A friend asked recently if I’d ever written about my trip to India—it was a welcome reminder and so here, after almost two years, are my first organized thoughts on the experience.
For over a year, I avoided my manager’s recommendation to visit colleagues in Bangalore in Southern India. Siddhartha Gautama “woke up” under a tree in what is now Bodh Gaya, India so, since I’m a Buddhist, wouldn’t I jump at the opportunity for an all-expenses-paid trip? Still shaken after being in a crowd at Ikea on a Saturday three years before, I was disinclined. Besides, how could I visit India for only a week without being an ignorant Western tourist or without my heart breaking? I finally agreed to go to in October 2013.
I stayed at a luxury hotel close to the office, had a great work week, met wonderful people, and happily gained a few pounds showing no restraint in consuming Indian dishes* three meals a day (the hotel cooks saw my enthusiasm and often stopped to talk to me). I had never stayed in a five-star hotel before and doubt if I’ll have the opportunity again—for the entire week, I never lost my feeling of appreciation for and fascination with the experience.
I also never forgot I am the world’s 1%. My mind held a steady stream of thoughts on tipping: I should have brought smaller bills to give to the porter, should I have paid for lunch rather than my colleague, did I under- or overpay the tip for the Ayurvedic massage, how much should I give as a gift to the waiters when I leave?
Next to my bed, I had set a card I brought from home with a picture of a Medicine Buddha in hopes it would look after my digestive system. I was surprised when I returned to my room one day later in the week to find flowers arranged next to the card, as if on a lotus leaf and with coloUrs that matched the picture perfectly. It had been created by the man who cleaned my room.
The hotel ran with staff paid to be helpful, but this seemed like something else, something personal. This man was most likely not a Buddhist (Buddhism is followed by a very small minority in India) but he honoUred my philosophy. It overwhelmed me more than the surrounding opulence because it was beyond all that: this was about human kindness and connection, not about $. I, the wanna-be-benefactor, still had much to learn about true generosity. That was the first of two times I cried in India. The second time (and venturing farther than the hotel and office), I’ll write about in Part 2.
* I liked how all the food is labeled “veg” or “non-veg” (veg = vegetarian).
- Ayurveda: the traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing (SOURCE: Oxford Dictionaries).