Facing backwards as the train departs Khajuraho, I appreciate the breeze passing beneath the arch of my feet. If someone could do something about the metal bar that’s crossing my lumbar spine, then I’ll find a way to be fine with the young man banging a tambourine in my ear. His sarong is likely called something else. The tambourine looks new and he’s flipped it to double as an alms bowl. At the bindu spot at the crown of his head, he’s growing dreadlocks that the sun has bleached auburn and thought I’m inclined to offer something, no one else has and I’m thinking it’s wise to do as the locals do.
It’s my first time in India. Maybe you recall your first time. Likely a little awkward. Defiantly at first, you push on. The suns hot but the rewards exist. It’s just a matter of where were they left. Like a board game, perhaps clue or snakes and ladders. Likely something that relies upon the roll of a die…
When I was leaving canada, my friend Clara Roberts Oss offered a few notes about travels in India. Hand sanitize often. Take less than you think and buy there. Trains should have AC for the first few rounds of my travels. Soften to the chaos of India.
That backwards facing seat. It’s in sleeper class. Imagine San Quienten prison blue everything. A small semblance of normalcy exists to my western eyes. Now take it down a notch after running everything through the foreign language filter. The culture is so different, I can’t help but watch peoples hands as they use them for utensils. A new mother rocks her baby child, so fresh, his scalp still seems wet. There’s someone stretching out on one bench. He’s been asleep since I arrived. Six people huddle on one slat, perhaps to accommodate this. It is unclear. Kids aren’t different, they enjoy the journey. A blind woman wanders the cars begging for alms, her stick worn smooth from years of finding her way with it.
When I lived in Barcelona, I was amazed to discover that three generations of family would exist under the same roof, often a small apartment of about 800sq’. I’m reminded.
The monsoons didn’t really happen this year. Think a fifth season that’s plotted between autumn and winter. It floods everything and allows the land to replenish after a heat wave that can bump as high as 118F. That’s what we’re dealing with: a consistency so frequent that there’s no need to name siesta. Work simply becomes untenable.
I landed in Varanasi, a city ancestors on my fathers side called home, way back in the day. One of the countries holiest of sites, approximately 1600 bodies are cremated there everyday. The wealthy afford the privilege of wood. They burn, feet facing the river Ganges, as an auspicious transition to the next life. Using the right amount of wood to burn the body complete is an art form and whole communities are built around it. Many use an incinerator.
It’s a good reminder that we all end up on that pyre.
Through no planning of my own, my arrival coincided with Diwali, the celebration of Light. Loud firecrackers sounded on par with military grade artillery and it was unclear whether I was warned away from their detonation for fear of my foot or my eardrum.
I didn’t really know why I came here, but I’m getting a sense.
I’ve spent a lot of my life like I am right now: traveling. I’ve found myself on most of the continents and I’ve enjoyed many new sensations. The money for these adventures, for no word better describes my experiences, always seemed to come without too much effort. It was something worth saving for and it’s shocking how much you can put away by not drinking alcohol or coffee.
I’m passable at speaking English and Spanish and I’ve had about eight different languages come out of my mouth. I’ve danced til dawn, waited for waves while pelicans caught the updraft with their wings. I had the fortune to sleep with my Spanish teacher and have learned to dance most social dances. Strangers have invited me into their home on three continents. I’ve slept in a cemetery, on park benches and in bushes. The best lasagne I have ever eaten was in a parking lot; that same night I slept in a tourist info booth by the side of the road, a castle on a hill overlooking an olive grove was in the foreground of a half moon.
Men have been aggressive with me. Women have been aggressive with me. I’ve not always known how to find home in the morning.
The chai walla in the window signals we have reached the next station. Some transport luggage on their heads, a different form of hands free. Unsure of the next departure, people run to board. A little boy with eyes of kohl looks at the strangeness of my face and slumps to the floor in protest as his father leaves. I pass him through the window to his father on the platform shortly thereafter.
There is so little sense in so much. Just look around at everything you’re trying to believe. That guy doesn’t even have a holster for his gun, he’s fucking tucking it into his waistband!
Why am I telling you this?
It’s a tightrope we are wandering.
I’ve actually been practicing asana twice a day for the last week. You know when last I could say that? Years.
I forgot the power and medicine of movement. I had begun to think that it was enough to sit in stillness and breathe.
The flexibility that has returned to my spine, the ease in my digestion, the simplicity of my stride when walking, are all simpler with my return to asana.
But I’m ok with the break. Name something you’ve done for twenty years that you don’t have a love/challenge relationship with… save maybe reading, I’m hard pressed to name anything.
Yoga definitely falls into that category. Sometimes it’s the bees knees. Sometimes it’s all I can do not to vomit in my mouth from the perceived insincerity, the waitress wearing Lulu and the realization that it might just be my own projection…
I don’t speak Hindi and my handler from the retreat center just walked me onto the train, pointed to a seat and said ok with that enigmatic head bobble. Since then I’ve moved my seat five times, my bags three, and half the population of utter paradesh seems to be sharing the train ride to Delhi. I’m assured this is normal.
I could freak out about the cockroach that crawled on my leg. I could curse India as a country and lament my lack of Netflix and need for sweatpants. Instead, I’ve taken the time to write this little missive in the hopes that you see:
Life is short. We all end up in the fire.
This life of yours is nothing less than a miracle. Even in the down, the world is a sensuous place of wondrous abandon, should you choose it to be so. I pray that you do.
Make the most of it.
For those celebrating Halloween, throw a little something on the fire. Allow it to rise anew.
Many blessings to you.