“INDIA is an acronym for I’ll Never Do It Again,” said my ninth-grade son.
In that moment, I vowed to love India; it wouldn’t make me say such a thing. Now that I’ve had a reality check, I’ll admit the country will test a person. But the unpleasantness can be poetic, and there is an unseen system within every system.
My lessons begin upon arrival in Delhi. It seems as if every airport, hotel or restaurant door I try to push has to be pulled. And every door I try to pull has to be pushed. The actual doors initiate a neural reprogramming. My brain has to make subtle changes to literally open these gateways; then as my thinking changes, my being changes, and doors both literal and figurative give way.
Barriers, boundaries and rules of all kinds seem unfixed in this land of Gods, where the most carefully made plans are the ones most likely to implode. Meanwhile the phrase “Atithi Devo Bhava,” or “Guest is God,” is prevalent. This sentiment that originated in the time of the Upanishads still seems true enough. Not only are Indian people exceedingly gracious, but Gods are so common and plentiful that it’s easy to imagine one going about his or her divine business disguised as a badly dressed tourist.
And so, sometimes doors open unexpectedly. Like when Sanjay Patel, aka Sam, Yoganand’s friend in Gujarat, opens a gateway by saying, “yes” to Samantha Shal, aka Sam, his guest and one of our group who wants to visit the Kalika Mata Temple at Pavagadh. Thanks to Sam + Sam, six of us set out on a climb toward enlightenment 762 meters above sea level, to the top of a dormant volcano with a temple of Mother Kali which dates back to the 10th century. It is a spectacular destination. The privilege of being one of only six Westerners among thousands of worshipers to visit Kali Ma in such a place truly feels like being on top of the world – a strange and foreign world where we are spectacles, like Bollywood stars. At my request, Sam Patel is kind enough to procure a dreadful Kali icon as a keepsake for me, and I give her a place of grace in the top of my dirty backpack.
Maybe it is having Kali in my bag that causes the end of my travel plans to slam to an unrelenting close. Instead of going to the final destination I’d planned, I end up on a solo jaunt to a village outside Jaipur where I become the only guest at a historical haveli operated by Dr. Bhanwar Rishyasingra and his wife Rhadika. True to form, they open their home to me and treat this weary, mismatched tourist like royalty. But I see beyond the veil, believing Rhadika is a manifestation of Kali, because she embodies so much wise and protective maternal energy. Rhadika not only introduces me to an entirely different experience of India, but eventually shares stories of her time as a young girl studying under a stern Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. She remains in steadfast contact and offers to open her home to our next group of yoga tourists. And so, a door awaits ajar in Jaipur for the Pranakriya tribe. INDIA: I (we) Need to Do It Again.