I met an Australian travel writer at Anand Prakash yoga ashram in Rishikesh who told me about a certain profession. In this profession, your job is to go to India and bring home young Westerners who went to India on vacation and never came back. Worried American mothers can hire this sort of bounty hunter to go track down their kid who went to India on some kind of spirit quest and ended up staying illegally as a Sadhu (often-stoned ascetic holy man) or otherwise finding an excuse never to leave this incredible country. Keep your eye out for Nina Karnikowski’s book on this subject sometime in the next couple of years. She kicks ass.
Anyway the point is: Mom, I’m not saying you need to hire a bounty hunter quite yet, but I really fucking love it here. In my mind I was going to be blogging about India as I went, but I’ve been too lost in the experience of experiencing it to blog a whole lot. But I promise I will do a lot more when time allows! I think what I’ll do is a trip-in-a-nutshell thing right now, and get deeper once I’m back in August. It’s hard to want to spend a bunch of time tracking down an internet cafe and staying inside when there’s so much to see!
So here is one of the main things that I’ve learned so far:
People are people.
We arrived yesterday in Leh, Ladakh and were picked up at the airport by Kunzom and Chauldin, our hosts for the next month. Kunzom is the sister of Khen Rinpoche, the founder of the Siddhartha School who invited Tarah to come to India in the first place, and who subsequently invited me to come to India. Kunzom is a woman-about-town in her village of Stok and in the nearby countryside, doing treasury work for the government, helping villagers settle the distribution of land, taking classes from a nearby lama, and hosting guests for her brother Rinpoche as he goes around the world making friends on behalf of the Dalai Lama and his beloved school.
For people this amazing, it’s hard to imagine them being… normal. But as we hung out in the family room last night, the sixteen-year-old daughter Chustik and the father Chauldin bickered over whether to watch the juicy drama or the cricket game on TV, and the mother Kunzom subtly moved closer to the TV whenever the Bollywood soap opera prevailed. Dinner got started late, and although Tarah and I didn’t care and were enjoying th process of making vegetable “momos” by hand, the hostess was embarrassed and the host’s impish Ladakhi jokes made everyone giggle and kept the mood light, despite language barriers.
As another example, the young yoga teacher at our ashram in Rishikesh was quite imposing with his uncompromising expertise, strict classes, and deep baritone voice. Then I found out that he had gotten his undergraduate degree in Acting at SUNY Purchase with Michael, who is now one of my classmates at USC. I was going to include some sweet media here, but I’m at an internet cafe in Ladakh and nothing is working now, hopefully I can still post this blog. Imagine a hilarious picture of a Chinese-American yoga teacher/actor right here.
Kids are kids. Before the flooding in Uttarakhand that decimated the banks of the Ganga and washed away the Shiva statue in Rishikesh, Tarah and I liked to go down to the river to play with Sanjee, my “little monster.” He was pretty much the funnest. It made me excited to come up here to Ladakh and spend more time with the kiddos.
The most sobering part of knowing Sanjee, though, was knowing how unlikely it is that he will make it to adulthood. He had a deep cough and lived along the river, and I don’t know what happened to him during the floods. The water rose over the course of a few days, so I’m assuming his family was savvy enough to move uphill, but I don’t really know.
Death is death. In my opinion, Indians have a much healthier relationship with life and death than Americans. Tarah and I were on a camel ride in Pushkar, and we saw a dog eating the entrails of a dead cow through his…well…you know. Our camel guides, who happened to be 20-year-old boys dressed like hipsters straight out of Silver Lake, shrugged and kept moving. We did the same.
But it wasn’t upsetting. Life and death coexist here very honestly. It causes pain, of course. We made a friend who was telling us that he won’t go swimming because his friend unexpectedly drowned on a swimming outing, and the memory still causes him immense pain. But death is part of life, and like life it has something to teach us. I don’t sense this sort of desperate need to cling to this life and make something of it hat I sense is fundamental to American culture. My running joke here is “YOLO… No wait… You Only Live Infinite Times Until You Reach Moksha.”
Prayer is prayer, and Love is love. We met a group of young American women in the Delhi airport traveling with Youth With a Mission, a Christian organization doing volunteer work abroad. We had a really inspiring conversation with them about the bottomless nature of God’s love, and I thought about touching silence and bliss during Osho meditation in Rishikesh. I thought about talking to an astrologer in Rishikesh about Jesus and Buddha and their lessons on love. I thought about crying at the end of yoga class as something holy pulsed through my veins. I thought about dancing with the kids at the Hare Krishna temple and sitting up late smoking cigarettes under the light of the full supermoon in Udaipur. I thought about taking off my shoes and feeling the intricate marble work at a Jain temple that took 69 years and hundreds of lifetimes to build. As my mind flashed back to the present moment the Christian girls in the airport were asking Tarah and I if they could pray with us. Why not, I thought. Prayer is prayer.
Anyway, like I said I was going to include a lot of sweet media in this post, but technology has thwarted me, so I’m going to stop here. Tarah and I start teaching regularly at the Siddartha School tomorrow morning, and we’ll be working with the kids for a couple of weeks, until the school hosts a big celebration for it’s 20th anniversary and then the kids go on summer break for a couple of weeks. Not sure what we’ll do after that, but that’s okay! Who knows?? More news to come!
Lots of love and light and joy and stuff,