I woke up to the six am call to prayer feeling refreshed. At seven am we met with our yoga guru for our first session. Our guru is on a one man mission to correct the bastardization of yoga that has occurred in and outside of India. He teaches what he calls traditional yoga. We went to a room on the third floor of the palace. It had windows on three sides and was filled with a bluish light from the colored windows. We left our shoes outside and walked across the dusty floor to the room in the back which contained two wooden carved four post beds, books, and some very dusty blankets. Set up on these, our guru led his disciples in stretching, breathing and meditation. I felt focused and clear headed which is an unusual pair of sensations in my life at this time. Supposedly, after our three weeks here, we will be able to practice what we have learned on our own. At the end we took all of the positive energy we had created and shared it with one another in the form of hugs. As cheesy as it sounds, it was actually really nice.
The rest of the day consisted of eating amazing Indian food, drinking sweet chai and talking about the project. After such strange weather in the States, it felt amazing to walk around the palace grounds in the dry mild heat in leggings and a tunic. We met with our interpreters in the garden to discuss the project and what they are already doing here. One of the interpreters then spent over an hour explaining the roles and histories of different goddesses to us. There are many goddesses. Some have a distinct purpose, but many can be called upon for various needs. Our host’s family even has their own goddess which they call upon in time of need. It is in the shape of two elephants. Goddesses are prayed to for help with improving or maintaining beautiful, improving fertility (especially for a son), and to provide strength. There is some irony in the fact that all of the gods we discussed were women, and that many are used to help provide a family with a male child. Our favorite was the goddess Kali who devours men. She wears a necklace or belt of the heads of the men she has slain. As my professor eloquently stated, she kicks ass. It’s easy to see why she is the hero of our interpreters, who worth with survivors of domestic violence on a regular basis.
We also interviewed our first survivor, who also turned out to be our tailor for the trip. Although we have a protocol, we had no idea what to expect and what would happen when she arrived. We learned a lot from this first interview. One of the most interesting things for me is learning how different our cultures are in some ways, and how alike they are in others. In India, the role of women differs based on what cast or part of the country you are from. Some women have more power and equality. However, overall there are things that are very difficult for us to accept. It can be a difficult mental exercise not to judge things like marrying women as young as 11 or 12. I asking: who am I to say that this is wrong? Believing it is another thing.
The lions in front of the women's quarters at the palace
The woman we interviewed today was by contrast starved and beaten by her husband for 19 years. You could see the fear in her eyes as she refused to be video or audio recorded. She did acquiesce to an interview. She had so much in common with women I’ve met in the States. When asked what she wants for her future she shared that all she wants is to be able to work and live independently. It reminded me of clients at Chances explaining that all they want is to live a “normal life.”
After our interview was over, we chose from beautiful fabrics that she will turn into “suits” for us. Here is a photo of me wearing an Indian tunic my friend got me in India to wear on this trip:
Its cliché, but I can’t believe this is only our second day here. It already feels like we’ve been here for much longer. It was obvious over dinner that the day had taken an emotional toll on all of us. The conversation was silly and I could feel my mind wandering, having lost the focus and calm from the morning. I am excited for what tomorrow will bring. This project is truly an amazing opportunity that I still can’t believe I am a part of. And the work we do here is just the beginning. I anticipate many future weekends being spent putting this data together with my team. For now I will do a bit of reading and pass the f*&% out.
The lovely lotus fountain:
Sarah in front of the women's quarters