i knew that returning to western civilisation after time in india would be a kind of a shock. when i returned to sydney after my three months in india in 1987, i was utterly repulsed by the obsene affluence, the brash materialist capitalism that pervaded every aspect of the city. i ranted about it to strangers at bars and nightclubs, louise and i raved at each other and probably drove our friends a bit crazy ... but the world felt crazy. it was crazy. nothing in the west made sense after india.
today munich is peaceful, quiet, sunny; i can't understand that despite the clear blue sky, i'm not dripping with sweat and i need a coat to go outside. i miss the colourful kolams and the constant tooting traffic. munich's eternal baustelle (road works), with their elaborate obstacle-course-like detours, are more hilarious than irritating. i'm watching out for strolling cows and sleeping dogs on the road instead of cyclists.
i'm thinking a lot about "work" - something that in the west implies having to do something that you don't really want to do, something rather tedious but that you get paid for, so you do it - and the different attitude in, for example, auroville, where they don't talk about "work" at all but rather "giving service". or at the ashram school in pondicherry, where all the teachers are volunteers; yes, all of them. they teach because they want to, because they have something to share, to give back. in auroville people give service in areas where they can, where they have skills or can contribute usefully. they don't get paid, instead they receive "maintenance", credit which enables them to live. it's not a perfect system, but it's an alternative which - at least on the surface - seems to generate a lot less stress and a lot more satisfaction. during the festival i appreciated the large army of willing volunteers who enabled everything from cold drinks or coffee to transport to the playing of dvds during presentations. nobody suddenly expected me to operate their dvd at the appropriate time during their presentation (this has happened in many previous situations!). there was always someone else around to do this, or to be sent on an emergency dash for a forgotten prop or a missing piece of equipment, or to take someone somewhere. with more than a billion people in the indian subcontinent, the human resource is plentiful, and in this particular occasion it was a very willing and competent resource.
we work like slaves to pay mortgages, insurances, and for unnecessary over-packaged consumer goods; while in india people are quietly sorting through rubbish, sweeping the streets by hand, pedalling their cycle-rickshaws ... happily? it's hard to say, but there is definitely less stress and more contentment. there's a lot to be said for belief in reincarnation.
why do we do the work that we do, and how do we value it? is it only "work" if we are paid in monetary terms? so much of western society would collapse if all of those doing voluntary work stopped doing it, and yet the capitalist system pretends that this work does not exist or is not important. when we do things voluntarily we have a slight sense of being exploited or somehow not valued, and yet the reality in the arts is that nearly all of our "work" is voluntary. i could decide that this work that i do (for far more than 40 hours a week, and for far less than an "average" wage) is in fact an offering, the act of "giving service". i can value it in other ways than how much i am earning financially. but if i'm "giving service", who am i giving it to? the universe? the mother? the "audience"? does it matter?
the first country i travelled to outside of new zealand and australia was india; i was 20 years old, living in sydney and trying to save money to go to europe when louise said to me, "i'm going to india, do you want to come too?". i immediately said yes. we arrived in bombay on january 1st 1987, but my backpack stayed on the plane and went to london; all i had was a plastic bag containing my passport, travellers cheques, camera, diary, hairbrush and a duty-free bottle of whisky. it was a memorable beginning to three incredible life-changing months during which time we travelled from bombay to kovalam to kashmir and nepal, and many places in between (my backpack did turn up 4 days later, unscathed by its solo adventure ...). since then i've talked many times about coming back, but somehow i never have - until now.
this time i'm in pondicherry, where i've been participating in Tantidhatri - a festival of women's performance that is part of the magdalena project network. the festival has just finished - an intense 5 days of performances, from traditional indian performances to my own cyberformance make-shift and several of the magdalena "regulars" - and now i have treated myself to a week to rest, recover, and discover pondicherry. as part of the festival we have seen a little bit, including the sri aurobindo ashram and nearby auroville, an experimental international city. i need to go back there to get a bit more of an understanding of how it all works, but we festival artists had a special invitation to the matrimandir, and i was performing make-shift from a house in auroville, so that has given me some insight. some of us visited mahabalipurum on the way down from chennai, and after the festival those who were still here went south to the enormous chidambaram temple and on to a dawn festival as the beginning of an ecotourism development on an island that was ravaged in the 2004 tsunami.
i have so much to write about, hopefully there will be some time during this restful week to reflect on my second visit to india; but at the moment i'm just enjoying the colourful, noisy, chaotic, yet harmonious existence of this over-crowded larger-than-life country. and today i was blessed by lakshmi, a temple elephant who accepts donations of coins, notes and food with her trunk and carefully passes the money to her assistant before eating the food.
i don't like to proclaim firsts in anything unless i'm really sure something is a first; & today i had the unusual distinction of being the first person to fly with emirates airline from munich to india without a visa. the check-in woman consulted another check-in woman, who had worked with emirates since they'd been in munich (about 12 years) and had never encountered someone able to travel to india with a visa. new zealand is one of only 9 countries that india allows a "visa on arrival", & i had double-checked this with the indian high commission in wellington, but since i guess not many kiwis fly to india from munich, it was something totally new for the emirates staff in munich and they had to go and consult others, look up regulations, & then declared i was the first person they'd checked through to india without a visa. of course i do still need to get the visa when i arrive, with a hefty US$60 fee, but it has been good not to have had to organise that as well in the last few weeks, busy as it has been.
i "should" have had 2 relatively calm weeks at home in munich, working on make-shift & UpStage, & generally catching up with everything i couldn't keep up with over the last 3 months of travel. however, the day before i got back to munich, my web server company upgraded something on the server, which caused the make-shift site to somehow get copied into the directory for this blog; & other problems. my initial attempts to fix it myself naturally made it worse, so i have spent the last 2 weeks in intimate email communication with the support staff (who are pretty good). as one problem was resolved, another was caused or discovered, including odd file-paths and log-ins that ceased to work. fortunately through-out the whole saga, no data was lost; and this morning, as i zipped up my suitcase for india, the last little tweaks were smoothed out. it meant that my catch-up time was severly eaten into, but on the positive side the support people are very good, prompt and polite, and they are giving me a month's credit to make up for it.
but it did mean that i haven't managed to write here about the rest of my time in new zealand and australia, or my visit to nantes when i got back to europe. i did find the time to create this needle-felt flower as a gift for lena, who created a lovely book-cover for me as a christmas present & a very fine painting for andy. needle-felting is an interesting craft that my 10-year-old nephew rowan taught me while i was visiting them - he, rata (7) & doug (6) are all profient needle-felters, with doug boldly experimenting with materials, needle-felting some of his own hair. when i got to brisbane, i taught my cool-sons chad & mali (10) how to needle-felt, & they also quickly got the hang of it. in coffs harbour, i discovered that the needle-felting craze had got there before me; all of my cousins' children over the age of 4 were already stabbing away, making dolls and fish and all kinds of other abstract art, toys and ornaments.
an auspicious event to note is the cool mother ceremony that we held in brisbane; recently chad & mali, whose birth i attended ten years ago, did me the honour of asking me to be their cool-mother (kind of like a godmother but without the religious bit); naturally i accepted, & on sunday 5th february we held a ceremony to formally celebrate our cool relationship. we talked about what it meant to be a cool mother and cool sons, and what we expected from each other; mali sang a song he'd composed for the occasion, & louise presented us with our ceremonial cool pendants - small different coloured soap-stone turtles (turtles being the great cool-mothers of the ancient world).
from the sweaty heat of brisbane i plunged into snowy munich, rested for 3 days then flew to nantes, in the north-west of france, where the digital arts organisation APO33 is located. APO33 had hosted martin, one of the UpStage developers, for a month to work on the prototype of his new engine for UpStage, aptly known as DownStage. i was there for the final days of his residency, which included a meeting to brainstorm ideas about how to fund the development of DownStage. then a few days later we had a performance of make-shift. nantes seems like a very interesting city, with good support for the arts. APO33 have an office in one part of the town, and a black-box performance space on L'Ile de Nantes; this was formerly a major shipbuilding area, but the industry has been moved further out of the city and the island, which is in the centre of nantes, is being redeveloped into a thoughtful mix of arts, housing, and education. many of the old buildings have been refurbished in a post-industrial style, & in amongst are many new buildings and the school of architecture. there's also an area called "le nef" - the skeletal remains of what must have been a huge factory or warehouse - & it's here that the elephant lives - a fantastical machine that takes people for rides. i was really intrigued and wanted to ride on it, but as it was school holidays there were huge queues every day so no chance. next time!
this post comes to you from dubai airport, where my flight to chennai is now boarding ...