Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pilgrimage & Delhi

I haven’t read much about pilgrimages other than the Canterbury Tales and a bit about Santiago de Campostela.  For a while there was a flurry of information and romance about Santiago when Shirley McLaine wrote a book and Emilio Estevez made a movie about their travels.  The characters on the road, their travails, their back stories, and the ecstasies of completing the pilgrimage are different from those of general travel.  There’s an under riding notion that pilgrimage is different from a tour.  I isn't undertaken to collect memories, souvenirs or snapshots, but there’s a spiritual quest involved  But that quest is unrealized (or perhaps not admitted, even to oneself) until well into in the trip. By then, there have been events to remember, souvenirs and photos taken … and then where’s the quest?  It’s elusive … you realize that life changes every day, every hour, as the route becomes the  and the process is the route.  There have been troubles, joys, impressions, maybe even psychological changes to deal with.   You've met people along the way, experienced travails, as well as beauty, and they become part of the journey.  The food one eats, the beds one sleeps in, the water, the dreams, the views of the earth, the air, the aches and pains; the music and the conversations one overhears, the speeches.  And also the loss of the familiar, being unconnected (difficult in these wifi times) from news of home, business, friends, sights and smells we know.  All of what we get and what we miss are in high relief on the road we travel.  At the end, the reason for the pilgrimage is still ephemeral.

I don’t travel well in groups.  I find myself feeling hindered by chatter and drama; I get caught in what people think, want and need from me.  My judgments of others are the judgments of myself.  I want to commune with and experience what’s around me, that which I’m a stranger to, rather than hearing about the lives or even the opinions of others.  And that’s part of my pilgrimage … to come to terms with human need.  On this tour, where structure is pre-fixed, my responsibility for choosing experiences is forgotten and I relax into the present, whatever it is, however mundane, or frivolous.  At first I didn’t experience what was around me as intensely as I would have by myself.  But once we’d all shared the necessities of society with each other, I was free to walk the pilgrimage with like minded souls who might have an inkling of where I was, since they had been there too and were with me even now.

January 20

My Facebook friend, Indu, came to the Ashok, picked me up in her car, and took me shopping.  She lives only 15 minutes away from the hotel and had graciously asked me to come to her house to stay for the night.  Little did she realize that I would still be sick with a cold; I hope I didn’t come across as too sick to appreciate her wonderful hospitality.  We went to  Delhi Haat (a bazaar) to eat lunch and shop a bit and I picked up a very ‘Indian’ bag that caused smiles from hotel keepers and luggage handlers throughout the rest of my trip.  It’s completely ‘60s … mirrored and fringed … and I’m surely pegged as a tourist. 

Indu lives in a spacious and artistically decorated house … cold (Indians don’t heat their mansions, no matter how cold or how high the ceilings, it seems) in a suburb called Gurgaon.  Besides the pottery which she makes, lovely paintings, and various art of Asia, her walls are full of photos of her two beautiful, grown children.  Her son lives in Irvine, California, where he studied physics and now has an American girlfriend and, sadly for Indu, a life in America.  Her lovely daughter, also in her 20s, lives in Mumbai and is trying to make a mark in the film industry.  So the Indian middle class gives the next generation its start in arts and science.  How the society develops?  Social consciousness may have to wait until the wealth becomes older.

I spent two lovely days with Indu.  Met her friend who was as kind and openly friendly, and saw the wonderful art center where she spends time.  A lunch at her friend's home reminds me how we are all in this life together, no matter that we live on opposite sides of the world.


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