100 Rupees to Paradise
One afternoon as I was sitting on the side of the road waiting for the chapal walla to fix my broken sandal, an auto rickshaw suddenly appeared from nowhere, stopping directly in front of me. The driver stuck out his head and said simply, "Paradise?" I laughed to myself and from sheer curiosity, I asked him how much. "100 rupees." I soaked in the information; 100 rupees to paradise? Am I dreaming? I smiled and told him, "but we're already in paradise!"
Even though I stayed some time in Gokarna, I never actually made it to Paradise Beach. Maybe just to give myself a good reason to come back.
My room near the beach was a simple brick room with a nice, smooth cow dung floor and an extremely dodgy electrical socket. It was one of the smallest rooms at Mabla House, a guesthouse and home run by Mr. Mabla and his wife Parvati. Directly in front of my room I had my very own "private beach" (read: sandbox), which also happened to be a popular meeting place for local children and puppies. During their holiday from school, Parvati's youngest daughters created an elaborate kitchen where they cooked masala dosa and other delicious sand goodies for us. When a Czech couple arrived with their young son Josef (4 years?), he joined right in, unfazed by the different culture, language and physical appearance. Idyllic? Yes. I decided that children are like small, wise Gods that we should have more respect for.
While many people cycled through Mabla House during my stay, many others were quite settled in for the season. One Israeli girl in particular - Kali - and I became fast friends, in large part because she was absolutely hilarious. She made spot-on impressions of the Indians (not easy to do!) and often sounded like the mafia when she spoke. During the last full moon (Jan 22), we sat in her room and laughed ourselves silly until four o'clock in the morning. Nothing seals a new friendship quite like a well-matched sense of humor! We made many jokes together about the antics at Mabla House; her "wing" was filled with Italians while my "wing" was mostly occupied by Germans and Austrians. This arrangement was an endless source of (possibly slightly off-colour) jokes for us. (Note: Never mistake an Austrian for a German simply because they are speaking German. They don't appreciate this so much.)
One German in particular was a skilled guitar player who graciously helped me with basic guitar maintenance (tuning, putting strings, etc.). We spent some time together making music and singing and through him I met many other Germans, including one I'll refer to as "Manfred." Manfred and I had well-matched voices and soon we were harmonizing some old favorites, including the old Crosby, Stills and Nash song Teach Your Children Well. I regret now that I left without recording us at least once! Manfred taught me a few things on the guitar including a basic blues rhythm (where are you, Fred, now that I've got the guitar?!). I was sorry to leave just as our musical partnership was beginning to develop into something quite nice...
Alas, after nearly six weeks in Gokarna, the holy beach town with EVERYTHING - white sand beaches, glorious sunshine, holy water spring, cheap and plentiful fruits and vegetables, a western-style bakery, all the Brahmin Indians and Old Hippies you could hope for and, last but not least, the best-looking cows in all of India - my spectacular holiday finally came to an end. I began to have that "back to school" feeling, the one that comes when the summer is ending and the weather is changing. I finally felt ready to face my responsibilities in Delhi and wanted also to continue my studies in Rishikesh. I reluctantly but dutifully purchased a train ticket to Delhi and prepared myself mentally for my return to the North - the cold, aggressive North. Another epic train journey for another epic date with the FRRO. Oh yeah.
And of course, as my body is wont to do, I developed another head cold and began another round of menstruation in the days before my departure; two things sure to keep the journey interesting. I made sure to stock up on the essentials (paper soaps, tissues and sweets). Our train was scheduled to depart at 2 o'clock in the morning but was two hours late. We slept in the station in Karwar until 4 am when we finally boarded the train like zombies. The first morning I woke up bloated and with a strong headache, and for just a moment, I cried and wished to be home with my mama (everyone has these moments, right?). But the second morning on the train I had more energy and felt in much better spirits. All in all, these sleeper trains aren't so bad.
(Nameless) U.S. Embassy Officials To The Rescue!!
I arrived in Delhi ready to take care of business. The first morning I woke early and headed directly to the U.S. Embassy where I planned to beg for visa assistance. I explained my saga and wrote two pages of narrative for the officials there who promised to "see what they could do." Then I went to see my sadistic friends at the FRRO where I waited five hours for them to locate my file and finally had a sobbing breakdown in an office with five Indian men, causing them all to panic, "please, madam, relax. Please, madam, just sit. Madam, please..."
Just after five o'clock in the afternoon, my mobile rang. On the other end was the sweet voice of an embassy official (they don't give out names) telling me they got what I needed - a faxed confirmation of my entry into India on 13 September 2007 at the Nepali border!! I cried again, this time for joy. But the struggle was not over just yet...the next morning I returned to the embassy to pick up the priceless piece of paper. Then, after a quick visit to the dentist for a cleaning, I went back to the FRRO for another round. Already late in the day, I spent another five hours waiting for them to react to the new information. I waited with baited breath..could this finally be coming to an end? They told me they would process my file and I could (possibly) pick up the new visa the next afternoon. On day three, I returned once again to the FRRO for another roller-coaster of emotional manipulation until finally, at nearly 7pm, the last visa hopeful in the room and one hour after the office was officially closed, I received an official stamp in my passport.
My passport is no longer empty. My battle is won.
But at the moment of victory I was emotionally and financially drained and hardly felt victorious. Alas, I said a final goodbye to the FRRO and returned to my guesthouse, exhausted and relieved and ready to get out of Delhi.
Some days later I am home again here in Ram Jhulla, Rishikesh, relating the events of the last weeks as if through a tunnel. I arrived just today and took a room in the Ved Niketan Ashram. It's quite freezing but I am one seriously happy camper, ready to start yoga tomorrow morning and Swamiji's lectures when he comes back after some days. It's back to school and I am thrilled to be a student at the University of Mother India.
I am exhausted now and must go in search of chai...but there is much more to relate, about love and life and the incredible opportunities offered by Mother India. About God and family and duty and dignity. Truly, the lessons never stop.
with love and appreciation for all of you,
PS: Infections and General Health Update
Remember that scorpion-like centipede that stung me on the arm? After some six days or so, the spot on my arm began to swell and itch. Just thought I'd share 'cause these things are fun.
Oh, and the eye thing...some days it's looking smaller, some days bigger. Some days red and some days not, but basically I have accepted it as part of me now. There's no pain so why worry? It's much better this way...