Desert Traditions
…where new journeys into life, tradition & culture begin

Tickling the Senses

The idea of being in India is such a tease. The week before I leave she, the idea, repeats her customary monsoon mantra - rumbling, boiling and building up until the crescendo as the plane screams down the runway at full throttle - when suddenly, magically, gracefully we are airborne. We have become featherweights. My tease and I float away - away from life as we think we know it and into life as we can never truly know it. Me? I love these currents that carry me at will, sensing my surrender and waiting in deep shadows for my itchy soul to pass. I cannot speak for the tease! She is simply an idea.

I am leaving behind the usual trail of unfinished deeds, thoughts and intentions. A book here, a new website there, a pile of mending, paintings unstroked, shelves undusted, choruses unsung and last year’s tax buried yet again under more paperwork. But then, I’d hate to surprise my accountant with a set of books presented on time! I have though, with Mike’s technical wizardry, made a video presentation for a friend whom I love and admire. She, who went off to India alone in 1953 and long before the Liverpool lads, the magical mystery tourists and those who sought orange. As I sorted through her great pile of albums and envelopes, cuttings and postcards I became increasingly aware of a life lived fully, richly and deeply; never in the safety zone of western comfort and always on the edges of daring and adventure. Lenore Blackwood is quite a woman.

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Victoria's Memorial, Kolkata

Also In the pile of ‘done’ sits the small book I produce for my journeywomen (all female on this tour), a love job that keeps my research skills honed and my eyes on the lookout for new paths to follow. This time we are doing Diwali dinner at the real Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – I am testing it before my big adventure tour next year. The rooms are booked and the management is on a promise to produce Bill Nighy as a dinner guest even if they can’t manage dud phones, leaking taps and birds in the upper rooms. Thereafter we dip lightly into a little more of Rajasthan and do Delhi - its museums, monuments and mayhem before we head by train to Kolkata and then by road to Shantiniketan, Fulia and other rural villages of West Bengal. Beware the tiger!

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Kantha rendition of traditional game, Chopad by SASHA members. Image M Light 2011

Lucknow is our finale, one of my favourite cities on the eastern seaboard. Its faded elegance, lingering gentility and breathtaking stitches – white on white, glitter on net and precious metal on silk that are still exquisitely worked in squalid lanes where artisans toil day in and day out. Old men with fading eyes and nimble fingers produce work worthy of any court, king or concubine and they remember me and I am flattered. Elsewhere in dim basements cheeky, flirtatious young men work on sparkling wraps for older women to wear on magic nights - I could be flattered. Mostly I look forward to the early morning walk along the banks of the Gomti where dhobi wallahs drag white cloth from filthy water and beat it on worn laundry stones belonging to their forefathers. It emerges from this punishment so pure and white why am I not surprised? Never - this river after all feeds Ma Ganga.

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Whiter than white. Gomti River, Lucknow. Image C Douglas 2010

Back in my own home on the eve of departure the colour of India today is pink as in the floating camellias at my front door; her smell is the cardamom used in last night’s shrikant and still wafts from my fingers; her taste is mango – the first of the season eaten at breakfast; her texture the hand woven scarf I pack for cooler nights - organic cotton and silk dyed in indigo by Chaman whose vats never run, rub or fade; her sound is the camel bell I ring as I enter my work/think/dreaming space – just as I ring the temple bell at Koteshwar while the sun sets over Kori Creek and Pakistan.

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Westernmost edge of India, Koteshwar. Pakistan across Kori Creek. Image C Douglas 2003

Ah she is such a tease is India. I’ll follow her anywhere. Next post from Mumbai