The Indian X-Ray Experience

April 2008

The next step was to get our marriage officially registered, which turned out to be pretty much of a mission. The only identification Baba had was a Sadhu I.D. Card from the main Ashram of the Nath Sampardaya in Haridwar. We would not get very far with that document.

Our funny lawyer promised to figure out what to do and decided that the first thing to be done was to get a medical age certificate for Baba, which would be done by taking X-rays of his skull.

Of course, the whole story again seemed more than weird to me. But as there are actually only few things that do not seem strange to a westerner in India, I limited myself to shrug my shoulders and let things happen. If all of it was bullocks, I would at least have another colorful story to add to my India diary.

So, all three of us walked into a governmental hospital in Haridwar. The lawyer left us sitting on a hard wooden bench and disappeared. From time to time we saw him from a distance hopping after some doctors.

…waiting, waiting and more waiting…

Eventually the lawyer came back and brought us to the X-Ray department, where we sat on another bench to wait again. At least we were lucky enough to get a seat, as the hallway was full with people standing.

India turns you into a specialist in waiting, especially when you already have gained some train experience and in occasions have been waiting for your delayed train for about five hours. At least waiting in this country is a bit like watching T.V.; there is always something entertaining and interesting happening around you, which makes time pass by a bit quicker.

Buy popcorn and watch the show, it’s for free!

Finally the lawyer gave a sign to call us into the X-Ray room. I wondered if this really was the right place. The door stood wide open and people came in and out like at the entrance of a supermarket. The examination table with the X-Ray machine stood in the middle of the big room.

I did not get X-rayed too many times in my life, but I remember clearly that I had to wear a lead apron and that it had happened in a small, well isolated chamber, which the nurse would leave locking the door behind her before starting the machine.

Sketch222102335

In this hospital, people were X-rayed merrily one after another, like in a push button factory. The patients who were waiting for their turn sat on benches inside of that same room or stood curiously around the examination table to get a closer look on how others were getting X-rayed.

It was the first time that Baba was as a “patient” in a hospital. He was clearly feeling creepy and observed the whole scene with big eyes. The doctor instructed him to lay down on the table and not to move. The radiography took only a second and the doctor left the room. Baba apparently had not understood that the procedure was already over and was still lying there like a dead animal.

The lawyer, who was of course supervising the examination, turned towards me and said:

“Now you Madame”

“Me? Why? I’ve got a passport, I already know how old I am”

“Anyways, you also have to take the examination”

“My Passport is from Germany, it is a REAL one! It has a chip and everything”

 “Madam, please! You have to do it!”

In the end I gave in and underwent the procedure to the amusement of the whole ward. A Western woman getting an X-ray was the highlight of today’s hospital show!

We had to wait AGAIN, this time for the results. After another couple of hours the Doctor came with the documents over and said solemnly:

“Sir, you are 30 years old. Madame, your age is 28”

“Oh, how nice! On my Passport it says that I am 30”

“No, Madame! Your age is 28!!!”  

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An (un)traditional Indian Wedding

April 2008

At 5 a.m. I started up from my sleep and sat straight as a post in my bed.

“Today I’ll get married!”

sitaramtent

It was impossible to think of sleeping for a couple of hours more. Someone had suggested a purifying morning bath in the waters of the holy Ganges before the ceremony. So I went to the riverbank where I found my future husband snoring soundly in Sita Ram Baba’s plastic tent.

“Chelo! Ganga shower!” a murmur came from under the blanket

“Too cold!”

“Chicken!”

The water was in deed bitterly cold and my will was weak. I made do with sprinkling some water on my head asking for her blessings.

“Sorry, Ganga-ji, but I cannot do it”

I turned around and saw Baba sitting in the sand grinning broadly.

At 8.30 my bride-manager was supposed to show up with the saree. One hour later still no sign. The jeeps that would bring the Wedding party to the temple in Haridwar were booked for one o’clock. At ten, finally the saree arrived together with a good friend from Spain who I met perchance in Rishikesh. She would help with the preparations and give me some moral support. We went to the chai shop to get ready. A girl was polishing my nails, while the Indian ladies wrapped me into the pink wedding saree. The Mataji borrowed me her wedding -jewellery made of real gold that she had been wearing on her own big day. It included a bridal nose ring that would be attached to the earring by a chain. At that time I did not have my nose pierced, so we decided to simply clip it on somehow before the ceremony. When I eventually looked like an acceptable Indian bride, my electic-blue flip-flops stroke my eye. Nobody had thought about the shoes! Oh, no problem, in the temple everybody takes off the shoes anyways! My Baba appeared in the chai stall. He looked wonderful in his white kurta and lunghi!

WeddingcarThe jeeps parked in front of the chai stall; they were old army jeeps. The wedding party slowly gathered together: A handful of Sadhus and backpackers from Japan, Brazil, France, Canada, USA, Belgium and Israel. Kashi from the chai shop would be the bride’s father. The colourful potpourri of people squeezed into the jeeps and off we drove to Haridwar. The Babas were playing the dambru and everybody was singing and shouting cheerfully.

The temple compound was amazingly beautiful, situated right on the shore of the Ganges. The wedding party sat down on the stone benches under the trees in the huge garden, some went bathing in the river. Someone brought snacks and soft drinks; the sadhus smoked chillum on one side and the backpackers rolled joints on the other side. I thought “Ah, this is what an Indian champagne reception looks like” …and that it was actually okay that there was no biological family present; my parents did actually not know that I was getting married.

The atmosphere was pretty fun and jolly, somehow I felt more as if I was at someone’s big birthday party then being the bride on my own wedding. The local newspaper and TV channel journalists showed up. Our friend Vijay had told us that there would be one of each. Apparently they had told all of their colleagues; seven newspaper journalists and eleven TV channels had come to document the event. Good that we wanted only a humble ceremony without much fuss!

They immediately gave instructions for the shooting of photos and film:

-Now, only the Sadhus!

-Now, only the tourists!

-Now, you all dance!

What do you mean with dance? There is no music!

-No problem, you dance!

One of the backpacker started singing “Dancing Queen” from Abba and everybody else joined in.

Hey, you! Bride! You don’t dance, stand still!

My god! I wondered what the outcome of that shooting would be!

My bride manager called me to put the nose ring on. She seemed a bit confused about how to do that. A discussion among the Indians started and I feared that they would pierce my nose right on the spot (in this crazy country, you never know…) finally she managed to clip it somehow on my nose. A Baba showed up with rubber flip-flops; pink colour. Great, now I had rubber flip-flops in the matching colour to my wedding dress!

It was time to enter the temple for the ceremony. The pandit lead us to the temple which was covered with wire protection against the monkeys. The cage of marriage was beautifully decorated with flowers and ribbons. We sat down in front of the altar and the pandit started the ceremony, guiding us through it:

Sprinkle holy water here, throw flowers there, make a symbol with red colour here, stick rice on the coconut and so on; all of it at top speed.

In the meanwhile the journalists had entered the temple and shouted instructions at us during the ritual: Look here, more over there; Smile…

Incredible! One can not even get married in peace in this country!

Journalists

The ceremony came to an end when Baba applied the sindoor on my head and forehead. We stood up to walk seven times around the holy fire and completed the ritual by exchanging flower garlands. Someone had chased the journalists out of the temple and they were now lurking outside.

Just breath and go!

Immediately they fired all kind of questions to Baba. Good! Maybe they would not pay any attention to the bride. As soon as I finished that thought all cameras turned towards me.

“Madame, you like Indian culture?”

No, I don’t. I got married that way just for fun I thought. And “PLOPP” in the same moment my clipped-on nose ring fell off. On the questions about our future plans I had to draw a blank one, as we had none. The journalist did not like that at all.

wedding

I wondered about the outcome of the shots and on which channels they would be broadcasted. I imagined my parents witnessing surprisingly their daughter’s peculiar wedding on satellite television. I wanted to wait to see them face to face to explain the entire story; in the end it is a very long one…

Hindu Conversion with Rumpelstilskin

March 2008

We were on our way to Haridwar in a collective Rickshaw to meet the lawyer in his office to sign the religious conversion. The ride takes about one hour. One of our Baba friends decided to accompany us, as he had nothing better to do anyways. I don’t even know his exact name; we simply call him Sita Ram Baba. He’s an older Sadhu, small and ever smiling with a cunning expression in his eyes. He always reminded me a bit of Rumpelstiltskin.

Shiva

We made our way through the crowded bazaar in Haridwar in search of the lawyer’s office. I doubt that in western terms you would ever call it an office. It was a tiny room of about 1.5 m². The walls were full of mold and other nasty stains. There were three ancient steel cupboards on which bundled papers wrapped in cloth were piled up. As I later found out they were all death certificates.

Nice energy!

At our arrival the lawyer quickly kicked out the two guys who were napping on the floor. There were no chairs or tables and the lawyer invited us to take a seat on the shabby carpet. The opened door offered a view on a narrow alley. In front of us a number of fat cows were chewing and shitting in turns. A boy came in to serve us chai. The Babas and the lawyer shared a joint while talking in Hindi; I busied myself with observing the cows and the Indian huzzle-buzzle in the alley.

I had assumed that we would go to the court, sign the papers and go straight back to Rishikesh.

The vocabulary quick and fast is apparently only known to Rickshaw-drivers in India. If you think you can do something quickly here, forget it! The universe will laugh out loud at you!

Baba and I took a cycle Rickshaw to the court, the lawyer and Sita Ram drove on his ancient Bajaj scooter. It looked pretty funny how the grinning Rumpelstiltskin with a flying beard was sitting behind the besuited lawyer.

The night before, I had seen the court in my dreams. There, it was a luxurious building with marble floors and heavy lusters. A serious man, dressed in a smart suit came to receive us.

The reality though, looked slightly different: The court was literally nothing but a pavement court. It was surrounded by many stalls that were covered by tin roofs under which some sweating clerks were hammering wildly on their manual typewriters. Others were just sitting there, busy with doing nothing. The lawyer delivered us to of one of the nothing-doing-guys, who looked very serious and decided to not take any notice of us.

The lawyer said ¨I’ll be back in a minute¨ and disappeared. Time passed by and the serious clerk still ignored us completely. He pulled out his Indian thali-tupperware on which he feasted munching and burping, while my stomach was complaining loudly about its emptiness.

sitaramTwo hours had passed and still no sign of our lawyer. Baba had called him several times on his cellphone and each time he affirmed that he was on his way. I was almost sure that he was having a nap after having enjoyed a rich family lunch at home. The only establishment around the court area was a chaiwallah, where we ate a couple of dry bread-pakora with chilli sauce. Sita Ram Baba is a restless soul and had spent the last two hours complaining audibly about EVERYTHING.

After more than three hours, when I was on the edge of suffering a nervous breakdown, the lawyer drove in happily, grinning with satisfaction. I was already really angry and wanted to polish that stupid smile off his face. Proudly he presented a letter to me, as if nothing had happened. What I read, was the most unbelievable story ever and on top of it, it was full of spelling mistakes!

The story told about my deep passion for Hinduism since childhood, how my life changed after I finally met my longed for Guru and that I therefore had the deep desire to convert to Hinduism; Well, of course I feel attracted to Hindu religion, but I have to say that the lawyer’s imagination really surprised me!

¨Okay. Now you check if all correct and then sign here¨

I don’t exactly know what he meant with “correct”; I was tired and just corrected a few spelling mistakes in my name. Then I sighed deeply and signed the paper with my new Indian Name ¨Uma Devi¨. If I would have corrected all the spelling mistakes, I would have ruined the entire letter.

¨Okay, that’s it¨ said the lawyer, went to get a stamp from the unfriendly clerk and handed the paper to me.

I spent the entire day here in the heat, only for this?!?

Bubbling rage was brewing up in my stomach, when suddenly another lawyer popped out from nowhere; his assistant. Both lawyers took my Baba to the side and talked for some time vividly in Hindi. The only thing I wanted was to leave that place. I pulled Baba by his sleeve ¨Come on, let’s go!¨

In the Rickshaw back to Rishikesh I asked Baba about what the lawyers had said.

¨This man say, you need certificate from Doctor¨

¨What certificate?¨

¨No relation-wallah¨

¨Excuse me?¨

¨No Sex. Certificate saying you no having sex before. And also pregnancy test¨

Haridwar

I didn´t know if to laugh or if to cry. This must be a joke! Were they really thinking that they could get a positive virginity test from a nearly thirty year old western woman?!? To meet a thirty year old western virgin is possibly as difficult as to find a holy cow in Europe!

I was so furious and couldn’t find any mean to get rid of my anger. Sita Ram was still complaining loudly and I played with the thought of ramming my fist into his face.

It was getting dark and it started to rain cows and monkeys. The cold wind blew the heavy rain into the Rickshaw exactly from the side were I was sitting. I was soaked and freezing. I decided not to talk; as there were no nice thoughts on my mind, no nice words would come out of my mouth either.

In Rishikesh we finally took a decent meal in a restaurant. It was already 7 p.m. I just wanted to lock myself into the room and end that stupid day. I ate as fast as I could. In the meanwhile the rain had turned into a thunderstorm and the power went off.

Without paying much attention to the Babas I took my sandals into my hands and walked out into the rain; I was already drenched anyways. I didn’t even bother to roll up my pants and waded through the turbid flood that had reached knee-level. I tried hard not to think about what kind of surprises and lifeforms might be swimming in the brown sludge. I still could hear Sita Ram complaining from a distance.

My Baba didn’t didn’t understand my bad mood at all and followed me chuckling. While I was thinking

“Crazy Indians!”

he was probably thinking

“Crazy Westerners!”

Haridwar

UMA AND THE POT-SMOKING LAWYER

Amantis

March 2008

The wedding issue was keeping us pretty busy. Which papers would we need? Baba actually did not have any but an Ashram I.D. He left his home at the age of eleven and had not returned there since; who cares about papers when you are only eleven years old and run away from home?

Would that be enough to get married at least in the temple? A spiritual marriage is as valid as a court marriage for life in society, but not for legal matters. The first one would already be enough for now.

We were so busy, that we did not find time anymore to sit and talk to the travelers who stayed in the same guesthouse and all the things India-travelers usually do, passed me by unnoticed.

Then One day, the lawyer showed up. He was in his early forties and looked like the average Indian of his age. He was short and pot-bellied with gold-framed glasses and wore his oiled hair side parted. He seemed friendly and I had the impression that he was an honest person; in the end he was a friend’s friend.

scooter

We sat down and words that sounded like English were bubbling out of his mouth while he was rolling a joint. Somehow I barely understood a quarter of what he was trying to say. I caught that he had married a mixed couple before and asked me if it would be a problem for me to convert to Hinduism, which would make things much easier.

I did not have any problem with that. There is only one god and I think that he or she doesn’t care too much in which way you try to approach him or her. I never was a much practising Christian and maybe I even knew a bit more about Hinduism than I did about Christian religion.

“This good” said the lawyer “Then you only need Hindu name for conversion certificate”

“Cool!” I thought “I would get to choose a new name for myself! How many times in your life you get a chance like that?”

Right away female Hindu names I heard before and liked rushed through my mind. I wanted one with a really nice meaning that suited me.

All of a sudden something strange happened inside my mind; the entire situation seemed totally abstract. At that precise moment I had the sensation to be swimming in the shallow water near the ocean shore, but when I tried to touch the ground with my feet, I realized that there was an immense nothingness underneath me.

I came back to my senses when Vijay showed up shouting happily

“Uma! Uma is a good name!”

“No way! Uma sounds like Oma, which means grandmother in German!” I replied harshly.

The lawyer turned to me and said something like “You still have much time. No hurry, chicken curry!”  Then he lit another spliff and off he drove on his rattling scooter that looked older than dirt.

Three days later the lawyer called Baba on his cellphone. The news was that we had to show up the next day in the court in Haridwar to sign the conversion certificate.

“Oh, then I have to choose my Hindu name today” I said

“No. Lawyer already putting Uma on the paper” answered Baba

Wonderful! 

shivaparvati

Sometimes life just takes decisions for you…

In the end I have to say that Uma really is a cool name. She is one aspect of the goddess Parvati, who is Shiva’s consort.

A story tells that Parvati finally got tired of being ignored by her husband, who dwelled in constant meditation. She left her home to become a wandering hermit and practiced such harsh self-denial, that eventually Shiva, god of ascetics, received her as his most devoted worshipper and they were reconciled.

Her name is said to have been given to her by her mother, who upon learning of Parvati’s plan to practice extreme self-denial, cried out, “U! Ma!” which means “Oh! Don’t!”

I guess my mother would have said something similar if she knew about my wedding plans!

Uma was actually the perfect name for me!