Feeling: AMAZED, HAPPY, AT HOME
Every Sunday we get a day off from teachings and classes to self study and explore, and as luck would have it our second day at the ashram fell on free time.
Still, the three of us rose with the sun and were up doing self directed yoga in the studio. We didn’t speak or even really acknowledge one another; we were in our own bubbles, but happy with the companionship as we did our own thing.
At breakfast, Anil the cook came over and shyly handed me his cellphone. A beautiful young girl and boy smiled out of the screen. His son and daughter! I smiled and nodded and then with gusto, he started swiping through lots and lots and lots more of his wife and family. I stopped looking at the screen and instead focused on Anil’s face; he was so fiercely proud of these important people, and the love he had for them was pouring out of every expression he made.
Eva and I decided to go and explore Rishikesh. Oce had already been in the town for a week and was rather adamant that aside from the organic shop at the corner, she does not want to leave the ashram the entire month. She walked with Eva and I to the store where we marvelled at all of the organic products, then deposited us at the rikashaws stand and went on her way.
Eva and I were herded into a packed rikashaw where I sat on her knee amongst another six Indian people. Talk about crowded! At first the people were shy and nervously smiled at us, but soon by my coaxing questions they were posing for photos and asking us where we were from. One young girl was the most stunning thing I have ever seen; obviously quite well to do in her pristine school uniform, with her thick plaited hair, fluttery eyelashes and adornments of small piercings and henna, I couldn’t stop looking at her. I told her how beautiful she was and she was over the moon.
I started talking to her cousin, a girl about my age. I told her about my love of saris and how I wanted to buy a wardrobe of them to take home and she was amazed. “How long you here for?” She asked. “I’m going away for a week, but when I get back come to my home and you can try on all of mine.”
I was speechless. Can you imagine being on a bus in Auckland and voicing how much you love Ksubi to a girl from Remuera (obviously her Audi would’ve been at the mechanics that day), and her inviting you over to chuck on her collection from Superette? Kria and I swiftly became Facebook friends and locked in a try on session on her return.
We were dropped in the heart of the town. Although I’ve been to a few South East Asian countries, I’d forgotten the insanity of the roads, the beeping and blaring, the hundreds of people swarming absolutely everywhere. It was a million miles away from the peaceful serenity of the ashram. Eva and I wandered the streets, popping into a shop here and there to marvel at the saris and the beautiful tapestries.
Lost on a side road, we found ourselves down by the River Ganges. Being the pilgrimage fortnight where hundreds and hundreds of young men flock to Rishikesh in their bright orange clothes, the area was even busier and more crammed with people than usual. Here poverty was clearly visible. An emaciated, one-legged man clasped his hands together in begging for money. A young boy with ragged clothes danced around us crying out for spare change. It was heart wrenching, especially when we had been warned to give to no one. “Once you start, they won’t leave you alone,” we’d been cautioned. So sorrowfully shaking our heads, we moved on with our full wallets and full bellies.
As we walked we would’ve passed more than forty carts of people selling chargrilled corn. Now and then there would even be up to five in a row. This was these people’s livelihood, their source of income; how on earth did you choose which one to buy from? Eventually I strode up to a wizened elderly man at random and bought us two cobs. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. And it cost equivalent to 23 NZ cents.
Then the paparazzi started. I’ve always flirted with the idea of wanting to be famous but the next ten minutes had me rethinking that notion quick smart.
A young man came over and asked if he could have a photo of me. Why not? I thought. I had been warned this may occasionally happen and the attention was quite flattering. Then a herd of Indian men positioned themselves around us, taking selfies and group shots like mad. Every time I went to walk away, a further crowd of men descended on me with their phones outstretched, begging for a pic. It briefly crossed my mind how many Facebook statuses would be made with me claimed as the white Western girlfriend, or how many naked bodies my head would be photoshopped to, but I thought fuck it. What I don’t know won’t hurt me.
I finally got out of the thong of heaving men when another young lad scurried over and pulled my arm. “Please, please hold my baby!” He beseeched me, offloading a sleeping baby girl in my arms. He got his phone out and took hundreds upon hundreds of photos, then got in a few himself. This baby was absolutely dead to the world and lolling about in my arms. She wouldn’t have been more than six months old. Yet here was this man, shoving her upon a pale stranger. The trust and excitement at plain old me was something else.
The main road between Tapovan (where the ashram is located) and central Rishikesh was closed due to the immense number of pilgrims and Eva and I had a lot of trouble trying to hail a rikashaw back home. After countless enquiries and begging each driver to curt refusals, Eva had the bright idea of approaching the policemen patrolling the corner. One of them instantly stuck his hand out and pulled over a driver, spoke to him in rapid Hindi, then smiled at us. “Get in,” he said. “This man will take you for 50 rupee.” Then he pulled open the barriers closing the main road and gestured our ride through. Absolutely VIPing it!
Fast forward to home after lunch and relaxation. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have recently developed a wee addiction to running. While (as with everything) I get a bit over the top and would sometimes go to the gym to pound the treadmill up to four times a day, I find I have a genuine love for how it makes me feel. I didn’t bring my running shoes to India as I had limited space in my suitcase and thought it might be a timely opportunity to severe my reliance on it, but I was getting antsy. So I donned my hiking boots and told the worker boys I was going to do lengths of the driveway.
Only about 250metres or so, the driveway is a pretty steep gradient and many homes and businesses lie off to the side of it. I set myself the target of at least six up and downs (a lot harder than it sounds with the intense heat), and got into my stride. The reactions I got were hilarious.
First run up and the people milling about just stared, puzzlement and confusion all over their weather beaten faces. What the fuck was this pale Western girl in huge brown boots doing? I nodded and smiled at each in turn and got a few hesitant nods back. A young boy mid way up warily said hello.
Length 3 and 4; the slow nods were becoming fast, confident bobs of the head, small smiles extending to reach the eyes. The small boy stopped me to ask my name and introduce himself – Onish (or close to it), my new buddy.
Heading for length 6 and 7, I came around to the bottom by the ashram and there was cook Anil, squatted with his phone out to video me rounding the corner. He laughed and clapped his hands, so tickled by the sight of me getting my jog on. Onish now had two friends join him and they stopped to ask if it was an iPod I had in my hand (yes, do you want to have a look?) and ask my name.
Last time up, number 8, and I felt like a marathon runner nearing the end of my 42km (minus a good 40). The people up the top had sat back on brick walls to watch my final rise and were cheering and whistling. A group of young men on scooters waved and tooted their horn. A pet dog ran down the final leg with me. It was actually incredibly uplifting, funny and made me burble with happiness.
When I stopped I went into the garden and the worker boys had struck up a game of badminton. I told them how I hadn’t played in about ten years (Baradene College PE days, oh golly), and one of them questioningly proffered a racquet to me. And away we went.
I can honestly say the next half an hour was one of the happiest I’ve felt in a long long time. The men spoke minimal English, we could hardly understand anything that was said, but there was so much fun and joy being shared. The men not already there pulled up plastic chairs to watch (and I’ll stress here that it was not in a creepy, pervy way). My three new friends from up the driveway perched on the edge of the grass. Even a cow rocked in to our oasis to nibble a flower and stare! It was honestly so, so, SO much fun.
One of the first pearls of wisdom Amrit shared with us was his philosophy on prescribing 500 smiles a day per person. Our impromptu badminton session knocked Amrit’s number out of this stratosphere.