A nameless child & more cow pee

October 2011

While in the West parents already know which name their child will have while it is still nestled in mommy’s womb, in India babies are born nameless and it is considered very inauspicious to even think about how it will be called. It was a bit strange for me to cuddle this little no-name person I loved so much and to call her just “baby” or “little one”.

The name giving ceremony, called Namkaran (Nam = name, karan = to make), usually takes place eleven days after the baby’s birth. It also marks the day of the end of mother and child being impure, after the ceremony, of course. A pandit (priest) is called to perform a sacred ritual; he purifies mother and child and then suggests auspicious names according to the date and time of birth. Hindus believe in the power of sounds and to each person’s birth chart there are corresponding syllables. This auspicious sound shall accompany the name bearer throughout his journey of life and attract good luck.

The proud Baba-Papa was really busy for some days: he had to build a terrace so the guests could sit comfortably in our garden, to find fire wood for the cooking and organize the village catering company; which consists of a bunch of villagers who turned up in the morning of the Namkaran with their enormous pots and cooking spoons which look rather like weapons of war than kitchen tools.

According to the Indian sense of punctuality, the pandit arrived three hours late. Nobody seemed to really bother. Same as in other social ceremonies Indians did not really care that much about the happening itself. The first Indian marriages I attended for instance really surprised me: In our culture the wedding party attends the marriage ceremony keeping quiet and at least pretend to pay attention, forming part of the event in some way. Here, people come around from time to time, to take a peek at the ceremony, walk around, talk on their mobile phones or merrily chat with each other in loud voices. Maybe that is so, because Hindu ceremonies can last pretty long.

Outside it was a bit chilly and the ceremony took place on in our living room. The first thing the pandit did was to draw a square with some kind of white powder on the floor and instructed me to sit in the middle of it together with the baby. I was not allowed to step out of the mark until the puja would be over, otherwise I would contaminate the surroundings.

Then he drew a yantra with sandalwood powder and curcuma and placed a lump of cow dung besmeared with ghee in its center. There were also severel other items, like a coconut, oil lamps and a lot of incense, but to my amusement the piece of cow dung enjoyed most of the attention throughout the ceremony. I had to pull myself together not to grin as I pictured a cow pie being worshiped during a baptism in a Christian church. After I found out that a pile of cow dung might represent the obstacle removing elephant god Ganesh, in case there is no appropriate image of him available.

Another thing that made me smile was that the pandit had told Baba to cover his had and in his hurry, Baba took the first thing he found, which was a green hat in Tyrolean style.

INDIA INDEED IS DIFFERENT!

The ceremony lasted about two hours and I observed with devotion and concentration the pandit’s movements backed with beautiful sacred chants. Everything was really mystic and nice; the only thing that irritated me was that from time to time we were sprinkled with a liquid, which I correctly guessed was of course: COW PEE.

Then the pandid handed me a glass and grinned “Drink! Medicine!”

My worst guess turned out to be true, as I could tell by its smell:

IT WAS COW PISS DILUTED WITH MILK!

But I am really proud to say that I managed to do it!

I DRANK IT!

And not only once, I had to drink two times five sips of this special cocktail! My mind came up with some useful information to get over it: Most of the ayurvedic medicines contain cow urine and even in the West many beauty creams have a component called urea, which is actually nothing else than uric acid.After my purification I had to sit in our room where the guests would visit me and the Baby to congratulate. They offered presents or pressed some money into her little fists. To bless her everybody applied a red tikka on her forehead and after only half an hour my little girl looked like postmarked all over her tiny face.

It had been a long, tiring, but happy day for all three of us which eventually ended without having chosen any name for her. The pandit had suggested five names. Four of them absolutely not pronounceable for the European part of the family and the fifth one very old fashioned. But the pandithad told us to take our time and not to worry. Any name starting with the sounds NI, NA or YU (by the way which names start with” YU”?!?) would be fine.

After another couple of days we found it and so she was named her “NITYA” – which means “ETERNAL

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The Pinky Mudra

It doesn’t take long to find out that travel plans usually don’t work out in this country. Actually it is better to not make any, as life knows better than you and India takes you where you have to be by its own ways.

I found out that studying a map of India and marking the routes to the destinations you want to reach in a scheduled time, even if it represents only a rough idea of what you want to see, is pretty useless; unless you want to spend more time in a vehicle than in your destination.

Where I come from it takes about one hour to make 100 km by road; in India the same distance takes approximately the triple of time, at least if you decide to travel in the cheapest way, which is the local bus.

We took the local Bus from Rishikesh to the state of Himachal. I wanted to do the “real” thing and had prepared myself mentally for a nine-hour trip. But when we arrived at the bus stop and I saw the tin can in which I would be sitting for longer than it takes from Europe to New Delhi, my spirit of adventure sunk drastically.

First of all the driver lit an incense stick and performed a fast puja to the little Ganesh Statue that was glued to the dashboard, adorned with blinking fairy lights and dusty plastic flowers. Ganesh, the elephant god and remover of all obstacles…

Was this a good or a bad sign?

As we took off, I marveled at the systemless traffic chaos, which somehow seems to always work out fairly well. Despite off all the honking and random passing maneuvers you get pretty soon used to the wild driving style and don´t bother about it anymore.

For the next couple of hours I chatted with Baba and enjoyed watching the landscapes rushing by. The plastic seats though were anything but comfortable and soon my behind demanded a little break from all the up and down bumping. The driver though showed no signs of intention to stop for a break.

“Only” seven more hours to go!

local bus

Suddenly I noticed that a man a couple of seats in front of us lifted his pinky to the air. Shortly after the bus stopped on the road side and several men got off to obey nature’s call. I had my doubts that my funny guess was correct, but Baba confirmed:

Yes! If you have to pee really badly, use the official pinky mudra and the bus will stop! 

I tried to sleep. Not easy, when there are rusty screws sticking out from everywhere. The slide window was shaking loudly and cold air blew on my neck through the gaps. I tried to close it several times, but soon gave up, as each time it opened again after only a couple of minutes.

When I finally managed to doze off the bus stopped for a food break in a motorway dhaba. The conductor directed the driver into a narrow parking gap by blowing his shrill whistle as hard as possible.

During these stops I normally have to choose between eating food, finding and using the toilet (this mostly also needs some mental preparation) or smoking a cigarette. I never manage to do all of it and as soon as I scoop the first spoon of rice into my mouth, while everybody else already has finished their plate in a matter of seconds, the conductor whistles for departure.

Soon we reached the hill area, which is a danger zone. Not only because of the poor road conditions, but also because there are always a few people getting sick on the bus. Be careful if you feel like sticking your head out of the window to breath in some fresh air; you risk to get hit by someone’s vomit right in the face. The bus however drives on cheerfully from bend to bend, while people with green faces lean out of the windows trying to resist the gravity which tosses them back and forth.

Apropos, avoid leaning against a local bus during breaks, the result will probably be some nasty stains on your clothes…

heartsFive hours had passed. I felt drained, my body hurt and my thoughts were turning darker and darker. Sleeping was impossible; at least for me. Everybody else, inclusive Baba, did not seem to have any problems. Some people, who got on the bus at the last stop, didn’t get any seat and somehow managed to sleep even while standing in the corridor. I obviously was the only person having an inner struggle. Even the small children did not complain and slept soundly on their parents’ laps.

I felt stupid, what was wrong with me?

It helped a little when I tried to concentrate on my breath. I released my anger and watched my thoughts wandering from here to there. I noticed, that they became pretty creative, many ideas and conclusions came into my mind.

This was a good way to spend the time!

I remembered a story a backpacker couple told me once about their local bus ride experience: It was wintertime and a big stone hit the windshield causing a huge crack. There was still half of the distance to go. The bus stopped and they expected the driver to call someone to fix the window or to exchange the bus. Instead he picked up a stone from the side of the street and broke down the entire windowpane. That was all. The bus went off again, as if nothing had happened. No one complained.

Tired but thankful we eventually reached our destination. I like to take my time when I arrive somewhere and stay at least a couple of weeks. First of all to get to know the place in a relaxed manner and second, because I need at the minimum three days to recover from the trip and three days more to get prepared mentally for the next one.

In this backpacker lesson I learned that the secret is to accept situations you cannot change anyways; and of course,

the mysterious meaning of the pinky mudra!