The river Ganga churns, rolls along before me, sending the tide high around the rock where I sit, meditating, in the rain. Fat droplets fall on my skin, so starved for hydration after weeks of burning sun, and the corners of my lip curl up as I inhale the wet, late afternoon air.
But shortly, I am wrangled from my peaceful state of calm white light by the “HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” erupting from the middle of the river. I know what, if I open my eyes, I will see: a group of about ten men, in their late twenties or early thirties, wearing orange vests, floating on a bright orange raft, and screaming their heads off. This is not an esoteric religious rite. This is the New India, floating down the holy river, past temples and pilgrims and little old me meditating on a rock; this is middle-class Delhi, on vacation (or “holiday,” as they say).
India is full of moments like these; we foreigners complain: can’t they stop honking incessantly in my ear? why do these city people disrespect the sacred atmosphere? why do Indians pour their trash into the Ganga, or burn it in the forest? It is confusing, for outsiders, to experience at once such tranquility here, and such devotion to the sacred in the everyday through rituals and temple culture while simultaneously witnessing these seemingly incongruous acts. Like the vacationing Delhians. Don’t they know they’re interrupting my “spiritual journey”? I mean, how dare they?
This is India: confusing, chaotic, and yet enrapturing, powerful. You just have to take it all in, understand that while you’re having your “spiritual journey,” the secular world is mired in its own problems; either you renounce it all or you deal with it, negotiate its complexities, accept it for what it is.
Monsoon has arrived. The ashram is encased in a big white cloud that we watched drift down from the mountains this morning. Electricity is off for hours in the afternoon. A good time for retreating away from the honking cars, the noisy crowds, the river rafters.