the india project
An excerpt from point of view photo journalistic experience documented through writing and photography.
A little picture in a Lonely Planet of a blue city called Jodhpur in Rajasthan India. It looked like the most magical beautiful Indian desert city and I had to go. It sounded so exciting to me, a city where all the buildings were blue! Wow, how magical!
Jodhpur is a city in the desert, it is hot, there is no ocean or mountains, or tropical plant life. Living conditions are hard and and hot in general I would say that grit of life seeps into the feel of the place. Although I experienced great kindness, I found the small city aggressive. It was the only place I had been that children followed me throwing stones and the only time I even saw cows fight (multiple times.) One day I asked this kid Raj, whose family owned the guest house wear I was staying why the city was blue. He said,“tourists like blue city so we paint it blue.”
Nearing the guesthouse I am stopped by a man. He has hair past his shoulders the color of this rusty orange I’d seen a lot of men with hair died this color and grey roots. Caramel skin, grey stubble. He’s like a hippy 'the Fonz' rebel India raver. He’s bordering on handsome and looks enough like an outcast that I think we could be friends. “I am Raj.” Raj is Indian but has spent time in London and Portugal and has been traveling around India the past 14 months on his motorcycle. I meet him later that night for a chai. He shows me his blue motorcycle which parked outside the restaurant. I’m impressed. Motorcycles are cool. He knows it, I know it. As we drink chai and smoke beadies, I notice his attention seems scattered like he’s on drugs of some sort. I realize what is keeping him from being full out handsome are his crazy eyes. He doesn’t appear to listen fully yet is perceptive and attentive. He says, “You are like me, you are born in October”. I say yes. He says, "the 17th, 18th or 19th?" I sat the 16th. His birthday is the 17th. Raj has been living on and off the past 4 months with his guru at the snake temple in the desert. He says things like "there is no better purification than going to the cremation ghats high, only then can you see what is true and that cobras live 1,000 years."
We arrived yesterday after the 5 hour motorcycle journey from Jodhpur. Raj attached my bags to the back of his bike and we rode 5 hours into the deep countryside of India towards the boarder of Pakistan. The sweet older couple who ran the guest house I was staying at looked concerned when I told them I was going with a friend I met to an ashram in the desert. I made the decision to trust Raj although something about him scares me and activates a tightness in my throat like being on the verge of tears. Maybe another incarnation of my father I must keep experiencing until I am able to accept him and resolve my source fracture wound. I have created this India acid trip as my own spirit journey and am convinced that every male I encounter is a version of my father that I will continue to encounter until I resolve something—what I do not know. I am full of fear surrounded by men in a repressed culture where I don’t speak the language or know where I am other that the middle of the desert with a man I met four days ago.
I am at a snake temple in the dessert. It seems the men here smoke a grassy version of weed everyday and sit and attend to daily activities like grinding the wheat to hand make chapatis, gathering wood or dung for the fire to cook. The morning begins at 4 am when Rama and the guru do an elaborate ceremony at the small but impressive temple on the property. There is chanting and the ringing of bells. The 3 to 7 people men and myself sleeping on mats we pull out from a pile every night arise shortly after that we make chai and drink small portions of it every morning. Everyone gets high and then kinda sits around all day. There are neighboring men that arrive throughout the day to visit the temple, eat, and sit around in a circle together. I’m there too.
Guruji suggested I would probably like a private area to bathe and change in so Raj and Rama and I built a wall out of dried tumbleweed like desert scrubs flattened between sticks tied together by robe around an empty stable covered in dung. The rain then started putting a halt to my new boudoir leaving me in the same clothing as the day before covered in sand, sweat, and rain.
I sit on the stone kitchen floor with a small open fire cooking a pot of rice in the corner. A new person has arrived today. His name is Demzie and he is tallish and youngish with stylish facial hair. He sings and plays music Raj tells me. Next to me is a bowl of dried cow dung which is used to fuel the fire. Light comes in from the open metal door that leads outside and birds chirp on the landing on the ceiling. The kind eyed man in the yellow turban brings in more wood for the fire and the pot of rice sits perched on stone above the fire. Rama comes in wearing a yellow tshirt with a large cartoon character’s body leaving the head coming out of the neck to be Rama’s head. Everyone is barefoot and I am the only girl at the encampment in the desert. I woke up this morning in a sandstorm sleeping on a mat outside of the temple. I didn’t sleep much of the night, keeping my guard up against Rama. Every time I closed my eyes I could hear him inching closer to me. I’d open my eyes and find him watching me sleep. He is 17 and lost his mother a few years ago. He has been living at the ashram working and serving the guru for the past 3 years. He has a wondering eye and his actions are spontaneous and unpredictable. His lack of boundaries frightens me, but then again I am in a suspended bubble of fear in a foreign place, with strangers, surrounded by 360 degree ocean of sand I wouldn’t even know what direction to run if I had to. My cell phone is low on battery and the generator is temperamental making it difficult to charge. It is my first day. Raj is adding turmeric and milk to the boiling rice.
I sit in silence with Guruji. We don’t look at each other but I can feel his presence sitting on his raised bed which is the only furniture in the room. He is thin and has long black hair. He stares out of the door to the falling rain. I finally got a chance to change out of my wet clothing in the food pantry off the kitchen. I am wearing a dress I bought in Mumbai. I have seen women wear them on the streets in Kerala but when I wore it in Mumbai I was told it was a “nighty”. It may have the role of a Moo-moo. I have no idea if its appropriate.
We ran out of sugar for the chai so Raj and I took a walk to the neighboring village. The rains have finally stopped and the still wet desert sand has taken on a sticky clay like consistency. My sandals get stuck to the ground in certain places forcing me to walk bare food for stretches avoiding the small thorns shedding from dried tumbleweeds. Alone we walked, the only two in the endless stretches of land. No buildings or geographical markings, just desert, sand, and shrubs. I begin thinking that Raj in an incarnation of my father and me of my mother and that perhaps I have an obsession to make the failed relationship of my parents work in a new incompatible incarnation.
“How you feel?” Raj asks perhaps sensing my inner dialogue of torment and worry. I debate honesty and decide, why not. “I feel like I have a rope tied around my throat. I feel scared, I feel like you do not care about what I have to say, and that you are treating me like a second class citizen.” He stops and looks at me. “These accusations are coming from your own self, not me. If I don’t care about what you have to say, I am stupid. And I am not stupid.”
The whole scenario seems like a dream, an illusion. Is Raj my mirror? He is all I can see in front of me. Is there even a me? Am I him?
We continue the walk and arrive at the village which is a few half finished cement structures grouped in a clump. Some have doors, some have roofs. As we make our way to the shop that sells sugar all of the children begin popping out of doorways and following us. Raj goes inside the store and I wait outside and all of the children stand in a circle around the steps where I am sitting giggles and bright eyes with serious stares which break into huge shy and honest smiles the second I meet them. More children join the circular mob along with the women of the village dressed in layers of bright fabric, rows of shiny bangles around their dark arms and a silver headpiece resting on their crown, a silver decal hanging on the forehead. I finally feel comfortable surrounded by children and women. A honest non-threatening energy.
On our way out of the village we stop in a home of a man Raj knew. It was one room with a sand floor and two cot beds. An unfinished wall led out to the back that contained a couple buffalos and cows. Riches measured by sustenance not excess.
Leaving the village all of the children gather and yell “tit tat, tit tat” waving their arms until we exited the village onto the main footpath and began the long walk back. We hadn’t eaten yet and my stomach was beginning to grumble. Raj begins repeating as a mantra, “Trust me please”. I feel this I must do. This is my opportunity to overcome the fear I have carried towards men, snakes, and strangers my entire life. This is the time to rid myself of this fear. I must make a decision to trust him or not trust him but the indecisive in between zone is no good for anyone.
The sun was beginning to go down and twilight defended over the desert scape. We have sat to take a rest and smoke a beadie and Raj looks me in the eye and says “I am your truth. I am not Raj, I am your truth. This I know. You are a strong woman. You are very strong, this I know. Just keep following your natural power.”
I am tired and hungry and out of sorts…pre mentrual or in an INSANE situation…or both. In any case, I can barely keep tears out of my eyes. “Show me love” he says and the tears get pushed out from the energy I feel lodged in my throat, heart, and gut. The words scare me. To me they mean so many things that are far from love. They mean unwanted sexual relations and obligations, a contract to be heal over my head for future negations, and none of that I want.