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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Delhi Departure Postscript

Leaving India didn't become a reality until I landed in Heathrow and caught my connecting flight back. I thought I would have a stronger twinge of sadness, but the experience of India has been far too joyful. After a couple of months being back in Houston, I realize I really do want to get back to work and start a new chapter. I'm looking forward to seeing what's up around the bend and I'm happy to have spent time with my sister and just recently, my brother. But it's time to leave.

Houston has a lot to offer, but it's not for me. I do love the place, but when I say I don't like it, I mean that there isn't enough to keep me engaged here on a long-term daily basis. It is the very definition of urban sprawl, it's too amorphous for my taste, but it's hugely diverse and demographically a picture of how the rest of the country is going to look in the coming decades. I've waited my entire life for this moment when diversity wouldn't be merely a liberal day-dream but an actual, social reality.

Sadly, Houston is suffers from a lack of coordinated planning, no zoning and a stalled mass transit development that could help give the city a sense of identity and definition that she still lacks. There are distinct personalities to U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. But Houston? The fourth largest city in the country is basically a shopping center that just happens to be hub for the energy industries (still mostly oil) with one of the world's largest, most sophisticated medical centers. She has so much else going for her, though, but that doesn't get promoted enough. There is a burgeoning arts scene here, terrific colleges and universities, a world class opera, symphony and theater.

She also has a wonderful can-do attitude and I guarantee you can become anything you want to be here. So why don't I like it here? The gripes I mentioned above reflect a diffuse, unfocused and fractious municipal governance. It's great that there are elements of an informed citizenry, but I don't see any real leadership from the elected leaders. I'm also not entirely sure that the general run of Houstonian cares that much. There isn't exactly a huge voter turn-out and the media is for the most part, lackluster.

I just feel much more at home in the Boston area which has its own set of issues, but I understand them better and can engage and participate more fully in those communities and processes.

How long will I stay in the metro Boston area? I don't know. I will stay as long as I'm needed, as long as I have something to contribute or....until I have enough saved up to return to India. I keep thinking I'll be back in the subcontinent next year, but I really don't know, do I?

From here over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to be working on two other blogs. I'm not quite done with this one. But with "The Algebra of Rebirth" under way, I need to apply more energy on that one. It's also more demanding in terms of focus and thrust. It also will have a set amount of posts and once the major posts are done, I'll promote it more widely for discussion. The second blog is going to be more visually intensive, I think. I haven't planned it out much right now, but I think it will be more of a website than anything else.

And this one? I'll still post on occasion. This is, when all is said and done, mostly a travel record. And I don't see myself not traveling.

I'd like to dedicate this final, for now, point of departure to Kelly, Dolma's boon companion over the past seven years. I called him Wonder Dog, but more accurately and comprehensively, as anyone who has bonded with an animal of any caliber, I think of him as another exceptional being.



Part Four: Points of Departure - Delhi

Leaving McLeod was filled with a blend of emotions. As sad as I was to leave Dolma and family behind, I knew I had to get back to the U.S. to begin a new chapter, for us. I was dubious about starting over in Houston, but it made some kind of sense to return there and check out possibilities. I'll return to this later, but basically, as much as I love my hometown, I don't really like it. I have more roots and more of a network in the northeast and it doesn't make sense (after this amount of time when I'm writing this) to settle here.

Most of all, though, this is about closing one chapter, having realized a dream I'd been sitting on for most of my life. There was sense of abundant satisfaction in this, but most importantly, a felt sense of deep connections established with people on the other side of this wonderful, troubled globe.

I arrived in Delhi at the Tibetan Settlement Camp (a term I detest) or the Tibetan Refugee Camp, if you will (a more accurate term, but loaded with over fifty years of sadness and Otherness), too early to check into Rabsel House. I took myself over to the park on the edge of the camp and read for a bit, surveying the garbage strewn all over and strays that resembled coyotes a little. The camp was pretty much barren and I was lost in revery when I heard my name.

It was Sonam, a relative of Dorjee's I'd met in Dharamsala. He was out with his brother walking a dog and had come over before heading to work. We chatted at great length and I was invited over for breakfast. Good thing, too, as the local businesses were closed both for protests to take place at the BRIC conference and in honor of Jamphel Yeshi's self-immolation. We had a good long chat and after Sonam left for work, his broth and I had a fairly intense discussion about Tibet and the complexities involved in her existence. He had some reservations about the effectiveness of some of the organizations that support Tibetan independence, particularly Students for Free Tibet and the Tibetan Youth Congress. He didn't seem to think very much of their efforts and felt that time would be better spent on education young Tibetans and helping them deal with the rapidly changing world they encounter. He noted, as well,that there is a difference of mentality between Tibetans born in exile and those born in Tibet (like him and Sonam) who evade refugees.

It was noon by the time we wrapped up and I was welcomed back anytime, particularly over the next couple of days since nothing would be open. I was grateful, but once I got back on the main avenue in the camp, I couldn't have told you where the apartment was! I know I came down three flights, down a corridor and made a left onto the main drag, but once I was almost back at my hotel I couldn't be sure which alley it was I would have to go down to get back. As it was, I was fine with checking in, taking a shower and lying down for a couple of hours.

When I awoke, I wasn't particularly hungry and watched TV for the first time in a very long time. An old Bollywood flick, bits and pieces of "Hostel", and random badness that is the common denominator of the tube all over the world. I read a bit, meditated a lot and dozed happily. It occurred to me that I could join the protests in town, but I wanted to sit more and absorb the lessons of the past few months. I wanted to bask in the fondness of newly found friendship and just be still. Perhaps tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and I decided to arrange for my cab to the airport, get something to eat, and most of all go for a walk. I asked the young lady at the front desk if there was any bottled water tone had and she said no, the restaurant was closed and there were no vendors who would be open today. No one was at the the travel agency's office, so I decided to go for that walk and see what I could find on Majnu Ka Tilla. I headed out into a ten-thirtyish morning sun and strolled past police in both the khaki and blue uniforms. The Delhi government assured everyone that the Tibetan community wasn't under lockdown or curfew, but the police presence was strong enough to cause me to doubt some measure of that assurance.

No shops or restaurants were opened and I took that as a sign to just keep strolling. I walked to the Gudwara Majnu Ka Tilla but really didn't feel like site-seeing. Truthfully, I didn't really want to do much in Delhi and continued up the road a stretch to a garden that was recessed from the highway and provided a have of relative quiet for a bit. I headed further down where the highway meets other roads and picked up an auto-rickshaw. I basically just told the driver to go to the nearest restaurant and wound up eating not too bad Chinese. Once I had my fill, I went back to the hotel and decided to see if I could book a cab to the airport.


Gurdwara Majnu Ka Tila is situated opposite Timarpur Colony beyond Khyber Pass in Delhi. The Gurdwara is dedicated to Guru Nanak who sanctified this place in the 15th century. Delhi Gurdwara Majnu Ka Tilla has quite an interesting story behind its foundation. It is believed that a fakir (Muslim hermit) used to live on the banks of river Yamuna during the rule of Sultan Sikander Lodi. Carrying people across the river in his boat for free, prayer and meditation were the sole aims in his life. He craved for a Darshan of God so much that the local people started calling him "Majnu", after the Persian lover. One fine day, he had the chance of meeting Guru Nanak, who blessed him and helped him achieve enlightenment.

Thereafter, he became a staunch devotee of Guru Nanak. It was his hermitage on the banks of the river Yamuna that later came to be known as Majnu-Ka-Tila. The site of Majnu Ka Teela Gurudwara, in New Delhi, has seen many spiritual discourses between yogis, sufis, fakirs and Guru Nanak. Guru Har Gobind, the Sixth Guru also stayed at the Majnu Ka Tila, when Emperor Jehangir invited him. Slowly and gradually, this place acquired significance and a gurdwara was constructed here. The Gurdwara also houses a well inside its compound. Every year, the birth anniversary of Khalsa is celebrated at the Gurdwara on Baisakhi with much fanfare and a "langar" is arranged for all.

The young lady was still there at the front desk and a gentleman came up who apparently was one of the owners. I told him I wanted to book a cab for tomorrow morning and he set that up. I asked him, too, if he knew anywhere nearby where I could buy a couple of bottles of water. He walked me into the closed restaurant, called a waiter over and sold me two one liter bottles! I was happy to have been so obliged, but wondered why the front desk woman wasn't similarly obliging.

I headed back to my room, did some qigong, some yoga and vipassana. I wrote, I read, I texted Dolma,rinsed and repeated into the evening and called it an early night.

An early rising and a cab to the airport made me happy to be leaving Delhi. I had my last breakfast in India and boarded my flight.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Part Three: Points of Departure - McLeod

I'll be frank. I have avoided writing this entry because it signals that I've accepted having left Dharamsala and India. For each departure, another arrival, and having lived long enough to have said good-bye to my share of people and places in many different ways, I can handle the mixed feelings better than, say, twenty or even ten years ago. 

In the past few months I've bid farewell to my colleagues at Harvard (the best people you could ever hope to work with), friends and family on this side of the Atlantic and then, after all too short a period, to friends who are family to me on the other side of the world.

My pal Fleur inspired me this morning when I found she had posted a comment to me on Facebook that this was for me: It's a three and a half minute slide show of Budan and I'll probably play it a few mo more times for myself before the day is done. It also inspired me to catch up on Fleur's blog, which is some of the best writing on the web. I'm tempted to tell people to quit reading right now and go to It sums up so much of the camaraderie, the motivation and reflection that accompanies us when we travel and unexpectedly find another family we didn't know existed (but suspected might well have).


In essence, this post is dedicated to Fleur Carter, who will no doubt be back in Dharamsala before me.

As anyone can surmise, I think, from reading the past few months, the people I've met are the glue that binds me to India. In Bodhgaya, there is Sanjay and his dad and the staff at Heritage. There's Mahendra, Viki, Dinu and my brother Kapil. And wherever she is, Leigh Kumar!

But for as much as I love Bodhgaya and the villages, McLeod Ganj/upper Dharamsala is what I think of when I consider returning home to India. Saying farewell to Dolma, Dorjee, Tsultrim Kalsang and Tashi Yangzom was difficult. My friend Pasang's family are gems.

Similarly, I will miss tea with Shafi, grabbing a meal at Jimmy's and Nick's, sitting in Moonbeam watching the sun set, and just ambling about the valley and up a mountain. The crisp mornings, meditation, yoga and tai ch'i and then up to Budan to see everyone. The road trips with Dolma and the family, the evening meals, hearing Palden singing, playing with Kelly on the rooftop; none of this may make for compelling reading, but it's the stuff of life on a daily basis that gives great joy.

Teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, performances at TIPA, visiting the Voice of Tibet and the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration, now officially the name for the Tibetan Government in Exile) offices, and dinners out with Dolma filled in the rest of time. And then, back to Budan for a last latte or a cumulative cappacino. There are worse ways to spend your time.

A mournful Losar and the self-immolation of Jamphel Yeshi were reminders that as lovely as McLeod is, the Tibetans aren't here by choice. Yet, it has been an honor to stand with them and at least in some minimal way contribute to their lives in exile. Additionally, it has been important to bear witness to the poverty throughout the subcontinent and see up close the work being done at a local level. There are lessons learned that I hope I can share in more substantive ways once I'm settled for a while.

Lastly, there is the majesty of the mountains. Morning and afternoon, evening and night; their silent presence rings about Kangra, surrounding us in ample enfoldment.

That last day was as long as I could make it. I dragged my steps. I mailed a parcel, gave some things to my favorite street kid, checked out of Pink House and made one more hike up the steps with Rinky, my landlord. We parted and then I headed across the street to Tsultrim's and deposited my stuff there. Dorjee, Dolma and I had a quick lunch and then it was back to Budan for a farewell party. After that, the trudge to the bus.

Along the walk to my departure, Dorjee remarked that I was showing attachment to Dharamsala, to the people I've met, and so on. Well, yeah. But I would characterize it as well as having been charged in two senses of the word. One, with the positive energy that comes from an exceedingly wonderful experience and acknowledging the innate beauty and goodness of those involved. Two, I feel charged with a duty to continue sharing that energy wherever I go, one that I happily accept. Attachment is relative. Sad to leave but knowing I can return mitigates the sadness as it ripens into something more like joy, unbounded by a sense of self for all to take from what they can.

The following pictures are the visual tokens of those final weeks in McLeod Ganj.

My next-door neighbors...
Random shots from walks



The view from Tsultrim Kalsang's:


Interior of the CTA Parliament where issues are discussed among the representatives of the Tibetan people:

Butter lamps at the Tsglagkhang...


And a monkey who didn't really want his picture taken...


Another great meal at Korea with a truly wonderful woman:

...and more reasons why departures are bittersweet:

rGrogs-po means "friend". That cake was sweet. The message was sweeter.

Two sGrogs-pa! Phuntsok and Ta Bo!

Altogether here (thanks to Fleur for taking this picture):


Kelly, the Wonder Dog :

....and a girl and her dog: last fond farewell to the Family,

I'd sure like to thank everyone who reads this, by the way. I hope it's been informative and to some degree enjoyable. It's not over, either. The next entry wraps up the India chapter that was written mostly for friends and family in the states. The ones that follow will be for the family and friends from India, as well. I'll be interested to see what comments come from there.