Après avoir insisté lourdement au près du Californien (ci dessous) pour qu’il m’écrive enfin un article pour le blog, il a fini par céder à la pression (aha) et a écrit le récit d’une journée « en famille » dans un temple du Madhya Pradesh. Voici donc le récit d’une excursion familiale et d’un californien appréciant chaque moment passé avec sa nouvelle famille indienne. Le texte est en anglais parce que bah, il a encore un peu de progrès à faire avant d’écrire une histoire en français, mais si vous avez du mal à comprendre vous pouvez cliquer ici pour lire ma super traduction (c’est loin d’être de la traduction top qualité donc s’il vous plait soyez indulgents !).
A bumpy journey
My best daytrip in India started the same way all worthwhile journeys in this country do: with a commitment to a lengthy, uncomfortable journey. In this case, that consisted of three hours, each way, in a rickshaw driving over Madhya Pradesh back roads with seven other people bouncing along next-to and on top of me. And, as is often the case on these trips, the uncomfortable part became one of the highlights of the whole trip.
After driving through a few towns and large villages we found ourselves cruising, usually quickly, over the less beaten path and through some of the most beautiful countryside in India. On the way we passed a water buffalo with three eyes, a cobra slithering across the road just ahead of us, and a sadhu leading his brightly painted elephant. One of the women in our party quickly retrieved a five-rupee note and threw it out the back of the rickshaw as we sped by the holy man and his huge companion. When I looked back the sadhu, dressed sparingly and all in orange, raised his hand toward us in blessing and lead his elephant to the spot where the bill had fluttered to the ground. I was told these were all very lucky signs, an auspicious beginning.
First time at the temple
When we arrived to the temple the family piled out of the rickshaw. Raju, the patriarch and my friend and guide, climbed out first with his wife, Gita and their four-year old daughter, Shimi close behind. Next came Sheema and her three year-old son Tanmay, who shared the small two room house back in town with Raju’s family. Ashok, a twenty year-old friend of the family had ridden next to the driver and was already wandering around the dabbas and stalls selling religious paraphernalia at the base of the hill. I unfolded myself out of the rickshaw as the driver made himself comfortable in preparation for a nap in his suddenly spacious ride.
We lunched quickly on samosas and potato tikki chaat, my favorite Indian snack, before beginning our walk up to the main temple. Raju and Ashok had been to the temple before but it was the first time for Gita and Sheema and it was clear they were excited to be there. It was not long before the women and children were well ahead of we three men and the kids were sent back to push and pull us up the stairs as their mothers waited impatiently just below the main area. We had passed few people on the walk but now that we were at the top of the first climb I saw the temple was busy.
The large, flat open area that served as the main hall looked as if it had been carved out of the hill. There was a metal roof covering the entire space and it echoed as monkeys jumped onto it, occasionally shrieking down at the pilgrims, occasionally sneaking down to steal offerings or poorly guarded possessions. Holy men were spaced on the ground throughout with the devout praying in small groups alongside their spiritual leaders. Small vendors sold coconut husks, colorful powder, flower garlands, incense, and tiny statues of great gods for anyone who had neglected the shops below. The temple was loud, smoky, and crowded but the sounds, colors, and movement fit together to produce a scene distinctly and beautifully Indian.
A relaxing dip
The seven of us stood, taking it all in, for a few brief moments before the women, taking young Shimi and Tanmay with them, went to pray with one of the holy men sitting next to a small shrine. That left Ashok, Raju, and myself to go find the pool, just next to the main hall, where male devotees were bathing and floating in the sacred waters. My attempt at reverential calmness was quickly smashed as Ashok, who had earlier warned me that he could not swim, dove noisily into the dark water. I looked back, concerned, to Raju but he was no good at practical jokes and his smile reassured me that I had been had. When he finally came up, Ashok was laughing loudly in between deep gasps for air. We swam for a while and although I, as the only foreigner present that day and most likely for many before it, was stared at rather constantly my smiles and head-wobbles were always returned and it was a relaxing dip.
Once dry, and after we had checked to be sure the rest of the family were still doing well, the three of us started up the final stretch to have a chai on top of the hill. Halfway up we paused for a chillum and if Raju prayed or felt spiritual at any point on this journey I am sure it was then. Once I would have felt uncomfortable smoking in such a holy place, afraid to be disrespectful. However, any traveler who spends time with sadhus and babas in rural temples and sacred areas will very quickly understand that this ritual has a central place in the tradition. Spend a sunrise and morning in a small village temple and you will see vendors, rickshaw drivers, hotel owners, and numerous others come, share a quick chillum, perhaps leave some food for the holy man, and leave with a tilaka, a mark on the forehead, which they will wear all day.
Experiencing the real indian life
At the summit we found a small bazaar and sat down for chai. As we sipped our small, hot glasses a police officer with extremely impressive mustaches came and asked if he could join us. We of course said yes and as quickly as he could the stall owner brought another chai for our fourth. After establishing where we were all from the officer directed his questions to me and it became quickly apparent he was skeptically curious to know what I was doing with these Indian friends of mine hours from the nearest tourist area. I told him we had made a family trip of the journey and that the temple, and in fact the whole of Madhya Pradesh, was very beautiful. When in doubt, say the country is beautiful. He seemed unconvinced that any such ‘family trip’ would include me but, sufficiently satisfied with my answers, finished the rest of his chai in one swig before standing and thanking us for the tea. I paid and Raju, Ashok and I started down the hill.
The walk from the temple to the rickshaw was one of the best experiences I have had in all my travels. With Raju, Gita, and Shimi walking hand-in-hand in front, the traditional Indian family, Sheema, her son, and I walked a few yards behind (Ashok was far ahead of us at this point). Tanmay was slowing down a bit at this point and I picked him up and put him on my shoulders. I had spent the past few weeks at the family house, giving basic English lessons, sharing meals, cleaning the house for Diwali and Tanmay, completely comfortable with me at this point, acted naturally, alternating between using my head as a pillow and a bongo drum. The normalcy of Tanmay’s attitude was wonderfully, hilariously contrasted in the looks of every Indian we passed on our walk down the hill. Shock, bewilderment, and wonder followed us all the way back to the rickshaw. Against all previous experiences, expectations, and logic, we were two smiling, contented parts of the same big family heading home from a day at the temple. The whole ride back to the village that evening, and on many occasions since, I thought about those looks and how the people that saw us that day believed in something they could not explain. What a great feeling to be a part of something like that.
Ce récit fait écho à la matinée que nous venons de passer. Invités chez la famille de nos épiciers (deux frères qui vivent dans la même maison avec femmes et enfants), nous avons eu droit à un petit déjeuner pantagruélique et avons été traités comme des princes !! L’hospitalité indienne n’a pas de limite… Passer un peu de temps dans une famille indienne « normale », ça remet les idées en place et donne envie d’être un peu plus humble.