With only a couple of days in between, I went from being the fearless adventurer in the Pakistani border region, to being the child devotee looking around in apparent confusion. For it was while I sat on the stone steps aligning the river that a hand was held out to me and a voice beckoned me to “come.” So, like a lost child I took the hand and allowed it to lead me wherever it went.
What astonished me was the rituals that were going on all around me. Everyone seemed to have some doorway that they had constructed to bring them closer to god. Many washed the lingams, or offered milk or flowers or incense to the heavens. After carrying out prayer rituals (last moments or minutes)many swam or bathed or dunked themselves in the river. Some merely took a sip. But when you take a sip from the Narmada, you not only take a sip from a river, but from the divine. Besides all these acts of devotion, people were also singing and chanting and ringing bells. It was almost too much for me. I saw the beauty of their devotion and quietly, in my heart, I wept. I wept for all of those in whose hearts God resides, and all those who have conception of such purity of action.
But then came the beckoning hand, so I followed. I followed until there were no more steps by the river and we were on a path, I followed through the small village outside of town, and then O followed down a long lane-way to a very small temple. I said nothing for there was nothing I could say (a couple days would pass before I could again find words). When we came to the temple, they were just making chai. When they found out I spoke no Hindi they left me alone in the corner to drink my chai. When the chillums began to be lighted they passed these to me in turn. Four hours I sat there smoking chillum and absorbing the shock of such a powerfully religious town.
After almost two weeks here, I’m slowly coming out of my shock. I’m learning ritual: morning and evening baths in the river, a few incense sticks here and there, maybe a sack of flowers to adorn some idol or other. But ritual does not come easy to me. When I step up to a temple I step forward with thirty years of atheism on my back. I step forward also with the full weight of western society on my shoulders. When I step up to a temple my lightness of being is replaced by great a weight. But each day is better than the last, progress is always being made. Time is forever marching forward and with each step new ideas become easier and ritual becomes less alien.
But I have to go from here and study Hindi for some time before I come back. That is one problem with stepping off the tourist trail: no English. This is a small problem since communication is always possible, but will get much more from these areas if I speak the language.
In 1908, Gandhi wrote a pamphlet called “Home Rule”. In this pamphlet they asked: “And what about the English?” Gandhi replied, “They can stay if they’re willing to live like an India. If not, then they too should go.” So now it’s time for me to learn to live like an India. After studying Hindi, I’ll be doing a pilgrimage down the Narmada river to really begin to learn Hindi and how to live like an Indian.