Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Kumbha Mela and Rishikesh

I've been in India for nearly three weeks now, and I've realised the futility of trying to write a daily journal. So many things happen here in any day and trying to record them becomes a burden that detracts from the experience.

So far we've had lots of highs, and very few lows. Myself, Raj and Dipesh have all been plagued by ill health (lung disease is a huge killer in India because of the dust and air pollution, and all of us got a dose of bronchitis), but other than that Rishikesh treated us well. It took about 10 days to get into the swing of filming, but during the last couple of shoots I've really felt the magic happening.

We spent about seven days filming the Kumbha Mela. We interviewed some gurus, including a Brazilian called Prem Baba (a.k.a "The Love Guru"), and of course we met their followers.

As we shot this stuff my views on Gurus and their followers were in flux. Personally I can't relate to someone who wants to put all their trust in another person, but when I think about it perhaps we are all doing the same this to some extent. We wear clothes that allow us to integrate into a particular culture or subculture, we aspire towards values we've assimilated from our culture, family, and people we respect. We believe that we are individuals that think for themselves, but perhaps we're no more independent and free than these gurus disciples. At least these guys make a conscious decision to follow, and they trust and respect the people that they follow. Most of US, on the other hand, are blindly following our politicians and media without any trust or awareness.

Getting to know Tony was an interesting and rewarding experience. His philosophy is based on laughter and silliness, which is such a refreshing change from many teachers I have met. I admired his determination to live

One of the things that surprised me over the last few weeks was that my perception of Rishikesh differed dramatically from last year. Last year I didn't like it at all. The spiritual conversations wearied me, and I found the availability of spiritual practices commercial and vulgar. But this year I felt something different. Instead of my prior perception of the pretentious freak show, I now observed many diverse people connecting with each other. Through music, through words, and through breathing air that is a rich mixture of dust, smoke, and traces of the Himalayas.

On a personal note, I've spent the last three weeks sharing a double bed with Raj and Dipesh. The joys of budget film making! Actually, it's been a great laugh. The guys feel like my brothers, and every night is like a slumber party where we fall asleep giggling over inane jokes. The great thing about travelling and working with Dipesh and Raj is that we're all on the same page. We're here to do something we love, and we want to enjoy every minute of it. The guys are very positive and upbeat, and even though we don't have much physical space, we understand each other and give each other all the mental space we need. I think it's the highest testimont to a friendship when you can sit in complete silence for hours without ever having to explain yourself. This is crucial for me. I'm constructing a film in my head and I need to zone out quite a bit. I really couldn't have wished for two better people to be working and travelling with.

In addition, I was blessed to meet a very special group of people in Rishikesh, who don't feature in the documentary, but who irrevocably shaped it as I talked with them, laughed with them, and learnt from them. That's the fascinating thing about film making - the stuff that goes on behind the lens has the biggest impact on the film, and it's the stuff that's never seen, known about, or even imagined.

Our next stop is Utterkashi, where we'll be visiting the ashram of one of India's more notorious Gurus - Pilot Baba. He used to be a Pilot in the army, before he got his spiritual calling. We met one of his female monks, Sunny, at the Kumbha Mela, and she invited us to go there. Let's see what happens.

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