By Peg – I blame Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Or I could even blame the Beatles. But basically, I’ve always been sold that a trip to India would be a spiritual experience that would change my way of looking at life, and then in turn change my life. Plus I think that many people, and maybe me included, thought that Pat might have some amazing ‘road to Damascus’ moment around his Indian/Asian heritage. Its fair to say that for most of our 7 week stay in India there was no great thunderbolt for either of us. But blimey, if I didn’t then go and have a total revelation in our last few days in Goa!!!
More reflections on India
First though we need to lay the ground in case it’s not been clear enough. Basically, India and us didn’t gel. I know that this will seem like the most heretical thing as I don’t think you are allowed to say it. But sadly, that was how we felt. Of course, we loved our stay in Goa, but really Goa is India ‘lite’ and our hostel was important. In Delhi (which we disliked the most), other towns in the north (tho again we loved Shimla and the Taj Mahal was totally astonishing but Agra was horrible) and even to a certain extent Mumbai (which we liked more than we were expecting and where we met some amazing people), we struggled – with the dirt and rubbish, the rubble at the sides of streets, town after town that looked the same with very visible, grinding poverty all around.
The dust means men hawk and spit all the time which can be most off putting; buses even had signs saying “No smoking. No spitting”. Not managing rubbish is endemic. In the beauty of Goa we couldn’t believe people just threw their rubbish to the ground. In Jaipur our travel agent Abid asked if we liked our room in his 3 star hotel. “Yes we replied. Very nice”‘ as it was. What we couldn’t stand was the huge rubbish tip right next to the front door which seemed to be life support for about 6 cows and a number of dogs. Abid didn’t seem worried at all about this so long as our room was nice. You could be forgiven for thinking that India is called Vodafone – their branding is everywhere on almost every other shop, even sponsoring the police box in Shimla.
“Guess Patrick’s ethnicity” has been a game that gives and gives on holiday. In Spain people think he’s Spanish; in Morocco everyone thought local. In Turkey I kept losing him in crowds as he just blended in. Our favourite was in Tangiers. Despite him wearing an England shirt and Leeds cap, a street seller wanted to guess. “Portuguese?” No. “Arab?”. No. “Turkish?”. “I know. Japanese”!! Yet, in India no-one at all asked Pat if he had any Asian heritage. Last week in Bangkok we were approached by a man in middle eastern dress who asked Pat if he is a Muslim, but not in India. Pat was more than a little pissed off about this. It seems you are either Indian or not. As each day passed he felt more and more English.
Not all doom and gloom
Some of the India stories are more funny and positive though – true tales that describe it far better than I can. Like our friends bartering down their police fines for driving without helmets. One got theirs down from £15 to £3; another paid with a pair of fake Rayban sunglasses! Or whole families riding on one scooter, not to mention the crazy driving (See Pat’s blog). Then there’s the head waggling and saying ‘yes’ to everything. After a couple of weeks you start to get used to when yes means no, or I don’t know. But at first it’s seriously confusing and annoying!!
Goa is full of young Israelis, often going there to party and chill after/during doing national service. We were told ‘true’ stories about many decide not to return and so Israeli parents can take out insurance policies so if their kids decide not to leave Goa they can claim the costs for going to get them back!
As we mentioned in another blog, the children learn to walk really early in India as there are no pushchairs. Not only that, we must have seen thousands of toddlers and only once did we see one cry. No tantrums at all, something we mused on at length. Is it just because they have more freedom and are happier? Or because parents just don’t allow it? Or maybe because they don’t eat so much processed food and sugar? Answers on a postcard please….
As a white person you will often get your picture taken; even in Goa when sunbathing people may surround you and stare. But with the horrendous rape/murder case in Delhi happening whilst we were there it made the girls stories of some of the direct unwanted advances of Indian men very worrying. I didn’t get any of it, but then I was always with Patrick and have a wedding ring on. Having said that I felt more than a little uncomfy in the mens carriage on the Mumbai trains and went in the ladies if I could. I’ve never before been in a place where I didn’t feel able to go around on my own. It was a hard pill for an independent woman like me to swallow.
Of course we have to mention the toilets! I still have India toilet stress – fear of what you will encounter everytime you go to the bog. Not only of the very insanitary toilets and floors which are always all wet, but also the bugs and flies and god knows what else. Dirty, smelly, wet squat toilets are no fun when you have diahorrea and dizziness!
Scams, mooching and begging
We also found the constant mooching and scams, and in Delhi and Mumbai the begging, drove us mad. The weirdest scam has to be the ‘earwax scam’. A man approaches you and seems to touch your ear. Then he produces a stick with some yellowy-brown stuff on it and pretends he’s just cleaned out your ear and asks you to pay him for it. Yuk!!
Other mooching is more direct. When we got to Delhi we stayed in what we thought would be a decent hotel. On the first night I massively overtipped the porter for some water. He always over charged us for all the food we ordered. On our last morning he was waiting outside our room. He keyed the lift so that we could not go downstairs until we tipped him. The stand off lasted lasted a couple of minutes till we gave in. Another friend got seriously ripped off and mugged when he arrived in Mumbai and also as he was going to get his plane home. “I’m through with this place” he wrote on Facebook.
And then of course there was the begging children. Like the begging baby in my other blog. Or the small begging children on the train – both dirty with matted hair, whilst mum, clean and well dressed, supervised. Or my favourite during a rickshaw journey in Mumbai. We stopped at lights and a small boy came to the left side to beg. We said no and eventually the driver got a coin out – which the boy refused as not enough!! Then a ladyboy came to beg at the other side. She was then offered the coin, and also refused. Seems there’s a minimum price for even begging these days LOL.
The one place, though, where we saw no begging, no mooching and where everyone was really friendly was when we went on a New Years Eve slum tour of Dharavi where Slum Dog Millionaire was filmed. The largest slum in Asia, it’s home to over 1 million. Apparently 70% of Mumbiates live in slums. The tour was organised by Reality Tours, a charity that wants to change negative perceptions and runs development projects. Our guide, Subhash, grew up there and said he, like many people, never want to live anywhere else. Although we saw amazing sights of community there I couldn’t understand that. Life expectancy has to be low. Whole families live in 1 room in squalid conditions. There are open sewers running through (we had to step over a very small child crapping in the very narrow path outside its home), factories where people work up to 14 hours a day in horrendous conditions with no health and safety for about £2.50 a day. I couldn’t help thinking the men who seemed to spend more time outside looked happier than the women and girls.
Having said that, I think my best moment of all India came in Dharavi – Bhangra dancing with some young boys at a street party. The New Year spirit was all around, with everyone, even small children wishing us “Happy new year”. Everyone said hello; our favourite was the girl who as everyone passed her in the dark winding streets of the pottery factories said “Hi and bye”. Their charity will get our donation.
But what about my spiritual experience?
Sorry – better get back to the story. So there we are in Goa, basically just spending every day chilling. I decided to take the time to try and learn how to meditate, which I did, of sorts. The aim of meditation is to clear your mind of all the normal clutter so that clear thoughts or inspiration can just come through. I got quite good at it, also listening daily to relaxation stuff on my headphones under my mossie net at mossie o’clock. For the first time in my life I totally relaxed and had no stress. It was brilliant.
After a couple of weeks I decided to book a tarot reading by Skype with the wonderful Fiona Dilston. This reading raised lots of emotions for me and the next few days I was more contemplative. In Goa we met Alexis, an amazing woman who is a therapist, happiness expert and a buddhist. We talked a lot about the purpose of meditation, about the law of attraction that I believe in (and have been mentored on by the fabulous Karen Luniw) and how much one should embrace grief or how much you should push it away and replace with more positive thoughts. I felt that for me, too move on, I have to allow my grief. Then the night before Christmas Eve, Elise from London came to stay at Asterix. She had been at an Ashram and then spent time on the most hippy beach in Goa, Arambol. We spent the evening in our local and the discussion turned to all things spiritual.
It all came out
Suddenly, out of nowhere, I started to tell them both what had been happening over the last couple of years. They saw me and Pat as this very loved up happy couple. I told them how we had nearly been destroyed by the totally negative adoption approval process we’d gone through for 2 years, how I’d felt totally invalidated by the whole experience especially as I’d previously been a big shot career high flyer and didn’t have a full time job anymore. How our home life had become unbearable, further unsettled by a house fire last Christmas, how our marriage was only holding together and how I felt like I had nothing in my life.
And then I told them how during this time, against all medical odds as I have rubbish ovaries (a condition which not only effects fertility but also how you look, your weight and causes depression) I got pregnant, twice, and both times had a miscarriage. I told them how I’d realised hatred of my body was actually at the centre of most of my unhappiness.
Then emotions I’d been unable to express before came out; we had simply not been able to deal with the 2nd miscarriage last summer. Although we had been approved to adopt by this time, we had asked for space before matching us with a child began because we felt too raw from the process. We barely were communicating and I think we both weren’t sure we liked each other any more. The night after a scan confirmed the 2nd miscarriage was, I think, the worst night of my life. I cannot begin to describe the depths of my despair feeling that my marriage was over. We were both in such a bad way that a miscarriage was the least of our problems, neither of us able at all to even really acknowledge it had happened, let alone support each other to get through it.
That was so different to the first one where we grieved together. We knew straight away with that one that things weren’t going well so we prepared ourselves for the worst from the start. Together. We cried together and we talked about it together.
By the time of the 2nd miscarriage, I think we had stopped thinking about being parents; it was just about survival. The adoption process had taken on a life of its own and become totally separated in our minds from becoming parents – ironically we felt far more prepared to be parents before we started! As I don’t connect being a mum with having a baby, the miscarriage (and, as I correctly feared, the pregnancy itself) became just another stumbling block to me being a mum. Another fucking problem I had to just accept and deal with, at a time when we had no emotional resources to do so.
So we decided to go travelling as we both knew we had to do something to get out of the rut. Then getting organised for this trip took over. The good news is that the trip has truly worked in sorting out me and Pat. Within days of leaving the UK we were laughing again, physically and emotionally close. 3 months on, despite being together 24/7 we are getting on better than we ever have. When things were bad my brother Sandy told me to remember it was the situation not us. How right he was.
That night, lightening struck
In the early hours of Christmas Eve, I had the moment; the flash of inspiration. I had never really acknowledged the 2nd pregnancy as a baby. I had cried for my future and marriage but not for it. And I began to think that maybe that’s why I’ve been putting on weight on my stomach, unable to shift it. I say up in my bed in the dorm and by the early morning light wrote down how I felt and for the first time thought of the pregnancy as a baby. I worked out that this was the 2nd Christmas in 3 years when we should have been expecting a baby – I would be about 8 months gone and we would have an excited 2 year old. The tears just flowed, then and through much of the next day as me and Pat grieved together. I’d already decided to head up to Arambol on Boxing Day to seek out some healing. The reiki I had was amazing; tears just erupting from me as healing hands were placed over my belly – the source of so much pain. Afterwards I left like a new woman, returning to Asterix with a completely fresh spring in my step.
But there were some proper comedy moments in Arambol
The night of the conversation we also discussed massage. Turns out there’s such a thing as Tantric Massage there – not a massage from Sting, but one which covers the whole body – fully naked and involving genitals!! Alexis suggested I might want to try a Hawaiian massage (no genitals thank you) which helps to flush away emotions. I thought I’d give this is go if I found anyone doing it the following day. On Christmas day, another of our Asterix friends – seasoned traveller and ex nurse from Chesterfield – Liz, said she would come with to Arambol. I told her I fancied a massage, and then with loads of laughter told her about the tantric massage conversation.
Boxing Day morning comes round and I’m surprised that Liz isn’t ready to set off. “I’ve decided not to come” she says. Disappointed I say ok and set off with Alexis. When I get back Liz confesses that she thought I was going for tantric massage!! Each to their own, she tells me she had thought, thinking Patrick must be the most liberal of types to be happy for me to go!! “Well” she says “you never know about people”. Much mirth.
A meditation to never forget
So me and Alexis arrive at the magic park complex and see that a group meditation is about to start. The leader is exactly as you would imagine – in his 60s, French or German, long white/grey hair in a ponytail, wearing white flowing robes, sexy in a ‘I’ve had far too much free love in my time’ way. Can a total beginner join in I ask? “Do you know how to breathe? If so, you can meditate.” I spot a young Indian man making strange noises and doing weird exercises near the meditation mat. He is totally unselfconscious. I try not to laugh. We sit down in rows and it starts.
There’s about 25 of us; crusty traveller types, old hippies and lots of middle aged Russian women. It all starts pretty normally. We are encouraged to breath in slowly and breathe out quickly making lots of noise. This is hard for me as I’ve spent the last five years in singing classes learning to breath in quickly and out very slowly and all silently. Already I’m trying not to laugh at the noises.
Then it ratchets up. We all stand in a circle and put our arms in the air then touch the floor making lots of very heavy breathing sounds. The young Indian bloke is really going for it, getting stranger and stranger by the minute. Then my worst fear – we have to get into pairs, men and women, and meditate together. Of course, bloody Indian bloke comes up to me. First we have to join palms and stare into each others eyes for about 5 minutes. He stares really intensely at me and starts blowing in my face. Urghh! I concentrate on where his eyebrows join to stop my laughter. Then the women have to turn their palms up and then men theirs down, close our eyes and with our arms make circular movements. At least I don’t have to look at him but his breathing gets louder and louder, his hips start to thrust and he gets nearer, the blowing and heavy breather more and more ferocious. I am seriously worried about what is going to happen if he keeps on going like this!! I’m like a school girl, on the edge of collapsing with giggles, only just keeping it together. After what seems like forever it ends and the men move round the circle. Oh god, here we go with another bloke. Luckily he’s not bothered and simply goes through the paces. To my right a middle aged woman now ‘meditating’ with the young bloke looks like she’s about to explode too!! The guru calls a break, telling us in the next bit we still start to get seriously connected. Time for me to bail out. I skulk away to disapproving glances. I walk past the notice board, seeing the advert for the session. I should have known.
I don’t think i’ll be trying Tantric Meditation again in a hurry, but India, your infamous spiritualism got me in the end.