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Rakhi – with Love …

Sunday in Vashisht. Also being the day of Rakhi. India is full of different Hindu festivals, big and small, all with purposes most Indians have no clue about. But many of them are about love. Some sort of love at least. And some of them, as I see it preserve family values and structures. But, again, most Indians have no real clue what they really mean.

Like this Rakhi festival. This morning my host at the guest house, Manu, told me about it. That it is for sisters to tie a cotton bracelet around the wrists of their brother, for wishing them long life. So we had a conversation about it, what if one doesn’t have a brother if a male person doesn’t have a sister, what then. In the end, I decided to look it up on the internet.

It turned out Rakhi is the actual cotton bracelet. The Rakhi can be tied to someone’s wrist for a variety of reasons and occasions. Today, this special day is called Rajshahi Bandhan and is a happening between sisters and brothers or between men and women who have a sister-brotherly relationship. Here are some examples.

• Given a Raksha Bandhan by a girl or woman to a brother or someone she considers as one, who must then treat her as a sister

• The word ‘raksha’ signifies protection, and ‘bandhan’ is an association signifying an enduring sort of bond; and so, when a woman ties a rakhi around the wrist of her brother, she signifies her loving attachment to him.

• On the full moon of Karkata, or Cancer, sisters tie a rakhi around the wrist of their brothers, who in return give a present of clothing, cash or jewelry and become obligated for the safety of the sister.

• Dainty containers that hold these threads, which possess powers to strengthen the bond of brotherhood, are also ideal for those who wish to send rakhis with gifts to their beloved brothers.

Anyway, it is about love. In a very mysterious way, a lot of things are about love in India. I guess everywhere in the world. It is very much about love. At least in the beginning. Like Valentines Day, Mothers Day or any other day when one is supposed to show love to that special person. To me, those days never have been important. It is never about that day. It is about all the other days that are so many more than this one single day. But it is about love. And love is always about what we do and not what we tell each other, how love is defined in words.

Love can be given and love can be taken away. Love can also be conditioned. This is what I witnessed just now.

I am at one of the local restaurants in Vashisht, the place I most often go to have my breakfast. The owners are a young couple from Nepal. They have a three year old son. Since today is Sunday the little boy is playing outside the restaurant. He has a plastic glass which he fills at the public tap and then spills the water here and there. To some adults annoyance. The boy is just being creative using his fantasy. And then he sees one of the stray dogs lying under my table, next to my feet. He comes with the water filled plastic glass offering the sleeping dog to drink water. His mother takes the plastic glass and says something to the boy with an irritated voice, the she throws the water on the sleeping dog and shouts the usual indian guttural sound used towards unwanted animal presence meaning ‘go’. This is how a childs love for living creatures is taken away. This is how his love is conditioned to be given to some but not others.

This is why it is so important that we take the time to identify and become aware of the reason to our actions. So that we can spread and multiply the good ones. To act lovingly.

With love, I hereby tie a virtual cotton Rakhi around your wrist. To all my sisters and brothers around the world.

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Dear Stranger …

Dear stranger who gave me a lousy review on my FB-page Madlen Hjelmroth – Photography & Storytelling. 

I know your name but I don’t know who you are. We have never interacted and therefore we have never had a dialogue. You never contacted me, you never asked me any questions and you never wanted to know anything about me. But yet you seem to think that you know a lot about me. Apparently, you know that I am a bad person. Therefore you want to inform the world about how bad a person I am.

I read your review and decided to help you out in your quest. This is how bad a person I am.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a man who told me that he doesn’t like Facebook because of the culture in it. He is not the only one to have that opinion. There are many people who say they don’t want to be on social media for the same reason. I have always defended the internet and social media because it is not about the internet and social media. It is about how people are using it, how they behave. The bottom line is that the way people using it, you and me,  are the ones responsible for the culture in it. Just the way we are responsible for our actions and the culture outside social media. In real life. The only difference between social media and real life is that on social media we can write stuff without having to look the other person in the eye. It is like an invisible barrier between sender and receiver. It’s so easy to point at the other person and write stuff without bothering about the consequences. The consequences the other person will have to deal with. 

I am a woman and daily I have to deal with the patriarchy surrounding me and all other women on this globe. Men who say and do things that are offensive but justifying it by saying that they didn’t mean anything by it or that I was the one who misunderstood them. Men who are schooling women in things women already know or that make remarks about details in order to show off their own knowledge. The thing that is called Mansplaining. 

Mansplaining means that men try to explain things to women who already know the fact. Men do it without being invited nor asked to explain. They take it as their quest to inform, teach or in general show off. 

I don’t tolerate Mansplaining on my FB-wall. No matter if the mansplaining is pointed or directed towards me or another woman. That doesn’t mean that man is a bad person but it doesn’t mean I have to tolerate his action.

I don’t tolerate Mansplaining in real life neither. When that happens I tell the mansplainer that his explanations are not asked for and that he can stop. That doesn’t mean that man is a bad person but it doesn’t mean I have to tolerate his action. 

You see, there are a lot of things I don’t tolerate. Like misuse of power, mental or physical abuse, fake news, misinformation, humans and animals being mistreated in different ways, littering, plastic straws and million of other things i believe don’t belong in any society. I am always the first to offer help when I see someone in need of it. I am not afraid of you writing a lousy review on my FB-page. It doesn’t intimidate me. I know who I am. I stand firmly on my own two. 

Who knows, one day we might bump in to each other. If I notice you were in some sort of distress, I would offer my help. If someone was offending you, I would defend you. And if you were the one to cause someone else’s distress, I would ask you to stop. Because that is who I am.  

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Drama In India …

I think India is the one country where drama keeps the Indians alive. I am convinced they can not breathe without drama even though they try doing their absolute best avoiding it. They haven’t realised that by trying to avoid drama they are creating it. 

One day, my friend Karen and I wanted to go to Rishikesh. We were at our usual place having breakfast when we heard one of the owner saying something about going to the market. So we asked him if we could tag along. Raiding three on a scooter is neither unusual nor undoable so there was nothing to stop us really. And he didn’t seem to mind either since he said yes, let’s go in 20 minutes, he said. Karen and I waited for him to give us a signal on when to leave. And we waited. 40 minutes passed and I decided to ask one of his colleagues since we hadn’t seen in a while. Oh, he left for the market with his friend, they told us. 

It turned out he had planned to go to the market with his friend. Since Indians can’t say No,  he said Yes and then ran and hid. He told us we would go in 20 minutes because by then he would be gone and wouldn’t have to deal with any consequences. By now, and after discussing this matter with Indian friends, I have learned that it is tabu to ever bring this incident up ever.

The whole Indian society is flooded with drama. Movies, advertisements, news, political debates. Everything is coated with drama. More or less.

My country is well known for being neutral, not causing drama if avoidable and political correctness was probably invented there. I don’t always sympathise with the way things are done in my country but I guess that is needed in order to evolve. One of the things I love about my country is that people try to listen to each other’s point of view. Debating. It’s like watching two players on a tennis court. The ball goes back and forth between the two players. I love debating when the ones involved actually listen to each other, reflecting upon what has been said before responding. 

I am not easily shocked or scared, but one day I happened to see one of these political debates on Indian national tv and I was both shocked and a lot of question marks were straightened out. I have seen everyday life in India and how drama is created. How people can get into big fights because everyone wants to be first. Be it on the road or buying a bus ticket. The arguments are loud, the language is foul and the body language almost abusive. The day I say the political debate I witnessed the same behaviour. Political representatives for the parties shouting, not listening to each other and overall creating more chaos, confusion and drama than anything else. 

Same thing with love in India. The dramatic scenes in movies and music videos are very much about extremely handsome masculine men being in charge and on top of things while women are portrayed as extremely beautiful feminine and submissive. And when these men and women interact with each other there is always this coat of drama. 

Considering the amount of drama happening in India, one could easily write a trilogy on the matter. I guess this is one of the things I love about travelling. The nuances, the specific colours and tastes in each country one will never know about unless taking the time to experience them.

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The People I Meet …

I can’t say I have been travelling a lot lately. Not the way I started out this journey. On the other hand, I always try to encourage co-travellers to go slowly. Not to take the fastest way from point A to point B, not to travel too comfortably and to try to spend more than a couple of days in each place. Travelling is so much more than checking off the list of places we want to see.

So, even though I have been staying in Rishikesh for the past 5 months,  I have done some travelling. The physical one has taken me to Delhi a few times and to Nepal once. 

And then there is this Rishikesh journey. Rishikesh has changed so much since I arrived 13 January this year. The Laxman Jhula area was a quiet village-like place. A few visitors amongst the locals, everyone commenting on the calmness and no one had to be afraid of being run over by jeeps. Crossing the Laxman Jhula bridge was a delight and I used to stop at the middle to let myself be embraced by the wind and energy from Ma Ganga. Taking a deep breath in, holding it, breathing out slowly. Pure magic.

Now, five months later this is a different place. Everything is about business. The Indian tourists and pilgrims are flooding the place which leaves little or nothing of the original Rishikesh. The kids are on summer holidays so families come here to spend a few days in this holy place. Lots of money are spent on offerings, gifts, presents, food for the fish, rafting, speedboat tours. This place has become more of a circus field than a religious ground.

I had a conversation with a young man who told me that he is not religious, he doesn’t dip in the Ganga, nor visits any temples, he never fasts or acts in any other religious way. But still, when he passes a temple he does this thing with his hands, shows respect. Why do you do that, I ask him since you don’t believe. It is out of fear, he says. What if I don’t do that gesture and something bad happens to me or my family. 

Last time I went from Delhi to Rishikesh I took the train and I had a conversation with a woman on her way to Haridwar. Another of these holy places in India. When she heard I had spent four months in Rishikesh she said to her daughter. This woman spends four months in Rishikesh to show her devotion to the Gods and I don’t even go once a month. Yes, why would one stay in Rishikesh for such a long time if not to show devotion to the Gods? 

Travelling is not about ticking off a list. It is neither about where we go. But foremost, to me, travelling is about the people that I have met or am about to meet. Like this young man who has come from Delhi to find questions. He is holding the book The Monk who sold his Ferrari as it is the bible. So we talk, we share, we spend two days together and then he tells me of his depression and suicide attempt. Yes, we have to be kind, because it is true as it is said, we never know what the next person is struggling in his life. 

The woman I met yesterday evening who offered to give me healing because I was struggling with a persistent cold. I asked her what I could give her in return and she said A hug. So she gave me healing, I felt at ease and when she was done I got up from the chair a took a step forward and opened my arms to give her a hug. She sort of hugged me in that short and not very close way. But I embraced her in a tight, warm, long hug and didn’t let go. I could feel how tense her body was and after five seconds I felt how she surrendered. She exhaled deeply and her whole body relaxed in my arms. The connection between us was extraordinary and I am not sure who was healing who.

Travelling can be all the beautiful places and scenarios we pass. To me, it will always about the people I have met and the ones waiting for me to meet.

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Looks and Age …

Apart from the tattoo on your left hand, there is nothing that indicates you have one wild bone in your whole body.

Every day, several times a day, I go to the local chai stall. That is where locals and tourists, Indian and foreign, meet. This is the best place to be, my second home. I’ve told you about the owners previously so I won’t bore you with that again. But, yes, they are one of the main reasons why I still go there every day. Depending on the season and the weather I will probably start with something hot just after they open. Like ginger the or coffee. Then go back to where I’m staying, work for some time, shower and leave for the second visit before breakfast around 11. This time I will have chai. And I will probably have on on my way back home for a nap. And then again after my rest, socialising, food, chai stall again and once or twice before going back home to sleep. That is quite a few times I realise, and also the reason why I talk to so many people each day. 

Yesterday afternoon a group of people I already know were sitting there and they had the company of a younger man, perhaps 30+, who was new to me. I sensed good vibes from him. We were people watching and saw the Rajasthani male tourists with their gorgeous turbans passing by. One of the guy said, You could wear your shawl as a turban, let me show you how to wrap it around your head. So he did, and he looked amazing. No wonder, he has a very interesting and good looking face, with well groomed moustaches, a tiny goat beard, beautiful eyes and amazing long hair any woman would kill for. So he tells me a turban would look good on me. I  dismiss the whole idea with the joke I will have to grow my hear in that case. That is when the whole group starts talking about my looks and appearance. 

Calm, composed, regal and sophisticated were some of the adjectives used. And on top of that, the one to me not very well know man says that sentence. 

Apart from the tattoo on your left hand, there is nothing that indicates you have one wild bone in your whole body.

I couldn’t hold back a big laugh, loud and from the bottom of my heart and every other tiny corner of my body. Isn’t it amazing how we all make ourselves a picture of the next person by their looks. The most unimportant part of a human being and we still give it such importance. Being a single female traveller, there are these two things that are sometimes a blessing and sometimes, not a curse but contributes to a less amazing experience. 

Looks and age. 

I’m soon 60 and looking back at the past year and a half I have travelled, I can see that my age and looks have saved me from some unpleasant experiences. Not only because of my age and looks but also because of my experience in life. I know how to behave and conduct myself in different situations, I know what works better and I can tell people off with a confidence I didn’t have when I was younger. Or even when I started this journey. And I don’t get all the unwanted attention from young males the way young women do. That’s on the good side.

On the not so good side, I am not always invited to different social events the way a young woman is, I’m not offered help the same way young women are, or free stays. There are some situations that young people don’t know how to handle. Some younger humans assume a lot of things. That I don’t understand technology, internet, how to find my way, that I can’t carry my stuff and a lot of other things. 

On the interesting side is that I actually don’t look my age which has provided me with loads of laughs. Young men hitting on me, not knowing my age, me observing their reactions when they let them find out.  

Looks and age, two so unimportant parts of a person, the two things we can not change, and yet they are always in focus. I get it. It’s a very human behaviour.

To find out who I am, who you are, to see the person behind the facade, that takes something else. Time and curiosity. It’s when we take the time to have conversations, time to spend with each other, when we take the time to listen without reacting. The most beautiful way on which that can be done is when someone does all of the above without wanting anything back, without any expectations. We should all focus more on that.

That guy also said that I didn’t look like I had done anything wild that I could tell him of. There are lots of stories to tell, I said, but I’m more focused on the wild things I’m about to do in the future. 


Today we had 43 degrees Celsius, in the shadow. Now it’s humid and it feels even hotter. I can’t but think of the Englishmen, before they left India, sipping gin and tonic, complaining about the weather. I hate gin and tonic but today I wouldn’t have mind a sip or two.