It was September 2019 ,
7 women aged between 30-60,
took their first trip to India,
All drawn to the country for different reasons.
Some had always dreamed of going.
For others, it was more a case of timing and serendipity.
We were led by Australian business entrepreneur, fashion designer and owner of Naudic fashion label - Emma Puttick, a seasoned traveller and business operator working in India.
Here are my memoirs and the lessons I take away with me……
Lesson 1: Calm confidence gets right of way.
Imagine 12 lanes of traffic - but there are no lanes.
motorbikes all competing for right of passage and speeding along honking at every opportunity.
The sacred cows walk confidently and calmly amongst it all.
To enter this traffic - whether on foot or tuk tuk, you must adopt the same calm confidence.
Indians typically ooze calm.
It is a practice necessary for survival.
Lesson 2. The embracing of transformation and acceptance of loss.
The Hindus worship hundreds of Gods but the main 3 in the trilogy are:
Brahma - the god of creation
Vishnu - the god of production, management; and
Shiva - the god of destruction/transformation.
Of these, Shiva is the most revered.
How and why would someone worship the god of destruction? I was curious and intrigued and unsure of the meaning behind this.
Is this the “devil you know?”
My Indian hosts laugh and explain the complexity of a god that embraces it all - snakes and ashes - but also dance, creativity, expression, non-judgement, relaxation, yoga.
Shiva sees all and condemns nothing.
However, doesn't condone debased society and if provoked, becomes angry.
This idea introduces destruction as one component of transformation.
Sometimes things, ideas, circumstances, relationships must end to allow something new and beautiful to be possible.
Am I guilty of holding on too tightly to things I can not change?
Lesson 3. India is a melting pot. Literally.
I have lived in the tropics, but have never experienced such debilitating heat.
Sweat literally poured off us and contributed to the experience of total immersion while we were there, particularly as we were unaccustomed to living in this heat and humidity.
The food is hot.
The climate is hot,
and the Indian tolerance to both is high.
(Also: new appreciation for cotton and fabrics that breathe).
Lesson 4. The true legacy of the Taj Mahal.
For me - a love story.
To be so adored, missed, and remembered by the one who loved you, is awe inspiring.
The Mughal Emperor’s wife died in childbirth, giving birth to their 14th child.
He never really loved again, and built the Taj Mahal in her honour.
20,000 labours and 1,000 elephants toiled for over 12 years to create it.
It is breathtaking,
a wonderful feat of architecture,
both for the massive undertaking of building such a structure from white marble,
but also the deliberate illusions it creates:
The pillars lean out so that they appear straight from a distance;
The Taj is framed by an entrance archway that announces and gradually reveals the magnificence of the structure behind it.
Walking backwards away from this arch, the monument appears to become bigger, not smaller. Again a trick of placement, colour, framing and perspective;
The Mosque to the left of it required a similar building to be constructed on the right in the name of symmetry. Just as we understand yin and yang, one was called question and the other - reply.
The Taj is built on a river so that no other buildings can compete with its landscape.
From a distance - it dominates the scene, framed by only blue sky, exaggerating its majesty.
Lesson 5. Calm comes from within.
On this particular day, we were hot, tired and uncomfortable. We had been in the scorching heat for much of the past 12 hours and were yearning the comfort of the air conditioned bus. But the guide had prepared a presentation and, not wanting to be rude, we lingered in the setting sun, attempting to concentrate at the monument known commonly as ‘Baby Taj.’
Noticing our energy levels, the guide called a halt to the proceedings and suggested we meditate. What followed was a conversation about where we should go to be more comfortable.
Eventually, we decided to stay where we were, as “peace should come from inside us, not from our surroundings.”
What a profound reminder.
We were led through a meditation that did indeed calm us all down.
It was still hot, but we were refreshed.
It occurs to me that this country forces you inwards.
The living conditions are often uncomfortable - hot and frequently dirty.
One of our Indian hosts told the story of his own dismay at the poverty in his hometown and one day, while staring into a puddle he saw a rainbow, and in it, true beauty.
This experience has bought him peace and even joy and is a reminder to me that there is so much I have to be grateful for.
We see what we look for.
Having had my own struggles with stress and anxiety in the past, this concept is not new, but a reinforcement of a philosophy that requires daily practice, sometimes moment to moment.
While we were away, a public Australian sporting figure, known personally to some of the group members, died in a car accident. This man was loved and respected and struggled with depression most of his life. I don’t know if the practice of meditation or prayer can bring enough peace to save us all, but it is a worthy start and something I intend to spend time on.
Lesson 6 - In Contrast there is depth.
Just as a canvas painted all one colour would be a wall, not a piece of art, so too is it true of life.
A life without contrast has no depth. It exists, but fails to challenge, entertain or stimulate.
Light is meaningless without dark. This conversation was touched on with our local host and is an accurate reflection of the dichotomy of the Indian experience.
While contrast is everywhere, In India it seems starker.
The heritage of the caste system, continued belief in karma, and diversity of living standards provides its own
system of order and meaning in a world where direction comes mostly from within rather than an external code of conduct, structure or government. And in that diversity is contrast.
Immediately in front of your comfortable hotel you might find a mound of concrete rubble, donkeys, cows, people and dung on the street.
People might live with and alongside their livestock.
Fresh produce is abundant and many go hungry.
Gemstones, palaces and monuments are plentiful, alongside tents and shanties.
Calm is practiced and the streets are pure chaos. And yet, it all co-exists.
Lesson 7 - Life is Valuable. Cherish it.
Of all the magical moments and lessons along the way, one stands out as particularly meaningful, not the least for the sheer terror it provoked.
We saw a little girl, probably no older than 5, performing backflips on the street for money from the crowded traffic in front of her. Moved, we grabbed some money from our purses, and leaned to pass it from our tuk tuk. She moved closer to grab it and in that instant a motorbike passed between us, one split second from wiping her out completely. All three of us - mothers, gasped in terror. The little girl smiled and took this near miss in her stride. Her mother watched unmoved from several feet away.
This was for me a reminder of the fragility of life. The fact that our lives could be altered in an instant. With the sudden loss of my brother only months ago, I know and understand not to take each day for granted. His reminder was to: Laugh more, laugh a lot. Believe in self and dream big. In the land where laughing yoga is a deliberate attempt to stimulate the endorphins, our tour itself also reflected the reminder to celebrate life and each other.
Each person brought a different gift to the group, another 7 lessons to take away from the experience:
Emma - communication and leadership;
Megan - fashion and poise;
Jessica - Shutzbah;
Jo - laughter and celebration;
Dana - community;
Mandy - heartfelt connection; and
Dilek - gentleness and grace.
We take these gifts from each other and hopefully contribute more in return.
Namaste is the universal greeting in India and word for thank you. It means: “I honour the Divine in you.” And as we do so, India lives in all of us.