Alysha Brilla Blog

Rooted

By Alysha Brilla

Rooted

I need to be grounded
I need to feel my feet touch the earth

I need to feel rooted
I need to feel the sunlight on my skin
to feel warm within
and when I start to spin

You ground me
when I'm so far
you surround me
and bring me back to centre

You ground me
when I'm so far
you surround me
and bring me back to centre

I need to feel centered
I've been coming and going so much since my birth

When I am rooted
I can feel connected to the earth

You ground me
when I'm so far
you surround me
and bring me back to centre

You ground me
when I'm so far
you surround me
and bring me back to centre




Photo: Nadiyah Marwah 

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Passing Through

By Alysha Brilla



One day my body shall be returned to the earth
Every part of me will be used to create something new

Something new.

All of the pains of my life will be gone
All of the joys in my life will be gone

How sobering a thought to know that

the pain is temporary
the joy is fleeting

I need not become too attached to either

This body with which I navigate the world
is my friend
a part of me
a temporary shelter

I'm passing through 

We're all passing through


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Okanagan School Tour

By Alysha Brilla



"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." 
- Albert Einstein

I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to speak and perform 24 presentations in two weeks at middle and high schools in the Okanagan Valley/Kelowna district, B.C.

At these performances, we play three songs from my new album; "No More Violence", "Changing The World" and "Bigger Than That". I introduce each song with its story and the meaning behind the lyrics. I introduce myself and my background; the mixed family I was born into, how that has influenced my music and my life. I talk about my interest in music production from a young age and the fifteen year journey that has brought me here today. I try to distill nuanced concepts into memorable melodies and singable lyrics. I want to inspire the youth in seeing an adult who dealt with being severely bullied in school, oppressive experiences in the arts industry and now addresses bullying and inequality in our schools and societies on a larger platform. Given the recent tragedy of blatant racism, sexism and other isms within the impending American leadership sphere, now more than ever, going into these schools entails a large responsibility and a large opportunity as well.

When speakers would come into my school as a youth, one thing that always stood out to me was that they would often end up repeating the same line; "You are the future. You are the generation that will change the world". It always caused friction in my mind as I questioned what it was that was preventing the speaker from changing the world, also. "Well...what about you?" I would think. "Can't you do something, too?". The philosophy of delegating the ominous task of 'fixing our world' being put onto the shoulders of the younger generation just seemed so evasive and as a young girl, having an adult look at me, inferring my beacon-of-hope-ness seemed, well, altruistically insincere.

With that in mind, I acknowledge that each person in the room- myself, students and teachers alike, we all share a responsibility in the trajectory and shape of our society; whether in its microcosmic form as the school community, or in the larger outside world.


In 2016, with everything going on in the world, we cannot pretend we aren't preparing ourselves for big changes; ones which require all of our minds, young and old, to be well versed in critical thinking and open to radical new ideas; ideas which are actually often not new at all, but concepts which have been buried underneath our colonial history.

For all of the challenges I've had navigating my love for art with chronic auto-immune disease in a male-dominated, capitalist society,  I'm also incredibly fortunate. I'm able-bodied, cisgendered, not visibly queer, light-skinned (not empirically a 'good quality' by any means, but valued and given social capital in a world of white supremacy), I grew up in a middle class family without any drug or alcohol abuse and my mom always told me to follow my dreams. I've also had the one in a million chance of getting a major record deal and having it fall apart, but get up, dust my boots off and start again independently. 

One word I bring up a lot during these school performances is a term many scholars and non-academics alike have introduced me to, "intersectionality"; the theory by which we take into account the ways our identities offer us privilege or cause us to face obstacles in any given society. Examining the complexity of our identities, respecting the fact that we aren't 'all the same' and really seeing what it is that paints humanity with such a broad spectrum of colours... I think it is with these tools we begin to assemble a clearer idea of how to appreciate the things that we do have in common and how we can learn so much from the things that make us different. 

I don't have all of the answers. I don't believe one single human does. I am proud of my mistakes and my growth. It is a continuous cycle.

What I have to offer is my gift of song and communication. This I know to be a calling for me since I was a child. We all have a calling. You have one too. In these times I hope that the voices of those who have been historically silenced are given platforms to bring balance to the world. 

I am constantly learning. We all are. I just record my questions and lessons in song.

Now is the time for all of us to sing out, speak up and make our hearts shine.
Navigating the systems we are in, in whichever ways we can, while being brave enough to speak up and incite positive change.

Alysha Brilla


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Soft Heart Hard World

By Alysha Brilla




As someone who shares a lot about my life, I've found that folks will respond most quickly and emphatically to posts/photos/updates that are positive.

I suppose it's natural; we are drawn to and want to congratulate things that seem to be moving in an upward trajectory.

I just spent the last hour crying. Sobbing.

When I cry...I tend to laugh. I laugh-cry. I haven't really seen anyone else out there do it, but I know for sure they are others who do (I googled it.)

In a society that tends to ask of us the distillation of complex emotions into either happy or "chill", displaying sadness, even to ourselves, is often quite difficult.

Why was I crying? It doesn't matter. In my life, I've cried for many different reasons; some more serious than others. While I'm tempted to say "I wish I'd saved my tears for ___________", the point of this piece is to say that we should never feel as though our tears or time crying is a waste.

Congratulations...I'm human. I feel pain. I hurt. I hurt for myself. I hurt for the world. 

I feel pain and I metabolize it. Physically, emotionally, spiritually...I am a whole being.

In order to process pain, it must be felt and then released. Just like food...we take it in...we digest it and then...we release/get rid of what no longer serves us. There is an outlet. 

The thing about pain and sadness, however, is that we either hold it inside until it makes us sick/depressed or we release it through a more widely accepted emotion; anger.

Soft people in a hard world. I don't buy into the paradigm. 

I am just as much a part of this world as the hardness it's been labelled with. 

As soft as I will be with others when they need my compassion, I will absolutely be with myself. 

In addition to the obvious physiological benefits of releasing tears and emotions, the ability to forgive yourself for feeling so deeply and in fact rejoice in your sensitivity is, I think, revolutionary. 

I am still that three year old girl with the same sensitive heart beating in my chest. 

Anytime I do feel sad, I think of her and give her a hug. I tell her it's ok to feel. 

You're a soft person in a malleable world. 

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Immigrant

By Alysha Brilla

I wrote a song called "Immigrant" based on my father's experiences and stories I've heard over the years from my uncle and other Indo-Tanzanian family members who have immigrated to Canada.

An anti-xenophobia organization in the U.K. has just launched a campaign called "I am an Immigrant", which aims to put perspective on the currently often racist dialogue and processes of immigration there.

Unless you are aboriginal Canadian, you have descended from immigrants within the past few generations.

It's that question second/third generation POC people will get "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Canada"

"No, where are you REALLY from?"

Often times in Canada, 'white-European' people aren't asked that question because being 'white-canadian' has been normalized (by history, by the system, by parliamentary), whereas looking ethnic and being Canadian automatically makes one think of immigration or migration when in truth, the ancestors of 'white-Canadians' also immigrated here.

So humans have been moving around this planet for a long time. Sometimes for adventure, but more often than not, in search of better opportunity and hope.

It's a complex subject, but one in which there is no room for racism.

As for the conservative/racist older white (mostly) males who comprise the British National Party, perhaps a history lesson in British colonization will help offer perspective on what it really means to 'intrude' a country.


What do you think?

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Best Dressed Brilla

By Alysha Brilla



"The Award for best Red Carpet look goes to Tanzanian-Canadian singer/songwriter Alysha Brilla"
- The Toronto Metro

This year my sophomore album, WOMYN, was nominated for a 2015 Juno Award.

An honour, indeed, to share categorical space with artists such as Sarah McLachlan and Jann Arden. Being my second consecutive nomination, I was extremely happy and proud when it was announced, as I worked very hard producing this record and the efforts of everyone involved were heavy as well.

*Spoiler alert*

I didn't win the Juno; to be honest, the second I found out that Sarah McLachlan was in my category, I intuitively knew that she would win.

Nevertheless, I knew that JUNO weekend entailed many interviews, appearances and red carpets for me....so I still had a lot to look forward to. 

My music is an eclectic mix of pop, jazz and reggae beats. I suppose my image, like my music, reflects that colourful and quirky combination.

If someone were to tell me when I was 15 that I would win "Best Dressed" at The Junos one day, I would have been excited, but probably would have laughed.

Throughout my childhood, I used to watch fashion television. One for the boobs...how non-sexualized they were in the context of high fashion (as opposed to how obsessed society was with them otherwise) and secondly, I really did have a strong interest in the cultural value and expression of...clothing. Clothing; the quickest metric for a geographic place or time period.

I never wanted to be a model, watching those shows. I actually wanted to be either Jeanne Beker or the designers. They got to travel around the world, be creative, wear interesting things...I remember getting in trouble for showing my belly in school. The white-Canadian teachers telling me it was innapropriate and my culturally-sensitive white-Canadian mother coming to my defence and talking about how in India, women bare their bellies almost daily in their Sari's. This was the beginning of my fashion and cultural awareness.

Flash forward to me as a teenager, just entering the music industry. I often have to discern for people; I've been playing and writing music since I was...born. Honestly- I can't remember not songwriting...whether it was about playtime or broken hearts, I've always been composing and playing piano and guitar and beat boxing...and mouth trumpeting.

Trying to make a business of it, however, started when I was about 15. That's when I started performing live, entering music contests and seeking the coveted record deal (which I eventually got and then rejected).

During this time, I was quite serious about my music carrying messages of substance and I didn't want those messages to be diffused by a strong emphasis on my appearance. With that, I wore jeans and a t-shirt almost everyday, arguing that most popular male artists at the time only had to wear those things and become famous and make millions. (There was one equally quiet girl who sat across from me in German class and always wore some AMAZING outfits. I remember having a crush on her for several reasons...she stood out and now she does fashion design and photography in New York.) It was the women who had to 'be creative' with their image and parade around in uncomfortable outfits that someone else told them was 'trendy'. I suppose the feminist values I had made me feel like fashion belittled women.

So I rebelled, so to speak. I was as plain-jane as a part-Indian-African-Jewish-European girl could be. I tried to make myself look...invisible.

I got a record deal, moved to L.A....and that's when things got even more homogenous. Everyone was making the same kind of music, saying the same things, wearing the same things...

I'd go to the thrift shops there and buy things...bring them back and sometimes people would say "that's weird" or "ugly", "not in style"....but I'd wear them anyway.

In my early 20's, I began noticing that I'd get compliments on a lot of pieces I'd buy. "But it was $3", I'd think. I couldn't shop at malls because everything looked the same to me, so it was always thrift stores...looking for cotton pieces and sometimes altering them myself, or taking them to friends to fix. I  met a local woman who designed clothing, Kerri Mercer, and I would bring her fabrics, tell her the design I had in mind, and she would piece it together for me. I loved creating outfits. They were always colourful, heavily patterned and a bit funky.

It began to become a way for me to express the cultural identity that I was still coming to terms with, being a bit of a mixed bag ethnically. So I could pick up African and Indian textiles and mix them up to make something no one had seen before. I really honed in on what it was that I liked to wear...and it was pretty eclectic.

So when I got my first Juno Nomination, I was offered by a few big stores to borrow or have a dress...some of them were designers. I tried on a lot of dresses. Some were $700. It felt like I was getting married...but everything was too shiny. It was too 'fancy', too common even. I wanted something more...'me'.

As luck would have it, I somehow ran into African-Canadian designer ZNA.K and our connection has been a truly serendipitous one. The second I saw the clothing she makes, I knew we would get along smashingly.

She has since produced several red carpet looks for me; based on her own style and also her interpretation of mine.

The red carpet dress she made for me this year was an olive green/cream & maroon coloured short, poofy, long-sleeved, whimsical Africa-meets-Oktoberfest number. Yes...I know the description is a bit funny, but so is the dress, which is why I like it. The clothing is all beautiful, but carries a lightness...a playfulness...almost a sense of humour...of fun.

So when I went to ZNA's house a week before the award ceremony and she showed it to me, I thought "holy moly...I ^%&$ing love it" and then I thought "holy moly...certain people are going to &%*^ing hate it".

 

Such is the case with anything strange or unique. But I was excited. I remember the odd looks it received from the few people who saw it before I actually wore it. Apprehension...doubt...

But like with many things in my life (and perhaps the only reason I've made it as far as I have), I don't really give a fuck what people think or say to me anymore. This is the result of many years of being bullied, being in an industry full of people with 'opinions', and generally being a woman. I actually wrote a song a few years ago called "I don't give a fuck". It's an upbeat sing-along diddy. Maybe it'll be on the next album!

So the big day came...the Juno broadcast...time for the big red carpet. I woke up very tired from having done a lot the night before, so we had breakfast, and then I took a nap. I slept on the make-shift bun I'd put my hair into when I woke up earlier.

When my girlfriend and band-mates arrived, we put on our dresses and I looked in the mirror. I liked my messy, slept-in hair, and any fantasy of curling or styling it was thrown away. So the same hair you see in the photos is truly what I woke up in.

I felt so beautiful and awesome and confidant and happy. I think the moral of this blog is that, while I give enormous credit to ZNA.K for designing what I think was the most interesting outfit on the red carpet, the reason that the photos turned out is because I felt very comfortable. I felt happy and comfortable and confidant.

There is no 'trending style' that will make you feel that way; we should all be allowed to wear what we feel happy in. Whether it's jeans and a t-shirt, a sari, a suit, a ball gown, or a cotton poofy dress.

The only pulse I keep my finger on, when it comes to fashion, is my own.

Sincerely,

Alysha A.K.A "Best Dressed Brilla"

 

 

Having fun on the red carpet.

- The Examiner article can be read HERE




More fun comments can be read HERE

 

 

Fitting the dress a week before, with designer ZNA.K 

 

 

 

 

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What's your background!?

By Alysha Brilla

Photo by Dwayne Larson

 

Where do I begin?

I wish I could begin at the very beginning, but if I could, I’d probably win the Nobel Peace Prize for solving humanity’s age-old question; “Where do we come from?”.

I can trace the umbilical chord back as far as a few generations on either side of my bloodline. The small answers I’m given equate big affirmations and I’m made to feel a sense of connectedness with the more about my history that I know.

People often ask me “What’s your background?”. Growing up, I knew that ‘culturally’ speaking, generally, my dad was Indian and my mom was ‘white’. So…I’d say “I’m half white, half Indian”. 

It wasn’t until I was 6 or 7 that I realized my father was actually born in Africa. “Oh” I thought “That’s interesting…hmmm…looks like there are many Indians in Africa. I wonder how that happened.”

I can only speculate based on the general history of Indians in Africa, but what I do know is that sometime in the 1800’s, a ship was commissioned by the British to take a large number of Indians from Gujurat (where my Indian ancestry resides) to Tanganyika/Zanzibar (Now Tanzania). Truthfully, most indentured labourers had almost no records kept of their existence (my dads last name was even changed); they became a number to the system and to themselves. Why keep record of such an unglorified existence? They were just…alive. Surviving. The social hierarchy at the time, for all intensive purposes, placed whites at the top, browns in the middle and blacks at the bottom. My dad still tells me about "white only" clubs that existed when he was growing up, many years later.

Chances are they began working on the railroad, or performing other manual labour and began their life in Tanzania. Some returned to India upon completion of their ‘contracts’, while most stayed.

My dad looks pretty Indian. I mean…almost entirely. Except…he has very curly hair. When he was younger, too, it was even tighter and curlier. My mom used to postulate with me when I was younger that he probably had some ‘black blood’ in him. I had no idea. How was I supposed to know? My dad didn’t know much about his history. How was I supposed to?

My sister recently took one of those “ancestry DNA tests” via Fed-Exing her saliva to some Jetsons lab, which through a process of DNA extraction and then isolation/comparison to other samples they have, determines approximately the percentage of ethno-geographical ancestry in different parts of the world.

Given that my sisters and I share DNA (same parents), I can assume that my ancestry is pretty close to theirs. Although technically, there can be slight differences, generally, my genetic lineage is as follows:

83% European/East Indian
13% Sub-Saharan Africa
4% Indigenous American
0% East Asian


I’m almost certain that the indigenous American blood would be from my maternal grandfather, who was adopted and whose biological parents we aren’t yet certain about. He has very dark, black hair and pretty high cheekbones. Perhaps his parent or grandparent was aboriginal Canadian.


The Sub-Saharan African really…affirms something I’ve wondered about and felt for a long time. I felt as though I had a great-great-grandparent who was black African; who one of my Indian ancestors must have married when they came to Africa. So now I wonder…who were they? I’ve spent a bit of time Sherlock-ing my way around my Indian relatives; probing and asking about their African upbringing and ancestors. I do know that my maternal great grandmother only liked to speak Swahili (Tanzania’s main language) and that her best friend was a black African woman. (Which may sound redundant, but for the sake of context, I'll use.)

I could write a book. A book on just how moved I am by human lineage and the notion of ancestry. Since the age of 3, I remember having ‘conversations’ with spirits and have always felt like I’ve been guided by my foremothers and fathers. Their presence, if only a memory from past lives, permeates my thoughts and sentiments daily.

With that, going to Tanzania feels like completing some kind of spiritual circuitry.

I don’t know what to expect; besides amazing music, people and an experience of a lifetime…I mean…I don’t know how much information I will get on that great-great-grandparent. People were pretty hush-hush about intermarriage back then. I hope I will receive some more clues, though.

My first few days will be spent with SASCO/CWEF; an organization that helps educate (mostly) orphaned children in various parts of Tanzania. CWEF sponsors their education from primary all through university. It’s an amazing cause. We held a fundraiser for CWEF in Kitchener in November. I’ll try to document as much as I can the program and the music that will likely happen between myself, the children and the founder (who has a band!).

On the 7th, I’ll be meeting up with Bryan Adkins of Socially responsible Safaris, who will be co-guiding a group with me through the Serengeti and ultimately to Zanzibar for Sauti Za Busara (East Africa’s largest Jazz music festival). It’s going to be incredible, I know it.

My last week in Tanzania will be spent in Dar Es Salaam with my father, visiting the sites of his childhood. Discovering what it was like to grow up there and learning more about the Indian-Tanzania culture which runs through my blood.

I have so many questions…I’m sure I will spend a lifetime finding answers to them and then developing more.

In just a few days I will be leaving London, headed to the land it is thought that all humans originate from. A land I’ve heard my mom and dad tell stories about and has produced some of my favourite music.

I’m going to Tanzania!



My paternal great-grandmother



My individually beautiful parents in Tanzania.

 

 

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How a half-Desi girl fell in love with India.

By Alysha Brilla



Sometimes you meet a person; you've never met them before, but have an instant familiarity with them. You share some sort of history, but you can’t quite credit the connection to this lifetime. Movies, novels and articles have tried to explain the unexplainable feeling of 'love at first sight'; the sudden gathering of your past, present and future, held within the spirit of another human being. Sometimes...it's contained in a place.

When I stepped off of the plane in India, I immediately felt a sense of remembering. Even though I was in Delhi, one of the most populated cities on our planet, it was as if a missing wire had been re-attached. I was suddenly returned to a place I had never been.

It was 3 am and I was supposed to meet a cab driver to take me 7 hours North, to an ancient city nestled at the foothill of the Himalayan mountains.

I exited the airport sliding doors and there were about 500 people; some with signs, waiting to pick up their friends/family at the airport...500 people. At 3.am.

"Pagal". I thought. “India is as populated as they say”, but more importantly…"How am I going to find Mr. Taal?"

As I walked out with my bags, I could feel people staring at me. I knew what they were thinking; probably the same thing Indians anywhere think when they see me.

"Why does she look...sort of...kind of......like maybe half…in the eyes…from that angle…not entirely…but certainly some part...Desi!?" (Desi means a person of Indian descent who lives abroad.)

Another source of the optical attention was the travel guitar slung on my back. Always a point of conversation, the children in the crowd (again, at 3.am), would point at it and whisper to one another.

After being solicited for taxi services from several people, I finally found Mr.Taal and got into the car.

As we drove out of the airport, I began to notice a new world around me. Delhi at night; a city that doesn’t sleep. There were many food stands open, with people gathered and drinking chai. There were also many people sleeping on the sidewalks. Driving along the road and out of the city as the sun rose, I began to see palm trees. Coming from Canada in the winter, the palm trees were a sign of thermal hope.

Mr Taal was very friendly and with his limited English and my Hindi vocabulary I could count on my fingers, we somehow managed to communicate pretty well during the seven hours it took to drive to Rishikesh. I knew we were getting close as the mountains began to emerge from the land. I saw the Ganga river, temples and statues of Krishna.

 



I was in Rishikesh; one of India’s most holy cities. The energy I felt was massive. You know when you meet one person who you can tell is quite meditative; who emits a positive energy and you can viscerally feel it? Well…imagine for a second an entire city, populated by people devoting themselves daily to good karma and positivity. The energy I felt was incredibly peaceful. Driving up into Rishi, through the jungle, I kept my sites locked in between the thick bush, hoping to spot an elephant. My heart was tingling.

We arrived at the ashram I was going to be doing a yoga teacher training at. The endearingly simple three story building was concrete and tile; optimal for the summer, but evidently quite cold with no heating system during Northern India’s winter. (Something I later learned and responded to by sleeping every night in a full track suit, double socked, with 4 blankets and a touque.) Here is where I’d be staying and spending the next month and a half studying the ancient Indian lifestyle of yoga.

Now some people might look at me and think “but...you’re a musician; you have a song called ‘Two Shots’ and you wear makeup and high heels on stage. Why are you studying yoga?”

According to yoga philosophy, we all practice it when we are children. Children naturally play around with their bodies; do cartwheels, backbends, sit funny, laugh, ask questions about life, think about a creator etc. My intentional connection to yoga came about when I was 19.

I was living above a noisy bar in Toronto, working at a grocery store and feeling, well, depressed. I walked down Queen Street one day and happened upon a “yoga studio”. I knew what it was…I thought. Some trendy fitness method appropriated by the West. As I entered, I was greeted by a very friendly Swedish woman to whom I admitted I’d never tried “yoga”. She proceeded to generously spend the next hour with me; giving me a tour of the studio, telling me her story and most importantly, offering me a free first class. “Sold!” said my at-the-time-broke-ass. I was excited and nervous. Nervous and excited. We arranged that I would take the class the following day. I went to bed that night wondering what I had gotten myself into. The next morning, I put on some comfortable clothing and walked to the studio. I was shown the practice space. It had exposed brick walls, high ceilings, big windows and…a beautiful, calm energy. I sat on my mat, looking around at the other people. Some people looked so…secure. Some looked insecure, like me. All I really remember of the actual class is that I looked around a lot and didn’t know the names of the poses, I was behind on the cuing and felt occasionally very frustrated. That said, at the end, when we entered Savasana and were guided through a brief meditation, I felt a sense of calm and…happiness that I hadn’t felt in a while. I was grateful.

I still had no money (and yoga classes in Canada are generally very expensive), so I bought myself a DVD of a yoga class by Vancouver yogi Eon Finn. I proceeded to do the DVD every morning and before I knew it, yoga was ‘my thing’. It balanced me. It made me feel connected. It made me feel whole. From thereon, yoga and meditation was a place I could go to escape the stressors of trying to ‘make it’ in the music industry; the constant ups and downs. I finally had something that brought me to equilibrium. I knew how effective it was for me, how it could be done in any space, at any time, and I wanted to share that feeling with the world.

Flash forward seven years and I am in Rishikesh getting my teacher training.

 

 

I entered the ashram and was shown my room. After hanging up photos of my family and personalizing my room with some rainbow scarves here and there, I decided to adventure into the town. I didn’t know where I was going, but I have a good sense of direction, so I knew I’d be ok getting back. Passing shops, food stalls and cows, about 5 minutes into my peruse, I was solicited by a Sadhu. “What is a Sadhu?”,you ask. A person who dresses in an orange cloth, renounces all material attachment, wanders around India, is fed and accommodated at temples and spends most of their day meditating and drinking chai with other Sadhus and the langur monkeys.

“Hello!”, he said. “Hello!” I replied.

“Come, drink chai?” he asked. Lots of things ran through my head, fast. Like…is this safe? Is the street Chai going to make me sick? What does he really want?

But I am Alysha Brilla. Ask my family. I am adventurous…sometimes to a fault.

So the Sadhu bought me Chai and we sat, drinking it. A doobie (marijuana ciggy) was being passed along the Sadhu and Langur monkey-lined bench. I gratefully declined. I was already tripping out (in a good way).

We talked about where I was from and I asked him questions about himself as well. We then took a walk through the market. We spent two hours walking and talking about life. He showed me the Ganga. He expressed his happiness and love for the universe. His name, he said, was “Krishna”.


 

Six days of a week were spent doing 4 hours of asana, learning yogic philosophy, physical anatomy and studying the techniques and benefits of yoga. We ate Sattvic food; free of ginger/garlic and not too spicy- a style of food that is said to be balancing to all three doshas (physical dispositions according to Ayurvedic science). That didn’t stop me, though, from trying out some restaurants in town. The food was amazing and my favourite thing about India are the Tali’s; a meal consisting of several small metal bowls filled with various curries, spiced vegetables, rice, salad, chutneys and raita.




Rishikesh is a vegetarian city. Cows are sacred and they roam freely, having respects paid to them by being touched and prayed to by the occasional Hindu. While I’m not Hindu, I’ve always loved/had an affinity for cows, so I was in heaven. (When I say I have always ‘loved’ cows, I mean that I collected well over 50 cow ‘stuffed animals’ and paraphenelia as an adolescent and every time we passed a cow in Canada I would get so excited and sometimes start crying. I was strange in Canada, but in Rishikesh (and other parts of India), expressing love for cows is a sacred act.



 

Another interesting resident of Rishikesh are the monkeys. There are two types; the terrifying, shit-disturbing, ADHD brown monkeys who will steal your things, hiss at you, jump on your head (yeah, I saw it happen) and spend all day causing trouble. Watch out for these guys. They stole my cookies on numerous occasions.

The second type of monkey you’ll see in Rishikesh is the Langur monkey. These are highly evolved, beautiful and peaceful creatures. They meditate. Literally. They sit with the Sadhu’s and share food. From simply observing the two types of monkeys, it dawned on me that similarly, humans come in a wide range of psychological/emotional/spiritual evolutions.





Clothes in Rishikesh are hand-washed. So, that’s what I did. It made me wear the same things more frequently and really appreciate a clean piece of clothing. It was nice to hang the clothes to dry in the sun, to look out at the cascading rooftops and see the colourful fabrics blowing in the valley’s breeze.

The Ganga is a beautiful river which runs through and feeds the bodies, hearts and souls of the Indian people. Its mouth is just a few hours North of Rishikesh and its waters flow from an ancient iceberg. It is a holy river; thought to represent a feminine, goddess energy. Some Hindus will bathe in it to purify themselves. The ashes of their loved ones are released into it. Within it is held the spirit of India and its water is used in many ceremonies and rituals. One of those being Pooja. Along its sandy shores in Rishikesh, children will sell cups containing flowers, incense and a flame for one to perform Pooja. For ten rupees, one can make an offering to the river, and in turn, to the overall creator of their life. It’s a sign of respect and gratitude. I performed Pooja several times on the Ganga. It’s a beautiful, personal and cathartic ritual, letting go of attachment and truly acknowledging ones good fortune to have a beating heart.




When I was packing for India and leaving freezing-cold Canada, I debated whether or not to bring my ‘hardcore’ Canadian winter boots. I knew it would be cooler in the North of India, but I also knew that the boots might look ridiculous. I brought them, thankfully. While I did receive curious and admiring stares from the town residents, they served to keep my feet warm and aided the mountain climbing my group did one afternoon. We climbed up to see an Ashram being built. It had an incredible view and I was literally and emotionally on top of the world.


 

If you’ve ever dated me, you’ll know that while I am afraid of very few things, the Kitchen is one of them. You’ve probably cooked for me…daily. You’ve even probably said to me “Look, Alysha…cooking is easy; you just have to know the basic principals” while my eyes glazed over and I ran to my guitar and started playing it.

Well…I’ve broken the 26 year spell of entering the Kitchen only to bake chocolate chip cookies (which, I’m pretty awesome at. We’re all good at ONE thing, right?). Admittedly, Indian food is my favourite. I can likely credit that to growing up eating curry and also being half Indian. Not to mention, it’s delicious. I like spicy food, also. So while in Rishikesh, with cooking lessons advertised frequently outside of shops, I decided to give it a go. I ended up in one family’s flat; learning how to make Aloo Mutter (Potato and Pea curry), Shahi Paneer (Cashew cream curry with paneer), Butter-Paneer (think butter-chicken, but vegetarian), chapatti, roti, naan and aloo parantha. Yes, you may salivate and yes, the reaction elicited by a Kitchen is now…excitement.



The Beatles. You know them. You may love them. They meditated and wrote their “White Album” in Rishikesh, at a beautiful Ashram that is now closed, but accessible with ahem bribes. So…to the Ashram I went. I’m a musician. A sensitive one. As I entered the premises, I started crying. I was very emotional. The thing that gets me is my deep belief in spirit/energy. Its cultivation and lifespan is infinite. So though the Beatles were there over 50 years ago, I could feel the energy of the space strongly. I imagined, as I walked through its pastel-painted cottages, an evening with the fire lit when Lennon and McCartney were jamming and came up with “Blackbird”. I reflected on the times I’ve been songwriting and how I personally feel that at a moment of inception, I’m not the one writing the song. It’s a combination of atomic memory from every experience I’ve had in my life, as well as (I think), divine intervention. Because for me, songwriting feels like I’m jamming with spirit.

There was beautiful artwork and graffiti lining the walls of the main building; done by the thousands of people who had come to see the Ashram after it closed. The group I was with and I painted a little mountain and put our names around it followed by the Beatles quote “All you need is love”.



Studying yogic philosophy is interesting and all the while, familiar. The principal ideas are now being affirmed scientifically. The breathe, for instance, is a consistent metric of the physiological state of a human. Yoga includes breathing practices to manipulate the breathe and in turn, positively affect the mental and physical state.

On a more esoteric level, I’ve always believed in reincarnation, and that’s a huge theme in Hinduism and for most Indian yogi’s. Being immersed in a dialogue about the wonders of the universe was so affirming and enriching for me. I felt like I was finally having substantial conversations with other human beings…I believe that we all ask ourselves the same things. “What am I doing here?” “What are humans doing here?” “What can we do to improve our being on this planet for ourselves and the planet?”

I’ve wondered these things throughout my life, even and especially as an adolescent. Had I had yoga then, I think I would have coped much better with the circumstantial tali I had in front of me. That said, I believe all the pain I’ve experienced in my life has helped me grow, become more compassionate, and lead me to this beautiful point I am at right now. One of my teachers said “None of us are perfect. If you were perfect, you’d be dead, because god would say ‘ok, they’re done!’. We are on this earth to learn.”

I really believe that, from the deepest part of my heart. India has affirmed for and taught me so many things; amongst them the most important being that no matter what happens, to have faith that things will improve, because the belief in possibilities is what actually makes them happen. First we must believe, then we can act upon that. Believe it fully. Wholeheartedly. With every ounce of precious imagination you have.

Now I’m equipped with yoga teacher certification, it’s the beginning of my opportunity to share yoga with all of the people I love, and with people I don’t yet know I love. I, of course, will continue to study holistic healing modalities throughout my life. It’s in my nature.

This is a reflection of my first trip to India; a land full of beautiful colours, people and beliefs. India; a good half of my genetic lineage and a country that has impressed itself into me forever.

Namaste!

 

 

Questions from you about my trip!

Angela Schreiner: What eastern wisdom would you most hope you can share with your western friends?

Angela! Eastern wisdom is so rich and so ancient. I think that’s why it holds so much power. One of the largest themes overlying yogic philosophy is the theme of karma. Karma in the sense that for every action there is a reaction. One thought leads to another, and when we can learn to control our thoughts, we can learn to control our actions. Karma in the sense that the way we treat others comes back to us, not only through them doing good deeds for us in return, but that positivity is put into the world and we all share the world.

Jared Kenshin Cumberlander: I can imagine it must have been an overall enlightening experience that you had/are having. I do have a question: In what ways would you say your time in India changed you as a person and maybe even as an artist? Was there a specific moment when you felt that change or was it reflecting on the totality of your odyssey in India that you've noticed an evolution within yourself?


Jared, my time in India has certainly changed me both as an artist and person. As an artist, I’ve been opened more to classical Indian music; which is so interesting to me. I actually took a couple of music lessons while there, and realized how much improvisation there is. It’s actually pretty…jazzy. I was writing songs almost every day. This is after having not written for 5 months. So; it was very inspiring for me. Though I wasn’t necessarily writing about what I was seeing around me, the experience was stirring enough to bring emotions and questions to the surface. To bring me…lyrics…things I wanted to say.

There was a specific moment when I felt a change. I think it was 4 weeks in…I noticed how different my thoughts had become. I was thinking much more about life, the universe, love…things on a broader scale than I had previously. Before I’d go to bed, instead of thinking about things I needed to do, I’d be composing songs in my head and imagining recording and performing them. I felt like I was where I was supposed to be and how I knew was that songs were coming to me. I felt open. Also, I began to felt and still feel very loving and fearless. I have nothing to lose, so I can say anything. I can sing about what’s really going on in this heart and head. That, to me, is the best feeling.

 

Garrett Phillips: It must be bizarre to basically look like everyone else around you for a change!

Garrett! Yes, it is quite awesome! Actually…most people here think I am of Indian descent, but that I was born outside of India (likely because of the way I dress and gesture). It is so cool, though, to feel a strong sense of being welcomed. Some speak Hindi to me right off the bat, some don’t. The looks are really funny, though, from a lot of people. Curious, curious looks. It's interesting, also, trying to explain to people there that my dad and his parents were born in Tanzania, but he is Gujurati. Some know about the British colonization affecting Indian migration and some don't.

 

Kathryn Brillinger: What are your cultural surprises and delights?

My cultural surprises are…how quickly Hindi is spoken! It’s a fast language. I was surprised by how much food people like to offer you. People are very hospitable in their homes. I have been delighted by the adorable children…and of course, the vegetarianism. It is so cool.


Ali Baba: Did you hire a guide for your trip?

Hi Ali, no I didn’t. I was at a school, so pretty stationary the whole time, but I’d recommend it if you were going to a bigger city like Delhi!

Marianne Peters: Did you visit any Ashrams?

Hello Marianne. J….I visited “Devi’s Music Ashram”, which is an amazing space that conducts music lessons, yoga, cooking, group meditations…it’s incredible. If you get the chance to go to Rishikesh, visit it!

Ralph Spoltore: I need to hear about the food. Any great creative meals you can tell us about?

The food is incredible, Ralph. My favourite are the tali…and aloo parantha, which is a flatbread with spiced potato inside. Here is a good recipe:

http://www.vegrecipesofindia.com/aloo-paratha-indian-bread-stuffed-with-potato-filling/

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