Yesterday was our last day in Varanasi. We were invited to Arvind and Renu’s home for a second time where we had a delicious lunch cooked by Renu. We enjoyed his family (his children study hard and speak beautiful English!) and had our palms read by a Vedic astrologer. The palm reader/astrologer was quite skilled and told me things I already knew about myself and gave me some wise suggestions. He met with us individually and later I heard he told Ginger she will live to be 120 years old. I was told the same thing. Ginger and I are, supposedly, the only ones in our group who will live as long as some Biblical characters. He recommended I buy a pearl pendant or pearl ring to bring me good luck. He just happened to have the exact kind of pearl he recommended, right there in his pocket! It was a beautiful pendant pearl inset on a silver moon motif that he was selling for $200 (US dollars). When I told Arvind about it, he quickly looked around to make sure the astrologer was not within earshot and then told me I could buy such a pearl for much less money! I didn’t buy one as I do have a simple pearl necklace at home that I can wear.
Our flight time from Varanasi to Delhi was moved up, so we canceled our plans to visit Arvind and Renu’s school in his home village outside of the city. We were disappointed because we all admire Arvind so much and we really wanted to see his school (which I will see next week since I will be back at Arvind’s before I leave at the end of the month). However, he showed us all a slide show of the school and the children, and later, while we were having lunch at his home, Arvind got word that our flight was delayed, giving us an extra hour of time to visit a temple on the way to the airport.
Arvind’s wife, Renu, and his children all went with us to the temple and on to the airport. Going to the Hindu temple turned out to be a fantastic experience for all of us! We went from a chaotic, smoke-choked environment, where to walk is to ditch piles of cow dung, dodge sacred Brahmani bulls and cows roaming freely among the throngs of people and thick traffic, and to be assaulted by the incessant honking of motorbikes, and auto-rickshaws…to a bucolic village where one of the most significant Hindu temples lies. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is called Shivlingeshwar.
The temple is located in a farming community and village of the same name, Shivlingeshwar. The air was pure and the temperature perfect. The Varana River (Varanasi is where the River Varana and the River Asi meet at the Ganga) is clear and pristine here. The fields were verdant and dotted with the yellow blooms of the mustard plant. Mustard seed and mustard oil are as essential to Indian cuisine as olives and olive oil are to Italian cuisine. The people of this community live simply. The village was CLEAN, so refreshingly clean. The people we passed gave us gigantic smiles and greeted us with palms pressed together at their hearts, calling out “Namaste!”. As soon as the villagers saw Kelley, they said, “Namaste, Cha-Chi!” (Hello Aunty!) We all laugh. It is a way of making you feel welcome. You symbolically become a respected family member, an aunty that everyone adores. A few times, I have been called Cha-Chi, and it is incredibly endearing to hear it.
Being called Cha-Chi reminds me that we are one big family, and that, even if the Indian culture is so different from my own, we all share the same human experience: we all desire to be loved and to love, to be connected to a family, to a community, to our natural surroundings and connected to every element of life, to be happy, healthy and pain free, to have shelter, to do good in this world, to have our bellies full, to be nourished, to have a sense of purpose, to have an understanding of who we are, what role we play in this cosmic dance of life. Walking through the village, we see the common thread of humanity. We all have attachments which we may or may not overcome, and desire to be elevated to a higher state of awareness so that we can begin to understand and appreciate the meaning of existence.
As we walked through the village and to the temple, nearly every person greeted us. I asked most every person permission to take these photos. Interestingly, Indian don’t generally smile for photos. They go from jovial to serious in seconds before a photo is taken. It is definitely a cultural thing. Kelley and I were observing groups having their photos taken at the Taj Mahal. Europeans and American smile like broadly and hold that smile until the photo is taken. They will hold the smile for five minutes if they have to! The Indian groups we observed went from smiling to statue-like dignified serious faces just as the photo was being taken. From a cultural point of view, it is amusing to observe.