One of the main reasons I come to India is to experience my own spirituality. This is not to say that on cannot experience one’s own spirituality in Hawai’I where I live. One can experience one’s own spirituality anywhere. In India, however, spirituality is so woven into the fabric of everyday life that one may more easily allow themselves to express their own spirituality.
I have made a commitment to record my experiences on this trip, I feel it is important to record the spiritual, as well as the interesting, amusing and the disturbing, But this is not necessarily an easy thing.
So far my spiritual experiences on this trip have not been many. This visit to India is for healing. Spirit is, of course, at the basis of all healing. But I came here to concentrate on the physical. This is not to say that spirituality is absent from Dr. Joshi’s clinic. On the contrary, this is a very spiritually oriented place. There are statues and pictures of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and saints in every public room of the clinic and I see Dr, Joshi, Mukul and Parveen each burn incense and offer a prayer to Ganesh before starting work.
Yet my spirituality is so bound up in Gurbani (the singing and recitation of the Sikh Scriptures) that, in its absence, I feel a great sense of incompleteness. Even before I arrived in Nagpur, I was trying to find out if there was a gurdwara close to the clinic. Initially, with my exhausted condition plus starting the healing process, there was little I could do.
On the first Sunday I was here, I took a taxi to a gurdwara that I had seen mentioned in the local newspaper. Arriving at 10:30 which I thought woud be a pretty safe bet to find something going on on a Sunday morning, I found that the program had finished at 9:30. This gurdwara seemed to be about 4 miles from the clinic and a little hard to find in the backstreets of Nagpur. The good news was that, on the way there and back, I passed another gurdwara, Gurdwara Singh Sabha, that was on a main road, easy to find and seemed to be about three miles from the clinic. Just about within walking distance, if I felt like it, or an easy auto rickshaw ride.
The following Friday, September 22nd, I caught a rickshaw at 6:30 am, making it to the gurdwara in ten minutes. Asa Di Var had just begun and, even though the ragis were not very good, I was able to enter a deep meditation and retruned to the clinic for my morning treatment feeling very inspired. I resolved to return as soon as I could.
Saturday morning was the time for my Varechana (purge) so I was in no shape to go anywhere. Overnight on Saturday, I experienced my first full nights sleep since I started experiencing my rash and itch here. I had been awake at 3:00am to urinate and took the opportunity to do my morning path (prayers), after which I fell back asleep. When I awoke, it was past 6:30 and I had arranged to call Elandra at 6. I called her and we talked until my phone card ran out. I was also intending to leave for gurdwara at 6:30, but I was able to get started at 7:10.
I walked to the Singh Sabha Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). I had expected it to take me half an hour. In fact, it took me an hour; partially because I took a wrong turn near the train station. It looks like it will take me about 45 minutes in future.
Arriving about 8:15, I caught the last fifteen minutes of Asa Di Var (a long composition, sung and chanted in the morning). About the ragis (professional singers of Sikh Scriptures), the less said the better. I was just very happy to be in the presence of the Guru Sahib.
At exactly 8:30 they completed the 24th chaki (last section of Asa Di Var), quickly packed up their instruments and rushed off the little ragi stage. I was left wondering what was coming next. I didn’t have long to wait. A solitary Sikh got up on stage and pulled the microphone towards his face. “Oh no”, I thought, “Katha” (spiritual discourse, usually in Punjabi or Hindi) . And sure enough he launched into a powerful lecture of which I didn’t understand a word. At the time there were less than half a dozen people in a very large gurdwara. I sat there in meditation and determined that, if things didn’t get better by 9:00am I would head back to the clinic.
While being very pleased to be in the Guru’s house, I have never found listening to Katha to be an enlightening experience. When you can’t understand the language, no matter how spiritual the speaker, there is just not that inspiring flow of energy. Plus most kathakar (person who gives katha) deliver their message in a bombastic style and tend to shout into the microphone. I can understand that, am many gurdwaras, this is necessary to get people’s attention but it gets very old the fortieth or fiftieth time you have heard it. You can perhaps understand why my patience was wearing thin.
Just before 9, what looked like another ragi jatha came in. After the katha wala finished with his Guru Fateh, they opened their instrument cases. Almost from the word go I could tell something very good was about to happen. I realized, however, that I was like a man in the desert dying of thirst; it was so long since I had heard outstanding live kirtan.
You can tell competent musicians from the way they take out their instruments and tune them. These were three young men, perhaps mid thirties with the tablachi looking a bit younger. The two harmonium vale looked like brothers. They had a very clean and wholesome vibration about them.
After a few minutes tuning, they launched into their alaap, which is where they sing long, slow notes to show off the raag. Not only was there one good singer but both of them had outstanding voices.
There are some ragis who are just good singers; there are others whose voices just ooze the longing to be joined with the Almighty. As well as being fine technical singers, the devotion in their voices was overwhelming.
After starting with a shlok sung in teental in classical style, they sang for an hour, the theme of their shabads being about taking refuge in God. I found my eyes filling with tears for the whole hour.
After the bhog, I went to talk with them. The two brother were named Joginder Singh and Jagjit Singh. They were very happy to meet me and I had an opportunity to practice my Punjabi. It seems that they are regular at Gurdawa Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Patiala, which is where they live. They are going to be here in Nagpur for another week doing a program every evening at 5:30 at the Singh Sabha Gurdwara.
The Sidewalks of Nagpur
Nagpur has spacious streets. In most parts of the city that I have visited, the streets have been wide divided highways with well-built and convenient sidewalks. Yet no one uses them; everyone walks on the street. Except me.
But, after two weeks of exploring the city, I have seen the light. Following the example of David Letterman, I ‘m now going to give you the top ten reasons why I have decided to quit walking on the sidewalks of Nagpur and join everyone else in the street.
10. Trees The streets of Nagpur are lined with trees, mostly growing from planters set in the sidewalk. (some grow straight out of the street!) Unfortunately the trees are not pruned so many of their branches obstruct the sidewalk.
9. Green Slime Because of the trees, most of the sidewalks are covered in a green slime. Early in the day, because of the night time dew or overnight rain, the sidewalks are quite slippery. I almost fell on my butt several times in my first days here.
8. Manholes There are many manholes set in the sidewalk with concrete covers. All too often, the covers are either left off or have disappeared, leaving the unwary pedestrian open to a three foot plunge into a fetid sewer.
7. Urine To the men of India, the whole country is one big urinal. (The guide books don’t tell you this) Along the main streets, even in the best parts of town, if a man wants to relieve himself he merely steps onto the sidewalk and, at the side furthest from the road, pees through the fence on to the garden of the poor unfortunate who has the misfortune to own that property. Auto rickshaw drivers are particularly apt to do this.
6 Bodies This hazard is most likely to occur in the evening or early morning but may happen at any time of day. In walking the sidewalks of Nagpur, one has to keep a constant vigilance for human beings lying supine on the concrete. They are generally sleeping but I would not be surprised to stumble over the occasional dead body.
5. Construction Debris There is a tremendous amount of construction going on in the city. For some reason, construction workers seem to like to pile their spare dirt, rock sand or debris on the sidewalk outside the project. Thus many sidewalks are blocked with huge piles of dirt.
4. Cable Spools For reasons that I do not fully understand, the local utility company has taken to leaving huge, six foot wooden spools of electrical cable on a number of sidewalks around town. Nagpurians seem to be a tolerant lot when it comes to misuse of their sidewalks. But this abuse pushed their collective tolerance to the brink. Complaints were made and the local Nagpur newspaper (The Hitivata) sent out a reporter and photographer. The story was published in the “City” section of the newspaper and the utility company, when challenged, said they would do something about the situation. Sadly, talk is cheap in India (like everywhere else) so, at time of writing, the spools are still there.
3. Curbs The curbs in Nagpur are extraordinarily high, in some places as high as eighteen inches. If you are walking in a part of town where there are many driveways entering a main road, such as the street where the clinic is located, you have to step down eighteen inches and up eighteen inches at every driveway. This can get tiring. It’s a lot easier to walk in the road and stay on the same level.
2. Cows Everyone has heard of sacred cows in India. They are everywhere including on the sidewalks. They are not belligerent. But they do have a habit of sitting down and blocking the way, often in groups of two or three. For a pedestrian, it’s easier to walk on the road and avoid them completely than having to play cowboy. Goats, wild dogs and the occasional monkey also use the sidewalks although they tend to keep moving.
1. Animal Waste Need I say more? Even though the cows, goats, dogs and monkeys move on, the physical evidence of their having been there remains. This particular hazard may, of course, also be found in the street.
So, if you have plans to come to Nagpur, do as the locals do and stay off the sidewalks. It’s less hazardous.