My Little India

My little Indian paradise emerged as an isle (almost 2 years ago now!) from the ocean of my (temporary) loneliness. (That was the time when I had to re-boot myself, in a new city, my life as I knew it was suddenly vanished and I had to rebuild it from scratch).

On this island I found a friend who I immediately named my personal Guru for a lot of good reasons. Not only I got to know someone new, I explored a new culture, I embraced a totally new world, which opened my eyes, touched my soul and even ended up filling my stomach (read on and you’ll understand!). Slowly this island became a bigger and bigger archipelago and is now dominating the coast of my new life (not lonely anymore, but rather pretty well populated! Yaaay, there’s hope!).

I could not imagine finding so much wisdom in a younger guy. I have the impression that talking long to a western guy of the same age would not result in the same point of view I acquired now. I am contemplating a whole new world of options I didn’t see before beyond my own problems; it probably would not give me the same feeling of confidence in the future either. Ajay is about the calmest and peaceful person I have ever met. Before you can even see him coming, you can see his big heart. You can see his warmth, his aura, his karma. He says many different things that sound just unheard; he is like a walking fortuneteller and an aphorism dealer at the same time. He says for example that it’s written. If -up above- they decided it, it will happen to me, it will.

Of course I recognize that for our total-freedom world and self-made-man way of thinking this perspective is quite destabilizing. Also it makes me perceive how arrogant we -little human- are on this earth, thinking that is really all in our hand. While the Gods laugh loud looking at us. Actually Ajay told me of an Indian proverb that goes more or less like this: “the more you plan, God loughs at you”.

I kind of admire this attitude of complete and unconditional trust put in something unknown. It’s a great exercise of acceptance of whatever comes too. But for a western it is indeed quite difficult to adopt this way of seeing things, because if you have to accept that it’s all linked, it’s all the result of something that happened before, and one event leads to the other; then the whole story makes sense only in the context of reincarnation. You can’t really take only a bit of this philosophy as it won’t work based on our system of beliefs, you have to take the full package, you need the leap of faith. It is a culture in which religion permeates every single aspect of everyday life; you shall feel the presence of God constantly surrounding you. I am fascinated by the fact that in each house there is an altar for the rituals, starting from the morning pooja, the worship takes place throughout the day, you can pray everywhere; unlike for us westerns, who tend to confine religion to specific and well delimited sites and moments. Just by walking around in front of the doors you find those beautiful painted holy drawings, flower and fruit offers, everything reminds you of God. I could spend hours listening to his stories about all sorts of Indian traditions, some I find unbelievable, some magic, some make just so much sense to me. But my favorite thing is listening to him talking about his beloved.

Let’s start this story with the fact that in India names are Names with capital N. Babies don’t just get called this way or another because the parents like it, but the letters of the name of the newborn-child are written in the stars. There is so much poetry everywhere! People bear their names with full awareness of their meaning. So Ajay is called unconquered in Sanskrit, or the one who is not defeated, that is to say victorious (so I call him Vittorio in Italian). She is called Vasantha that in Hindu is the spring season. I almost can’t imagine a more romantic name than that.

When Vasu came to visit, I could see with my own eyes that there was an invisible but tangible bond between them, they are real soul mates. And as he always repeats, whatever happens, they’ll always go back to each other. Sorry if I state obviousness, but my most intense recent experience with India before I met him, was the Slumdog Millionaire movie. So I think about them as the protagonists of this movie: whatever happened, always trying to find each other again.

I got to know a new concept of LOVE. First of all they accepted with serenity that life has put them in front of a big challenge converting their relationship into a distant one (thing for which many people nowadays would simply breakup instead. That sounds quite ironic in the era of technology, when we have millions of opportunity to stay connected and people don’t even want to be bothered to tray). What really astonished me is first their generosity, translated into the capability of seeing and wishing only the good for the other person. Second their altruism: putting the wellbeing of the other in the first place all the time, beyond everything, beyond the thing that normally would be “disturbing” for a partner, beyond jealousy. She actually encourages him to do things and meet people, whereas many of my girlfriends would happily lock their boyfriends at home or take them out only on a short leash and exclusively blindfolded. I sense and glimpse a fragment of what Love really is in a pure non-egoistic meaning. I guess that’s because we westerns most of the time tend to confuse love rather with a self-award we deserve and earned somehow.What I see while looking at them is patience and dedication, is comprehension and listening, but also fire in all their daily fights!

I have appreciated being blessed by some (or actually multiple) new God I did not know before. In fact I have always thought that those who believe in a superior entity (whatever the religion) just share one God and simply call him with different names. So to say, now I like to think that my God decided to show me his Indian face. Almost in the same period when I met Ajay I -in parallel- also discovered yoga (but not because of him, so I found that it was another coincidence, another sign from my Indian God). Yeah well, I know now it became quite popular so I am not revealing any ancestral secret to you about how good it feels to connect a physical activity with something that really trains your spirit at the same time too… Funny enough it seems that Indians in India start going to fitness studios while we here try to discover these ancient practices… Anyway I can confirm that is totally true that yoga both shapes your body and your mind. Through it, I managed to re-discover for example that I do am strong -a simple fact which unfortunately I had just recently forgotten, or maybe for many reasons I had stop believing in it.

And then, after having tasted regularly all Ajay’s lunch boxes for several weeks (because he could never refuse to offer us some as sharing food brings good karma!), one evening Vasu cooked for us. If you know me and realize how much my mood is related to food, then you are close to grasp how powerful a new food experience can be for my forever-hungry and gourmand person. Not only we ate delicious food, but it was the first time in my adult life that I was invited to use exclusively my hands. I ate with just my fingers as tools. I found it at first quite difficult because we are raised to learn to use forks and knife and we are told off if don’t do so, thinking that is not polite. But then I found in it so much pleasure: just feeling the consistency of the food and dig my fingers in it, kneading it a bit before developing a quick technique to transform my hand in a natural spoon and bring it to my mouth. It’s simple but it’s a primitive feeling. For a whole day after I could smell the spices on my fingers, is just that I could not name them! (Funny parenthesis: doing a quick research on the internet I discovered that I am actually not alone in thinking that the smell of cumin resembles to perspiration. I didn’t dare to say this before, but after all the references found on line I feel free to express. This just adding to the theory about coriander I developed in Thailand, which is one natural thing that cuts human being in 2: either you love it or absolutely hate it, no midway!). We ate sambar, naan with dahl, shrimps with chilly, chicken masala, palak paneer, and a dessert made of vermicelli with raisins, milk and nuts. But that was just the start of my culinary Indian journey.

After many months, trips, kilometers, adventures, telephone calls and several difficulties, finally Ajay and Vasantha fixed their wedding day. And how could I miss the chance of visiting Asia again? My trip to India was preceded by weeks of preparation, mental and physical with many more Indian meals to get my taste buds accustomed to the spicy food. Pani puri, dosa, lemon rice, hot chickpeas, spicy scrambled eggs and last but not least my favorite hot potatoes Ajay style. My motto of the trip was “never say no” in order to try to avoid cultural clashes risking to offend our hosts but also not to miss anything. And so did I. I slept on the floor, cooked and ate on the floor, tried to meditate (but my joints did not really want to collaborate anymore after 10 minutes), walked around barefoot on scorching asphalt, visited temples, immerged in the Indian Ocean at sunset, prayed Gods I did not know, traveled for hours compressed with 4 more people and luggage in a Maruti, negotiated the tuk-tuk, miserably failed in the art of bargaining buying souvenirs, poured rice on the head of Ajay after having painted him with spices as a blessing ceremony, fed and have been fed by hand, had my hands painted with henna for the bridal mehandi evening, chose, bought and wore for the very first time a sari and of course attended the thousand ceremonies of the Indian wedding. I have seen the couple tying the knot that is the symbol of the union, and understood that in India forever means forever, and it last far longer than the western version of it! When Ajay painted the bindi on Vasantha’s forehead, he declared that they will always belong to each other, then, he placed a triple necklace called Mangalsutra around her neck that 7 unmarried women (including me! Sometimes it results positive being 30 and unmarried, even if in general Indian terms that’s a bit alien) had to fill with the beads one by one.

Once more I appreciated that you can travel the world and go really really far, but people are just people everywhere. So, for example, in the Indian wedding I found similarities with some habits I am very familiar with from my own Mediterranean half: loud, busy, and where food plays again a very big role. And not only in the wedding, in India you happen to see entire families on a motorbike, up to 5 generations at once, without helmet, just like in Sicily!!! All in all it was somehow overwhelming and for couple of weeks after coming back I still found myself processing all the images, smells, colors and sounds I had absorbed there. The first thing that impressed me landing in Mumbai at 2 am waiting for my connection flight was the noise and chaos, as if it was NY rush-hour. And also In Bangalore I saw a city that never sleeps, traffic never stops. I saw so much my eyes could not take anymore and obviously it was painful too (I decided here I will not comment more on the parts that you can imagine yourself, the poverty etc…). We have been offered the unique opportunity to see a different India as we were almost all the time escorted by family members, we have not been exposed to the classic tourist traps, neither did we see much of the most popular things, but on the contrary had the privilege to stay with the family, observe their life from an exclusive point of view, participating from morning to evening to their routine. The people I met in India are extremely generous and hospitable, to the point that was sometimes difficult to accept them doing so many things for us without feeling embarrassed. That is why I am forever grateful to this special friend, to his family and wife for this whole experience and the unconditioned friendship he offered me. It is very hard seeing him leaving now after all this. It will remain forever in my memory, my little India.

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