Drink deep the dust of the world around you, it’s vanishing as we speak. Drink deep the cow shit and the poverty, drink deep the human ash and give it a home inside of you where it belongs.
and there I was, sitting in my solo rickshaw, gasping for breath, taking big old gulps while I suffocated under my heaving sobs and swollen tears. I was aching and straining like i was being torn from my mother.
The people and signs and cycles and cows are all foreign again, as if laughing at my assumed belonging. As if they know I’m only temporary, as temporary as the grit in the air that moves around my path, disturbed and unglued, settling only in the damp corners of my eyes and nostrils.
The funny thing is, the curious thing rather, is that this is not secure or familiar. This is not anxiety of discomfort this is longing to remain inside it. I long not to be plucked from the gristle of this experience and crammed back into the ordinary linearity of my American existence.
And yet, the place I’m going is a study center. A quiet and academic room where I will sit with sock-footed old men and discuss philosophy, awareness, meditation, and self inquiry. It’s dispassionate and full of soul at once. How I love the men in their vests and socks and scarves!
We drive past Jasminder’s house, where she cooked me paratha and told me about her family. We joked about the owl that got into her house and we looked for a long time at each others eyes, knowing that our friendship— her mentorship— was meaningful and sacred. I look at her art, women becoming nature, realizing themselves in nature.
And here I am going again to Rajghat to sit with the sock footed men.
The rickshaw walla and I stop for chai and sit in silence while he chews his paan. I have time this week. for the first time in a long time, I’m running early. I don’t know what’s happened to the usual traffic today; it just wasn’t. I remind myself that I can still hear the honking through my headphones— the occasional groan of a water buffalo even.
I’m listening to “Let it Be,” a song I thought I’d become numb to until I’m sitting in a bumpy auto rickshaw weeping watching trash burning in India on my way to observe my very selfhood. I’m going home in two weeks. In two days, I leave Banaras.
I learn I can return home always. A year ago I was crying in my Asheville bed, sick deeply in my own depression, and I heard the quiet desperate words escape my mouth: “I want to go home.” I was in my childhood bed; i wasn’t home.
Here I found a home inside and outside of the cosmic and literal geography of this sacred city.
We pass a boney tree, painted red, garlanded for worship. A child without pants laughs at their hopscotch and a man makes eye contact with me while holding his penis. It’s getting rather dark now. It’s 5:34.
I’m watching the outside with fresh eyes, trying to observe this ride and engulf every detail. I can really look at it now. I recollect my drive into the city for the first time. The overload of at all as my eyes lingered on power lines and dirt.
We arrive early and my auto waits outside for the hour of the discussion. When I take my seat, they joke with me, the sock footed men, and we chuckle that sweet warm laugh that comes with the safety of this environment, the comfort with learning about yourself. learning how dumb you are, mostly.
At the end, they know I’m leaving. They redirect some of my thoughts. In the cold i find my shoes and walk outside to the trees. I think of Jasminder again and almost cry of leaving, this time I don’t know what I feel other than gratitude for that very feeling.
Mukesh finds me outside and we talk about me. It’s very personal and unusual for the nature of our conversations. he walks me to my auto and takes my hands and says, “I’m not sad, because I know you’re coming back. And next time, you should stay for dinner.”
I agree to our indefinite dinner date and we hug. He secures me in the auto, telling the drive to take care of me and to drive slowly and to make sure I don’t breathe too much pollution.
As we wheel away, the 60s music returns to my ears— see, India really didn’t change me— and I try to open my eyes again. I want to perceive what is.
The road is torn up and bumpy.
Paul Simon tells me about the only living boy in New York.
My left leg is asleep.
I’m thinking a lot but the thoughts don’t stick or grow or fester. They’re helium balloons tapping on the window before continuing their path up and up and up.
Before my time here was even half over, I wrote thank you note to India, to the unfamiliar, to everything. I’m overflowing with gratitude.
But you don’t need to know any of that, whoever you are. If you want to be in on a little secret of my heart, however, you can know that I love myself.
And that’s pretty profound.
I walk through an alley of cows to get home and nestle my head into my giant shawl. I make my entire way home without turning my eyes from the full moon. It holds itself above me indefinitely and impermanently.
“I’m enough” I say out loud.
“and I’m coming back.”