"Genuine compassion comes from seeing your own limitations: you wish to be kind and you find that you aren't kind. Then, instead of beating yourself up you see that that's what all human beings are up against and you begin to have some kind of genuine compassion for the human condition. You try to be peaceful and never raise your voice and you find out that you have a lot of rage. The dharma is about making friends with the groundlessness and discomfort of those feelings. It is not about making rules so that those emotions never arise. Compassion doesn't come from trying to clean up the whole act."
~ Pema Chodron
"Then, instead of beating yourself up... you beat the other guy up."
~ Tony Soprano (fictional TV gangster)
Oh! Let the games begin! India is having her way with me, as usual, and I'm feeling charged and alive and depressed and engaged in a way that's just hard for me to reproduce at home. (Where is home, anyway? A topic for another day.)
A few nights ago I was walking down a busy, narrow, street, kind of glowing, enjoying the dirt and noise and chaos and LIFE that surrounds you here. I could tell that I'd just arrived, cuz it's Not Normal to be these happy in Delhi, of all places. On the narrow road of Main Bazar (bizarre?) I saw someone arguing with a kid who might be 15, who was so thin he looked like he could collapse at any minute. Seriously. He had the same gaunt appearance as the flies-on-his-eyes near-corpse that I saw last year. It struck me - how can it be that this poor kid could have so much suffering in his life? Why him? Why not, for example, me, or the people reading this letter? If you think it's because you've made better decisions or that you've worked harder you are, forgive me, delusional. There but for the grace of God, go you, dude.
I had a delightful interaction with a guy who sold me a mobile phone SIM card. We had such a nice time that I walked out without paying, which I rectified later. I heard the firecrackers, brass band and wild drumming of a wedding procession, and went to watch. I try not to get too much in the middle of the action in case I get dragged onto the dance floor. (It wouldn't be the first time.) But I thought, what the hell, get up there, Davemo - the photos will be better. I stood close to the gyrating wild boyz and held my little camera over my head with both hands while I took video. A young guy stood very close to my right, and just then I felt a hand in my right pocket. I was amazed by how fast I (1) forget that I was shooting video, (2) grabbed his arm and frog-marched him to a nearby truck where I could see myself (3) ramming his head into the side of the truck. Except I only saw it in my head. I had Gandhi whispering in one ear and Tony Soprano in the other. I thought, uh, hang on there, Rambo, you think you're overreacting, maybe? He was gesturing that it was someone else, and I yelled at him and let him go. He and another guy high-tailed it and I was left wondering how it all happened so quickly, including my reaction.
I walked away from the pickpocket/assault, a little agitated and embarrassed, and passed a young-ish guy who was crouched/laying on the filthy street, rhythmically rubbing one cheek against the ground. (What was that about?) I had chai on the street and sat next to the old man with one leg who smiles and holds out his hand like he's the Pope blessing me. I said goodnight to the beautiful, filthy, four year-old beggar girl who always smiles and gives me a hug when I see her, even though I've never given her anything but attention. And I talked to the restaurant owner who said, convincingly, that every one of the beggars in this particular area are controlled by the mafia. All of them? "One hundred percent," he replied.
So ends a not-unusual day in Delhi. If that's not enough to make your head spin, I wonder what would.
I left Delhi a few days ago and took the 22-hour train ride due south, into the state of Maharashtra. There's almost no tourism here, right in the center of the country. A group of us have gathered for three weeks to do volunteer work as part of a meditation-oriented "work retreat" at a community of outcasts, mostly lepers. Today was our first day of actual service, and I took some gruesome photos during the wound clinic that I promise not to show you. The physical ailments here are a little overwhelming. Maybe more than a little. Later I was giving oil massages to old men, some of whom I'd bandaged earlier. Love and revulsion, in more or less equal parts, I'm sorry to say. Revulsion is (hopefully) a temporary reaction to the nasty wounds that I'm not used to. Love is an action, fueled by intention, and can be willfully cultivated. Please continue your good work on me, India. That's why I'm here.
So much love, (and not so much revulsion!),
These photos are all from the small town of Warora, where the outcast community of Anandwan is located. These handsome blokes are lounging at the entrance. The gnarled hands give away the existence of leprosy.
This barber works in a small tin shack just off the road.
I remember my grandmother saying she used to do ironing with coals inside a big iron. Yeah, now I know what she meant.
It's the return of the Tower of Love! My friend Jen, who I traveled with for several months around India in 2006, met me here at the work retreat. She has unending, boundless enthusiasm for meet-and-greet with the locals, particularly children. Here she lines up a shot at the carom table. We'd met these guys, oh, 45 seconds prior to this shot.
When people pose for photos, they typically look very serious. After the serious photo, they all laugh, and then I try to take another photo. That's what happened here.
This stunning creature is only 11 years old. She and her friend, who spoke good English, escorted us for about two hours as Jen and I walked around town.
Jen, in her element. She's the only traveler I know with more energy for engaging with children than me.
I took maybe 100 photos during our walk. This kid was with his Mom. Virtually everyone wanted a photo, either of themselves or of a friend.
In the 80's, we joked that you wore sunglasses at night because it was never too dark to be cool. These beautiful women had just had cataract surgery as part of a huge annual eye camp that's currently being held in Anandwan. They're doing 1,800 cataract surgeries over eight days.
Top of Tops, or so his shirt says. I think I agree.
I love this home-made wheelchair, made from a common plastic chair and mountain bike tires. We wheeled around some old men today in funky, clunky chairs. I was wishing I had this speed demon.