Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Madmen, Melons and Miracles

2 November 2009 - Sivananda Kutir Ashram, Netala, Uttarkashi - bed sheets of 29 guests being handwashed after everyone left the ashram.

A madman drove Elly and me from Netala, Uttarkashi to Rishikesh, about a six hour drive through the Himalayas on windy rocky roads that peel around sharp corners along steep drop offs. We were in a lull of ashram tranquility that morning when [bxA] I learned my scheduled driver had had a heart attack and a replacement driver was just ten minutes away.

Two hours later a wiry quiet man with dark skin and crisp black hair arrived in a tiny banged up car that had no rearview mirror on the passenger side, a demolished rearview mirror on the driver’s side, and no seatbelts for the passengers. I watched the driver haphazardly cram our rucksacks into the tiny hatchback compartment, which permanently dislodged the backs of our seats for the journey and gave me insight as to how his spatial perception massacred both rearview mirrors. He immediately drove too fast and swerved too much, jarring us right out of our misconception that we could somehow bring most of the ashram peace with us back to Rishikesh.

During our month at the ashram, Elly and I had only a handful of brief conversations, usually by the sink while scrubbing our tin plates after silent meals. She was the first to comment that the driver’s driving was a bit unsteady. I suggested we chant a hundred and eight repetitions of Om Trayambakam (Maha Mrityunjaya) – a five verse life-giving mantra that wards off death and accidents of all kinds and should be repeated 3, 9, 27 or 108 times and always repeated before any travel. “He’ll think we’re mad,” Elly said in her lovely British accent. “We think he’s mad,” I reminded in a slight Texas drawl and without further discussion we simultaneously put our hands in chi mudra, closed our eyes and sang together, ohhhhmmmm ohhhhhmmmmm ohhhhhhhmmmmm ohm trayambam yajamahe sugandhim pushtivardhanam…

I don’t know if the driver thought we were mad, but in the least he thought we were annoying. He glared at us in the sole rearview mirror on the windshield with his beady black eyes glazed by a thick permanent red sheen. He touched the volume of the radio ever so slightly, increasing the volume just enough to make a point. We continued the chant, unfazed. He only occasionally honked to let oncoming traffic know we were coming around the bend, which meant frequent slamming on the breaks just before seemingly near-death head on collisions. He passed every car in our path regardless of how narrow the road, how sharp the turn, how fast the oncoming traffic or the likelihood that his crappy little car could overtake our competition. He never veered from the right side of the road, which, in India, is the wrong side of the road. Elly saw him negotiate these self-imposed dangers while on the mobile phone and for a few moments neither hand was on the wheel. Ohhhhmmmmm trayambakam…

We made many stops at his leisure regardless of Elly’s clear instruction that we wanted to be in Rishikesh as soon as possible. At an isolated hotel with no guests, we were engaged in conversation by a fiftyish Indian woman with a suddenly beautiful face and a Lauren Hutton gap between her front teeth. Elly asked her about the swami whose photo hung on the pendant around her neck (we Sivananda TTCers now have similar double-sided pendants with photos our masters, Swamis Vishnu and Sivananda). The gap toothed woman spoke no English but told the madman, who was very slowly sipping his chai, that the swami on her charm is her guru who lives in the United States. She then poured us small handfuls of uncooked rice from a cone-shaped envelope made from an old sheet of newspaper. We looked to the madman for direction in nibbling away at crunchy rice grains one pinch at a time.
At another stop, high on a hill over a steep drop off overlooking a magnificent valley, Elly and I made our way to the toilets down the stairs along the cliff side drop off. I was negotiating the bright blue squat toilet with the door slightly open to let in sunlight while I could hear Elly outside, overlooking the stunning valley and singing “I believe in miracles…”

I don’t know if it was belief in miracles or the 18 repetitions of Maha Mrityunjaya (we didn't quite make 27), or a little bit of both, but we made it to Rishikesh safely and reunited with about 15 fellow TTCers for dinner at Chotiwaja in Ram Jhula, just across the bridge from Sanskriti spa, where I’m at home in Room F.
The first verse of Maha Mrityunjaga, “Om Trayambakam Yajamahe, Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam, Urvarukamiva Bandhanam, Mrityor Mukshya Mamritat,” translates to ‘Ohm – we worship Lord Siva who nourishes well all beings; may He liberate us from the bondage of death for the sake of Immortality, like a watermelon which effortlessly separates from the vine.'
It’s a metaphor - the watermelon (Urvaruka) grows on the ground attached to a vine and when ripe, does not have to be plucked. It detaches itself effortlessly, remaining where it is, but free from the vine. This represents the attainment of Amrta, the total freedom from the sense of all inadequacy and limitation, which requires emotional maturity gained by the process of inner growth, by living a life of values and prayer. This maturing of the mind is likened to the ripening of the fruit.

Since Elly and I are not yet ripe watermelons, we were relieved to survive the journey and enjoy another day on earth, in these bodies, in this life.

"I believe in miracles, you sexy thing…"
--Hot Chocolate


Anonymous said...

i hate to be the one to be petty and correct youl...but..."i believe in miracles" was sung by hot chocolate (i believe) i had to point this out,not because i love hot chocolate and want them to get their due credit...but because...i love marvin gaye and didn't want you sullying his legacy by attributing this song to him.

Anonymous said...

Cripes above, what a trip - thanks for the update and thanks to your Lord Siva that you both made it from A to B unscathed you little unripened watermelon you ! Me, I'm a rockmelon, orange and wrinkly and been plucked lots of times, but never ever been unplucked because I'm a plucky sort of person and I really like being a rockmelon, except for all the wrinklies (sigh) ..... Myra

Anonymous said...

What a pretty bucket laundry - that laundry says it all - it's beautiful, it really is - you take the best photos Ali Flint....LOLA

Anonymous said...

Ali I thought it was some sort of food dish untill you said laundry and all at once they got bigger