The dynamics of Indian life go beyond what any of us who hail from the West might vaguely be able to comprehend. There is a fabric of life in which each person seems to be a vibrant thread, no matter how small a part they play. (Not so) long ago, India was ruled by the caste system, whereby society was divided into groups according to ancestry, birth, and wealth. This left no room for improving your lot in life, as it was forbidden.
Although officially non-existent, having been abolished during the time of Gandhi, mostly due to his heroic efforts, the underlying principals are still there, and most people seem to adhere to some loose form of this code. One obvious remnant of this is the clothing. As you move about through the bustle of daily Indian life, you will notice the vibrant colours of the women’s outfits. Sari’s, as they are known, are bright, layered, and beautifully patterned robes, flowing off the women in their hues of orange, yellow, green, red. Whether selling fruit from a stall, washing laundry, or hauling dirt in a basket atop their head, the women all seemed to have a sari as their garb, unless they were wealthy. Those of financial and social stature wore clothing much like you would see in the Western world.
Strangely enough, the men of all financial stature seem to have adopted the western style of dress as their own. Wearing slacks and a polo shirt, most men are at home in a world of fashion faux pas, far removed from the tradition embodied by the women. I suspect that in dealing with the colonizing forces from the West, the men took the leading role, the ‘out of home’ position, and dressed to impress, while the women stayed home to raise children, leaving them the freedom of choice in fashion. Ironic as this may sound, I pitied the men more than the women. At least the women still had some form of personal (and traditional) expression in their garb.
It was less so with their romantic choices. One of the girls Theresa had befriended at the ANHC had become romantically involved with one of the doctors, which would be fine, except that her older sister was as yet unmarried, which left her in the position of having to hide her love, as it was forbidden for her to be in a relationship until her sister was wed. Add to this the fact the ultimately she would have her partner chosen for her, which caused her no end of grief. She and her beau were considering running away to the city to live their lives as they wished, but in India, family is everything, and such a decision does not come without consequence.
Deeply into her studies at the ANHC, Theresa was fascinated by the principals of Ayurveda, but shortly into the course, it became clear something was amiss. Theresa had been enjoying her education under the tutelage of Dr. Rohit, who was a young and dynamic fellow, full of enthusiasm and wit. She enjoyed her classmates as well. Coming in hungover, smoking cigarettes and sleeping during class might not have made them the most appropriate companions for a course in health and healing, but they spiced it up a little with their depth of character.
As Theresa had joined them in the last two weeks of their course, she was to complete the first four weeks of the course with a new bunch of students. As backwards as this may sound, it is. It did, however, force Theresa to learn most of the course material and theory in a short time in order to understand what was going on. Why they would allow such a thing to begin with is beyond me, but I got the feeling that they would allow whatever you wanted, as long as you were willing to pay.
As the course began again, they replaced Dr. Rohit with a new teacher. At first I thought Theresa’s complaints were one of comparative difference; that change alone made it seem as though it were for the worse. But the more I heard of her experience with the new teacher and class, the more I suspected things were not good at the ANHC. Theresa decided to drop out, leaving me with the option of filling in for her so as not to forfeit the fee we had already paid for the course. Again, strange as it may have seemed, the management at ANHC had no problem with this, so long as the Rupees were secure.
As I was starting on the third day of the course, I had some catching up to do. I had already received a fairly thorough briefing in Ayurveda from my own experiences and from discussing it with Theresa, so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on. The other two fellows taking the course were nice enough; one was a male nurse from Bangalore, and the other was a British fellow, an advisor for public health in Britain. Then the course got rolling.
As we struggled to stay awake each day in the stifling heat, I began to question what was putting us to sleep, the muggy monsoon boil, the course material, or the teacher. Thinking back to my own lessons with Dr. Rohit during my treatment, it soon became apparent that the issue was mostly in the teaching itself. Armed with a laptop, a projector, and a series of power point slides, which poorly summed up our textbook, the teacher ran through the points on the screen with little context or explanation. I felt as though I could be doing the same by just reading the slides themselves. Ayurveda is complex system of medicine; one needs all the help one can get in order to grasp its nuances.
By the end of the week, most of my classmates were talking about dropping out of the course. Threats seem to work wonders in India, and the administration assured us it would make some changes to remedy the situation. And so on Monday morning, we had a new teacher, Dr. Sarah. She was definitely more dynamic than the previous teacher, and had a genuine desire to see us learn. It soon became apparent that she was frustrated as we were with how little we had been taught, and so it was decided that we would rehash the first week. I felt as if I was getting the education I wanted, but still missed the boyish charm and enthusiasm of Dr. Rohit, who had been the doctor for my own treatment. I shared my feelings with my classmates, and they seemed to share my sentiment.
Once again, it seemed that word spread, and on Friday, we were given a vote: Dr. Rohit, or Dr. Sarah. My other two classmates had never even met Dr. Rohit, and wondered how they were supposed to make such a decision with so little information. Trust your intuition, I said. And with that, they took a gamble on my word and voted for Dr. Rohit.
Dr. Rohit once again infused the class with the dynamic and confusing world that is Ayurveda. In the mornings, we would study the theories of Ayurvedic medicine, and in the afternoon, practice the practical application of it in massage or Panchakarma treatments. This often involved a quick demonstration of a massage technique, with the opportunity for each student to repeat it. There was little opportunity to commit the specific procedure to memory, as the movements were fluid and detailed. Were we being given inadequate demonstration, or were most students of Ayurveda capable of memorizing a two-hour massage with a brief demonstration and no supporting material?
As luck would have it, my skills as a computer technician came in handy, when Dr. Rohit’s computer acquired a virus that needed removal. While fixing his laptop, I “accidentally” stumbled upon a folder containing the full course materials and full videos of all the massage techniques. I’m not quite sure how they ended up on my computer, but if anyone asks, it had something to do with the virus he had.
With each lesson in massage or a cleansing technique, we were given the opportunity to volunteer as the subject of the demonstration massage, and to practice on our fellow students. We were all eager volunteers for the massage techniques, because, hey, free massage. When it was time for the lesson in Raktamokshan, there were surprisingly few volunteers, (meaning none), who were willing to step forward. Maybe it was the leeches.
You see, Raktamokshan is the art of bloodletting. Using leeches. You read that right. Bloodletting. With live leeches. When it became apparent that none of the students were willing to let a live leech have its way with their bodily fluids, it was decided that a member of the staff should “volunteer”. The teacher called down to the office, and a willing staff member soon appeared, looking as though she would rather be anywhere else. As she sat down in the volunteer chair, we all eagerly awaited what was to come.
The leeches, we were told, were specially bred for the purposes of bloodletting, and were of a variety that would suck only the toxins from the blood. As noble of a trait this seemed to be, there was a high degree of skepticism in the room, momentarily forgotten only by the appearance of the three-inch-long leech. I decided to name him Steve, because hey, he was part of our tribe now, and needed a name. Steve, your sacrifice will always be remembered.
Steve was removed from his surgical steel tray with a set of tweezers, and placed gently on the arm of Jasmin, our eager volunteer. Wiggling about, he seemed to unsure of his role, and was perhaps a little shy, given all the attention he was getting. After several minutes of watching him flail about, it was pronounced that he wasn’t happy with his location, and needed a better spot on her body, where he could get comfortable, maybe relax a little to do his job. Perhaps a little foreplay was all he needed.
Moving him to the other arm seemed to entice Steve’s bloodsucking libido a bit, and soon enough, he had latched on to Jasmin’s arm. She seemed not at all happy about this engagement, but knowing that her livelihood might be at stake, did her best to appear as though there were nowhere else she would rather be, and that letting a leech have its way with her was her idea of a good time.
Soon enough, Steve was undulating away, rhythmically thrusting on Jasmin’s arm, presumable enjoying an orgasmic feast of toxic blood. His body rippled and pulsed with his suction, and he had soon tripled in size. After a time, he appeared to have satiated his lust, and ceased his movement, resting contentedly on Jasmin’s now spent arm.
Removing him gently with the tweezers, he was placed again in his stainless steel tray to bask in the afterglow of his efforts. Our teacher then produced a jar of Turmeric powder, explaining that dousing him with Turmeric would cause him to vomit all the toxic blood, thus preventing him any harm from what he had ingested. Sure enough, after being liberally sprinkled with the yellow-orange powder, he began undulating again, and had soon vomited up the contents of his sanguine feast. We were assured that these leeches were raised on a special leech farm by leech wranglers, who took special care to attend to their every need, and were only used once, to prevent any blood contamination. Thanks Steve, you had a good life. I’m sure Jasmin was eternally grateful for the services you performed. Now please stay away from me and my family.