The adventure continues, and amazingly so. In Chennai I had met an elderly man named Arumagan who owns a restaurant in Chennai, and because my camera had temporarily started working again at his restaurant, he said I must go see Baba and give thanks and get his blessing as it was a miracle. I agreed, which is a fun thing to do. His family would join me. When I went the next day (New Year’s Day – my birthday), his family decided they couldn’t go. Through miscommunications, I had thought we were going to Mamallapuram but they were only going part way. When they realized that it would be very hard for me to get to this place where Baba was and that I had already checked out of my hotel, they arranged for a private car for me and their 11 year old son, Jeevan, a brilliant young boy, to go. It was a 2 ½ hour ride through endless, endless and I do mean endless people and life all happening on the side of the road. Hard to describe, since it was dark, but everywhere, everywhere there were people walking, 100 here, 20 there, 15 eating at a restaurant, 30 in this store, 10 in that, another 60 walking here, cars, motorcycles, and probably 100 buses at various roadside bus stations. It became night as we drove and the pollution was like fog in the headlamps which all seemed to be on high beam. Miraculously we didn’t fall into the deep unmarked pits, or roll off the unmarked ends of the road, or puncture a tire on the horn of a cow resting on the pavement. I think in part this country is a spiritual place because it has to be. Survival here is a temporary illusion.
We got there (I’m still not positive what it’s called, but it’s Siva Shankar Baba’s Ashram and Temple), and were met at the gate by a very sweet man named Biju who brought us to the temple where they were having a New Year’s Day celebration. We sat and watched as there were various ceremonies and dancers, and singing, and at some point Biju came up to us (little Jeevan and I) and said we can go up and meet Baba. So in the middle of the ceremony, we went up. Jeevan said hello and Baba asked him how his mother was, then he came to me and put a fresh laurel of flowers around my head and they began to sing:
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Ted,
Happy Birthday to you.
May Baba bless you,
May Baba bless you,
May Baba bless you dear,
Happy Birthday to you.
I so completely tried to just absorb that moment and be in it.
Amazing, I tell you. Oh, and the funny part is that this was all in front of a temple with about 18 steps up to the main level, and so as we’re walking up, I say to myself, “I hope this isn’t the ritual sacrifice part!” It did have a little energy like that there.
Around 10:30p, with the revelry still in force, I wasn’t feeling well so I went back to my room, and sure enough, I got my first case of what they affectionately call Kerala Belly around here. It turns out I had an Amoeba, or so the doctor said (although he didn’t say that perhaps I had a billion of them). So the night was rough with chills and frequent rest stops. I had asked Biju to check on me in the morning and he came and arranged for the doctor visit. An injection, and 4 sets of pills set me straight and I went back and slept the day away and felt much better when I awoke. The truly amazing thing though, is that I felt and still feel so amazingly cared for and tended to and held. The doctor called ahead and arranged for a family to make all my meals for me so they’ve fed me for 3 days.
As you all know, I’ve been so independent for most of my life that to be cared for at a tender and loving level is incredibly healing to me, not just to my body but to my soul, my spirit, my heart. Biju checks on me often, another young neighbor, Prathap has been very sweet in bringing me meals as well, and Ruki and her family as well. We should all know such selfless loving and giving in our lifetimes. These are truly amazing people. I don’t really know Baba except for a somewhat self-aggrandizing book he also gave me for my birthday (and a birthday ballpoint pen), but if the people who follow his teachings are in any way a reflection of him, then he is a very advanced soul.
So a full day later and I’m back to pretty good health so Prathap takes me to the temple in the morning for their special Saturday thing, and I am whisked to the front of the line up to the altar where I stand in front of the main idol there which is draped in flowers and close my eyes to give thanks for the healing and the loving care and blessings received, about a hundred kids are streaming past behind me and to my left around the temple. As I stand there and pray, someone places another laurel around my neck and I begin to cry. Hard to describe in words but I just felt so loved, so held and cared for, and also touched by the power of this idol. Mine is not to question, just to be open to experience. When I became more composed, I followed the boys to the left and got some holy water in my cupped right palm and drank it. They then ushered my back to a covered area where Baba was sitting and they sat me opposite him in a chair about 20’ away and brought me a large plate of food. I was asked what I wanted to drink and said “water” but Baba told my waiter to bring me “Lassi” instead, and also sent some food from his bowl to me as well. As all this is happening, boys are sitting one by one on the floor between us and eating their meals. The girls were doing likewise to the left. Meanwhile, about 5 women were singing and chanting on the stage behind Baba and men are walking with incense and processions continue to the altar. I tell you if I can impress upon you one thing, it’s that here in India, everything seems to all be happening at once. There is hardly such thing as a singular experience here because we and everything here are all so simultaneous.
Oh and by the way in that last post where I ended it by saying “ Three Days,” that was really only 2 days. The third complete day ended with my birthday blessing, illness and trip to the doctor. Feels like three months, three wonderful months.
Oh, and just so you have another image of India in your head. I’m in a 10’x20′ internet place and there are 11 of us in cubicles, the tiniest cubicles you could ever imagine, kind of like the computer version of the “Easy Bake Oven.” Outside, when cows and buses and women with goods on their heads aren’t passing by, you can see a sheet metal repair job happening (almost completed now during the time that I wrote this post) on a strange open air bus like you’d expect would shuttle poachers with rifles in Africa, and it’ parked in front of a hut of some sort working on tires.
Here, I’ll time one minute and type what occurs: Man in while shirt and blue flip flops, 2 motorcycles, blue tuktuk (that’s the wrong color here) man left hand in pocket, cement mixer, nice Honda, safari style truck, wee wee wee wee wee wee wee, harnk harnk harnk, three boys, middle one in bright magenta shirt, bull with two small pointy horns walking down middle of road, man on 1′ high median I never even noticed, helmeted motorcylist (they allow those here?) OK, that’s (toot toot) a minute.
(if you click on the photos I post, you can see larger versions).
love you. ted