At 5:30 I wake up and spend an hour in silence. By 6:30 the morning chai has arrived, which contains milk from the sacred cows that roam about on the ashram grounds. The sun has just come up, but everyone has already been awake for hours, sweeping the temple and watering the vegetables and flowers. Around seven I settle on my front porch, switch the fan to blow away the mosquitoes, and begin my writing for the day.
I’m in Kerala, India in the Kalariyil Dharmikam Ashram. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, but even after two weeks it takes some getting used to. We have clean, filtered water and excellent food, so we’re grateful for that and don’t have to worry about some of the things that make travelers wary of India. Even so, the way of life is quite different from what I’m used to in Europe or back at home in the States. If you don’t spend part of your day helping out on the property, you’re seen as strange, even selfish. If you spend too much time to yourself, you’re seen as antisocial.
Such attitudes can make it hard to write a novel here. I want to be involved in the life of the ashram, and I’m glad to have my daily duties, which include making sure the water tank is full in the morning and evening, feeding the Dalmatian puppies, and turning on the music that sounds from the temple, loud and triumphant at 5 p.m every day.
At the same time, I need a few hours every day to cloister myself away and write down the many things that are happening here. There are so many new sounds, like the calls of exotic birds whose names I don’t know. There are new sights, like the hot pink flowers that hang down from the trees like ballerina tutus. And of course there are new smells, like the incense that burns in the temples and fills the whole place with smoke.
For a while we were busy preparing the ashram for the Indian holiday Onam and the anniversary of the ashram, but these are finally over. Now I’m able to tuck myself onto my porch or into my room with a little more peace of mind, writing down as much as I can while I’m here.
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About the author
Rebekah Lee Mays is an American freelance travel writer who’s lived and worked in Europe for the past three years. Her fiction has been published in Hobart, the Forge Literary Magazine, and the Still Point Arts Quarterly. You can follow her adventures on Twitter.