At the bus station in Bangalore, I was in two minds about my next journey. On the one hand, I was drawn to the tranquility of Coorg, an area recommended to be by Arunima and Nishant for its natural beauty. On the other, I was seduced by the promise of Dasara (Dussehra) in Mysore, a Hindu festival that was THE festival of South India. Dasara draws a huge crowd of thousands annually. I decided to let providence take charge. It led me to a bus headed to Mysore. I tried to call ahead for accommodation but with the rest of India booked to be there, I had no luck. I found hope in a Catholic church I was told about in Bangalore - St. Philomena's Cathedral. It was my first stop in Mysore.
The cathedral is modeled on the grand gothic church in Cologne. I spotted the 165ft twin spires from afar on the bus (in fact, a helpful fellow passenger pointed it out to me). The building was even more impressive close up. The European build starkly contrasted its Indian surroundings. I walked around in awe. Mass was taking place in the church so I decided to go down into the catacombs housing the relic of St. Philomena and said a short prayer. There, I met Father William, the parish priest, and after a chat back in his office, miraculously obtained a wonderful room in the guest quarters. How wonderful is faith and prayers! Father William invited me to have dinner and breakfast for the next few days with the rest of the family (consisting of three priests, Fathers William, Francis and Rony, and two visiting priests on that first night).
Mealtimes were happy occasions spent talking to Father William and the others. Outside of this was a rather mixed experience. My first morning was spent doing what I loved - singing hymns, playing the guitar (then even better, hearing the guitar played as it should be and singing), all this in the company of Father Francis who enjoyed music as I do. He took me around after that, on his moped (even allowing me to ride it on the madhouse that was the roads of Mysore). We went to the farmhouse of the Franciscan brothers, to a park with a beautiful lake, to a cultural centre, to a nearby hill with a view across Mysore and in between to the crowds waiting for the procession of Dasara. I thought I wanted to avoid the mass of people, but the thought of seeing one of the biggest festival celebrations in India was too inviting. So I waited with the thousands around me, all jostling for prime viewing position. We sat peacefully together at first, sharing water, smiles and the like. I admired people's patience and warmness to each other and thought I made the right decision. But then the tide shifted unexpectedly. As the first signs of the procession came forth, groups started pushing from the back. Some stood up, much to the ridicule of the majority of others but eventually, the mass of people behind me became one pushing, shoving, selfish mob. It was the most miserable experience thus far, seeing such ugliness in people. I left with one conviction - avoid crowds and people! The whole day was my lowest point in my journey so far. I think it was the feeling of being so disconnected from people and the world around me.
Whatever it was, I wanted to leave, but was convinced by Father William to stay another night to leave early in the morning for Coorg on Wednesday. The next day I was to see the palace and attend a funeral of a former elderly priest of a small parish in a village some 30km away. It would have been interesting but events changed and created for me one of the best days.
The palace was beautiful but was too crowded to enjoy. Under the advice of Father William, I then took a bus to Srirangapattnam, an area that was the seat of a former King of some sort… I'm hazy on the history since abandoning my guidebook. On the bus, I met a group of boys holidaying from Kerala who guided me to the right spot. Acting as their 'sister', they got me in under the local price of 5 rupees rather than the 100 rupees for foreigners. We had fun, despite the language barriers. They took pictures of me, I of them and I came to realise that of course picture taking works both ways. While I wish to capture beautiful images of people in their settings, I must accept those who take sneaky shots of me on their mobiles. The intentions may be somewhat different, but it's all the same in the end. I'm finally desensitised on the issue of pictures and stares, in stark contrast to the experience at Aurangabad. Change has also been in allowing myself to lower my barriers and trust those around me, like Mustafa, a little boy who struck a conversation with me one evening and guided me around the backstreets of Mysore. So Nishant, you were right! Change will happen slowly J.
Nandini I met when I got off another bus. I had no idea where I was but she guided me to a temple by the river, where children swam and adults dipped their feet in after praying in the temple. She came with her family. I spent the rest of the afternoon in her wonderful company, learning about her life and getting Karnada phrases from her to use on my journey.
While she was praying, I wandered around, feeling hungry but unable to buy anything as I'd run out of funds. I then came across a large welcoming family who invited me to join in their late lunch. What wonderful providence! Their rice dish was served on banana leaves - wonderful food with even better people. I talked to the grandmother, the head of the large extended family who gather every year for Dasara with members coming from Bangalore, Mysore and a village nearby. Their kindness and generosity was so touching. I was made to feel like a member of the family.
The wondrous day ended on an even more wonderful note - the meeting with the poet and artist Iqbal, owner of a local Xerox place. An ordinarily 3 minute photocopying job (of music sheets) that I could have done on the photocopying machine in my school took well over half an hour on his machine, but in that time, I was able to talk to the fascinating man that is Iqbal. His array of careers include being a published poet in Urdu gazals (love poems?), a calligrapher and one of a few type-writer artists i.e. those who 'draw' using strokes only from the typewriter. I went to his house and saw the most amazing portraits, built simply from the different indentations of one letter (m or n usually) and some dashed lines. It was incredible! The most intricate folds of the skin and all shading needed were done using type-writer strips of different ages. Worn out ones produce softer shades, new ones, the heavier shading. He gifted me with a picture of one of his work and also his book. I also met his artist friend who drew the images from his book of poems. Such incredible people can exist in the most random corners of the world and I feel so fortunate to be able to encounter all those found on my journey.