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Revisiting India — India, Be Gentle

A continuation of my travels. I miss the sounds, the smells, the energy . . . Chapter Two

I am here and my eyes are open

I really did not know what to expect venturing from the United States to a country such as India; a place so rich in culture and tradition yet so extremely opposite from everything that I have known. The first major hurdle I faced getting there was my flight, which turned out to not be bad at all. The  18+ hours in the air actually flew by (no pun intended). There is a very liberating feeling knowing that you have no choice but to just be still and you don’t get that on shorter flights. It is complete surrender and a good lesson for life; the teachings would express this as īsvara pranidhana. When I finally arrived into Chennai, India, I found my bags, my driver and made my way to my apartment. Immediately I slept.

It begins. I woke up on day one to the sound of parrots singing from the coconut trees outside my window, dogs howling in the streets, roosters awakening the sun and Brahmin priests beautifully chanting their daily ritual from the temple down the road. In the background of that unique symphony was an endless wave of car and tuk tuk horns shouting at each other – a true an Indian ‘wake up call’.  I have never heard such a orchestra of differing sounds that sang in such harmony. I made myself some tea and tried to meditate. Sitting was a challenge and the angst of stepping out into the unfamiliar culture was is holding me hostage. I practiced some long exhale pranayama to calm my nerves and then drew out a map. I set off on my first exploration into the heart of R.A. Puram in the city of Chennai.

My first steps outside were somewhat refreshing. It was not too busy on the street where I would be living for the next month which was a relief. It was a bit humid outside and the air unlike anything I have ever experienced. It hits you hard. The aroma is pungent notes  and it cannot be pinned as good or bad. I got to the end of my block, turned right and proceeded into uncharted water. With each step I took further away from home, I felt more and more out of place. There were more and more people, more and more cars, and I was becoming more and more uncomfortable. This country which you come to learn quick is completely chaotic to a foreigner – people on top of people. If you are not paying attention you will not make it very long. The practice of mindfulness and presence of attention is non-negotiable to city life. It make you realize how forgetful we move around in our day to day life. It is like a meditation in some way moving through India. Your attention has to be completely embodied in each moment.

As I got to the main road, I decided that I was ready to head back. I tried carefully to retrace my footsteps but found myself lost. It was almost funny because the thought did cross my mind that this outcome way highly likely. I knew I should have been more careful about my orientation. Jokingly I thought to myself to bring bread crumbs. I had a useless map in my hand as I discovered the streets are rarely given accurate names. Even landmarks tend to confuse the unfamiliar. For example, one important reference point is the local hospital by the name of Kaliappa. However, when they changed the name to Kaliappa they did not change the signage which still bares the old words Billroth Hospital. I started to panic a bit but finally found my way home. I went to my room and laid down. Holy shit!

I was determined to make this place feel more like home so I went to the caretaker of the apartment and asked him for very specific directions so I could have some confidence in my Columbian skills. I embarked with much for confidence in my stride on my next trip into the streets. It is amazing how just a bit of help and trust can change your entire perspective. I have never experienced trust in such a primal way before; at least not that I can remember. This time I made it much further away from the apartment and with much more precision. I ate a light lunch, bought a few groceries from the store, visited the Yoga Mandiram and then started trekking home. Then all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I saw a coffee shop called Cafe 64. It was not just a run down, little, coffee shop like most of the other building that were around but one that resembled something that you would find in the states. It was clean, cozy and most of all familiar. I went in, sat down and sipped on coffee while soaking in the comforts of familiarity. Like a child wrapped up in its favorite blanket, I finally felt “warm.” I have a feeling I will be back.

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