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Day 99: Majuli to Kaziranga

Michael Palin - HimalayaHearing that we're leaving today, Jadab Burah, who played a milkmaid yesterday, and Lila Ram, who played the devil, invite me to have a last tea in the room they share. Jadab is 18 and first came to the monastery when he was nine. His parents live less than a mile away and he still attends the local school and has friends, including girlfriends, outside the satra. He came here to learn dancing and is quite sure he'll stay for life. Lila Ram, who has been here for 16 years, is learning gayan, the art of cymbal playing.

They are delightful company, but when I leave they have to work out what I've touched in the room, as that object will now be impure and their vows require them to wash thoroughly should they come into contact with it.

All this is done with great ease and much laughter. In most institutions, however benevolent, you feel like an outsider looking in, but the special quality of Uttar Kamalabari is that everyone from the young boys to the grey-haired older monks, has gone out of their way to include us in the life of the satra.

It seems a place of rare and genuine happiness, where the hardest disciplines are artistic rather than religious and the goals are more concerned with fulfilment than denial. I catch myself thinking it's too good to be true, but maybe that just sums up the difference between our world and theirs.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 99: Majuli to Kaziranga
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Majuli Island
  • Book page no: 232

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