On April 1st I moved to Nagwa, a location in Varanasi right next to BHU, closer to where my classes for this month will be held. One will be in BHU itself, and the other one involves exploring the city itself. Nagwa is right next to Assi Ghat, the southern most ghat of Varanasi. I have effectively moved from one end of the city to the other. Here, I am living in Sanskrit Bharati’s office, which is an apartment essentially turned into an office/classroom setting. Refer to Quest 13: Upendra Mahodaya for a description of how the apartment looks. I sleep in the classroom, and classes are now actually held in the living room instead of my room, which is nice.
Upendra Mahodaya is such an awesome guy. Our conversations are only in Sanskrit, and this month I feel like my Sanskrit will be solidified. He says he’s been living in Varanasi for 10 years now, and has been alone almost the whole time… so he has learned to survive on his own. He’s originally from Bihar (refer to a map of India) and he came here for studies when he was younger. His age I don’t know, but my guess is 26 or 27. He’s been married for a year, but his wife is currently not here because she has her own examinations going on where she studies.
Here I am learning how to live. In the 5 days that I have been here so far, I have learned how to cook food from scratch (yes, including rotis directly from the flour, sabzi directly from the raw vegetables, etc.); how to wash clothes by hand (in a different style from the way I learned in the Gurukulam, which was just using a bar of soap… here I am learning to use soap powder and THEN the bar); how to interact with street vendors (basically learning to bargain, though first I had to learn how to even ask for what I wanted); how to use an Indian-style bathroom (they’re WAY different, let me tell you); how to ride a bicycle in Indian traffic… specifically Varanasi’s traffic (it’s SO much fun but requires SO much concentration); how to explore Varanasi from the perspective of a city-dweller, and many, many more things. Some things are really random and obscure, such as sitting down and standing up without the use of hands (which is pretty sweet though, I must say). In essence, if I come across a situation where I have almost no resources, I can live. The cool thing is that throughout all of this, I have been practicing what techniques of observation and exploration I had learned from the KFI center in Raj Ghat last month, and it is making my stay all the more effective and enjoyable. I love life!
Upendra Mahodaya taught me how to do all these things, and I am pretty sure it required a lot of patience on his part, because I asked him so many questions while learning EVERYTHING. No kidding. His family (mom, sister, and brother) came over yesterday to see Varanasi. He has been showing them around a little bit. He is leaving tomorrow and is only coming back on the 14th, so I will be alone for the next week and a day… which is why it was imperative that I learned everything in the last few days, because without him I’ll have to do it all myself!
There are many, many of Sanskrit Bharati’s workers in this city. There’s another office of Sanskrit Bharati’s in Godowlia, which is the main market of Varanasi, located in the center of the city.
An interesting story:
I had gone to KFI on April 3rd to see the performance of the kids I was teaching a cappella music to, but it never happened. They apparently didn’t have permission or something… anyways, on my way back from there I stopped in Godowlia and instead of taking a rickshaw from Godowlia to Nagwa, like I normally do, I decided to walk around the gullies a little bit. As I was walking in a gully, I randomly ran into Omkaar Mahodaya, a worker for Sanskrit Bharati. He asked me where I was going and I said nowhere, I was just wandering around the city a little bit! He asked me if I had seen Sanskrit Bharati’s office in Godowlia yet, and at that point I hadn’t, so I said no. He told me we were standing right in front of it. I looked to the left and saw, to my astonishment, a couple of other Sanskrit Bharati workers in the direction that Omkaar Mahodaya was looking. It was such a pleasant surprise! When Prithviraaj Mahodaya, another worker, asked me to stay there for about an hour so that he could come back and meet me and talk for a little bit with me, I said I couldn’t be in one place for so long, so I asked him where he was going, and he told me that he was going to Dasashvamedha Ghat to teach a class, and I asked him if I could go with him. He said it would be his pleasure to have me in his class, and he actually asked me to teach. I said I’d come with him, though teaching wasn’t really in my capacity. I told him I could only speak in Sanskrit, teaching was a different story. He said he was only going to this class to teach speaking to the students…
So when we went there I actually ended up teaching a class for Sanskrit Bharati! It was really fun, and the location is absolutely beautiful. It’s in a building that’s probably about 200 years old, or maybe a little more than that (I’m not kidding), all the way up the stairs where one has a stunning view of the river Ganga and Dasashvamedha Ghat through the ancient barred windows. I was told that this was a school for Sanskrit, though not owned by Sanskrit Bharati. It was hosting classes held by Sanskrit Bharati nonetheless, because their causes are one and the same, the service of Sanskrit. I made friends with the people there and they told me I could come there any time I wanted (which will come in handy in the future, I just know it). Anyways I thought the experience was pretty cool. I met this interesting swami there, who was also a student of Sanskrit, who was going to come back with us to the office in Godowlia.
Prithviraaj Mahodaya, the swami, and I left the place and started making our way back to the office. It was at this time that I mentioned to Prithviraaj Mahodaya that I wanted to get a japa mala. A japa mala is a chain of 108 beads used to keep count of one’s japa, or repetitive chanting of a mantra. The most powerful ones are made of a bead called rudraaksha, which has energy storing capacity, so when one does japa the energy from the mantra gets stored in the rudraaksha beads. As you do it more and more, the beads continue to increase in energy, and when this japa mala is worn around the neck it provides the wearer with the energy stored in the beads. It is said that one should not let it touch the ground, for in touching the ground it loses its energy. When the swami heard that I wanted one of those, he said that he had a new one, and that he would give it to me the next day (my contacts were already coming in handy)! So that search ended rather quickly.
The swami then took our leave (I still don’t know his name, so I keep writing “the swami”… sorry) and then I asked Prithviraaj Mahodaya if we could maybe search for what is known as an ashtadhaatu ring, which means a ring made of a mixture of 8 metals, I forgot which ones exactly… but basically what this ring does is at any given point in time, when a certain metal is needed to be on one’s body for curing certain ailments, this ring provides the metal for the cure. It has 8 of the main ones involved in such procedures I guess, so that’s why it is so useful. Also, some of these metals are said to have certain effects on one’s mental state, including reduction of anger, boosting of confidence, increasing of concentration, etc. Sometimes they can have adverse effects on a person, but you can only know how it affects you personally by wearing one, right? So Prithviraaj Mahodaya and I turned into a gully to look for one. This particular gully is a very famous one, known as “Vishvanaath Mandir Gully”, because it is this gully that leads to the most popular mandir in Varanasi, the Vishvanaath mandir. I went to this temple with my dad and Nani when we had first come to Varanasi. You can refer to Quest 12: Kashi Vishvanaath Mandir and Satish Mahodaya to read about the temple itself.
When we entered the gully, I was filled with a sense of medieval times, the way they portray it in the movies. Cobblestone street, the gully maybe 10 feet in width, winding, the proximity of the two sides shutting out the sun… the drone in the background of bargains being made between store owners and customers, conversations, and vehicles, and the occasional “moo” from a cow or bull… it was such an awe-inspiring feeling. We finally reached a little shop where a guy was selling rings and the like. We asked him if he had ashtadhaatu rings, and he said he did. They were apparently not in his display stuff, because he had to reach into the back of his shop to pull them out. Since we were speaking in Sanskrit to one another, he was treating us with respect (the interesting thing is that people associate Sanskrit with the divine, so anyone who speaks it is automatically given that association… even though Sanskrit can be used as any language as well! I’ve received several discounts so far just on account of me speaking Sanskrit)… He brought out the box of ashtadhaatu rings, assured us they were absolutely real, and I started to try them on. I found one that fit (actually the store owner helped me find one that fit) and put it on. It looked pretty cool, but also I felt an immediate connection with the ring. It sounds silly, but in this case if it weren’t true I wouldn’t have written this. Anyways Prithviraaj Mahodaya liked the idea of an ashtadhaatu ring so he picked one up too. We had asked how much it would be for one of them right when we got there, and the owner had said 34 rupees, but then while we were searching for rings that fit we started talking to him, and learned that he was also someone who had learned to speak Sanskrit, albeit 10 years ago. He said he was particularly interested in Sanskrit drama, and he appreciated our fondness for the language as well. So when we asked him again how much it would cost, he said 30 rupees. Of course it wasn’t much of a discount, but it was a discount nonetheless. And to get a ring that includes a little gold in it for only 30 rupees (between 85 and 90 cents) is a pretty sweet deal, by any standards.
That’s the story.
So basically, I am making tons and tons of contacts wherever I go, based on the fact that I speak Sanskrit and I’m from America. That’s how people introduce me to other people… they are like, “This is Varun Khanna, from America, and he speaks Sanskrit.” It’s kind of funny actually, as if being from America means that people shouldn’t be speaking Sanskrit or something… anyways I’m meeting a ton of people.
Again, I feel like Link from Zelda picking up small but useful/powerful (powerful?) items and certain abilities along the way during my adventure in India, which will undoubtedly be handy in upcoming adventures and quests.
...But interestingly, as I am acquiring experience and items here (how funny!) my interest in the use of the items is slowly decreasing, as cool as they are, because of what I'm learning here: which is to be in the present moment. It's not easy, and I'm obviously just beginning, but it's much more rewarding than being caught up in the past and in the future, which you can neither change nor predict, respectively. So it is the learning that interests me, the constant battle that rages within -- to focus, to be in control of the present moment -- and not the items that I am accumulating. I am not interested in what I was before, nor what I will become, but who I am now. It is in the present moment that true freedom and happiness lie, not anywhere else.
My current courses include Ayurveda with Dr. R.H. Singh, and studies about Kashi with Dr. Rana P.B. Singh. Both of them are pretty awesome (the courses and the professors), and I’ll write about them later…
Most importantly, I’m learning how to live. And I’m loving it.