“I could live in India!” I sighed dreamily this morning.
“I could definitely make this my home”.
It’s so different to how I imagined it. It’s so GREEN!!! It’s so lush! Many of the old buildings are SO unbelievably beautiful!
And then as I had my slow and steady early morning boat ride while watching the deep red sun rise along the Ganga in Varanasi I was transported back to Indias glorious and noble and wealthy past.
I saw the buildings in their former glory.
I glimpsed the Brahmans in their fine regalias… The King’s, the Sultans, the glorious glorious temples lining the streets, coated in gold…
But then I noticed the untouchables… I noticed the children working hard and both marrying and dieing VERY young.
I noticed the inferiority of women, I noticed the caste system. I saw people from lower castes being beaten and having their tongues chopped off for daring to utter a Gods mantra.
History played itself out like a movie right before my eyes and I stopped for a moment to catch my thoughts.
Yes, Great Britain raped and pillaged India – of that there is no doubt.
India is now poor because we colonised her and there really is no getting away from that fact.
But the beggars, the lepers, the people being treated as “less than” others because of their job, their role, the family they were born into.
That was all here way before the British were.
But education instead of physical work and child marriage was not and neither were the railways. Oh and widows still usually had to kill themselves after their husbands had died.
So Today I have managed to find some peace with what my ancestors did here. History is simply history. The ones with the power take their privileges and that sadly is just the way it has always been – I AM NOT FOR ONE MINUTE SAYING THIS IS GOOD – I am not one for being in a position of power myself.
Wherever there is bad – there is always – somewhere – if you seek it hard enough – some good to be found inside of that experience – somewhere or somehow!
Today something important happened.
Today, while in Varanasi – India just became India again. It stopped being the country that my country ruined.
It became a country with a history.
A country with its own unique history – one that intermingled with other histories – just like we as people do – we come into each others lives and we bring both bad and good and we change one another.
The more dominant person at the time has their will followed, sometimes to the detriment of the other person and sometimes for the better. The more wise of the two shines a mirror on things that need to change and if the other person is able to see sense then changes are made. And a lot of the time both people genuninely grow through the interaction.
If the weaker of the two becomes more powerful or cunning then the relationship ends or changes.
If the more spiritual of the two has an impact then the more materialistic one comes to understand life better.
All relationships bring change to both sides. Perhaps we develop fast or slowly, perhaps we make up for our wrongs or we don’t. But like countries after their relationships end or change – we all evolve in one way or another through our interactions.
Seeing an emaciated child sleeping on a cold hard slab of stone ripped my heart in two this morning. Seeing tens of men lining the streets with legs facing the wrong way or stumps instead of arms made my heart bleed all over again like that time in the tuc tuc on the way to the Krishna temple in Rishikesh.
There is SO much more blatant poverty in Varanasi than in Rishikesh but then being constantly pestered for money and grabbed at by men in the street forcefully and constantly having them trying to sell me things, being taken to an expensive restaurant for dinner and a friends shop by my tour guide and basically being bullied into a corner and almost forced to buy extremely expensive essential oils “with my credit card” filled me with rage.
How dare you assume that because my skin is white and I’ve managed to travel to India alone that I am rich and have money to throw around?
I HAVE NO MONEY MYSELF, IT IS NOT MY FAULT YOU ARE POOR!” – I wanted to scream and I wanted to scream it loudly.
It seemed that day that all of my illusions of how majestic and spiritual india was had came to a crashing halt.
But then I realised that a month ago – I was that rich tourist.
While the younger ones haggled over 20 rupees I happily paid what the shop keepers asked of me. Two dresses and two pairs of trousers for less than £10 – yes – I am ok with that! I am happy to spend that sort of money – especially now that I’ve got it to hand.
And yet, I understand and empathise with the backpackers who are in their 20’s and haggling – I was there once too you know.
But as my trip is drawing to a close and my house is still not sold I find myself once again counting the rupees. I find myself noticing how much a masala chai costs. I find myself asking the man at the hotel how much I should be paying for an iPhone cable and I leave the shop that wants 400 rupees (£5) and keep searching till I find one for 150 like the man at reception said I should be paying and I realise that lack, poverty and desperation really does do things to people.
In my mind I saw that small boy sleeping on the cold stone slab morphing into an adult.
Would he eat, would he survive if he just sat at the roadside passively? Or would he need to become dominant and forceful? Would he need to try desperately to tug at the heartstrings or forcefully try his best to get the foreigner to part with the cash that he believes she is loaded with?
Or perhaps I wondered – could there be another way for him? For that little boy asleep on the cold hard slab.
So on the drive to Bodhgyaya I decided to change my dominant thoughts about Varanasi and the people dwelling there, and I tried my best to not feel angry and scared when at the service station the man’s attitude changed abruptly from smiles and namastes to giving me a dirty look with a furrowed brow and him trying his best by pushing back his shoulders and cornering me, demanding more when I offered him 20 rupees to use the washroom (in rishikesh it was 5 ruppees).
I started picturing the beautiful Ganga again, I pictured all the pilgrims coming here from all over India, all over the world may be! I pictured the mourning sombre families burning their loved ones while boat loads of tourists took photographs and stared while they were singing mantras, having a 15 day funeral and hoping to send their loved ones out of Samsara. I pictured the ornate hand carved buildings from the 12th century, the fine silks and the women selling tooth brushes made out of branches of neem…
And I pictured that boy making his own pilgrimage. I pictured him heading north to one of the ashrams. One with a good swami like the one I met at Phool Chatti Ashram in Rishikesh – That gorgeous old man who radiated loving kindness – (not the guru who has just been sent to prison for raping his disciples) and I pictured him taking respite there.
I pictured him working the land in return for food and shelter. Growing his soul and mind through meditation and study and turning into a Swami himself one day. And I mentally swapped that for the wish I’d made with my flower and candle offering to the Ganga that morning.
If my original wish doesn’t come true – well I’ll be a bit sad but it’s not so bad. I’d give that precious wish up if it means that boy will go on to better things.
Yet I will now let it all go and leave it in the hands of mother Ganga and I’ll let it all slip out of my mind, just like I will let the children in the service station begging me for money that I don’t have slip away into the past too – as the past is in the past and I am on route to a new tomorrow.
A new tomorrow where I will wake up in Bodhgyaga. Where, unlike when in Rishikesh – I have no money to buy things with without haggling, I have no bananas or sweeties to give. Where 10 rupees will seem just as precious to me as it is to those children at the roadside and I will truly value money, food, shelter and the life I am fortunate enough to live back at home once again.
Yes, you are poor – DESPERATELY poor in fact BUT it is not my fault and when I am poor too – you don’t get anything out of me. Like yoga philosophy class taught us. When your life is abundant you share with others and you do it with an open and giving heart as I have always done but when it isn’t – you can do nothing but look after yourself first in whatever way you personally deem appropriate.
And if that means some people pester people they perceive to have money then that is what I have to accept for I realise I can do nothing to change their perception of me – all I can do is be true to myself, to live my life the only way I know how.
To pay the asking price (if I am happy with it) for things and to give resources when I have got them and to say no either as forcefully or as empathically as needed when I have not got anything to give.
The second part of my trip has helped me to become more assertive. I have cottoned on that before someone brings me a cup of chai or I use a toilet I have to say loudly “NO – TELL ME HOW MUCH!” First – before I agree to things. Because when you haven’t got it – there’s a big difference between 10 rupees and 40!
So instead of ignoring the children outside the service station completely I looked into their eyes. I smiled, said Namaste and said “no, sorry – I don’t have any money”. The little boys continued to pester, they banged on the car door and pointed to their mouths. But the little girl waved goodbye to me and smiled. We both raised our hands in front of our heart centres in a Namaste as my car pulled out of the service station and back onto the highway once again.
Shiva Trishula’s – Ink.