[ sometimes we walk alone : notes from a pilgrimage ]
Welcome to India.
I had no idea at the time. Who these people were and how blessed I am to have been a part of their story. To listen.
“Did you bring any money?” Lizza asks me. Lizza grew up in the Punjab, spent a few years working in Amerika, and recently walked out[i] of the matrix with her husband, returning to India.
They are people, wanting to work with people, for people. They want to take their time and rethink the way they are living. She has been shaped by the idea of the gurudwara – the Sikh temple that welcomes pilgrims at any hour with food and refuge. I can see her becoming the gurudwara, herself. As Osho said, let the ashram be found within each disciple.
Lizza's parents, of course, are concerned. They want her to have a job and curtains and children. As I see more clearly the irony shades towards beauty – how so many of our generation, shaped by our parents' courage and values to do something different, find ourselves with neither support nor understanding from those very models. We are just trying to live our inspirations.
Yes, I say. I see myself taking the bus the day before, from my uncles in Nehrunagar to Jayeshbhai in Ranip, finding exactly 312 points in my pocket. An auspicious number, so I let the money be, though I had no plan to use it on my pilgrimage.
Lizza tells me of a man, Satish Kumar, who planned to walk (for peace, I guess) from India to John F. Kennedy's eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery. When he went to seek his guru's blessing, the man – great and bearded in my imagination – gave him one piece of advice:
“Do not take any money.”
By taking money, apparently, he would deny himself the true experience of pilgrimage, and deny those he met along the way the opportunity to take care of him.[ii]
I am easily convinced, find my 312 points, and hand them to Lizza as we walk. She refuses, reminding me I have to come back somehow, and leaves me with 200 points I promise only to use for the vuelta.
We reach the irrigation house at Chandola Lake, Gandhiji's stopping point for midday. Serenity. Around 10h30 and four slow hours of walking. Jayeshbhai, Anarben, and Anjali had walked me out of the reporters' range, until we crossed into the old city. Lizza, Mayur, Janesh and I sit together on the quiet lawn and listen to the birds, gentle and part of the quiet. We meditate and Lizza brings some chickoo.
I woke up at 4h30 this morning, following Gandhiji's example, performed my morning practices, and was ready to walk at 6h30. Seventy-six years ago, to the day[iii], Gandhiji woke up at the same time, performed his morning practices, and left his beloved Sabarmati Ashram punctually at 6h30.
Jayeshbhai and Anarben live a few minutes from the Sabarmati Ashram, in a beautiful house infused by the love of their lives and work. During one small season in their lifetime of service, they spent a year in Kutch, helping to rebuild an entire village after the 2002 earthquake. In the years since, many of the artisans from that village have come to Ahmedabad to ply their wares. They often stay at Jayesh and Anar’s home, decorating it in appreciation. As such, it is full of thickly carved furniture, traditional mirror- and mud-work on the walls, and brightly colored embroideries. It's the richest home ever to have held me, for a time.
They sat down with me last night to give me some advice, to share some of their radiance:
“Play with the children. The key to parents' hearts is through the children.”
“Sleep is free medicine.”
“Faith. Faith. Faith.”
It is the only advice I have ever received in the Motherland that had something to do with me, relevant to this incarnation and consciousness, and not merely some old man – precious corner of the universe though he may be – wanting to be heard. And they are the only guidelines I have besides the map and list that another friend, Janeshbhai, kindly photocopied for me, arming me with the names of the villages where Gandhi stopped each day, and the distances between them.[iv]
Janeshbhai also, kindly, called the media. When we arrived at the ashram at 6h00, we found its ritual peace invaded by camerapeople and politicians. A woman in white spoke to me in languages I didn't understand, draped me in an Indian flag prominent with her party affiliation, and turned me towards the TV camera. I was cleanly shaven and smiled.
They seemed to want scripted responses and were satisfied for whatever language they could get. It's a rare thing when anyone less than old pays attention to Gandhi and rarer still, perhaps, that the media pays attention to him. It's a rare thing when a foreigner makes a commitment to Gandhiji and rarer still, perhaps, when the foreigner is not, exactly, a foreigner.
Jayeshbhai and Anarben seemed to have been through all of this before and kindly invited the circus to pray with the lions, a sure method to ensure quiet if not apathy. We sat together on Gandhiji's hallowed Prarthna Bhoomi, speaking the holy words from many religious traditions collected in the Sarva Dharma Prarthna.
Om Tat Sat Sri Narayana Tu
Purasha Tama Guru Tu
Siddha Buddha Tu Skanda Vinayaka
Savita Pavaka Tu
A closure, a silence, a signal from Jayeshbhai, and we leave. Anarben, Jayeshbhai, Janeshbhai, his cousin Mayurbhai, Anjali, Lizza, and myself. And a group of TV camerapeople and their wires walking backwards. Me in Gandhiji's footsteps and malice in my heart, trying not to wish that they tripped. The woman in white, whom I imagine to be Sonya Gandhi (without knowledge or other justification), implores me not to eat in hotels and always to sit on the ground. All good things.
We leave the last of the morning media at the intersection known only as “Income Tax”, where they had set up establishing shots of Gandhiji's statue in preparation for my darshan of it. I skip the photo-op, paying my respects while walking. A while later we stop at Kochrab, where Gandhiji had established the ashram before Sabarmati. There I absolve myself of the wreaths and flowers I had mysteriously acquired in the morning festivities, offering them to a huge mural of the man himself.
It’s time to go. I bid farewell to my friends and rejoin the road, already in progress. I walk for over an hour, leaving Chandola Lake for a gauntlet of large trucks, busy intersections, and greasy air. My escorts had left with me with chickoo and goodbyes, and yet I do not, yet, feel alone.
This is India. The omnipresence is omnipresent. You are always watched. Janeshbhai emphasized as he asked his leave – always ask for directions, at every intersection. Only possible, I think, in India, where at every intersection you will find a group of humans who want to tell you where to go and what to do. Humans who may have walked to the Himalayas and back, or who may never have seen the next village – either way they know which way to go. Nobody ever minds, nobody is ever bothered, nobody ever feels crowded, nobody ever needs personal space. Except me. It's a fact.
Before leaving, Janeshbhai's friend had come from a local newspaper for a final interview. The reporter asked what my message was, what wisdom I was carrying to the people of Gujarat. I am not terribly interested in the media.
There is a subtle game I am learning to play, though. I must be okay with it – it exists. Pushing myself into the calm, taking advantage of the ephemeral power to promote some positive memes instead of abdicating responsibility, “I have no message...”.
I tell him the message is LOVE and it doesn’t belong to me or to anyone else. All I'm trying to do is carry it on down the line, to walk a few days with such a slippery package without making a mess of everyone involved.
It doesn't even matter so much to me whether it's love for the Mother or love for Gandhiji or love for the Gujarati people or love for the Self. All spectacular flavors in the great candy store of the soul and the point is the flow, the faucet opening itself to the flow.
Soon after noon I want to rest and come to a grove of chickoo along the road. No one official in sight but an electrician who gives me casual permission to enter. I get the sense property rights don’t quite work the same way here. There certainly aren’t enough guns to enforce them[v].
I sit down amidst corn and chickoo on hard ground and feel comfortable. Relieved. A little time to practice music or to write. A little peace out of the sun. It occurred to me on the road that all sorts of universe will happen to me. Some “good” and some “bad”. If the mystics and ayurvedic physicians are right:
1) all these actions have a cause
2) that which I find in my life is a microcosm of that which we find in the universe[vi]
Which means I will meet George Harrison and George Bush on this epic journey and should be shy with neither. The “unfortunate” is diagnosis and homework, the “fortunate” confirmation and temptation.
Temptation. The chickoo floats in front of me. Have my sore shoulders earned me any right to steal fruit? Or just to carry less? The faint perfumes of Saint Augustine's pear trouble my memories[vii]. Did he ever make it to India? Would he pick these chickoo? They are not his and why should he respect that? If Proudhon is right, Property is Theft[viii]. If it's Jesus we're after, then Caesar deserves his fruit and we our hunger[ix]? And the Matrix's Morpheus: none of this is real and yet “the body cannot live without the mind[x]”. At last the errant mind returns to Gandhi: how can you seek truth without first controlling your hunger?[xi]That settles it. I fold my legs and sit.
[by ankur shah]
[i] Swapathgami, to make ones own path or whatever, ref edition which has her story
[ii] the real story is that there were X men, they went for nuclear peace, and to the four nuclear capitals of the world, and the disciple was Vinoba Bhave. I knew none of this at the time.
[iii] according to the Gregorian calendar, for what it's worth
[iv] see appendix
[v] financial power too comes from the barrel of a gun (doug henwood)
[vi] lok purusha samaya (cite)
[vii] augustine and the stolen pear (cite)
[viii] Proudhoun, property is theft, cite
[ix] cite give unto ceaser what is ceaser and god what is gods (cite)
[x] cite from the matrix part I (morpheus, cite)
[xi] see ashram observances: control of the palate