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Finding shanti in Mysore


When honeybees move to a new location they perform ritual orientation flights, first staying close to the hive, then gradually moving further afield, until they have a good working knowledge of the area. School term starts in a couple of days, and I am using the last of my free time to stretch my wings and explore this area further afield, giving myself time to orient to this new locale. I am sitting in a comfortable hotel room in the hot, busy city of Mysore in South India. The ceiling fan is busily moving the warm air around. Mysore lies in Karnataka State and the language is Karnatakan which to me sounds a lot like burbles without a single recognisable word. The writing is kind of bubbly and artistic; a mixture between Thai script and Hindi to look at. Some people understand Hindi, which is sometimes similar to the little Nepali I have picked up, and some understand English. I can get by.

Mysore is famous for its silk, and there are colourful silk shops everywhere. Women wear garlands of flowers in their hair, and the intricate alleys of the Devaraj market burst with colour in mounds of powdered paints and mountains of flowers that are so fresh the bees are still busy on them. Getting about is easy with the ubiquitous three-wheeler autorickshaws that inhabit every nook and cranny of this busy city.

St Philomena's Church

In Mysore there is a church called St Philomena’s. The guide book consigns it to the position of the most beautiful church in Karnataka State, and I can see why. It is late afternoon when I arrive and shortly after I enter and make initial orientation explorations the lights are switched on. There is nothing special about these lights which are, after all, ordinary, white strip lights, but their effect is staggering. Suddenly the white interior walls of the church come alive and gleam serenely while stained glass windows, statues and paintings splash colour into the picture. On the outside of the church I counted 6 wild bee nests belonging to the large honeybees that traditionally inhabit cliffs. The arrival of these bees to a building is said to be a blessing, in which case this church is very blessed indeed. I stay for the service that is about to begin. Men and women sit separately on opposite sides of the church, and some sit cross legged on the floor after carefully removing their shoes, which is an Indian tradition. A reading sheet is handed out that, thankfully, contains an English translation of the text. I look over the translation carefully and I notice that the part which talks about God’s love ‘through my trials and tribulations’ is mistyped. The mistyped text reads ‘through my trails and tribulations’ which ironically, in my case at least, is much more appropriate. The service is conducted entirely in Karnatakan and although I wrote earlier that the language is unrecognisable, there is a word that it shares with Hindi and Nepali. This word is ‘shanti’. This is a word that rarely finds a place amidst the rush and hustle of a city where the word on the street is ‘survival’, and street sellers will try to sell you your own grandmother if they believe there is the slightest chance you might actually buy her. This word is ‘peace’.

Spices at Devaraj Market

I visit the Brindavan Gardens during my time here. They are a 19km journey from the hubbub of the city and lie in the wake of the wall of an enormous dam that does a sterling job of holding back the waters of the sacred River Cauver. Walking to the top of the dam wall and standing on the pedestrian-lit walkway I am rewarded with a sunset view across the calm, great expanse of water that lies captive here and the islands that the water itself captivates. But this is not the only light show to enjoy because every evening there is a light show of another kind. Fountains and flowers are lit up in these beautifully manicured gardens. There is a dancing fountain at one end of the gardens that shimmies and shammies to popular Hindi tracks in a multitude of colours. I stay the night in a hotel here, which allows me the luxury of a cool morning walk after the crowds of visitors have long since returned to their homes. If this place had streets, the word on those streets would be ‘pleasure’. I am far from the city and I orient myself to the beautiful flowers of the garden where, no doubt, the first bees are busy at work. Dawn’s chorus is in full swing and in the middle of all this I find my shanti.

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