A couple of India stories
The featured image for today’s lesson (above) is of a Sadhu.
I took two trips to India, one overland from England in 1971 and one by plane from Montreal to Bombay with stop-overs in Brighton for about a week or so and in Cairo overnight. The overnighter in Egypt was necessitated due to the fact that our plane left Heathrow late and we ended up missing the connecting flight between Cairo and Bombay.
It was dark when we arrived in Cairo and we could hardly see out of the bus windows on the way from the airport to the hotel. Fancy my surprise the next morning when I opened the curtains in my hotel room and looked out and saw…pyramids, in all their glory! I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. A very unexpected pleasure to start my journey to the East.
They had taken our passports away when we arrived and I must admit to being nervous about getting mine back and being able to leave the country given the fact that this was in the early seventies, prior to the signing of the peace accord between Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian President and Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister of Israel, in the late 1970’s. This deal was brokered by the American President at that time, none other than the peanut farmer from Georgia, Jimmy Carter (remember Billy beer?). Anyway, my concern stemmed from the fact that Egypt and Israel were theoretically still enemies and I was Jewish. However, as it turned out, things went off without a hitch that morning of the pyramids; our passports were returned, we boarded the plane, and were off to India.
Met a lovely Indian woman by the name of Patel on the plane and between talking and making out with her, the flight went pretty quickly. I never bothered to get her address in India and I don’t know why.
I also met an American on the plane who was making his first trip to India. My first voyage there had been via an overland route because I had heard that it was easier to adjust to the East by exposing yourself to the changes gradually rather than all at once. Turkey was the country in which I began to notice the inherent change as one moves from the West to the East. Then in succession we went through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, each of these countries being more “eastern” until we finally arrived in western India.
The guy I met on plane had decided to fly to India for his first trip and when we arrived in Bombay, I could see he was starting to freak. I tried to calm him down and decided to stay with him in Victoria Station and we ended up sleeping there for three nights while I tried to convince him to go to Goa, which was a little more ‘western’ compared to the rest of India, at least the bit I had seen on my first trip. In the end I left him with a ticket to Goa in hand. I often thought about this guy and hope that his trip finished better than it started.
I spent about three months in India this time, mostly in Delhi, Bombay, Amritsar and the countryside. Sometimes I found myself overwhelmed by Bombay and would relieve my stress by spending a week or two in the country. I remember returning to Bombay after one such sojourn. I got off the train, saw what looked like thousands of people dressed in white and moving in slow kind of waves – it’s difficult to describe what I was looking at and the discomfort I was feeling – but I ended up back on the train, lickety-split, and headed back to the country where life was a bit easier to take because there were a lot fewer people living there than in the cities.
Two Sadhu stories
Those of you who have followed my blogs know that Sadhus are Indian holy men and women. These wise people travel around, usually alone, and ask for help from passers-by who are supposed to assist them in fulfilling their material needs. Sometimes they end up sleeping in homes offered to them by the faithful – the sleep-over, that is, not the house – as well as receiving money and food from the more generous segment of the Indian population since the Sadhus, themselves, own nothing aside from the robes on their backs. They are teachers, Brahmins, the highest of the five castes which also include warriors, Vaisya, Sudra and the untouchables. The caste system is no longer legal in India but still holds sway there.
One time, while I was in Amritsar and staying near the Golden Temple where free room and board was provided to guests like me, I was accosted by a Sadhu in the middle of the street. “I am hungry,” he said, “Give me all your money.” I responded that I wasn’t going to give him any money (let alone all of it) but that I knew where he could get a free meal. He signalled with a back and forth hand motion that he considered my answer to be alright, not great, but acceptable and that made me happy. My response had satisfied one of the wisest of the wise.
Another time I was in a rickshaw holding a few pieces of hash which I had managed to score in the railway station in the city where I was staying; to be honest I really don’t remember where that was except that I was then in a city which was neither Delhi nor Bombay. Anyway, my head was down and I was cupping my hash in my two hands when this hand just appeared and, without even thinking or looking up, I put one of the pieces of hash into this hand which had magically materialized out of the blue.
Next thing while we were still moving I heard a very loud voice and upon turning around I saw a Sadhu with one of his arms raised above his head. I asked the rickshaw driver what this beautiful man was saying and the driver informed me that this particular wise Sadhu wanted me to join him for a smoke. I wasn’t in the mood so I told the guy to keep the rickshaw moving but this experience and the joy I felt as a result of it has remained with me to this day, more forty years later. Truly amazing. Could only have happened in India.