India: Six Months, in the Blink of an Eye, in (someone else’s) Poems

October 18th, 8AM: Arrive at the New Delhi airport just as the day starts to heat up.  Unload my gargantuan bag off of the conveyor belt, wheel it around the concourse looking for the perfect spot, settle on a little nook just around the corner from the front entrance, and with the bemused, perplexed permission of two police officers, begin to assemble my bicycle.  Spend two hours flipping the frame this way and that, placing fenders, then tires, then racks in their proper place, searching out missing screws, repacking all my life’s possessions into four pannier bags and one backpack, trying not to mind as small crowds gather, gawk, and dissipate.  With vehicle finally in one piece, load the bag big enough to hold a bicycle onto the bicycle itself and pedal out of the concourse.  Ride for several hours through the mayhem, the heat, the honks, the lawless traffic circles, keeping one eye out for potholes and another out for gas stations with functioning drinking water dispensers.  Eventually, on the other side of the city, meet an old friend for a late lunch, discover the happening indie neighborhood, get stopped by a travel blogger and schedule an interview for later that week, kill another hour by going to town on a fermented rice pancake, then cycle across town in the dark to meet another friend’s mother, who has offered to house, feed, and entertain me for the next week.  She does. 

October 23rd:  After a few days and a couple of different kinds of chaos with friends old and new in Delhi, begin the ride 500km ride north to Dharamshala.  Spend one night sleeping on the floor of a small Sikh temple with approximately twenty other menfolk, including four Indian Taekwondo students who have come to town to represent their college in the state championships.  Spend another night at a large, electrified Hindu temple, and learn the story of a God who destined a young boy to die at twelve, but changed his mind after the boy’s pleas and instead allowed him to live forever.  Spend another two night’s crashing with Jack’s friend Moonstar’s friend Rajesh and family.  Get treated to at least five glasses of fresh OJ per day.  Next night at another Gurudwara (Sikh Temple), this time a huge, sprawling complex with rooms for pilgrims.  My room had four beds, a private shower and toilet, set me back $1.50, and included tea and meals in the dining hall.   Then a night at a pilgrims’ rest house atop a mountain pass. 

October 29th: Reach Badmash Peepal, a small animal welfare project outside of Dharamshala.  Spend a week weeding, irrigating, playing with puppies, helping to care for cows with infected wounds, and trying to woo a certain someone. 

November 9th: Wooing successful!  Move with Karishma to the Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living.  She takes a job as the kitchen and hospitality manager, I wheedle myself into the volunteer role of garden dilettante and general sprucer-upper. 

December 5th-ish:  Dharmalaya founders Mark and Mai-Linh head back to their respective homes for the winter, leaving Me and K as the winter stewards.  Ensuing adventures living in a remote, five-household mountaintop Indian village where everyone has the same last name and the plumber is always drunk will be the subject of several upcoming posts that I promise not to procrastinate on. 

April 6th: Whoops, visa expires in a week.  Time to get back on the bicycle.  Except, now it’s bicycleS!  Nepal, here we come!

 

 

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Boom!  Now you’re all caught up on the last six months of my life. 

 

 

 

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By now I’ve spent a total of nearly two years in India and Nepal: five months in winter ‘09-‘10, June ‘014 to nearly May ‘015, and October ‘015 to now.  That’s some two dozen blog posts’ worth of material for you to peruse (start with this one from my very first night) if you haven’t yet gotten a sense of the sensory assault and daily joys and absurdities that travelers here are bound to experience.   Like watching baton-wielding police threaten to beat unruly carnival-goers who won’t play nice while waiting in line for the New Year’s fireworks.   The latter scrambled around with childlike cheek-to-cheek grins, somehow wise enough to see the hilarity behind the prospect of getting caned.  

 

 

 

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So, this time, rather than trying to recall and list all the little details that I just skipped over, I would prefer to introduce you to some other gems that I found along the way: namely, selected poems of Rabindranath Tagore.  One of India’s most renowned poets, Tagore was the first non-westerner to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.  The poems in his collection Gitanjali offer a touching synthesis of the spiritual and material, the divine and the common, the great and the small, and other such heady themes that work their way into the mind of an experience-hungry budget traveler who spends his mornings in search of cheap local breakfasts, his afternoons napping in the shade of gnarled Banyans, and his evenings sleeping on the temple floor with pilgrims of races and religions he knows nothing about. 

 

 

“The child who is decked with prince’s robes and who has jeweled chains round his neck loses all pleasure in his play; his dress hampers him at every step.

In fear that it may be frayed, or stained with dust he keeps himself from the world, and is afraid even to move.

Mother, it is no gain, they bondage of finery, if it keep one shut off from the healthful dust of the earth, if it rob one of the right of entrance to the great fair of common human life.”

 

 

 

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“When I bring to you coloured toys, my child, I understand why there is such a play of colours on clouds, on water, and why flowers are painted in tints – when I give coloured toys to you, my child.

When I sing to make you dance I truly know why there is music in leaves, and why waves send their chorus of voices to the heart of the listening earth – when I sing to make you dance.

When I bring sweet things to your greedy hands, I know why there is honey in the cup of the flower and why fruits are secretly filled with sweet juice – when I bring sweet things to your greedy hands.

When I kiss your face to make you smile, my darling, I surely understand what the pleasure is that streams from the sky in morning light, and what delight that is which the summer breeze brings to my body – when I kiss you to make you smile.”

 

 

 

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“On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying, and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.

Only now and again a sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange fragrance in the south wind.

That vague sweetness made my heart ache with longing and it seemed to me that it was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion.

I knew now then that it was so near, that it was mine, and that this perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I am here to sing thee songs. In this hall of thine I have a corner seat.

In thy world I have no work to do; my useless life can only break out in tunes without a purpose.

When the hour strikes for the silent worship at the dark temple of midnight, command me, my master, to stand before thee to sing.

When in the morning air the golden harp is tuned, honour me, commanding my presence. “

 

 

 

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“I had gone a-begging from door to door in the village path, when thy golden chariot appeared in the distance like a gorgeous dream and I wondered who was this King of all kings!

My hopes rose high and methought my evil days were at an end, and I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth scattered on all sides in the dust.

The chariot stopped where I stood. They glance fell on me and thou camest down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last. Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say “What hast thou to give to me?”

Ah what a kingly jest it was to open thy palm to a beggar to beg! I was confused and stood undecided, and then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to thee.

But how great my surprise when at the day’s end I emptied my bag on the floor to find a least little grain of gold among the poor heap. I bitterly wept and wished that I had had the heart to give thee my all.”

 

 

 

 

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“Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them.

Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.

I am certain that priceless wealth is in thee, and that thou art my best friend, but I have not the heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room.

The shroud that covers me is a shroud of dust and death; I hate it, yet hug it in love.

My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy; yet when I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted. “

 

 

 

 

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“This is my prayer to thee, my lord – strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart.

Give me the strength to lightly bear my joys and sorrows.

Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.

Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.

Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.

And give me the strength to surrender my strength to thy will with love.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet.

Like a rain-cloud of July hung low with its burdens of unshed showers let all my mind bend down at thy door in one salutation to thee.

Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.

Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to the mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home in one salutation to thee.”

 

 

 

 

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“The day was when I did not keep myself in readiness for thee; and entering my heart unbidden even as one of the common crowd, unknown to me, my king thou didst press the signet of eternity upon many a fleeting moment of my life.

And to-day when by chance I light upon them and see thy signature, I find they have lain scattered in the dust mixed with the memory of joys and sorrows of my trivial days forgotten.

Thou didst not turn in contempt from my childish play among dust, and the steps that I heard in my playroom are the same that are echoing from star to star.”

 

 

 

 

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“When my play was with thee I never questioned who thou wert. I knew nor shyness nor fear, my life was boisterous.

In the early morning thou wouldst call me from my sleep like my own comrade and lead me running from glade to glade.

On those days I never cared to know the meaning of songs thou sangest to me. Only my voice took up the tunes, and my heart danced in their cadence.

Now, when playtime is over, what is this sudden sight that is come upon me. The world with eyes bent upon thy feet stands in awe with all its silent starts.”

 

 

 

 

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“I know that the day will come when my sight of this earth shall be lost, and life will take its leave in silence, drawing the last curtain over my eyes.

Yet stars will watch at night, and morning rise as before, and hours heave like sea waves casting up pleasures and pains.

When I think of this end of my moments, the barrier of the moments breaks and I see by the light of death thy world with its careless treasures. Rare is its lowliest seat, rare is its meanest of lives.

Things that I longed for in vain and things that I got – let them pass. Let me but truly possess the things that I ever spurned and overlooked.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.”

 

 

 

 

 

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“Let only that little be left of me whereby I may name thee my all.

Let only that little be left of my will whereby I may feel thee on every side, and come to thee in everything, and offer thee my love every moment.

Let only that little be left of me whereby I may never hide thee.

Let only that little of my fetters be left whereby I am bound with thy will, and thy purpose is carried out in my life – and that is the fetter of thy love.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“If it is not my portion to meet thee in this my life then let me ever feel that I have missed thy sight – let me not forget for a moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.

As my days pass in the crowded market of this world and my hands grow full with the daily profits, let me ever feel that I have gained nothing – let me not forget for a moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.

When I sit by the roadside, tired and panting, when I spread my bed low and in the dust, let me ever feel that the long journey is still before me – let me not forget for a moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.

When my rooms have been decked out and the flutes sound and the laughter there is loud, let me ever feel that I have not invited thee to my house – let me not forget for a moment, let me carry the pangs of this sorrow in my dreams and in my wakeful hours.”

 

 

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“Is it beyond thee to be glad with the gladness of this rhythm? To be tossed and lost and broken in the whirl of this fearful joy?

All things rush on, they stop not, they look not behind, no power can hold them back, they rush on.

Keeping steps with that restless, rapid music, seasons come dancing and pass away – colours, tunes and perfumes pour in endless cascades in the abounding joy that scatters and gives up and dies at every moment.“

 

 

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“I know thee as my God and stand apart – I do not know thee as my own and come closer. I know thee as my father and bow before thy feet – I do not grasp thy hand as my friend’s.

I stand not where thou comest down and ownest thyself as mine, there to clasp thee to my heart and take thee as my comrade.

Thou art the Brother amongst my brothers, but I heed them not, I divide not my earnings with them, thus sharing my all with thee.

In pleasure and in pain I stand not by the side of men, and thus stand by thee. I shrink to give up my life, and thus do not plunge into the great waters of life.”

 

 

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“When I go from hence let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

I have tasted of the hidden honey of this lotus that expands on the ocean of light, and thus am I blessed – let this be my parting word.

In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play and here have I caught sight of him that is formless.

My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch; and if the end comes here, let it come – let this be my parting word.”

 

 

 

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“Thy gifts to us mortals fulfill all our needs and yet run back to thee undiminished.

The river has its everyday work to do and hastens through fields and hamlets; yet its incessant stream winds towards the washing of they feet.

The flower sweetens the air with its perfume; yet its last service is to offer itself to thee.

They worship does not impoverish the world.

From the words of the poet men take what meanings please them; yet their last meaning points to thee.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Thou has made me known to friends whom I knew not. Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own. Thou has brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.

I am uneasy at hear when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that there abides the old in the new, and that there also thou abidest.

Through birth and death, in this world or in others, wherever thou leadest me it is thou, the same, the one companion of my endless life who ever linkest my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar.

When one knows thee, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. Oh, grant me my prayer that I may never lose the bliss of the touch of the one in the play of the many.

 

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8 Responses to India: Six Months, in the Blink of an Eye, in (someone else’s) Poems

  1. Myra reichel says:

    Nice poem. Beautiful photographs. Lou and I currently in spiritual community of Damanhur in italy. Check it out built inside mountain. Started as barter community.

  2. Chris Carrieri says:

    thank you for sharing. I would never get to see this much of the world if it wasn’t for people like you who go and share with us that indulge in your travels… Chris in Ct. usa

    • Michael Roy says:

      Thanks, Chris. I’m glad that through me you can experience selected special moments without having to deal directly with the less pleasant stuff like heatstroke and air pollution! If my blog were up to date, there’d be a story about how I caught pneumonia a few weeks ago and was totally out of commission for a whole week. The total hospital bill for x-rays, blood tests, a consultation, and two weeks’ worth of antibiotics came out to about $15!

  3. Aaron from VA says:

    Love the synopsis and the pictures, though I’m most perplexed by the tree in the middle of the road! It is always awesome to see a 3RR post, as I too get to vicariously see parts of the world I’ll likely never see any other way. Congrats on your wooing, btw. I’d never want someone so crass as to want someone like you 😉 And that medical bill is just astounding – it’d be like $1500 here – easily. Stay safe my brother!

  4. Andy says:

    Great to see a post! Can’t wait to read more of the details.

  5. Michelle says:

    Hey Mike! Awesome post. Safe travels.