Archives for the month of: January, 2011

Today is Saturday. There are LOTS of people here on the weekends. Like, a couple hundred thousand. Humans are everywhere. Streams, rivers, floods of people, pouring onto the streets, washing over the fields. They are seekers: they are looking for what lies beneath the surface of everyday life; for something more than the busy scramble of work and family, of survival and self. They come here to listen to what a teacher has to say about it all.

I see yogis dressed in orange, ash on their foreheads and long dirty grey hair. I see Rajastani ladies in bright turquoise, gold, fuschia, emerald. I see three men balanced on one bicycle, bell pinging – a pleasant warning to jump out of the way. Babies with khol smeared under pretty brown eyes. Sikh gentlemen with straight backs and waxed moustaches, riding ancient motorcycles. Tiny old women, shawls flapping, bowl-legged and bowed over walking canes, sharp elbows out for protection – I’ve had a fair few of those elbows prod my kidneys. Gaggles of young men hold hands – it is customary for men to hold hands here. It’s innocent and sweet and adorable. Groups of young ladies, headscarves forgotten and flipped over a shoulder, duck and giggle as I return their smiles. I want to hold their hands. A man with a HUGE turban (stop-sign-size, I kid you not), curled-toe shoes and a dagger on his hilt, chin up and shoulders back, standing to attention as the crowds flow around him. What is he waiting for? Why is he so still?

I see families with cracked bare feet. I see tired girls tending to younger siblings, mothers in-the-making. I see beautiful men with creamy-coffee complexion, black beards and flashing brown eyes. I see small bundles of belongings balanced on heads, thin sleeping mats tucked under arms. I see anklets and bracelets and earrings and nose rings. I see open and curious faces. Children shyly approach to shake my hand, to touch my pale skin. We point and laugh together at the parrots in the trees as they squawk and preen. I feel like I’m in a National Geographic article.

Over in the langar, the big free kitchen, food is served to all. It’s the great equalizer – a way to break the caste system by feeding people from all walks of life, regardless of class. Brahmins and Untouchables sit together on the floor, elbow-to-elbow and knee-to-knee. The air is thick with smoke from the kitchens, their fires making almost a million chapatis each meal, serving row upon row of people. Row upon row of tandoori ovens, enormous bubbling cauldrons of dal, and vats of chai. Fuel for the fires is piled high next to the ovens – dry reeds and rushes gathered from the sandy banks of the local river.

We foreigners are allowed to walk through the langar, to watch and marvel as food is prepared for the masses. The chapati ladies sing as they work, squatting next to blazing ovens as they make their million, call and response rounds of their song rolling and repeating between the kitchens. We are each given a chapati as we leave, warm from the fires and smelling of fresh ghee and coriander. I hold mine and feel the love with which it was made and given.

Could I eat this? I am so very undeserving of this chapati. What the hell have I done to help the human condition lately? A big fat self-indulgent nothing. I am so humbled, so overwhelmed, so unworthy, so lucky. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. I am suddenly happy to be here – somewhere peaceful and clean despite the numbers, to try and come to terms with what lies beneath MY life’s surface. As is everyone else. We’re all trying to find a clear line from Point A to Point B. Maybe this trying is a good start. Maybe this chapati can give me strength along the way! Things are beginning to feel rather mystical. I am in India, after all.

So I did eat it, grateful tears smearing my vision, as I walked my soft white butt back to my comfortable room with a bed and a heater and light and running water – as I walked past families rolling out their thin sleeping mats – past people who don’t even have a mat to call their own, lying on the ground under the trees and jeering parrots.

…the chapati was absolutely delicious.

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I have a few favorite characters here already, in the foreigners guest house…

Frank. I call him, in my head, Frank the Cosmic Bear. He LOOKS like a bear. A big head on a short thick neck and rolled shoulders. Veritable paws for hands. Small, deep set eyes under a heavy brow and above a big soft nose. He always wears brown. “You making the sun come up?” he asked me the first morning, as I stood with my disgusting cup of NescafĂ© looking out the window. “I’m waiting for it,” I replied. And I was. I was waiting for the sun to leave California and come to see me, here on the other side of the planet. He nodded. “You’re keeping your world in order. That’s good. You seem familiar.” Frank then shuffled off.

Rev. Smith. Kind of crazy guy that looks and acts like the doomed pastor in Deadwood. He has a slow Texas drawl. At the meetings he gnashes his teeth and wrings clawed hands. I then see him later, still as stone, meditating under a tree.

Minerva. Lady that always wears floor length skirts so I never see her feet. She glides, she sweeps! She also wears a tall velvet hat over a complicated and ever-changing up-do, usually incorporating a black velvet bow. She looks like she should teach at Hogwarts. I’m waiting for her to pull out a wand one of these days.

Barbara from Louisiana. She’s 80 years old, just re-married for the third time, has an accent as thick as molasses and came to India by herself. She looks and sounds like she should be slinging Bibles, but she’s here. At an ashram. In the dirty back waters of India. She has just been diagnosed with advanced osteoporosis and will be going home to a back brace, a walker, and all manner of structures to keep her brittle bones upright – but for now she is slowly, determinedly walking with a cane, and loving every minute.

SHAAA. He calls himself SHAAA. Yep, with A-A-A, capital letters. His name is actually John. He also uses his adopted name as an exclamation, usually followed by, “ROCKIN!” I stood in line behind him to buy postage stamps and his sentences were constantly interrupted by “SHAAA, ROCKIN!” Long white hair and a squishy face, always wears purple. “Most spiritual color, sister, SHAAA!” Tries to give his music CDs to everyone. “Getcha higher than LSD or (SHAAA ROCKIN!) mushrooms…” He is AMAZING.

Droops. Tiny, glum, round lady that looks EXACTLY like Droopy Dawg. Poor thing fell on her first day here, and consequently has a swollen, purple right eye – making the similarities between her and Droopy irrefutable. Her sad little face, chin just clearing her plate of dal at lunchtimes kills me. She’s… so… HAPPY.

Ralph. Like Chief Bromden from one Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A slow face full of gentle confusion and wonder. I kind of want to hold his hand. That’s all. Just stand next to him and hold his hand for a minute.

The Gentle German Lady (or, affectionately in my head, Gentle Germie). Speaks not a word of English. Dark hair in a bowl-cut and huge blue eyes behind thick glasses. Always in a long, lumpy maroon sweater and army pants. I saw her slowly walking around the garden at twilight, stopping and placing a hand to each tree trunk in greeting. Whenever we pass she talks to me softly in German and nods her head.

…those are just a few.