Day 135 – the bridge to the default world

My friend Rup has had a permanent, rock hard and bright orange cast put on her fractured foot so now that she can manage a slow hobble, she wants to take me shopping. As we wait for the café to open across the road, she passes me some nail polish, which I initially decline but then think, “why not?” I haven’t had nail polish since we were in Mexico back in February and then I ended up picking it all off because it was just too hard to maintain. As I wait for my pink nails to dry, I flip through a fashion magazine and am immediately swamped by an ambush of advertisements. I hate to say how effective they are as I can feel desires rising up. Books, makeup, clothes, food… These desires are struggling against my higher goal for enlightenment when I turn a page and see it. MAC Red. It is an iconic fashion statement and my absolute favourite lipstick. Seeing it now in print, it demands to know, how will I find balance between this default world and higher purpose? In my current state of spiky hair and unshaved legs, I am far from the fashion victim. I look at my hands, like two sides of a coin; one side covered in dark orange Henna, the other side, nails painted in hot pink. Why does the pink look so good to me? Is it really such deep set social conditioning that has taught me to appreciate this colour? Then again, the Henna is also a fashion statement, although the herbal dye also offers cooling properties for the hands.

As we sip our coffees, getting ready for a day of shopping, I am prepared to use my filter. At Sadhana Mandir, our teacher taught us to test everything by asking first if it is a need or want. If it is a need is it useful/not useful? If it is useful, is it necessary/not necessary? If it is necessary is it real/not real? If it is real does it give happiness/bondage? He asked us to give examples and with conviction, I demanded to know why my MAC red lipstick doesn’t pass through the filter? He wouldn’t even give it a go! I remember thinking that of course I NEED my MAC red lippie, every woman needs a favourite lipstick. Of course it is useful! I use it to paint my lips red. Of course it is necessary for those days when it matches my outfit. Of course it is real; it exists when I am holding it in my hand. And it is a powerful assertion of freedom of expression, as it allows me to show the world that I am bold enough to step out in right red lipstick, regardless of what you think. I have the confidence to pull it off and I don’t care if you agree because I like how it makes me feel. To me, that passed through the filter with flying colours. Unfortunately, our teacher did not see it that way and he went on to say that the only thing that passed through the filter is the all-pervading higher state of consciousness that is the “I”, or Atman.

If nothing else makes it through the filter, then what is the point of going anywhere or doing anything? Obviously I am not ready for the life of a renunciate, so today I am going shopping. I appreciate the economical use of the filter and am able to pass through many shops these days without a purchase. Finally, Rup’s leg is tired and sore so we have some street food- gol guppa, which is like a pocket of puffed wheat, filled with potato and covered in cold, green, spicy water. You put the whole thing in your mouth in one go and it is like a cool kick in the mouth. We then have an ice gola, which is basically a snow cone but with Indian flavours. We struggle to eat the dripping bright ice as we bumble along in the rickshaw back to the guesthouse.

Later in the afternoon, after I arrive back from the dentist having paid only 2700Rs ($54) for a cleaning, an x-ray and two fillings, I stop at a street cart to buy fruit. In my few words of Hindi, I manage to ask how much all the fruit costs and buy a kilo of grapes, mandarins, mangos and bananas. I walk away pretty damn pleased with myself. I remember being in Indonesia for those first few months, completely unable to communicate and feeling so lost without someone beside me who could translate. Two years on and I am in a country I entered, knowing none of the language and can complete a simple market transaction purely from words I have picked up through osmosis. Obviously I fall into the category of traveller if I am going to the dentist in India- no good tourist would go to a dentist on holiday.

As I wash my grapes, Rup knocks on the door and tells me to get ready; we are going to a movie. I have five minutes. As we walk into the cinemas, Megha tells me to take off my Om scarf, “You look like a Sadhu Baba!” I may be entering back into the default world with painted nails and a movie but I can still be a yogi in this world. The movie is called Ishqzaade, which means ‘lovers’ and is a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale about a couple from opposing political families. The girl, Zoya, comes from a wealthy Muslim family and the boy, Padme, is from the rival Hindu family. I manage to follow along with the storyline besides understanding little beyond, ‘chalo!’, which means ‘come on, let’s go’. Apparently they are speaking in the language of Uttar Pradesh, which is where Rup and her sister Megha are from. Just before intermission, at the twist of the plot, the dramatic music and facial expressions have revealed all, but I ask Rup exactly what happened anyway, just to be sure. I’m amazed and astonished- the story has me entirely enthralled! We stop to get some popcorn and coke (obviously not the best choice after an afternoon at the dentist, but there is cheese flavoured popcorn!) and we get back in just in time for another song and dance routine of which there are surprisingly few in this film. My favourite part of the movie is when Padme wakes up and, seeing Zoya, quickly ducks down so he isn’t caught watching her. I think that she must be undressed, but then she is seen in the next room, doing her morning prayers. She gracefully bows down to the mat, then turning her head to each side, sees him watching her and smiles. It is a moment of pure intimacy. He may not see her naked, but her spiritual devotion is bared and open for him to see, revealing her true nature. She smiles shyly, as though accepting that he has now seen her, as she is before god. With the poetic ending, there is a final note that says many Ishqzaade, like Padme and Zoya die all the time merely for falling in love someone from a differing religion or caste.

I ask Megha and Rup about this and they confirm that India is famous for honour killings and that indeed, their own father has warned of killing them. I ask if he would go to jail for that and she says that most of the time people have friends in government who protect them. I can’t hide my shock and confusion, that such a spiritual land in this present day can allow people to be killed over different practices. It seems so primitive, so barbaric.

In the world there is no consistency, there are no rules for defining how people will act or react. One thing that is good here may be bad in another place or time. It is only thinking and conditioning which makes it so. I come from a country where an arranged marriage is seen as ancient, people are punishable for committing murder and thousands of people happily and respectfully choose atheism over spirituality. India is a world where slaughtering cows for food is seen as barbaric, where couples are punishable for denying their heritage and marrying outside of caste or religion and where people leave home and family to find enlightenment. There is no good, no bad. I can hold no judgement for practices outside of my own. It is a beautiful and diverse world and the more I learn about it, the more I love it. I can wear my pink nail polish and my mala beads. I can pray to god and to Shiva.

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