Local artist Shastri Maharaj has been painting for over 30 years. In 2011 he received an orientation grant from the Indian Government which enabled him to experience the life, culture and history of India first-hand.
The following is an account of his experiences and perceptions based upon his travels through parts of India over the three-month period, October 20, 2011 to January 19, 2012. Part one of this article appeared in the Sunday Express (Sunday Mix, Pages 1 and 3) on May 27
Full Moon Katha
Last night was the full moon. Yoga people do full moon meditation all over the world at the same time ....11 to 12. Here at the village was a workshop on shadow. ...emotional shadow...burdens that we carry and discovering ways to manage it. Of course, I was not going to pay the 7000r for the three-day workshop.
The woman conducting this workshop also arranged to have a gathering around a bonfire to literally bring in the 11-11-11. All were invited, that included all the participants and yours truly....Quite frankly, I had reservations about participating....I was not getting the right vibes. I was feeling so earlier in the night over dinner. I just did not feel like mingling and having discussion. I was in a painting mode and mood, I was experiencing a nice buzz all day since I did my yoga meditation practice from 6.30-8.30 a.m.
So I joined the gang at the fireside at around 10 p.m. It was a hole in the ground in the shape of a bowl about four feet in circumference and two feet deep. Chairs were placed in a circle around the fire, just enough so that one could feel the warmth of the fire. The weather itself was cool and a bit of warm clothing was necessary. Sticks of incense were placed around the fire and the women acclaimed the start of the ritual. Everyone had to introduce themselves and give a reason as to why they were there .
I thought that was pushing it. Being under the full moon, in the nice green garden on the manicured lawn with the babbling of water from a water pump in the small man-made pond with the geese was more than enough....nice ambience. I was really starting to become uncomfortable. I had to remind myself that I should behave myself, after all., I was in a strange land with strange people, I might as well wait it out and see how it would turn out.
People were saying all kinds of profound things...the divinity within, I was sent, I was destined to be here...the consciousness.... I said I came because I was curious.
Of course, there was no letting up of the woman's dissertation. Eleven was a doorway between heaven and earth and we should remember when we were in the womb in comfort and security. Then om had to be chanted three times...that really sounded real good. I just could not bring myself to uttering the syllable although I say it three times every morning out loud and keep muttering it to myself silently most of the day when I am not mentally saying my mantra. Nevertheless, I must say it sure sounded real good. Well, these days I am feeling quite good....buzzing all day into the night.
I think it was when the woman then asked people to explain whether they experienced anything when they chanted om...".I felt lifted...I felt the divinity"....that I just got up and left. I broke the circle, chair was empty. I returned to my room at 10.30 p.m, prepared myself to do my one-hour meditation from 11 to 12....that felt good. I soon fell asleep.
I am of the opinion that the group of people gathered for this event are uppity socialites. They have disposable income. They all dressed in fine silk kurtahs, shalwars quite elegant-looking. They look forward to and enjoy these kinds of workshops/encounters/ planned encounters.
Sunday, November 13
I went to a party organised by Saumi. She is from Bengal, dark-skinned, very plump, long hair, gap-toothed and possessing a very affable personality. She has excellent interpersonal skills and can market very well. As a matter of fact, she is involved in a Feed the Children programme and, soliciting funding from the business sector, I had met her at a previous function at the village.
There were about ten people in the party. I took the metro around 7 p.m. and got off at Green Park stop. I asked for directions and walked for about half an hour through Haus Khas market until I found the place opposite Souty restaurant.
The party was at B1/1, a three-storey building. It was old and had character and history which was evident as I made my way to the second floor which opened onto a delightful platform which I considered to be Indian. There was an interesting marble altar area. A view that was blocked by tall neem trees. This was obviously the verandah to the apartment which had a tall, arched, stained-glass wooden door.
The extremely small cramped kitchen adjacent to the door was literally littered with all the party food and other kitchen paraphernalia. Food preparation occurred on the floor in a tiny room next to the kitchen. There the tomato/cucumber salad was being prepared . There were two male helpers attending to the preparation of the food.
I was the first guest to arrive at the party. There I met Monica, a very well-spoken slim middle-aged woman obviously of some cultured background. Her fair complexion radiated amidst her long, straight, shoulder-length hair. I concluded such, by the black cigarette she kept smoking, the beer that she could never finish, the slow and soft well-thought-out sentences and her pleasing persona. Of course the beer appeared to be the aperitif for the glasses of wine she consumed during the night. She is a traveller, having spent some eight years in San Diego, moving many times in Delhi.
Monica had graciously offered her home to Saumi to host the party. There was a contribution of 500r for the party. The food consisted of a cucumber "chow" which lacked salt and pepper. It consisted of chopped peanuts and a bit of lime. The accompanying dip was made with dahee, mustard and chopped onions. There was some kind of succulent, stewed lamb which was marinated in dahee the night before and placed in the cooker on slow heat for sometime, dhal, small roti and sweet rice for dessert.
Dinner was served way too late for me at 10 p.m. I just had some lamb and a small piece of roti. I normally would have dinner around 7 p.m. My diabetes would kick in once my meals got screwed. I had two Dutch beers and a lot of conversation, spending all of my time sitting on the sofa/bed with crossed legs under the canopy of a moonlit night. There was no music
I met Ahbishek at the party. He is a young man who acquired his MBA in Scotland, where he stayed for a year and a half. He has just moved to Delhi from Mumbai. Our conversations came upon Khaini, a poor man's high. He insisted that I have this experience whilst in India. As a matter of fact Khaini was soon discovered to be in the possession of one of the helpers. Abhishek spared no detail in explaining the range, diversity, effects and experiences he had with Khaini.
It was a flat small packet with two items. One was a very small plastic vial with a white powdered substance, dried lime juice, I think. This was to be used in a proportion with the other ingredient according to one's taste and preference. The other ingredient was a tobacco-based mixture consisting of a combination of a variety of herbs.
Some of the tobacco mixture was poured from the packet onto the palm. A small amount of the white lime powder was added and this was mixed and massaged with the thumb of the other hand in a slow methodical manner suggestive of a sexual action. I would say, stroking would be the preferred term.
The aim is to bring this mixture to a certain point in which the colour changes to a slight green. Someone experienced with this would know when the material was ready. It could take a half an hour or an hour, depending on the required quality. Care must be taken to ensure that the rubbing stops at the appropriate time. It is a ritual all unto itself. For purposes of brevity, my introduction to Khaini would be a quickie. After two minutes of rubbing, I tried a small amount. It had to be placed between my gum and lower front lip in one attempt. It would soon generate a subtle burning sensation as it mixes with the saliva. This then finds its way into the stomach.
Upon digestion, one experiences an immediate high. It is a blast, you become aware of its effect on your system, heavy eyelids, relaxed forehead, calmness of voice and personality. I was good for about half an hour or more. I spat out the mixture and had some water. I have been told that many people are hooked on Khaini. • Continued tomorrow