I want to talk about scarcity. I wrote in my last post about the joy I found on the rooftops of Jaipur’s Muslim neighborhood. The joy found in the simplicity of a paper kite, tribes of children and an endless sunset.
Scarcity: we, as Americans, just simply don’t know this word. We don’t even like to say it think about it. Our lives are pretty comfortable. We wake up in down or synthetic-down comforters with more pillows than we need. We draw cold, filtered water from our sinks and brew a really excellent coffee. We walk to closets filled with enough clothes to clad a school and our toughest decision is what to wear that day. We luxuriate in long, hot showers. We drive to school and work—if it’s too cold we’ll kick up the seat heaters and push the button to de-frost the windshield. Then, if there’s time (and there’s so much time) we stop for a second coffee (because there’s a drive through).
In India, I have seen too many people to count thriving on scarcity. This country of 1.3 billion people looks at the world in a different way. They don’t need the constant comforts we give ourselves. They work, really hard. They remain very connected to their families. They spend immense amounts of time with their families. Of course my observations are my own, and India is a big place, so I hope not to generalize in any way. The families I have seen on this journey in Northern India, at road side, in Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and in small towns along the golden triangle, are raising their children with none of the conveniences we know—clothes are dried on the line (just a few clothes), trash accumulates everywhere, there is little to none green space, and space itself is a whole other essay. So how can all of this exist? How can this widespread acute poverty be the backdrop of so much beauty and possibility?
I see it in the sarees. The women of India, regardless of Caste, always look beautiful in silks of the brightest colors, glistening gold threads and ornament—even on a Thursday. The sarees are tucked neatly, elegant in every way. Sarees are worn to work, on the motorcycle, at the park, waiting for the bus, carrying a huge batch of sticks on one’s head, or just holding a child on the sidewalk. The saree is used as a headscarf for protection from the sun and heat) and I’ve seen multiple configurations for practical uses and styles of saree. There is no “one way” to tie a saree. In the dirtiest places, what we would call slums in America, the women step out sweepingly elegant in a crisp and perfectly clean and fine saree. This happens in India every minute of the day.
I see it in the food. Last night we had dinner with the monks from the Tibetan Monastery in Sabzi Mandi near Jagat Ram Park. We called up my friend Geshe Loden who has been on the last US few tours for the Mystical Arts of Tibet. He happened to be in Delhi and invited us over to the Monastery to see the monks and have dinner. We wedged our very nice car into the teeming streets of this neighborhood—our guide insisted we not walk. In the middle of my musings on scarcity we see the madness of a very busy Delhi market. How can we have scarcity yet this? Is it scarcity that fuels these centers of commercial exchange? We drive past carts full of pears, oranges, pineapples and grapes. The presentations of greens astonish us. Everywhere we look we see bountiful offerings in sweeping patterns and portions of color and we hear the chatter of happy bartering. We dodge motorcycle and rickshaw. This place is crazy. We finally make it to an intersection (we did have a small run in with a rickshaw—debunking my idea that there was an actual force field around our car after numerous near-misses).
We are extremely relieved to see Geshe Loden and our new friend Sanjay happily hop off a rickshaw to greet us. Geshe Loden! In Delhi! I am instantly calmed from his madness by his beautiful presence and we make our way around two corners to the monastery. It is a quiet building with a colorful Tibetan-style façade. We walk in to see the temple and learn about its history. This monastery opened in 1985 and currently houses 10 resident monks. We are delighted to learn that Geshe Loden is leaving just that night to take a new group of interns for the US tour of the Mystical Arts of Tibet. How auspicious! All ten will be seeing the United States for the first time. I feel as though we’ve arrived here by chance as unofficial ambassadors to send them on their way. I am humbled by this opportunity.
We are introduced to the head of the monastery Geshe Negge. He’s been in charge 20 years. The halls and rooms of this building (4 stories?) are barren quiet spaces—a simple existence, as you would expect. We are seated in a large room. India’s magic happens to us again as monks begin to bring a mystifying bountiful feast into the room. They set the dishes one-by-one on the table before us. This meal is the opposite of scarcity: three kinds of handmade dumplings, four hot vegetable dishes of the brightest colors, two unforgettable soups, tender white rice and exquisite salads. We talk about Dallas, the monks’ flight that night. My dear friend Caron delights us all by saying “we are like birds meeting in the sky”. We talk about Obama and His Holiness but any political comments were quickly set aside. The monks did not want to talk about politics—my sense is that they wanted to just be. And the “be-ing” was grand. There was nothing scarce about their whole hearts, their love for Tibet and for India’s protection, their hopeful interest in our work and our passion to continue to tell Tibet’s story. We were twenty friends gathered for dinner. It was divine.
I’ll contrast that meal, in a dimly lit room graced only by a library, two couches and a bed to our lunch the day before at the Trident hotel in Guragon. The Land of the Call Centers. After five hours in the bus driving from Jaipur spent watching the purposeful rhythms of villagers working, eating, shopping in roadside markets, a contrast, a stark system of new contemporary architecture rises before us: buildings with “Google’, “Deloitte”, “Accenture” and more. Our guide tells us this is the place for most of India’s call centers. We lumber into a heavily gated hotel with very contemporary almost futuristic architecture. This feels like Vegas or Dubai—a city too new to know its brand and certainly lacking a critical mix. We dine like kings—a continental spread with every possible offering. I bet they could have come up with a Turkish delight. Servers walk by with freshly baked stone oven pizzas. Homesick on your business trip to the check on the call centers? This hotel will be anything you need it to be to heal you. It really was amazing. I don’t think we saw any cows in trash heaps in Guragon. At least not on this street. If this hotel knows scarcity it is in warmth and reality. A scarcity of reality—maybe that’s what we do know in America.
If you’re looking for “real” it is India. Real is in every cell of this country, every fiber of its being. Pig at lakeside begging for a cookie? Real. A limbless child asking you to buy his beaded necklaces, Real. Tibetan Buddhist monks living in a neighborhood for almost 30 years doling out loving kindness every time they leave the monastery? Real. If India is a society of scarcity, the outcome is the right to be real, to be true about who you are and what you have. Instead of a society of scarcity I think I’ll start calling it the place with real and true abundances of love.