The art of doing Nothing

Trip Start Jun 13, 2005
Trip End Dec 05, 2005

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Wednesday 2nd November

I have to use a mosquito net, under which I must stealth-crawl my way to bed every night.

Mice steal my soap at night. I've started buying mini bars of soap, thereby donating Rs5 a night, as opposed to Rs20, to their snack-kitty.

I can never decide what to do with my day, and use up half a morning just thinking about it.

It's too hot to walk over the headland to Kudle Beach after 11.00am.

My time here is limited.

These are my problems. I can't think of any others, and it feels great!

I'm at Mabla's place, where I stayed last time I visited Gokarna. It's a relaxed, friendly place with several regulars who spend every season here. We spend our days between home and town, occasionally walking over to Kudle Beach to swim and suntan, or walking on Gokarna Beach at sunset. A few times, we've been down to the beach at midnight, when you can barely make out the shadows of the wooden fishing boats, to watch Emma dance with her fire-poi.

Diwali has just finished and this was a great place to see it: all the little side-streets lit up with candles and the shopkeepers giving out special Diwali sweets to each customer. Parvati, Mabla's wife, came to our rooms on Diwali morning with plates of delicious celebratory food. Now it's over, the crowds in the street have thinned and Gokarna is sleepy again.

We have visitors most evenings - old-timers who rent village houses - and we sit up late drinking coffee, smoking and snacking on fresh local fruit.

I wake up early in the morning and move from my bed to my hammock to spend some time reading, unless my water bottles are empty, in which case I walk half a kilometre along the sea-front to the spring behind the Brahma Temple on the hill. Sometimes I pass the crazy man on my way - a sadhu who walks constantly between the temple and the village, chanting to himself and shouting at the sea. If the crazy man's not around, I can still bank on meeting several cows along the road: Gokarna has miniature cows - adult bulls are about waist-height. They hang around outside Satish and Hema's restaurant where we eat breakfast, begging for scraps with their eyes, just like dogs. They also congregate on the beach every evening, just in time for sunset.

I keep meaning to take up yoga classes, but the days are full just as they are. This is another problem. What a lucky life, with problems like these.

Monday 14th November

In how many places can a woman lie alone on an almost-empty beach (leaving her bag unattended whilst swimming); take long, solitary sunset walks along the same; walk through town at night, taking the dark, quiet, backstreet-route home, and not feel the slightest bit threatened? Where else can you make a purchase that is easily the shopkeeper's largest sale of the day (if not the month), offering to drop the payment off later, and have the man smile and say "no problem"? I've been here a month already, and these aspects of the place still catch my attention in some way or other every day.

The month feels like forever and like just a few days simultaneously. I can hardly imagine that just four weeks ago I was further north, spitting venom at touts and feeling jaded by India. On the other hand, I thought I'd be bored long before now, with the amount of doing Nothing incorporated into my daily routine. Doing so much Nothing is one art to master; doing it and genuinely not feeling the slightest pang of guilt about it, after a lifetime of learning that lazing is evil, is another feat altogether. It takes time and effort, but I think I've got it waxed.

Of course the Nothing we all do is embellished intermittently with spurts of activity: handwashing our laundry, cleaning our rooms, making coffee, walking to town for a meal or supplies or internet, fetching water and, of course, going to the beach (to do Nothing).

Sometimes I make fruit salad, or chappatis to go with Luke's home-made cream cheese. Luke brews up a great coffee, which makes his room the place to be within half an hour of waking up, followed later by a visit to Carlos for one of his tasty herbal teas.

Emma taught me some poi-spinning moves before she left, and I practice from time to time. I read. A lot. I have three books on the go: a novel, a book on Ayurveda, and a series of 19th-Century lectures on India and her people.

So there's a lot to do, really - it's just that most of it isn't considered from the usual standpoint as particularly useful. I harbour no illusions as to where this Nothing-doing would get me in the greater scheme of things, but for now I'm finding it very useful. In the absence of jobs, paperwork, relationships and suchlike, I'm able to observe the most fundamental ebbs and flows, systems and cycles of my mind and body; learn what activities, situations and habits drive or inhibit me at my core, and learn to work with them. It would be nice to think that if I'm a keen enough observer, I might master the subject sufficiently to apply it even when jobs, paperwork et al reintroduce themselves (as I grudgingly accept that they must, sooner or later). But I realise that's a mammoth aspiration.

Another advantage of a long stay in one place is the ability to forge decent friendships, instead of the week-long ones that never get past introductory discussions about your respective backgrounds. I hadn't realised how much I was missing that during my five-month gallop across North India.

So I'm happy, healthy and enjoying my observations of myself, my fellow travellers and the lives of the people in this delightful town. I'll be staying put for some time yet.
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