In life, there are moments that define who we are. These are the moments that shift our perspectives on what we think we know or introduce us to an entirely new collection of knowledge. Infamous developmental psychologist Jean Piaget calls this "Adaptation". These are the five moments in India that made a lasting influence on who I am as a person.
1. Meeting Muppets
I have spent my entire professional and academic career working intentionally and unintentionally towards a career at Sesame Workshop. The first time I sat next to a muppeteer as she reviewed her script in the voice of Chamki, I had chills. The moments that followed were life changing. To see Chamki on a stage surrounded by thousands of primary school-aged children was awe inspiring. In that moment, my dream had actualized.
2. Dilwara Entrance
In India, I experienced culture. From food to temples, from conversations over tea to market bargaining. There was a moment in Mount Abu, Rajasthan that changed my perspective. The Dilwara temples are a set of Jain temples that sit upon the only hill station in the desert of Rajasthan. My guide walked me through the entrance of the complex and my anticipation was escalating. He motioned towards the first temple and I saw a life size photo of what the inside used to look like. As we walked closer, I looked to the left and the right for the way around the photo. I got closer and closer anticipating a hidden entrance. Then, I walked through the photo. The interior of the temples were actually that stunning. They held a beauty that I thought could only exist in photos. In that moment, I experienced truly magnificent beauty.
3. Ganga Aarti
In Haridwar, I was able to participate in the Ganga Aarti - a collective prayer to the Divine Mother - the River Ganga. The banks were lined with people celebrating and worshipping the river with chants and motions. They mimicked the motions of the 11 pundits (priests) on the opposite bank. When the sun set, the prayer lit up. As it got darker and darker outside, the banks of the River Ganga lit up with bowls and aarti completely engulfed in flames. For the people on the banks, this river held immense meeting. In that moment, I experienced a celebration of a meaningful life.
Growing up catholic, my interpretation of death has been loaded with messages of fear and hopefulness. My understanding of death was filled with sadness, remorse, and hope for an eternal life of good. In India, I saw death four distinct times. In Udaipur, our car stopped. This time it did not stop for traffic, pedestrians, or even the occasional elephant. Instead, when I looked out the windshield of the car I was face to face with death. The closest I had ever been to death. But this time it looked different. The man was wrapped in very colorful fabrics. His old face was exposed and he was being carried by a parade of people throwing flower petals on him. He was being carried to his final ceremony - a cremation. This was one of the biggest perspective shifts of my life to date. In that moment, I experienced death in a more intimate way than ever before.
5. Hemkund Sahib
In a leap of faith, and complete trust in my physical capacity after being very inactive for a year an a half, I booked a trip to the Himalayas. I had no idea what was in store. The trek to Hemkund Sahib was long and steep. Alone, I climbed to an altitude of 15,400 feet. This was only the final part of the longest pilgrimage for Sikhs. In my last blog, I told the story of the apex of this hike. The moment that summed up my perspective shift was one final selfie. Upon my descent, a young man laughed and gestured to me. He wanted to escort me down the mountain. At first I declined and continued walking. Within 5 minutes he caught up and put his hand on my shoulder. He and I, with no verbal language in common, completed the remaining 7 mile descent side by side. We laughed, we skipped, we ran, and we came together. In the final stretch of the descent, we were able to see our basecamp. At first sight, we were beyond happy. I captured that moment in a selfie. In that moment, I experienced deep friendship with a stranger.