Friday, January 26, 2007

Nirvanah Negotiation

Pushkar India,Jan 26th 2007

We head out through the long garden of our guesthouse and through the gates to begin our first adventure in Pushkar itself. As we walk along we meet a man who hands us each a flower and tells us we are very fortunate because it is Temple Day. He instructs us to take the flowers to the lake and drop them in for good luck. We walk with a spring in our steps with the mission in mind. He tells us we have only twenty minutes to do it.

The town site has a Carnival atmosphere. There are small shops everywhere and we keep walking as every vendor implores us to come in and look at their wares. “Looking is free. Come I show you many more inside. Come. Come.” We find the lake and take off our shoes on the marble steps. As we walk down, we are suddenly separated by two men in robes.
Aw is whisked away and the other man guides me to the steps leading to the lake and has me sit down across from him next to the water. He has me repeat a long Brahman prayer and he puts flower petals in my hands and does a ceremony with water and rice. Then he puts a red mark on my third eye and has me repeat a prayer that includes the names of my family members. He has put something that looks like a coconut in my hands and he has another ‘priest’ standing by with a package of sweets and some literature for me. Then he says: “Now you give money in your own currency for each family member. How much you want to give for each?” I am puzzled by the question and say: “I don’t know”. In an impatient, matter-of-fact tone he says: “You need to give money for each member. This is a one-time donation. You do not have to give any more to see the temples; only this once.” I am getting wary of this guy.
I can't believe I'm in this wonderful place experiencing this incredible feeling of serenity and conflict at the same moment.
I realize he’s just another salesman here in India with his hand out. To me, my donation is between me and Rama and none of his cotton pickin' business. I say: “I have no money from my country. Only rupees.” He says: one hundred per family member is good. How many in your family. I ignore his question and say in a cautious tone: “ I have only one hundred rupees.” He gives a look of disdain. “Your family is only worth one hundred rupees?” I say in an even tone: “That’s all I have to give.” I look at him square in the eye and wait. I look to this other man and then to this guy across from me. He says: Where is your guesthouse. I say: “not here.” I open my wallet and (thanks to Aw) I really only have one hundred rupees inside. I take out the note and show him that’s all I have. He looks angry. He snatches the note from my hand and gives it to the other guy. Suddenly that coconut thing is gone and the sweets are making an exit without me. I see that the blessing has come to an abrupt end and get up. He says: “The man who brought you here must have told you about the money you need to pay.” I tell him: “No one brought us here. We just got these flowers and were told to go to the lake.” He is getting rude now as I begin walking away. “Not possible” he shouts at me. I turn around and look him straight in the eye: “With Rama, all things are possible” I say and turn and walk away. I spy Aw standing on the marble steps watching me. “How did you do Honey? How much did they take from you?” “Oh Stevie. I afraid you give them too much rupees. I tell them in Thai we only give 100 baht. He want more but I tell him no. I hope you do same.” I look at her as if her concern is ridiculous: “of course I only gave them 100 rupees” as if I was on to their game from the start. I didn't want to admit that the only thing that saved me was the fact that I only had that much in my wallet. I’m so glad Aw is in charge of the money.

We walk around the corner and I have a few minutes to cool down after that ‘religious’ experience. Aw buys a package of bird seed and starts feeding the thousands of pigeons on the steps of this sacred lake. As she smiles and laughs around the birds all my anger resolves and I come back to the feeling of wonder and beauty that is the essence of this magical place.

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