I have always wanted to experience India. After my solo trip to Mali, West Africa in 2008, however, I became reticent to do another big solo journey. Not that Mali was bad. On the contrary, it was exhilarating, life affirming and is still changing me in ways I find difficult to articulate. It’s just that it wasn’t easy. Staying in the comfort of one’s own neighbourhood is easy; traveling is not. Especially adventurous traveling. All-inclusive resorts? Well, yeah. Piece of cake. And another piece of cake, and another, and how ’bout another piña colada with that cake?
So, along comes Dr. Darrol Bryant. Actually, he came along decades ago. I first met Darrol when I was at University of Toronto. Long story short, he married my good friend Susie Hodges, a fellow U of T-er whom I had known back at home in Rochester because she is the big sister of my good high school buddy, Tom Hodges. Short story getting longer ... Darrol goes on to become a professor of religion, and as Professor Emeritus and Director of the Centre for Dialogue and Spirituality in World Religions at Renison University College, University of Waterloo, and author of many books focusing on dialogue among the world’s religions, he develops a taste for India and starts taking groups there - students, friends and family - back in the 1980s.
So, I call Darrol and ask are you still taking people to India? He says, I might go again in early 2013, I say, well if you do, count me in. So he did, and I did. It was to be his 22nd trip. My first. There were 10 of us. I didn't know any of them, and we spent three great weeks together visiting ashrams, monasteries, temples, gurdwaras, gompas, mosques and churches, shopping, hanging out, doing crossword puzzles, shopping, eating great food, discussing, laughing, shopping, hearing great music, eating great food, reading and occasionally some shopping. I topped it off with another two weeks on my own. I figured I'd learn the ropes with the group, then I'd be able to handle India on my own. And that's exactly what happened. Except one thing - I was having such a good time, I extended my solo stay by a week, making it 6 in total.
That's Darrol in green, flanked by Dennis and Tamara, then Shea and Bill, and at the far right, it's Friendly Little Man, identity to be revealed in the next chapter. Not pictured are Pam, Mat, Heather, Ben and me.
Under the mudras at Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. An exhausted Pam, Dennis, Tamara and I arrive on the same flight. So does Heather, but she's busy taking this picture. Thanks, Heather!
Darrol and his eldest son, Ben, on the Jamia Hamdard University campus, our home in New Delhi.
A = New Delhi / B = Varanasi & Sarnath / C = Bodh Gaya D&F = Kolkata / E = Kalimpong / G = Dharamsala
The Bigger Picture.
The About As Big As It Gets Picture
Why On Earth?
Question: Why travel? What on earth is so great about it? Leaving your comfort zone for places that are usually less affable, less sanitary and more work to get around in. Is it the false freedom? The craving for that constant rush that happens when everything is new and different and mind-blowing, substituting a life of humdrum realities with one that's a whirlwind of surprise and shock and wow, and has a bunch of great stories to bring back home with which to entertain and perhaps impress your friends? For sure it can be all of that, and more! Yes, shoppers! More!
More, as in creaking open the rusty doors of the mind. More, as in increasing one's compassionate knowledge, more as in learning to walk in the world with a new and improved sense of respect for it and an increased sense of being able to rely upon yourself, all by yourself. More, as in no longer taking for granted the ability to turn a shiny chrome knob and have hot water pour right out of the wall onto your naked thankful body, or being able to consume the water that comes out of the other tap without having to filter or boil it first. More, as in making new friends whose life stories enrich your own tired one, showing it to be more of a shining light than you ever dared say out loud or even to yourself. And more, as in realizing that your little corner of the world is in fact just that: a corner of the world. A cozy nook complete with pictures on - and windows in - the walls, and maybe a handy mirror to boot. Do I look at me in my red Kashmiri cap in that mirror, swing my new woolen cape over my shoulder Clint Eastwood style and have a good self-satisfied chuckle? You bet your banana split I do.
So, what did you learn, billy boy, billy boy?
What did you learn about Indya?
I didn’t learn a thing -
don’t know who’s president or king.
I just lived there and saw what I saw there.
I don’t know about you, but it’s a challenge to my human psyche to be confronted with so much that is so different and then not make instant conclusions. It works like a defense mechanism: for some reason my little brain gets uncomfortable with – maybe even threatened by – differences, and so to defend its own place in the world as being o.k., it starts to say “I understand this place” even before I’ve had a really good long hard look at it and let it sink in. More than a few minutes with jaw dropped and eyes popping wide open, and the brain gets skittish. It wants to instantly weigh in with an opinion and hurriedly compare ‘them’ to ‘us.’ “They do things this way and we do them that way.” That’s like trying to learn a language by translating each word individually from your own, paying no heed to syntax or context, and then just reading it back. The result is unintelligible gobbledygook. The three little words I long to hear (and often find so hard to say) are
I ... don’t ... know
Yep. 6 weeks and I can’t really say what I learned about the place. The people are nice and not nice. The vibe is relaxed and tense. The weather is hot and it’s cold. So India’s about the same as most other places, billy boy? Whoa. Not on your life. It’s, well, ... let me just tell you a story or ten. And if you catch me sounding like I think I know what I’m talking about, please leave a comment below and straighten me out. Or better yet, if you actually know something about one of the items in the blog, or have your own experience about it, please share that too.
The next chapter will be on our adventures in New Delhi. Lots of pics and videos.