India, the Mystical Land of Spices

Many know this country as the land of spirituality, spices, crazy traffic and copper-skinned people. But is this all that India is? I expect your answer is no, because India is much more than this. I arrive to the city of Pune and the immigration officer smiles when he sees my passport from Brasil. The Uber pick-up point of the airport is already busy. Dozens of taxi drivers honk to each other inside a building garage, looking for their passengers. Driving through the city in the middle of the night is supposed to be calmer, so I go looking at the window the new scenario that waits for me. I see thousands of “Auto-Rickshaw”, also known as “Tuk-tuk” in the West, plus thousands of scooters and many trailers as to be street food places in the daylight. Some big buildings and also some small wood shacks. Unfortunately I also see a lot of trash among the streets. Temples with amazing colors and LED lights around, showing that inside there resides a hindu divinity to be adored. I get to the family house early in the morning with a pure energy of joy and appreciation. 

They receive me with a welcoming ritual that includes painting two dots on my forehead: one yellow and one red representing respectively purification and prosperity. A cup of water is served in a copper made cup, very fresh and perfect for the occasion, since I was absolutely thirsty. The weather in India is extremely dry and I feel the difference right away, leaving my home country of 95% humidity to this of 15%. We talk a little bit and they present me to my bedroom for the next seventeen days, right in their house. They make sure I feel comfortable and say “please, make yourself at home”. My first thought is “wow, this is so nice of them, trusting a stranger like me to live in their house, eat at their table and interact with both their parents and daughter”. I go to sleep and when I wake up at lunch time, Mama Rajendra has prepared everything with the help of other ladies that come here daily and serve the food on the table, together with spices and water. Food here is served on a steel tray, separating the space to the bread – Chapati – and the other dishes, that include rice and a broth with a bunch of spices and vegetables. But don’t be limited to it, there are plenty of options and variety on Indian cuisine, which I am loving to taste. It is delightful. Now, my first challenge takes place: eating with the hands. Indians do not eat with cutlery as western people; they make a shell out of their right fingers and eat the things, using the bread as an eatable spoon to place the liquid food. To me, it is very strange, since I grew up with my parents saying how impolite it is to eat using the hands and that I should always use fork and knife. Here, I take the help of a spoon. Many might say “oh this is so unhygienic”. But I tell you: open your mind and respect other people cultures and the way they have been living way before some group of European people told the world how to behave. 

Well, I came to Pune to take a Yoga course and learn about the Indian culture. This experience is definitely teaching me that and broadening my horizons. The course starts with a practical session at 6:30 AM. We practice together at the studio for one hour, learning the execution of the Asanas and how to deep breath as a Yogi, focusing on our bodies and keeping a smile on our faces (to be honest, in this part I struggle. I’m always very concentrated and closed faced!). After, we have time to do some lecture or meditation and at 8:30 Mama makes breakfast. Everyday is a different and delicious dish. At around 11 AM, I have my individual session with my guru dr. Vikas. We talk about the fundamentals of Yoga and the theory. How to apply the peace of mind that Yoga brings to our day-to-day lives, being conscious of yourself and the others around you. I learn about detachment. I see in the presentations the biological explanation of some phenomena that have happened to me during meditation and feel very glad, also a little bit proud. But most of all, grateful! At 12:30 or 1 PM, we have lunch. Every meal comes with a prayer first. We pray for God and for those who made the effort in the plantation fields to provide us with food. We honor every single person in the food-making process and thank God for the opportunity of having food on our tables. Later in the afternoon, the students are supposed to take their individual practices, repeating what was done in the morning and adding other Asanas that our bodies might ask for. It is also desired that we read books on spirituality and learn some concepts. The rest of the day is about dinner and some outdoor activities. 

One day we had a non profit Ayuverda event at the studio, where families could come with their children to receive preventive medication for immunity and well being. I was amazed to see how many people came in one day; children of every age, even 4 months old babies have been there. Everything is natural and they don’t make any use of chemical medication. They trust that, if you maintain your organism clean and healthy, no disease can strike you down. Another case concerning myself, was the fact that I got a cold (maybe from the weather, maybe from the airplane or the trip) and I asked dr. Shwesta if I should isolate myself, really concerned about others health and not wanting others to get sick, as we would do in Brasil. She said I should not worry about that and that everything would be fine. I learned that here they see these diseases as the opportunity of making your body stronger. Yes, you may have a discomfort for a couple of days, but when the virus go away you will have a stronger and more prepared body. If everything goes well, is because the Universe wanted so. If things go serious, is also because the Universe wanted so. We cannot change God’s plan and everything is, really. 

Another day we practiced at the park with the group from Swasti and it was nice to see more people approaching to sit with us, including three sweet old ladies in their beautiful outfits. Indians are all so flexible, it’s amazing to see! More people joined us just to watch and contemplate the spirit of union. At the end of the practice, they played games, I took pictures and we ate some fruits plus the Indian burger, a panked potato with spices in a bread. Like everything else, I found it very delicious! 

It’s funny how people look at me on the streets, with the question mark in their faces as “you are not from here”. Yes, I am very different and the Indians are very curious. They always have this curiosity face, sometimes intrigued but always polite. I see a lot of people posting on social media how Indians always annoy and ask people for selfies on the street and about that I have somethings to say. First, respect their culture. If it’s not allowed for people here to show their shoulders or legs, so why should I as a tourist do this in crowded streets? Do yourself a favor and behave like them if you want to blend in. In most cases they are just curious and delighted. Second, be kind and gentle. Be confident. Last but not least, as any Brazilian would tell you: be aware of where you’re going. There’s violence anywhere in this world and we should be always cautious.

 I also see in Social media and, to be honest, have heard my entire life that Indian traffic is absolutely crazy. Well, this is true. However, people here don’t shout at each other like they do in Rio or Rome, they are not passive aggressive as in Germany, they are just calmly driving their vehicles trying to find a gap where they can fit! This added to the constant noise of honks from motorcycles, rikishaw and cars. We also add to this crowd, the pedestrians trying to find one second of break where they can cross the street. I took a bike ride with Shwesta and everytime someone honked behind us, I tried to look at their facial expression. They had a serene face. When our looks were exchanged, it turned into the curiosity face: “who’s this white tattooed girl and where is she from?”. 

The world has been wondering for thousands of years how can the Indians be so happy with so little, so content and so balanced. To me, the reason behind this is spirituality. They know God, they know it’s real and they know this lifetime is just one tiny existence close to the infinity of the Universe. This present identity can go, live and die. However, there’s a bigger journey behind that none of us can ever fully comprehend, known also as the mystery of the divine. As I write, sitting on the hammock, Mama prays with her friends in the living room and I get to feel this amazing vibration of a mantra being recited, making me even more inspired and enchanted by this amazing culture. 

By Guta Soares 

https://gutafsoares.substack.com/

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