AUGUST 2002: RISHIKESH TO KATHMANDU
|In Michael's last email he stated his intention to make another trip north, this time to Dharamsala, the place where the Dalai Lama has his residence. A brief email to a friend is the only indication that he was there.
Michael (email 7 Aug 02): . . . I'm in Dharamsala, hangin with His Holiness. Loving this mountain life after the craziness of Rishikesh, but still wanna go back to the ashram. I think I've become a bit institutionalized . . . perhaps they'll let me live there forever. Take it easy dude and good luck . . .
The next communication that his parents received was an urgent telephone call from Rishikesh saying that he had mislaid his wallet with his credit card in it. His parents made immediate arrangements to cancel the card and have a new one issued.
Michael (email 11 Aug 02 titled "Your retarded son"): Aaaaaaaaaaaah! Now I can relax! Thank you guys! Last night I was outside the ashram I am staying at, talking to a beautiful blue-eyed Belgian girl who completely entranced me and robbed me of my senses (but not my wallet, that was someone else) and I left my wallet and my key to my room on the steps where we were sitting when we went inside. Needless to say, neither my wallet or key are there this morning (in Taiwan once I did the same thing and I actually think there was more money in my wallet when I found it again the next day) and I'm left feeling like a complete dumkopf. Today I leave Rishikesh for Dehra Dun, a town about 30 km north of here. I am starting a yoga course with a lovely old swami who is the teacher of the teacher at this ashram. I better go now, I have to get a new lock for my room! To be continued . . .
This Belgian girl is Genevieve. She kept in contact with Michael by email and has since been touch with Michael's family by email and telephone. She spoke to them of many things about Michael and about Rishikesh. While they were together in Rishikesh she recorded a song that he had made up and sang at some social gathering . . .
You can get a green Ganesh
From Dehra Dun or Rishikesh
But I prefer the one from Haridwar . . .
Unfortunately her tape is damaged, so the rest of this song is lost.
Meanwhile Michael commenced his yoga course at Dehra Dun.
Michael (email 14 Aug 02): Hello mother and father! Hope everyone in Ozland is doing OK. Well, I found my Mastercard, it wasn't in my wallet after all. In my panic I forgot that I put it with my travellers cheques for safekeeping. Yes, no need to tell me, I know . . . Loving life here and really getting down to some good yoga. Love, M.
In the meantime Michael's brother Peter and his girlfriend Kristina had arrived in Taiwan to work there, as Michael had done. Michael had some brotherly advice for them . . .
Michael (email to Peter 14 Aug 02): Well I must say it gives me a special warm feeling way down in the cockles of my heart to know that you, my sweets, are about to go through the same process of alienation and dehumanisation (but ultimately bliss) as you are assimilated into the Borg Collective of Taiwan. Remember that any ideas of the "creative" kind, as well as any spontaneous acts of love, kindness or happiness are surplus to your function and will be dealt with in the most severe fashion.
Good to hear you guys are kicking ass. Just keep the bullshit rolling when it comes to resume writing, Pete. I'm especially proud of my work at the "Bongmore Institute" where I was helping to integrate Afghan refugee children into mainstream society as well as teaching them English! Oh my aching karma!
"Ni shu baichu" actually means "I love you" and is often used as a greeting, so you should say it as much as you can to everyone you meet. Treat it as a kind of mantra, but use "Wor shu baichu" when repeating to yourself.
Tell me more, guys! Are you just teaching kindy, Krissy? Any private students yet? Did you sign a contract? How's the boss? I bet you're living in Tienmu. Did you know that the name comes from the Taiwanese (not Mandarin but Fuchien Chinese) word "Tiabo" which means "I don't understand". You better get used to that word, you're gonna hear it a lot. I have a friend living about an hour south of Taipei who I think you'd like very much. His name's Franklin and you can contact him at (email address). If you feel like it you can take a trip up to Jui Fang (pronounced Ray Fung) where I used to live. It's a nice little town about 40 minutes north on the train line with a beautiful mountain tourist spot called Jo Fen right near it that you should definitely go see. I'd really like it if you could pop in and say hi to my boss, Tina, and old coworkers for me and show the kiddies some photos too! The number for the kindergarten is 24970996 or 24971722. Ask to speak to Mary as she's the only one who speaks English.
Me, well I'm in a place called Dehra Dun (near Rishikesh) at the moment, doing yoga with a saintly, giggly old swami who just radiates love and groovy vibes as he punishes my body in ways you cannot imagine. The best teacher I've seen in India. I've also had many happy days running around in Rishikesh with a completely mad but beautiful blue eyed Belgian girl who has taught me much about love and how to really have fun. Right now I can say I'm really happy. I start my course in Pondicherry in about 6 weeks and I can't wait as everyone who knows about the course tells me it's one of the best (but most expensive, unfortunately) in India.
Take care guys. Love, M.
At the Dehra Dun ashram Michael first met Robert Servine, an American from Seattle. Their paths were to cross again later on in Nepal and again in Varanasi. Here is part of his contribution to this web site:
Robert (email 24 Jan 03): I met Michael first at an ashram in Dehra Dun, he was doing a yoga teachers training course for one month. I had done the same course the month before and stopped by to say hi on my way to Nepal. Michael and I talked a little bit there and got on well, so we talked about meeting up in Nepal. I believe this was around the 18th of August.
Michael (email to parents18 Aug 02): Hello my lovelies. You should be getting my new Mastercard soon, so when it comes could you send it to my address here along with my letter for my visa from Meenakshi. Thanks. My wallet was also returned to the ashram with the cash missing, so all that I lost was the 15 bucks or so that was in it. Good to hear that Pete and Krissy are set up well in Taipei. After India, setting yourself up in a city like Taipei is a piece of piss, and only the mentally deranged would find any problems making some quick bucksheesh, so they should do well . . .
I'm really loving the yoga here in Dehra Dun. Living with a doctor and his family who really are a living model of the perfect Indian family . . . they sponsor the swami who teaches the courses as well as run a leper hospital down the road, the doctor has his regular practice on top of this so he's quite a busy man. The place just oozes love and happy vibes and I feel so lucky to be here. On the 1st of Sep I'll head up to Nepal to get my visa (I think this office you told me about in Delhi can't do it). Love, M.
Two others who attended the ashram course with Michael were Ian and Kamu Canover, a British / Nepalese couple. They later corresponded with Michael's family, who were destined to meet them in Rishikesh in January 2004. Here are Ian's memories of their time with Michael:
Ian Canover (email 9 May 03): When we first met I was sitting outside the ashram taking some air and Michael bounced through the gate. "Goodday mate, is Swamiji about?", his smile was ear to ear. We sat and chatted about yoga and life for about 30 minutes and then off he went to see Swamiji, when he returned he said he would be back to do the yoga course and had to collect his bags from Ved Niketan (the ashram in Rishikesh where Michael had been staying). When he returned to Dehra Dun he moved into the room in the accomodation block next to us. We soon became good friends and spent much time on the ashram roof watching sunsets and sharing our experiences of travelling, yoga, meditation and our dreams for the future, etc. The weeks flew by, most of the time was spent in study, eating or relaxing. Kamu and I helped Michael to plan his trip to Nepal, we live in Nepal, Kamu is native Nepalese, we had planned to meet up with Michael when he had finished the 6 month yoga course at Gitananda's ashram, Pondicherry. God had different plans . . .
The doctor that Michael was staying with was Dr Rishi Paul Singh Rana. Here are some of his memories of Michael:
Dr Rana (letter 12 Feb 03): Michael spent quite a long time in our Ashram. Within a short time he became a part of our family and shared many things with us. I still remember, when he told me that next time he would come on five years visa and stay with Rishikul Sewashram. When he was living here, one day he found a street puppy dog of few days suffering from sever ear infection. He brought the dog in the Ashram and took the dog to the hospital. At least for one month he worked for the puppy dog; cleaning him, feeding him, bathing him and use to keep the dog in his room. He learned to make the neck collar for the dog so that the dog might not scratch his ear. The condition of the dog was so critical that no body ever thought that the dog could be survived. Just, Michael gave the life to that dog and he named the dog Bruno. We say him as Michael's dog. He assured me his full help for the Lepers patients we are working for. He was a creative person and suggested me many ways to generate funds for the Ashram. He also suggested me that our Ashram must adopt few old widow ladies and orphan children in future. He was a man of ideas and great vision. He use to tell us that after five years learning of yoga and integrated therapies he would open a branch of Rishikul in Australia.
One of his friend, Mr. Gurvinder Singh, was very much attached with Michael. They were the roommates.
We have decided to construct a Yoga Hall in the name of Michael to keep his remembrances alive in our hearts. There is a lot of work to be done to accomplish the mission of Mr. Michael.
Sadly, this yoga hall never eventuated, and the family had no further communication from Dr Rana.
A photo of Bruno, the pup that Michael rescued, is among his collection and appears below.
In all of Michael's emails he has demonstrated his ability to capture, in a few words, his very vivid impressions of the places he found himself and his feelings about the widely differing people and cultures he came across. In this next email he really showed what he could do . . .
Michael (email 29 Aug 02 titled "Just another day in India"): On a bus to Rishikesh, on my one day off from a yoga course taught by a saintly old swami who was a colonel in the Indian army for 20 years . . . training commandos no less. As I wipe the sleep from my eyes and massage my yoga punished limbs it doesn't surprise me as much as when he first told me. I'm travelling past cows that compete with beggars for food in stinking piles of fly-blown garbage . . . straight-backed women in bright saris carrying impossibly large sacks of flour on their heads, mangey hairless street dogs who fight and rip the shit out of each other, pigs wallowing in swollen gutters full of green black slime . . . and all the while motorscooters swarm like termites on the way back to the nest before a storm. Suddenly the bus starts making a noise like a spanner dropped in a blender, and it comes to a grinding halt. "Shit" says the dude next to me. We're stopped next to a sort of shaded clearing with a water pump. There are 4 girls wearing saris while washing clothes as one pumps the water. Some old cows wander onto the scene and an old man squats Indian style in the background, smoking a biddi, and I think a more typical scene of rural India could hardly be found, so I whip out my camera and take a few shots. The driver has lifted the hood off the engine and is bashing away like a drunken gorilla, and it starts to rain. Really fucking rain. The washer girls barely bat an eyelid and continue their work with a few knowing smiles between them, and the scrawny old bull outside my window just stands there as the rain pelts its bony back, sending muddy streaks down its side. The drver starts a shoving match with one of the passengers who I think wants to leave. Suddenly, another bus pulls up in front of us and everyone starts fighting each other to be first off this bus so that they can be first on the other bus. I decide that this sort of childish behaviour is beneath me so I continue to read my book with a condescending smile as the passengers elbow and press each other. As a consequence I'm one of only 5 people left on the bus. 2 of them are the driver and conductor, one is an old blind lady, and the other is this beaming guy carrying half a truck axle who I don't think is completely with the program. I retain composure as I realise that this bus ain't going nowhere, so I flag down a rickshaw. "Rishikesh?" I ask. The passengers all say no, but the driver of course says "Yes! Yes! Come, come!" So I think what the fuck, at least I'll get to the nearest village where I can maybe hop on another bus. 10 km later the driver decides he isn't going any further and I find myself standing next to a giant rubbish pile and a little boy of maybe 8 with an open sore on his face is tugging at my shirt and touching my feet reverently and asking for one rupee. He ignores my angry "chello!" so I give him a light kick on the bum and he scampers off. After an hour or so I see a bus marked Rishikesh but it's not gonna stop, so I jump right in front of it thinking that this fucker is going to have to run me down if he wants to pass. So the ancient driver, with glasses like magnifying glasses, slows down just enough for me to take a running jump on the bus, and I see why he wouldn't stop . . . the bus is completely packed and my ass is literally flying in the breeze for the first 10 miles or so until some people get off and I can relax a bit. Get to Rishikesh and the rain just gets harder. There are whole streets that are 3 feet under water. Men are pushing scooters through streets that that are now rivers brown with mud, shit and god knows what else. Pigs and dogs compete for ever decreasing space under landings while locals crowd cheerfully under shop awnings. Sadhus squat Indian style, lost in their chillum smoke watching with amusement the few brave souls who dart out into the downpour.
So I hop onto another rickshaw that feels more like a speedboat as it cuts a path through the floodwater. It's only my head banging against the roof when we fall into unseen potholes that reminds me that there's any land at all around. I get to Vedniketan (ashram), my home away from home, feeling like I've just been chewed, swallowed and shitted out the ass of some unspeakably evil creature . . . only to find that no-one I know is there. A swim in the Ganges today is not even a remote possibility so I go for lunch at the posh Green Italian Restaurant. I'm in another world as I sit opposite some French wankers, listening to some pan-flute Kenny-G crap and watch cows, beggars and pilgrims file past in an endless multi-coloured stream. I just read my yoga book, and when my food comes I ask for a change of music and they put on Dark Side of the Moon, and it takes me back to when I first heard the album in Sydney, in the back of a mate's car on the way into the city to meet some girls on a clear, starry Saturday night. I feel like crying, and more French wankers pile into the restaurant, and I leave after eating. Go to do some internetting that fucks up 3 times before I get to read a message from a beautiful blue eyed Belgian babe who tells me she's in Gangotri on a fast for 3 weeks. I agree to meet up with whatever is left of her when she gets back. Walking back to Vedniketan I'm confronted with the usual moronic stares from the locals and cocky laughter. I ignore the thousand outstretched hands and "Hello sir . . . your country?" bullshit and sit talking to a few pommy guys for a while back at Vedniketan. Chill for a while and it's like old times. Go for a coffee and the locals stare and stare and stare as I play-fight with an Israeli girl. We stare back but they seem to like that more and as usual a crowd starts to gather so we leave. I decide to sit by the bridge that crosses the Ganges and watch the monkeys being fed and the constant flow of pilgrims heading up to Gangotri. Suddenly a huge red-faced monkey starts chasing a smaller one across the bridge, they both run over the backs of startled people, and the big one catches the smaller one and starts really tearing into him. The smaller one screams as blood flows from his head and he limps away after a minute or so while the big one sits like a newly crowned king, gently accepting any food offered to him from passers by. I'm filled with disgust and dread for this place and these people so I hop into a shared jeep for the ride home. It takes an hour for the driver to round up enough people to fill up the jeep and it's dark by the time we get going. We travel for about 10 minutes before we get to a long straight stretch of road that has thick forest on both sides. Up ahead there are about 10 cars blocking the road and a man flags us down to stop. He starts talking with the driver and pointing to a huge, eerie silhouette about 50 metres ahead. "Elephant" says the old police inspector sitting next to me. "Mad elephant. See?" All around us are uprooted trees.
The elephant is just standing there in the middle of the road, daring anyone to get close. So we sit for another 10 minutes before one brave rickshaw decides to head off, and we watch, holding our breaths and smiling at each other. The elephant decides not to flatten the rickshaw, and we all go home in one piece.
Just another day in India.
This is a beautiful, evocative piece of writing. It was much admired by all to whom the family showed it to. It was read out at Michael's celebration service by his brother, Peter, as part of the tribute.to him. The photos that he took when the bus broke are in the collection now at his family home. The one below shows the four girls wearing saris, doing the laundry.
Michael now came to the end of his yoga course.
Michael (email 31 Aug 01): Hi guys. I got the stuff you sent me, thanks muchly. My course finished today and I'm riding the wave of yogic joy! I'n leaving for Nepal tomorrow to get my visa . . . wish me luck! Love and hugs M.
|Another day in India|
Photos Rishikesh and Dehra Dun
September 2002 Kathmandu to Pondicherry