Sunday, February 10, 2013


Why I got all the way to India, and skipped the Taj Mahal, and other realizations – big and small. I have to get this out there, because before I left on this two week pilgrimage to India, I would ALWAYS say, “And, I’m going to see the Taj Mahal, because when will I ever be back here!” I said it time, after time, after time. Friends probably already had room in their draws for the “My friend went to the Taj Mahal, and all she brought me back was this lousy tee shirt!” souvenir they envisioned me bringing them. Oh, yes, I would say, I’ll snap a photo in front of it – maybe even with a red nose on, while doing a yoga pose, so that I could use it as next year’s holiday greeting. But, a few days ago, into my second week of this trip, I realized, that I would have to let that side trip to the Taj Mahal go – and that I was perfectly fine with it, because there were more important things that I wanted to see, do, and experience than just a pretty building. Having been in India for almost two weeks now, I can honestly say that I don’t feel the Taj, represents the India I have seen in any way – yes, it’s beautiful, and India is bathed in beauty – but not like that. As most everyone knows India is a land of contrasts – Bollywood and slums, call centers and beggars, garbage all over the place and women in the most beautiful saris and outfits imaginable. In the cities, the call of the car horn is a constant, as is the clearing of phlegm from the throat. And in the countryside, the out stretched thin arms are everywhere. Yes, it’s all true – but what is also true, is the beauty – a luster that is more than cosmetic. It is in the way, the poorest of the poor will offer you the delicious hand made bread (the only thing they will eat that day), with a warm smile on their face. The way the women, adorned in their saris, bangles, and earrings – whirl with their hands in the air as drums and bells sound. It’s in the bold color of the buildings, and the way the people push their way to the front of their temples, to see the altar – almost the way people in America reach out for a rock star. It’s in the music - the deep riffs, and drum beats that defy you to do anything but move your body. India is life at it’s fullest – it is brave and it is bold, and it challenges you, and if you take the leap, you will be rewarded for it. I will leave here in two days not having seen the Taj Mahal – it is true – but I will have: been at a flower festival – where all during the day men and women work to assemble the most gorgeous and fragrant flower garlands, and then later watch them rain down on worshippers at a temple, until there is a mush pit of dancing and whirling in a pile of petals that were up to my ankles. Danced and sang through the streets, and have people not only be okay with it, but join in, and take my hand, and lead me in their dances. Worn a sari – not easy to do – and dance away in it – without it falling off – even harder to do. Been to the home of one of my personal idols, the great soul and Indian, Mahatam Ghandi, and read his letter to ask Hitler to stop his ways before it was too late. Sang kirtan (a call and response type of chanting) in temples that were ancient and sweet, or new and bright. Sat at the feet of swamis – real ones – and heard their teachings about being compassionate, and loving. Gone to a school, where children – especially girls – who are the POOREST of the poor, are given a safe haven, a meal, and an education. There I got to clown and tell stories for several groups of kids, serve them lunch, and hopefully help the life of a little girl who I will now sponsor, so that she can stay in school, and hopefully avoid an early marriage. I have also gotten to know – at least a little bit, the wonderful people who are in this little group – caring, inquiring souls all, who floor me with their compassion and devotion to wanting to open themselves up to something greater than themselves. And, of course, I heard stories – stories of the many deities in the Indian pantheon – told on starlit nights in a hidden little temple, and on hillsides, while a bright eyed elderly woman offered us her only food, and on the roof of a cow barn, as candles twinkled in their banana tree holders. Stories not told by “professional storytellers” – but some of the most astonishing tellings I’ve ever witnessed – because they were from the heart. In India, people don’t think of their tales as “fiction” – they believe that legends, really do live up to their real meaning, which is “that which is said to be true” – and these “lilas” as they are called, are believed to still be happening in places – just beyond our view, and only those who have eyes to see them can view the wonder of this world, where baby Krishna has the universe in his mouth, or Hanuman leaps to Sri Lanka, carried by his father the wind god. As morning after morning dawned in a dense fog, I could feel, that if I but only steeped myself more in this mysterious land, I would be able to see the people, animals, and gods that populated these tales – and some nights, like one two nights ago, as I was zipping through the night on a rickshaw, I thought I did – where those women just walking, or were they the “gopis” – the cowherd girls, I have heard about in the “lilas”? India is a place that stretches the imagination, the mind, and the soul– it breaks your heart to see the poverty, but it humbles you the way people will give you the food out of their mouths, because you are a visitor. It makes you feel fortunate that you have water that you can drink, and electricity that is pretty reliable, but it also makes you feel foolish about the things you whine about – including rats (they may be in the NYC subways, but they won’t go after your bananas or sunglasses, like the monkeys here will!). The Indian people are bold and brave, and live not with themselves in the center of their own lives, but always, always, putting others first. The stories I heard were all about love, and ways to be more loving. While I’ve been here, I have seen so much, felt so much, that TRULY, HONESTLY, REALLY – I feel like my trip has been rich and complete, without seeing the Taj Mahal. And, there is one other reason I can get on that plane back home with no regrets – I KNOW that one day, I WILL BE BACK!