Published Feb 5 2015, by

Hello, Pilgrim


There’s a lingering lump in my throat as we sit in traffic trying to make our way to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. I’m hot from the haste of over-packing my over-flowing bags, tracking plane ticket, passport, tips—all somewhat hazy in the hot humid car and a celebratory martini before I left. (Martini seems to be the drink of India with G&T at a close second).

The martini was a mistake—I needed all guard and wit about me for the wave of humanity at the Delhi airport. Only ticket holders are allowed inside the building. I haven’t really talked about the deluge of enforcement I have seen in this city for fear of sending more worry my parents way, but I’m pretty sure the threats are very high in India after the incident in Pakistan. I don’t read the headlines and just choose to think of the hundreds of soldiers I see with double barrel shotguns as the Indian version of the Texas Rangers. I pray for India in this terrible situation and fear they are high alert for very serious reasons. I make my way-trying to sweet talk the stone-faced Air Emirates agent for an upgrade…this exercise is one long hot line after another. I try to be deft about the lines and of course this backfires twice. Security is a mess. I encountered the poorest customer service here and noted the second poorest was when we arrived at the immigration desk. These guys could use a little diversity, sensitivity, Dallas Convention and Visitors’ Bureau-style training. I consider writing a letter, but hey, Svaha. This is India. I try to gather up my scanned items (now in spread across three scanner lanes). The extremely rude gentlemen won’t give me back my bag, my cowboy boots (Texas is always with me) or my laptop. I got a little feisty (martini) after I got pushed out of the line for as third time and sat through a full inspection of my jewelry. Sigh. There’s just no order in this. It will happen again at the gate—every zone is called but “F”. I am F. I ask the guys why it wasn’t called. They have no idea and tell me just to get on the plane. I know I need to stop trying to be right, to surrender in the moment and know that India can’t the beautiful place that is is:  full of possibility and magic if rational order comes into the equation. This is India.
Finally I have the time to unpack this journey. I’ve come to the land of my imagination for forty-three years. I’ve seen a puppet show under a shower of fireworks in a Mughal 17th century haveli (palace). I’ve walked past men and women without limbs begging for food. (Praying all the while “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”). I’ve walked the haunting and luminous halls of the Taj Mahal, I’ve tried on the pearl of India.
On the last afternoon we encountered great, classical works of art at the National Gallery. It could use a paint job and some serious didactic improvements, but all of this matters not. The art holds all the power of this aged government hall. I walk with my teacher, Caron Smith, my Guru-ji. She smiles warmly when I call on a work with some accuracy, and lovingly she responds and teaches me more. (Note to self, start teaching people more). In one of my favorite practices, we wonder and wander and allow our wide eyes to lead us into the lost halls of very bizarre system with a total lack of a system.
We find ourselves in a room with Chinese and Tibetan works of Buddhist art. One reliquary at the end of the room holds relics of the Buddha. It was gifted to the government of India by the government of Japan many years ago. A group of Chinese Buddhists (including several robed nuns) is on a guided tour of this gallery. As they are guided from one bodhisattva to the next I see their tour transition from lively interaction to gentle pilgrimage. They begin a series of prostrations to each figure. At the Reliquary the room grows quiet. Their faith was palpable. They begin chanting and prostrating 1, 2, 3, up to 108 times. They sang a beautiful Buddhist song as they encircle the work and walk around it for several minutes. This is the power of Asian art. I am transfixed by the work’s ability to draw viewer, believer, devotee in and hold them tightly in this experience. I have never seen anything like it. I choke back tears and I feel the lump coming on. The lump in my throat that hasn’t left.
There is art with meaning and then, today on this last day in India, there is art with meaning. I’ve often said: in works from Asia, instead of the trite expression “we bring works of art to life” we actually must experience this work by “bringing works of life to art”. In India, regardless of your god, being with art is living a daily practice of loving-kindness. It is the mendhi on the hands of the very new bride and groom I sat with on the flight to Dubai (they are headed to Paris). It is the handmade broom sweeping the impossibly dirty streets of Delhi (but dear sweeper keeps on sweeping). It is the continuing work of the Jaipur weavers: the most beautiful saree worn on the most ordinary day. It is sky and fog and atmosphere. It is scarcity. It is truth. Art is Nature and Death.
Art (barely a separate concept as it’s so a part of life) is here for anyone to practice.
Art is having a teacher.
And Love makes it so.
Thank you, India. Namaste.
Post Script:
This has been a little book about a big country. I’ve yet to experience a multitude of sides to this multifaceted diamond: I know there is so much more. As I sit on the plane knowing an ever-loyal sunrise is chasing us across the northern hemisphere, trade winds pushing me home to my beloved family, my heart is full. I can’t wait to bring some of these joys of India to you. I’m grateful to you, dear readers, for your supportive comments, “likes” and “shares”. I knew the magic of this journey: a force field of energy and ideas would best be captured by a daily journal practice. Thank you for being with me in India. We will return.