Sunday, March 6, 2016

A chance encounter can change your world (India, part 1)

In the Mumbai airport, there is artwork everywhere, seeming to say: You have just arrived in a new world. You are about to see colors and images you have never imagined or seen before. A painting by Deepa Nath

A painting by the artist, Sarnjay Ashtaputre

Last fall I met a young 22 year old man from Adasarlapadu, India in the district of Khamman, a small village about four-eight hours from Hydrabad--depending on the traffic. We struck up a conversation at an event presented by Embrace Doha (a fabulous business adventure begun by a young Qatari woman to teach expats about Qatar/Arabic culture). Since Ashok was employed by her, we casually began to converse. I enjoyed talking to him, and admired his creative energy so I invited him to my home to meet my family. Little would I ever realize in that first meeting that he would become my "Indian son," I would attend his sister's wedding in their village six months later, and that my world's palette of colors would be unexpectedly altered, changed.

A few days ago, I returned from India, the most vibrant and colorful place on the earth. I have to think that God dusted bright, dazzling sprinkles of colors over the terrains of India. The flowers, fabrics, vegetables and fruits, landscape, even the rainbow-hued painted trucks pop with swirls of color. Every woman's sari was breathtaking, wrapped in combinations of colors that I had never imagined or would have combined together. The women were majestic, regal when they walked, as their colorful saris brushed the dusty roads of the village. There is nothing muted or neutral in India--just a stridence of bold, brilliant colors that await you.

This video was made by Megan Hansen who came with us on our trip. You can see her other work at meganjhansen.blogspot.com

To go to India is to have your senses not only enhanced and broadened, but transformed. Now I crave bright colors speckled all around me. I want my mouth to feel the burning curries and homemade garam masalas (My other Indian son told me, "When we do not have spices in our food, it tastes dull, like grass"). I want the air to be fragrant with flowers and rich spices. I long for color to be splashed and intertwined across the buildings, trucks, sidewalks, markets.  It is no wonder that on their festival of Holi, Indians want to throw colors on one another--symbolizing a renewal of life, healing of broken relationships, thanksgiving. Color immerses you in India, giving you a new perspective on the world. It is like your inner-child artist emerges, and the whole world is awaiting your paintbrush.

The colors of India are staggeringly beautiful, and your sense of life around you intensifies. But it is in the  people's capacity for kindness that astounded me the most--their attentiveness, and simple happiness. To be immediately loved and embraced in an Indian village, a village that has known no foreigners before, is to feel an adoption in yourself. As Ghandi aptly stated, "India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages." That is where the true color and life emerges, in India's people.

Dileep, our guide and new "Indian son", helped us shop for one day so we could wear traditional saris and colorful dresses. It was no small feat to shop for one entire day with four women to find the bling and dresses, some of them altered and made by tailors in the shop. Three floors of striking, bold fabrics mesmerized our attentions. More blogs to come of the wedding....


The bright canopies shelter the 4,000 people that attended the wedding in the village.
Ashok's little cousin, all wrapped in her colorful swing, with dangling wrist and foot bracelets.
In the early morning before we left the village (even before the sunrise), Ashok's mother gathered us around her. We sat encircled in her home. She then turned to each of us, planting a red dot between our eyes, a piece of bold, emblazoned color to signify that she had given us a blessing. Although we do not speak the same language, there was a love that descended in that room that I will never forget. When she hugged me, I told her through Ashok, that I would take care of her boy when he left the village. I promised her since we both live in Qatar--to be the bridge to another world she did not know or understand. We both cried, knowing that mothers sometimes must allow others to take care of their children, and of the solemn pact between us.

Ahsok's sister, Asha and her new husband,  Ramakrishna, after the two day wedding festivities. Ashok's father and mother, both village leaders, are on either side of the couple. His mother is the president of the village.


Ashok's mother is in the purple and green sari. The other women are aunts who wholeheartedly welcomed us into their lives for their special family occasion.

I have always known that unknown, unfamiliar people hold stories of goodness and inspiration behind them. One of my fondest discoveries is to to excavate their stories, and bring them up to my surface to behold. The week of being in India we explored a new world of vibrancy that I had never seen before--in the colors of the land, but mostly in the people who so readily embraced me. And when I think of all that I have learned and loved in that chance exchange with a random young Indian man, I wonder if there are any other destinies I have missed along the way. Visiting India made me want to brace myself, and be open for any and all of those encounters that can transform my world--making it so much more lush and beautiful than it ever was before.

Elias, my own son, with his new Indian brothers, Dileep and Ashok, and Ashok's cousin who occasionally helped to translate for us.

Widening the heart and sky in India....