Photo by johnpaulsimpson on Foter.com
They left into the night, like thieves, far from the crowd and the taxis. The old Delhi airport was still human-sized for them to be able to get away from it so easily. Peter had no idea what was going on. Where was he going, riding on the determined, almost fiery steps of his two guides? What madness had he gotten himself into?
The little group stopped in front of a garage door. By accepting the hotel offer from his flatterer, Peter had set in motion a chain of events of which he was not yet aware. Barely off the plane for his first trip to India, he chided himself for being so malleable, for not being more resistant. But the abandonment to which he had now succumbed had the full-bodied taste of the tropical Indian night that enveloped him. A shiver of excitement appeared and mingled with his general apprehension. He became more attentive to the scene unfolding before his eyes.
His two suspicious taxi drivers were now fiddling to open the garage lock. What came out of it was the strangest vehicle he had ever seen, a ‘rickshaw’ as it is called here. What planet had he landed on? It was now well after one o’clock at night. He was promised to be led to a cheap hotel in the city, but this was no reassurance as the noisy little vehicle tore the quiet, somber Indian suburbs apart.
They were now riding on never ending roads under a gloomy, yellow, and openly dull stretch of street light. Peter was moving in slow motion, as in a film, between rows of rare, decrepit houses. This came to him as a more than humbling experience. Possibly humiliating. If he had any romantic vision of lines of palaces rising above the graceful bend of mother Ganga, or the sight of an ageless guru sitting in the cavity of a temple tree, waiting for his arrival, this would shatter it irremediably. This was his dark night, he had no doubt. This was his welcoming kiss by beloved India. A birth was here under way.
As for a cheap hotel in the city, he was received with a rather pricy, remote, ugly motel. The lights and bubbles of city life? They had dimmed to the point of being rolled back into Shiva’s eternal sleep and night to never reappear again. In a glimpse, he saw through his taxi driver’s manoeuvre with a clarity that surprised him: Take your client in a hotel situated as far as possible from the city centre, and he will bow to you the next morning, too happy to have somebody taking him back to the commonality of civilisation.
For now, he had been thrown off into his room with no distant trumpets of a misty temple, and no other prospect than to wait for the next day to arrive. His only gift was a mind now heavily loaded with a whole array of worrisome thoughts. He lied on the bed in a desperate and impossible attempt to sleep. He tried to catch the few consoling thoughts that passed by to give him some respite. Nothing is lost, they said. There will be light.
It’s something that Peter had noticed on many occasions, that darkness is always followed by light. But it is more subtle than a question of time, or sequence. It seems that the very seeing of darkness, the realisation of the dark, unwise nature of any moment bears in itself a transformation in its very opposite, in what sustains it, which is light. Peter had the impression that the quantity of light unveiled may be proportional to his being aware of darkness. To how much darkness he was prepared to see and uncover.
He listened to every little noise as they appeared in his newly acquainted house. A steel bucket was being moved on the tiles of the floor, with its handle producing a loud tinkling sound at it landed on the side. This was not a simple bucket though. This was the bucket from a far away country. Made from a quality of steel that was unknown to him. And this was the floor of another world. Tiles made from the clay of an ancient land and civilisation he had barely trodden on. Everything around him acquired an unknown essence. And the sound of a human clearing his throat, gargling and spitting water into a sink came as the pinnacle of newness. He knew now with a frightening certainty that his audacious trip to sacred India would leave him forever changed.
Peter thought of the courage that it takes, this confrontation with the most hidden and buried parts of ourself. He wondered if, after all, darkness wasn’t his path. He never had much indulgence on himself, always putting himself down, seeing only the worse portions of his life experiences. Yet there was in his being an innocence, a readiness to welcome and be open to the beauty and immensity of living. Openness and willingness were his two most precious qualities. He would go around the vicissitudes of his trip with an open heart and the good will that his innocence provided him in all circumstances. That would cut through and lay open the thick layers of fear and this sense of hopelessness that he felt were underlying his existence.
In the morning, his two taxi drivers promptly appeared in his bedroom to take him to Delhi. The price they asked for came to Peter as an affront, and he refused their offer, only willing to pay for last night’s trip. It came back to him as an impossible thing to do and the two men were now barring his route to the exit door. The drums of India’s ageless temple of life were now making a deafening sound. He decided not to let his trip tarnished by another sprout of darkness and gave in to these two greedy temple guardians. He decided to pay the price for entering in sacred ground. He bowed in, but with the exception of one thing: He will not have them as his leading guides to enter the kingdom of Delhi. He made a hurried ‘namaste’ gesture and went down to the reception to collect his passport. He asked for a nice, big, safe, official, not cheating taxi, and he did it with such convincing smile and tone that he was quickly awarded with a brightly shining Ambassador car, and a dapper chauffeur behind the wheel.
The rest is only history. The land opened itself to him as the big, large avenues of New Delhi arrived in sight. The sky was clear, and the sun was darting its soft winter, morning rays on the scene. India was showing its splendour. Buses, rickshaws, cars, people everywhere. And the cows. And the cows! And the colours brushing it all under the joyous tone of a cinema song screaming from a local radio. That’s it, Peter reflected with an elated feeling of joy and thankfulness. This is my first invitation at the banquet of India’s sacred presence and light…
Text by Alain Joly
Photo by Paul Simpson on Foter.com
Read this other short story in the blog: ‘The Departure’…
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