Watch this first:
My host mom recently sent me this video from my last night in India. In it, I am dressed in a kurta, standing on stage in front of many host families, reciting a poem in Hindi titled “Ode to Dal Rice”. My feet are bare, my skin is dark, and there is a signature Indian mustache on my upper lip. My body language is fluid and loose.
“Is that me?”
I watched in disbelief as the audio echoed through the quiet house at 3:30 am. That once foreign language sounded strangely natural coming off my tongue.
“Are those really my words?”
Though it has been only a few months since this video was taken, I felt as if I was seeing a completely different human being. It has never been clearer to me how drastically our surroundings shape us.
During my global citizen year I lived a life that both was and wasn’t my own. This may be the greatest challenge my year offered me: a chance to discover myself beyond all identifications. Stripped of all things familiar, I became acquainted with my essential nature.
I find it difficult to reconcile the intensity of my experience in India with the dreamlike leisure at which I now recall it. Memory has begun it’s mysterious and wonderful work, stretching some parts, distorting others, holding on to some moments dearly and letting go of equally as many. Though I may have lost my head bobble and a good portion of my Hindi by now, the deepest lessons I learned this year will stay with me for the rest of my life. Here are a few:
1.In the absence of a given structure, one must create their life with vigorous and hand if they wish to live in an inspired way. It does not happen by itself.
2. Death is real, and the void that it leaves is often unifillable. That very emptiness is also the gateway to extraordinary strength, understanding, and peace.
3. Culture, as beautiful and wonderful as it is, can distract from our common humanity. Remember to seek out similarities as much as you seek out difference.
4. Consciousness becomes turbid in the absence of nature. Nature is self evident truth and allows clarity of mind and spirit. Clarity is the most valuable asset in an age of distraction, noise and doubt.
5. The reality of service (and gardening) is that most of the work is planting the seeds and tending to them diligently. You might never see them flower and that’s okay.
Yesterday I had the fortune of tasting home cooked South Indian food at my friend’s house. My friend and I offered his mom support, chopping onions, peeling potatoes, and grinding herbs. As the kitchen began to fill with the fragrance of spices I was seized by waves of nostalgia. One bite of idli (fermented rice cake) with sambar was all it took. I was back home at my host family’s dining room table, finishing up breakfast, ready to start my day.
Ode to Dal Rice
I sought a world of spice
And found it- yes
I know the sting of chillis red and green
And curries that burn like the summer sun
Masala like a fire in everything
But after all the heat had left me dizzy
And cravings gone- I needed something plain,
You were my medicine and my relief
I was saved by your grace and by your grain.
And I have seen the joy you bring
to hungry mouths and hands held out
The orange sun was setting fast
and laughter began to rise from the earth
You are a smile.
One holy night I saw you in rare form
From bubbling vats you filled a thousand plates
The neighborhood could hardly stand the wait
That night your flavor sung it's truest song.
And on some days I couldn't bear the thought
of even one more bite
my stomach clenched-
A plate felt like a mountain,
Oh, what dread!
You were like sand on my spoon.
And yet, I missed you dearly on the road
Though new regions offered me their best
Strange new flavors, spectacles and sounds,
I simply wanted you,
a moments rest.
Home is your warmth,
the yellow of your light
You are a mother's love
On winter nights
And glorious beneath your plain facade-
The nourishment of common men and gods.
P.S. Please go check out my community project, a video me and my friend Anthony made called "Community Perspectives". It's a good window into what my daily life was like living in country last year and I haven't really shared it up to this point. It's about time the world knows about it so go give it some love and share it!