Aside: The Rhythm of India

Sitting up high in our tour bus, we could see the tangle of small trucks, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, tuk-tuks, bicycle rickshaws, horse- and burro-drawn carts and pedestrians ignoring the lines on the road and jockeying for position.

At first, it was alarming. Surely someone was going to get run over or a motorcyclist would be clipped by a car. There were lines on the roads, but they seemed to be just suggestions. And there was so much honk, honk, honking!

It got to the point where I couldn’t look down at the traffic as we traveled; I chose instead to look at the landscapes farther away. That way, I wouldn’t be fretting over vehicles and people that disappeared from sight too quickly.

When I got the opportunity to ride in a car, it felt even more uncomfortable. Driving on the left side of the road and riding in the seat I usually drive in probably discombobulated my perception. But I still couldn’t understand how anyone could safely drive through such traffic.

Then I went to beautiful Kolkata for my teaching assignment at Shri Shikshayatan School and discovered my hotel was only four-and-a-half blocks from the school.

I could walk that, right?

With trepidation, I took my first steps on the streets of India without any guides or vehicles to ride in. How would I cross the first street with no crosswalks and no lights?

But then, as I started walking, I began to sense a rhythm.

Though from high in my bus, traffic seemed crazy, walking in it made me realize that everyone was actually working together to keep the flow smooth. The horns which had before seemed so shrill, now were simply little reminders that “I’m over here.” The speed of traffic was actually much slower than I had originally thought; people were keeping the flow by taking their time and watching out for each other. There was no ego in traffic – whoever’s turn was most logical was given berth.

And when I went to cross the street, I was reminded of double-Dutch jump rope. I waited until I saw a logical opening, and when I started crossing, traffic gave me time to cross. One motorcycle gave me a quick honk to let me know he was going to cut in front of me, and I hesitated one second so he could.

The important element was being aware of and respectful to everyone and everything on the road.

And I learned that you can never judge anything from a lofty position, far away from the issue. You need to get up-close and personal to really see things as they are and discover the rhythm of how things work.

Cleanliness is next to …

Shoes. Walls and walls of dusty, well-worn shoes.

Cleanliness is a demonstration of respect. Before we Fulbright TGC teachers entered the Sikh Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi, we were asked to take off our shoes before washing our hands in a sink, then walking through a shallow bath for our feet. This shows respect for both the gurudwara and the holy scripture, Guru Granth while allowing nerve endings in the feet to receive as much energy as possible.

What we didn’t know was what was going to happen to our shoes.

When we were ready to leave, we discovered that there was an entire ministry of cleaning the shoes of everyone who comes to the gurudwara.

Cleanliness apparently really is close to godliness.

Hindus believe that taking a bath (“snanam”) is the most important ritual of the day because water nourishes and sustains the spirit as well as the body. Water is one of the highest elements because it purifies and uplifts. The Akshardham Hindu Temple celebrates water through the incredible Sahaj Anand Water Show, which celebrates a story from the Kena Upanishad.

We heard the beautiful call to prayer as we walked through the alleyway of Khan Market in Delhi. Muslims believe that The Quran contains the literal word of God. The Quran itself says that only those who are clean and pure may touch the sacred text, so no one is allowed to open it until they have made their ablutions by washing their hands and, if they have not done so in the last 24 hours, taking a bath. When we were ready to leave and retrieve our shoes, we discovered that there was an entire ministry devoted to cleaning the dusty shoes of all who come to the gurudwara.

It was the rows and rows of shoes that got me. Foot-cleaning is a powerful symbol in my own faith (Catholicism) as well, and it brought me pure joy to see some of the threads that tie the people and faiths of the world together. We believe in showing respect. We believe in being humble. We believe in serving others.

 

An Aside: Connecting Through Disconnecting

The message from Verizon came just two days after arriving in India: “You’ve gone over your allotted data allowance.”

I’d purchased an International Calling Plan for the month of July, and a quick call brought me some great advice: stop using data when not connected to WiFi.

That meant while on the bus traveling to and from our destinations, I wouldn’t be posting pictures to Instagram of me doing a silly dance for an auditorium full of students and I couldn’t check WhatsApp to see what my group had been sharing.

But by not keeping my face in my phone, sharing my trip with the world, I was experiencing at an even deeper level the very things I wanted to learn and share about India.

I saw a cow prevent a car from backing up on a narrow city street. I noticed a billboard with the smiling face of the Deputy Chief Minister of Education in Delhi, whom I had just met the day before. I enjoyed the pure smiles of the women on balconies hanging their clothes out to dry.

It’s a start on the road to mindfulness: being fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing. It’s a concept that Delhi just introduced their students to last year, and one that is getting some traction back in the States. We need to focus on the things that matter; we need to stop emphasizing the negative and overlooking the positive.

I’m going to start disconnecting more often.

 

Welcome to Incredible India!

After more than 19 hours in the air and a seven-hour layover in London where we met up, the 2018-2019 Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellows arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India.

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After taking long-awaited showers, brushing our teeth and getting acclimated to being in a much different time zone (twelve-and-a-half hours ahead of my own), we gathered for an enormous, delicious Indian buffet meal with my favorite – naan!

What we didn’t expect was a beautiful welcoming ceremony from our amazing hosts, Rajesh, Pooman, Mamta and Sonia!

They welcomed us by using red turmeric paste to dot our foreheads and then gently tossing small flower petals onto our heads as a blessing. They gave us gifts of brightly colored bags and promised to guide us well as we make this incredible educational journey in India. We learned that pressing the palms together when you meet someone and saying, “Namaste,” not only shows respect, but is also joining your hands at very specific pressure points: those for the eyes, ears and mind. When pressed together, those point activate parts of our brain that help us remember the person we are greeting for a long time.

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And “Namaste” is from the Sanskrit meaning “I bow to you.” Namaste recognizes the importance and value of each soul, and it strikes me as a wonderful start to this journey.

We need to value each and every person we meet – whether inside our classrooms or beyond our borders. We need to show appreciation and gratitude for each and every experience – for those who have worked hard to make this possible. We need to recognize that, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Relationships are based on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation.” By showing consideration and respect to others, we help make our world a much better place for everyone.

Namaste! Let the adventures begin!

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