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Runaway Soul – Shores of Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh

It was during the summer of June 2011, that, I embarked for solitude, after the frenzied events happening in my life and escaping the same, in quest of peace. Anxious, desolate, puzzled, imploring for wisdom, I traversed through an unknown state of mind which directed me to ‘Dev Bhoomi – Land of Gods’ – ‘Rishikesh’. Though, in the land of divinity, I felt a bit afflicted. Something was deficient, Psyche was apprehensive. I was exploring for a locale to be at serenity.

Drifting through the narrow lanes, amid mysticism, I elapsed through many individuals clad in maroon and saffron longing for acumen. Rhesus Macaques’ along the boulevard played tranquilly with the pedestrians. Flavors of hot beverages and zesty lip-smacking snacks being made in the proximate kiosks filled the air. Shops selling local handicrafts were embracing the patrons for the affair. Local shutterbugs were keen to silver screen the tourists in the backdrop of the magnificent iron gargantuan – the ‘Laxman Jhula’. Snarling winds whisked past, making the environment more appealing with the oozing Ganges.

Segregating my way from the sounds of life, I marked my way down to the banks. Nestled in the base of Garhwal Himalayas, with waters of Ganges gushing along, are the maiden sandbanks, waiting to be reconnoitered. Sanctity is in the air. Just north of the western promenade of the illustrious Laxman Jhula Bridge at the plaza, stroll downhill on a narrow path covered in canopy of the greens. A few strides further, across a seasonal stream and Voilà, landscape’s untouched splendor and the hullabaloo of the bustling square was unheard. It was me, the open & wide Blues and the Azure Ganges. A few moments there and I were in poise. Time transpired and the sun was at the horizon. The shrines were beginning to brighten up for the dusk, with holy psalms and the oil lamps lit up, conferring reverence to the Mother Ganges. A sight to behold! My search for peace was attained.

Summers are the prudent period to stay in the divine land so as to escape the roaring waters of the rains and the freezing winters. Once at the concourse, taste the snacks and delicacies served by the hawkers and the adjoining food cabins. Don’t forget to get your exquisite moments snapped in the stunning landscape. And, to procure absolute harmony, just advance to the suggested lane from the plaza. Simply relax on the white sands and feel the temperate water. It’s YOU and the Mother Nature, total bliss! Your mind is at peace.

About the Author: An Architect by profession & an enthusiast of Political Science; traveling, exploring and understanding distinctive locales & cultures hold a center stage in me. Each human settlement in the world has its own identity making it distinct from another, which is shaped by its language, cultures, natural features, etc. Such uniqueness needs to be appreciated. Through the passage of time, I have felt an impulse of exploring them and comprehend it.

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The Black Hole of Chattra Sagar

I happened upon the Black Hole when out for a post dinner stroll in the dark under a  skyful of stars. Chattra Sagar was an oasis of rural peace between the kaleidoscopic assaults on the senses which are Indian cities: we had marvelled at the circus of Old Delhi on a rickshaw ride which somehow made its way like a stop-start tortoise which has wound off track and now picks its way through quicksand and against a tide of humanity.  We had walked round Jaipur, our heads made giddy and our nostrils keened by the smells and spice, inhaling the noise and smiling away the constant attentions of the press of locals who seemed simply to want to interact  rather than to profit; only the cows are untroubled here. Jodhpur’s blue houses and great fort  would come next.  That these few days in Rajasthan followed our time in Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas in the thin mountain air under high blue skies – our spirits salved by the tranquility and beauty of it all and by the unquenchable good-naturedness of the Buddhist people and the resonances of their ancient monasteries – made the transition back to the Indian cities seem like a flight to another planet.

But Chattra Sagar was an oasis, another change of planet.  In Ladakh we had camped and washed in freezing mountain streams and wheezed as we trekked; here we stayed in the most luxurious tented camp, eating aromatic and craftily spiced vegetarian food, and swam in the warm waters of the reservoir-lake down a flight of stone stairs from the tents and surrounded by a Jurassic Park full of bird life and bird sound and a golden haze.

We had spent the day swimming and strolling round the the nearby village and its fields, our senses dulled by the sultry heat and by the fly-swotting indolence of it all.  Here a turbaned old man in white reclining on a barrow with one knee raised as he lived out his time thinking who knows what thoughts; there two barefooted children playing with a home made spinning top; a young girl carrying a giant pitcher on her head turning to give a huge gap-toothed smile; the flies meandering as if their fly-hearts weren’t really in it round white cows wandering droolingly down the empty dusty street.  Even the odd monkey here is enervated by this dusty Raj-heat – such a contrast to their city cousins clambering over the hotchpotch of wires and cabling between the buildings of the narrow Delhi streets, screeching and hyperactive, their tempo mirroring that of their more distant human cousins in the crowds below.  In the fields women in stunningly colourful saris, looking like they must be dressed for a night out on the town – in orange and purple, blues, reds and bright green – bend and squat with their hand sickles to quietly fell and gather and stack the golden sheaves and tug their bright headscarves over their heads to ward off the sun.  At dawn the sun had risen huge and hot over the jagged hills beyond the reservoir: the biggest sun I have ever seen and filling the sky with orange.

We had eaten wonderfully: gently spiced potatoes that tasted of potato, tomatoes cooked with star anise, delicate lentil and bean curries in which individual spices stood out and washed down with a couple of cool beers.  The night was densely black and balmy, warm but comfortably so and the moonless sky was a stunner.  So we strolled  at the sauntering pace of the place after supper, necks craning up to the turning heavens.  I heard my daughter Tess, who had walked this way earlier in the light, begin to say: “Watch out for the….”

And I plummeted into blackness.  It seemed quite a long way down as the thorned plants that grow everywhere and bigger and sharper in the tropics slashed away.


I recall letting out a remarkably mild expression of surprise on my way down, rather than the expletives I would have expected of myself, and thinking that was a funny thing to have said, even in my nonplussed state at the time of my continuing descent. Something along the lines of “Well I never” but not that; I wish I could remember now exactly what it was.  My family – someone had dug out a torch by now – were in hysterics of course.  They formed a human chain to help me out of the Black Hole, which fortunately hadn’t been quite as bottomless as it had seemed on the way down, barely able to hold onto one another’s hands, so helplessly convulsed by laughter were they all.  I came out blooded and scathed but, I like to think, dignity intact.  The merest mention of the Black Hole of Chattra Sagar, even these years later, will set them off again.

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Hungary: – My land of Independence


I was born and brought up in a humble family in India. I lived a simple life within the boundaries of the few Indian states I lived in. My parents worked hard to put me through school and I worked hard and put myself through college and eventually a Master’s program. My parents didn’t ever let me think that anything was impossible but they did make me realize that I would have to work hard for what I wanted because we were not financially sound. I grew up knowing the value of money and what things cost but that never stopped me from dreaming.


I grew up dreaming of an escape from India into an unknown land where I would find myself alone. I was fiercely wild and independent as a child; my parents divorce created that deep sense or need for me to be brave and independent but I often wondered if I would be the same if I was left all alone in this big bad world. Did I have the courage to battle life without any help? Could I really enjoy life if I was alone and had to fend for myself? I grew up wanting to embrace this challenge someday and the few who heard my dream laughed as hard as they could. They could not believe my audacity to have such a dream. Some kind people took the time to tell me it would never happen, not only because I didn’t have the finance but because I was a girl. They only assumed that a girl didn’t have the strength to face a challenge like this. The more people told me I couldn’t or wouldn’t do it, the more determined I became to prove them wrong. I kept sending out prayers for my dream to become a reality and in God’s good time He answered, he made my dream a reality.


Towards the end of 2009, I embarked on a journey of a lifetime. I boarded my first ever international flight to the continent I dreamed of visiting all my life, Europe. I set flight to Hungary. God was so good in answering my prayer that He granted every minute detail I had ever requested for. Hungary was a country I couldn’t have pointed on the world map. All I knew about the country was that it was in Europe, I hadn’t heard about its history, its people or the language. This was everything I had dreamed of and so with no hesitation I boarded that flight to Hungary, a flight that took me to the promise of the unknown and away from everyone I ever loved and cared for. The excitement of living my dream overtook the sorrow of leaving home, the joy of freedom ran wildly through every vein and the mere promise of unadulterated independence pumped more adrenaline than I had ever felt before. This was it! This was my chance!


Freedom comes with a price; India’s history had proved it and so did mine. Life wasn’t as sweet as I had dreamed or wished it to be. Life in the new land was tough but one that was packed with more lessons than I ever thought possible. I spent a year in Eger, Hungary and every day was new, filled with surprises. I learnt a world about people and even more about me. It took Hungary to help me realize I loved my God, my family and my country with an incomparable love and I loved my independence. I was perfectly content living alone. I loved getting to know people, their culture, their food, their lifestyle. I loved introducing them to my culture, my food, my entertainment and my lifestyle. I hosted parties and played the perfect Indian host. I went to their parties, socialized, embraced their culture but continued to be uniquely Indian. I did things I had never done here in India. I travelled alone, ate in restaurants alone, spent days writing poetry in parks, went for runs at midnight, barbecued at valleys, became adventurous and tried different food, Hiked in Slovakia, invited strangers to live with me, visited and stayed with strangers and danced to Hindi songs on the streets of Eger.




I was, then, somebody I had never been before. I was a crazily bold 23year old Indian, oozing with undeniable confidence. I introduced myself to complete strangers and made friends that I now know will last a life time. Hungary will forever remain supremely precious to me; it was an experience of a lifetime. It was in Hungary I embraced Independence and freedom like never before and I enjoyed every single minute of it. Independence is a true gift, best learnt through world travel.

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As I stood in the Mumbai hospital halls surrounded with the three most important men in my life, tears seeped deep into my heart when we heard of my mother’s diagnosis soon after she was rushed from the hospital room to the ICU with chest congestion.

I was attempting to stay strong while my father, brother, husband and I all had our ears painfully wide open when a torrent of wordage such as “life-threatening”, “bad luck” and “grim situation” were pouring out of the doctor’s mouth.  My mother was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disorder after two months of having a Fever of Unknown Origin (FUO) and a plethora of tests to identify the cause.

Therein started the long days and nights in Mumbai for the next three months, most of which were spent within the confines of the hospital.  This wasn’t the exact plan I had in mind for that time.  Instead, what was in the books was to see the northern lights in Iceland, and to eat tapas and sip sangrias with my mother and father in Spain, after my mother would first cajole my father into meeting me there.  Circumstances changed.  I adapted.  Instead of the serene light show in Iceland, I witnessed the roaring lights and sounds of the exuberant Ganesh Chaturthi festival.  Instead of sipping sangrias, I was getting addicted to drinking sweet masala chai with my father in the hospital canteen.

Thankfully, my mother got a second chance to live.  Even though she had to be rushed to the hospital again a couple of months later, she fought through that too.  Each time she got out of the critical state, it was like the dawn of a new life when she could eat again through her mouth or take a step with her bare feet.  Her tenacity to live is why she is still here with us today fighting each day to get stronger.

In the nights, the four of us swapped between sleeping on recliners in the hospital and in a small no-frills apartment close by.  We rented the old apartment from an altruistic sister for a negligible price out of the kindness of her heart.  It had all the bare-essentials we needed – a mattress, fridge, filtered water and a working toilet with hot water.  I ran into the sister a couple of times when I went back to the apartment and one of those times really stuck with me.  “I was very touched when you said we have all the comforts here,” she said in the sincerest of tones.  I had forgotten that I had expressed that to her when we moved in: an intrinsic realization that I don’t need much to be happy.

It then occurred to me that there are certain moments in life that you value the most and it is such moments you live for.  I remember when my mother opened her eyes to look at me and when her whispers turned into more audible sentences.  I cherish the time my father and I sat on the park swings to pause our racing thoughts and remember what it was to feel naive again.  I appreciate not missing out on the time we took my mother out for drives through the Mumbai streets, thick with traffic.  I won’t forget her invigorated smile when she peered out the window at the bustling Bandstand promenade and the brimming food scene on Carter Road, visualizing soon being out there again.

My birthplace, a home that I have been far away from for years, taught me about what was truly important.  I used to be afraid of what the future holds and of whether it would clench me with shark teeth.  But I realized that I was already brave.  After all, I was brave through the three months in the most critical of times.  The part that was missing was in believing that what I want is within me and that all the rest is background noise.

Nobody can explain why the leaves may change color suddenly and know when they would turn again.  Life is a constant state of metamorphosis that is a lot of times well beyond our control.  But every day is a chance to grow and the dawn of a new life.  We don’t need a life-threatening situation to get a second chance to live the life we want to live now.

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Her Beauty and My Bravery in India

Stood there before me was this ancient piece of architectural wonder.The Gopuram(tower like structure of Hindu temples),erected in the shores of this, once bustling port city,Mahabalipuram,in Tamil nadu of South India, would make anyone gape with wonder of how the people of 700AD, with no engineering advancement and technology, could build such a monument of awe inspiring height.

Walking along the shore brought back vivid memories of my school days.I have been there many times before, but it was the first time that I was there after I chose this life of a traveler.

Her name was Kavita which means ‘Poem’ in the regional south Indian language Tamil. She was an epitome of elegance. It may sound as an exaggeration if I said ‘she was the desire of every hormone raged teenage boy and the envy of every insecure teenage girl’. But, to me it was a fact not an exaggeration…

We were all standing around the tourist guide. I remember her standing opposite to me. Behind her was a wall fully sculpted with Hindu dieties.The guide was going on about how that city was a great port city under the king Narasimavarma;about the mythical tale of how Lord Vishnu came out from the stone walls in the form of lion to kill Hiranyakasipu,the king who insulted him;about how, that place once had seven Gopuras and then how that only brave Gopuram withstood the wrath of the sea. But, at that time these stories failed to fascinate me as much as Kavita did.I exchanged some shy glances with her.I always wanted to tell her how beautiful she was and how I wanted her by my side. But,growing up in a dysfunctional family,confidence was never my strong trait

My mom and dad,I remember,would fight like tom and jerry.Sometimes my mom would say good things and some days she would spit venom from her mouth.The typical feature of growing up in a dysfunctional family is that you have to walk on egg shells. You would never know how you will be responded. I was neither bullied nor pampered rather just neglected. So at a very young age I started finding comfort amidst nature. Now let me go back to Kavita. We were all then standing in the beach,clad in our school uniform-mandatory dress code so that it would be easy for our teachers to spot us if we were ever lost in the crowd.Kavita and I were fooling around in the beach. We were good friends for a very long time.There were times when she preferred to be me with me rather than her other friends.But I did not want us just to be friends.’But why would she want me as her boyfriend? She was too beautiful.’I thought

I know not if it was the wind or the sand or the mythical tales that the guide told us gave me courage.

“I love you Kavita.Would you be my girlfriend?” I stuttered.

To my surprise she hugged me and said”why did you take so long to say this?”So,what I always wanted also wanted me, just that we were seperated by a chasm of my insecurity and fear.

And thus I had my first girlfriend at the age of 17 in this same place.At that time, to me, it was the bravest act that I had ever did.

Now that I have traveled a lot and experienced a lot,I would say insecurities are a sure sign of having a big ego and real bravery lies in losing your ego.

In my opinion a man,who never forgets to smell the roses along the path and one who breathes without any worry of the past and any fear for the future is the real brave man.

After all those travels and experience,if I’d have to suggest one act of bravery to anyone,I’d tell them to live the moment,for it is all that really exist.


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First stop: Goa.

On my 3rd day in Goa, something significant happened- I lost the backplate of the locket I had been carrying which said ‘I carry your heart in my heart’. The locket was in memory of the baby I couldnt keep, but couldnt let go of in my heart. Other than this one ocassion, my locket has never come undone and despite the gems inside being very small, I found them straight away. I hadnt come to India for a spiritual realisation, but I did find it strange that I was so calm and I did feel a sudden urge to say goodbye. For whatever reason, that night I lit a lantern for my babygirl, I took the angel wings out of my locket, attached it to the lantern and set it off. It was as though she was saying to me ‘you dont have to carry me around anymore’. Her father who had once been my soulmate and best friend was also somewhere in India, but not on talking terms with me, so I didnt know where. I whispered as the lantern took off ‘you can probably see your daddy too-wave goodbye.We love you.’


Second stop: Hampi.

On my first day in Hampi, I walked to the Virupaksha temple in tears. There was no logical reason for my tears, but I was standing in the ruins of a place which had once been so prosperous and rich, but was now literally, rubble. Everyone was lost in how beautiful it is now and all I could think about is how it must have been before it fell. On my 2nd day in Hampi, I began climbing it’s famous boulders to watch the sunset. I almost gave up, but a lady who was also on her way up encouraged me to continue. When I got to the top, it was so worth it. I realised two things- 1. This was my life now. Seeing beautiful places, surrounded by amazing people. What ‘could have been’ had disappeared and the reality was now. I had to live it the fullest I could. 2. If I had have given up at the bottom of the boulder, I’d have missed out on one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I wouldn’t have seen that sunset and I wouldnt have learned that the lady Id met at the bottom was more than 20 years older than me and had sold her house in Canada to travel- no plans, no fallbacks, just a dream and a backpack of courage.


This was the beginning of my journey in India. The two moments I have shared were the two points at which I 1.let go and 2.decided to move on without fear. At every step of the way throughout my time in India, I was met with encouragement and inspiration; From the local people, from the backpackers and tourists around me, from the children and the adults. I cannot explain it in a million words, let alone 500, but something about India is magical. It seems as though everywhere you go, there is beauty right in front of you, in every form you can imagine, its almost overwhelming. The paradox of poverty and rich land is astounding and the kindness of people breathtaking. Everyone works hard, everyone smiles. Back home, I have ‘anxiety disorder’, ‘agoraphobia’ and ‘muscle and nerve damage’ listed as reasons why I havent been able to leave the house, take a bus, stay on my feet too long or carry anything. In India, I walked miles, took sleeper buses alone and carried my backpack across rice fields and up stairs. I faced my fears of bikes and of getting ill abroad. I lost sentimental things and learnt to be okay. I spent Ghandi day in the mountains of Tamil Nadu and by pure chance, was welcomed into a temple, taught how to pray during a service and blessed. I definitely returned home a different person, with true freedom. I thought I was free before but the truth was I didnt know how to face myself and my own fears regularly prevented me from experiencing life as fully as I could have otherwise. I noticed when I got home from this trip, I was jumping feet first into situations I’d usually avoid. I suddenly thrived on things I found challenging or that scared me and the more I proved to myself I can do things, the more I realised its all just in my head and always has been. I had become brave. Seeing all those people of all creeds working hard, defying odds and chasing dreams changed my life forever. Thank you India.

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A sojourn to the nether world

It happened to be the most consequential tour of my life when I visited Port Blair, the capital town of Andaman & Nicobar Islands of India. Situated at the juncture of Bay of Bengal and Andaman sea, the islands are the major tourist hub. The place which actually acted as a change agent for me was Cellular jail in Port Blair. Something inside me was drastically changed on returning from Port Blair. Visuals and the enlivening atmosphere of the place where our freedom fighters received hell of the tortures galvanised me to be more courageous.

Reaching there in the afternoon, I opted to take rest for two hours that rejuvenated the spirits and in evening as advised by my trip planner, I visited the famous cellular jail. The light and sound show described the history of Cellular jail in brief. This monument is a symbol of indestructible spirit of the great freedom fighters. It is a mute witness to the barbaric actions of the authorities of that time which were borne by the prisoners, who were mostly freedom fighters of Indian origin. I was deeply touched by history of that place which speaks volumes about the sacrifices made to attain freedom.

Next day, even though I had a plan to visit other islands but my heart & soul got entangled in the jail. I changed the plan and visited the cellular jail again in the morning. The Jail, completed in the year 1906 justified its name, ‘cellular’ because it is entirely made up of individual cells for the hermitical confinement of the prisoners. A massive three-storeyed structure has three wings connected to a central watchtower. This was a facility where 698 prisoners could be kept at a time.  The Jail, now a place of pilgrimage for all freedom loving people, has been declared a National Memorial. The patriots who raised their voice against the British Raj were sent to this Jail, where many perished. The thing that disturbed me the most was the diminutive jail cells which were quite suffocating. Between every two wings, there were working areas where freedom fighters were given tasks like oil extraction. Even after working like animal, the set targets were impossible for anyone to complete. When they failed to do so (which happened everyday), punishments were inevitable. They were given just enough food to survive and were not even allowed to attend the nature’s call except for specific times. People who rebelled and went to hunger strike were fed forcefully which filled their lungs with liquids and some even died while protesting. Even then they continued the protest and set an example of utmost courage for our country. Living in isolation inside the miniature cells they used to sing patriotic songs to convey their messages and get other’s attention.

Many models are displayed which are exact replica of the kind of work the inmates did. A trip to the gallows is something of an unnerving experience. The gallows are preserved with three nooses recreating the atmosphere of an actual hanging. Adding to it is the underground place where the bodies fell after the hanging. A feeling of jolt runs down the spine merely by the very thought that one human being can treat to other human in that way.

Thinking about the sacrifices gone in the foundation of my country, I was ashamed of myself and my friends who are always in search of the comforts of life. Promising for not doing a bit of an action which degrades the image of the great country, I took an oath to make the country free from evil practices. The need of the hour is not the struggle for freedom from slavery but freedom from corruption, freedom from unemployment and freedom from poverty. One shall not shy away from the responsibilities but shall stand for the things which are right for the country, as many souls have paid a hefty cost in getting the freedom for us.

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Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would return to India. Not after last time and the following months of therapy, depression medication refills, and reoccurring dreams of a man’s face melting off in an open fire. Yet here I am, sitting by a different window wearing my old saffron salware kameez, listening to the honking traffic and an ethereal woman’s voice singing in a language I still don’t understand on a radio at a idly food stall below.

India is not the same and neither am I. It has been three years, after all. Coming here was almost unavoidable in my year-long trip around the world, but why a whole two months? In one of my novel writing classes before I graduated we talked about characters, and how the characters we love and trust are the ones who face the one thing they fear the most. I am not a fictional character. My experiences were more than letters on a page. But I wondered as I boarded the plane from Thailand and filled out the Indian immigration card if I too can recreate myself. Maybe I can reincarnate bravery and healing from the ashes of old fears and trauma.

I am hopeful, but some discomforts and annoyances are familiar and remind me of the past. I still don’t care for sensory overload, darting across the road almost sure I will be hit by a rickshaw one day, or the unidentifiable pungent liquids snaking through the broken up sidewalks. I have given up on being comfortable with blatant inequality and poverty thrust in my face and the never-ending war in my heart and head when a beggar approaches me with a pan. But this time I’m trying to pull that back and look deeper for something I missed.

There were good things, I admit, as I look out this window and remember flickers of what I forgot to appreciate. They have flooded back to me, even though I have only been back a week. There are the obvious answers: the food, the music, the ancient cultural heritage, and the people. But there are also the sounds—the faint jingling of gold jewelry, the monk’s reverberating mantras—and the colors.

I can’t ignore the colors, especially the indigo saris, the emerald jewels, the red walls lined with cracking textures, and the bright yellow lettering on buildings. I can’t dismiss these any more than the chalk art standing guard in front of doorways, the marigolds paving the way for a wedding, or the overwhelming hospitality of the people I meet here.

And then there are the smells beyond the sewage—sweet smelling cinnamon, whiffs of masala and peppermint tea, and savory wafts that come from the tandoori oven. I especially love the smell of hot dahl I squish together with my fingers before eating with my hand. I admit to myself that these are some of the best smells I’ve encountered in my travels around the world.

Looking out the window I know I have choices. I can note the steel bars lining the glass and see this as a kind of prison, a tribute to the past and testament to my stubbornness, hopelessness, and fears. I can also see past the bars to admire the orange blossoms on the Paras Pipal tree standing nearby, signaling second chances. Even better, I can take the pieces and see a whole. And if I am feeling brave and look even closer, I can see my own reflection in the hidden glass looking back at me, framing everything.

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Are You Willing To Give Up Your Life for You?


A few years ago my best friend was debilitated by an unrelenting illness and was anticipating a diagnosis that would mean further deterioration.  She was a single parent and I routinely traveled the seven hours between us to accompany her to her myriad of medical appointments as an advocate and witness.  I had told her that if she was diagnosed with the illness that was expected, I would sell my business and move in with her to provide the care and parenting support she would need.  She called one day informing me that she did not receive the diagnosis we had expected and dreaded.  Although still ill, she had a chronic condition that would not worsen.  I sagged with relief, and promptly decided I needed to get out into the wilderness for some time to reflect.  Hours later my tent was erected by my favourite lake and I was pondering life by a campfire.


Staring into the flames, I reflected on how close I came to giving up my life as I had carefully built it to support my friend.  I asked myself, “are you willing to give up your life for you?”  I answered immediately with a firm “yes”.  “What do you want to do?” I asked myself.  I was floored when my brain responded with “go to India”.  I had never given India a thought.  A few friends over the years had gone to India and always came back smitten with a particularly intense travel bug.  I knew there was something about India that suffused one’s being; that changed you.  But I found the idea of going to India daunting, and believed it would require more than I had.

It took two months to sell my house, my possessions, and close my business. During the relatively quick process of preparing for my trip, I questioned the sanity of my decision.  I was a single woman in my mid forties who according to my society’s mores ought to be working hard and saving for my retirement. I had reached some success in my profession and kept thinking, you don’t “arrive” only to throw it away.  It didn’t help that when people asked me why I was going to India that I didn’t really have an answer.  Numerous times I had to face my fears – especially my fear of being lonely and of being overwhelmed.  Stories and stereotypes of India crowded my consciousness and I feared the onslaught of bodies, the curiosity of the people and their endless inquiries, the myriad of rules and regulations and the poverty of a country of one billion people. 

I arrived in Delhi at 2:00 am, exhausted and fairly tense after having listened to a ninety something year old Indian gentleman provide extensive advice about matters of safety in his country.  He was the oldest man I had ever laid eyes on. He was implacable.  Calm.  As our wheels hit the tarmac, my ancient seat companion turned to me and spoke in an authoritative tone.  “There’s just one thing to remember while you’re in my country,” I was eager for his advice.  “…nothing in India makes sense”. His pronouncement was unembellished and emphatic. His words resonated with me through out my three months there.  They were the best guide I could ever have.  I heard him often in my head.  “Nothing makes sense”.  His deep wisdom allowed me to let go, surrender, and be amused.


Carrying my inner ancient Indian guide, I relaxed into nothing makes sense.  Laughed often at my disbelief.  Laughed at my discomfort.  Laughed at my unknowing. 


India was the biggest gift to me I will have in my lifetime.  It’s intensity – the intensity of pollution, poverty, harassment, abuse of women, children, animals and the intensity of its generosity and beauty – forced me to live in the present moment.  I could walk a mere street in India and be completely taken over by joy, amazement, mirth, disgust and rage all in a matter of minutes.  India taught me that I could detach from my emotional states, allowing them to flow through me of their own volition leaving me to keep moving forward, keep experiencing, keep engaging.

India also taught me gratitude.  Not only for my privilege and comfort, but a deeper sense of gratitude taught to me by a legless beggar.  This unnamed man had been inching his way towards our bus, dragging his torso across unspeakable filth to beg his sustenance from us.  My pity was instantly humbled into a deeper connection, when he bestowed a beatific smile upon me as I gave him a small offering, and I was bathed in his joy.  Gratitude expands beyond circumstances and experiences.

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If I live through this, I will consider myself reborn” I thought,  clinging to my 14 year old daughter’s shirt to avoid sliding off the Rajnee the elephant.   We were riding the leathery gray giant as she swayed her way up a stone staircase.  Bella and her 10 year old sister Sophia sat between the elephant’s caretaker, or mahout, in the front, and me in the back. We were sitting on blankets with nothing but each other to hold onto.  The angle of Rajnee’s back slanted dangerously as she climbed the stairs.  I was seconds from sliding off and falling fifteen feet to break my bones on the stone steps below.   All I could reasonably hope for was that my daughters would manage to stay on.

We met Rajnee the day before, at the ashram beside the river .   India’s domesticated elephants serve humans in a variety of ways.  Some work in the jungle carrying loads.   Ancient royals travelled on elephants and used them in battles.  Rajnee was a festival elephant.  During Hindu holidays,  she was painted bright colors, adorned with flowers and paraded through the villages.  Rajnee had her own caretaker, her  mahout.  This 80 pound slip of a weathered old man lived in the stable beside her on a straw mattress.

We brought Rajnee bananas and she took them out of our hands with her slime-tipped, hoary trunk. . We were fascinated by the massive but gentle creature who radiated intelligence and looked  like she was from another world.  Rajnee let my children stroke and hug her.  The mahout, through a young translator, offered us a ride during tomorrow’s daily walk for a small fee.  We accepted.

When Bella, Sophia, and I returned to her stable the next day, the mahout grunted  a command, and Rajnee kneeled down to the ground.  He threw blankets on her back  and secured these with rope around her belly.  Barefoot, he climbed onto the crook between her head and neck, and gestured to us to scramble on behind him.   As I painfully straddled her wide back, I realized there was nothing to hold onto.   I started to say something, but he grunted again, and Rajnee stood up. Her front legs went up first, and I screamed as my girls and I tipped backwards and nearly slid off her backside.   Then her back legs stood too and her back evened out.  I knew, in that moment of terror, that this was not the best idea.  But with no common language between me and the mahout, there was nothing to do now but ride.

Elephants ambulate their enormous bodies with a languorous  swaying motion. I relaxed into the motion.  For a few minutes  my girls and I felt like the queens of the world.  We were ten feet up, observing life along the river as we passed by.  Beautiful shrines decorated the bases of spreading banyan trees.   Women in colorful saris walked with pots and baskets balanced on their heads.  Boys played cricket with weathered sticks and battered balls.

We rode to a wide stone staircase leading down to the riverbed.  “Oh no she is not….oh yes, she is.”   I thought.  Rajnee turned her massive bulk and slowly descended the steps. We leaned in and were fine.   But I knew that coming back up these would be… interesting.   I looked for something to hold onto.  I could almost clutch the knot of rope that held the blankets we were sitting on.  But as I examined the knot in the frayed rope, I saw that it could easily come undone and the ramifications of the blankets sliding off…..never mind.

Rajnee walked through the vast dry riverbed and I tried not to think about the return climb on those stairs.  I breathed into the moment;  the swaying, and the blue sky, and my daughters and I atop this elephant like maharanis, for goodness sake.  I looked at the people we passed, conversing in Hindi with the ancient mahout.  I imagined they were saying, “Today is your lucky day, isn’t it? Three foreigners to ride with you, ah?  What will you do with the money?”  I hoped they were not saying “Look at this. This would never pass American safety standards. I wonder if these girls will manage to stay on? Remember what happened to the last bunch who rode?”

Rajnee turned around to head home.  We got to the stairs, and as she climbed them I fell to my death in my mind, and then we were at the top and I was still on, clutching Bella’s shirt with desperate clammy  hands.  We paid  800 rupees and walked away intact and whole.   Thus, I was reborn on the back of an elephant, mostly just the same me but also a little more fearless.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.