I never understood why westerners flocked to India to heal. India is a country of extremes and abundant chaos. The truth is that violence against women in India is on the rise, and so is the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots. Also, some people can be considered intrusive by western standards. India is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Don’t get me wrong; I love to visit India.
But I was born there and still have family and friends. I often wondered how could the mayhem be exciting or healing to a tourist or anyone not born in that culture. When I traveled to India in October 2014—my first trip back after my mother’s sudden death a few months before that—I didn’t know that I would find answers to my own questions.
I was antsy and unsure how I would deal with a new India: the one where my mom no longer existed. It was the first Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights), and my brother, younger niece, and I decided to spend the week of Diwali with Papa. As I sat in the plane, I felt nervous; the last time I flew to India was when we had found that my mom was in the hospital. And she had passed away even before I reached New Delhi. So, on this trip, when the flight reached India, I was almost scared to check my phone. I didn’t want to call up my father and bury him with my anxiety.
It was the wee hours in New York, so I definitely didn’t want to wake up my husband or any friends. It was midday in India; I didn’t want to disturb my friends at work.
As I tried to swallow the lump in my throat, my phone rang. It was my college friend and roommate Kashmina calling to say hi. Even before I was done with customs and immigration, several of my friends from different cities in India called to say that I wasn’t alone. I liked how none of them asked, “Did I disturb you?” or “Is this a good time to call?” I appreciated how they believed they could take certain liberties with me—made me feel closer.
That evening, Kashmina and my other college friend Yogita came to pick me up for dinner. The New Yorker in me insisted that I could take a cab from my in-laws to Kashmina’s, but I was told by my friends, “This is India. Darling, here we take care of you.”
As we sat and drank and ate and chatted, my chest felt lighter. There was so much love in the world that my broken pieces started to join back together.
Next morning, I flew down to my parents’ place to spend time with my dad. Every single day, there were meal invitations from family and my parents’ friends. In fact, my first night at my parents’, my aunt and uncle brought dinner, so I didn’t feel motherless.
There was no calendar scheduling or four-weeks-ahead-of-time planning. People took the time to go out of their way to make sure I wasn’t “lost.” My mom was known for her exceptional culinary skills. Her friends made what Mummy used to make for us.
One evening, I found out that one of my dad’s friends is involved with Bihar School of Yoga (A prestigious organization that offers yoga workshops and has published several sought-out books of yoga). And when this uncle heard me talk passionately about yoga, he took me into his home library and asked me to pick a few books to bring with me to New York.
The trip was so short, so one of my best friends, Jaya, flew down to another city just so we could spend the day together. Before booking my tickets, I’d asked Jaya if the arrangement wasn’t too inconvenient for her—she yelled at me, “What is wrong with you? Other things can wait; you are barely here for a few days.”
On the flight back to my dad’s, after spending the day with Jaya, the tightness in my chest felt completely gone. I slept like I hadn’t slept in forever… most definitely since my mom’s death. The folks around me at the departure terminal shook me awake because I couldn’t hear the alarm or Papa’s wake-up phone call. I slept so deeply that the airline crew had to wake me up so I didn’t miss my flight.
Everybody made sure that I wasn’t left behind. It was in this instant I conceded why countless celebrities and laymen turn to India to heal despite the poverty, questionable living conditions, and other nuisances.
8) Unbiased Proof
In October 2015, I was invited to teach yoga and writing at the Panchgani Writer’s Retreat in India (Oct 22-29). There were Indians and Americans attending the Retreat. The organizer, Maryland-based Shabnam Samuel, and her team of managers, teachers, cooks, drivers, cleaning crew, etc. took care of the tiniest of our needs.
Her staff showered us with love and didn’t want us to leave. The writing and yoga team bonded, and everyone said one thing: until they reached India, they didn’t know hospitality and selfless love and warmth existed on this scale.
9) Final Two Cents
The truth is, we all live in a complicated world where we all have baggage. To truly mend a broken heart or nurse a raw wound, we need the human touch, time, and love, which India offers without constraint. Sometimes, it’s refreshing to hear politically incorrect sentences when they stem from a place of genuine care. Sometimes, you want people to not measure their time and hug you with all abundance.
Sometimes, you want to feel like you are the world in everyone’s eyes, and the team at Panchgani Writer’s Retreat and I saw that in India.