Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Into Kali's Kingdom

I have wanted to travel to India for more than a decade now. The finances being what they are, with our own expenses my family only gets to Tallinn or Stockholm for a weekend. Nevertheless, I have dreamed of India, made friends with Indians wherever the path has taken me, spoken its many languages in my dreams, worshipped its many gods and goddesses. Be it Shiva, Ganesh, Lakshmi or Kali, all Hindu gods and goddesses have a place in my inner universe. This is why I once decided to call this forum Shivani's kitchen. I wanted to be a female follower of Shiva, the neverending cycle of creation and destruction.

However, in my personal life, I am strongly approaching Christian Orthodoxy, a body of thought that in the local conditions does not accept yoga in its premises. It is hard to accept the narrow-mindedness of the local believers. Of course, if practiced mindfully, Orthodox Christianity contains most elements included in Hinduism. The attitude to food is different, but there is an idea of abstaining from earthly pleasures in both of them. There are days of abstinence and days of feast. Both belief systems allow scope on the individual, artistic, imaginary ways to worship God. Both are very physical and sensual ways of worship.

Yet in the local interpretation, somehow the two belief systems seem to be in controversy. (All Lutherans are allowed to do yoga. No such discussion two worlds as being far apart from one another. For me, they symbolize aspects of the same divinity. ) I find a more common one in Christian Orthodoxy, but doing so, I do not feel alienated from the Hindu belief system.

Last Sunday I participated in a wonderful Indian Cultural Evening with dozens of old and new friends, right here in the heart of Tampere. I have found my soul in the ragas and taal, they really communicate right through me, much more so than a decade of studies in European classical music. In my apartment stands a deserted piano, but my soul yearns for tabla or sitar. Possibly tabla. (I know my limits, and my fingers are very much keen to interact with the rhythms.)

So I am on my way to India's cultural capital, Kolkata, the city of Goddess Kali. Everybody speaks badly of the place, because of the slums, the overcrowding, the shadows of socialism (of which I am curious, not critical) so I am determined to make the most of it. There will be some teaching ahead, and hopefully some exploring. I am reminded that the narrative of my PhD started from the suburbs of Calcutta, where Shaista Suhrawardy was educated in the pressures of British colonial and ancient Muslim traditions.

I already have a tattered Bangladeshi copy of "Teach yourself Bengali" in my office. At one stage in my life, it must have been last year, I was overwhelmed by the drawing of the Bengali alphabet (tongue in the middle on my mouth) in my "Oriental languages" notebook. So far, it only contains Arabic, Urdu and Bengali.

I have the best vibes about Bengal. Please read this together with my friend Mari Korpela's (2009) PhD thesis More Vibes in India. I will miss the defence because of India. But I will write her a postcard ignoring or confirming what I saw.

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