I told my mother a few days before my departure to India how my timeline for the next 8 months would look. I go with the flow, but when it comes to my emotions, I have always been a diligent planner. Given that my mood swings rarely sway beyond mild; it is relatively simple to plan out my emotional state. I informed her, utmost pragmatically, that my first two weeks would be sensory overload. I would be so frantically stimulated by the sights, sounds, tastes, and pleasures of the holy foreign land my brain would be unable to fully process its surroundings and thus, how the mind itself felt. I determined, with cold awareness, that the following four weeks would constitute what us humans like to call “homesickness.” I would crave western sensibilities such as toilet paper, Brussel sprouts, and my lovers’ arms. Maybe I would feel some loneliness despite being surrounded by people as they were not “my people.” However, the bout of bad energy would be merely a temporary glitch in a lengthy vacation and by the end of week 6 to month 7 when I packed my bags and boarded the plane home, time would fly past so quickly I could barely blink before it was all over.
Once I arrived, I truly did experience the immensity of difference and was pleased by the many avenues in variety of all the senses. I waited in anticipation for the blues to set in and until then enjoyed the fruits of labor. In my natural habit, I was quick to make myself busy from sun up to sundown with yoga, school, and interaction so that tiredness became a primary state, yet that is how I feel most comfortable anyhow. As the days turned into weeks and my energy remained high, I wondered if, in a strike of luck, I had managed to skip the depressing loneliness all together. It was not until the tail end of week 6 on the dot, I had left the city days ago for a change of pace of village life and had been taking upwards of two naps a day, that it happened, my first bad day. The day began as all village days do, with a 5 am rising time and short walk to the temple where chants rang in our ears and Ganesh looked into our hearts. I proceeded to go about the motions of daily existence. Yet my mind felt so cloudy with the fog of sadness and my mind was calculating the days left fervently as if I were a prisoner awaiting release. My expression had a permanent look of gloom etched into the skin and the warm rays of the sun felt much more like thorns in my heart. Homesick, what a miserable disease to contract, with no prescribed cure. That day also happened to be the day of Diwali where we praise the buffalo giving gratitude for its existence.
The wet nostrils flared with the viciousness of a heightened heartbeat. The enormous beast stared up through dilated pupils and whacked its bulging neck from side to side bringing with it a trail of slobber from the dripping mouth and causing the many people lined around the animal to jump back from its wrath. It was those very nostrils that kept the 600 lb beast under control as the rope which was strung through the right nose caused such immense pain with each tilt of the head that the otherwise uncontrollable buffalo was rendered tamer, yet still a danger as it rocked and rolled down the street occasionally slamming to the floor or bucking its hind legs up. Its bony back haunches reached the stout South Indians heads and had the power to take out anyone standing too close as it whipped its behind back and forth away from the smoky attack of the latest firecracker a man was systematically releasing behind the huge buffalo. In front, a Mitsubishi outback had been roped up to a display of pounding Bollywood music and glaring strobe lights which edged their way closer to the beast every few minutes and with it the entire procession of unruly men, women, and children farther down the narrow alleyway with the thrashing beast. Turmeric coated the entire hide of the beast and sat upon the faces and backs of most of the white-clad men, a snow coating of orange leaving tongues dry. Women took turns, with their silver and gold platters, doing Pooja with the black buffalo. The dainty plates of rice, sugar, and small vessels of orange, red, and pink were illuminated by the diya, lights burning string in ghee. The plate was brought within inches of the slobbery buffalo and brought in circles around its head in prayer while it was dusted again and again with orange and red while rice was sprinkled atop its bone structure. Someone had made a fresh, pink flower crown to decorate the two massive horns of the beast. Which glistened against the dark skin. His hooves were the size of a full grown mans thighs and had been covered in jangling silver anklets which rang small bells with each pounding step.
The people of the village energetically motioned for me to take my turn doing the buffalos’ Pooja. I stepped up cautiously and went through the motions of the prayer with a woman’s platter, tossing rice atop the beasts head and circling a coin around its heaving snout. Then, a phenomenon occurred. My mood had been off all day. Yet, the moment I did Pooja to the buffalo my dour face turned into one of exalted pleasure. You ask the Universe and the Universe provides in the oddest and most surprising ways. A treat for my foreign eyes to participate in the absurdity of Hindu ritual. I was back in the present and it felt like home.