The Backwaters of Kerala

fullsizeoutput_a24Winding our way down from Munnar to sea level the sky gradually shifts from blue to milk white. Not white like creamy full fat milk – more like the water-downed milk I remember from childhood. The milk I drank at Mrs. Dietrich’s kitchen table when I was a kid was so fresh and warm from the cow that she served it to her daughter and me on ice. As the ice melted the milk became thin and pale. That’s the color of the sky as we descend from Munnar.

Birdsong has disappeared. In its place are the blaring horns that sound like a million trumpets searching for the right key. Bass notes rumble from trucks and busses while the staccato sputter of three-wheeled auto-rickshaws adds rhythm. It’s a discordant lullaby for Ben, who easily falls asleep in the back seat. I can’t sleep. There’s too much color and life and I want to see it all.

+AVbGiiOQmW564wlhaw8PgWomen wrapped in colorful sarees ride side-saddle on scooters while on the road’s shoulder ancient men wrapped in lungis tucked in above their knees push carts balanced on bicycle wheels and piled high with wares.

In India, driving is a skill left to the fearless. An art form only for the brave. There are no discernible lanes on the roads and when by chance there is a stretch painted with a thin white line that line is largely ignored.  Traffic flows only with the overtaking of slower vehicles. Drivers pass one another on curves, hills and in defiance of any vehicle, no matter how large, racing toward them from the opposite direction. Negotiating small villages requires dodging pedestrians and the gentle street dogs that roam in small packs. Vehicles braid their way through intersections without stopping. 

And somehow, for the most part, it all kind of works. 

It would be easy to believe drivers who overtake on curves or don’t stop at intersections have a careless and cavalier attitude toward life. But I don’t believe that. I believe the one single rule of the road that informs Indian traffic is a healthy attitude toward death. The acceptance of what we don’t know – the time or place of our demise – is a freeing thing. 

We’re on our way to the backwaters of Kerala, to a place called Alleppey. From there we’ll spend a day and one night aboard a houseboat on Lake Vembanad.

IszyrQtvTTG7%%7VjZ+TGAThe four hour drive from Munnar to Alleppey is long and hot and bumpy but when we arrive at the houseboat all of that is forgotten. For the rest of the afternoon and into the first part of the next morning we’ll be on the longest lake in Kerala. We’re in a traditional houseboat. It moves almost without sound. I can hear the lapping of water and once again the sound of birds calling to one another. There’s an immense variety of bird life here – brahminy kites that look like bald eagles, kingfishers, parrots, flycatchers, darters, cormorants, egrets and herons all greet us as we move through the waters. 

IMG_3209The lake is life and livelihood for the people who live along its edge. Children are ferried home from school in wooden boats. Women wash clothes while their kids play in its waters. At sunrise lone fishermen, silhouetted in their small canoes by the red dawn, make their way to where they hope will be the day’s best catch.

I feel like an intruder. My Western sensibilities can not imagine what life is like for the people who live on the lake. Life means something different here, something I can’t define or experience. I’m a visitor – welcome or unwelcome – who will soon return to central heating, paved roads and hot water on demand. 4X+kzKIoSgGHjv7CeQx7zw

But I am swallowed up in the beauty of it all. I envy their connection to the water and the land. As I continue to watch and steal photos of people’s lives I consider how we all love and hate, live and die, work and rest, smile and mourn. Maybe the woman pounding wet clothes on cement and I have something the same inside. Different hopes but still hope. Different fears but still fear.


Journeys

I’m leaving for India tomorrow.  Never in my wheelhouse, I’m a bit surprised. But life falls the way it wants to fall, no matter the plans you make. So here I am, one suitcase and a backpack in, waiting to fall asleep so that I can leave on a Monday and arrive in Bangalore on Wednesday. Everyone wonders if I plan to take a yoga class or indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. No. I have no plans to take a yoga class or to indulge in an Ayurvedic retreat. I plan to experience art in Kochi, to visit Munnar, to spend a night on a houseboat and another night at the Coconut Lagoon. The advice I’ve been given by those who have been before is to “soak it all in.” I plan to be amazed and overwhelmed, inspired and humbled.

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Bruce knows something is up…

Bruce the Cat knows something is up. Not lacking in feline intelligence, he knows that when the big black boxes come out his humans are going away. He pretends to be traumatized but the truth is he will wrap his cat sitter around his de-clawed paw (not my doing – he came that way) and will almost certainly be enjoying a little kitty spa vacay while I’m gone.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen ten days in Kerala if not for my darling Ben, who left for a short business trip to Bangalore on Friday. Having lived there for four years, India is Ben’s heart-home.

Do you have a heart-home? Maybe your heart-home is the place where you feel your spirit soar. Or maybe it’s the place you feel most loved. Your heart-home could be a physical space or a state-of-being, and it might shift and change depending on the circumstances. Where is your heart-home?


Dharma: Look Before You Leap

The question of the day in the afternoon seminar I attended at the SYTAR (Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research) conference in Asilomar, Pacific Grove, California was, “how do we know the difference between dharma and wishful thinking?”  In Hinduism dharma refers to our personal obligations, callings and duties.  And wishful thinking?   Wishful thinking is…well…just that.

You’d think the answer would be pretty straightforward.  In fact when I sent the question via text to the friend I go to with all conundrums of the metaphysical sort his reply was  “If you have to ask…”

I suppose he’s right.  I shouldn’t have to ask.  I should know.

But here’s the thing:  how many times have I been swept up by an idea or an intention or a goal that I was convinced was my path?  My destiny. The reason for my existence.

And for a few weeks it is.  Until it isn’t.

So you can see why I’m a little hesitant to trust my instincts.

Then again, I’m one of those people who might on occasion leap before looking.  But when it comes to dharma blind leaping may not be such a good thing.

My friend has a point.  We probably shouldn’t have to ask if what we’re feeling is dharma calling or wishful thinking.  Instead of asking and then desperately grasping at any answer, perhaps it’s simple stillness that’s required.  A moment’s silence.  The space to meditate with a quiet spirit and a calm heart.  When we can temporarily vanquish the turbulence of life only then will we find the clarity to look our dharma in the eye.