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India Trip Notes

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4-15-11 - Ant Mystery Solved and Chalk Drawing

A friend wrote concerning the irritating biting ant and/or bug problem mentioned four days ago [4-13-11 - Poor Mousy].

Reading your India trip notes and the non-painful, non-itching welts reminded me of the bedbugs that were rampant in Ladakh. I had the bites all over my back but you could never find them during the day - you could search everywhere - your clothes, the bedding, the floor, the walls, and nothing! We were told that they live in the ceilings and drop down at night and then disappear again. So it might be bedbugs - harmless really but they have such a bad rap. Ask about bedbugs. Although.....usually the locals know the source of these kinds of problems and you should be able to get an answer.

The biting ants however sound awful....really be careful if you are having such allergic reactions. I have this idea that you only get more sensitive to such things but I could be wrong. - C.F.

Yeah, maybe so. I've wondered about increased sensitivity if it's an allergic reaction.

I did talk to some locals about it. Dhanam said they'd clean the apartment thoroughly which they did today so well I counted it as two times. The local pharmacist thought maybe it was bedbugs. I said they're not in the bed though. I mainly get them at my desk. He said that of course they don't have to be in the bed. I asked David Godman for advice after morning puja and he said it reminded him of a problem a friend had while staying with him here. She said she didn't notice anything biting her but she had welts all over. There was a visiting British doc who told her that one type of allergic reaction is for one bite to produce sympathetic welts in other places as well. Godman said that ants live in the concrete buildings and come out when it gets hot and dry "and eventually they sort themselves out." I liked that way of looking at it.

I prayed for assistance so to speak sort of throwing the problem up to the larger co-existence sphere asking everyone from subconscious to angels for help in finding a solution. I wasn't looking forward to another afternoon of bites and reaching around under my tee shirt as I typed and was pleased when nothing much did happen. I saw the occasional tiny tiny ant but they and/or their cohort speckish creatures weren't bothering me. That was good as I was on a roll and hardly got up from my desk all day - didn't even get to the mid-afternoon shower.

So I took a shower upon returning from the evening ashram puja and reached for the towel hanging in the bathroom. Katrinka didn't keep the towel in there because it didn't dry well. I use a small towel - learned it from the Japanese whom I've seen use washrag sized towels at the bath or baths. I'd had my small terry cloth red towel back on the rack in the bathroom for a few days to see if the hotter weather would dry it and it almost did. After drying myself quickly I put it back making a mental note to consider washing it later and keeping it elsewhere again. Then I got a bite. Then another and I was rubbing my hands around and brushing tiny ants off and ouch there's one on my neck and... and... wait a minute. I looked at the towel closely. It had ants on it.

Remember when, if you read the previously sited ant account, I mentioned that I'd looked all over for where the ants were coming in? I found it. They were coming in from the towel rack, from where it attached to the wall with a hole drilled in the wall for them to march through. At the right end of the towel rack, from the bottom of the round stainless plate that covered the hole and connection, little itty bitty brownish red ants were coming and going - with occasional ones taking a break on the towel. Prayers answered. Problem solved. "We have ways of dealing with creatures like you," I told them. "I'll give you one hour to clear out." That route soon became lethal and all traffic stopped.


The talk at the busy tea stand across from the ashram yesterday was the state election of two days ago here in Tamil Nadu. At least that's what a local named Soni and I were discussing. The results don't come out till the 13th of May - the who-won results, but the how-many-voted results were the news. It was the highest percentage of voter turnout in 44 years. In the state of Tamil Nadu where I am, 77.8% voted. The highest district was 86% and the lowest was 68% in the district with the highest literacy.

Soni was proud that Tamil Nadu was even higher than Kerala to the south which also had their state vote. Kerala has very high literacy and was over 74% turnout. The paper said that in India unlike most countries, the poor turn out in higher percentages than the middle and upper classes.

I know Dhanam was into the election. She went to a political rally and just spent four days in a village as an election worker. Arun who runs the Guru Internet, where I go at times to get a better connection, closed shop one day to work on some campaign. This morning's paper told of a 27 year old woman who committed suicide because her husband returned with his rickshaw too late to get her to the polls. There are always gruesome suicide and murder stories in the paper.

The reason given for the high turnout is that people are fed up with corruption. It's constantly talked about. People seem to regard most politicians as being criminals - not in a hyperbolic way either. You can be in the national legislature here having been convicted of a crime as long as your sentence is under two years. The papers are full of articles about how India's politics is corrupt to the core. The Supreme Court just nullified the Prime Minister's appointment of a man to head some sort of commission to deal with corruption because the man he appointed was flagrantly corrupt. Vote buying is such a big deal that before elections cops are stopping cars looking for massive amounts of cash. I was in such a car and they actually went through my little pack which is a zip-off pack from a bigger pack. There are endless editorial articles and cartoons about people being offered grinders and laptops for their votes. Really?

I told Soni I went to a meeting about Corruption at the Theosophy Society's 250 acre center in Chennai. I'd been there walking around during the day and came back that evening for the meeting. I enjoyed it and the question and answers but I couldn't understand anything even though it was in English because it was in held in a lobby with a high ceiling and it was all stone - marble, granite, cement and the sound coming from the speakers echoed too much. I could feel the sincerity of the people to want to end corruption though.

The most respected person in the political arena today in India seems to be a man named Anna Hazare who's being compared to Gandhi and just went on a hunger fast to increase people's awareness of corruption. He's also fasting for transparency, the positive approach to the issue. Everyone praised him, but many less prominent campaigners for transparency, women and men, have been beaten up by thugs working for the leading parties, and murdered, many murdered.

So Soni and I were going over all of this and a fellow countryman of mine sitting nearby said he thought that our country was the most corrupt and started going on about four hundred billion dollars a year for the military and no talk of cutting that spending, the top one percent being the principle beneficiaries of Washington's seeming tug of war between the left and right and what's considered mature, sensible political discourse is to avoid all that and find the middle ground between shrinking the middle class this much more or that much more.

"I know what you mean," I said. "I'm mad too and I'm not going to take it anymore. And with that I throw my TV out the window," which I pantomimed.

The most curious thing to me was that the Prime Minister did not go to his state to vote but spent his time campaigning elsewhere.

I told them I'd worked with a retired Colonel named Jack Dugan who had been director of the California Conservation Corps and he was very popular and all set to win a run to be a State Rep till his opponent found out Jack hadn't voted in his 15 years in California.

The other guy from the States said he likes Australia's mandatory voting and I said that would be okay if there was a None of the Above or no vote option which they surely have - and they have the automatic runoff there so that you can vote for someone like Nader as #1 and Gore as #2 and then when there's an automatic runoff between Gore and Bush your #2 vote comes into play and he gets...

"Enough votes," he interrupted, "To nullify all the dirty tricks and election fraud."

Ah, it warmed my heart to meet someone who knew about the conspiracy worth talking about.

At the end we three agreed that politics were hopeless and that we'd devote ourselves to selfless lives of meditation and prayer.


I walked back to my pad, past the chalk drawings in front of the doors, Dhanam's being the most elaborate. At first I'd assumed these designs were done with a piece of chalk but one morning early on the way to the ashram I saw her on the newly clean street in front of her door with a bag of powder laying our perfect lines that formed a marvelous flowing geometric pattern with some simple lines and flower shapes added to each side. Everyone does this but few do it as artistically as she.

Here's a perfect photo of this that I can't steal.

Ah, and a link from there goes to a Wikipedia site with images on Rangoli which is what this folk art is called.

As I was standing there admiring her creation, Dhanam came out to ask if I wanted breakfast and I said no as always. She doesn't realize that the one lunch a day she gives me takes care of all my eating needs with a little help from local grocery stores to augment her offerings with eggs, cheese, peanut butter, tofu, and cashews.

Two women with trash carts were rolling them by and Dhanam got into a friendly conversation with them. One of them asked me for tea money so I gave them a ten rupee note. She pointed out it was torn a bit in the middle (which vendors can refuse). "It's yours now," I said.

At first when I  was told to put a bag of trash by the lamp post I didn't realize that there were actually people who came by to pick it up. There's also tons of plastic and stuff littering the open space on the other side of the wall next door to us which doesn't get cleaned up, but the streets do. I remember seeing a little boy running out of his front door with a bunch of stuff in his hand he threw down next to the wall in front of his house while his mother watched on lovingly. I thought, wow, here that's good boy and where I come from it's bad boy. But the waste management system here doesn't extend far. The women just roll their carts out to a nearby field and dump them there where I think they're burned. Bad. They do keep everything recyclable like newspaper and plastic bottles which tend not to be discarded to begin with.

One thing I really don't get is calling the job of trash pickup an atrocity. That's the term that the Manuski Center, the Dalit (untouchable) Buddhist center in Pune used. I told them that the word "atrocity" makes me think of people being chopped up and suggested the word "indignity" for the exported version of their literature. Of course there's more to it than I know about but I remember saying to them that someone has to pick up trash and clean toilets and it seemed like a noble job to me. In the Zen monasteries I've been in those jobs are either shared by all monks or done by the head monk. I told them there's a sect in Japan whose practice it is to go door to door to clean people's toilets and bathrooms. But it's a caste thing. There's a ceiling that it's hard for Dalits to rise above so it's not a matter of choice.

I remember at the Manuski Center the first person who gave me a presentation started off by saying that there were four thousand castes in India, the second said there were five thousand, and the third said six. "And growing," I added. They also talked about there being hundreds of Dalit casts. I thought they were outcast so there are outcast casts? I asked. Yes. That's all beyond me. I have no idea who's what caste. I don't know how it plays out in daily life. The only people I have ever heard mention their cast are Brahmins. The other day in a little tea shop down the street, a man in white obviously from northern India - cause he had to speak English and didn't look like the people here - announced that he was Brahmin and visiting here for three days. In Hindu Bali nineteen years ago there was a caste system and they'd tell us who was what and they worked together and didn't seem to mind.

My friend Bodhi who was a monk at Sogenji in Okayama is from India and he has two Zen monasteries here now. He's a Dalit and told me it never really mattered much to him growing up. He said his family is middle class and he thought that once he didn't make a sports team because of it. I talked to him several times when I was in Pune and Clay and I were planning on visiting him. I only had a few days and had to fly back to Chennai to meet Katrinka. And then Clay and I met the folks at the Manuski Center and that used up the time we would have spent visiting Bodhi and he didn't answer my last email apologizing and I think I owe him a visit but not this trip. Sorry Bodhi.

I know that the caste system is still considered a big problem here. I remember in the documentary with Linda Hess and the man who sings Kabir, that his wife said that they can't enter the temple in the next village because of their caste or castelessness. He's nationally famous so he was invited over there for a meal, but they had him eat at a distance from them with special plates. And there are more serious problems that the folks at the Manuski Center talk about such as access to better education and jobs. They have a program where they recruit Dalits from poor villages, put them through a one year course that gives them more education, some Buddhism, and organizing skills, and send them back.

My friend the librarian at the Krishnamurti Foundation in Chennai says that Dalit's have Buddhism lite (not his term), that B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution and the great Dalit leader, choose Buddhism, because of Buddhism's clear rejection of the caste system. He said they just say they're Buddhists and do social work. Could be worse.

Here's a repeat from an earlier post of 0210:

Thanks to a tip from Alan Senauke, the last three days in Pune were largely spent at the Manuski Center for Dalit (untouchable) Buddhists. Also check out their Jambudvipa site which explains that's the ancient Buddhist name for the Indian sub-continent. Alan says "This is a wonderful place, an offshoot of FWBO activities in India. An active center for study, practice, and social organizing." FWBO is Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Left Clay with them yesterday. Great people. A story worth looking into.

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