Dirty Pond, Beautiful Lotus

Sep 20, 2005

Guri and I sat in a train today, from Igatpuri to Bombay, escorting my sick brother for some medical tests.

It's been about six months since we sat in a moving vehicle. All the landscapes, its people, the subtle cultures, everything flashes in front of us as if it were all one big commercial. With a smile, Viral remarks, "Hey guys, did you see that naked 2-year-old with an umbrella?" No, I didn't because the rickshaw had long since zipped past it. A bit later, on the train, Guri says, "Oh, look at that lotus in that dirty pond?" Sorry, missed that too since we were going 70 kilometers/hour too fast. On the walk, we probably would've made a few funny faces to make that kid smile and we might've sat down next to the lotus to reminisce at the irony of beauty in filth; for now, though, my awareness flickers past the life in front of me as I hear echoes of nature laughing at my fast-paced moves.

We arrive in Bombay. Our taxi drives past a charade of Bollywood actors and actresses plastered all over the sidewalks, billboards, and car windows. Loud honking horns and push-and-shove traffic are a sharp contrast from the serene meditation center that was our home for the last three months. It's a tough world, to live up to the expectations of all the images in our confused mind. I can understand -- but not accept -- that the taxi-driver attempts to rip us off for a few rupees; he probably needs a few extra bucks to survive.

Soon enough, we get to the hospital. After a ten minute consultation with the doctor, we have to pony up 7000 bucks for some repeat blood tests and the doc's time. That's more money than my entire six month pilgrimage budget, all spent in the time it takes to sip a cup of 'chai'. My cousin, a Bombay native, innocently addressed my timid awe, "That's just how it works in Bombay." Hmmmmm. It would take months of hard labor for my farmer homies -- who housed us in their simple huts and open hearts -- to have even a 1000 rupees to spare. Farmers trade in, by choice or not, their extra stash of cash for a life that is in tune with ground-zero truths of nature; most city industrialists, on the other hand, drive their cars through the daily city smog, walk past the beggars underneath the hi-rise buildings, and breathe in conditioned air while calculating ways to get ahead in conference rooms. Perhaps I'm giving too much credit to the farmers, but I wonder if it is the "poor" farmers or the enterprising Bombayites that need more help.

In the hospital patient line behind me, two girls are talking loud enough that I can hear them. "Hey, that hand bag is so cute, isn't it?" "Yeah, I saw it for sale the other day, but without the leather straps." In my mind, I was thinking about a paralyzed patient, who apparently just had an epileptic seizure and another pale-white patient glued on a wheelchair with her head permanently looking up towards the ceiling. Numb to the suffering all around us, we're occupied with the next big sale at the local, err global, marketplace.

On the train, I had casually asked Guri: "So what did you learn from the pilgrimage?" Among many insightful comments, she says, "Before the pilgrimage, I was a seeker and I am still a seeker. But now, I have more strength to share my merits and take others along on this journey."

Before the night's dinner at our newly-made diamond merchant friend's larger-than-life house, I go to the train station to get our tickets for the night train. On the way back, I chat with the cab driver about the lifestyle of a cabbie in Bombay. "Sir, I tell you there are a lot dishonest drivers in Bombay but there are still some honest folks left. I just want to make an honest living for myself. In the end, we will all get our fair share," he says. In a soft-yet-sincere voice, he adds, "I believe that." Actually, I believe that too.

During the late evening hours, there's a loud 'Ganpati Visarjan' parade -- a walk to immerse a holy Hindu deity in water, after 10 days of prayer. People are dancing to loud trance and hip-hop music, while sipping something from brown paper bags. Disco devotion with a shot of vodka. Interesting times.

For the last six months, we ante'd up everything to walk within and without. Our lives will never be the same again. I seriously doubt that the world has changed its patterns in the last six months, but in our unending "search for the good", we have developed new eyes. Good is everywhere -- it lies latent in the suffering of drunk disco devotion, it shines brilliantly through virtue of an honest cab driver, it can be seen in its unadulterated purity through the worry-free swirl of a naked two-year-old's umbrella. A dirty pond to show the beautiful lotus, the compassion of nature to guide us back to our center, what more can we ask for?

Such pilgrimages have no end, no pause buttons, no commerical breaks. It's an ongoing journey into the heart of the infinite. And now it's clearer than even before that there was never even a beginning. It keeps starting, and restarting, in every moment.


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