Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dalhousie Part 1

June 4, 2010

In Dalhousie again. The road has come from Amritsar and the Golden Temple, magnificent, to Jallianwala Bagh where upwards of 1000 unarmed people were massacred by the British in 1919 on the command of a General Dyer, many jumping to their deaths in what is now known as the Martyr’s well. (You can see this episode recreated in the movie Gandhi).

My memories of Dalhousie are great from 2009, the paths hiked, the people that I met and the Great Gatsby parties, the feeling of comfort in my body in moving from the “Delhi oven” to this very comfortable hill station, my Indian papa’s birthday celebration.
This year is proving to be no less memorable as Indian religion becomes both more illuminated and confusing to me, the parties become even greater, the rain comes in downpours with massive thunder claps and lightening, lighting up the night sky, the temperatures in some places hovering around freezing.

I feel comfort in knowing that I can go off by myself and get back to “my home”. On our first day in Dalhousie, I went off by myself to the market with a definite mission in mind. I wanted to make some photo enlargements for my dear friends and also buy some toys for some of the “servant’s”. Upon arriving in Dalhousie I noticed that one of the servant’s children was playing with a battery. This indicated to me a need for toys and in between the freezing raindrops I meandered through the GPO (General Post Office), or town center and found a wonderful toy store. I went through many toys and finally found a set of plastic, kind of legos and an array of rattles for the new two month old. After bargaining I felt that I had the perfect toys.

Does it make sense for me to introduce these types of toys into a household, that includes two adults and two children living in one room? (The servant’s quarters are essentially a number of one room living spaces, a cowshed, and I think a kitchen area. An older couple, with the husband managing the rental, and two of his sons, their wives, and now three children all occupy these homes). Is it my arrogance that needs to feel that these children should have educational play toys or can it just be my fatherly instinct to give to those with less? But less only on the material side, because from what I can tell there is a great deal of love for these children. The father who is a personal assistant to my Indian papa, is a lovely man and his wife, has one of the loveliest smiles that I’ve ever seen. Recently when I was playing with two of the children, this woman was holding her new baby and humming and every time that I looked up at her she had that sweet smile on her face.

Last year I had tried to purchase prayer flags, but unfortunately there were none to be had and this year I wanted to make it a point to find these. On my second Dalhousie day I went back to the Tibetan crafts village and after watching a number of people weave incredibly intricate, colorful rugs I walked to the second floor of one of the buildings where I knew the prayer flags were made. There were a couple of dogs that I needed to get past and was able to call out to a man finishing a rug who called the dogs off and brought me into the prayer flag room.

The Prayer Flag Man spoke very good English and he had one very long prayer flag that I could purchase. I also asked him to make me a short prayer flag which he very willingly obliged, but prior to this he showed and told me exactly how prayer flags are made, how the mold is cut and the black dye is placed and then stamped onto the material. After paying he walked me through a short cut, the Tibetan School, and brought me to an area where I could easily walk home. (When I arrived home one of the servants who had taken me last year to find prayer flags, pointed me to the umbrella basket in the front hall of the house, where after pulling everything out, gave me a gigantic prayer flag). (All of the prayers flags are now hanging in my apartment as I’ve recreated a mini-Dalhousie, but unfortunately, without, the cooler temps).

There are about 800-900 Tibetans living in Dalhousie in a number of housing complexes. They always smiled warmly when they saw me and I printed many of the pictures that I took of them which brought even more joy to their faces. The Tibetans operate a store at the GPO, where the products made at the crafts village are sold, but there doesn’t seem to be much future for the younger generation. (I have a picture from my 2006 visit to India in the Tibetan Refugee Centre in Darjeeling in which an artist is working and in the dusty window, above her, there is a hand written message, “Save Tibet, Tibet is not part of China, U.N.O. we want justice”. Being in this village reminded me of this picture).

On Friday we drove to a path that led us to a walk to this incredible temple. We did this last year on a beautiful day and I have a video of a herd of goats on the path, with so many daisies populating the mountainsides, like the poppies in the Wizard of Oz. However, the weather was not that great this year as we walked up the path and by the time that we made it to the temple, the sky was dark and the clouds had rolled in so that the snow capped peaks, visible during the ascent, were now gone. We all pulled out our umbrellas on the descent and it must have been around 7 C or so. The Delhi oven may have been baking, but in Dalhousie there was only talk of the cold.

As in New England in the State, in Dalhousie the weather changes quickly and by 1:30 we were able to go onto a picnic with a number of friends. This picnic was no different than any that I’ve been to in the States. Of course, the food was different, but everything else seemed to be comparable. Once we arrived home I spent part of the time playing with two children and the legos. Although the two women watching us play, spoke no English, they seemed approving and one of them gave me a cup of chai and some crackers. The children seem to really like playing and understanding how to use the blocks. By 7 PM Friday night the wind was whipping and it started pouring, lightening and thundering. The storm was a wonder to watch and soon the power went out and all we could see were the lightening bolts.

I’ve had very vivid dreams since being here, I’ve dreamt about paper shopping bags, my mother shopping and monkeys taking over the kitchen, bats flying around and then biting my hand, with an inability to wake up until Anant woke me, and President Obama being asked to played basketball and appearing at a meeting in the Groton Town Hall, knowing me, but not knowing me.

The walks continue on a daily basis, strenuous, really getting my heart pumping. I like the walk back from GPO which is at about a 45 degree angle, as I pass a number of Tibetans who must live in the area. The area is somewhat urbanized, based on the people who summer here, but also maintains its rural feel, with cows kept in cow barns, fresh milk, butter and cream, herders leading their flocks to graze, Tibetan women dressed in traditional garb. It is and is not India, providing a glimpse of possibly what life used to be, but also a glimpse of what India has become.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

Mike

You raise an interesting point about buying toys for a financially poor but love rich family. I'd go with yes it is fine, toys stimulate creativity in children and help them explore themselves and their environment in different ways and that is never a bad thing.