It’s funny how often cliched phrases, big words, and common metaphors have so often suddenly made sense to me on this journey. The other day, Marina and I were trying to describe how the sunlight is different here than it is back home. Marina said “…It’s like—it’s like a golden kiss.” I know I’ve heard the sunlight described this way before by ancient poets and so on, but now it just makes sense. That is exactly how the sunlight is here. The light tints everything gold (not yellow, but gold—with a hint of pinkish saffron, to be precise) and when the light touches you, it’s a soft sort of warmth that makes your skin tingle, like a kiss. The sun is the sun wherever I go, so why is it just now that I feel so sentimental about the sunlight? Maybe it’s just that I’m more aware here because it’s so beautiful and I want to soak it all in. Come to think of it “soak it all in” is another common phrase that makes more sense in India. We have so little time here so all we can do is absorb absorb absorb.
The word “guttural” is another one that makes sense now. I think my issue was that I always assumed that “guttural” was synonymous with ”gravelly.” Whenever I read a phrase in my fantasy novels like, “and thus the old wizard spoke in his guttural drawl” I would imagine a toad-like scratchy voice speaking.
But then I heard sufi-singing and discovered that guttural is actually a word better used to describe a deep sensation that happens in the center of your stomach area when a group of well-trained voices dip so low that your soul actually vibrates. Like odissi dance, sufi singing is an art form that is so intoxicating you can’t help but question whether or not the voices singing are human, or something else that really shouldn’t exist in real life. You actually feel the vibrations in your gut (hence, guttural), then the voices rise in perfect harmony, in sync with the harmonium (my new favorite instrument), and in rhythm with the thrum of the tabla drum (which also makes a guttural sound). You clap along and sway and remind your jaw every so often to join the rest of your face so that you can smile.
We ended a long and fulfilling week of teaching with a weekend of endless movement, music, and motorcycles. Friday night we met Rita’s friend, Lakshme. He is a friend of the maharajah of Udaipur and thus, was able to have the maharajah’s cook cook us our dinner. Need I say that it was good? It was. It was very good.
When he was little, Lakshme had polio. He survived the sickness and now walks on his hands, and dances on his knees. He is one of those incredible people who you just want to be around all the time. His smile lights up the room around him and he knows everyone (Although, in this city, it’s pretty easy to know everyone. I already know almost everyone and I’ve been here only two weeks). Lakshme informed us, as we sat eating our five-star dal, that a surprise was coming. Moments later Asif Khan and his group of fancy-haired singers walked through the door. They are apparently something of a sensation around the country. Asif won X-factor India (kind of like American Idol? Maybe?) and I really am not surprised. That voice! “Owe mye gohtt!” (that’s the Indian pronunciation for “oh my god”). They sang, we danced. We laughed. We had deep rum-punchy conversations about the meaning of life and the future of the world.
My eyes are closing. I’ll write again tomorrow because there’s so much more. Sufis are still singing from across the lake, although they are so loud it sounds like they are outside my door. Tablas going drum, thumb, didididididi dum.