From out of the Laughter in Southern India

“The one source of all-encompassing love knows nothing of boundaries; differing customs; geographic divisions; family splits; or differences in race, creed, sex, and so onit only knows love for all.”

— Wayne Dyer

From out of the Laughter in Southern India

My return from India was disorienting.

Thrust back into modern Western civilization, 20 hours of plane flight had carried me between worlds. From the noise and chaos in the streets of Mumbai; to the quiet stillness of my small mountain cabin.

The silence proved overwhelming.

Switching on the radio, the newsman seem to pick up exactly where he’d left off. That was, with the same tired reports of bankruptcy, unemployment, foreclosures, deep-political divisions, xenophobia, intolerance — war.All of this had me wondering how the world would be different, should those in charge choose the power of love over the love of power.

I had little time to engage.

There were bills to pay, people to contact, work to tend to.

Not the least of which was an article due concluding my three-month bicycle journey across the Indian subcontinent.

So I sat down to write.

Three hours later I sat before an empty screen. A week passed and I’d produced more of the same. Nothing.

I was blocked.

It was as if I’d built some sort of emotional firewall. A type of selective amnesia protecting me from the harsh realities of the world I’d seen, and the comfortable world to which I had returned.

Determined to remove that block, I decided to employ a different strategy.

Making my way to a familiar corner of the house, I took a seat cross-legged. Watching my breath move in and out…in and out, I slowed my mind and body. As the quiet observer, I watched the universe unfold: the battle between ego and spirit, visions of life and death, forgiveness, love, unity — source. All of this in the form of thought. Reaching a point of non-directional stillness, I encouraged my mind to recall any memories from my recent journey. Then, like a small bubble rising from the depth of my being, came a single thought. It was that of a face.

A wave of emotion passed through my body.

Then, as my hands began to tremble, and tears welled in my eyes — my thoughts returned to India.

I recalled sitting on the dirty streets of Gokarna, one of Southern India’s Holiest sites.Surrounding me were a maze of noisy-dusty streets; upon them were an explosion of pilgrims, tourists, and holy men. All of them darting in and out of a labyrinth of brightly colored temples. Just across the street, a bustle of merchants haggled over fish, fruit, vegetables and rice. Hanging above their heads, a frenetic sprawl of wires spanned in clumps, sewing together a lopsided collection of ungainly concrete.

Next to me sat the child.

Perched on a blanket, her tiny body appeared like that of a puzzle: twisted and malformed by some degenerative birth defect. Her skin was scorched and burnt to the point of cracking. This as she sat with a tin bowl begging for rupees beneath the equatorial sun.

Recognizing the opportunity that came with a passing foreign tourist, she’d called out as I had passed. “Hello.”

As I moved closer, my attention was instantly hijacked by the color of her eyes. Deep and intense, they radiated in hues of iridescent emerald and gold. Staring into them for a moment, they appeared both dazzling and otherworldly.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“My name is Shai…” she said.

“How old are you?”

“I am 10 years old.”

“Do you go to school?”

“No.”

I looked around for a moment, to see if anyone accompanied her. There was no one.

“Where are your parents?” I continued.

She cast her eyes to the ground, silent. Suddenly, I felt a tugging within. Then I did something I rarely do. I reached into my pocket to find my money. It wasn’t that I was stingy. It was just that, having come across hundreds of these children on the course of my travels, there was no way I could provide for them all. And so I had long-since made an agreement with myself. This was that, If I wasn’t able to help by volunteering at a local level, then at the very least, I could give these street children the one thing they received little of. This was the full respect and attention of an adult. But this child was different. Her disposition went well beyond anything I’d ever come across anywhere. Reaching into my pocket, I grabbed a 100 Rupee note and placed it in her bowl.  Selfishly I looked to her response, as if it might somehow alleviate the helplessness I felt.

The child remained silent, expressionless.

According to the religion that surrounded her, her current disposition had been brought upon herself as a result of some misconduct in a former life — a notion I found to be a load of unadulterated bullshit.

“Will you help me?” she returned with penetrating eyes.

“I thought I just did,” I said feebly, pointing to the bowl.

She lifted one of her twisted limbs, as if I might not have noticed, then repeated her plea.

“Will you help me?”

It was everything I could do at that moment to choke back the oncoming tears. I wanted to scream. I wanted to pick that child up and just whisk her away. I wanted to take her to a place where she was safe; where she’d be protected; where she’d be cared for —where she was loved. I wanted to lash out at God for this affront to one of his own. Just then, a voice spoke from within. Whether it was out of cowardice, or that of reason, I still don’t know.

This is not my child.”

“This is not my country.”

This is not my world.

With my guts twisting within my chest, I arose from the child, then turned, and slowly walked away.

This was the vast, dark, beautiful-sardonic riddle that is India.

With the thought of that child weighing heavily upon my mind, I had little choice but to re-join my good friend and riding partner Eric Jarvis, as we set out to finish the final leg of our journey. Rolling between green and gold swaths of taro and rice, I couldn’t help but feel as if I’d been changed forever.

Opting east out of Mangalore, we climbed 4,000 feet of crumbling pavement into the lush coffee and spice plantations of Karnataka’s Western Ghats. Slowing our pace atop this interior plateau, we re-attuned our cadence to match the rhythmic threshing of rice sheaves. When the road dropped, our spirits lifted. This as we howled-down 4,000-feet of twisting pavement. From pristine jungle forests, to the rolling surf of the Northern Kerala coast.

Our last week of riding was one of discovery. And around every corner, Kerala delivered. There were ancient fishing ports, colorful ceremonies, elephant processions, dance performances, traditional houseboats, coconut-fish curries, and cheap Indian rum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day-and-a-half later, without much ceremony, we rolled up to a sign announcing the city limits of Thiruvananthapuram — our final destination.

In just under three months we cycled 2,373 miles across India. From the Golden Temple in northern Punjab, through the rolling deserts of Rajasthan; to the crashing waves just short of the southern tip of India.

 

It was hard to believe our journey was complete.

As he came to a stop beside me, I studied Eric for a moment. Then a wave of admiration washed over me. On this, his first foreign bicycle tour, he’d endured the indescribable: unimaginable traffic, endless hills, blaring horns, heat, illness, bugs, dogs, cows, camels, and a splattering array of roadside dung.

I wouldn’t have been there without him. In fact, our journey had been his idea; his invitation. The humbling part was, that he’d funded our journey entirely, from start to finish. And for that, I would be forever grateful.

“Well done,” I said, wrapping my arms around him. “You’ve just completed one of the hardest bicycle tours in the world. Everything after this will be child’s play.”

That night, after packing our bikes into boxes, we agreed that the bombed-out streets of Trivandrum were not the place to celebrate our final days in India. The the next morning we boarded a train to the beachside village of Varkala. Like Gokarna, Varkala is a Hindu Holy site: full of pilgrims, tourists, temples and holy men.

But I was there for a religion of another sort. Waves.

Big, fat, rolling barrels that ripped across the surface of the ocean from sun-up to sundown. Immediately unpacking my things, I ran to the sea like a dog off a leash — then launched into the surf. Swimming out beyond the break-line, I studied the succession of massive curls. Transfixed by their liquid energy, I traced their paths as they rolled, glistened, sparkled, and crashed.

When the time was right, and I’d picked my wave, I initiated that familiar liquid dance. Moving my limbs, arm over arm, my speed picked up, and I was gliding free. Free-falling for a moment above the liquid blue, I tumbled into and explosion of bubble and foam. This turned into fits of uncontrollable laughter.

I repeated this process for three straight days.

Then, came the last afternoon. With sand in my ears, hair, shorts and crack, I was wading with wrinkled fingers in between sets, when I took one last moment to look across the land. It was then I realized that my journey had reached its end. Three months earlier I had arrived in India carrying two wheels, five bike bags, and a broken heart. Secretly I’d  hoped that my experiences here would somehow wash away that pain. They had not. What came instead was another type of solace. That which came with the realization that the depth of my pain matched that to which I had loved.

I also recognized that, behind all the posturing, behind all the power struggles, behind all the fights, we were just two scared and suffering children, neither of us knowing how to attain that thing we’d truly wanted. This was to be cared for, respected — to love and be loved.

That is what the child in Gokarna taught me.

And so it was, that last afternoon, as the long shadows of the coconut palms moved slowly across the Arabian Sea, that I carried three children within my heart…bobbing, spinning, tumbling…free.

And as the purity of their laughter moved from the inside out, I reclaimed my satisfaction with the world, and my place in it.

Life, Source, Unity — One.

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4 comments to From out of the Laughter in Southern India

  • Sarina

    i was there, i lived through it through your words. thank you for sharing this

  • ray garson

    beautifully written and very moving. The photos are amazing, will read more, thank you my friend

  • wow…………………………………………………..,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,wow! fj

  • Jean

    Hello!

    Found you at Down the Road.org and you were saying hello to a traveler such as yourself.
    It pleases me that your warmth is so evident in your photos. Your writing also is not exclusive to your heart. You have connected the dots well.

    Travel will bring the meaning of life directly to the soul. It can be very hard to communicate. I spent one year in India and I see the whole world much differently now. They say the amount that you love can give you equal pain. I felt your love and pain for Shai. Jean Mohnen

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