Our faces reflect our journeys across multiple worlds, starting at home to beyond and back to our self. The beauty of life perhaps lies in our common struggles to find patterns of connection across those worlds. While the particular scenes and characters of that journey may differ, the search for meaning to face our self with kindness, love and acceptance remains unchanged. The journey to share my experience with you is no different.
The worlds I experienced were ancient and modern, art and science, mind and body. Across these worlds, I sought connection between the magical holism of the East with the scientific rigor of the West. A journey across East and West, Science and Tradition, Ancient and Modern.
My journey begins in India where I came to love chaos and diversity. I was born in Bombay (now Mumbai, India).
Many religions, classes, castes, cultures, races, colors and languages melded into a sensory bazaar. The view from our apartment offered a jolt to one’s senses. I saw skyscrapers and modern buildings made of glass, metal and steel that stood side-by-side huts made from twigs, grass, old tires, straw, mud and wires. Our neighbors were Jews, Christians, Hindus, Jains and Zoroastrians. Sadhus and yogis meditated along the road. Transvestites, transsexuals, gays, straight men, women, and children walked hand in hand. Being multi-lingual was the rule, not the exception. At home, we spoke Tamil; in school, English; on the streets, Hindi; with friends, Marathi.
The streets were extreme. People walked. Others pulled rickshaws. Bicycles and Mercedes rode side by side. Beggars crawled. Boeing 747s roared. The smells of roasting peanuts, scrumptious curries, diesel exhaust, roadside pooris, and cow dung were all in the air. The outdoor markets offered sugar cane juice, goat brains, 24-karat jewelry, jackfruits, radios, malas, incense, parrots, and fragrant spices. Women in colorful gold, blue and red saris strode by women decked out in the latest Italian fashion. Men wearing the traditional Nehru jackets, white dhotis, and hats conversed with businessmen in Armani suits.
In the summers, the scenes changed. Bombay disappeared. A long two-day overnight journey, on an old Wild West like caboose train took me to Muhavur, in remote South India, in the state of Tamil Nadu. This was the land of my ancestors, ancient and serene. An emerald landscape of rice and cotton fields, mango and coconut groves, streams and mountains gently awoke and soothed the senses.
Clean air, fresh water, small dirt roads, a million stars, sunrises, sunsets, bright smiling faces, huts of hand-made red bricks, palm-leaf roofs, innocent cows, calves and adorable temples were the backdrop. Minimal electricity, no running water, and a few scattered phone booths brought one to a different reality. This was the village of my grandparents, hardworking farmers, who tilled the fields, awoke at 4AM and slept at dusk. They lived simply, devoted to land and God.
Their home was a small two-story building. Across it stood a smaller white hut, with a thatched roof where several cows, ducks and hens resided. From the middle of that hut, a Moringa tree grew, up and through the roof. Each morning, my grandmother before sunrise, would get up and draw beautiful kolams on the entrance to the home.
She used milled white rice flour that flowed through her hands, like sand passing through an hourglass, to make abstract geometric and symmetric designs, resembling mandalas. Sometimes I would wake up early just to watch her drawing the kolam, a process whichwas indescribable, and visions emanating from her mind ’s eye onto the red brown earth leading to the home. The designs were said to evoke the Gods and put the one who looked upon them into different states of consciousness.
As one came home, one could not avoid the kolam, a reminder one was entering a special place. Two solid teak doors were the entrance into a small 10-foot by 12-foot room, which were the living room, dining room and sleeping room. Ahead, one could see the kitchen, where something was always cooking. The fragrance of cumin, ginger, cardamom, red pepper, and freshly grated coconut filled the air.