a closer look: the journey to the farm
From Ahmedabad, Gujarat I flew, with my parents and a fever, to Delhi where we joined my Grandmother (paternal: my dadi), my father’s sister(my foi/bua) and my father’s brother(my kaka) and his wife (my kaki) and their younger son at the airport as they also arrived from Mumbai. After visiting an insane, imposing, intricate temple of huge size and grandeur, only built 15 years ago, we started on our trek north. In a van with a cute young driver we voyaged up to the foothills of the Himalayas to the pilgrimage sites at the mouth of the sacred Ganges River. First, we went to Haridwar, the location of Kumbh Mehla this year- every 4 years there is this gathering of Hindu pilgrims every third time, or every 12 years located at Haridwar. So, once in every 12 years the largest human gathering descends for months on this tiny holy town situated on the banks of the cold and fast flowing Ganges. My expectations, based on my mother’s childhood memories, were shocked by what I found. We arrived late, after driving all day, and the twinkle of many small lights strung along the bridges arching atop the river, atop pinnacled tops of the temple atop a steep pinnacled peak. A jumble of billboards and advertisements, shops, commercial, retail, accommodations, restaurants, photographers even sadu’s(holy men,hermits, sages who had given up all possessions and homes for their religion) all asking for C-A-$-H.
This was the site of the sacred religious pilgrimage?
The banks of the river were concrete, built up with the steps that lead into the river and even chains and nets to protect those doing the sacred ritual of bathing in the water from getting swept up by the swift current. We stayed for only an hour, to visit a temple right at the entrance to the town and a few shops. It was already dark, and mostly empty. I would return in several days and have a whole new experience of the town, with a german anthropologist visiting Navdanya.
From there we ventured on to our “Ganges Resort” in Rishikesh- a tourist attraction in addition to spiritual center for Hindus and a central location for Hindu Mythology. The resort had a beautiful well kept garden that our room faced from which I did yoga, overlooking the river and some ancient ruins, just outside of town in a quiet and calm area with a breathtaking view. The tourists come to this small, scenic town following the footsteps of The Beatles, and find a number of Yoga and Mediation and Ayurvedic Massage/Medication and Rafting opportunities.
I found many monkeys, one of which peed on me. I found the swinging rope bridge of my mother’s memory to be replaced by a more modern and sturdy structure bearing the weight of motorcycles. I found the natural beauty of the river winding between the mountains, and a nutella crêpe (a pleasant surprise after hesitantly ordering a chocolate pancake- oftentimes indian attempts at foreign food go horribly wrong).
After a couple days in Rishikish we headed to the final destination, and the purpose for the whole crew’s long journey- my Bija Vidyapeeth, the Navdanya Biodiversity Conservation and Ecological Farm. I was panicking, homesick, lonely, insecure, and sick of India and the cultural pressures it applied to my rebellious soul. I felt incompetent, nervous, and overwhelmed by the idea of staying on a farm in rural India without knowing Hindi. When I arrived, after a long drive from the neared urban area, Dehradun, we took a long and bumpy ride down a dirt road through a mango orchard. Finally, we arrived and it was beautiful, lush green, blooming gardens, the red buildings of understated beautiful aesthetics. My heart soared. My family’s sank. They were not willingly sending the baby girl, the young princess who must be protected and pampered, to work on a farm. Much less, an expensive expenditure to even stay on this farm on which I would be volunteering.
After a confusing stint with the inept administrative folks I got a tour from the pretty and pleasant Geeta who calls the farm her home. Also from the US and the same age as me, but from LA and with a psychology degree, she is the resident volunteer coördinator. I could tell her presence alone reassured my parents that if she was okay, I would be too. To be honest, I felt similarly. Not so foreign territory afterall. In fact that same day I would come across two more Americans and two Canadians also staying on the farm. Inspiring and wonderful women that I’m extremely grateful to have met and had a splendid time with.
The stunning spiritual Naima Infinity, an artist from NYC, whose striking performances incorporate beauty, poetry, and environmental justice is a powerful and street-savvy marriage. Well-read and intellectual Carrie, whose short status, translucent skin, pale eyes, and golden hair and pretty looks didn’t reveal her strength, confidence, insight and wisdom. Melisa and Margaret, both fantastically fun and inspiring Canadians with completely different attitudes towards India and Indians. And that was just my first day. Soon after I would meet many more incredible ppl from every corner of the world. But the most mind-blowing thing about all these beautiful people… so many shared the same vision, perspective, awareness, goals, passions, and motivations as me. After all this time feeling alienated and angry, like a sole independent warrior for the right that I alone recognized, I was suddenly immersed in this nurturing nest of people who thought like me, acted like me, believed like me, worked like me. I became subdued. I grew at peace with myself and my life. I was living my ideal dream but unsettled by it. I missed having all the wrongs to fight against. I realized that all my goals for contribution would be set aside afterall. From the farm there was little I could do outside of the planting, weeding, harvesting, preparing of my meals. I decided that I needed this time to stop my headstrong descent into the fight for ideals. I needed to step back, and look at myself, my flaws, my failings, and take time to cultivate and develop myself into the person I want to be. Looking at how I interact and communication, my desire to express more compassion and empathy, to be open and secure. I absorbed all the goodness, and realized I’m not the only one able and willing to fight this fight. I need to take care of myself to be equipped to take on the big battles. I need inner calm, to recognize myself within a greater context than my previous identity based so much on my positions.