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First Contact in India
Annie Lalla

The keyboard I'm typing on is so old I can barely see the letters, in fact some of them have rubbed off completely and small paper cutouts of "a" and "H" and "m" are taped over top of otherwise blank keys. A hand written sign in front of the computer reads: "browsing 20 rupees per hour.  No discounting, no bargaining of rates will be encouraged." 

 20 rupees = just under 50 US cents.  The mouse pad says "Happy Birthday" and sports a picture of Minnie Mouse, the surface layer of plastic has fallen off and been stapled back to the foam matting.  It is so hot my hand is stuck to the mouse.  Am in a cyber cafe with 2 pc's, only one of which works. In the corner a TV is playing, on screen an Indian monk in brown robes is pontificating passionately with no volume.  He is bald and jovial - a Punjabi Friar Tuck.
I am in Kerela now, Trivandrum -the capital of this southern Indian state.  It is noisy and bustling and very raw, but also extremely soft.  The people are curious and delicate with their questions,  "are you married?" coming second after "where you from?"  Everybody smiles wide at my red hair, they seem as intrigued as entertained.  The food is indisputably amazing no matter where we go; I am not missing meat at all.  As I walk through the markets, interacting with people, making eye contact, watching their reactions, reading their acceptance or bewilderment...I see how every surface of the world presents to me a mirror.  I learn by seeing my varied reflections as they bounce off reality at new angles, in altered wavelengths. There's also a social refraction where I get to observe how my own light moves through different mediums.  I am forced to re-invent myself constantly; none of the normal cultural clues are available for feedback.  They speak Malayalam here, not much English. I feel language, humour and verbal finesse are diminished.  All I have are my eyes, my smile and my physical antics to communicate. More and more I am seeing how this silent engagement across the infinite cultural gap is all that's needed to make a real connection.
Being an Indian westerner seems to work for and against me over simultaneously engenders connection and distance in a way that Jena also seems to be experiencing - my white, curly blonde, Hindi speaking Australian companion.  It's been over 7 years since I traveled with a woman (when Tilli and I braved the Okavanga delta and safaried in Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania).  I am loving the female synergy and our mutual nurturing and support.  Jena and I are getting along symphonically - like two wings on the same bird.
First few days in Goa was wonderful, but far too tourist laden.  We stayed in a wonderful beach hut community called YabYum, also where my friend Hilary from London was staying.  As well I bumped into an old friend from Amsterdam called Moose who now has a PhD in Universal Energy Healing (how cool is that!).  Breakfast conversations wandered over vast swathes of idea space -from the nature of consensus reality to the challenges of polyamory, with a playful exploration of all possible uses of dried apricots.  The beaches were wide and wanton, with cricket being played on the sand everyday at sunset...we even joined in for one round much to the welcoming delight of the locals -a posse of lean dark skinned boys in their underpants.
New Years eve was celebrated in the street under a massive explosion of fireworks, people everywhere flying by on scooters holding out their hands to connect with us, shouting excitedly as they whizzed by. Our group did manage to make it to the end of one massive psy-trance party on a hilltop in the open air.  We were told it had been going for two days straight when we arrived.  All the palm trees were decorated, painted, affixed with neon bulbs and the area was decked out in undulating strings of twinkling lights.  Hung among the trees were beautiful psychedelic paintings with Indian motifs and modern raver images...cyber-Shiva and DJ Ganesh.  Inside the party hundreds of different chai-wallas (tea ladies) had tables set up to make tea, serve omelettes and other assorted snacks. There were candle-lit matted lounge areas where one could rest from dancing and altered minds could go to chill.  The DJ booth was a giant inflatable lotus, gleaming iridescent in blue and white.  The energy of the crowd was loose and pulsing, I suspect there wasn't a sober soul in the house...besides us of course :-)
Tomorrow we travel to Kochin from where we'll head out towards the swampy backwaters famous along the west coast of Kerela.  Jena and I are booking a private house boat with bedrooms, a kitchen and a private cook for three days of leisurely coasting through the canals.  I am super excited to float though the countryside, letting India bathe my senses while I sink into her moist meandering magic.  I am so looking forward to taking refuge in nature after being exposed to the mad mania of Mumbai and other city spaces I've recently been immersed in.  There is a bird and elephant sanctuary as well as an ashram en route, Amma's (Ammachi).  If I'm lucky I'll get a chance to experience her sacred embrace first hand -as if all of India were hugging me at once.
Annie will touch base again soon, right now I am off to have masala dosa and mango lassi at the local ‘hotel’ (name for sit-down restaurants over here)...I'm wearing fresh jasmine flowers around my neck, sandalwood powder on my neck and watching a strangely courageous mosquito attempt to draw blood from my arm.  Whap!  Another one bites the dust.

© Annie Lalla

Scattered Fragments from India
Annie Lalla
Imagine the diameter at the bottom of a toilet bowl; it was as long as that.  I know because the head touched one side while the tail brushed against the opposite.  He was paddling for his life.

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