Monday, July 28, 2014

Tales of Cleanliness & Godliness

For those curious, here’s a breakdown of the differences between the Malayali and the Ladakhi styles of bathing.

Kerala: Normal Temperature - 35 ºC; Humidity - 98%, on a dry day; Bathing Frequency - 2 / 3 times in 1 day.

Average time for pre-shower activities: 7 seconds. How long does it take to strip off 3 articles of sweat-covered clothing?

Average time for showering: 72 minutes. Includes the 15-minute rain dance before soaping; the 45 minutes taken for soaping each separate body part and then taking a leisurely soak after each soaping session; and finally, the 12-minute post-soaping soak.

Average time for post-shower activities: 1 minute, for towelling and dressing. (Any longer in the bathroom after a hot shower and you'd need another shower immediately.)

Total Time - 73 minutes, 7 seconds.

Ladakh: Normal Temperature - Minus 35 ºC; Humidity - 2%, during a thunderstorm; Bathing Frequency - Once in 2 / 3 days.

Average time for pre-shower activities: 55 minutes. It does take time to take 37 pieces of clothing off, plus the time you take to mentally prepare yourself before taking something off, and the little jig you do after.

Average time for showering: 2 minutes, 7 seconds. Includes the 7-second soak-before-soaping; the 105-second soaping, with constant apprehensive glances at the geyser; the 15-second post-soaping soak, before you jump shrieking out of the suddenly-freezing water, the geyser having given up the ghost.

Average time for post-shower activities: 16 minutes. It does take time to put 37 pieces of clothing back on.

Total Time - 73 minutes, 7 seconds.

The same time exactly. Must be similar habits then...


After the agony of the backpack on my first trek, I knew my back needed strengthening. So I set up a wooden stick between two trees as a bar for pull-ups. Worked like a charm, except that I shared that bit of space with the farm's cow. And she seemed eternally curious about why a human would want to spend 15 minutes grunting and pulling himself up towards the sky. If she'd just stuck to staring at me, it would've been all right - I wouldn't have liked it much, admittedly, but I could've dealt with that. Indians stare at each other all the time, after all.

But she wasn't satisfied with just staring. She would walk to within two inches of me and then stand gaping with a quizzical look on her face. And guys don't like having horns 6 millimetres from their crotches. We don't like it under any circumstances but even less so when in a position as prone as when doing pull-ups.

I tried reasoning with her, telling her that she had the whole field all to herself... that I wanted just the couple of feet around the two trees. But it didn't work. Talking to her only made her come closer still. In the end, there wasn't anything to do but adopt a Buddhist philosophy of "whatever will be will be" (if that is indeed a Buddhist philosophy), and hope that she wouldn't move her head suddenly while I was exercising.


The Dalai Lama paid a visit to Ladakh for the Kalachakra. It was quite something to see the adoration the people here hold for him. Entire villages emptied themselves into Leh for the festivities. His birthday was on one of the days and Richard Gere too turned up to wish him. (Gere began his speech with a message to the Ladakhis that they live in the most beautiful place on Earth. Who can argue with that?) I always lost count after 50 or so, but I was told by those who could count that over 120,000 people turned up on some days.

But even more interesting than the reaction to him was the man himself.

He was self deprecating (on why he hasn't practised a certain kind of meditation: "maybe because I'm so busy but more probably because I'm just lazy"), respectful of other religions and constantly referring to them to underline his points, and really just all-round cool.

He spoke out against religious intolerance, specifically mentioning attacks by Buddhists against minorities in Sri Lanka and Burma. He spoke of the debt Tibetans have to other countries and cultures - India for giving them refuge and a platform for him to speak for the Tibetan cause around the world, and also for their Buddhist heritage ("Tibet was a dark land before Buddhism came to us") and the 5 sciences ("the great masters of Nalanda," as he put it), and all the countries who've supported them against the Chinese occupation, while stressing that their struggle has to remain non-violent and based on a middle path that caused neither side any harm.

The coolest bit, though, was when he said that Buddhist teachings should not be taken literally and that they should be analysed and discarded if they're inconsistent with "logic and reason."

Maybe if I'd had someone like him as a religious model during my childhood, I might have taken religion more seriously as an adult.

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