I imagine that the severity of our current global situation will take years for me to fully wrap my head around. As I currently sit in my flat here in Otepoti Dunedin, New Zealand, I feel so safe in comparison to so many others on this earth. Safe in that my government took this pandemic seriously, safe that I am living with people I love and care about, safe in that I am an artist (something I am eternally grateful for), and I am able to express my internal conflicts through my hands, to take out that negativity and turn it into something positive (art). And yet, I am still afraid. I am afraid for the billions of people scattered across the globe, those who are less lucky than I in their circumstance. I am conscious of my blessings, but I still carry the wealth of pain that this virus has caused, which is odd because I had never really considered myself to be an empath.
A year ago today I began an artist residency in Haridwar, India. One of the Sapta Puri (seven sacred cities in Hinduism), Haridwar is a chaotic, dirty, and energetically powerful place. It was only after I had concluded the residency that the impact of it truly became fully realized to me. Throughout my month in Haridwar, I felt consistently bombarded by God(s), the energy of the town cradled along the banks of the River Ganga is known for its intensity. I woke awake early in the mornings, meditate, do yoga, prayer, chanting, and then spend my mornings at the Arya Nagar Ghat (steps leading down to the Ganges river), to watch the pilgrims and locals bathe, pray, and drink from the holy (and terrifically polluted) waters. It is said that a bath in the Ganga rids devotees of their previous sin, and they shall emerge from the waters free of guilt, shame, etc. Watching these pilgrims and local devotees on a daily basis became something of a hobby for me, I studied them, I tried to understand the complexities of the rituals they partook in on a daily basis, I tried (in broken Hindi) to converse with them to desperately uncover more of the knowledge that seemed to pass right past me. Haridwar really shook me, in all honesty. I had transited through Haridwar on my first visit to India two years ago, though I had never come to terms with the cultural, religious, and psychological importance of the city my first time through it. Due to its sacred status in Hinduism, people will traverse the length of the country to visit it (amongst the other Sapta Puri cities), to be broken free of their sin in the waters of Ganga at Har-Ki Pauri, the footprint of Vishnu. The evening aarti (prayer/offering to the river) can be heard from miles around, and the intensity of God’s presence throughout the city can only be described as suffocating. The only other time in my life I can recall such a sensation was when I was nine, and I was drowning at Sailors Grave, a beach notorious for its rip tides (hence the name) in the north of New Zealand. I remember sticking my arms up and waving them frantically, desperate for someone on the shore to notice me. My father ran, then swam, through the waters towards me, and as we were pushed around by the raging currents, (he told me years later) that he prayed desperately. He put his foot down, and it landed on a rock, where we stood until he could catch his breathe, and return us to the shore of the beach. Hours later, we looked out as the tide began to recede, and across the entirety of the beach, there was only one rock.
There are parts of me that is helplessly in love with India, the chaos, the drama, the jaw-dropping mountains, the food (my God, the food!), and there are parts of me that can’t stand it. People often talk about developing this love/hate relationship to the country, but as I sit here now, surrounded by my external fears, I find myself returning to that place in my mind. Upon the banks of the River Ganga, lost in the drama and conflama of it all, just wishing I knew how to process all that was going on around me.
I suppose its impossible to know when international travel shall resume (and it what capacity it can), but until then, I shall close my eyes, and return to this memory.
If you’re interested to read about the residency in Haridwar, please visit here: https://azimvth.org/2019/06/16/a-short-walk-in-the-hindu-sukh/
or if you want to read about the six month pilgrimage across the Indian Subcontinent (of which this residency was a part of), please visit here: https://www.wesleyjohnfourie.com/eternal-sunshine-sacred-mountains