On Making Friends in India
In October of 2008 I found myself sitting in Dubai airport at 3 am, writing in my journal during a stopover on my way to India. I had sold all of my possessions, including a brand new car I had purchased only six months prior. I had my backpack, my journal and a sense of wonder and elation for the possibilities that lay ahead.
Most people were supportive of my decision at the time, but not everyone. Perhaps I was going through an early mid-life crisis at thirty-three years of age. I was feeling restless and didn’t really know why. The further away I went from home and the longer I traveled, the more I journeyed within, and the feelings of restlessness started to subside.
I love the excitement of getting on a plane or setting off on a road trip where I get to explore unknown territory to meet new people. I often travel without a specific plan because this puts me out of my comfort zone. There is something exhilarating about arriving in a new place not knowing anyone or speaking the language and having to rely on the kindness of strangers and my own resources to find my way.
Perhaps I was going through an early mid-life crisis at thirty-three years of age. I was feeling restless and didn’t really know why. The further away I went from home and the longer I traveled, the more I journeyed within, and the feelings of restlessness started to subside.
This was my first trip to India. I was heading to the Anand Prakash Ashram in Rishikesh, to learn more about yoga and to become certified as a teacher. Thankfully I had a fairly uneventful arrival at the airport in Delhi. I was anticipating more chaos; however I managed to exchange money, flag a taxi and get myself to my hotel without incident.
My first exposure to Delhi traffic was exhilarating, scary and amusing all at once. The taxi driver was really quiet but not so his horn, along with the honking of the other cars and trucks weaving in and out and dodging people, cows and dogs. He had his left hand on the wheel to steer, and his right hand on the horn the whole time. I was amazed at the order that was created out of chaos on the roads. It seems there are no rules or lines to divide the lanes, never mind the additional worry about avoiding hitting a person, a dog, or (God forbid) a cow.
After eight hours on the bus, traveling from Delhi with my fellow students who would be taking the teacher training with me, we finally arrived at the ashram. It was a little piece of heaven tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas. My first morning in yoga class I was in the front row looking at the mountains and listening to the group chant, and I had the all-familiar déjà vu feeling. It was like I had imagined or dreamed about this place before. Small tears of happiness began to trickle down my cheeks. I felt completely content and was sure I was exactly where I was meant to be at that moment.
Small tears of happiness began to trickle down my cheeks. I felt completely content and was sure I was exactly where I was meant to be at that moment.
I met some wonderful people from all over the world, and together we were learning a lot about yoga. The more people I met from different cultures, the more I learned and appreciated that we are all connected; we all share similar fears and hopes and dreams.
One woman who made a particularly large impact on me was Meenakshi, who lived in a little blue house in one of the back alleys on the way from the ashram to the market in Rishikesh. I walked this back alley path almost daily, and at the front of the blue house was Meenakshi’s tiny store called the ‘Jagriti Women’s Centre’. It was run by Meenakshi and her family, where she sold handicrafts made from women in remote villages in the Himalayas. She delivered the profits back to the women, as this was their main source of income. The handmade notebooks in her store caught my attention the first time I walked by, and I purchased one to use as a journal. We instantly became friends and I was invited in for chai and biscuits.
During the time I was there I got to know her whole family and was often invited in for lunch, where she would share her dreams about how she wanted to expand her business to help more women. Her instant kindness and acceptance of me into her family struck me. I will always remember her commitment to help the women in her native village in the mountains.
Meeting Meenakshi: Making Friends in India
On my last day in Rishikesh, shortly after the course had ended, I decided to order business cards for Meenakshi so she could start handing them out in the market to attract more people to her store. I was in such a rush to pack up and catch my train to Delhi that I asked Pramod, the ashram office manager at the time, to please make sure the cards were delivered to the blue house in the alley when they arrived from the printer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t going to be there to deliver them myself. I wasn’t sure if the cards would make it but had to hope for the best.
I returned to Rishikesh for my second yoga teacher training in November of 2009 and I went to see Meenakshi in the blue house a few days after settling in. As soon as she saw me her eyes lit up and we both had big grins on our faces. She proudly showed me the business cards that I had ordered about a year before. I was happy to see the cards had arrived!
We caught up over chai, biscuits and pakoras and she showed me the latest goods in her shop. Our friendship continues to this day as I’ve been back to India seven times now. I’m going back again in March 2017 – it’s become a second home to me.
On Making Friends in India photo credit by Sarah Wall.