Pilgrims Awakened

Poem by India Experience participant and PathNorth member,
Robert M. Franklin (Bob)

It starts with paths. Many paths? One path?
We can take only one at a time. Wherever we are headed,
we are not headed in the opposite direction.

Adventures start with pilgrims. Adventures happen for pilgrims.
The Pilgrims’ search transforms mundane paths into meaningful ways, truth and light.

We stumble through the Gateway to India, and we are welcomed, for we are not strangers, only prodigals...home for the first time in a long time. Welcomed home, by the spirit of the Ancient Yatin. Embraced by cardamom and curry, pink and purple, Namaste and Diwali. India is a land of sharp, pungent, and sweet contrasts, stimulating every taste.

It is November, but a searing summer sun welcomes us to India. Sleep is broken, rare and short. We rest upon beds fit for royalty, spread for kings, presidents and prime ministers, refuge for Beatles, but not bugs. But, we cannot sleep here. We barely unpack here. We are pilgrims.

No wonder we found common ground near the Mumbai mattress of a Mahatma. Gandhi did not sleep much either. He had a nation to liberate and worlds to change. Sleep is overrated.

Early rumors of stomach distress quickly subsided proving the life enhancing effects of minimal exercise and maximum wine consumption. Is this why Ben Franklin said “Beer is the best proof we have that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”?

The path calls us, and we join the march of ancient caravans with spice in our clothing. Ancient mariners, we journey forth, we journey North. Pilgrim’s progress.

The path unfolds North near danger. Pilgrims debate, is it 10 kilometers or 10 miles to Pakistan? Were there no rooms in the opposite direction? But then, where’s the adventure in retreat?

War zone or not, there is shopping to be done. Pressing through the airport a PathNorth pilgrim earnestly asks, ‘are we required to visit the airport jewelry store before heading through security?’ Lakshmi smiles.

W.H. Auden said, “Only the ship of fools is making the voyage this year.” Here we are. “It’s how we roll,” Doug says. We bear no T-shirts as evidence of pilgrimage. Too classy for that. We don sarees, vests and turbans.

Winding bus tours are narrated by the lyrical and wise Celcia. We enter the lifestyles of the rich and maharaja. At least, in crowded temple on day one, we payed homage to Lakshmi, so may capital markets thrive.

How can we ever go home? We have been ruined.

No, we have been altered, spines adjusted, stars re-aligned, marriages re-arranged. I wonder who we’ll be a week from now?

We arrive at an airport, whose past is crested in gold, or was it diamond? The first great global flights stopped there. The world is best and brightest paused there. The makers of history wore shoes that carried away the dust of Jodhpur. We did more than change planes. We ventured inland and discovered a palace in the desert. Royalty Reborn.

Our hosts played drums, and danced, and sprinkled marigolds upon our heads. In these sounds and gestures, Mugo, Leila and Sandra acknowledged echoes of nearby African glory. But, it is their son, the little Mayor (Kibati), who smiles and declares it all good.

Two whole hours passed, one day, and we were not fed! So we gathered fretfully at table once again amidst bagpipes and orange turbans and full stomachs...to eat. Weren’t you just here a minute ago? But, that is the way PathNorth Pilgrims roll. A few late night heavy hitters and cognac sippers rock and roll.

Doug threatened to wear his Gandhi diaper. Thank God for Beth’s persuasive restraints and Melanie’s no-nonsense glances. Doug behaved, at least for that night.

Who needs a mattress, we now sleep at lunch or during Doug’s announcements. Such sleep is underestimated.

Pilgrims leave comfort and search for truth. Renouncing executive comfort some search familial roots. What we find when we dig and stir in the unseen corners of an unpacked bag. There’s that thing we’ve been looking for. Even beautiful Creole women from humid Louisiana enter the room, alive now in India, animating their warrior-daughter-poet, Lalita, and her best reader, Barry.

Pilgrims climb fortress heights and float across the map, ears closed to sirens that threaten. Sirens? Or mobile phone interruptions of our peace of mind. Toyota caravans sped along creating ‘cow highs,’ ‘til, at last, we reached an exquisite Mewar oasis bedecked in saffron and royal blue. Like the ancient Yatin, Oberoi is young but it’s bearing timeless and elegant.

Dining in royal splendor on water near fire, we shiver...shivering. Shiva the destroyer blows even colder air on our egos.

And, although Christmas is farther yon than Thanksgiving, we take our daily feasts and return to rooms stocked with precious gifts. Pilgrims love gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Yatin wears a mean suit and shoes, Santa has no future here. For Yatin found the village children first and filled their stockings. Now, they are pilgrims.

The camel’s caravan climbs to the village peak where education occurs. Who knew that a vigorous camel ride could unstop sinuses and dissipate kidney stones? School is simple but effective. Maybe the next generation of Celcia’s, Shakti’s, Shiv’s and Vaibhav’s smiled at us today. The Gorkas will be smiling back. We descend after charming the snakes and vibrating the Om Shantee.

Oh God, you do love Pilgrims, don’t you? Odysseus and Alexander, Muhammad and Buddha, Krishna and Moses, Mary and Joseph who traveled even with a baby. Jesus owned no mattress but he admired fine wooden tables. From them, he ate often with former fishermen, now pilgrims. Some loud and charismatic, others quiet and effective. All seeking to be great at goodness.

Bread and wine, karma and coffee—the first PathNortherners.

Now others are invited to the table. Where do you find these pilgrims, great Creator? They come in dazzling variety and exquisite complexity:

Donald with Cubs victorious, Jim and Cynthia—senior statesmen, Bruce and Dolores and Susan (the elephant whisperer), Matt and Amy, Mary, Rhonda, Lynn and Donn, Ken and Monica, marriage renewed, Aurimas, Joey and Stan, Margie and Stan. Celebrity lurks. And, my Cheryl—mother-doctor-friend.

Thank you PathNorth, Doug, Melanie, Yatin and LeAnn, the local India A-team.

Yes, sleepless pilgrims we may be. But we are the lucky ones. We have traded a bit of sleep for a bit of enlightenment. And, we are ready to take up our mattresses and walk, to repair a broken world.

So, up you mighty Pilgrims, you can accomplish what you will!