Being back in India rocks. I feel like I never left. Delhi is as dusty and chaotic as I remember, but it doesn't faze me. There's a strange peace that I find in myself as I walk across a road with six rows of unstreamed, unordered motorbikes and cars beeping and driving at different speeds. What is that?
Dipesh, who approached me a few months ago and asked to be part of the crew, is a great guy. He brought us back to his home, and Raja and I experienced true Indian hospitality. His mother cooked us a delicious meal, and his friend and sister were so happy to meet us. His friend wanted to know if I liked India, and when I responded that I love it, be wanted to know why. I told him that it's mainly because of the people. Indian people are so warm, friendly, they always have a smile for you, and on average I think they are very intelligent. His friend was touched by my response. What I observe of Indian people is that they have a a very strong sense of identity and patriotism, but are unsure of how the rest of the world perceive them A compliment, a smile of appreciation, a thank you, humbles them. They are truly a beautiful people.
We're on an overnight bus to Haridwar now. The Kumbha Mela happens here. Tomorrow will be a full day of reccing, organising, and meeting interviewees. After travelling for 24 hours straight I should stop waffling and go to sleep!
I've only been in India for a day and a half, and already I can feel the light coming back into my eyes. India is a place you cannot fully describe to someone unless they've been here. You can speak about the colours, the noise, the smells, the dust, and even the people, but you can't describe the feeling that it carries. Maybe these blog entries may convey some of it to you.
After 40 hours of travelling, and a few more hours of filling out paperwork, we finally reached our tent at the media camp at the Kumbha Mela. I don't know why I was expecting more salubrious accommodation - this is India after all! - but we quickly realised that our cameras, laptops, and sound equipment might not be exactly safe in a room resembling a marquee at a music festival.! So we're moving tomorrow!
We saw very little of the Kumbh today because we were meeting Tony (a character in the film and my future Tai Chi teacher) in Riskikesh, which is an hours drive away from where the Kumnbha Mela takes place.
Tony is one of those people who has the gift of laughter. Within seconds we were laughing raucously, and within minutes he had captivated us with an incredible synchronicity-laden story. More on him to follow.
Dipesh, our fixer/researcher is great. He was a bit of a wild card. He contacted me a few months ago through Facebook saying he wanted to work on 'Prisms', and proceeded to overload me with contacts, information, and emails where the subject was always "HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII IT'S DIPESH FROM NEW DELHIIIII". After my initial assumption that this guy was crazy, I've realised that you can't judge a book by its cover because he's turned out to be the sweetest and most reliable person we could have hoped for. Everything looks promising!
The last few days have gone so quickly and so slowly and been so loaded with events that they seem like a dream. I'm reminded that "this is India". There's something about this country that makes everything seem to elongate and simultaneously be brief and fleeting.
Today I woke up at 4.30am, freezing my ass off on a wooden camp bed in a tent. Who'd have thought that it would get so cold here at night? Of course it makes perfect sense - we're at the foothills of the Himalayas - but being a dumb Westerner with little connection to nature this didn't occur to me! SO I shivered under my single sheet, and proceeded to don every article of clothing I had! At 6am we all got up, packed rapidly, and set off for Rishikesh by Tuk Tuk. Upon arrival I raced to my Tai Chi class. I enjoyed Tony's teaching, and the break we took half way through where we all sat around sharing fruit, and Tony told us one of his stories.
After Tai Chi I collected Raj and had lunch with Tony and some of the classmates. A few hours culminated in us all telling really bad jokes and laughing our asses off. Good old Tony.
Then back to Hariwar where we did a recce of the Kumbha Mela with Dipesh. Unexpectedly, the style you find at the Mela is something else. Some of these holy men and women really go all out! Is there a connection between the length of their dreds, and how spiritual they are?
Me and Raj needed a day to get over our jet lag, so today was one of those lovely lazy days in India where events just unfold and amaze you at every twist.
After my Tai Chi class at 8.30am, a group of us went for fruit salad and muesli with Tony. The others gradually left until it was just me and Tony left. We had a great conversation for about two hours. He's a really inspiring man, and I feel really lucky that he is teaching me Tai Chi, and also going to be a character in the film.
Tony is always raving about the "I Ching". The "I Ching" is the oldest book in the world. It originated in China, and is used as an Oracle to help make decisions in life. Tony swears by it, and a lot of the stories he tells are about incredible situations that evolved as a result of taking its advice. These stories were enough for me and Raj to consider buying it. As a joke we decided to use "The Lonely Planet" as an oracle, so I closed my eyes, flicked the book open, and put my finger down. It landed on the sentence "it is worth popping into it". We laughed at the aptness of the statement, but went to the shop.
Within seconds of walking in we were talking to a Caribbean business man who invests in the ashram where I am doing Tai Chi. Within five minutes we had been invited to his 50th birthday party where he promised to introduce me to an Indian friend of his who is high up in the Indian media industry!! Coincidence? We'll see what happens.
India is hard on the body. Only five days here and already I'm coming down with a throat infection. Last year I was sick for three of the nine weeks that I spent here... I hope my immunity can handle this country a bit better this time!
Today me and Raj filmed a public audience of the Dalai Lama, which was quite amazing. The crowd were so tranquil, which contrasts heavily to the atmosphere at the Kumbha Mela.
Afterwards we went to Mickey's birthday party. It was a really beautiful experience, and felt like an authentic Indian experience. It was held in a temple adorned with balloons and streamers. The attendees were holy men, a few Indian people in normal clothes, and a bunch of kids. First a spiritual ritual was performed. Mickey was adorned with a marigold garland (traditional to Rishikesh), then a Holy man said prayers, and afterwards Mickey anointed everyone with red dye that is iconic to Hinduism. Then he was presented with a beautiful birthday cake (egg-free: egg is considered a non-vegetarian food in India), and after he blew out the candles the kids cheered and burst all the balloons. Me and Raj felt so privileged to honoured to have been part of something so intimate and traditional. And we never would have experienced it if we hadn't used a random book as an Oracle ;)
Speaking of which, Mickey introduced me to his friend who is a big wheel in Indian media. I'm still not entirely sure what they guy does (this is why I'm a director, not a producer!) but he seemed to genuinely love the idea for out film. He gave me his number and told me to call him when I get to Delhi. Again, we'll see what happens!