Amidst the Extremes

by Simon Goland, January 22, 2012

Today’s Reflection is about a beginning of a whole new adventure.

Light – the country of Saints, Yogis, Swamis, Rishis, Sadhus, and Monks, the variety of religions, existing peacefully beside each other, and the many, many temples, mosques, and churches representing them. India seems to be THE most religious and spiritual country. Darkness – beggars, often kids, slaves, millions of people living in slums, or on the streets. Such daily reality of everyday life seems to be normal in India. 

A three-week adventure
Stepping into the unknown
Courageous messenger
A precious gift to be shared.
To 116+ lucky strangers.

These are the opening lines of a poem and a card my beloved handed to me as I was packing my way to India. “This one you can open now, but only after you board the plane.” The other two cards have future dates for them, and I wonder what gifts do they hold for me.

India. A country that has been in my mind for a very long time, creating a mysterious push and pull at the same time. My interest in Eastern philosophies and teachings, many years of practicing yoga, the love for vibrancy of colours, smells, and people, the ancient history – all captured my imagination with a firm grip that wouldn’t let go. The pull.

With that, there was the other aspect as well, the push. Perhaps not very logical, as these often are. The sensory overwhelm, the poverty and crowdedness, the fact that pretty much every friend of mine who has spent any time in India, came back with some kind of a disease or a parasite.

This cheek-to-cheek dance of the push and the pull has been percolating within me for quite some time, and somewhere around the beginning of last year, I decided that I will simply have to go to India and stop this dance. Face the reality. Smell the chai tea. Overload my senses. What I didn’t know was the form this decision will take, which currently looks like a bit more of a gentle ease into meeting India than a backpacking trip I had imagined. I am arriving to teach a course at the School of Inspired Leadership, SoIL, which is located just outside of New Delhi. Then, when I am done with a two-week full time course with about 116 MBA students, I will have a few days to explore…

Let go of your agenda
Of how things ‘should’ be
Be scared, anxious and frustrated
And then turn your face towards the sun
And say, ‘Thank you.’

A trivia question – how many cars can fit into one lane? The answer will vary, depending on the moment of the day. For instance, in New Delhi on a Sunday (“Sir, this is not crowded traffic today,” according to my taxi driver Pankaj), it can be any combination of several cars, a tuk-tuk (aka riksha), a bicycle or two, a few people crossing the street amidst the cars, the occasional dog, a pig, and a cow. Magically, they all fit together, flowing side by side, seamlessly weaving in and out, without even touching each other.

So far, after about a day and a bit in India, I am seeing a paradox in action, on a moment to moment basis. Modern high-rises and sophisticated office buildings rising into the sky, while the roads to them are not paved and people are living on the streets around the construction sites. A bicycle loaded with everything from plastic pipes to metal construction rods to bags of “whatever” trying to speed up amidst buses that are falling apart and mercedes cars passing by. A lovely old British-style cottage of my hosts, where I am staying while I teach, with beautiful – and cold – marble floors and heavy wood, and the house-keeper and his assistants who stay up all night, outside, awake, warming themselves by a little fire they build on the street across the gate.

The duality is everywhere, and people seem to not even notice it exists. Or, perhaps they do, yet it appears completely natural in its rich and vibrant tapestry of the human experience. Light and darkness, each giving existence to the other.

Thank you.

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.