Monday, February 6, 2012

A year as a student in India

That year in Varanasi, one of the oldest extant cities in the world, was a game changer for me.  The food, sounds, smells, and just about everything else was so so not Iowa.  After a few months though I was comfortable enough to travel on third class trains by myself, explore ancient ruins, and manage to communicate in basic Hindustani.  I spent two weeks climbing around Khajaraho, Ajanta, and Ellora, some of the most spectacular religious monuments in all the world.  On another occasion I got taken to a secret  Indian Army encampment (this was during the time of the Chinese invasion in the Humalayas)  to meet the Indian general who led the first all Indian ascent of Everest.  We were served tea by a distinguished gentleman who had server Queen Elizabeth and her father when they visited India.
 My notions of  love, self determination, family loyalty, and social mobility were all challenged and eventually expanded to include very different expectations.  While studying in Varanasi we heard that Alan Ginsberg and his partner Peter Olorsky were living down by the ghats along the Ganges River.  When we located them a forth floor walk up, they were friendly, introducing my friend Jane and I to a very different side of life. 
Like most young people living in another culture for the first time, I learned to see so much of my own culture as simply a variation on the possible.  I had the opportunity to see concepts like romantic love, independence, community, and tradition through a very different lens.  Hindu mythology gave me a view of powerful female deities that were inspiring after a life of the tepid Virgin Mary I had grown up with.   I went on a few years later to write my masters thesis in fine art on the development of these deities.
The photo included here is of me working on my miniature painting course.  My son Evan came across it while randomly searching through Flicker photos a couple of years ago.  I still paint but no longer find it so comfortable to sit on the floor.

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