Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stay Beautiful

The Taj Mahal was a beautiful site that I can only seem to describe as breath taking and wonderful. The Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as the final resting place for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. After she died giving birth to their child, the Emperor aimed to show his devotion buy building his love a beautiful resting place. The craftmanship and skill that helped build a structure so magnificent paired with a moving story of love is in a way inspirational and beautiful. Though it was an amazing experience, an even more amazing experience was our time in Varanasi - the people we met in Varanasi are truly beautiful.

Our second day in Varanasi was a busy one. We visited a Buddhist Temple, an archaeological site, and a Tibetan Monastery. The most exciting part of the day came in the afternoon, however. After lunch we walked to a building. We went downstairs to a large room with a cement floor. Surrounding the front wall and the wall to the right were large looms. One man sat and worked on a loom at the front wall. He wore white. The same bright white colored the beard that framed his face. Another man sat and worked on a loom to the right wall. He wore white pants, a rusty red tank top, and a necklace. A beard also framed his face, but the white was mixed with gray and black. The hard life's work of each man showed on his body. Every wrinkle on their face, every vein showing in their hands had a story to tell. Every day, working and sweating by the loom, their nimble fingers swiftly pieceing together beautiful art in the form of tapestries, scarves, shawls, and the like by mere centimeters at a time; an eight hour day may yield 2 or 3 centimeters of woven material. Each man took a break from their work to make us each a bracelet. My bracelet is magenta and gold metallic thread twisted together, tied in place on my right wrist by the working hands of one of the weavers. After watching the weavers, and hearing some of the history of weaving and the city of Varanasi, we visited the shop upstairs and saw finished products. Oh, how beautiful the fabrics were! The detailed designs seem impossible to have been completed by hand, but those dedicated craftsmen made such elegant and profound pieces of art; so much history, and so many stories created by the hands who wove together the art.

The art here is beautiful. Woven fabrics, paintings, sculptures, pottery, buildings, and music - it is all beautiful. In part because of its own tangible form, and in part because of the dedication and love put forth by the people dedicated to their craft. Later in the evening, the same day of watching the weavers, we went to a music shop about ten minutes from our hotel. There we met some talented musicians who performed for us: Babulu on the tabla, Atul on the flute, Faiyaz on the sarangi, and Tarak on the sitar. Though the music itself was beautiful, what made the performance so special was the passion the musicians had when they played. They poured their soul into their instruments and their enjoyment added to the beauty of the art. The next day we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sign up for music lessons with these talented artists. I took an hour lesson on the sarangi with Faiyaz. Faiyaz is an old man, with dark hair, glasses, and a gummy grin. He is one of the only sarangi players left, and is a master of his art. The sarangi is an instrument similar to a violin, but with more strings, and a slightly different sound. During the concert, you could watch Faiyaz play, his nimble fingers moving unbelievably fast, his talent, perfected over years of practice, flowing out into the room. Faiyaz was as good of a teacher as he is a sarangi player. He was very patient, showing me each finger position for each note, having me continually practice and repeat. By the end of the session, I was playing a whole chord! The experience was amazing. To think, I had a lesson with such a talented musician, and one of the last to still play the sarangi! My goal of learning to play the violin has been revived. That is one of the great things about India - the interactions with people and the experiences we are having are in turn helping to inspire us to make new goals for bettering ourselves in addition to the goals for bettering the lives of others.

The same day we had instrument lessons, many of us also participated in a classical dance lesson. Our instructor's name was Richa. Richa is a beautiful woman with dark hair and dark eyes. The evening after our lessons, she performed classical dance for us while others played instruments and sang. She wore red and green attire and gold jewelry. She wore no shoes, but had bells around her ankles that blended beautifully with the music. Every movement was a part of a story. Every twist and turn, every step of her feet, held the next line of the story. She glided on the cement floor, never flinching as her feet slammed against the hard ground. Smiling ever so gracefully even as sweat began to drip down her face as the dancing continued over the hour. Rica was beautiful and watching the performance with her dancing along with the live instruments and singing was simply amazing.

In addition to the artists we have met, there were other people I interacted with to one extent or another that I should mention because I don't think I will ever forget them. First, there was the nice, older rickshaw driver who took me and Brittany to the market. He wore a green shirt, jeans cut off at the ankle, a red ball cap, a toothy grin, and laugh lines on his face. As he drove he chatted, zig-zagging around the busy streets of Varanasi. I couldn't help but smile when he never failed to break when needed even if there was only a coat of paint between him and the other vehicle, or cow. He smiled back and laughed as he saw us in the rearview mirror. He knows Dr. Maher and he's driven around many of his students before. Second, there was the tall, skinny man who told us about his family business as we walked through the market. His family owns a fabric shop and his oldest brother also sells essential oils. He said they were trying to help the youngest brother in school. I don't know if his story is true or not, but he had kind eyes. I believe in him. Third, there was the boatman that took us out on the Ganges River near dawn early one morning. His small frame remained strong as he rowed the boat forward towards our destination. Fourth, there was the woman selling postcards near the burning ghat. From her bottom lip down her neck and the part of her chest that was not covered by clothing, scars from severe burns were visible. Shadows of the pain she's experienced in her life flickered in her eyes, but I also saw her strength and endurance as she refused to give up. And fifth, was Khudar. Khudar was a twelve year old, "clever Indian boy," as Dr. Maher called him, that followed us around during part of our adventures on Day 13. Khudar wore jeans and a red plaid shirt. His hair was combed back with coconut oil. His smile was contagious, and his laugh infectious. He could brighten anyone's day. When we visited an old observatory he had so much fun running around and up and down the stairs of the different structures built for time telling and other astrological functions. His eyes sparkled with excitement, his laugh echoing the youthful bliss running in his veins, the heart of his kind spirit. Khudar helps his family make money by selling postcards, mainly for tourists. I bought one from him - 20 rupees. I told him to pick which postcard he wanted me to have. He first gave me a postcard with the burning ghat on it, but then he changed it to a postcard with a depiction of Shiva. Perhaps I can use the postcard in a future lesson in my future classroom as we discuss India or world religions. When I am talking with my students, I can also tell them about the beautiful people I met while in India, including a boy named Khudar who warmed my heart with his being. Beautiful people can do that. Stay beautiful, Khudar. Stay beautiful, Varanasi.

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