Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mystics and Mangoes

Today, Friday July 11, I will be flying to Mumbai and before then I have my weekly Urdu test. So why am I awake writing this blog post? Because so much is happening and I have to share it with you blog readers! First of all, my Urdu. In the past week I have found myself both dreaming and thinking in Urdu - basic stuff but still, as exciting as language learning gets! I can already express myself (albeit grammatically incorrectly) about topics such as the relationship between language and culture or politics and society. Reading and writing is going faster now too. In an intensive program like this, the language overwhelms and frustrates you at first, and then before you know it, it has woven itself into the fabric of your mind and become a natural part of your daily thought process. However, I have a long LONG way to go before I am at the level of Urdu where I feel comfortable just striking up casual conversations with native speakers or writing formal letters or reading newspaper articles. But we are only halfway through the program so who knows how my Urdu skills will be at the end of all this!

Now on to the fun stuff that happened last weekend: our meeting with mangoes and mystics (oh how I love alliteration!). The program took us on a field trip to a sufi shrine in a nearby village/town called Kakori. Sufism is a mystical form of Islam that developed its own character in South Asia. Kakori is also famous for its kebabs and mangoes, so it certainly has many equally warranted claims for fame. 

First let me introduce you to the girls who I live close to and therefore with which I spend a lot of time in rickshaws, at meals, etc., although I would probably hang out with them even if we didn't live close to each other. The two girls to the right are my housemates and Tiana, in pink, lives just a 5-minute rickshaw ride away. They are so incredibly kind, funny, and amazing and totally contribute to why I have had such a great time in India so far!

After the approximately 2-hour car ride to Kakori, during which we listened to lots of upbeat bollywood songs, we arrived at beautiful kakori shareef. 

We all sat down in a room with the pir, a Sufi teacher or master, to hear him discuss everything from the history of Kakori to Sufi philosophy. 

At one point a little murid (disciple) of his came to sit on his lap, and the pir helped his young murid write a number of general life advice. Here they are (with my comments in brackets):
  • Soar your soul so high that evil cannot reach you (I like the imagery of the soul as a kite)
  • Meet a good and sweet girl who is clever (or boy, depending on your personal preference)
  • Dream noble dreams but don't dream them the whole day long
 You can also see the director of AIIS Lucknow, Ahtesham Sahab, giving a really sweet smile in the back of that previous photo.

After hearing the pir, we followed him to the shrines, where the Sufi saints who frequented Kakori were buried.

The buildings for the shrines all looked slightly different, and had different levels of ornamentation. The first one we entered had quite a few tombs, all for the Sufi Qalandar and his family. The walls were lined with framed pieces of Sufi poetry or Quranic script. 


At the shrines we were able to hear Qawwali, a special devotional music of Sufis that has its roots in South Asia. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was the man who made Qawwali popular internationally, and if you want to hear him sing one of my favorite qawwalis, click here. The Qawwali singer we heard  sang very well and the raw beauty and power of his voice just brought shivers down my spine, despite the sweaty heat.

After the shrines and the qawwali, we were put to the task of interviewing locals. I interviewed a man who is a musician. He told me that his favorite poet rests here. Although it was hard for me to communicate in Urdu to the extent that I wanted, I was excited to be doing the kind of thing I would be doing as an anthropologist conducting research in South Asia.

After that it was time for some kakori kebabs. These kebabs are unlike any kebabs I have had before. The meat is very nicely minced and cooked to the point that it's a silky smooth piece of meat. They say that this method was developed to please toothless nawabs who couldn't handle tougher meat. They were delicious but since my mouth was not on fire, I suspect that they toned down the spice for us Americans.

After the kebabs they set out crates of mangoes. CRATES! As a life-long mango lover, I was in heaven. However, it was the first time I was faced with a challenge of eating a mango without any knife to cut it with. Thank god for fingernails! One of the local men showed us how to eat the riper, more squishy mangoes, by punching a hole at the top with our finger and drinking it like very slushy mango juice. Most of us just peeled it though, which led to very sticky faces and hands. It was very worth it though!

After our meal we walked around the orchard to see what mango trees look like. We even spotted a jackfruit tree! Since I have come to India, I have had jackfruit as a main dish several times. It's an interesting fruit but I like it. I find the consistency to be somewhere between a banana and a potato, but the taste is quite plain so there is lots of opportunity for spicing it up.


Ok now I should really go to bed. I AM SO EXCITED FOR MUMBAI! But first, wish me luck on my exam. Oh and one more thing: if you want more frequent updates of my adventures in India, please follow me on instagram and tumblr. My instagram name is mariellzies and my tumblr is mindless meanderings (again with the alliteration, I know).

Shab bekhair aur khuda hafiz!

1 comment:

  1. There is no doubt that India will change you as a become more open-minded, compassionate, tolerant of others etc. You also start to question some of your preconceptions, and realise that in the west we usually have a fairly cosseted existence! Keep the posts coming - fascinating, and a trip down memory lane for me!!