Tuesday, March 02, 2004


Today Bindi and I went to check out a Rangouli camp (workshop) that I saw advertised in the paper. (Rangouli is powder drawing that's done in front of Hindu doorsteps at dawn, for good luck). I found the place easily and we arrived on-time, at 10AM. Registration started at 10:45; it was Rs 40 and everything written in triplicate......and we were the only westerners there (apparently our yoga cronies don't read the Star of Mysore).

The 30-odd, mostly sari-clad participants included a prize-winning rangouli artist (who wants us to come to her house tomorrow; being invited to someone's house is a blessing but almost invariably produces some misunderstanding when/if we are offered food which is often raw and for me equals a guaranteed parasite) plus a famous novelist and her daughter -- a *Vedic astrologer who speaks excellent English* (I've been looking for one! To find out if the Man in the US and I are as compatible as we think). The thing was open to the public and put on by two women's clubs that do a lot of good works; it was conducted in Kannada but they also explained what they could in English.

First a woman sang a song in front of a Ganash altar. We all sat in two long lines on the floor, facing each other, and introduced ourselves; I tried to tell them my name and profession (patra-kartay) in Kannada and they were delighted and said, "So sweet." (When I hear that it is like winning a prize.... but it makes you wonder why my sad little stabs at Kannada are so well-received -- does no one outside the state bother to learn it? Did the English make them feel like crap about their language? Something else?)... In any case it was a treat to see all of those women (all of that shakti) in one place -- you never really see them much outside of riding sidesaddle on the back of their brother/father/husband's two-wheeler or going to a temple or store or cremation ceremony.

After the introductions a man came around and handed each of us a sheet of (English) newspaper. Then came a small funnel and a container of the heavy white poodi or powder. The woman in charge showed us how to make a bindu or dot with the powder, using the funnel (MUCH easier than pouring it with your fingers, which is traditional and how I learned from Harini in '02), and then we tried it on our newspaper. I was sitting between the prize-winner and a young woman who told us about a cool place (literally, a hill station) to visit four hours away, in Northern Kerala, called Wyanad......there are prehistoric cave etchings done by tribals, but I think the bandit is there, too). When we filled the sheet and had it checked, we folded it and poured the powder back into the cup and started again. Next was straight lines, then half circles and circles and cow-feet (gomupadma) and spirals, etc. My best ones were the question marks.....the rest were quite sad. Just when I started getting *really* tired the man brought around tiny cups of masala chai. It did the trick for awhile, and the drawing was engrossing, but my shapes got worse and worse (hey, I'd been up since 5:20 and had come straight from yoga). Then we learned it didn't end til 4:30 (but they *were* going to serve lunch). Bindi was feeling sick. She made a quick exit and even though I wanted to stay and chat and put all the shapes together into a big, elaborate design that goes in front of the doorstep -- the women were SO nice -- I followed not long after. But I got some phone numbers and the novelist handed me some background info on the club as I left. And the artist offered to show me what I missed -- when I come to her house. LOVE it here.

When I got back to the Kaveri Lodge I was ready for a leak and a bath. Just as I was taking the combination lock off my door I was accosted in the hall by three Tamil business students, who asked me where my home place is and my good name and if I would pose for a "snap." I said Cada!, America and yes, Why not? And then many more beautifully-dressed female (and a few male) students came and then more and more and more and more and more and I posed for many many snaps -- everyone has the same camera -- and I had to urinate but they were so sweet (48 students in all). I knew no Tamil but they knew some English and when I told them I had seen Veramundi with Kamal Hassan they were delighted. "Best Indian film" I said, and again was rewared with "so sweet" and "super dress" (I was wearing the *really* blue one that was stitched to order and is my cheapest one at Rs 210 or $4.50). It was worth holding my water. Then the professors came and more snaps and more girls in every possible combination and finally their bus was leaving (they'd been here for two nights and went to bed late and got up early were actually quite loud, even with earplugs). So I've had a glimpse of what it is like to be Julia Roberts. But I am most defintely *not* America's sweetheart. Or India's, for that matter.....

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