Life is full of lessons, if you take time to sit back and see them. I find this especially true in India where everything is on offer. The country is so real; so raw; so full of opportunity. It’s like a 24/7 workshop, should you choose to engage. Take this experience, or pilgrimage, for example. A journey up Anjaneya Hill, which is said to be the birthplace of monkey God Hanuman.
Busy tourist sites aren’t usually my choice, though the challenge of 575 steps followed by a rewarding view of Hampi was enticing. This fascinating area was once the richest in India, back in medieval times. Now it’s a desert of grand temple ruins, taken over by tourism and monkeys. See here for a poem I wrote about this multi-layered reality.
My big realisations on this day happened half way up the hill. I’d noticed a path leading off the beaten track and found a less visited monument – a small statue in a meditative posture surrounded by a grand open temple with steps leading up to it. Set back from that, however, was a cave carved into the mountain, complete with a little, white-painted plinth/meditation seat. Hidden behind the plinth was a yoni (feminine form/vagina) carved and painted in the same material. The Shiva lingham (masculine form/penis) was missing – they’re usually found together. And behind them was an empty room carved into the mountain.
So began my exploration of life from that view point….
Struggling with my perspective in drawing the view, I noticed a guy taking photos of me on the sly. He was with a woman who was crouched, looking between the two of us, her face showing distaste. I assumed from the energy dynamic that they were father and daughter.
I’m a good-looking white woman who was on her own, sat like a Sadhu at a temple, so I guess I did stand out. The situation was triggering me though.
I was projecting onto her my own past experiences, or simply the feminine in direct response to the masculine’s lack of presence. I was thinking she’s thinking; ‘what’s wrong with me’; ‘why doesn’t he want to take photos of me’; ‘why has he brought me here if he’s more interested in her’.
A lightbulb flashed in my mind. I’d felt this same distaste towards my own father when he’d ‘perv’ (as I called it as a teen’) over women, including friends and family. As a young girl I probably wondered why the attention would wonder from me to other women. Competition started at a young age. A feeling I’ve since had with several of my male adult relations.
I was watching this dynamic play out, including my own trigger at the situation, so chose to engage – to mix up the dynamic, rather than being what I saw as a victim. He was enjoying photos of me without my consent, whilst she looked on longingly. It didn’t feel right. I was only able to connect with her too – she’d met my eye, whilst he didn’t seem engaged with who I was -at all, it seemed like I was merely a physical fascination for him.
So, I got up and asked if they’d like a photo of them. He was disturbing my peace anyway.
She loved the suggestion. He loved the attention.
I took a few snaps and found out that they were a newly-wed couple from a nearby village. He then asked to take a picture of me with her. I questioned the initial thought process but obliged.
They left happy. I’d recovered a nugget of light too – of an area of myself that still needs attention. And so I went back to drawing the scene.
Until a group of teenagers arrived.
One couple from the group wandered up around the cave I was sat in. We’d noticed each other and they seemed non-predatory, so I asked the woman to take a photo of me. I’d just written the last part of this story and was intrigued by the sight of me from another’s perspective.
I quickly wish I hadn’t. One of the lad’s from their group seemed excited by the prospect of photos of me and decided to jump in on the scene. He didn’t ask if he could bombard my photo; didn’t ask if he could take photos of himself with me; didn’t even say hello. To me he was representative of the immature masculine; a predator taking without consent, just like the last guy.
I asked the young lad to leave me be and got my phone back from the girl. She could see what was going on; or so I felt. Again, that’s only my perception – she never told me what she felt; she never even spoke.
The young lad then returned to a group of girls but continued shouting – it seemed he wanted my attention. The girls looked uncomfortable.
I didn’t understand what the boy was saying, though it was clearly directed towards me, and his group were sniggering at the comments. Again, I had a choice – to ignore and be shouted at; be what I felt was a victim of harassment. Or respond.
‘Are you trying to get my attention?’ I said. One of the other lad’s translated for him.
‘Shall I shout at you even though I know you won’t understand?’ Again, my comment was translated.
‘Will people laugh at you or me now?’
‘Do you still want my attention?’
He backed down then. I felt shaken – could feel adrenalin surging through my body. A cock fight would surely have taken place if I was also in a young man’s body. Perhaps I wouldn’t have received the same attention though, right from the start with that young couple and the man taking sly photos of me.
All that bother made me want to leave such a seemingly perfect meditation spot.
I made my way up the second half of the hill steps to the top. It was bustling with people praying, taking photos and enjoying the view. It prevented my thoughts from being clear though. Still, I enjoyed perusing the site and having a few pictures taken myself.
Upon leaving I found myself wanting to return that evening and camp out in the cave. I asked the male friends I’d travelled to Hampi with. They’d chosen not to join me in the walk that day and chose not to go up that evening either. I didn’t feel safe to do it alone.
My fear of returning alone was definitely impacted by the situations with those men during the day. It also showed me a snapshot of the inequality of the sexes in India. In each case I chose to respond and call out the mens’ behaviour, whilst none of the Indian women spoke up, despite their apparent distaste.
It triggered old wounds from my past in the UK, the West. Reflected the same in modern day India, the East. And reminded me of the inequality between sexes, present throughout the ages.
It also made me think of my own inner feminine and masculine and the work I was doing out there in India, much of which involved the integration of such a union in both sexes.
It was as if the off-the-beaten-track meditation cave had been left there for such an enquiry. Looking back, the prominent yoni (feminine) statue with the missing lingam (masculine) seemed symbolic too.
I’d be interested to hear your own reflections on this journey….