Sunday, October 2, 2016

Happy birthday, Mahatma Gandhi!


My Mother India Backstory
Today in honor of Mahatma Gandhi's birthday, I was inspired to reflect on my travels to India 12 years ago with my dear friend and sister visionary, Sigrid Tidmore. I was in India today.

What's interesting to me now is that I had just returned from teaching as an expatriate in Honduras for five years.

At our first stateside reunion, she asked, "Want to go to India with me?"  
"Sure." 

What?! Why would I want to leave the USA so soon?
Sigrid can be most persuasive. Four months later in the midst of Hurricane Charley
we flew off to meet Mother India on the last flight out of Atlanta!

Later...
On Gandhi's birthday, Sigrid and I checked into our hotel after sunset in the industrial city of Agra. Too tried to forage for dinner, we opted for an early dream time. Beauty sleep was essential to embrace the gorgeous Taj Mahal the next day at sunrise! (More stories and photos coming tomorrow.)

This is my email sent to family and friends upon my return:


October 2004: Namaskar from St. Petersburg!
After three weeks of intense travel in northern India, it is wonderful to return home.

Ahhh, Mother India--the mystic continent of vibrant Crayola-colored saris, 500 languages, a billion people, and the world's largest democracy outside the USA with take-your-breath-away scenery--secretly wants to keep each of us in the East

That's why it took Her so long to release us: 24 hours of fanny-numbing sitting in cramped airline seats, freezing airside terminals, and tiny backseat taxis to return to the West. And I’d do it again next month if I could.

These seemingly never-ending stretches of time opened my floodgates of memories. It's as though the hard drive is so full that I must shut down and reboot. So I want to shut down. I want to allow Incredible India's monsoon-like torrents of memories to wash over me.

I want to remember every detail so that I can accurately answer the question, "So, how was India?"

You don't just "see" India. All your senses are flooded by Mother India.
She seduces you first with spicy chai (tea) and vegetarian foods seasoned with masalas (spices); soothes you with trance-like sitar, flute, and tumblas (drums) music in every marble hotel lobby, taxi-choked street, and muddy, sewage stench alleys; stimulates your eyes with the jewel-like rainbow of saris, paintings made with gems, and gold in such exotic designs you can't describe. (Did you know that India consumes 70% of the world's gold?) and; continually tempts you to purchase exquisitely carved wooden boxes, trays, and elephants or perhaps Kashmir shawls, silk scarves, or hand woven wool rugs with ancient tribal patterns. 

Happily, we succumbed to these temptations and helped India's economy prosper...just a little.

Indians, a most gracious and polite people, treat visitors as "gods" and there's no request too small. Can you imagine hearing, "As you wish, mam," or "Right away, mam," all day long?!  (Am I spoiled or what?) And ohhhhh, how She stuns you with her exotic sights! While everyone knows of the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas, they serve as elegant bookends to an array of must-see places that we visited like the Baby Taj which inspired the Taj; the exquisitely carved, lattice-work marble of the Dilawara temples in Rajasthan; the red sandstone Amer Fort where moguls (and we) entered through a portal called the "Sun Gate" atop a plodding, painted elephant; or English-looking estates perched on hilltops for greater Himalayan views. (Now that's real estate I'd love to own!)

Then when we least expected it and were feeling comfortably sedated with rich, dreamy-like feelings, India repeatedly unzipped our hearts to place it in our throats!


Mother India wanted to shock us up close and personal with her armies of poor.
There was a starving, gorgeous brown eyed, 10-year old girl in the body of a 4-year old; a tiny 5' woman leper with a hole for a nose and gnarled fists of fingerless-hands or a dried apple- looking, skeleton man who all stared at us, eye ball to eye ball, while clinging to our partially opened taxi window and soulfully begged for ten rupees or $.25.

At different times in the trip, each of them clung, hoping for this miracle exchange before the long, three minute, the red traffic light turned green; their pitiful pleas were intensifying as the light change approached. In these three minutes, we, the "haves" and they, the "have not’s," unexpectedly met like countless others do, thousands of times a day throughout India. With compassion and respect, I call these precious souls the "mud-apple people" and I am compelled to help them. And I will help them. (That's another letter.)

There's much more to share. For now, thanks for letting me remember a slice of Incredible India and for your prayers. We returned happy, healthy, and safely with our luggage -- though forever changed. 

Next, gratitude also floods my heart for my friend of 20 years, Sigrid Tidmore, who invited me on this journey and was my extraordinary traveling companion-roommate-photographer for 24/7. We struck out with no set itinerary or confirmed reservations except for the first four days and from there we co-created each chapter. Amazing! As I wrote earlier, we must return with our kids

Finally, I am deeply thankful for our families and the Foundation staff who "held down the fort" while we were gone. 

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