By Ronald L. Barrett, Jonathan P. Parry
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Extra resources for Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death, and Healing in Northern India
In the interim, I participated in the daily lives of the Aghori and worked on improving my language skills. I also used this time to learn more about the lives of leprosy patients in several colonies and treatment centers in Banaras. During this clinic-based research, I relied on another kind of participant observation: one that built upon my previous experiences as a registered nurse generally and as a volunteer at a Banarsi street clinic more specifically. In contrast to the simultaneous actions and observations of active participation, I drew upon previous experiences in domains that partially intersected with those I was observing.
Speaking about medical efficacy, Indians who use multiple systems often discuss the quality of their healers more than the methods (Nichter and Nordstrom 1989; Kakar 1982; Beals 1976). I argue that this emphasis reflects the fact that the practice of medicine in India is strongly informed by a cultural model of food exchange, in which foodstuffs, especially foods that have been cooked or highly prepared in some way, carry the qualities, both polluting and purifying, of the people who serve them (see Marriott 1976).
Upon his departure, those initial relationships changed to some degree, reminding me that access is not the same as rapport. The latter took more time and effort. My attributed status as a member of the Sonoma Ashram evoked ambivalent feelings about the West that were common among many Indians. Although the Aghori describe their tradition as universal and nondiscriminatory—so much so that even Americans can become full-fledged disciples—many were distrustful of Americans because of our reputation for decadent living and our fickleness in relationships, qualities they considered incompatible with spiritual commitment.