India Lesson # 9: I love you, but leave me alone!

As I stroll the Delhi streets at 7 am looking for a place to eat breakfast, all of my senses are assailed. Garbage burns and bits of ash float between tall buildings, rotten fruit putrefies the air, blending with the sweet smell of jasmine and rose petals. Dust makes it hazy and car fumes cloud the narrow dirty street. Strands of marigolds are stacked on tiny, wooden carts for temple goers to buy an offering, fruit stands spill over with ripe bananas, green grapes and pomegranates.

I love it all – the tension of opposites so acutely displayed.

As I walk on, I see peeling paint from towering buildings, countless thin rickshaw drivers pedaling by, many barefoot, chai wallahs making fresh chai on the spot with real tea and fresh milk. They skillfully pour the milky chai from a 2 to 3 foot distance into another pot, back and forth to make it frothy.

I feel the familiar sense of alertness, and relaxation at the same time.

I amble down the street littered with trash, listening to the cacophony of sounds– horns honk like geese, rickshaw wheels spin past on the dusty black top, children in uniforms chirp to each other on their way to school. There are no sidewalks, the ground underfoot is uneven at best.

 

I float along in the flow, unhampered by anyone peddling me something.

And then he arrives. He sidles up to me and opens, “Where are you from?” Always the first question.

“America,” I answer with a cropped tone, not wanting to open the door to conversation.

“Chicago?” he persists.

“California,” I say because people know it better than Washington.

I don’t want to walk with him, nor do I want to talk to him. It’s my last day. I want my time to stroll and take in every detail like a sponge. He is a distraction who has his own agenda. I wait for it and keep my own pace.

“Are you married?”

“Yes.”

“What are you doing today?” He asks.

“I have plans.” And I do. I have plans with a driver to take me around Delhi for my last 8 hours here.

“With an Indian friend?”

“Yes.”

“Listen, just 5 minutes of your time. Just listen for 5 minutes,” he presses on. At which point I turn to face him directly so I can look him in the eye. This is my break away point. I want to do this only once. As I look into his blood shot eyes, I see the longing – of something. I feel the pinch of rejecting him, that sense of discomfort in standing my ground and knowingly disappointing someone. I forge on as I notice his red stained teeth that look like they’ve had no dental work.

“Whatever it is you’d like for me to hear, I appreciate it. But I want to walk alone and I do have plans today. So thank you, but no.” I give him no energetic room to push in. He backs down gently. I put my hands together at my heart, bow slightly and turn to continue my walk down the street. Surprisingly he doesn’t follow and press in more.

He calls out after me, “You have beautiful eyes.” To which I turn back, smile and give a head wiggle as acknowledgement.

I continue my walk and not two minutes later an auto rickshaw slows down on my right and I hear a voice say, “I want to marry you.” It’s him. He is smiling and in the back seat.

I keep walking, smile and tell him, “Maybe next lifetime.” He and his friend laugh, and to my delight, keep rolling down the street.


India Lesson #8: The Selfie

I’m standing outside the Amber Fort in Jaipur, regaled with my sun protection – wide brimmed hat, dark glasses and long sleeves. I’m just about to pay my entrance fee as this bearded Indian man with a bright blue turquoise turban steps up to pay as well.

We look at each other, and a familiar feeling runs through me – the one that folds together a slew of assessments in a second’s time – curiosity, a pinch of fear, desire to know. A multitude of instantaneous quivers run through the body evaluating “this is ok, or no, this is not ok.”

He feels friendly. I feel out of place, a bit awkward, not sure if I’m crossing any gender or cultural boundary, but I take the chanceand say, "Nice color,” referring to his turban. Which I mean sincerely.

He smiles and wags his head from side to side. He’s about to step off the curb towards a car, but turns to me and says, “Selfie?”

I smile. “Absolutely!”

He  whips out his cell phone, puts his arm around my shoulder and snaps a selfie. “Oh, me too,” I say, grabbing my phone from my purse, and we take another one. We both laugh, smile again and I can feel my heart open a crack more.

Throughout this trip I’ve had many people approach me for a selfie – young women, groups of young men, families. And each time I’m delighted to take a selfie with them – my only request is that I get a snap too. There’s often a lot of giggling when we look at the pictures and some unspoken awkward understanding that we are all curious about each other and are trying to bridge some cultural gap without knowing it.

Those who’ve asked for a selfie have taught me a great lesson, which is to just go ahead and ask to take a photo. Then we all have a choice. There are many pictures over the years I have not taken of people because I felt uncomfortable and didn’t want to invade someone’s personal space with a camera. 

Now I am practicing my new lesson and ask people to take their picture either with me or solo. It’s been so liberating. 

 

 


India Lesson #7: The Laundry

Imagine if every time you needed to do the laundry you had to gather up your clothes, place them in a large round plastic tub that you then carried to the river in town. You’d then find a large flat stone in the river where you’d squat in the mid-day broiling heat, and wash clothes.  Each item would be meticulously soaped, rinsed and rung out, then placed back in the tub, and when you were done, you’d carry your wet load back to the house to hang on the line to dry in the 100 degree heat. 

This is the scene I’ve been observing of the past two weeks in Hariharipura.

I have been mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm with which these women wash clothes.
 
Just yesterday I saw three ladies in their zone. They squatted on slabs of rock in the river, and  rhythmically soaped and rinsed saris, t-shirts, napkins and pillow cases. One lady was washing her saris, opening each one to rinse. Streams of fuscia, orange, lime and light blue flickered in the water as she opened them one at a time..

I sat on the side in the shade, protected from the pounding sun by my wide brimmed hat and I couldn’t help but think about how easy it is for me to do my laundry at home. You know, all we have to do is throw the load in the washer, pour in the soap and press the start button. My only frustration is when I press start only to find out later that the machine didn’t begin the cycle..

As I contemplated their work, I knew I’d have far fewer clothes if I had to lug my clothes to the river to do my wash. The whole encounter had my mind buzzing with questions about luxury, the number of clothes I have, the “ease” of doing my wash, which allows me to have more clothes because it IS so easy to wash them. I spiraled into a plethora of questions about how many clothes I need, how many I actually wear, and what I can let go of when I'm home. 

More questions arose about women all over the world who wash clothes this way, and untruth I wanted to step out on the rocks wth them to learn their sturdy methods. But that will have to wait for another time.

I left the broiling sun to come back to the shade of the ashram and felt the encounter with the ladies would be with me for a while, inviting me to contemplate how much stuff I really want to take care of, how I spend my time and energy.

As the old adage goes, “less is more,” and it is often the case. 

 


India Lesson #5: Continue to Relax into What's Happening

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First Abhyanga Treatment

I am not a terribly modest person by nature. Coming from California I’m used to de-robing and stepping into a hot tub with friends and new acquaintances. But here in India, my usual uninhibited self feels modest and almost shy about showing any skin.

Revealing any shoulder or leg skin is frowned upon in general, and especially in Muslim  areas. It’s simply not done by the multitudes of Indian women I’ve seen. It seems the mid-drift is the only area on the body that is ok to reveal – at least within Hindu culture.

You can imagine my surprise when I was called to my first Abhyanga massage, given by Dr. Sastry, a 30-something year old man, and handed a long piece of stiff white clothe with two strings attached to one end. He held it up and I looked at him with a question in the tilt of my head. 

“Loin clothe.” He said with a kind look on his face.

“I see,” I thought. I’m supposed to wrap this little piece of clothe between my legs, tie it from behind and come out practically naked. 

“Ok.” I said.

I put on the requisite article of clothing to cover my privates. When I emerged from the bathroom, he gestured with his arm for me to lie on the pink fiberglass table.

“Face up.”

“OK.” I scrambled to reconcile the plethora of feelings running through me in a moment’s time. I felt the twinge of shyness, the teenage embarrassment that this strange man was not only going to see me half-naked, but was going to be massaging me with oil all over my body. I took a few deep breaths to relax into the moment, reminding myself that he’s a doctor and we all have bodies.  But the twinges of discomfort poured into the nooks and crannies of my psyche mainly because I couldn’t quite reconcile the intense modesty in India with the openness of the Ayurvedic treatment.

I lay myself down on the hard table, face up while he lit a candle, turned on some chanting music and then began the treatment. He gently placed one hand on the crown of my head, his other hand on my inner thigh to ground the top and bottom of the chakras while softly chanting a mantra, invoking a higher power.

As I lay there, I, too, said a little prayer, setting my own intention that they whole PanchaKarma treatment would bring about clarity, greater healthy, rejuvenation, and joy.

He began pouring the warm medicated oil in circles around my navel, then around each breast, up and down each arm and then down each leg. Slowly he worked the oil into my body with circular emotions around the belly and breasts, and with long strokes up and down the arms and legs. I felt myself relaxing into the experience. When he was done with the front side, he tapped me lightly on the arm to have me flip over.

Easier said than done when covered with oil. I was like a slippery fish. The warm oil felt luxurious as he poured it over the backside of my body.

Twenty five minutes later I was done with the oil portion. He told me to wait 5 minutes for the following treatment, which was a medicated warm water drizzle to be poured all over the front and back of the body in specific motions. 

I found myself dropping into an almost trance like state as Papa G (Dr. Sastry’s father) drizzled the water on me. The two treatments took about an hour, and to be honest they felt fairly benign. Once done, Sumitra, one of the assistants, guided me to the bathroom where two hot buckets of water awaited me for a shower.

Breakfast followed, and after breakfast I lay down for a short nap. 

I didn’t get up until lunch. As I napped I felt a buzzing energy moving through my body and at the same time, felt like I’d been infused with melatonin and couldn’t move any of my limbs. I had a deep sleep.

This was all on day one. I was curious to see how the three week treatment would unfold.

 


India: Lesson # 2 - It all seems to work out!

In my very efficient, check-it-off-the-list, American way, I email Dr. Sastry at the Ayurvedic Ashram in Hariharipura, India telling him I want to find out about doing PanchaKarma with him in March. I want to find out the basic details, you know, like how much, how long, when there might be space  and what kinds of treatments I might be in for.

After some short email exchanges in which he is somewhat vague about everything, he tells me I can come on the 18th of March and to arrange it so I stay for 3 weeks.

He mentions no deposit, makes barely any reference to money or treatments. The tone is welcoming, but short and sweet.  Since I am going to have to make plane reservations, forking out a chunk of money to get to some place in India I can’t even pronounce, I notice that I want to make a deposit.

I email him again. “Are you sure I don’t need to make a deposit to reserve my spot?”

“No, no,” he writes back. “You are a friend of Dr. Scott’s. That is enough.” I imagine him saying this with an Indian accent, bobbing his head left and right.

When I read the email, my belly tightens with the first hint of fear I will have to let go of if I am to venture on this journey. This is simply the prelude.

I take a deep breath and let out a little sigh with a peep. “Well, ok then.” I say to myself. “Here we go. Welcome to your journey.”

I dial my travel agent “Debbie, I’m going to India in 2 months, can you hook me up with tickets?” Not only does she hook me up, it feels like another sign from the Universe – my tickets, with domestic travel within India, come to just over $1,000. 

So, fast forward – I am sitting in the Mumbai Airport, waiting to catch the last leg of my trip to Mangalore where I will be picked up by a driver to head to the Ashram. I still can’t pronounce the name of the place and there are so many things I don’t understand about India. I’ve been here a week, and what I have observed is that in the end,  everything actually does seem to work out.  The more I let go and relax, the happier I am and the more magical it all feels.

As I sit, waiting, I cap down the urge to reconfirm that there WILL be a driver picking me up when I land.

 Why worry? It’s just me and my suitcase. The worst that can happen is he won’t be there. And then I’ll figure out the next step!

As I walked out of the Mangalore Airport into 95 a weather, I scan the signs, hoping one of them has my name on it. And there it is: Duane Sherman. I smile and have an inner chuckle.

Off we go for the 2 1/2 hour drive on a windy road through the jungle to the Ashram.


India Lesson # 1: Surrender, Trust & Visualize

After 24+ hours of travel from San Francisco through China to New Delhi, eyes blurry with sleep, and all brain cells primed to lay my head down on clean sheets, if only for 6 hours, there was a glitch when I arrived at my hotel.

As I stood at the hotel counter, legs still water logged from flying, and Summit asked me for my passport, I reached down into my secret pant pocket to find it empty. 

No passport.

I quickly patted down my other pockets, took a peek in my money belt and felt my heart begin to race. I was going to be here in India for a month, but was flashing on new possibilities for my trip  – endless waits at the American Embassy in New Delhi, being sent home – or perhaps they WOULD accept the digital copy of my passport photo I’d scanned into my phone the day before.

Knowing how much Indians love their paper forms, I had big doubts about the latter possibility. 

Summit, I have a problem. I don’t have my passport.” I told him. He bobbed his head left and right, flashed a big smile and told me I had a problem.

“Yes! I do! And I’m going to need your help to solve it.”

Just to make sure it wasn’t tucked somewhere else, I dumped out all contents of my carry on backpack, to make sure I hadn’t accidentally stuck it in with a book or in between my important papers. 

Nope. Not there.

That’s when I began the positive self-talk to mitigate a melt-down.

“This is going to be ok, Diane. Think.  Think. Where did you have it last?” My mind scurried down all the alleyways of where I’d been and what I’d done since I got off the plane just a short one and a half hours ago. I back tracked  to standing in line at the Pre-Paid cab outside of the airport. Dark thoughts of someone ripping me off in line flashed on screen, but I hadn’t felt anyone bump me, push me or nudge me. 

No, that wasn’t it.

Back in time to the SIM card booth, inside the airport. That’s when I heard the man’s voice in my head, “Passport!” He had commanded me.

“Summit, I left my passport at the SIM card place.” I was thrilled that there was a thread of hope. I handed him the number of the place and he called.

“Yes, it’s there.” 

Hearing those words I felt like I’d won the lottery. But the deal wasn’t done yet. More self-talk and now I started visualizing the passport in my hands. “See it in your hands, Diane,” I told myself.

“OK, how are we going to get it back?” I asked Summit.
“I will have my driver get it, but it’s going to take some time. He’s picking up a large group now. You will have to wait.”

A small price to pay at this point. Though I longed for the sweetness of sleep, I relaxed into the new reality and surrendered.”  

“Perfect,” I said. “I am so grateful. Thank you.”

As I sat on the couch in the reception area, my mind came up with all sorts of ideas about how my passport could be sold and by whom. Until it was in my hands, there were any number of outcomes.

I dropped into more positive self-talk and visualization and kept seeing and feeling it. Then I started a gratitude practice for Summit and his help, to the guy at the SIM counter for being honest and for the driver who would be bringing my passport back to me.

After about an hour and a huge group of Indian men had checked in, it was 1:30 in the morning and the lithe driver came in, passport in hand and gave it to me. Never have I felt so grateful, patient and relaxed.

I heavily tipped both the driver and Summit as an offering of gratitude. He checked me into my room and I lay myself down on those bed sheets and had the best sleep I’ve had in years!