15 februarie 2010

My First Tibetan language class

15 February

I just couldn’t stay long in Dharamsala. Even if its peaceful and pretty, and more important is less crowded because now it’s not the season, I felt I need something else.

When Dalai Lama is giving teachings, I bet Dharamsala is facing a large influx of tourist, but as I arrived there when His Holiness was on a retreat (from 3rd to 14th of February) it seemed a passive and lazy small city showered by a cocktail of rain and snow.

Recommended by some Indian friends, after 3 days of exploring the surroundings of Dharamsala, I head to Bir (small Tibetan colony in Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh), where I plan to stay at Deer Park Institute.

Deer Park

Sheltered by the Himalaya Mountains and surrounded by tea gardens in this small mountain village, we are 1600 m high and there are at least 4 beautiful Buddhist monasteries nearby. It’s a relaxing place, which I compared to paradise when I arrived.

Extremely peaceful, and even if we are around 30 people here, except the meal time you can hardly see someone outside. Even I stay most of the time in the room reading or just thinking about my life purpose.

I assume I am the youngest person here. Most of the people are aged between early 40 and maybe up to 70, and most of them are female. Some of them are reading the whole day in the library, others are writing their own researches or book, so that’s inspires me to do the same.

In one day I read a 300 page book. And now I am keen to read as many books as possible, because the library is just amazing. There is a large collection of books on ancient philosophy, history of religions, Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, various types of meditation, self-teacher books for various languages, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and my brain goes crazy and greedy desires for all this knowledge.

In the Deer Park campus, there is also a Buddhist Temple, called Buddha Hall. And for the Tibetan New Year (or here called Losar), which was when all people are on their romantic dates for Valentine’s (14 of February), people gathered inside and chanted mantras. I am not ready yet to become a Buddhist or to embrace any religion, but I feel so good in such moments of devotion.

Almost all people are foreigners, and almost all are from United States, and when we talk and get to know each other, almost everyone says “Ohhh, can you please spell the name of your country? Ohhh, Moldova … You know, I see a Moldovan for the first time in my life.”, or “Is it somewhere near Czech Republic?”.

I must admit that I feel good expanding the knowledge universe of other people, but sometimes I get so tired explaining again and again our dramatic history, tradition and other stuff I am asked about language, religion and any other questions that arise in people mid. Today at breakfast I gave a speech about religion and Moldova and my two listeners (an American lady and my roommate Dana) were astonished that we don’t have Dharma Centre or Mosques in our country.

What I like about Deer Park, is that is a study center, and no specific person is worshiped. I even don’t know who the “Biggest Boss” here is. Linda is meeting newcomers, Jennifer is in charge of the library, Metilis is in charge of the meals, Sara is in charge of Zero garbage zone and recycling the garbage. Everyone has its own responsibilities and I didn’t heard yet of “Deer Park Director Position”, the only thing I noticed is what is written on a pamphlet about Deer Park, that it’s under the Patronage of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and that it’s also called a Centre for Study of Classical Indian Wisdom Traditions.

The accommodation and food are not so expensive here, and all classes are free, but of course any donation is welcomed, but at least it’s not a tax and everyone gives as much as he/she wants.

I am in Deer Park for already 3 days, and the first two days I was lucky enough to have a four places dorm jus for myself.

Dana - my roomate

Yesterday the first of my roommates arrived. Her name is Dana, and she is from Switzerland. Born in Czech Republic, in 1968 along with her family she immigrated to Germany and then further to Switzerland. Dana is around her early 50, but is in a good shape. Since 3 years she leaves in McLeod Gunj (or Upper Dharamsala), which is the spiritual center of exiled Tibetan Buddhism. She goes once in a while back home to Switzerland, but firmly declared that for the rest of her live she will live there where Dalai Lama lives, because His Holiness (“HH”) is the biggest love of her live. After that followed a question “Do you love Him too?” ... For some seconds I got lost because I didn’t expected this specific question. I guess I never loved someone trylly trully (soi could sacrificy my life), but in the same time I love everybody and everything, so I reply “I would rather say - I deeply respect Him”. Dana still talks to me, so I hope I satisfied her curiosity about the feeling I have for His Holiness.

She has a student visa for 1 year, at 50 years! So I asked if she really studies somewhere or just did it to not have problems with these new visa regulations. Dana said that she studies alone in the McLeond Gunj Library, and they provide her a letter stating that she comes there almost every day for her personal studies. I was quite amazed, and maybe I will be using the same technique when my visa expires. Dana knows a lot about Buddhism and has huge collection of recorded lectures/teachings of HH, various Lamas, teachers, nuns, etc.

My roomate came to Deer Park to study Tibetan. This is her 3rd attempt to study this language (she already started 2 more times, ones with a teacher and once alone, but never went too far). She said if she fails this time, she will never try to study Tibetan again. I laugh inside, but admire her strong will.

My first Tibetan class
Starting from today (15th of February) and for a whole month I will attend Tibetan classes.
I don’t know what made me decide that, because I am also trying to study Hindi (took some classes at JNU, but now trying to study alone), and I might get really confused, but I give a try.

In case I don’t succeed I can adopt Dana’s position – 3 attempts to learn a language. For the Hindi, this attempt is the second one, so I have 1 attempt left. The lesson starts at 9.30 am each day and lasts until lunch (12 pm) with a 20 min break.

We are 8 people attending the class. I guess everyone is American (including the professor) except me (Moldova), Dana (from Switzerland) and Shivami (a former Italian, who lives now in India, adopted Buddhism and shaved her hair). So, quite weird classmates, but I find everyone interesting and special in her own way.

I am sitting near Dana, and she seems really attentive while the professor talks and tries to write down everything. I hope she really succeeds for this time.

There is another Lady Robyn (this name always been associated with a male, but I have meet one Robyn before), which I think is not a beginner and keeps asking sophisticated questions about the pronunciation, dialects and other small details.

Today our professor (Kurt) revealed a secret to us. “We are going to learn the Classical Tibetan Language. It is a language comparable to Latin language or Sanskrit, no one speaks it and you won’t be able to go in the streets and talk with Tibetans other some Chai. This is the language in which the Buddhist scriptures (called Sadnas in Tibetan) are written. After this course you will be able to read and understand the scriptures but you will not be able to speak to ordinary people in the street, well only to some monks who study the scriptures”.

I must say I got a bit depressed, I was already imagining myself exercising by language skills with children from the Tibetan Colony, but I guess I will be able to speak only to monks. This Classical Tibetan is like old Hebrew in which the Bible was written.

The alphabet is the same as in the Modern Tibetan, but the pronunciation and word arrangement and grammar are very different.

I must say that back home, I had some attempts in writing in Tibetan “Ohm mane padme hum” mantra, and during today lesson I was happy to recognize some letters.

The Tibetan Alphabet (or better let’s call it Syllbary – because there are not letters but syllabus) contains 30 signs for 30 different syllabus and 4 sings for the vowels.

Then, you can add the vowel sing to the already existing syllabus sing and form other sing for other syllabus. Sounds quite complicated, but for me seemed ok for the beginning and I am enjoying the process.

Let’s share with you a song used to learn the signs of the syllabus “Ka” while mixed with the 4 vowel sings (i, u, e, o). So the sign KI is called Kiku, KU is called Shepqui, KE – Dengbu and KO – Naro, and the song is like this: Ka kiku ki ka shepqui ku ka dengbu ke ka naro ko.

Imagine how much fun we had while singing it for at least 5 times in the class to remember those signs. That was the class for today. Already waiting for tomorrow and I am going now to the TAI CHI (for the well-being of the mind and body) class which is every day starting from today until Feb 25th. Quite a tough study program, feels like back to school but I am so happy.

Bus addventure

Lack of Romanian language and an extremely abundant usage of English here in India, make my thoughts come more easily in this “not my mother language”. So i will publish my posts in English from now on.

My brain always cherished some inner dialogues in English. There were times when I was making up various replies that I can give for different occasions, sometimes remembering some movie phrases, what a cliché … but whatever, I don’t care what language I use, as long as I can express my thoughts clearly.

So, here I am in Dharamsala (9th of February). The place where I thought I will spend minimum 1 month. But as usually, things never happen according to my plan.

I was never good at planning things, or following my plans (whenever I had them) accordingly. I guess in a way it means that I am not attached to a plan and I am not rigidly following it when I have better options. I am giving myself freedom to enjoy “going with the flow feeling” (which I actually classify as a good thing) but on the other hand, it means that I am getting too much chaotic lately (which according to my opinion is less good, unfortunately).

The way to Dharamsala itself, was a bit challenging from the very beginning.

Bus trip adventure

First it was hard to get an auto rikshaw from JNU (Jawarlang Nehru University – place where I stayed for a week and which is in South Delhi) to Manju Ka Tilla (it’s a Tibetan colony, from where buses depart to Dharamsala and it is in North Delhi). No autowallah (a name used by some people for autorikshaw drivers) was willing to take me there, and I was too lazy and more than that carrying way too much luggage to take a public bus and then a metro and then again a bicycle rikshaw to get to the destination. Finally one agrees, but ripped me off, as usually.I crossed Delhi from South to North in about one and a half hour with some traffic and changes of smell on the way.

In the end, I was dropped in a damaged and seemed like on the outskirts of Delhi - Bus Parking place. It was nearby the Timar Pur Police Station (the place where almost 3 years ago, I was desperately answering the Police man that I didn’t notice who took my bag away). Some memories came back; I enjoyed them and started to ask for the bus to Dharamsala.
Apparently I was in the place where the buses of Himachal Pradesh are parked and not the place from where the buses depart to Himachal Pradesh. So, the driver, whose name was “Rajiv” made some phone calls. I am not so good at Hindi, but I guess he spoke to the ticket counter person to find out whether there is any available seat for me. “No more tickets for today”, said Rajiv, “… but … (pause)” (and I was sure Rajiv won’t disappoint me and will come with an alternative plan) … but Madam can sit here”, and Rajiv showed me the small driver cabin. The cabin looked quite clean, but quite small, with almost no place to keep your feet down. That means you have to keep them on the chair, which is long and looks like a sofa inside the cabin.

I asked Rajiv how many people does he intend to “invite” in this cabin, as I was aware of Indian skills and abilities to squeeze as much people as possible in limited spaces. “Only two people Madame, you and one more”, and I almost believed him. Finally, the empty bus, and me sitting in the cabin with the driver and his helper boy departed to the place from there the bus actually is supposed to go to Dharamsala. People started to get in, lots of luggage, bags, loud talks, children crying and rain sounds. The water gradually started to penetrate the cabin via a broken window.

The weather had cooled down in Delhi on the day I left, and suddenly I find the bus cold and hoping that I won’t find it wet soon. Started to shiver and admiring through the window the monks coming on bicycle rikshaw, and signs they do after getting off. Then, one man entered and sat in the cabin, then another one. Damn it, I knew Rajiv will let me down, but not in this way. By the time bus was ready to departure I was enjoying a 100% male company around, consisting of fife men. So, either Rajiv is a big liar, or he is completely bad at math. But I guess there is a big possibility that both variants could work.

To avoid all kind of conversation I was contemplating the little “Changing Color Shiva Statue”. As for me, it looked more like a Christmas decoration, changing its color gradually from blue to red, and then flashing several times. I almost got hypnotized looking at this Shiva, when a young boy, maybe in his early 20’s asked me if I want some water. I didn’t replied, just showed him my bottle of water and smile.

I was already “enjoying” imagining 13 hours ride, with my feet on the small couch, without any space to move them, and feeling the cold air mixed with rain coming from the opened window. I noticed that lots of Indians keep the window opened even if they are terrible cold. I couldn’t figure it out yet, but maybe there is some kind of “permanent need in oxygen” to make their brain work better. And I was so weak that I even didn’t find the courage to ask “the helper boy” to close the window. I guess my complex of being considered “a spoiled western girl” was too strong at that moment.

Here we are from left to right in the driver cabin: helper boy, me, young Tibetan refugee, Buddhist monk, Indian guy 1 and Indian guy 2 and the driver, my dearest Rajiv.The young Tibetan took out a shawl and while trying to cover himself, asked me if I have one too. I didn’t have so, he proposed to share his. Well, at the beginning I refused, but later on, changed my mind and covered my legs.
Sometimes you talk to someone for a while and you can talk and talk, and then, at the end, you find out that you even haven’t asked the person’s name. That happened with the young Tibetan refugee. But let call him “Tashi”, I guess it’s a Tibetan name. So, Tashi is still in High School, somewhere in Dharamsala, and for the winter break he visited some of his friends in Delhi. He came to India in 2003, but the rest of his family is still living in Tibet. He has one elder brother which is a monk, and a married sister. He said that he never went to school in Tibet, because they teach only in Chines, and he doesn’t want to study in Chinese, and wants to study in his own language. His father and brother taught him Tibetan writing and reading. Tashi knows some Chinese too, but English he started to study only when he came to India. He knows some Hindi too, but very little, maybe a bit better than I do.I felt that he is very sad about the Tibet destiny. He almost was crying while talking about his parents back home. He can’t go back, because now he has a refugee certificate and he says that Chinese can put him in jail for that, because he escaped from China illegally through mountains. He loves Dalai Lama, and considers him a god, and said that whoever is caught with Dalai Lama portraits can have troubles in Tibet. Also, he mentioned that you can’t google “Dalai Lama” in Tibet. “We didn’t knew anything there. That we have parliament of Tibet in India, that we have a prime minister, nothing”, said Tashi, his words being filled with sorrow. And suddenly I forgot about the cold, and water coming through the wndow and even the flashing Shiva didn’t disturb me much. I felt deeply sad for Tibet and its people. They all seem so peacefully, so kind and harmless. The monk was heading to Bir, which is a Tibetan colony with several monasteries in Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh. I was also thinking of going there for the Tibetan language classes which are held at the Deer Park Institute, but I thought I would check first how is Dharamsala, and maybe I want to stay there. With my other cabin travellers I dint exchange much words, only looks. Then the night came and we all tried to find a place to feel comfortable. Just when everybody was already chilled out, after losing the hope in finding a good position for the night, “the helper boy” turned on the DVD player inside the cabin, and started to enjoy his favorite Bollywood songs in such a loud volume, that I think you could hear the bus coming being 1 km away.

I usually enjoy Indian music, but this was too much for me to handle. Again my complex of being considered “a spoiled western” was too strong and I tried to keep my inner peace and imagine that I am deaf, or at least deaf on one ear, just like I was less than 10 days ago.

The bus stopped at the Punjabi Dhaba (Punjabi kitchen) and I had Pallak Paneer (Spinach with Paneer) with 3 butter rotti and one masala chai. Something was wrong with that Pallak or Paneer, because I had to eat 2 chocolates after to kill the taste in my mouth.Again back to the cage.

I forgot to mention but Rajiv proved to be a keen smoker. And he didn’t smoke good smelly cigarettes, but the really bad smelly one. The one wrapped in some kind of a leaf and their smell is capable to drive you into a state of maddness stoness close to vomiting.

With such loud music and the Rajiv’s awful smelling cigarettes and bad body position I tried to sleep, but I was not lucky enough, because I just couldn’t do it, no matter how hard I tried. Tashi’s head was falling on my shoulder, it was pretty heavy, but he seemed so tired that I endured the weight of his head. Then the “helper boy” also felt asleep and his legs were litter by little falling on mine. And I felt so squeezed and sad that everyone around can sleep and I just can’t. I started to contemplate Shiva statue again and hoping that Dharamsala is not so far and that the time passes fast, and that I am strong enough to resist.

A cocktail of rain and snow was what we found in Dharamsala. The bus could not make his way to McLeond Gunj (the place where the Dalai Lama temple is, and where he usually stays when he is in India). The road was a bit frozen and Rajiv though his bus, won’t be able to go all the way up.
Finally, I find myself in rain with my backpack almost getting wet; I take off my rain cover and try to save it from being totally wet.
People are running to get a taxi, my travel companions vanished. I still can see the monk staying in rain. He was still there when I left with an old hippy American. This sweet old hippi man had a guitar, long hair and long beard, which for me seemed "quite a poetical look". He was coming from Bangkok back to McLeond Gunj, so he knew a good guest house and was very friendly to me. After the got off the taxi, I walked in my sandals through snow and my feet got totally wet and freeze, so we stopped in “Peace cafe” for the breakfast so I could change and ware my tracking shoes. He ordered Tibetan bread with butter, jam and peanuts butter and suggested that I drink honey ginger lemon tea. I drank 2 glasses to recover from the cold.

I managed to recover my feet and we continue the walk. Finally we got to the “Friend Guest House”, the place where I will spend 3 nights, most of the time sleeping.
Somehow, when i arrived I was still having energy and in spite of a slight head each, I decided to explore the surroundings. It was still raining, but I didn’t care. The air was so fresh and so revitalizing that I thought its good for heath to have a walk. All around Mc leond Gunj you can see the mountains, the green one, wearing on top a hat of snow. I adore this kind of views and felt so much pleasure from contemplating them. Almost got a visual orgasm, only the fog was bothering a bit. After 2 hours of walking around, mostly staring around like a zombie I decided that it would be a wise decision to go to sleep. After watching 2 movies: Twilight (teeny bullshit) and My sister’s keeper (I cried at this one) I went to my sleeping bag and still shaking for some 30 minutes, finally managed to lose myself in a deep sleep.