This morning, very very early, I went to the gym. People greeted me saying they haven't seen me in a while, where have I been?
Where indeed? I have been away just three weeks, but it feels like eons. I have spent lifetimes in very different spaces, I have been lifted up and twirled around, I have spun in galaxies hitherto unknown, and now I am back, on the stairmaster!
Before I left I told friends that my memories of my last trip to India are such that once there you have to let go of any preconceptions, of any frames of reference, you have to dive in. Indeed, that part of my memory was correct, but what I forgot is that it is easy to talk about, and hard to do. But if you don't India will take your conscious mind and shred it for you. I won't even attempt to describe the overwhelming sensory experiences that ceaselessly surround and bombard one. Somehow the relentless intensity, buzzing vitality, devotion, filth, poverty, misery, beauty, all combine to form an archetypal experience. One is immersed into the bloodstream of life, jostling along with the corpuscles, platelets, lymph cells, all moving, renewing, dying, changing, flowing, on and on. And strange and wondrous things happen.
An almost cataclysmic flooding of the Ganga, replete with landslides prevented us from reaching our stated goal - Badrinath. We had to remain in a tiny place where people normally go for rafting. Into this unexpected hamlet stranded pilgrims poured in. Sadhus, Sikhs, travelers, mendicants, families. When it became clear we couldn't go further I commented to my brother, who was leading our group, that the one regret I had was that we would not hear Parvathy Baul, who had been invited to sing at a birthday event in Badrinath. That very afternoon Parvathy, her husband Ravi, and her friend Rita joined the stranded throngs. She sang for us that night, and the next. Her songs of devotion, accompanied by her stamping, jumping feet, a stringed instrument, and a drum, and her swirling, writhing dreadlocks pierced open my heart.
Before I left for India I received an e-mail from a childhood friend who lives in London. She and her husband were coming to California, and they wanted to know whether they could see me. I told her I would be in Northern India and she replied that her son and daughter-in-law are in India and she sent me the names of the places they were in, but they weren't where I was going. Our tour landed, by default, in Rishikesh and on a Friday night I went to eat in the Succa at Beit Habad. At least a hundred people were there, amongst them, my friend's son and his lovely wife!
Such are the wonders and workings of India.
And now, I am back.