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My Journeys

MUMBAI

MUMBAI 11/27-28/2006 Survived my first solo overnight train ride. Had to get to the station, find the train and track, find my car and seat, spend 17 hours on the train, and get off at the right stop. Piece of cake. I was being protected by something! When I got to the station, the trains were listed in Hindi, but I located mine by departure time. When I got to the platform, I sat next to a man and asked him if I was in the right place. I was and his seat was in the same car as mine, 5 seats away! So, he led me to the proper car and I found my seat easily. NO ONE in my area of the train spoke English, so I spent the journey reading “Nine Lives,” a book about Bill Mason, a master jewel thief from Cleveland and sipping my water bottle filled with vodka and water. They fed us about four times and it was really quite an enjoyable – although mute – ride. One interesting note. There was a man in the cabin of six that stayed to himself and didn’t speak a word the entire time that I heard. However, once the lights were turned down and everyone tucked into their berths, his head suddenly appeared over the top bunk – white eyes shining in the dark. “OK?” he says, “OK? No OK?” Although shocked, I said, “OK.” He said, “OK? OK!” and disappeared back over the edge. He didn’t say another word to me – or anyone – for the rest of the journey. I got in Mumbai and the haggling over prices began immediately. Mukesh had told me Rs 100 was the MAXIMUM I should pay for a taxi to my hotel. The cabbies started at Rs 200 and seemed firm at Rs 150. But I refused and he finally said, “Fine. I’ll take you free! No money!” I said, “terrific!” He kept arguing for Rs 150 and I said, no, FREE! I tried to make amends by offering him a cigarette, but he refused (matching stubborn for stubborn; if I wouldn’t pay the proper fare, he wouldn’t lower himself to sharing a cigarette with me.) Stared at me the whole time; I stared back and smiled. In the end, he begrudgingly took the Rs 100 along with two cigarettes and said, “Very strong guru, ma’m.” 11/28/06 Robin Doherty, another fantastico artist from Ireland, arrived in Mumbai and was a bit out of it. So spent a day relaxing in our “large triple room wit h shared bath” at The City Palace Hotel. The room is 10’ x 12’. Crammed into it is a double bed and a single bed, a small closet with a 12” TV on top of it, and a built in desk. There is a space about 4’ x 5’ in which to move around. It’s air conditioned (although we couldn’t figure out how to make it cool until day two) and has two miniscule windows that you can look out by standing on the beds. The bathroom is directly across the hall, which is convenient. However, the hotel’s entire room service operation is headquartered in this hall, which id inconvenient. Every time I go to take a wee, a half dozen workers silently track my journey with wide eyes and gaping mouths. Funny. 11/29/06 We spent day two visiting the Gateway to India (built by British to welcome themselves to the country they had claimed) and taking an hour-long boat ride to Elephanta, an island in the middle of the Arabian Sea. Interesting place. It had some manmade caves with huge pillars carved from the rock along with numerous intricate statues dedicated to the life and worship of Shiva, the Hindi God they deemed to be top dog. The amazing thing is that these caves dated back to 600 AD! Not much else there, but it was great to sip a beer and look out over the mountainside to the sea after weeks of city life. It definitely has given me the urge to get into the sticks! I think we’ll spend another day or two here and then head to Goa. We’ll see. Note: Excellent restaurant in Mumbai in Fort area – Kendeel, 95, MG Road, Fort, Mumbai phone:2267-3875 11/30/06 Spent the day at the Indian horse races. Mahalaxmi Racecourse makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the days of the Raj. The “beer bar” features a huge carved wooded bar and scores of lazily spinning fans as well as colored TVs to watch the races on, of course. Here’s how it works. The first race starts at 2:30 and the last of the seven starts at 5:30. The horses run between 1200 and 1600 meters. We bought a race book and picked our horse and then wandered out into the morass to try to figure out how to place a bet. There were more than a dozen small elevated enclosures each with a man with binoculars watching the competitors’ odds boards, a couple men collecting bets, a man writing out the slips, and a man consistently erasing and rewriting the odds on the booth’s chalkboard. On one side were the odds to win; on the other the odds to place (we finally figured out). Robin and I had both picked Pure for Sure at 5 ¼ to 1 odds to win and placed Rs 200 bets. (They add some sort of tax to the price that seemed to fluctuate but was around Rs 50 for the Rs 200 bet.) The race was like any other horse race – the horses run, the people yell and scream and then groan or celebrate. WE CELEBRATED! Pure for Sure won!! For some reason e couldn’t fathom, I won Rs 1300 and Robin only Rs 1100. But we were off and running! Then we met Khan, an Indian man around 70 who was obviously a regular at the track as everyone seemed to know him. He spoke passable English and was smitten with me. He had very strong feelings about which horses we should bet on (as did many of the Indian men who gave us tips throughout the day) and he insisted on placing our bets for us (and, we think, skimming a couple rupees off the transaction for his own bets). I followed his tips for most of the races and threw in a couple of my own theories along the way. After a full day of racing, I ended up more than Rs 400 ($8) ahead and Robin around Rs 200 ($4). Not bad for a fun day at the races. Of course, after establishing that Robin was not my husband or boyfriend, Khan repeatedly asked if he could come to our hotel and go out for drinks and dinner with us while telling me how nice and friendly I am and patting my arm and leg as often as possible. He was harmless, though, and really a sweet guy. We took him downstairs to the beer bar after the races and shared a beer and then our cab ride with him. He wanted us to come and meet his son and hang out longer, but an afternoon with Khan was about all we could take and we said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel.

WILD RIDE

WILD RIDE Went on a hair-raising motor scooter with Mukesh to Connaught Place. For the hour it took to get there (should have been 15 minutes but traffic was more jammed than usual) we wove and swerved through eight lanes packed with weaving, swerving and honking busses, trucks, cars, motor rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters, bicyclists, people pulling carts and an occasional elephant. Headlines kept flashing in my head: "White woman crashes with elephant, elephant wins!" The roads are maybe 4 lanes wide, but no one pays any attention to lanes; it's a battle to keep moving forward. period. Mukesh would say stuff like, "keep your knees in" as we squeezed between a bus and a truck... yiyiyi! The ENTIRE time I could have reached out in any direction and touch the vehicles next to us...and some of the fools – on motorcycles! -- were talking on cell phones!! Now HERE’S a place that needs no cell phone use while driving laws! Mukesh, of course, wore a helmet (by law), but not me! I felt a bit like a wimp, though, when I saw all kinds of ladies in saris sitting sidesaddle on motorcycles, women holding a dangling child or two on their laps or hips, and small children – three or four years old -- nonchalantly holding on to their dads as they wove their bikes through the traffic without a worry in the world. At one point in the middle of all of this, Mukesh pulled over in the middle of a bridge, got off the bike and threw a coin into the river. "Very auspicious thing to do," he assured me as we blasted back into torrent of vehicles.

SEALING DELHI

SEALING DELHI While in Delhi an interesting thing occurred. Delhi has experienced astronomical growth in recent years and a building boom has resulted in businesses popping up in every nook and cranny of the already overcrowded city. While zoning rules do exist in Delhi, they have generally been ignored or manipulated through a well-entrenched system of bribes (baksheesh) and power. However, the Commonwealth Games have thrown a bit of a wrench into this unbridled growth. To be held in Delhi in two years, the Games mandate that Delhi have a valid infrastructure and must – literally -- clean up its act by creating a subway system, water systems, sewers, and facilities for garbage disposal (the only trashcan I’ve seen since I’ve been here was shaped like a penguin and had USE ME stenciled across its chest). A subway system is being constructed at lightning speed (especially for India!) This, in itself, has resulted in the destruction of a huge number of “illegal” buildings and businesses in its path. Last year, they tore down a brand new, 4-story block of mall buildings that had been built on land zoned as farm land. Water and sewage systems are still to be put in place. But in order to obtain international loans, Delhi has to get its act together. Thus, when I was in Delhi the local building officials completed a massive, one-day sweep of the city during which they “sealed” – shut down -- hundreds? thousands? of businesses operating in areas zoned as residential or farm areas. I couldn’t even imagine that there would be an ample number of officials to conduct such a massive sweep much less the high level of organization it would take to pull it off! But, sure enough, during the sweep – at least in the area I was staying in – each business was visited and the owners questioned. Those deemed to be illegal were shut down and handwritten signs that simply said “CLOSED” were posted on the fronts of each of the businesses. As Mukesh and I drove down our main street, we saw sign after sign after sign. Although Mukesh feels that this action is a good thing in the larger picture, I worry about how these small business owners – rope makers, pan rollers, metal smiths, auto repairmen -- and their families will fare after having their livelihood destroyed. I’d like to see the master plan that validates this high volume of displacement. RANDOM THOUGHTS FROM DELHI Got 5 pairs of pants and two shirts laundered today for 10 rupees... about 25 cents. There is such untapped potential here – so much energy, so much intelligence, so much entrepreneurial spirit. IF it can ever be tapped in an organized way, India will be unstoppable! However, with such a huge population and so many cultural as well as practical hurdles to deal with, it will not be an easy feat. And on a more practical level, the wealthier people will lose their slaves, which I doubt they will accept without a fight.

DELHI YOUNG LOVE

DELHI My stay in Delhi was highlighted with my interaction with two wonderful people – Mukesh and Rakesh. Mukesh Jain is one of earth’s wondrous human beings – trustworthy, kind, thoughtful, and hardworking. He is also in need of a new career after giving up his position as Artist Coordinator at Global Arts Village, the residency I attended last year. Because of his skills at facilitation and showing people the ropes around Delhi as well as his love for artists and the work they produce, he has decided to establish his own small residency. We spent a week working on his website (check it out! www.lotusartcentre.com), writing form letters, contracts and applications. I wish him the very best in his new endeavor! The other highlight of my stay in Delhi was Rakesh (formerly known as Jugnu to the Global Arts artists). When I met Rakesh, he was a cook at Global Arts Village where I was for a three-month long artist residency. I remember him as the crazy one of the staff. He was in constant motion – as if his small frame could barely contain the energy within him. Bouncing around, smiling, dancing, bringing tea and coffee when we needed it most. Always eager to learn English and help out whenever and wherever needed. What a surprise to discover that he had left the Village and was now working for Mukesh helping him with the formation of his new residency! When I first met him there, he was staying in the vacant residency areas with Amy, his girlfriend from Montana whom he had met at Global Arts and had spent several months traveling with in India. Little did I know then that I was going to become involved in a lovely romance. After the art project wrapped up in Bodhgaya, my friend Anna had to return to Ireland and I stayed in Delhi to help Mukesh with his project. Rakesh and I were the only two staying in the unfinished spaces (other than two painters who were working on the building and appeared each night to sleep in one of the rooms). We spent a wonderful week eating his excellent culinary creations, drinking beer and smoking while composing love letters to Amy on the WIRELESS INTERNET that we had at our disposal (unbelievable thing to have available in India!) Rakesh would get emails from Amy as well as his other westerner friends Stacy and Stef. We would read them together and then I’d spend some time explaining what they were saying. Then I’d take my position at the keyboard while Rakesh attempted to explain what he wanted to say to them. We giggled and laughed. We exalted in the romantic thoughts he would come up with and my interpretation of them into English. We signed him up for a gmail account as well as a Facebook account so he could instant message with Amy and view the photos she had posted for him. I took a bunch of photos of him and we posted them back. It was great fun. The letters were terrific, a mixture of romance (“My moon, my chand, my Amy”…. “I am very happy because you stay in contact with me and when you do, I see your face and I smile so much!!”) and practical information (“Today gas cylinder came here and I am making food today – dal and chapatti and one vegetable”). Amy’s responses were equally sweet, filled with the longing that only new love can produce. For a week I was a participant in a ménage a trios of two lovers and a typist. Good stuff! I also got to know and like Amy as well as Rakesh’s other correspondents… good people all! But most of all, I got to know a truly amazing person, Rakesh. Beneath his veneer of Indian energy, he is a thoughtful, kind, concerned, and intelligent human being. While Amy and he dream of being together in the US or India, he worries about the physical, social and economic repercussions that such a dream would create. Although the United States is a destination that many Indians desire, he absolutely loves India – the place, the people, the culture. His perfect life, he theorizes, would be to alternate spending six months in each country. Whether VISA requirements and cash will allow this to happen remains to be seen! I wish them both the very best; they are sharing an experience that is something to be cherished.

MONK MASSAGE

RANDOM HAPPENINGS AND OBSERVATIONS A Buddhist monk who knew I was associated with the art event offered to share his rickshaw ride with me. In the course of traveling two blocks, he offered to come to my hotel room and give me a “real Tibetan massage…very good for sicknesses of all sorts.”

THE OPENINGS

THE OPENINGS In the days leading up to the opening, we saw portions or some artist’s work, watched some being constructed, and saw nothing of others. One of the Indian artists staged an Indian wedding which featured all the western white people dressed in Indian saris and shirts. The video she was making was about the horrors of child weddings. The filming seemed a bit shaky to me (chaotic is a better word!) but she assured me afterwards that she got just what she had in mind. I was dressed in an orange sari with a fluorescent orange stripe down my forehead and nose (the local – but not good – look!) and a black braid braided into my blonde hair. I was quite a looker! (have photos, unfortunately) Anna and I went around and took Family Photos with all the Indians that came to the filming as well as the local people perches on the compound wall watching. Because India is India, there is no problem if the dates and quantities of openings drifts and shifts until the day before the event. In the case of Buddha Enlightenment, we ended up with openings three days in a row, each featuring a visiting dignitary as well as crowds of local people and invited guests. Everything was in complete disarray the day before what was originally to have been our opening (but was in the end not included in any of the openings). I really had NO idea how they would pull it together in any shape of form. As it turned out, the opening was delayed until Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, which bought a BIT of time but nowhere near what was needed without hordes of helpers. Still, effective lighting, lots of music and plenty of visitors overshadowed the few shortcomings – lack of ample lighting of some pieces, and no labels or artist statements (which was an opportunity lost in the education in conceptual art the visitors could have enjoyed). But the event was well publicized in area papers and on a number of TV channels. The Family Photo segment played throughout one entire day (although we never got to see it) and my Buddha Tree made the front page of a Hindi paper with a long story (that I can’t read). Pieces featuring many of the other artists were highlighted in print and on television. As a result, the first opening overflowed with visitors. There was music and artist’s videos were showing on two screens. Most of the work was brightly lit and glowed throughout the property. A visiting minister was escorted around and the event was tagged a big success. In addition to Family Photos, I had two other pieces in the show other than Family Photos – Buddha Bound and Bushwhacked. (Check them out in the Recent Sculptures area of the website.) The second opening was also exciting. Apparently a film was being shown that was about a historic controversy between the Hindis and the Muslims – hundreds of years ago. Even so, the wounds are still festering and the Hindi fundamentalists in Bihar were apparently greatly offended by its showing. On the second night of our opening, a group came and ordered the projector be stopped immediately or they would slash the screen and there was innuendo that the artists would also be at risk. With little other choice, the projectionists gathered up their equipment and left. Even this didn’t put an end to their complaints. Another piece of art, a huge stylized Buddha with a long tapered neck was ordered to be covered and its head was shrouded in sheets for the remainder of the exhibition. By the third opening, many of the artists had had to leave Bodhgaya. Even so, the opening was better lit and the visiting dignitaries were shown around in a very organized and professional manner by Annanjay and Vinnay. The only downside was the swarm of armed police that roamed the compound. Soldiers and guns at a show with the theme of “World Peace,” ironic.

FAMILY PHOTOS

FAMILY PHOTOS The highlight of our stay in Bodhgaya was definitely the Family Photos project. Peter Burke from AustraliaTo accomplish this we had to each take at least 20 photos a day and some days we weren’t able to take any photos! We started out a bit shy about asking people if we could take our pictures with them, but it soon became apparent that they LOVED to have their photos taken and if it was with people from outside of India, it was a real bonus! After we finished taking our photos, most wanted to take our photos with their cameras. In time, Anna and I were able to take 35 photos each in a single hour! AND we received a record number of hugs and handshakes! Speed shooting! By then we were handing out slips of paper inviting our new friends to come to our art opening and receive their photos from us as a gift. One of the funniest shots was a group of monks all dressed in deep maroon and gold garb shooting guns at tiny balloons. So incongruous to see an armed monk! Two days before the opening, we posted signs all over town that said, “If we took your photo” (picture of the three of us) “Come and get your photo” at so-and-so time and place. “IT’S FREE!” Most of the flyers disappeared within a day, but the word was out. (There was one small glitch when we got wind that some of the artists were not too keen on letting the street people  into the grounds; afraid of theft or other disruptions. But that blew over thanks to our reminder that the show was about "world peace" and the most logical place to start was personal interaction with as many people as possible.) On the day of the opening, people began appearing before we could letter the display board and hang the photos. Crowds gathered and people began scrutinizing all 560 of the photos on display – pointing, laughing, discussing the images. There was great excitement when someone found a photo of themselves with one of us. We carefully removed the photo from the board, had the person sign his or her name where the photo had been, and then took a photo of the person in front of the board, holding their photo. (See Family Photos piece in Sculpture area of website) We loved it; they loved it. One of the happiest art experiences I’ve ever had! Only glitch was that all sorts of people showed up who DIDN’T find their photos and were heartbroken. So, they wanted us to take their pictures and make them copies! I tried to explain that we had already spent too many rupees, but they didn’t seem to care. They wanted a picture! Plus the little kids would sneak in and swipe some of the pictures. One mother proudly dragged me into her tiny outdoor tent restaurant to show me her display of about 15 of our photos neatly collaged onto their one permanent wall. I asked, “Are these people all part of your family?” “No, no,” she replied, “You, you, you!” while pointing to me in each of the photos -- her newest family member.

EYE HOSPITAL

EYE HOSPITAL There’s a big Buddhist gathering going on. Pilgrims from all over India are flooding into town. I have never seen so many monks in my life – some in deep red, others in saffron yellow. Many of the ladies wear white dresses or robes and carry bowls filled with marigolds. Processions are led by drums, cymbals and 10’ long horns that sound in deep bass moans. Following are hundreds of chanting people going to the temples where they will chant for hours before listening to the head monk hollering his message into a microphone feeding a screeching sound system for a couple hours. While we were wandering the streets of Bodhgaya in search of Family Photos we came upon these huge tents lined with hundreds of beds. There were thousands of people sitting around as if waiting for something. Some had a bright yellow sticker stuck to their foreheads (which I had seen a number of in recent days out on the streets). We were really puzzled but finally came upon a man who explained this was an eye hospital. Once each year they come to Bihar and people for miles around come in to have cataract surgery. They have a group of surgeons and nurses from different parts of the world who donate their skills to the project. They had done more than 1,000 operations already and were still going strong. The stickers on the heads of the people had the number of their turn on it. Within days, the town was swarming not only with monks, but also people with huge bandages on their eyes (I have picture).

DANCING FOOLS

DANCING FOOLS A couple of days later, Anna headed out with our assistants to find (beautiful pink) rock salt in bulk quantity. I had a few errands in town, so went there to hang out and use the internet. I was sitting on the wall in the main tourist area when three young boys about 11 or 12 started talking to me (as they ALWAYS do in Bodhgaya in a transparent effort to raise money by either selling you CDs and cheap postcards or convincing you to give them money for “books,” “school uniform,” “biscuits,” or one time, even “whiskey.” Anna and I’s most useful phrase was phonetically “nahi cha yay!” which means “I don’t want any!” I later learned that when that doesn’t work, “Kuta!” means “Go away! You are a dog!”  I asked the kids to dance and I’d take their pictures. Their eyes immediately lit up and, as one, they said, “You like to dance? You want to dance? There is a festival now!” We head off into the market area and, sure enough, there is a brightly colored float featuring pink and white wooded horses and mustachioed men blasting music into the street. About 20 Indian men of ages from 15 to 60 are dancing wildly in front of the float while a crowd 20 deep watches and cheers them on. Of course, my kids drag me to the edge so I can take pictures and, also of course, the inevitable encouragement for me to dance comes en masse from the dancers and the crowd. When in India, go for it. As they say, “Why not?” I started to dance and laugh and take pictures. I felt like a goddess dancer. “Good dancing, m’am!!” I would continually be told for the entirety of my stay in Bodhgaya.


After a half hour or so, my kids wanted to take me to a special temple they know and we headed off. It really was a gem of a place. After winding through the streets, we entered a small courtyard and then after removing our shoes, into the temple, a 10’ x 10’ room that had about 6 small niches (maybe 12” x 18” x 8” deep) in the wall. Each niche had a primitively crafted scene from Krishna’s life. In the center in a circular recess was a sculpture of the abstract form of Krishna. We talked with the man in charge, took dozens of photos of each other in every combination and then headed back to the party.


When I got back to the market center, I ran into Peter (Burke from Australia who I had met at the residency last year). HE is a dancer supreme, so we scampered off to the dance floor. For the next three hours we rarely stopped dancing! The float and music was accompanied by a dozen or so men carrying electrified multi-colored wheels on their heads. Then, of course, they were also dragging (literally) an ancient generator along to power the whole affair. The whole procession worked its way slowly around the entire town as people joined in and left the dancing area. However, if Peter or I stopped dancing for eve a minute, the spectators would loudly protest and urge us back onto the floor! We were dripping with sweat but having an absolute ball! I was famous the next day. Seemingly the whole town had seen the white woman dancing (quite scandalous and unusual for ANY woman to dance in the festival, especially not a white one! Either a tramp or heroine depending on your perspective!) For the rest of my stay in Bodhgaya, I regularly received exclamations of "Good dancing, Ma'm!"  The organizers of Buddha Enlightenment apparently thought our dancing was very risky and dangerous and had checked up on us a couple times. Comforting in an odd sort of way even though we didn’t have any feelings of threat or danger.

SUN FESTIVAL

SUN FESTIVAL 10/29/06 Today was Chat Puja (Sun Festival) in Bodhgaya. T’s the festival during which they worship the setting sun one night and the rising sun the next morning. At 5 pm last night and 4 am this morning, we went down to the river. It was swarming with people dressed in their very best finery – the beach was awash with gem colored saris! The men carried large bundles on their heads filled with materials for the puja (worship). They set up these small offerings with small fires, food, lotus blossoms, cocoanuts, beads, etc. on the edge of the river and then waded into the river (I couldn’t believe they were going into the polluted water in silk saris!), faced the sun (whether setting or rising) and began to pray and chant. We, of course, waded in right along with them to take photos and make friends with the people who swarmed around us (very few white people here. Since Bodhgaya is a Buddhist site, most tourists are Tibetan, Japanese, Sri Lankan, or other Buddhism-intensive places.) Anna, Peter, and I (see details in Family Photo story following) began taking Family Photo pictures, which require us to take photos of ourselves with Indian people or families. This proved more difficult than we thought because once we took one picture, everyone within site of us would swarm over to get their picture taken! We ended up with some very extensive families in our photos! We ended up posing with all sorts of people, smiling, laughing, holding their babies (Peter got peed on!) Good fun. Anyhow, they prayed until the sun sets or rises and then start shooting off poorly made fireworks. YOUNG children – like 3 years old and over – were lighting firecrackers on the beach. There were small bombs exploding all around us while women in elegant saris stood waist-deep in the river praying, others gathered around their offerings and completed rituals. (One we were invited to participate in. Everyone gathered in a circle and then touched the water that was poured from a pitcher held aloft. Very auspicious, I’m sure.) After the sunrise puja we wandered into Mohabodhi Temple, the place where Buddha sat under the bhodi tree until he reached enlightenment. Very impressive. Beautifully carved temple shaped rather like a square cone with it’s top end cut off. WE MET A Buddhist who gave us a feather. When you held it up to the sun and looked through it, a rainbow appears. I wonder if all feathers do that? Must do some experimentation.

CARDBOARD CIRCLES

10/28/06 CARDBOARD CIRCLES Cutting rough wavy cardboard into neat 3” diameter discs is no easy task in India. First of all, the cardboard, although rough, is incredibly strong! Cutting it with scissors or an exacto knife (that Anna somehow got her hands on!) was agony. Finally, after some trial and error and slow progress, her assistants rigged up a credible “cutter”. They took a slice of steel pipe and hooked wires on either side of it. While two guys pulled on the wire to keep it in place, the other sledge hammered it into the cardboard until a disc was smashed into the paper. Then they could cut them out fairly easily before the edges were each sanded smooth and the discs painted.

DYE SHOP

DYE SHOP Next stop, Gaya again to get my rope dyed and Anna’s paper cut into circles. The town is extremely primitive even by Indian standards. But even so, the sweets are carefully placed in decorative stacks, the bamboo baskets being made at that moment by a weaver on the street are displayed in neat columns on a colorful blanket. Commerce is in full, noisy swing and we drive (fairly fast) through the morass, honking the horn incessantly, which draws all eyes in our direction. I have a feeling that few have seen white people very regularly, especially not blonde women baring their arms. Our helpers leave us in the car while they scout the town on foot for the needed items. We try to read but are drawn to stare back at the Indians gathering around with their magnetic gazes. Time passes. It’s hot and sticky. We’re bored and tired of being the center of the surrounding street life. When the dye man finally comes to negotiate the deal; things really pick up! The previously standoffish starers now crowd close to the car to assist in the negotiations about which they know absolutely nothing. Anna becomes claustrophobic and tries with little success to get them to back off. After much haggling, we cut the deal (which later turned out to be an astronomically bad one… I think they paid half of what we bargained for!) and turned the rope over to be dyed during the next 3-4 days. The search for Anna’s circle cutter proved fruitless even though their ingenuity was commendable. We tried auto shops, carpentry shops and even medical supply houses. No luck.

CARDBOARD FACTORY

10/27/06 CARDBOARD FACTORY We went to the cardboard factory this morning. (Actually, we also visited it last night, but it was pitch dark and we couldn’t figure out WHAT our helpers were talking about. (They ran out into the darkness and returned with some large wrinkly sheets of heavy paper and jabbered about how many pieces we wanted.) So we went to Bodhgaya and bought some beers instead of trying to move forward with the endeavor at that time.) When we arrived in the daylight, there were piles of garbage – paper, plastic, guck, etc – that they were succeeding in grinding into a pulpy. They then took this slurry and ran it through their machine and flattened it into sheets of cardboard (albeit extremely rough and flecked-with-colors-of-various-materials). They then laid the sheets out to dry in the fields – bogs actually – also strewn with garbage. When it’s baked to a wavy, dry piece of cardboard, it’s taken inside where the edges are trimmed before stacking and banding it. It took over an hour and a half of discussion and haggling to buy 80 sheets of this stuff for Anna and Christof, an artist from Holland. During that time, of course, work ground to a halt as the workers gathered to gawk at the white people and join in the discussion. One man went over to a raised platform and casually began his shaving ritual – wetting and lathering his face and slowly shaving it without ever talking his eyes off us. But most simply stood and stared and stared and stared. We took their photos and showed them themselves on the preview screen. They laughed and posed! Of course, Anna had wanted smooth heavy white mat board cut into neat circles. But that’s another story. She got 40 sheets of 36” x 36” cardboard for 180 kg ($4 or so).

ARRIVAL IN INDIA!

10/22/06 To arrive in India (the second time or more...the first time you are simply freaked out!) is to be washed with a tidal wave of relaxation; with so much sensorial stimulation it’s impossible to be bothered by the day-to-day mundane. Life becomes to much more and so much less simultaneously and it’s an absolutely wonderful feeling. All I can do is watch, smell, taste, listen, feel. India is a fantasy land for the senses… breathe in, breathe out, expand.


10/26/06 BIHAR In India, the threads of humanity weave together to form a single fabric of immense diversity and profound harmony. But in Bihar some places are the pits. Bihar has been the most dangerous, corrupt, crime riddled state in India for the past many years. The government is now pumping money and expertise into the area in an effort to reclaim some control from the scoundrels who have been in charge here in recent years. Still the years of corruption and violence have taken a heavy toll on the land, the people and the infrastructure. The people are very poor, many look like walking skeletons, jobs are scarce and education is nonexistent in outer villages. My friend Anna McLeod, artist extraordinaire from Ireland, and I went to Gaya yesterday to buy supplies for our projects. NO westerners in sight (except us -- two blonde artists). Gaya is a bustling, filthy place with markets of all sorts crammed into every nook and cranny of available space. It took us FOUR HOURS to locate and purchase 40 kg of common white rope. It cost Rs 65 ($1.50 or so). Tomorrow we’re off to get it dyed and find Anna’s materials – heavy card stock cut into 3” diameter holes, salt, indigo dye. Interesting note: People come to Gaya on the first anniversary of their mother’s death to bathe in the river that runs – overflowing with bacteria, I’m sure – through the town. I can’t imagine making a pilgrimage here; it is NOT set up for visitors!

Boca Raton, FL

Kava is a drink common in the Figi Islands... made from the roots and bark of the kava plant... that tastes like intensely organic dirt laced with novacaine... that will numb your throat and tongue relax you and make you very mellow... and sick to your stomach if you drink too much... or drink alcohol with it.  They have Kava bars in Florida -- my advice is to avoid them!

© 2017 Carol Hummel