India - although it wasn't clear to me at the time - I went in search of our human roots.
I had imagined something ancient and original would appear to me there, some of the common heritage of mankind.But I wasn't conscious of it.
I had only one desire: to get somehow to the depth of India, the "true" intact India, to the past.
During my earlier visits I had no idea how I could get to no-name villages where there were no hotels and no restaurants.
When I went for the 3rd time, I brought a camera to attempt to capture India's visual richness.
The camera opened many gates and even the heavens sided with me, sending me love and friends.
These friends are the heroes of this story.
First of all Raja, with his gentle power,devotion, and intelligence, brought me the promise of everlasting happiness- and instant protection.
With him I got to Mandu. He reported the local news, a lion had visited the village the previous night and had taken one of the goats.
His friends Dinesh and Kamla lent us their place while they were visiting their relatives. Luckily we were able to visit them after they returned.
Their home was in the courtyard of a temple.
There we met our neighbours, among them the teacher and his family,and so we became part of the local community and experienced everyday life.
And above all, with Raja as my translator I got the outstanding opportunity to talk to people not as a stranger, but as one of them.
His insights and comments also gradually put the world in a different light.
We travelled across the country through many villages. We saw proud men and strong women who got their power from the Earth, that was their only permanent home during their wandering, and from the Sun, that dressed them in bright colours and lifted their gaze and their thoughts above the horizon.
We saw lean, stringy women, living in gentle valleys who didn't at all care about their burdens,
since work for them was as natural as breathing. I saw the grandmothers' eternal care and the grandfathers' protecting caress.
Mandu, our transitional home, is a sleepy village today but has had a history of 3 thousand years.
At its height it was the mogul emperors' monsoon retreat as Mandu lies on the Vindhyanchal plateau, 600 meters above sea level.
They built such beautiful palaces,temples, and giant forts, that they named it Shadiabad - the city of Joy.
As it became their favourite place, they made it the capital city. Its ruins even today tell us about their wealth, power, and sophisticated taste.
The Jahaz Mahal - the Ship palace -was built between two artificial lakes and was home to the sultan's harem.
However, what made it immortal was the love of Prince Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati.
Even the Taj Mahal's builders sought inspiration at Mandu.
But the life found among the ancient walls led us to an even more ancient past.
The residents of the neighbourhood were preoccupied by the appearance of the lion, it was a constant source of conversation.
Being with the people surrounded by the glorious past,we gained an understanding from themabout times before historywhen man still accepted Nature's provisionand it was part of their own selves.
Following the lion we started off into the jungleof which they called the shrubbery undergrowth covering the steep slope of the surrounding mountains.
The jungle is poor lacking in waterand similarly to the residents of the vicinity, the skinny trees too, cling to the soil with all their strength in order to absorb life in.Existing in the most impossible places they show their haggard beautyreaching towards the Sky.
Following the water we searched for the lion but found only his footprints.
Once though, they cried out, "There he runs!" - but I didn't see anything, only the unmoving jungle.
On the way we filled our stomachs with wild fruits,and, as evening approached, we caught fish for dinner in the lake which had been built by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji and had obviously been clean in his time.
In this royal settlement we were invited by the poorest of the neighbourhood who - lucky for them - had no idea about how hard and mean their lives were. Like the trees, they lived their cheerful days holding together tightly.
Coming to and from Mandu we often visited Love Baba's temple -as we called the holy man of Gattabillod.
Love Baba's temple resided at the side of a very busy road and the Baba manipulated the travellers’ minds by repeating Love both in English and in Hindifrom the loudspeakers above.
Devotees turned to the Baba's temple to practice respect for God in their hearts so they were uplifted by gratitude and joy. Musicians created vibrations of empathetic awe, any lack of technical skills were replaced by their devotion,assisted by the smoking of ganja. Cannabis is used all over India in temples as a ceremonial tool for getting closer to God.
Once we came across a very strange figure. He - or she - came to us at a bus station- I was unable to determine his or her gender.
- "Thank you, thank you" - was said and amongst frequent bows he or she left.
The waiting crowd started to tell us that this wasn't just "anybody" - she is the mayor of a village. The village is located in a tribal areaand the tribal people rely on her to handle their official troubles - they also don't seem to avoid that.
- She's well respected - says someone.
- She cares for her people - they say.
I quickly wrote down the name of the village and a few days later we arrived at Dattigau looking for the mayor.They ran for her and the whole village gathered around us - such a sensation is rare in a village.
For accommodation we were given one of the rooms in the doctor's office - which he generously offered to us.
There we met Khan baja, the best friend of Rupli. Baja means brother, but for me it grew into his name. The lanky Muslim farmer had been reading the Bhagavad Gita- the holy book of the Hindus - in his spare time, and he sometimes went to the Hindu temple with his friend.
Days passed by in happy timelessness, they shared their weekdays and feast days with us.
In the evenings in Jamila's kitchen we laughed around the light of the fire with Khan baja's daughters.
India's inner life had slowly been evolving in front of my eyes. I saw how different life is, when days start with remembering. The first thing done upon awakening is to make themselves remember who they are. They remember their eternal soul, and the delusion of the manifested form, the mundane existence, the veil-dance of Maya.
They remember their ancestors, giving their thanks to them for their life and their most precious values which they received from them.
They devote a fire to the memory of their gurus - almost everybody has one -, who’s teachings help them through the difficulties of the transition through this earthly life toward the other, real one.
They pick up the thread, connecting them to the eternal world,to weave it into the day, moment by moment.
We lived there 'like fish in the water', almost; there wasn't any.
The Doctor took us on an excursion on his motorbiketo retrieve some water as well as possibly having a bath.
So, there I was, in the depths of India - I thought. I have already arrived on the way.
In the depth of depths hid a templethat was built around the only drinking water in the entire area. The walls of its little shrines and altars shone in the sunshine the colour of rose pearls. The masters of these beautiful jewel-boxes were the Baba and the Mata - meaning father and mother.
Did he like us or the camera?
The Baba invited us to stay and treated us like his own children.
This was the only clear-water spring for many miles so it was rightly considered holy. People were coming from near and far; little girls and young women filled their jugs, and strong men carried it home allowing everyone to partake of its cleansing and life-giving power.
And the water had such cleansing power indeed,that it washed the inside of the surrounding hills pure white.White stones emerged from the ground like lotus flowers appearing upon the surface of water, as the 'Great Ones' of India emerge from the masses.
The Baba was a Naga-Baba, which is traditionally a fighting order with special abilities in martial arts. When he was young he recounted, he had been able to take on ten men! According to him he was 96 years old but it really seemed unbelievable.
The temple was dedicated to Shiva, His name was on the lips of the passers-by, his infinite power was praised by the birds and the whole land rested in his unshakeable tranquillity.
The day started with a blessing and ended with it.
The Baba and the Mata received everyone from far and wide, the temple was open for everyone. Whoever visited became part of the shared experience; connectedness overcame individual separation.
The Mata in her best dresstold us about the legends of the land and introduced us to the spirits of the surrounding trees.
But most was communicated by her face: the understanding, the accepting smile of the Mother, her gentle serenity, her girlish grace. All of her movements created harmony. She was balance itself.
Raja and I shared the same opinion that she was the true holy person of the temple - as it was rather obvious that everything there was pervaded by some sort of sanctity.
We also hadn't been busy until now, but here in the temple time really seemed to stop or rather be in a never-ending circular dance to the rhythm of the Sun - always with fresh, unexpected movements.
We would hardly step out of the temple but the world would come to us. People were coming for the water, for the blessings; there were tourists and all kinds of holy men: pundits, gurus, sadhus.
One day a whole tribe settled beside our temple, the Bhils - as we came to know.
To be precise there were onlyBhil men and a few children, the women stayed at home for some reason.
One of them had died and the ceremony required water. They settled there for a week bringing their cattle as well.I don't know whether they had a chieftain, but if they did I'm sure it was this old man; incredible strength and dignity radiated from him.
The Bhils caught their food in the little river beside the temple and washed their clothesat the same place, the younger ones with washing powder, the old chief - without.
For a few days a wandering sadhu stayed with us, but it wasn't for long as the Baba didn't like him. Grunting he disapproved of his behaviouras the sadhu didn't observe the unwritten rules, the TRADITION, that forms the base of life all over India.
The moment they are born, Tradition takes them by the hand, and leads them safely throughout life in ways that have stood the test of times for thousands of years. Their invisible laws have been guiding them gently, showing the place and task of everybody. They don’t need to make too many decisions – tradition has an answer for everything. Upon my arrival in India I had noticed, how many smiling, child-faced old people are to be seen. The youth understandably accept and follow the guidance of their forefathers and mothers, since they see, it works. Life is beautiful. In this part of the world, days follow a peaceful, relaxed, human tempo. When they can, they enjoy the moment. If there is something to do, they do it. They do not hurry, nor procrastinate, and most of all, they never take umbrage at difficulties. They always have the time and the mood to be present in their lives. Khan baja’s young daughter-in-law is at the very end of the family-hierarchy, it’s been only two years since she entered the household. So she welcomes every occasion when she can prove her diligence, her skills, her compliance, that she was a good choice, and will become a good woman. The family acknowledges her endeavours graciously, and spoils her child, Sabanur, the first grandchild.
We regularly meet Khan and his family during our time spent in the temple. Sometimes he visits us and has a conversation with the Baba.
One day he arrived excitedly: his favourite guru, his master was expected that day to meet his devotees in our temple. Khan baja’s face radiated with joy, but soon it grew dark: the famous master didn’t greet the Baba and the Mata, the masters of the temple, his hosts. During the rest of the day Khan mourned his ex-master sullenly.
The respect for the ancestors, the elders and the Tradition holds together their culture; its defense and nurture is the holy task of everyone. India, the last big archaic culture on Earth continues to guard the memory of those times when the context of life was eternity. Its laws were not subject to changing times, and people looked at life as a path to spiritual salvation. That’s how culture lifts – can lift – humans; to be nobler, purer, gentler. For this reason many saints grow in India. The sacred finds fertile ground here. This worldview, in which man is divine, yet, a tiny part of the whole, inevitably educates people to be humble. And humility paired with acceptance doesn’t allow too much space for change. Earthly circumstances are temporary anyway, so there is not much use to strive for more. In the depth of India people’s life don’t differ too much from their ancestors, many years ago. In the country’s houses people still use the same tools. The width of a track is identical to the millimetre to that of the 2000 year-old carts. They wear the same clothes and eat the same food. But in the big cities coke and hamburgers have conquered, and the rest of the rubbish is coming, too.
We often paid surprise visits to Khan and his family – if no other mode of transport was available we would hitch a ride on a truck. Even if our vehicle didn’t rattle along I would still be permeated by some movements, only a bit softer: India’s roundish, rolling, undulating body brings up a feeling of the MOTHER-land, its inherent soul has been unbroken over years of modernisation by poles, wires and relay towers. But I see all this speeding along in a truck. And I see shacks that have satellite on their thatched roof.
Kahn’s daughters have been trying a new trend, too. They are taking out two crumpled men’s trousers from the bottom of their travel case and two pairs of sunglasses. They are a little shy, yet, proud with their new trendiness, but it looks awful on them – its hardness hides their charm.
Meanwhile we have become members of the family. Jamila gives me her toe rings – a must for every woman – the girls share their secrets with me, and shower me with care and attention. It appears that they spend every waking hour attempting to please me. In India, girls – be Hindus or Muslims – are brought up to love God in their husband. The purpose and meaning of their lives is to make them and their family happy. And as boys are brought up in the same way, it works excellently: most of the marriages are stable, and offer real security and belonging.
Khan’s wife – although she is a grandmother – is not allowed to sit next to her husband on the bed, but during lunch she laughs throwing her head back, as her “Lord” is making jokes with an impish smile. Towards the end of the evening, the small, 7-member family is joined by innumerable relatives and neighbours, the only living-room gets jam-packed. But being close to each other doesn’t bother anyone, on the contrary, aloneness is a strange and frightening state for them. People – especially women – spend their lives without a single moment alone. All over India meditation is really the only way to be alone. As night falls, the guests go home and in the kitchen the fire is lit, and Jamila who was swept into this life from faraway Kabul, goes down to bake bread for dinner – the chapatti. These are the most wonderful moments of the day as the dancing flames of the fire are sparkling on the silver seam of her scarf as she is rolling and baking the chapatti for hours. The girls are bustling around her, but making the bread is her realm only, nobody else can touch it. Evenings were consumed by laughter, and if any guest arrived, we all watched the dance of the heart-warming fire.
Khan has a little land that offers a modest income for the family. He usually does the business, it’s a rare sight to see him getting his hands dirty as the distant viewers look on. This act brings laughter from the family, especially from Jamila. For a while Khan will be compelled to listen to their jokes. Khan’s daughters were born under lucky stars; they are pretty, educated, and will even have a dowry. Alone in their room they often dream about the nice future with hopefully a nice husband. In front of the camera they take a solemn vow not to let anything stand between them, ever. I wonder how the girls’ lives will turn out. They were born into a beautiful order, but the sirens of the West are invading the house, with the images of a glamorous, easy, and most of all, trendy life. And they have no idea that it completely lacks of their beautiful order. Will India be able to remain the guardian of our past, to show us a way into the future?