is used ironically, but not in this case. We have everything we need, including beauty: a simple built-in stone desk facing the window, a lovely wooden bed with a futon type mattress and beautiful cotton bedding, a bedside lamp, an emergency backup lamp for when the power goes out and a bathroom with hot water twice a day, once at  about 10 a.m. and again at about 5 p.m. Something about waiting for the water, looking out the window to see if the fire under the heater has been stoked yet, makes it seem like such a luxury.
the all-important water heater
 We also each have a framed photograph in our room of the two principle dancers, Shurupa and Bijoyni. They have been at Nrityagram for about 20 years, since the school was first established. I can't remember the name of the photographer right now.

The architect who designed this building lives in a cottage just a few metres across from us. He joined us for dinner last night. I think it must be gratifying to see your building at work, kind of like catching someone with her head buried in the book you've written. I've been thinking a lot about structure, as I always do especially when starting a novel. I have two main threads of narrative going in this one, but one is the main story. The tricky thing is how to find the right balance between making the secondary story compelling but not having it overshadow the main one. Right now I'm finding that I'm drawn to one thread and totally immersed in that world and leave it only reluctantly.

Sunday 8 January 2012

Full moon in India

Okay, indulge me. It's a full moon in India!
It's warmer tonight. Soft, perfect temperature all day. Now we have no power, but we have a full moon and our Internet connection. Not sure how that works. Today was a good writing day. It was so quiet here; even the birds seemed subdued.

Birgitta and I both picked up some chunks of rock to use as footstools under our desks. But I spent most of the day outside writing on a yellow newsprint pad (my favourite that I brought from home). I kept noticing how soft the air was, how comfortable, and then how beautiful the light becomes in the afternoon. I think the orange earth contributes to that tone of light.

It's strange, but at home I was working on the India section of my novel and now here I'm working on the Manitoba section. That seems to fit the way I do research. Maybe I just need to imagine the setting first. Nabina and I were talking about that today. I prefer to write first and research later as I revise or as I need to know something particular. But I also do a lot of preliminary reading in a broad way.

The power had come back on but now it's out again and I can hear many dogs barking and howling in the distance so it's kind of haunting. Some of them sound like coyotes but apparently there are no coyotes here and no Indian equivalent (except maybe wild dogs). Back on again!

Saturday 7 January 2012

Evening at Nrityagram

Lakshmi, who works here. She was working outside my window this afternoon. Dressed so beautifully, even to work.
It's evening now, about 7 o'clock. Night falls quickly here; there's very little twilight. I just closed one of the shutters to my room. I was scoffing at the mention of "chilly" weather here, but even though it's very warm in the daytime (in the 20s), the evenings do cool off and early this morning was misty and definitely chilly. Gorgeous mild and sunny day today. I did a morning walk with Nabina, one of the other writers here, and an afternoon walk with Birgitta, an editor and translator from Sweden.
I spent a fair bit of time last night and today watching the dancers practice. I feel so privileged to be able to watch them. The two principle dancers are Shurupa and Bijoyini (my spelling may be wrong). They're going to Chennai tomorrow to receive an award that is normally only given to much older dancers. These women are amazing. They begin practice at 9 a.m. after yoga and a run, and they practice all day. They sweat as they practice and I know from the little yoga I've done that the poses they hold must be very demanding, yet they manage to look incredibly graceful as well as strong. From the sound of it (the drumming and singing carries; our rooms are at the other end of the compound, through winding garden paths, maybe a 1/4 kilometre away), they're finished for the night, but last night they practiced past 7:00. They're working on some new pieces right now so it's neat to watch this process.

I'll try to convey what I've learned so far. First of all, this style of dance is earth-oriented. I was told it is somewhat related to flamenco. There's a lot of slapping of feet to the floor in time with the music. The timings they use are very intricate and of course exact. Apparently Shurupa has an unerring mathematical sense for this. The dancers and the musicians are always counting and so Shurupa might say "Okay, I'll meet you at beat 148." Today I heard her say to her partner, "Three? How do you put three into seventeen?" Last night I watched them go over and over a short section of a piece where the two of them were spinning in unison but couldn't get the timings to their satisfaction. The musicians very patiently listened to Shurupa's comments and played it over and over. Finally, I think they ended up changing the choreography of that portion (I watched it again today and it was different).

The musicians too have amazing endurance. They sit cross-legged for hours. The vocalist sings all day long. I commented on this to him at lunch today and he said if he has a short rest now and then he's fine after that. I'm learning a few things about the singing. For instance, in Western music we have the seven notes (do re mi...etc) that are each separate notes. In Indian singing there are also seven notes (sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni...that brings you back to sa) and there are sharps like in Western music. But there are also micronotes or micro pitches between the notes and that gives the kind of bending sound you hear in Indian singing. I asked about this, too, how to do it. I was told "practice." It's harder than you might think.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Sangam House day 2

The garden in the morning

Cows and birds
Beautiful morning here at Sangam House. There was a green hummingbird outside my window. They take very good care of us here. Arshia made us a "gentle stew" for dinner last night, of chicken and potatoes and carrots.  I fell into bed around 10 p.m., suddenly overcome by losing a day somewhere over the Atlanic.  And I fell asleep to crickets and faint music from somewhere.

Mangala is sweeping my room and her bracelets are tinkling. That sound of sweeping is an almost constant backdrop here, the gentle rhythmic brushing of grass brooms against stone walkways or fallen leaves. Now I hear the drone of an instrument, not sure what it is or where.

I went for a walk; I'll post a few photos. They may be a bit fuzzy, as I have to use my iphone camera; I forgot the cord to transfer photos from my camera. It's very rural here and slow-moving, like rural places everywhere. I walked down the red dirt roads through open fields and passed cows, each with their own attendant white bird, something like a heron. A few people passing through on motorbikes. Women walking in the most beautifully coloured saris and salwar kameez: saffron yellow, emerald green, orange, turquoise. Some wear orange flowers in their hair. I was thinking the men seem plain in comparison when a man in a bright orange tunic came by.

The fields around Nrityagram
Poinsettas grow here and are in bloom now. Also hibiscus (coral), bougainvillea (pink and white), bananas and papayas, and magnolias (very fragrant).  Marigolds, squash, basil, various other kitchen garden plants. Sangam House is in a dance village called Nrityagram. The dancers start their practice at about 9 each morning and we can go and watch them. Visitors come from all over, too, and walk the grounds and watch the dancers.
An interesting fruit of some kind

A small temple

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Sangam House day one - jetlagged

I'm sitting at my desk at the window with a lovely warm breeze wafting in and the sound of someone sweeping beneath the sound of an obnoxious bird cawing, maybe a crow? The morning was crazy with birdsong and the shutters were open, so at about 7 a.m. the hazy light was filling the room and the birds sounded like they were in my room. Luckily I brought earplugs which I can see I will need. I also brought a lavender-scented eye mask ( a loan from my yoga teacher). It will come in handy.

All the travel connections went so smoothly. I arrived in Bangalore to find my baggage which I had parted with in Kelowna thinking, "goodbye forever." It seemed impossible that it would find its way to a carousel 12,000 kilometres away (is it really that far? google says so). Yet there it was, in India. I had been told to look for the sign with (no, not my name) Sangam House on it. I stepped out of the airport into the humid night to a long line of people with signs. And there it was, again. I said "hello" and the man said, "Frances?" Almost as good as a sign with my name on it. Maybe better.

We walked to his cab and I got in the back seat and looked for the seatbelt. "Not necessary. No problem," he said. But as we took to the highway, I heard my son's voice, "Mom!" so when there was a lull in traffic I asked if he'd mind if I moved to the front seat. Once there, I buckled up. It's not like when I was 24 and mentally made the sign of the cross like the Mexican bus drivers do, then surrendered. I'm 50 and I'll damn well sit in the front seat with a seat belt. The drive was a bit surreal. Quickly out of the city and onto a shortcut, down narrow red dirt rural roads closed over by gnarly, vine covered trees, past sleeping little villages. We were stopped at one point by a railroad crossing. The driver got out, looked down the track, then went to a little house and called out the sleepy guard who raised the arm for us to pass through.

My room
This place is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. I just had one of the best hot showers of my life and walked down to the dance studio (open air) to watch the practice. I've heard I can join them for yoga in the morning. I'll attach a couple of pictures.

Through one of the window screens