Chai Gods Smile


Let there be light; and there was light. All faiths speak of this light, giving it names like Jesus, Mohammad, Ram (Rama), but most in the west don’t translate it correctly.

These personifications of enlightenment aren’t traveling to a town near you, not coming from elsewhere, but through conscious effort, developing within our selves.

The coming of the light within each of us is celebrated in the Hindu New Year festival Diwali, with the crash, boom, bang of firework explosions through the cities.

In Indian symbolism it is represented by the god-man Ram in the epic tale Ramayana (Rama’s path). It is this path that I am following, not over land but within.

Since Ram was born in the ancient city of Ayodhya in Northern India (see Follow my Path link below), that is where I wished to begin this blog’s path as well.

I love flying. I love the variety of airline experiences. Air India gets my outstanding thumbs up award. They offer my liquor as soon as we were aloft, quickly followed by dinner and breakfast before I can get to sleep. For those who can’t wait, there are mini sandwich subs for the taking (I think) piled up at the stations.

This being an almost solely Indian flight, the language difference quickly becomes apparent. When I hear, “Please fasten your seatbelt.” I do. I thought that’s what they meant. Apparently, “Please fasten your seatbelt.” means “feel free to roam about the cabin, have a sandwich.” I’ve have to keep working that Rosetta Stone.

A day later I hop off a fourteen-hour non-sleeping flight into decrepit New Delhi, and hop into a cab. I feel so at home in India, everyone drives like I do. It’s a beautiful cacophony of horns and kaleidoscope swerving.  Since it is Diwali, there are no trains to Ayodhya, or anywhere else for six days. I had forgotten the exact same occurrence experienced last time I arrived in Mumbai during Diwali.

I haggle in pantomime. Apparently there is a black market for train tickets. I know this now because with enough cash to choke a camel I acquired a ticket on the black market ticket system, to Luknow, which was at least on the way to where I wanted to go.

Something I learned last time, reservations don’t mean squat unless you’re squatting in your reservation. I found my birth on the Second Class Sleeping Car, arranged my stuff.

In India you can check your train reservations with any cell phone. Amazing. I know in other parts of Asia you can aim your phone at vending machines for a soda to pop out of the machine or use it like a credit card. We are so simple here.

I digress.

Five minutes before the train starts chugging, there ensues a squabble. Seven of us, by cell phone, elucidate that I’m in the right bunk on the wrong train. There is another train with the exact same number, going to the exact same place with an exact different bunk for yours truly. One of the guys takes the risk of missing his train to sprint me down the numerous platforms till we find a train with a car with a printed sheet taped to the side with my name on it.

“Here!” I yell, give the dude a hug as he runs off.

“Good trip” he yells back.

Like David Bowie with better hair, from ‘station to station’, I wait for that familiar call.

“Chai. Chai tea. Gotta mut chai Masalaaaaa.”  This is what it sounds like to me.

Five Rupees, three if you have a tan, for a steaming little espresso size earthen cup of Chai Masala, the nectar of the gods. One I have some chai, tossing the earthen cup out the window, back to the earth, I know I have arrived at my journey.

Rama’s journey wasn’t quite as planned. His father was tricked into banishing him from the kingdom of Ayodhya for fourteen years on the day he was going to name him as his successor. Oops. But Rama being close to perfect and all accepts his fate with harmonious calmness.

“It matters not,” he says to his bereaving father, “If I am king of Ayodhya I will experience some joy and some sadness in the years. If I travel as a poor mendicant, I will experience some joy and some sadness in the years. It makes no difference. It is not the fate but how we experience it that effects us.”

That is how I try to live my life. As I travel my inner path experiencing some joy some sadness, I enjoy each, for I know the choice is mine. Others cannot make me upset, I do. I can choose to go ape shit, or not. I know some folks would freak out in a country where they have no safety harness, not being able to read the language or ask for help, most would not enjoy a filthy, noisy train ride to nowhere; I relish this moment.

The next evening, sitting on the Luknow train station platform, I am invited to have a pole shoved into my buttocks. Well, I’m invited to share seat on a wagon handle, which is about the same experience.

“Where is it you are coming from?”

I can’t remember or pronounce his name so I will call him Roger. He just retired from the army, serving as a male-nurse for twenty-two years. We speak of life and where it takes us and about traveling. He is not going to Ayodhya but, being ex-military, recruits another family guy who is going to Ayodhya, to make sure I get there. This other guy, lets call him Roger too, doesn’t speak English, I don’t speak Hindi, except for “chai, nai banj, Jar Rupees, Acha.” Roger is going to almost Ayodhya, which is of course different that going all the way to Ayodhya, so he pulls in a grandfather, named Roger, to get me off at the right stop. Four hours later, Roger III speaks less than no English. He literally takes me by the hand and leads me out of the station and through Ayodhya proper. The ancient village is now a pilgrimage site for Hindus visiting the Rama Temple. After stopping for some chai and a photo-op with some holy men he obviously knows well, he takes me to a hotel and instructs the owner to give me a good price. 300 rupees ($6) is indeed a good price, but still more than I want to spend because I’m a traveling miser and I have just a couple days to get to my Yoga School. The owner speaks English enough to understand when I say I’m just seeing the temple then leaving on the next train. In a spot to show respect to Mr. Roger, he offers to hold my bag while I go.

I hop a bicycle rickshaw for a trip up the hill. Actually I feel so bad for the young boy trying to peddle my fat butt up the forty-five degree angle I walk most of it with him.

At the temple site there are hundreds of women in line waiting to get in. Men go around this horde and step through the ropes. I am told by a machine gun carrying officer that I must leave my camera and everything else beside my money and passport. Photography is not allowed. I have just traveled thousands of miles not to photograph the most important part of my photographic essay. Hmm. I choose how I react to this. I smile. Of course I can’t. Before I leave my camera I step a bit closer to the wall for a peak inside and am politely instructed by the military dude exactly how to leave my camera.

When visiting the Rama Temple you don’t go anywhere near the Rama Temple, there is a caged walkway around it, so far around it you don’t actually see the temple. You see a whole bunch of monkeys as you walk through cattle slaughter chutes. Halfway through I am stopped by ‘Intelligence’, not my own but that of the India Army. “Passport please.”

“Why?” I ask. As a rule I never show my passport when I travel. This time I am surrounded by many guys wearing matching clothes.

“Intelligence” the guy offers, matter-of-factly.

“Then Yes, here.” I smile.

I sit beside him as he asks me the usual questions about why I’m in India. Now is not a good time to talk photo shop so I tell him I’m a yoga instructor, showing him my Charm City Yoga t-shirt now plastered to my body after several days of wear.

I am waved off with a “enjoy your stay.” He doesn’t sound like he means it though.

Three quarters of the way around the Rama Temple Circuit I am accosted by more guys in the same matching clothes.

“Passport.” I hand it over. Over the next few minutes more and more army surround me. There is much conferring by walky-talky.

“Is something wrong?” I ask.

“No sir, just inquiry.”

Finally, who must be the big daddy of them all comes over and we go through the same ‘Watcha-doing-here’ routine. I wish I had a photograph, not of the temple, but of the head of Intelligence and me walking, hand-in-hand back to the exit, chatting. Almost no Americans visit here. They are hyper cautious with their temple due to Muslim bombings. They’d like to keep this one. I don’t think I look Muslim, or like Jihad bomber, o.k. maybe a little like a bomber, but just a little. I fight my nature, which really wants to sneak a shot, just one snapshot to start this blog, but alas, I leave alive instead.

Thank gods, our journey is never what we plan. Instead of being a tourist, I experienced the kindness of several strangers that got me here doing their best for someone they didn’t know and knew they’d never see again. What a beautiful way to start a journey.

Rama too experiences many unexpected shenanigans in his own tale. For one, he loses his wife Sita to the demon Ravana who flies off with her to Lanka. It wasn’t yet Sri Lanka yet, nor Ceylon, It was two thousand years before the British plundered the land. Matter of fact the story was written before there were any British. It was written a couple thousand years before the Bible. To me, the capture of Sita is the story.

Rama represents the universal, omnipresent, perfect consciousness, or Atma. Sita, his partner and lover is Atman, the individualized expression consciousness. That’s us.

We, like Sita are tricked by maya, earthly experiences, and are self imprisoned in Lankas of our own. That’s our story. That is the relevance of such an ancient text to yoga today. Yoga is our path (yama) to break the change of our habits and free us from our demons. Let there be enlightenment. Through this blog I will try to convey my impressions on the way (yama) of universal consciousness (Rama), the Ramayana.

One thought on “Chai Gods Smile

  1. I love the weave of present and past in this blog. It ties in the complexity of life. I like how it demenstraights from even your own personal experience how in general we live like that each day; as well, reveals how simple we could all make it by just being aware. “Beautiful”


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