October and November 2013

Before we leave Russia, let us return to Baikal long enough to enjoy its ice drummers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=en0p1Y35p3w (Preview) From Moscow I flew to Prague, where I admit to modest astonishment on finding there, in addition to the ubiquitous Starbucks (which is now all over India), multiple locations of an Indian coffee shop brand, viz. Café Coffee Day. The world is changing!

This trip to Prague I watched the opera Turandot at the National Theater, and finally made it to the grave of the great Rabbi Loew. After completing Amitav Ghosh’s excellent novel The Glass Palace I began also Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, and also watched the newly-released movie Colette [http://filmcenter.cz/en/film/detail/1849-colette]. Collete told a story of survival in Auschwitz; Irene Nemirovsky died there. It all seemed quite pertinent that Auschwitz should have again demanded my attention then and there, given that I had just come this trip from teaching with Dr. Claudia Welch, with whom I drove from Prague to Auschwitz and back just a few years ago. In this regard, let us hear from Alice Herz, who survived the Nazis in Theresienstadt, a concentration camp located in the Czech Republic:


From Prague to Delhi, on Aeroflot, a surprisingly decent airline which prudently serves no alcohol in flight. Instead, I whiled away my time sleeping, and gaping in appreciation at Terence Malick’s The New World. While in Delhi I was introduced to Oski (http://www.lambiek.net/artists/o/oski.htm), and in Delhi I was astonished to find on a shelf at Devan’s South Indian Coffee & Tea [www.devans.in] an Aeropress (http://aerobie.com/products/aeropress.htm), which I promptly purchased, bringing my number of personally owned Aeropresses to four (thus far). The world is changing!

Many American movies now open in India on the day the open in the USA, which permitted me to be spellbound in Bombay by both Gravity and Captain Phillips (Thor 2 I found rather formulaic). At one of these I watched an excellent ad for Google:


Since many elephants live in India, I’m including this story here even though the elephants in question are non-Indian:


I happened to be in Bombay on the day that that “elephant of cricket” Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest batsmen ever, appeared in his last test match:


Tendulkar has rightly been widely hailed, but many noteworthy Indians have never received their due. One whose story has long fascinated me is Sake Dean Mahomed, a traveler, surgeon and entrepreneur who opened the first Indian curry house restaurant in Great Britain, and was the first Indian to have written a book in English. He also offered Indian therapeutic massage to the British, and became known as the “shampooing surgeon” (the word “shampoo” coming from the Hindi word champana, meaning massage; it took on its hair-washing connotation only in the 19th century:


S. N. Goenka, noted pioneer of Vipassana meditation, was a truly great Indian:


Born in Burma, severe migraines took him to the man who became his mentor, Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In 1976, Goenkaji opened his first meditation centre, the Vipassana International Academy, also known as Dhamma Giri, in Igatpuri, north of Bombay; now there are 227 meditation centers in 94 countries. Goenkaji was cremated a mere two days before I began a 10-day Vipassana course at Igatpuri, and I was struck by the lack of wailing and memorializing that often follows in the wake of a celebrated teacher’s departure. There was no photo of him to be seen, much less an oversized, heavily-garlanded one; not even a notice on the notice board. Only his teachings. That’s class!