From 0 to 60

22 07 2008

After about four days of ashram life, I chilled out big time. Enough to remember what it feels like to be bored. I think I got in touch with my spiritual self, but it’s possible that my spiritual self is me at age five. In the stretches of time with nothing to do, I got slap happy. Surprising, I know.

Bonnie and I were reduced to making up our own entertainment, which included ridiculous games about our family (Menko Metaphors being a new favorite), and assigning each other spiritual names. Don’t worry; we were respectful and even into many of the ashram activities. There was a night meditation hike to a lake that is probably my favorite night in India. But the lack of food and the array of physical and spiritual activities reduced us to who we really are, and truth be told, we’re more goofy than serious.

When we left, we were uber-relaxed. And then, we hit the ground running. It’s like we have been drenched in everything we were denied for the four days. On our seven hour train ride, we were given oodles of entertainment from our fellow seat mates. We had a troop of boy scouts heading to camp, who didn’t like any of my suggestions for late-night pranks, because “They will punish us!”

And then we had our laughing friend. This woman could not stop laughing. Howling might be more accurate. She laughed and laughed at her own stories, at our stories, and at just about everything. She clasped my hand and brought her face close to mine as she said a few words, usually one of which I understood, and then dissolved in laughter.

She was also shocked to see me writing with my left hand and challenged me to a writing competition. I’m still not sure who won; the rules were unclear. In any case, similar to us at the ashram, she eventually chilled out and rested her hand on my knee as I read my book and she watched the countryside.

When we reached our destination, we went to visit an organization that one of Bonnie’s professors knows. The organization works with children who are former untouchables, and provides after-school tutoring, field trips, and more. We were greeted with a huge ceremony; it began with a personalized powerpoint, continued with several songs and classroom visits, and culminated in a ten act dance performance in our honor. So much for being bored.

The children were amazing and we felt so very celebrated for such unclear reasons. We’ve been told that these kids get  few chances to perform and feel celebrated themselves, so we were happy to sit and receive their talent, gifts, food, flowers and smiles. We hope our clapping and several impromptu speeches (“…you have some words to share? nudge nudge…”)  gave them something to remember; we know we will not forget our evening with them for a very long time.

Now, we’re in Kolkata. We’re here visiting our cousin, and if we ever wanted to go deeper into India, this is the place to do it. The city alone has the noise, smells, tastes and energy that India is known for, and our cousin Glen is the ultimate tour guide. He lives in a very humble neigborhood that is crowded and dirty and wonderful all at the same time. Glen, who is sixty-six, is spending a year volunteering for an organization that reminds me of Partners in Health. It is fascinating to see India from this vantage point, and impresssive to watch Glen in his work, as he tours us through leprosy clinics, TB treatment centers, schools and more. His energy and love for this place is contagious, and we are both thrilled to have a tiny connection to home in the midst of a scene that is indescribable. I have stopped taking pictures here, because I can’t imagine what would be an honest representation of this place.

It’s strange to think back to the ashram, where people spent hours just sitting, and now witness the desperate needs of this country. Today, we were at a clinic that also housed a school. As people lined up to see the doctor, the students began their morning yoga exercises. It felt so incongruous to me to see one group sitting peacefully and individually in the midst of another needing attention and community.  And yet, there is something to be said for a culture that values silence, self, and spirit.

 I am still trying to make sense of it.

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