Speeding past a million tuk tuk’s, buses, cars, and mopeds our driver sped through the madhouse they call streets with the precision of a true master. Every car beeping their horn with all their might, using the lane markers only as suggestions, and coming inches from other vehicles. My sister Debbie and I sat back and just enjoyed the ride, marveling in the disaster they called driving and somehow feeling utterly safe like no one could ever touch us in all this chaos.
My friend Mayank who I had met through my work with Character Day had flown up from Bangalore just to meet me in person and spend the day with me. It was such an honor to meet with him, learning more about his work around character development, and his passion for his culture and Hinduism.
For those of you that do not know what I do for a living, I work for an independent film company that creates short, engaging films around character development and social and emotional learning. We put on a global film premier each year that I produce called Character Day. On this day over 93,000 events in 124 countries took place, where people watched our films, dove into discussion materials about what makes us human, and it was all brought together with a global Q&A.
Mayank heard about Character Day and reached out to us, wanting his schools in India to participate. At 27 years old he had created quite a buzz in India around bringing mindfulness into schools and was extremely passionate about character education for the young. He became one of our guest experts on Character Day and I just fell in love with his energy, wisdom, and passion right away. If interested, check out his 20 minute Q&A here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeqMoMpZZPc.
Our driver dropped us off in Old Delhi where we met our tour guide, Abbas, who would be showing us around this part of town. We walked through the dirty streets where goats laid on the side of the road, motos whizzed by, and various smells that you could never quite pin down wafted through the air…some deliciously enticing and others that made you want to run in the opposite direction yelling “dear lord save yourselves!”
We walked over to a stall where a man and woman were braiding together flower necklaces, that people would come and take across the street to offer to the monkey God, Hanuman, who was a loyal devotee to the Hindu God, Rama. A man laid down on this dirty floor in front of the alter with his face touching the gravel and his hands stretched out in front of him, giving honor to Hanuman and his pure devotion and loyalty to Rama, something the Hindus hold so dear.
From there we hopped on a Rickshaw and headed towards the spice market. Again, I encountered the feeling of utter chaos as cows, bikes, and other rickshaws buzzed by. I loved my time in the rickshaw with Mayank as he told me more about his work. I asked him if he ever incorporated meditation with the children for character building and he said of course. “We do meditation to still the mind and to truly see who we really are. It is like when you look into water to see your own reflection, you cannot see clearly with all the ripples, it needs to be smooth as glass.” As we dismounted the richshaw and walked into our first temple he leaned in and asked me “do you know what GOD stands for?” I had no answer to that…wasn’t that too large of a question to answer in a lifetime? Wasn’t that what we were all trying to figure out? He looked at me and answered “Generator, Operator, and Destroyer.” My mind froze for a moment trying to let that sink in as I took my first few steps towards the temple. Mind blown.
Our tour guide, Abass, took us under the temple first to a room where both men, women, and children were cooking meals. According to Abbass, this temple prepares Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner for over 10,000 people a day. Not for the poor or sick….but for everyone that needs a home cooked meal and community. He explained that the Indian culture takes care of their own no matter what and that no one would ever be turned away. It was such a different mentality than the homeless shelters back in the states or the prejudice that we have towards one another…hardly ever seeing a rich person sharing a meal with a poor one. I had a small pang in my heart wishing my own home country would look at their fellow neighbors as family, just as the Indians do.
Entering the temple, there was a water walkway where you had to take off your shoes and walk through to clean your feet and sins before entering this holy place. A woman in a beautiful sari knelt down on the ground and put her lips in the water drinking from the fountain. Abbass told me that by her clothing she was a very wealthy Indian woman but must have some sort of sickness, where she believes that the water from this well will cure her from her ailments. Thousands of feet must have stepped into that water that very day, and yet this woman’s faith made her drink from its well. To believe in something so full heartedly…I was both a bit bewildered by the sheer unsanitary nature of it all and a bit awe struck by her faith and hope.
Departing from the absolutely stunning temple, we got back on the rickshaws and finally arrived at the spice market. India is obviously world renowned for their spices, and while Debbie and I do not cook our guide assured us it was something that we absolutely had to see. Mayank took one look at my face when we could not find Debbie and Abass because the traffic and congestion was so disorderly. He smiled and laughed saying ” people say here if you don’t believe in God come to India. It is proof that God exists allowing all of this chaos.” I laughed, but quite honestly I could not agree more…there was no other explanation for it. No rules, just chaos, and all working under no particular order….by the grace of God.
The spice market was filthy, busy, loud, and disorderly. People following you down the streets urging you to buy their spices, sweets, and teas. Debbie and I could not wait to escape this madness, but at the same time I wanted to leisure in this chaos a bit longer to try and put myself in this scenario and envision my life as some of these people. How do they do this on a daily basis?!
After about an hour we had absolutely had enough and headed to an Indian restaurant where I relinquished all control over to Mayank to teach we the ways of Indian cuisine. As many of my family and friends will tell you, I absolutely loathe Indian food but when in Rome (slash India), you have to be open minded. Mayank ordered garlic naan, paneer, Goah curry fish, and potatoes and honey with a vegetable side dish just to name a few. It was delicious! Even the street food that he occasionally stopped for was amazing with sweet potatoes sprinkled with pepper and lime….who would have thought but so tasty!
Mayank spoke about his family life and he told us all about his wedding and beautiful bride. It turns out that he had over 7,000 people attend his wedding which lasted over a 4 day span! I could not even fathom having even 1,000 people at my wedding and when I asked if he knew them all he shook his head yes, of course. Mayank explained that one of the events during the 4 day ceremony were only close friends and family…which consisted of over 120 guests!!!! I told him how in America if you could count about 20 friends and family on your hands you were extremely lucky. “How do you hold that many people in your heart?” I asked him. “It is the Indian way. Families always stay together, grow up together, and friends become part of your family….there really is no other way.” His words rang true for me, for it had always been my deepest desire but something that I had never obtained. I longed for what Mayank explained and hoped that this trip would give me more clarity on belonging. With that I said goodbye to Mayank, thanking him for traveling up to see me, sharing all of his wisdom, and knowing that we would be in contact very soon. What a gift.