My eyes open at 4:15 am today. Jet lag. Although I slept at 10…so 6 consecutive hours is a good thing! I lay in bed trying to fall back asleep and then pretty soon- the collective voices of the prayer service rang through the air. May as well wake up.
Bathrooms here are rustic. Think a step up from portajohns but not by much. ‘Flushing’ consists of filling a small bucket with water and pouring into the toilet after doing your business. This is a step up. When I was growing up here- it was a hole in the ground that some poor person got to clean out once a day using a trapdoor on the outside of the house. We would have to urinate straddling a ‘gutter’ and then pour water through to clean it out. It’s probably why backpack tent camping has never bothered me. I can squat and take care of business anywhere! Yes men— the world is my toilet too! I remember in Kauai at Kalalau beach when Jason and I camped there for a week- we had our porta-shovel to ‘make’ our own bathroom!
I spent the first couple hours reading and writing in my journal. I thought I was going to go back to sleep but to no avail. I may as well just stay up! I’ll nap later. Daddy and mama are napping so I set up shop outside in the front yard to write and watch people doing ‘seva’ or service next door to the house. There’s a group of older women for whom this is clearly an opportunity to get together and chat— they’re working on the same patch of weeds for the entire hour that I sit outside. I also discover that the tree right past their garden is a host to a variety of birds. From the back ‘aangan’ yard where I brush my teeth I can see the top of this tree and every morning have seen green parrots (as common here as pigeons), pea hens, (haven’t seen a peacock yet but I hear them all the same) and a variety of other birds. Now, sitting out front I look up and notice a white and grey baby owl in a hole in the tree. She hops out of the hole and jumps onto a branch and is carefully keeping an eye on me. She begins to play a version of peekaboo with me…popping her head up and down never taking her eyes off me. We do this for a while and then I sit back down in write some more enthralled by my feathered friend.
I get a chance to call Jason and the kids…they’re about ready to go to bed. We speak for a few minutes and then they’re off to bed!
I’d asked for jalebi; a sweet that’s deep fried and sticky sweet! It’s my weakness and hence its something I’ve avoided finding a good source of back in California. But here…this is the source! Ram brings them from the store– still hot! Fresh made and delicious. I over-indulge! And then have breakfast of two ‘aloo parathas’ these are a spiced mashed potato mixture stuffed into the middle of a ball of whole wheat dough and then rolled out into a small dinner plate size and roasted in a pan with light ghee (or so I want to believe!) this is usually served with plain yoghurt which I am of course avoiding at all costs. My Americanized GI system will not tolerate dairy or any raw veg or fruit rinsed in local water. So no fruit where the skin is edible. Better to be safe. I’m also brushing my teeth in bottled water and of course that’s all I’m drinking too. I’ve brought along my energy fizz drinks and digestive enzymes and am having those faithfully every morning.
So because I’m a foreign visitor (still feels strange to say this about me) now and I’m staying within Dayal Bagh, I have to request temporary residence from the officials here. Yes even for the 4-5 days that I’m here. My grandfather has dictated a letter that he’s signed and I need to take that with my passport and visa to be a registered visitor. I walk down with Usha and she takes me the scenic route…that being past the ‘Huzur’s’ office. There are people hanging out just for a glimpse of him…a murmur goes up that perhaps he’s stepping out…Usha pulls me aside, tells me to drape my scarf over my head (sign of respect) and let’s wait to do ‘Darshan’ i.e. Lay eyes on him by which way I’ll be blessed. Rusty Hindi being my only communication tool, I figure it’s pointless trying to explain my spirituality to her or to tell her that I’m blessed simply because I believe that to be true and that I don’t need to have someone – albeit the embodiment of God to hundreds of thousands of Satsangis the world over look at me or be within a radius of me to be considered blessed. So I comply with her request. It’s easier. We wait a few minutes and then are told false alarm so we continue on our way to the registration office. We get that handled. As we wait for the paperwork that grants me the right to stay here to visit my grandparents I notice there’s a guy sitting on a chair outside an office. I realize that his ONLY job is to be on call for the official outside who’s office he’s sitting. Seriously. Nothing else. He’s just sitting there. I wonder how many hours he sits there.
We get done with that and Usha leads me into the bazaar outside Dayal Bagh. We make our way to Soami Bagh which is the Samadi (final resting place) for one of the earliest Huzur’s of the Radhasoami faith and the structure that has been under construction for my entire life. Yep…all 42 years. (Later on I find out it’s been under construction for over 100 years) Interestingly the immigration officer at the airport when learning about my destination, asked me about this same monument. He said he’s known about it being under construction for his whole life too. Word on the street is that it’s expected to finally be done in 2018!
We wander the grounds and make our way to the parts of the building that are complete. Ornate work and intricate patterns are painstakingly carved out of the exquisite white marble. This monument has a very Moghul influence and I wonder why that would be the case, since Radhasoami is a Hindu faith. We enter the actual Samadi where as women we are expected to cover our heads out of respect. Usha makes her way to the garlanded picture of the Huzur and with hands folded in prayer she bows her head down ‘at his feet’ as is custom and stays this way for a minute or two. I follow suit. I don’t bow my head at his feet, I simply fold my hands in prayer and tap into my own spiritual center for a moment here. This helps me stay congruent with me as well as show my respects as is expected without creating ripples.
After this we make our way back out to the bazaar where I’m in need of an ice cold drink. I really want Thumbs Up which was the black cola of India before Coca Cola and Pepsi entered the market in the 2000s. There’s none to be found. Pepsi it is. I down the icy cold drink in three gulps grateful that it’s cold!
Finally I tell her I want to ride a man-powered rickshaw back home. It’s too hot and muggy (95 degrees with about the same % humidity) to walk and it’s one thing I’d been wanting to do anyway. We hail one down and he sets off for my home. As we make our way through the main road in Dayal Bagh it occurs to me that this community is so very progressive. The streets are clean, tree-lined and pristine compared to the rest of the city of Agra as evidenced just outside the gates. The new 9,000-person Satsang hall is powered by solar and incidentally as daddy has enjoyed pointing out to me is made with no pillars inside. This was a community that for the longest time shunned even the most basic amenities; no TVs, radios, phones etc. were allowed when I was little…(daddy used to allow us to sneak in our cassette deck…yes I said cassette deck! As long as we kept the volume low). Additionally it, and all the institutions within the walls; The University, the girls’ and boys’ hostels, the canteen, the subsidized food service facility for those who can’t cook anymore (think meals on wheels) which has been around since the inception of this community 155 years ago are all solar powered! At the office, I had noticed all the bulbs were energy efficient.
Once home we pay the rickshaw guy twenty rupees (30 cents) Usha wants change of Rs. 5 back…I tell her to forget it.
Mama is upset…we didn’t tell her we were going galavanting and she’s worried that something had happened. So I spend a few minutes soothing her and consoling her that I’m fine. (Telling her I’m 42 and capable of taking care of myself wouldn’t matter as I’m still her grandbaby so I don’t bother with that line of thought). I quickly eat some lunch and settle in for a nap between the two of them as is my custom.
Two hours of deep peaceful sleep later daddy is nudging me awake. Chai (tea made with milk and ginger and cardamom and more sugar than I’m used to having in it) is served along with some cookies (they call them biscuits).
We sit around and talk for a bit and then Priya leaves at 5, and Pooja arrives shortly thereafter to get mama ready to go to Satsang. She’s not wanting to go today. Pooja and I decide we will go (actually I don’t really get to decide…mama and daddy expect me to go…although they wouldn’t object too strongly if I didn’t, they’d be disappointed.) so we leave our slippers behind since the hall is literally across the street for us and we walk over. Truly, the collective voice is magical…I don’t understand the words even though it’s Hindi it’s singing and I can barely navigate the spoken Hindi word…although speaking Hindi all day long is certainly helping with rememberance. I sit there in reverence – more of the collective energy than of anything else. I recall as a kid this prayer service felt so very long. Now before we know it it’s over and we quickly make our way home.
Pooja leaves around 7:30 pm and then Gudia will be here at 8pm for dinner service. Dinner today is simple- yellow mung lentils called Urad daal or Tur daal and has the distinction of being called poor man’s food here in India as its so readily and cheaply available…it’s also my kids favorite daal. Along with this a vegetable called Loki in Hindi that I’ll have to google the name for later and roti. Whole wheat dough rolled out, roasted in a pan and finished on open flame till its light and puffed up and oh so very delicious! The Indian phrase ‘daal, roti, sabzi’ epitomized. And what this means is simple food– just the basics to nourish body and soul. Food isn’t complicated here as it is for us in the US. There’s no conversation around food. It’s grown and tended to by the inhabitants of Dayal Bagh and it literally is coming farm to table. Ram goes and gets whatever is fresh daily for the day’s food. Yesterday he told me he spent Rs. 30 (Rs. 66 to $1) on vegetables all of which we didn’t even use. The food flavors that they take for granted are delicious, wholesome and nourishing.
Mama finishes her meal with a sweet treat I’ve noticed, and ah ha now I see where my dad gets HIS major sweet tooth from! He can’t go the evening without dessert…and apparently not can his mom! Daddy since he has trouble with his esophagus has to have his food more in liquid form. A more watered down daal and rice cooked together to make ‘khitchdi’ something that’s a staple during a tummy upset as a kid is his go-to food.
I hang out with them till Ram and Surekha come around 9:15pm to get them bed ready and then I retire to my room for the night.