Proved to myself today that it is possible to ride a bicycle while wearing a sari. Probably not advised, but possible. But it’s so hot and humid today that I can’t wear it much longer and must retreat to my house to take off all my clothes. A few of the teachers said it might rain, which would feel wonderful but would apparently be bad for the crops. I don’t quite understand why, as I think most of them are irrigated.
Mornings in the Keralan countryside are peaceful, but could by no stretch of the imagination be called quiet. Apart from noisy birds and monkeys, the temples like to get into the action at around 5:30, blasting music to let their parishioners know it’s time to get up. I took a sunrise walk the first morning I was here and was amazed to hear music from each temple (and they are densely spaced) at rock-concert volume billowing out into the rice paddies. Surreal.
I spent this morning drawing Ganesha, the god who has an elephant’s head. He’s awfully cute: I understand why he is one of the most popular deities. I’d like to be spending more time concentrating on the drawing, then eventually painting, so I’m thinking about asking if I can do three hours a day of it next week rather than two. But I don’t want to offend my dance teacher, who seems to be taking a motherly interest in me. Today, in between directing me to stamp my feet and contort my fingers and move my eyes around all at the same time, she gave me a lecture about how worldly attachments are transient – that eventually all human love will disappear – and that the only lasting love is God’s. Hardly comforting fare for an atheist.
I have my afternoons free, during which time I read, write, and try not to nap (so as to be able to sleep that night). At 5:30 most of us go to Torture Hour, or Martial Arts class – whatever you prefer to call it – where the teacher unsmilingly directs us to inflict pain on ourselves. He doesn’t seem amused by the American / British style of joking around in class; he threatened to bring tape to shut our mouths today. There is a more proscribed way of relating to teachers here: respect seems more highly valued than student initiative – although I think it also depends on the teacher. The first meeting is ritualized: you bring a betel leaf, a big orange nut whose name I forget, and a one-rupee coin, which you offer to the teacher with both hands. When they accept it, it means that they agree to be your teacher forever. We had a lot of trouble the first few days because we weren’t told about it beforehand and nobody had one-rupee coins. The are also salutations you perform at the beginning of every class: for dance I have a few steps I must complete, then I must touch the teacher’s stick, her feet, then my head. When we enter the torture studio we have to touch the ground and our heads, then do the same to a lamp kept alight at the front.
The best part of Torture Hour is that when it’s over a group of us jump on our bikes, race over the river, and dive into the dying sunset. The river seems relatively clean; by that I mean it’s probably on par with the Charles, which is supposedly just swimmable for part of the year. I’m monitoring my health, but so far I feel pretty good. We swim fully-dressed, which is about as comfortable as it sounds, but there are always Keralan people washing clothes or working on the boats, and it would seem wrong to wear less. Well, most of us feel that way – even the dreadlocked English girls (who are hilariously full of good-natured energy); ironically it’s the oldest member of the group, a 55-year-old English lady, who puts on her bikini to dip. We’ve been trying to think of a nice way to tell her that it’s not appropriate.
I was about to go over the office to use the internet but just heard the fans in my house stop, which means the power is off. There is load-shedding in Aranmula every night at around 8, then at random other times. Power outages seem to be a matter of course in India, and any place that has pretensions keeps its own generator. Luckily a breeze has come up, which makes me wonder if it really is going to rain. The sky is oppressively close today, and my clothes haven’t dried from last night’s wash.