Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lightning and Reflection: A 28-hour Journey to Kolkata

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” 
― Anaïs Nin

We cruise north along the Bay of Bengal, acres and acres of green rice paddies and banana trees to our left. The sun rises to our right through a layer of milky cloud cover. The chaiwalas are on the move in their freshly pressed khaki uniforms, snaking their way through the train cars, waking the sleeping passengers. I am groggy and sticky from the humidity, sunshine slicing through the open doors on the train. I check the time. 6:30 am. I rise, unable to go back to sleep now that awareness of my uncomfortably parched body occupies my thoughts. Matthew is awake, chai in hand and a smile on his face. Mornings are our favorite, especially on a train to a new destination. The train stops and another khaki-clad chaiwala passes through yelling "chai chai chai" in his drone-like voice and this time I stop him, eager for a morning pick-me-up. Five weeks of being vegan hasn't changed my love of dairy and caffeine. He hands me the cup along with a package of Parle-G biscuits to dip in my tea. Memories of Mumbai flash through my mind as I recall the late afternoon tea sessions with our host family, sitting in the family room watching India's Got Talent and playing spades. A warm feeling rushes through me. 
The chaiwala sits across from us, resting from his duties. He smiles at me. He is young with short black hair and straight white teeth. I like him. He points at the cup and says "India's best chai," and I take a sip of the sweet, milky black tea. He was right; the chai is amazing.
Two refills later we are moving again, the countryside rushing past us, my pink scarf whipping in the wind from the window. Cows graze the splotchy grass lining the train tracks and white herons perch lazily on the backs of black oxen. My resting  companions begin to stir as the chatter inside the train increases. I begin to crochet my half-finished water bottle holder, taking breaks to observe the passing landscape. The people around me are intrigued by my pastime, frequently watching my hands manipulate the needle through the thread. A young food attendant with round, rosy cheeks and brown eyes passing through the car stops to watch and motions to his wrist and back to the thread, indicating he'd like a bracelet. Why not?Seven hours into a 28-hour ride to Kolkata, I have time to make a gift for my new friend. I begin to see the kindness, the desire to connect, in the people of India again, my vision unclouded by personal filters of emotion and mental turbulence. 

The hours stretch forward, an endless motion picture of passing tropical scenery. We chat with the locals, talking about flag colors as I make a new Rasta-colored water bottle holder. A few women stop as they pass me to watch and point at my newest addition to my hair, a lulu (a multi-colored macrame'd hair wrap) Matthew and my Israeli friend Bar put in my hair before we left Sadhana. I think back to the multicultural circle of friends we made there-friends from Sweden, Finland, Germany, India, Israel, Australia, Canada, Kentucky, France-and how learning about their homes and their life stories motivated me in my own venture. We all hail from different nations but our similarities far outweigh our differences. We came together to live in a clean lifestyle, clean food, clean environment, clean minds, clean faces, clean hair, truly being ourselves without trying to be what anyone thought we should be. 

Hours later, the sun is setting and the temperature drops dramatically, a chill wind sweeps through the train cabin. I have exhausted my hands from crochet and my mind is tired but restless. The novelty of the ride has worn off and I am feeling dull but in good spirits. I think back to the time before Sadhana, when I still wasn't comfortable in India and wary of everyone I came into contact with. I don't know what or how things shifted for me or even when, I just know that somewhere along the line I healed. Sadhana helped me heal in some way, helped heal my wounds I brought with me from home, helped heal my rage against oppression, helped heal my spirit. I don't know if it was the slow blowing wind dancing through the trees at night, the early morning stillness in rising with the sun, or the hours of sweat-filled ecstatic dance sessions in the cool hours of the evening.  

I am jerked back to reality from my contemplation as a bolt of lightning slices through the dark sky off in the distance, catching my eye. I sit up in my seat, looking around to see if anyone else noticed it. Another bolt flashes across the night sky, this time closer, splitting and creating a spiderweb of light, jagged and jumping from cloud to cloud. The bolts increase in frequency, moving closer and closer until they are right above us and we can only see the clouds illuminating from our perch by the window. The roar of the train drowns out the thunder but it has to be loud, the lightning is right above us. A lightning storm in India! I wonder how safe we are in essentially a metal tube on metal tracks and try to push the thought from my mind. I have seen mostly sunshine and blue skies for almost a year now- I can't remember the last time I saw lightning or heard the clap of thunder. It reminds me of how special a summer storm was for me growing up and I feel nostalgic for a moment recalling driving up to the top of college hill with my family and watching the lightning dance across the valley sky. The heavens open up and rain begins to fall, large drops of water bouncing into the train from the windows. I shut our window, sad I can't watch the lightning anymore. 
I drift back into thought, thankful for my healing. Many parts of my life came together in those short five weeks at Sadhana, giving me the strength to carry on and feel light in an unforeseeable journey. Living by example, my best friends at Sadhana taught me about perseverance, ingenuity, and faith in the world, something of which I needed to be reminded. I found the certainty in the uncertainty, finding inspiration in the stories of people who are on similar unbound journeys and have made their way. I found the truth that the world is full of good people who want to make a connection with the people traveling through their country. I found the courage to be kind to others who are not like me, who look and think differently. I found the belief that we will make it no matter what happens. I found the acceptance to be who I naturally am without makeup, without glamour, without facade. Most importantly, I found me.

1 comment:

  1. sounds like you're living a true and natural life that you were born to live god bless you and my son Semper Fi