Sometimes there are no words to describe what I see and feel when I am here in India. I do my best in these little posts, but the beauty here escapes my ability to show you. It’s more of a feeling, I guess, when I look into faces in the market, watch the hands that lovingly massage my body or offer me food, or share a greeting of “Namaskar” with the little man I pass nearly every day on my morning walk. The people are what bring this country to life for me—make me want to come back here year after year. These women below are our Panchakarma therapists: Neela, Parvati, Vijaya, Lali, and Delma (missing from the pic is Sorenya, the youngest of this veteran staff). I have fallen in love with each one of these precious ladies ❤️ I feel like I’m home once I see their sweet smiles again this year.
There are other faces I am happy to see too. I don’t always know their names, but the sparkle of recognition that happens when we see each other again makes me excited to walk all the same streets, visit all the same little shops, and roam the central market where I have taken thousands of pictures over the past five years.
There are several small villages within walking distance to the retreat, but my favorite to walk through is Bharat Nagar, built on a steep slope that backs up to tea fields at the top and the main road that winds to Coonoor at the bottom. The people here are kind and gracious, often asking us in for tea or coffee. I wonder if they grow tired of my asking to take their portrait, but the always stand and smile, and the kids always want to see their images on my iPhone. Here are a few of my favorites:
Another morning at 6:15 we walk a different road to a village up the hill, and I lead the way through a short cut between houses. On our way back down, I see a familiar man crouched with his cat in the same position in the same spot by his fire as last year. His beanie hat and maroon shawl are also the same. The second of the two photos was taken last year with his grandson at the same time of day.
Later in the week a few of us hop in a tuk tuk for the 1O-minute ride to the market where a throng of bodies flows through vegetable stalls piled high with prickly bitter gourd, foot-long string beans, and striped squashes. Pyramids of oranges and pomegranates and a gauntlet of cucumbers, cabbages, and coconuts line our way through what feels more like a thicket, as bodies stream in both directions. I unintentionally block traffic as I zero in on a stack of eggplants. (Yes, this is still a post about the people, but I just can’t resist these little beauties!)
People watch me in wonder as I zoom in close, their stares clearly indicating curiosity over my apparent love of vegetables. Some shopkeepers, like this lady in her pretty painted stall, love the attention, and smile as I praise their beautiful produce. It is her box of eggplants showcased in the above photo.
Multicolored tarps strung from wires and tin roofs keep out the midday sun and cast a blue-yellow glow over Karin, Leslie, and I as we meander. We stop to watch a man in a crisp white shirt lift a coconut to his lips and smile at us after a long sip. Karin immediately orders up a coconut while Leslie and I snap pictures.
Around a few more corners, a tailor sits quietly, head bent over his machine, his fingers feeding fabric neatly along a line. At his right shoulder a wall of remnants hems him into a cubicle smaller than an elevator. He looks up and immediately smiles to know I have taken an interest in him. But it’s not his sewing I see so much; it’s his hint of a smile and his eyes that hold my gaze—the way they glisten in the light with such sweetness. They are an invitation to stop and really see the person here, not just the work he does. I decide he has one of the kindest faces I’ve ever seen.
We smile at each other for a bit, and then I bow before I move on. It’s not until later when I look at this photo that I see his white mustache nearly trimmed to the upper lip and the patches of hair behind his temples that leave plenty of room for his broad brown forehead. His hands, on pause for the moment of my photo, sit on the swatch of cloth, ready to continue feeding it to the needle of his diminutive sewing machine. His button up shirt wears a tape measure for a collar that disappears below his hips, and his chest pocket holds a hundred rupee bill stuffed in like a handkerchief. His watch reads 12:30, and I’m sure he is doing a job for one of the street shops that employ the many market tailors.
And just check out this beautiful shop! Not only are the veggies arranged to perfection, but the deities over the shopkeeper’s shoulder are adorned with strands of flowers. We ladies admit, there’s a lot that’s easy on the eyes here 😉
A few minutes later, we pop out from under the tarps into the bright of day and head South toward the center of town. A man sits low on the sidewalk surrounded by neatly folded used clothes and shoes. He looks so tired. His cloudy eyes stare at me—through me—as I quickly steal a picture. I start to pass by, but decide to turn back, lean down and reach out my hand. He takes it in his own rough palm. His face is the definition of metamorphosis, as a smile blooms in his eyes. We don’t say a word—just look at each other for a long moment. I ask if I can take his photo again. The difference between the portraits is astounding: Photos #1 and #2, respectively.
On the same side of the street, a mother on a motorbike idles while talking on her phone. Her little boy balances in front of her and grips the handlebars as if to take over.
A few days later, I capture the wonderful optometrist Kanikkaraj and his wife Latha:
This man who was watching Leslie and I take pictures of a lady fixing up her vegetable stand with such curiosity, eventually asks if I can put him in a picture:
Look at this little piece of cake in her golden yellow dress! Come on, how could I not?
Later on back in the nest of the retreat, and as the evening brings us all to meditation, I peek my head into the kitchen and find Kalu-ji preparing vegetables for a white pumpkin soup. I just love this sweetheart of a guy. He humbly works behind the scenes, filling hot water bottles, chopping veggies, making endless pots of chai, and he is quick to help with anything we need, always with his precious smile.
A few mornings ago, I caught Vijay doing sun salutations all by himself on the warm tiles of the entryway:
I could post pictures of people forever—my camera is full of images. Here’s a last little handful from my favorite walk:
There is a tenderness in each face, eyes soft and curious, a humility that engages me to connect even though we can’t speak the same language. Whenever I bow, they bow; when I smile, they smile; I extend my hand, and the warm brown fingers of another hand reach out to meet me.