May the guru have your email address please?
Trip Start Jan 28, 2005
26Trip End Aug 2005
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After spending a wonderful week in Varkala I decided it was time to tear myself away and head up the coast towards Cochin. 3 weeks in India is simply not enough and there was no point in me trying to rush through seeing as much as possible in as little time as possible. That's just not the way to travel in India
Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, also known as Amma (Mother) is a self proclaimed direct reincarnation of Lord Krishna. Now you know me, I call myself spiritual and am open to most impulses but I am not sure about the Krishna connection here.
I arrived at the ashram and my sceptisism and cynicism grew with every step I took. All these people dressed in white and wrapped in serenity. I was allocated a room on the 10th floor sharing with a young German girl who'd been at the ashram since August last year. A poster of Amma donned the wall and several of Amma's books were scattered around her bed. She was such a sweet girl and I went with her for the bhajans, the devotional evening song followed by dinner in the assembly hall. Usually Amma comes along to the bhajans in the evening, but not tonight. Hm, I thought maybe there was something on telly she'd rather watch? As I gazed around the hall I couldn't help but notice I was surrounded by people in white, with my orange and black ensemble I felt strangely colourful and delightfully rebellious.
Being inquisitive I asked my roommate and fellow dinner eaters a lot of questions about their faith and their belief in Amma, but the answers they gave me - well they gave me no satisfaction. I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. Had all these people in white been brainwashed? Were they lost vulnerable souls who had so desperately wanted to belong to something they had found that something in Amma's hug? I actually felt a little uneasy and started to plan an early escape the next day
Then, the most extraordinary man sat down at the table. Probably in his mid 50s, having clearly lived a little before coming to the ashram and donning white. As usually happens with me, we got talking and that's when the ashram experience got interesting. He gave all my questions satisfactory answers and more. I could have talked with him all night, he was such an interesting and captivating man. It was one of those conversations you have and you know you will remember it for the rest of your life. Born in New York to Jewish parents he now called himself a HinJew. His spiritual name is Hamsa, his birth name just never came up in conversation. His daughter is a nun at the ashram and his son was also there with him. He really took me under his wing, showed me around and shared his thoughts and philosophies. I started to see it all with slightly different eyes. At least there was one person who was here because he'd thought it through and questioned it all. I didn't feel that with some of the other devotees there..
The day of the hug I woke up at 5:30 when my roommate headed out. Each morning at the crack of dawn there is a hour long chanting session (Mother's 1000 names) followed by an hour meditation
OH MY, what a wonderful and soothing hug it was. Amma's right arm was tightly wrapped around me and her she patted my neck and head, oh definitely she knows how to give a good hug. The hug just went on and on. Actually - it didn't seem she hugged the others for that amount of time.. As she held my head firmly towards her ample bosom I was wondering if I was doing something wrong and should get up, but I figured she's the boss and she'll let me know when the hug is over. After about two minutes she must have felt I had been hugged enough she grabbed my face and gave me a right ol' smacker on my cheek, patted my face, looked at me and giggled
Then as I shuffled gratefully backwards from the guru one of her devotees called me back. See, I knew I'd done something wrong! She must have understood how sceptical I was, now it was time to convert me. The devotee briskly called me over and uttered a truly bizarre sentence 'Amma would like to talk with you, but she understands you are leaving in a little while. May she have your email address please?'
'Erm, yeah sure...' I stuttered. Hamsa could not believe it when I told him and he kept saying 'she hugged you for an awful long time you see..' As of yet there's no email in my inbox from the ashram, but if there ever is one I will let you all know. My initial opinion of the ashram did alter a bit, but it's not for me. That Amma is an extraordinary woman and the world could do with more like her is no doubt. She has an incredible energy and such goodness about her, but the Lutheran in me had slight problems with the worship of a living person..
After my hug I jumped on the slow boat to Allappey and then headed off to Cohin from there in a cab with 3 lovely people I met on the boat, a harmonious Canadian couple and the sweetest young Englishman
Are you still awake? Man, I do go on and on! There is so much to tell and since I've not had time to write it all in smaller chapters - well they are coming out as monsters aren't they? I'm off for a 14 hour stop over in Mumbai then onwards to Bangkok in the wee hours of Sunday morning. And how cool is this? My Mum is joining me in Thailand next week!
I will no doubt cry my little eyes out when I take off from India. The tiny part of this incredible country that I've seen has been wonderful. Everything is more in India, the colours are more vibrant, the smells (yup, that'll be both good and bad ones) are more potent, sounds are stronger. It's an assault on all your senses. On top of that I've been so lucky to meet a diverse bunch of amazing people. It's great having Fusion brekkies and cups of special tea and talk with people who share the same passion for travelling. I just want to wrap them all up in my bag and take 'em with me. I will return to India soon and I will return again and again. There is no doubt about it, India has stolen a grand piece of my heart...