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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Our First Season – Lama Kaha, Why Like This !?!

March 2010

The first tourist season here went pretty well for us; our guest room was rented out most of the time. We really had a lot of fun and sheltered all kind of people from all over the world, but most of them were Israeli Nationals. I have to say that I never ever met an Israeli before I came to India; maybe the reason for this is that they are all here.

There is this strange phenomenon: After they finish their obligatory military service, 2 years if you are a female and 3 years if you are a male, they all decide to travel, preferably to India or South America.

By now, my understanding of the Israeli Culture has improved a bit, although there are still a million of things I do not catch.

Observing and living with them I realized so far that there are two kind of Israeli backpackers:

The ones who have a huge urge to travel in groups, whatever it takes, and constantly seek the company of their fellow-countryman and the ones that try to keep a distance as much as they can from the first kind. The first group often gives me the impression that they are scared for some reason; maybe they fear to get lost or maybe the chaotic ways of the country makes them feel unsecure . Most of the time they do not show too much interest in the Indian way of life and keep themselves busy with shopping and meeting in the most fashionable tourist restaurants. The female members of the first group frequently shock the conservative Indians they cross on their way with their fashion style, revealing too much skin for the taste and nerve of the Indian eye. Once I asked an Israeli friend:

“Why like this?”

And he told me that many of the young Israelis don’t actually want to travel, but they do so anyways because everybody does. Some would say that this is then a waste of time, but I guess that Mother India will bless them with new insights and offer them plenty of lessons of life, like she does with everybody who comes to visit her.

Then there are also the very religious Israelis and the not so religious ones, who celebrate the Shabbat anyways. Once we had a very religious guest staying at our house, very orthodox, but at the same time very open. I liked him a lot and really enjoyed to have him around. We had long talks about the Jewish and the Hindu religions and I had the opportunity to ask many questions about his believe, rituals and practice. Anyhow many times the answer I received to my endless why-questions was:

“Because the bible says so”

This was a bit strange and disappointing for me. If I would decide to strictly follow any kind of religion, I would want to know all the whys and reasons for each and every rite and rule I were to practice. Hindu religion is really interesting in that sense, every single act and ritual has a deep meaning, mostly energetic (and so does the Jewish religion, too, I guess), but of course as in most religions, people grow up with it and act according to it never really asking themselves why, which is really a pity, because most of the “magic” remains concealed. I pretty much gave up asking the locals here for deeper explanations, as most of the time the answer is unsatisfactory and I have to google it anyways; which is pretty boring. I prefer to learn while talking to people instead of sitting in front of a screen.

Here a funny anecdote comes to my mind:

tefillinOnce Baba and I were visiting a friend at a nearby guesthouse. A Jewish boy was standing on the balcony absorbed in his prayers, wearing all the items needed for it, which involved also the Tefillin (small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah of which one is worn strapped around the arm with a leather string). Baba saw the leather string tightly wrapped around his arm; and as Baba is always worried about the well-being of everyone near him, he rushed towards the boy asking him anxiously

“Man, you okay? Your arm have some problem, you need help? What happened?”

The boy still praying and confused looked a bit annoyed at Baba from the corner of his eyes, while I, embarrassed, did my best to drag Baba away from him trying to explain that everything was all right and that the boy was simply performing a Jewish “puja” (ritual).

WE ALL HAVE OUR DIFFERENT WAYS, BUT STILL:

WE ARE ONE !

Honeymoon With Rumpelstilskin Part 1

May 2008

After so much excitement and nerve-stretching situations, Baba and I were looking forward to our honeymoon. Just the two of us! Anonymous and without having to satisfy anybody’s expectations!

CIMG5831

We decided to visit the Hindu pilgrimage town of Gangotri, where the holy river Ganges has its source and therefore is said to be the abode of the goddess Ganga. When we mentioned our plan while sipping on our cup of chai at Kashi’s Chai Shop, our good old Baba friend Sita Ram suddenly started to wallow in self-pity:

“Me always want to go Gangotri, but never possible… Now me now very old, possible die and never see Gangotri…”

Sita Ram BabaI guess that he was in his late sixties. He was this particular Sadhu who reminded me so much of Rumpelstiltskin; he was small, thin, wrinkly and brown. Usually he kept his grey hair matted into a couple of thick dreadlocks under a turban. He always showed a toothless grin and with his sly glance you could never be sure if he was joking or talking in serious. He uses to complain a lot about whatever and enjoys saying his piece; a habit some people could not deal with too well. But I kind of liked him and in the end, Baba and I decided to take him along with us to Gangotri. The deal was that once we would arrive there, he would go his own Baba-way and we would enjoy our longed-for honeymoon.

Many Sadhus travel to the Pilgrim places once the passes are open to the public from May to September and the heat gets too intense in the plains. Some few go there to retreat and meditate, the rest of them basically to collect their annual “salary” from the pilgrims.

At some point, after a long time of bumping up and down in the local bus with a complaining Sita Ram Baba in our back, people started to pull out shawls, woolen caps and gloves.

“How exagerated!”

I thought. Well, only twenty minutes after I understood. We must have passed a certain hight level, because suddenly it became freezing cold. I was not prepared at all for that, actually I wore my flip-flops and a thin sweater and felt incredibly cold.

The first thing I did after arriving in Gangotri was to buy a woolen shawl and socks. The place was already very busy and it was not easy to find a room. There were only a few guesthouses and they were more expensive than what I use to pay while traveling. Sita Ram stayed in a Sadhu spot under a balcony where other Babas were sitting around a fire pit. I felt a bit sorry for him due to the cold, but in the end he was a Baba and probably knew how to get along.

It was really tough to leave the warm bed in the morning. As I opened my eyes I could see my breath. The water was so cold that I wasn’t sure anymore if my teeth were still there after I had brushed them. We decided to have a warm breakfast and a cup of chai.

Cave Gangotri

Sita Ram was already waiting for us in front of the guesthouse and invited himself to come along with us. Like usually, he was complaining. The three of us sat down at a window place in a restaurant at the narrow main road that lead to the temple. I agreed with Sita Ram, the chai in deed tasted horrible, it was made with powder milk and a lot of water. All groceries have to be brought up to this hight of 3100 metres which made it expensive and the choice was limited and of poor quality. In the off-season, nobody lives in the village.

I looked out and saw the holy men sitting in a long line begging for money and witnessed how some of them were getting really angry when a pilgrim gave them only a few rupees or nothing. Here, it seemed there was not much of a difference between being a Sadhu or a simple beggar; this made me really sad. My Baba must have read my thoughts and said

“Yes, many Babas sitting here all season. They begging much money for living the rest of the year; like job. Good Baba not doing like this. Good Baba sitting possible, somebody giving than he can take. He taking what god giving from heart, not asking, asking…”

We decided to take a walk through the area. Sita Ram followed us like a puppy, it was like being on a honeymoon with the senile grandfather. Anyways, the nature was amazingly beautiful. The holy glacial water rushed through ivory colored rocks that formed beautiful shapes. The dense forest with its rocks, mushrooms, small caves and high trees seemed to be enchanted and with the muttering Rumpelstiltskin in our backs I felt like strolling through a fairy-tale landscape. We came to a big rock with a cave entrance. A Sadhu was sitting silently inside the cave at his dhuni, the holy fire-place. He invited us for a cup of chai and the Sadhus had a respectful conversation. I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place and was happy to meet at least one Sadhu who seemed to take his chosen path seriously.

Gangotri cave

In the meantime our quiet guesthouse had been invaded by a large Indian family of about twenty members of all ages. The terrace was crowded with playing and crying children, women in  sarees were running from one room into another banging the doors and grandmothers and grandfathers were yelling at each other. Our room was in the middle of all that chaos, which was pretty irritating. I guess that the family was on one of the typical pilgim-marathons, where they book a bus to visit several holy places. They don’t stay more than one night; they wake up, pray, eat and chalo!.

At 4 a.m. we awoke by the sound of rattling dishes, yelling and singing sounds coming from the bathrooms in the neighboring rooms. The pilgrim family also had brought along a complete kitchen equipment! It takes quite a bit of time until about twenty people finish with their shower, breakfast and wash all the dishes. No way to fall asleep again! After half an hour I gave up and sat in the first rays of sunlight on the terrace watching the family clan rushing to the temple.

Unintentionally Famous in India

April 2008

The next morning our story was in the papers.

cuttingThe titles said things like

“Baba-Ji caught in Uma’s love trap”

and

“Uma Devi seduced Baba-Ji to a worldly life with her Kayal-eyes”

Once again, I just can say:

INCREDIBLE

We shot to fame in town and could not walk even two steps without people stopping us waving with the newspaper in their hand and asking us when we would throw the big party for everybody. Strangers congratulated us and people who intentionally ignored us before were suddenly extremely friendly and invited us for a cup of chai. In accordance to Indian tradition, Baba was still distributing sweets to everyone. I think he had bought the entire stock. Down to the present day I still wonder which part of the crazy shot the medias showed on TV; We never got to see it, but received phone calls from all over India and even Nepal from people who did.

I know people in the west who feel having lost part of their freedom after marriage. In my case I was exactly the contrary; I felt more free than ever! No more creepy comments from passing men and the looks I received were nothing more but confused or simply curious as their gaze fell on my sindoor, the red vermilion mark which in Hinduism indicates that the woman wearing it is married. I generally received much more respect than before the marriage.

newspaperBut still, the guesthouse manager did not let us share a room, as the official papers were still missing. He advised me to go to the police station and ask directly there for permission. How embarrassing… as if the police were my parents and I had to ask them if I was allowed to sleep over at someone’s place.

But isn’t there almost nothing that one would not do for love?

So, a little nervous, I indeed walked to the police station. As I stepped in, I could feel the grin behind the police officer’s straightfaced expression. I was sure that the entire police station had already read the newspaper or seen the news on T.V. Timidly I spread the newspaper cuttings and the temple marriage certificate over his desk.

“Sir, I wanted to ask you if it is okay now that I share a room with my husband. Yesterday we got married, but we still do not have the official marriage papers”

He called his colleagues and his boss, who gathered around the desk to eye up the cuttings.

“Congratulations. Where are the sweets?”

“Excuse me? Oh… actually I completely forgot, but I can come back and bring along some sweets later on”

“Good! Fine, you may share a room with your husband. But get the papers done as soon as possible! It’s important! Have a nice day, Madam”

Relieved I left the police station.

Mission accomplished!

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!