Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Heart Meltdown at the Taj Mahal

   It's official - I have been in India long enough that my armpits smell like curry.  Really, this has happened!  Eat Indian food twice or three times a day for ten days and your body sweat becomes fragrant like tumeric and cumin..  I was sniffing my shirts to determine the need to launder them, and they smelled aromatic and spicy, instead of sweaty,  right in the armpits.  At first I figured I had spilled food on my shirts - how else could they smell like that? - Then I realzed the odor was truly coming from the armpits.  Just imagine how aromatic Indian ladies' amniotic fliud and breastmilk are...

  I miss my children.  I dreampt last night that I had left Sophia home all alone and gone to a big Chikoko gala event.  Suddenly I realized that it was 11pm already and quite dark outside.  I hadn't meant to be out so long! How would Sophia be handling that all by herself?  So I went out to the lot to get my car, and the lot was like an Indian taxi lot, cars so crammed in tight you couldn't even get one out if you wanted.  And I couldn't remember where I left my car anyway.  A feeling of urgency to get back to her came on, and I woke up.  Whew, I didn't really leave her alone;  I am in India, she is home with Adam safe and sound.

   I spent a day in Agra this week.  I was told that while I am in India, I must see the Taj Mahal.  Simply must; it is a two hour trip from Delhi.  Agra itself is known to be a bit of a pit, so I did it as a day trip.  There is a train that takes you to Agra in the morning, and brings you back again that evening.  They feed you breakfast on the way and dinner on the return.  Once at the Agra train station I hired  a taxi and driver for the entire day for fifteen bucks.  My driver took me to all the Agra sites - the Agra fort which houses the fantastic palaces of three Moghul emperors, the backside view of the Taj from across the river to see it cloaked in morning mist, and the Taj itself for afternoon and sunset.  He also took me to his "friends'" jewelry and carpet shops, (meaning he gets a commission for bringing me there) which was an annoying waste of time because I wasn't interested in buying. 

  Agra was as bad as I had heard.  It is filthy, ugly, poor.  There used to be factories here but they had to close them because the industrial pollution was turning the Taj Mahal brown.  So tourism is the only industry, and the locals are hungry for tourist money.  One is intensely hassled wherever one goes  As we drove from site to site I peered into the crowded neighborhoods.  Filthy children playing in the dirty streets and pooping on the roadside, garbage everywhere, starving dogs and cows eating the garbage, children fetching water from a central pump (no sewage or running water here) , monkeys copulating on the rooftops, men urinating , people washing their clothes on the stones by the water pump, and throngs of colorfully dressed people carrying all manner of things on their heads filling every space.  Wow.  We are definitely not in Kansas anymore. 

    The sites themselves were as amazing as the city was horrifying.  The Agra Fort brought to life the book I just finished reading about the area's history called City of Djinns.  The Moghul Empire was a brutally violent, but artistically and culturally brilliant Muslim dynasty that lasted in Northern India from the 1500s until the British took over rule in the mid 1800s.  Delhi and Agra were the seats of the Empire.  The Emperors perpetrated incredible acts of violence upon their enemies, and also on their male relatives, inlcluding their own sons and brothers, in order to keep hold of the reigns of power.  They rode around on elelphants, kept palace harems full of hundreds of women, and built palaces, mosques, and mausoleums that are some of the most beautiful buildings on this great earth.  These have remained remarkably intact despite India's turbulent history and the area's profound poverty.  When you build with solid white marble within a fort of fifty foot sandstone walls with spiked gates unbreachable even by elephants, you really are building to last...

  The Taj Mahal itself is the biggest monument to love ever built. It was built for Emperor Sha Jahan's beloved wife when she died in childbirth.  I passed through the gate of the Taj complex at three o'clock, looked out across the vast park/pavillion, and up to the Taj glistening white in the bright sun.  My breath was nearly taken away.  Yes, seeing the Taj is worth the hassle of a day in Agra.  It is the most beautiful man-made thing I have ever seen.  Pictures cannot show you what you see in person.  The giant building floats above the ground.  It does not appear to be anchored to this earth.  The pure white marble domes soar in the air.  It made me weep in awe.  I pulled my shades over my eyes, pulled out my hanky, and gazed to my heart's content.  For three full hours.  

    I found my way to a mosque off to the side of the Taj.  The courtyard in front of the mosque was completely empty except for a few muslim men washing their feet in a pond and coming in for afternoon prayers.  The tourist crowds were all in the main pavillion area.  I sat down against the wall of the mosque in the corner, covered my head with a shawl, gazed up at the Taj, and had a good, good cry.  The contrast of the bleak poverty with the stunning beauty, all happening side by side, finally caused my heart to crack open.  How can we stop the poverty?  How can we help all these children have a clean place to live, school to attend, a way out of their current conditions?  How can we clean up all the garbage?   I felt how much I love them all - every single person in India from the hasslers and touts, to the filthy children, to my sister and her sweet baby.  I want to help everyone!  

  After a while my tears turned into song, and I softly sang a tibetan mantra of peace and enlightenment to myself.  The sun began to set, and the Taj turned from bright yellow-white to soft pink.  I lingered until dark, and slowly made my way back through the pavillion.  At the gate I turned one more time to gaze.  The Taj was now dusky blue-grey in the darkening evening, mist from the river rising around it like bedcovers.  I pulled myself away, back into the taxi, and then to the fly and rat-infested train station to await my ride back to Delhi.

  I don't have answers to the poverty and suffering, neither do the Indian people.  But now my journey will take a spiritual turn, and perhaps some greater understanding will arise.  Tonight I go to Varnasi, City of Light.  This town has been the holiest site for Hindu pilgrimage in India continuously since 600 BC.  That is 2600 years of pilgrimage!  Hindus believe that to come to this city , do puja on the banks (called ghats) of the river Ganges, and then bathe in the river, will remove you from the suffering world and bring you to Paradise.  I have a hotel room booked right on the river above one of the main ghats for three days.  When Mark Twain visited Varnasi he wrote "Varnasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend.  It looks twice as old as all of them put together."  

  Then I will travel on to Bodh Gaya, the place of awakening,  where the Buddha attained enlightenment.  You can sit under the Banyan tree that is the grandaughter of the one the Buddha sat under. It is said that just to sit there brings one close to enlightenment.  .Buddhist pilgrims come from all over Asia and the world to be there.  I am hoping some of that enlightened energy will rub off on me,  so I can bring it back to the family and community that I love, and the women and babies I serve.   This will be my last post from India - offered with love.  Namaste!


Veggie Voyagers said...

Wonderful post. I loved reading it and feeling with you the duality of the Taj and the poverty of the people. Be safe coming home. Love surround you.

El Pedro / Logan 5 said...

I've been reading every post and feel like I'm there. You're not such a bad foreign correspondent yourself, and I bet Amy is a wonderful mother already. Blessings to you both, er, all three of you.

Robyn said...

You are beautiful, whole, vibrant, and engaged. Thank you for sharing your adventure and for opening this window to us on the other side of this small round planet.

joc said...

Beautifully written. Can't wait to read the book.
Remember when Malcolm X went to Mecca, how he was transformed?
Staying tuned.
We are with you Dena.
Thanks for sharing your journey.
Sending love!
PS Bella rocked the holiday concert last night. ;D