SEPTEMBER 2001: VARANASI TO BANGALORE
|During this month Michael appears to have travelled alone as he scouted various ashrams in southern India looking for the most suitable one to undertake a yoga teachers course. In the meantime he had requested more information on ashrams from Vidya, his father's former work colleague.
Vidya (email 3 Sep 01): Michael should visit Kaivalya Dham in Bombay. They have a resident yoga research centre at Lonavale in Maharashtra. "Vivekananda Kendra" is at Kanyakumari, right at the tip of South India in Kerala State. They have branches and activities in many parts of India (with chapters in the majority of state capitals). He must have done some memorable trekking in Ladakh - it is one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in India.
Michael, in the meantime, was heading south . . .
Michael (email 4 Sep 01): Thanks for the info, guys. I'll check out the ashrams that Vidya recommended. As for me, well I'm now in Pondicherry, a pretty little ex-French colonial village way down in the south. I got here 2 days ago after 3 days of crazy train travel. I came here following a hunch about an ashram I'd heard about, and I really like it here . . . it's wealthier for a start, and cleaner, without the same harassment from all the shopkeepers, dealers and hawkers that you always get in the north.. Although they don't seem to have quite the same passionate religious zeal that I loved about the north. I've spent the last 2 days seeing the sights, including Auroville, a tacky New Age sorta place that just begs to be made fun of . . . so I did . . . almost got chucked out!
The ashram turned out to be just my cup of tea. The best I've seen . . . a very back to basics approach that employs Patanyali's original techniques of hatha yoga, maybe I'll stay here next year. I've missed the starting date for this year's course. Bummer. Wish I had time to tell you all the things I've seen and done but I've already typed this message twice and it's late and the internet man is standing behind me and coughing and looking at his watch. So, all the best, love, Me.
This ashram in Pondicherry is the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER). The Director is Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, the widow of the founding Swamiji. Here are her impressions of Michael . . .
Meenakshi (letter 4 Jul 03): Michael Danckwerts came into our lives in the Summer of 2001. He was looking for a legitimate place to study classical Yoga in depth. He liked our Ashram and our approach, and we liked him. He had practiced Vipassana meditation extensively and I had warned him that the philosophy and approach to life of Vipassana was very different to the one we followed. I asked him to consider very deeply, as in the spiritual life it is best to choose one path and stick to it. We corresponded several times, and he was quite firm in his decision to study Rishiculture Ashtanga Yoga. I accepted him as a student . . .
After leaving Pondicherry, Michael travelled on and eventually arrived at the Sivananda Ashram at Neyardam in the city of Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala State. He attended a yoga course here for two weeks and phoned his parents from there. Another who attended this course was Regina, from Switzerland. She kept in touch afterwards with Michael, and later corresponded with his parents. These are her memories of their time together . . .
Regina (email 8 Jul 03): . . . We had very nice talks after we have finished our Yoga every night. He seemed to me a very profound person. The thing I always remember is that he paid me such a nice compliment, as he told me: you are very good looking but you don't know it and that makes you so special. At the talent show of the ashram he sang an Australian song, don't remember the name.
We left the ashram together with the sadhu (a holy man or ascetic). He was studying with us and Mike liked him very much. Mike was very impressed because the sadhu could live with only the cloth he was wearing and one book. Then Mike and I went together in a pub and drank some beers. I was the only woman in there and lot of drunken Indian men. Actually I was happy that he was with me otherwise it would have been terrible for me, touching drunken Indian men and me. We both had our buses to different places that night. He told me that he would come and visit me in Switzerland.
I will never forget the high level talks I could share with him.
Click here to see Regina's photos at the Ashram.
A later email to Michael from another attendee, Claire from the UK, reveals that the song Michael sang at the talent show was "Plastic Jesus", a regular favourite at other times during his travels, and that "he received some stern looks from the Swami dude". The words of this song are set out in the September 2002 page of this web site.
Michael travelled on, visiting the southern tip of India before arriving in Bangalore. From here, in an email to a friend, he gives his views on the new world order post September 11 and recounts his experiences to date on his travels throughout India . . .
|Michael (email 28 Sep 01): Hey funky groove meister, 'sup? Where are you? What are you? and who are you doin it to?
Sorry for not writing sooner, but the Islamic Fundamentalists who kidnapped my tourist bus (yes, I too suspect it was the Taliban) were very mean and only let us out to do our e-mailing twice a day and we had to squeeze in our shopping and relaxation time during this period as well. Thankfully I managed to convert them to the Hare Krishna movement, (of which I am now a proud member) and managed to escape while they were busy handing out flowers. I am now safely back in my ashram which I plan never to leave. The world is a scary, scary place dear bro.
What do you think of all the shit goin' down in New York? I'm sure you have plenty to say on the subject, as do I, so forgive me while I climb up on my soap-box and have a bit of a rant.....the last 2 days I have been travelling alone and have had no deeper conversation than: "Hello sir? Hellooooo? What is your good name? From? Married?" It is at this point that, to save my sanity I usually tell them that I am a homosexual satan worshipping porn star from Lapland. This usually stuns them into silence. I saw pictures of the attacks for the first time today and I must have flicked through a hundred different articles in a dozen different mags. I noticed something funny. Now would seem to be the perfect time to ponder the inherent fragility of the global economy, and, dare I say it, to question the validity of economic rationalism itself. But the west, in it's lust for revenge, is incapable iitroespectionially in matters so fundamental to our way of thinking. I doubt the current debate has even defined the act as anything other than an act of evil, neglecting the real causes and conditions of the Taliban's hatred, ie the fact that the U.S.'s decadent and selfish domination of the world economy combined with economic sanctions for those who resist, has resulted in the suffering of millions. (Even in India, it is hard to avoid the Coca Cola corporation's bottled water if you don't wanna get sick from drinking the local water). Hmmmm.......something for us all to ponder......lets have a 3 minute silence......we can also ponder the million or so Iraqi children who have died as a result of U.S sanctions imposed simply so our petrol prices wouldn't rise too much. That's my 2 cents worth anyway.
As for me in India, Well, where do I start? I think the last e-mail I sent to you was in Ladakh. Next was Rishikesh.....ahhh....Rishikesh...I really miss it. It sounds a bit wankish to say, but the energy there is really crazy. On my second night there, a stormy night when I was sitting on the steps of the ashram I was staying in, talking to a girl about how too much time in India can really fuck you up, this Frenchie, right on cue, staggers out of his room, clutching his stomach and starts raving about how we shouldn't try to save him. I couldn't make much sense from him so I found a Canadian guy who spoke French and together we deduced that this guy had been doing a wee bit too much yoga and sent himself into a kind of introspective vicious circle that he couldn't pull out of.....amazing but scary to see. I became good friends with the Canadian guy and together we ran amuck in Rishikesh....he was a singer-songwriter back in Canada and together we would visit various Gurus, with our little following, singing songs (he'd play guitar) that we made up on the spot. We'd purge our sins daily in the Ganges but get them back pretty quick insulting pompous priests who would try to lecture us on our decadent lifestyles. Despite this, back at the hashram (yes I spelled it right) we managed to keep up our daily practice of yoga and met many wonderful, beautiful people. Me and Jimmy then took off for Varanasi where we had a room actually overhanging the Ganga as the river was very high. We'd sit on our balcony watching everybody, well the dead-bodies anyway, float by, as we were harassed by monkeys and evil boatmen. I met an Aussie Buddhist monk amongst many others there who was about as Aussie as you can get with tattoos and all....he seemed like he'd be more at home in an outback pub, than at the burning ghat where I saw him. How can you explain the emotion you feel when watching a body burn or float down the river as monkeys played on temple spires and priests perform their pujas.....Me and Jimmy parted company in Varanasi as I wanted to see some ashrams down south and he was going to Rajastan.
I took a mammoth train journey down to Pondicherry where I met a lady who ran an ashram that does 6 month intensive yoga courses. She was definitely firing on all 8 cylinders and the ashram was like a little slice of heaven, right on the beach and next to a quaint fishing village made of small huts full of smiling little kids who'd chase me on my motorbike. I cruised around the beautiful ex-French colonial town for a week on my rented mighty 100cc bike before hopping on a bus to the hill station of Kodaikanal...a lush tropical paradise at 2000m above sea level. Here I went on a four day trek through the jungle with a drunken slightly drugfucked Indian man who pretended to be my guide and his friend, a stone deaf English hippy who made up for his lack of social skills by smoking a constant supply of joints and chillums packed with ludicrously potent Manali hash. Despite his shortcomings, my guide was actually quite knowledgeable . KETAMIN!! KETAMIN!! Watch reality dissolve and your body become like a puppet on a string....we are all one my friend, just manifestations of the one Brahman.....God plunging himself into a billion different roles simply because he can.......windows through which the universe observes itself....I highly recommend the experience.
I've just escaped from an ashram where I spent 10 days of disgustingly healthy living, and now I'm in Bangalore where I plan to see still more ashrams!!
Well dear bro I must be going....keep in touch...
|In the meantime Michael became concerned that he would need more money to pay for his preferred Yoga course in Pondicherry the following year. An email is missing here, but he floated the idea of working as a yoga instructor in Europe or teaching English in Japan. His parents were alarmed at the prospect, not only because the September 11 attack in New York had just occurred, but also because of the high cost of living in Europe and the recession in Japan. Michael took umbrage at the negative reaction from his father . . .
Michael (email 28 Sep 01): Thanks for the advice old timer but surely you must realise that I am in constant contact with travellers who are in the same position as myself. I could give you the names of at least 3 friends who are working in Asia right now and earning lots of money teaching English . . . none of them have even completed a uni degree and all have assured me that there are plenty of positions available despite the current economic climate. (Do you remember Todd, the black guy I met on my Vipassana retreat in Sydney?). Your advice to me seems inappropriate to my situation and you come across as quite patronising. Perhaps this attitude is quite justified, I have made many a foolish decision in my life, but take a deep breath and let go!!
Michael's father hastened to assure him that his advice was intended to be paternal rather than patronising. Michael, in the meantime, planned to look at a few more ashrams . . .
|Thiruvalluvar Statue at the southern tip of India|
Photos Michael's photos of Southern India
(captions of Sivananda Ashram by Regina)
October 2001 Bangalore to Jui Fang