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Something Utterly Strange:
Stretching your mind around Kumbha Mela
might make globalization a positive idea again.


Kumbha Mela Diary Entries:
by Joy Shayne Laughter.

I'm savoring a few hours in the woods of Marin County before lighting out tomorrow for London and then Delhi. Kumbha Mela has made the news, but all that makes it more than a curiosity to the U.S. media is the possibility for terrorism to occur in a crowd of this size.

One article did mention that the crowds of sadhus (also called nagas or babas) can get violent in their religious zeal. This is true; trampling deaths and injuries occur every so often as the babas rush to bathe in the Ganga at the most auspicious time. But the battles seen so far at this Kumbha Mela are mostly around the position of registered camp sites in the tent city.

The state government of Uttar Pradesh took over organization of the Mela for the first time at this Maha Kumbha Mela.

Maybe the squabbles over which guru gets what site happen at every mela. Maybe the squabbles now revolve around camps for foreign tourists because this mela is drawing more international pilgrims than ever. I know that whole camps have had to pick up and move, and then move again, because of government decisions and court orders. Rumors fly around the online bulletin boards: this or that camp for foreigners has been closed! All the foreigners' camps have now been banned!

Only one big tourist company's camp has been closed, that I know of, because they had built their luxury tents on a site normally used for rituals. A rumor that foreigners' camps would be serving meat and alcohol got a couple of babas up in arms. Once the rumor was squelched, the complaint was withdrawn.

I suppose I'm marked as a geezer when I mention that I read The Ugly American in high school. I took it seriously as a warning to Americans that humility and respect are even more important than moist towelettes when traveling abroad.

Maybe, with all of the current activism around "globalization," The Ugly American should be read again.

It really rags me that both the word and concept of "globalization" have been grafted onto free trade and technology, creating a boogeyman in the public imagination. What I am trying to do with my travel is a kind of self-globalization, a yoga to make my identity and responses more flexible. Some time back, in meditation, it came to me that the task of my heart and mind in this lifetime is to embrace the whole world and hold it all in the regard of loving compassion -- all of its situations, colors, peoples, landscapes, inequalities, extremes. Buddhism calls it bodhicitta. You can do it from home, of course, and in your job and your childrearing and on your meditation mat, but my hunch is that bodhicitta is what takes you to the edge and makes it possible to be happy there.

To avoid the boogeyman that now accompanies "globalization," music has become "world" music, although its popularity could not have happened without globalization. There must be a way to re-conceive this word. The example that inspires me is the musician Paul Pena, a blind bluesman from San Francisco. As documented in the movie Ghengis Blues, Pena heard Tuvan throatsinging on a shortwave radio broadcast, researched the music, taught himself Tuvan throatsinging, and wound up traveling to a throatsinging competition in Tuva -- where he suddenly had to improvise new songs in Tuvan as well as deal with people who could not speak English. Pena's triumph was that he globalized himself to embrace a completely different culture, musical style, language, landscape, and spirituality. He was terribly vulnerable throughout, and had to trust people. He had to ask for help. But despite all these differences, he found a new home, a place where he felt he belonged. All because he heard a very strange kind of music, and followed its touch on his heart.

Kumbha Mela has touched a lot of non-Hindu, non-Indian hearts, and we have all become pilgrims. This is my idea of globalization. To hear something utterly strange, and know, This, too is my home.


Something Utterly Strange | The Road to Allahabad | The Kumbh and the Covered Casserole
Many Rivers, Choose Your Speed | The Road (ouch!) to Khajuraho | Ghat 'n' Heaven
Duck Three Times in the River for Salvation