The cow, like many others, walks along a street in Hampi, a village of 200 square meters lost among temples. With long udders and horns that point her way. Who knows if she is Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist? If she believes in reincarnation, if she rummaged rubbish in its past sacred lives; or if she grazed on the plateaus of Mongolia. Maybe she has even been a happy and chubby cow of La Pampa, despite having a slaughterer destination.
The cow moves on to a post on the road, in which a man sells grass, neatly untidy on a table. Another man comes, release a handful of rupees for a handful of grass and, after praying, gives it to the same cow, implores some god and goes to work. The man in question is Hindu, the cow, if not yet, should at least have some sympathy for that religious fervor that feeds her.
The scene reminds me another one at the door of a Buddhist temple in Yangon, Myanmar: an Indian has just changed his course to work. He takes off his shoes, praises Buddha, he puts on his shoes again and gives some money to a lady who takes one of the many birds she has in a tiny cage. She gives it to the man who, after praying, frees it. He paid its freedom bail; he prays again and continues his way to work. The bird flies as high as possible to avoid being caught again; the lady sends his son to hunt more birds.
The productive, capitalist and religious-and vicious- circle has just given another spin, and without stopping, the next begins. Irony or not, the teachings of Buddhism are symbolized by the Dharma Chakra, the wheel of dharma, which began to spin in Sarnath, India, more than 2400 years ago after Buddha’s first sermon, who rests motionless and peaceful in the center of the wheel.
Rahul gives Indian food courses in Palolem, Goa. He considers religion, customs and Indian spirituality very important. He says that youth, the new generations have only one thing in mind: to win a lot of money. He also says that his dream – in a tone of exaggerated sincerity – is to get a lot of money. Then he thinks for a second, changes his face and tries to put irony on his latest speech. Now his dream is to travel around the world. Which are Rahul idylls?
Luigi, Italian and compulsive smoker who spends the night in the Jalsaimer desert, has been to India five times (the first time was thirty years ago, when he saw lepers dying by the side of the road). Fascinated by the philosophy of this country, he explains that to really understand this culture one needs to be at least six months travelling it, and read much about it.
As Luigi, with his gray beard and long hair from Turin, many people from all the world visit India for half a year to try to find something; their inside, their spirit, their freedom. Religious and not so religious, millions of people come every year to buy their freedom, conscious or unconscious.
The man who bought the grass for the cow is also buying his freedom, his salvation. The one who released the bird probably tries to free his own spirit. They don’t know, but somehow they feed the vicious circle of spirit freedom, that spins and spins with the dharma chakra.
Meanwhile, David and his sons, Ali and Salim, prepare lunch. They are guides in the desert, strolling tourists on their camels and, somehow, for a few rupees they offer them a feeling quite like freedom.
David and his two sons are Muslims and live in a village 20 kilometers from the border with Pakistan. They walk hours under the desert moon to get home. Their camels are the bird locked up at the door of the pagoda; they are the grass neatly untidy that very soon will be eaten by the cow of the first paragraphs of this story.
A few days ago my brother wrote to me. He wanted to know how a society works on this side of the world. If here also exists the ridiculous unbalance born from capitalism; or if people are ruled by (other) principles. In India we didn´t see leper’s corpses by the side of the road, but poverty is extreme in many places.
But here poverty is different, if it´s possible to have different shapes of poverty. After all, poverty, misery, indigence or whatever is called, is nothing but a pain created by man. As for the senses, that pain is felt in India with the malnourished old people begging for coins on the streets, and with kids in the desert villages learning how to say Rupee and school pen in English.
But India transcends any partial analysis; neither an economic nor social analysis can understand it. The Indian spirit runs along so deeply religious roads that split of body and soul is complete. The Indian lives two lives despite having one: one forces him to eat every day to survive; the other one ensures that there is nothing in this world more important than to be entrusted to Shiva, Allah, Jesus, Vishnu or Ganesh. So everything becomes an unusual devotion to faith, along with a relentless pursuit to sanctify this earth walk.
And in that inner life is where I see that poverty is different, and although I do not conceive the idea that someone can be happy suffering necessities, poverty in India really seems to matter little (from any point of view). At least in appearance, the poor is as religious as the richest and the poorest is not interested in having more money than the necessary to survive, it´s enough to know that his life will be a step forward towards the expected end of reincarnations (samsara in Hinduism, Buddhism nirvana), or for entry to paradise (Catholic and Muslim). The mundane, at that level of consciousness, is much depreciated.
Ali, David´s youngest son, who has ten years old and does not go to school, washes the dishes with sand, sleeps in the desert, suffers from cold, has cough. However, unlike what Rahul-Goa Cook- thinks, what matters most for Ali, who all the time force his camel to gallop and works with his father since he has consciousness, is not money but cookies.
Text: Gastón Bourdieu
Video: Expreso a Oriente
Musica: O…Saya, by Rahman / Seja Feliz, by Marisa Monte