With every excursion I take here in Mysore, I am exposed to more and more of what India is really like. Here in Gokulam, we are in a lovely bubble where we are safe, have nice restaurants designed to meet the needs of westerners, and the equivalent of luxury accommodation. At first, I was shocked by the state of living.. how naive I was. Out there, in the outskirts of Mysore is a whole other story. The poverty is so terribly sad. Whilst headed for, and returning from, the Sandalwood Oil Factory and Silk Factory, I kept thinking the standard of living couldn’t get any worse. But it did. I was taken through back streets which exposed the harsh reality of what it’s like to be poor and live in this country. Children playing in dirt, people sleeping in gutters, makeshift tents which are rotten and barely standing act as someones permanent home. The homes which are actually made of cement are crumbling, rotting and like something out of a war movie (after the war has destroyed everything). People are always dirty. There is never an opportunity to be clean. Even to dry clothes, they are scattered on the sides of roads, in the dirt amongst the rubbish. I’m not joking. This is the only ‘space’ they have to dry them. That ,or on the sides of a fence or wall if they have one. As chairs are not a necessity to live here, people tend to sit in gutters as they wait in hope for someone to purchase a tomato or flower from their stand. This is their life, day in day out. Signs of malnutrition are also everywhere. Grown men with thighs the size of my wrists or deformed men and women whose legs or arms are missing or mangled surround you. It’s horrific to see in one person - but to witness an entire city which seems to be sharing the same misfortunes, is such an eye opener. Nothing short of a tragedy. And the animals - they too seem to be rotting just as the people are. Roaming the streets aimlessly - not even bothering to look for food as there is none, they too are starved and live hopeless, helpless lives - and there is nothing to be done either. If people cannot afford to feed or care for themselves, then how can they care for these stray animals? They can’t.
For me, traveling in a rickshaw through these parts of Mysore, I am unable to take my shawl away from my face as the fumes are intoxicating. But for the locals, it’s normal to breathe such polluted air. It’s literally like being within a bad dream, hoping that when I wake up the world couldn’t possibly look this way - anywhere. And for me it is something I will be able to fortunately walk away from, but the nightmare continues for millions. This is their life.
It is these experiences which open ones eyes to reality. Yes, we can all keep ourselves in lovely little bubbles where we go on luxury holidays and remain oblivious to some of the tragedies happening in the world, but I feel it is through witnessing reality - by throwing my rosy coloured glasses on the floor and crushing them - that I shall grow as a human being. To become a more empathetic and compassionate person, a more aware person.
What is more amazing, and equally heartbreaking, is how beautiful these people are to talk to. So polite. And then I think about some of the petty issues back home people complain about, or how rude we can be to one another - we should be ashamed. They have literally nothing, and yet they keep their smiles. We can learn a lot from these wonderful people.
I also felt terribly sad about the money being paid to my rickshaw driver. A young, handsome man, dressed in his best for his work, drove me all around Mysore - to the places I wanted to go and also to a fantastic shop he recommended (selling gifts and yoga clothes). He spent about 3-4 hours with me in total, much of it waiting whilst I looked in shops/factories. All this effort, for a measly $6.50AUD. I really liked this driver. He was a safe driver, a patient man and wanted to take time to get to know me. He was also happy to accept whatever money I thought was fair for the trip (believe it or not, I would have overpaid him today) which you would never normally see here as people are desperate to scrounge every cent they can. He is booked to pick my up on Saturday morning (7.30am) to take me to Chamundi Hill. This will be a bigger fee however I intend on paying him a large tip for being just a nice, honest person who is helping me to enjoy my time here. I am truly grateful to him. Somu is his name.
As a thought - I wonder if any of our politicians have seen these parts of the world???? Hmmm…
I guess this ‘reality check’ leads in nicely to my next thought. Whilst practicing yoga today, back in my little bubble in the world, I found myself having a slight existential crisis. Asking, “what’s is the point in all this work? The effort we go to?” I chatted with Owen about this tonight, and we agreed that if one can know themselves better, understand the only body they have a little better, be more aware in life, find a sense of calm or centredness, then what an amazing gift. As Owen reminded me of a quote by Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” it certainly brought everything back into perspective. Again, always grateful for these deeper conversations with him. They can really help me to make sense of my mind which often makes no sense at all…
And finally, on a lighter note, as i mentioned earlier I was lucky enough to visit the Sandalwood Factory today (Silk Factory was on a lunch break when I arrived). It was nothing like what I expected. I felt as though I was walking into a haunted concentration camp to be honest. A dilapidated old building which is committed to making the finest, 100% pure sandalwood oil and soaps in the world. Incredible. With ancient machines to complete this mammoth task, I was quite impressed. Unfortunately pictures were strictly prohibited inside so this is something one must see when here. I have a new respect for sandalwood after being here. It is the basis for all Ayurvedic treatments as the healing properties are incredible. The guide (for myself and an Italian man who happened to have the same idea) explained passionately about the power of this oil when used. Aromatherapy is one of the best ways to experience such benefits. As they will not be selling oil for another month (and at $40AUD for 5ml I wasn’t too worried to be honest), I purchased some of their soaps and incense, which they are most famous for. These will be a nice reminder of this eye opening day.
Thank you for reading. For me, my lessons are; to be grateful for the amazing and fortunate life I am living, more compassionate and empathetic, more understanding and a more aware person. Good things can only come from this.
Sandalwood Factory Outlet
Silk Factory Outlet
Closed for lunch Silk Factory