The time has come to assimilate all that we have learned, to put the pieces of knowledge and experience together in some logical form that can travel across the miles and slowly seep in at home. I have difficulty with transition, and travel is one big transition bursting with emotion, where the past and future meet the present tender moment. I’m convinced that’s why I often cry at airports. I’ve noticed that when I visit Sara for a weekend in Philadelphia, I leave home full of anticipation and joy, I have a three whole days with her, and in the blink of an eye I’m back on the plane heading home, caught in some crazy time warp that didn’t feel like 48 hours. How can that be? I’m always reminded of the end of a favorite Grateful Dead song: Such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there. As I create a jigsaw puzzle in my suitcase to fit all my new possessions in my old bag, I find there isn’t enough room for my emotions, so I’ll just leave all them behind and tell you a few stories that didn’t fit in elsewhere. The first is about the holy Ganga.
The Ganges River, known here as Ganga, is an important waterway that begins in the north of India and ends in Bangladesh when it flows into the Bay of Bengal. The Ganga is the world’s third largest river if measured by discharge at 38,129 cubic meters per second! The river is considered sacred to Hindus and is represented by the goddess, Ganga, depicted as a female seated on a lotus flower floating in a fish-shaped boat. Many people travel to Ganga to bath and drink the sacred waters that are believed to purify and promote liberation from samsara, the endless cycle of birth and death. Our friends from Santiago visited one of these holy sites and shared with us amazing stories, pictures, and video. They travelled to Varanasi, a city in North India considered the holiest of the seven sacred cities. As one of them described it, there was a large building where bodies were delivered and placed in white cotton bags then each body would be submerged in the Ganga, retrieved, and presumably cremated. In the video she showed me, there were people swimming and bathing next to the building where the bodies were being washed. I saw one man cup his hands and drink the water. I don’t know what is done with the ashes. Some people believe that death at Varanasi brings salvation.
Speaking of water, the monsoons have almost ended so I had forgotten where I put my cheap umbrella when we heard a loud clap of thunder yesterday. We were just leaving for Pune Central, a western-style mall nearby. While there it began pouring rain, I was waiting with my back to the door and thinking, I don’t remember a fountain outside, how cool, I’ll have to check that out. It wasn’t a fountain, it was the most rain I’ve ever seen, and it was coming down in buckets that continued for 40 minutes. Several employees with large squeegees pushed the collecting water repeatedly out the door. When it finally let up, we ventured out onto the roads that were flooded, so we snaked along the dark sidewalks in by the light of the traffic. We finally came to an impassable intersection, and there I stood like a child, my brain on hold unable to calculate a reasonable route across. Finally, a young boy walked by, paused and waded out and through to the other side. Forgetting my fear of stumbling, and the price of my Wolke sandals, I gently submerged a foot. The silent voice of my ever present doctor floated by, Just don’t go in any water while you’re there. “Duh”, I had thought, of course I won’t go in any water”.
I have learned in the month I’ve been here that there actually is a method to the madness of the road. Yesterday, I saw my first accident, between a bicycle and a motor bike. In an instant before they struck, they saw the inevitable situation, applied brakes, veered and gently collided. There was no obvious damage or injury, and both people smiled with apologetic humility, heads bobbed all around and it was over, they were on their way again. The horn is seen as a curtesy to others, albeit a shrill one, a veritable “HEADS UP!” You see trucks with words painted on the bumper, Please use Horn.
This brings me to a physical gesture I’ve taken to like a southern accent in Georgia, the head bob. It is a wonderful, uniform expression of who-knows-what? People do it constantly. Here’s how it looks, the head lulls slightly toward one shoulder then quickly to the opposite shoulder as the shoulders do this little dance of counter balancing. Often the eye lids droop in unison with the movement giving a slightly agreeable look to it, the perfect reaction to any comment. It’s non-verbal communication at it’s best since it shows agreement, disagreement, annoyance, acceptance, confusion, clarity and anything else you want all in one move. I have no idea what it means but I usually translate it as, “Yeah, whatever”. It’s versatile and I love it. About two weeks ago I caught myself doing it in practice, and now I do it all the time. My teacher told me she once saw Mr. Iyengar do it in headstand when someone asked him a question. Now that’s talent.
I’ve figured out how to cross the street efficiently; how to submerge myself into the flow with ease, grit my teeth and let go of my self-cherishing long enough to reach the other side. Yesterday all of the pieces of street life came together in the grand finale. I decided to buy yoga shirts for the studio, so I gave the logo to the man who does the batik. We “needed to do business” so he met me at my house and took me to his business on his motorbike. It was the first time I’ve been on a motorcycle in years and the first time ever with no helmut. It was actually a lot of fun, I felt young again.
Remember the crumbling infrastructure I spoke about? Well there has been an amazing transformation of the sidewalk between my apartment and the Institute. It began two weeks ago when a few young men began chopping up the concrete with a pick and ax. They removed all of it and last week they dug a trench, again with a pick and ax. Today they have taken blocks of concrete that they move with a wheel barrow to the trench and placed them side by side creating a curb. What’s so amazing is that these kids don’t look like any kind of organized group, like a government contractor or anyone with any authority. They look likes teenagers with a summer job and they work barefoot. They are doing a fine work. I hope I get to see the final effort.
Tonight I took my last stroll through the park, and I listened to the wisdom of Meister Eckhart compete with the racket of the parrots, Can I listen to the world so deeply that I hear God speak me into being? At the end of my walk, I paused near the playground. It was wild with laughter and movement and all the joys of childhood, under the gaze of day-weary parents congregated nearby. I stood there and took it all in, all the life, all the people whose lives and daily routines I’ve glimpsed. I see myself in the mother pushing the swing and holding the baby, and in the elderly woman hunched on the bench, and in the young man walking briskly around the path, each of them are me and I am each of them. Our experiences are unique and common all at once and I don’t feel lonely. I feel overwhelming gratitude for this opportunity.
Goodbye my friends, thanks for reading my blog, until we meet again state-side, I’ll leave you with these words.
Home sings me of sweet things, my life there has its own wings, to fly over the mountains though I’m standing still.
~ Karla Bonoff