Now that we are home from India and settled, I have more stories and pictures to share with you all. And I’d better get writing before the rains stop. Spring and the gardens will lure me away from writing.
Many folks think we are out of our minds for returning to India again and again. But India isn’t about the mind, she tugs at my heart strings from 6000 miles away.
We live in such a violent culture, and we project that onto other places in the world which are more peaceful than our own. I am always amazed at the amount of fear that people have about travel. Fear from our news media projects so much negativity, and we believe it. Of course, I’m not saying that one doesn’t need to have razor sharp discrimination when traveling but that’s true everywhere all the time.
Not once, in any of our trips to India, was I ever in danger, not even when crammed into an antique Toyota van with seven women and two thin fleshed drivers careening around one lane roads in the Himalayas. I’ll never forget the door flying open every few miles. Without hardly noticing, the driver just pulled it closed again. Now that’s was a lesson in non-attachment.
The greatest difficulty I experienced was that I often couldn’t remember who I was in my life when I was not in India. I was pleasantly disconnected from everything back home that I take for granted. There’s a certain freedom in travel that allows one to be more in the moment.
In one of the last posts I mentioned my favorite Kolkata driver, Prodeep. I’ve known him since 2007 and watched him grow from a gangly young man into a father and a husband. One day he came to the Yogoda Satsanga Society ashram. It’s located in Dakshineswar which used to be a village near Kolkata and is now what we might call a suburb. This is where one of our main ashrams are for the Yogoda Satsanga Society, the Indian division of Self Realization Fellowship. Our plan for the day was to drive to a computer shop and Mother Theresa’s house. I also wanted to visit the New Market. It’s underground in the center of Kolkata with rows of stalls of Indian art, silks, and crafts. After all, Christmas was coming and why not buy treasures from India?
David chose to stay in the car, but I convinced Prodeep to accompany me. In India, men and women don’t touch each other in public, but he was kind enough to let me hold his hand as we weaved our way through streets and crowds. And, I needed him to fight off the hawkers and touts at this market that are over-the-top aggressive especially when you’re a Western woman with shopping on her mind. A tout is a young man who gets a little kick back if he directs you to a particular stall or hotel or restaurant.
I am proud of David, my 75 year old travel companion. At home he misplaces at least three things a week. But travel has made him much more mindful and better organized (and me too). For the most part, I no longer get upset when his hat, his gloves, his billfold seem to disappear for a few hours or days. We both love living out of a suitcase. Life is much simpler with fewer possessions to weigh you down.
About 3 PM, Prodeep and I returned from the market. David was panicking. He didn’t have his ATM card which he used that morning. Prodeep, his milk chocolate eyes filled with compassion, was totally present with him, listening and thinking through where we had stopped during the day. “Let’s pull the seats out of the car,” he suggested, “maybe it fell from your pocket.”
We drove back to the ATM counter in Dakshineswar, where we had stopped that morning. David was upset with himself. Sitting beside him was like being with a crazed cat in heat. Once we arrived, the two men emptied the waste basket and searched the entire ATM enclosure. I was still feeling a little disappointed in how the day was turning out. Fighting back the urge to be annoyed and impatient, I kept myself in the background allowing the two men to work this through.
A young man came into the ATM center and asked if he could help, “Why don’t you go next door and talk to the statue maker?”
It was only a few steps so we walked over. By this time it was early evening and the whole family was in their home/studio which was open to the street. Several teens and grown people hanging out. The wife was rolling out chapattis, and a seemingly disabled daughter sat by a window. David explained the situation and Prodeep translated what they didn’t understand. One son said, “Sit down, my father’s in the shower, but I think he might have something.”
A still dripping man came out of a back room in a dhoti that barely covered his big belly and asked, “What was it you lost?”
“My ATM card,” David answered somewhat sheepishly.
With typical Indian officialness, the old man asked, “What was the name on it?”
“What color was it?”
“Blue.” Then, like a magic trick, he pulled out the card and handed it over. David overflowed with effusive gratitude. The whole family was laughing and breathing a sigh of relief.
“Please, can I pay you something or give you something?” David pleaded, but the old man was a little taken aback by this. Watching the body language from my edge of the room, Prodeep shook his head at David to let him know it was not appropriate or necessary.
“But you could buy one of our statues,” the old man said. The family gathered around to help Prodeep and David choose several four-inch sandstone statues, then paid for them as everyone waved goodbye.
Another day of adventure and surprises. Time and time again we found the people of India, of course not all, full of integrity, willing to help, and always ready with a light hearted laugh at life.