An excerpt from India with Backpack and Prayer
We arrive at Indira Gandhi Airport and go through the usual rigors of Homeland Security, passport checks, exhausted crabby travellers, and the endless wait for luggage. As for me, my thoughts are focused on meeting Baba Ji in Tarn Taran as promised. I am overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of Delhi, the colorful style of Hindi and Punjabi dress, and rickshaws designed for two carrying three or four people pulled by one slightly built man. These manual drivers usually come from the lower strata of society and work 12-14 hours daily for a couple of rupees during monsoon season to cold winter months. I see Indians travelling on bicycles; orange-robed sadhus begging for money; Indian music piped from loudspeakers; whiffs of curry, masala, and other Indian spices.
Everywhere I look there are women beggars holding babies, children beggars, invalid beggars, elderly beggars, and homeless beggars sleeping on sidewalks. I thought the streets of New York were crowded but I’ve never seen anything like this. Delhi is a wall-to-wall mass of people. India is one of the world’s oldest civilizations and often referred to as the cradle of humanity. This ancient land seems so familiar to me. I continue to have feelings of déjà vu .As we head through the terminal exit I notice several Indian men smiling and waving their arms in our direction. Baba Ji sent Ashok Pabbi and two others to pick us up and drive to his home where we’ll spend the night with his family. Early tomorrow morning they will drive us to the train station. We’re minutes from his home when Doug, embarrassed many times over, says,
“I’m so sorry but I left one of our suitcases at the terminal.”
They are very gracious, and reassure him they will return to the airport before sunrise, retrieve his lost luggage, and exchange the train ticket for another later in the morning. How can we express our gratitude to such loving souls? Each time we try to thank them, the answer is always the same:
“Please. Baba Ji’s Grace.”
I’ve never met people like this. They are service oriented and give without expectation of reward or praise. Ashoks wife welcomes us as though we are old friends. She has prepared a late meal that is out of this world: fried prantas* filled with onion and potatoes, homemade yogurt, and chai made with buffalo milk. Yummy. Afterwards, we’re taken to a bedroom already prepared for our short stay. Tomorrow is a busy day. We sleep in our clothes for a few hours. At 4 a.m. Archana knocks on our door and says,
“Naashte da time ho gya.”
Translation: Time for breakfast Ashok and his team have already eaten but sit with us for morning tea. They look fresh, energized, ready, willing, and able. We look sleepless, frazzled, and half-alive.
No sooner do we finish breakfast than our luggage is whisked to the car. They drive us back to the airport to fetch one more piece of luggage, then race to the Delhi train station for an eight hour train ride to Amritsar. From there Baba Ji’s driver will take us to Tarn Taran. One thing I will never forget is how attentive Baba Ji is. Every now and then Ashok calls to let him know where we are, how we are and says,
“Yes, Baba Ji, their flight went well.”
Despite his age, poor health, and twenty hour days of travelling, giving satsang, dealing with satsangis and non-satsangies the world over, he continues to oversee construction at Dera. All this and he wants to make sure we’re okay. Regardless of his health Baba Ji always puts the welfare of others before himself. The Delhi terminal is filled with people lined up for tickets while others have their arms around loved ones saying their last goodbyes. Some look like they’ve lost their best friend, others frustrated because they can’t find the right platform to board. Doug and I look more like tired children, our hands held tight by Ashok and team to ensure we don’t get lost in this mass of international travellers. The world over train stations have the same smell: wave-like puffs of steam telling passengers it’s time to board. Baba Ji’s sevadars* guide us through a pushy crowd anxious to get a window seat. They hold our hands until we step onto the boarding platform, hoist our luggage onto the rack above and strap us in as the wheels begin to crank up. Call me crazy but this train’s about to leave
with them still on it. Smiling, they reassure us we’ll see them tonight for Baba Ji’s birthday celebration. As they leave, the train gradually picks up speed. They remain on the platform until the train is out of sight. I look out the window and watch their faces slowly fade away, hard to believe it’s still early morning. Each time we try and thank them, the answer is always the same:“No thanks, Baba Ji’s Grace.” In the states, we call this type of train a Red Eye, and the seats hard-tail. I quickly tell myself it doesn’t matter, that in a few hours we will be with Baba Ji. I doze off only to be awakened by my armrest hitting me on the head. I grumble to an Indian food vendor who doesn’t speak a lick of English. The more I try and explain, the more politely he doesn’t understand. Finally, I pantomime the armrest hitting my head. He laughs and says,
“Ah yes madam fix, fix.”
He pulls it back in place, tightens the knob, returns to his cart, and moves on. Doug tells me to adjust to the situation instead of complaining as I roll up my shawl to put behind his back. I think to myself,
” Easy to say for someone not sitting in an aisle seat with an warped armrest.”
Like clockwork every forty-five minutes it flies up and konks me on the head. Each time it happens, I flag the food vendor, point to the armrest against my forehead, growl as he adjusts it for the twentieth time, and remember Doug’s advice.
“Just flash him a big smile and thank him.” I think to myself,
“Next time I’ll hoof it.”
He smiles, shows lots of white teeth, and continues to push his food cart down the aisle until he hears my next ouch. There is a reason for whatever happens in life, better stated as the karmic law of cause and effect. Also referred to as “as you sow, so shall you reap.” I shouldn’t have lost my temper with the food vendor, but I did and honestly, let’s face it, I could have been killed. Why do I always make excuses? There is an old Indian saying,
“Jado v chela tyaar hunda, guru pragat ho janda.”
Translation: When the student is ready the teacher appears. I’ve had that experience. There are no grey zones on this Path. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, good grief it’s a duck! “