Two weeks had passed since I arrived in India and I sat at the bank of the Ganges river in Rishikesh reflecting on all that I had experienced. To sit in silence with only the sound of the rivers silent caress against the shore was new to me and much needed. The India I had seen, heard, touched, and tasted was not mellow in any way.
The noises, the spices, the colors, the weaving between animals and machines. It was much different from Nepal’s gentleness that had so warmly welcomed me and I had embraced for a month before. Most of the streets I walked in India were flooded with the constant honking of cars, tuk tuks, and motorbikes, relentless vendors, taxi drivers, and beggars eager to feast on my wallet, the smell of sandalwood incense fused with fried foods and decomposing organic and inorganic materials of all varieties, and the maneuvering of people, vehicles, and animals each at their own will. The cows were the only creatures who seemed to not be disturbed by the chaos surrounding them. They would idly stand composed and unwavering in the middle of bustling streets without a sign of faltering calm. I strived for their non-reactive nature and fell short of it.
India was overwhelming for me even after experiencing other countries with similar energetic commotion. This may have partly stemmed from the fact that I was now traveling with my mom who came to visit for two weeks and I had to bend to her comforts and desires. Solo travel is much simpler and easier for me personally because I have only myself to depend on and nobody who depends on me. With my mom I had to put away my own ways and take into account what she wanted to experience in her short time and the flexibility of her comfort levels.
Yet it wasn’t only my mom’s anxious energy that affected my reactions, but the unexpected signs of ingenuity that littered the streets. I try to be an observer and to refrain from making assumptions about people or places I encounter, but it’s difficult when they are so boldly placed in my field of view. Then again, maybe it is merely my field of view that is too narrow. Either way, I am just speaking the truth I know for myself and this was my initial reaction to the India I experienced. For being such a spiritual place that I had heard about and envisioned, I struggled to find any spiritual depth. Streets, beaches, rivers and forests were being used as dump sites. I saw a middle-aged man on a motorbike in Goa carrying a plastic bag full of rubbish, which he tossed onto an even larger pile of rubbish near the curb. I saw a girl no older than 5 on a train to Kerala toss a plastic bottle out of the window with one sweeping and unconscious movement of her hand. I had seen this all before so it was nothing new to me, but still I was taken back by the carelessness of these actions.
What most disturbed me was the polluted holy Ganges river in Varanasi that so many people come to give offerings and burn their loved ones. Varanasi is known as the yoga and spiritual capital of India, but the hypocrisy overwhelmed me. The river and streets were caked with trash, lined with people trying to wring out every rupee I had, ‘holy men’ and women with babies as bait who demanded money, and sickly looking cows gnawing on plastic bags. They say the cow is sacred. I wanted to shake the people who were blind to the world they created and say to them, “Wake up and look around you! What do you see?” But it is not my right to judge and those who are not ready to open their eyes will not see nor listen. The awakening of the human consciousness will lead to change, or maybe it’s the other way around, but either way transformation stems from the root of humankind. We each have our own path to walk to get there, but we will all come full circle and meet again.
An awakening within myself is what called me to India. It wasn’t actually India specifically that had summoned me, but the sacred Himalayan mountains. I was attracted to the eastern philosophies I had read about in books and wanted to fully immerse myself in it where it had yet to be depleted and manipulated by the ‘developing’ world. Eager as I was to find myself in the Himalayas, I knew that India still had many lessons to teach me about patience, compassion, and acceptance before I would go North into the mountains.
So as I sat at the bank of Mother Ganges reflecting on all this and breathing her in, I asked the universe, “What is my connection here?” A single word came into my mind: birth. With that word I knew it’s meaning. It was not the birth of mankind, but the birth of all life, as if I was present at the very beginning when Mother Ganges was given life and thus created life. I was and am, Mother Ganges. When one connects with the river, they will know they are too. We are all Mother Ganges. And when I connected with her, I could feel the deep sadness that lurked not far from the surface of her water. I asked the universe, “What is my purpose here?” The answer I received: rebirth. I was there to be reborn, to remember where I came from and who I am. Who we all are. Then one day I can lead others to rebirth and to remember their roots too.
As these thoughts settled in I was possessed by a sad longing. I think it was the longing of Mother Ganges and those who walk her banks also longing for remembrance. She is divine life, worshipped without heart. Words and actions mean nothing unless they are expressed from the heart. I wanted to cry, I wanted the water to sweep me away, I wanted to scream to the world, “Wake up!” but instead I silenced my mind, knowing that I needed to learn more about patience, compassion, and understanding before I would know Truth.
(India, December 2017-March 2018)