I told a friend upon returning from India after my first trip there, that I stopped doing yoga. He paused a said, “Ahh, you’ve become a real Indian.”
In 2010, I went to India for the first time. Reading Jungian psychoanalyst Robert Johnson’s memoir “Between Heaven and Earth” convinced me I had to go and experience it with my own body and soul. Johnson's book was chiefly about his shuttling back and forth between East and West. What stuck me most was a passage he wrote about falling sick while in India. He was in the hospital for a month and a new Indian friend of his came everyday to visit and stay the night, sleeping on the floor so Johnson wouldn’t be alone. This caring and tenderness, as he described, is embedded in the culture. A stark difference from our hard glamorized Western self-importance. And yet India can, at the same time, be ravenously obsessed with materiality and wealth. It is impossible not to be moved by a country with such history, depth and contradiction.
I traveled from Delhi to Pushkar to Jaipur, Agra to Rishikesh to Varanasi and ultimately to Mumbai. What was truly overwhelming, more than the poverty, was the humanity and piety. Such incredibly grounded, sincere and devout people of all ages crossed my path, making me feel so welcomed. Then there was the dichotomy of knowing I was being welcomed and taken advantage of at the same time because of my Western identity and of course my skin color. Yet, the friends I quickly made there feel more like family than friends. That is the Indian way: togetherness. We are all in this together (and yet separate, ie the caste system). It is this 'masala' (which in Hindi means 'spice'), this spicy togetherness with all of its magical complexity that flavors the country from north to south.
There is a wonderful saying in India, which is, “If it all works out, Great… if not, even Better!” After living in Mumbai on and off for 4 years, I am proud to call it my second home.