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Biography
Alessandra Corsini lives in Rome. As a transactional analyst, she has been working for years with troubled children, adults and families. She won the Saint-Vincent prize for journalism (1977). She published “L’ultimo cielo” in the collection NOTTURNI ITALIANI (1999), and IL VENTO RACCONTA (2000), for which she won the Emily Dickinson Prize (2003). RISO BIANCO was published in 2005. The book was presented at the Frankfurt Buchmesse in 2006 as a Guest of Honour for India, at the Fiera dell’Editoria (Publishing Houses Fair) in Matelica and at the 13h, the first Italian reading and theatre marathon in Agugliano (Ancona). In 2007, she was the moderator at the presentation of CALCO, a poetry book by Monica Maggi, at the third edition of POETEKA, International Poetry Festival in Durazzo (Albania). Some of her poetry was published in the JOURNAL OF ITALIAN TRANSLATIONS of New York (Ed. Luigi Bonaffini, April 2008, translation by Diana Festa). Alessandra Corsini has a very deep knowledge of esoteric and spiritual disciplines; she loves travelling and beauty.

RISO BIANCO

- by Alessandra Corsini (Translated from the Italian by Scott Sussman and Francesca Serraino Fiory)

Before
The story of love and pain starts when the night is over and the sun breaks free. When somebody goes away and another person comes back and the silence, there in the middle, gives no comfort at all. The place of possibilities is before tomorrow, a space for kindness that leaves room for dreams.

Every day I wake up with the smell of India and my skin gets drenched without me realizing.

Tomorrow we’re leaving for Goindwall. An enterprise, a trick or maybe only a prayer.

Eighty-four steps to climb in prayer. We start from the bottom close to the pool, as we were told. We have studied the Japij Sahib for a week, a holy text in the Gurmuki language and our pronunciation is a mixture of goodwill and imagination. It’s about God anyway and so any pronunciation will do. Eighty-four baths, one for each step, so what’s the big deal? A long baptism for every life, to cleanse your karma, the Indians say, and you realize that you have a rich past.  What have we done from one life to another? Pain, love and fear, they come back, they always do. There’s somebody who climbed the eighty-four steps in twenty-four hours. Something we don’t like and seems very exhausting. We’re not even Sikh but only adventurers; we have our naive courage to support us.

I’m afraid that so much life will overwhelm me, and the singing of my heart, I’m afraid that somebody will hear it.

The road is a big hole, a shaky journey among men, vehicles, rickshaws, cows, carts, sheep, dust and no one ever knows what the final destination will be.  Such is time here, a person sleeping on the road, one out of the multitude lying on the ground. It’s impossible to avoid stomach aches, peeing in a cornfield, the continuous blowing of horns and the stench that has become a colour by now.

My fellow travellers are scattered in throughout the bus, chatting or sleeping, waiting for our arrival and the eighty-four steps.  I like to watch them, icons unaware of their beauty, like works of art that are not impressed by themselves. Women, mothers, friends, so important that sometimes the heart can’t bear it.

We arrive at our destination all the same. We cram the square with our luggage and we stay there, being watched. It’s always like this at the beginning of each journey. I would like to know what they’re looking at.

Our rooms are behind the temple, four beds, mouldy blankets, stink and two spaces for the bathroom, a hole in the ground and a tap. Everything seems so luxurious in a land where life is lived on the ground.  We don’t pay attention to the arched entrance that leads to the eighty-four steps, pretending that we didn’t see it.  Why are we taking this challenge?

 I’d like to drink the hearts of the women who are here with me. I’d like to open their chests and touch that inner noise that’s life itself, caress and kiss every fear, prevent pain. I can’t do it.

“Let’s buy five towels.”

“Better a blanket.”

“An overcoat.”

“Indian underwear.”

“Bathing suits.”

Everybody wants to give a contribution to solve the problem.

“Water.”

“Dried fruit.”

“And where do we go if we need to pee?”

“We can go and rest in our rooms.”

We are overloaded with information.

“You climb on the first step, recite the Japji Sahib, and then lower yourself in the water up to the neck. You climb on the second step, recite the Japji Sahib, go back into the water again. Then the third step, the Japji Sahib, and back to the pool...”

Sadhana tells us once more how to perform the rite and only then I realize that there aren’t eighty-four steps but we have to multiply them exponentially. Paola and Camilla will try to count them but they’ll lose count and nonetheless the results will be astonishing.

We pass the entrance loaded with strategies, like sherpas. We have even brought some bananas and it’s evening now. We go downstairs, where light seems far away. The stink lingers. It’s all wet and slippery. It’s cold and the pool water seems like sewage water; green, hard, I can’t find anything pure in it. Yet inside people pray from dusk till dawn and the colour of the water doesn’t matter. We get undressed together. It’s reassuring to perform the same actions. Everybody is cold.

“Let’s do the first step together.”  It’s our last request.

We read the Jajji standing in front of the water, a sound echoing and falling into our hands too quickly. The prayer is quickly over. Now we lower ourselves into the water and go ahead by ourselves.

During
“The eighty-four steps will be worse than anything you’ve ever imagined.”  It is true.

I find myself wearing a bathing suit and Indian underwear which holds the cold water and lets it drip. The underwear strategy turns out to be a failure. I turn to the divine but my shivering knots my tongue and I can’t even pray. I can’t believe this is my story.  I get out of the water without feeling like Venus.  My towels get wet immediately.  My blanket is damp. I try to put my overcoat on to keep my body warm. I turn to the others to get some ideas.

We all carry our stories pinned to our chests, a kind of label that prays by itself: no more pain, no more past.

Why do we need so much violence to cleanse our karma?  An astrologer in Paris told me that I had an ancient soul.  Is this the reason why I feel so cold?  And how can I manage with so much past?

I meet Paola’s eyes on one of the steps. I can’t remember which one.

“It’s a nightmare.”

She looks at me and agrees, “It’s a nightmare.”  But she says it with scientific accurateness.  It’s not her emotions but her assertiveness that speaks. That same assertiveness with which she does things, an objective data you can use whenever you want.

Out of the corner of my eyes I see Micaela and Elda leave. They seem wise but still I don’t dare to think it.  Tired faces, wet thoughts, like anything else in here, a one-way-out tunnel, at the top. A few days later Elda will tell me during dinner, “I thought I was there to pray, not to take an endurance test, and so I asked myself, ‘Do you really want to do this?’  No, and I left.”

Actions are easier when you decide.

Some of us look so determined that they seem to be on a mission. They pray, immerse, climb the steps, pray, immerse, climb the steps, away from all the doubts of life.

Sandra confuses me. She flits from one step to the other with her blue cape on, obedient and happy. “I’m having fun.”

So I tell her, “You’re God’s favourite pupil.”  She’s an atheist and doesn’t love that name. Still she smiles and goes ahead. It’s impossible to explain the tricks of one’s heart.

Livia falls down.  It’s slippery everywhere. She gets up but doesn’t look very happy. The group crumbles and we keep swaying by ourselves. Beyond the wall: another aisle and men’s voices; men and women immerse separately. Beyond the wall Sadhana and Jaswinder read so fast we feel they’re spoiling our dream. They laugh and run like they’re in a kind of competition. The moon slows down. We don’t like their arrogant pace and their laughter as if it were a game. The night becomes longer for us.  It goes on forever.  When will we get out of it?  Men. Women. Some of us leave. Others stay. I can’t see the boundaries of these white ghosts going up and down the steps.

Indian women climb the steps and descend with gracefulness. Some of them get undressed, take a bath, drink, some throw water over their heads, wet their legs, recite a prayer and leave. No one stops like us, looking for more.  The saris let their colours drip and we feel less lonely.  Another woman immerses her baby. It’s better to protect him immediately, to cleanse his life at the very beginning.  An old lady in underwear stops and talks to me. I realize that she’s blessing me, touching my feet and my head. Those who pray here and perform this crazy rite are sacred. A praying woman is sacred, turns into a relic that does you good, and it’s better to touch her.  When somebody treats me like God I cry.

At the tenth step, my unconscious, my mother, my first three years, I stop. I can feel nothing but my shivering. I look at the dirty and violent water and I remember everything, like when you die, a quick scene without judgement.  I remember all the spanking, my father’s death, my loneliness, slander and my failing, my hunger for caresses and smiles which seem there only by chance. I remember that kindness has saved me more than once. I give up, get dressed and leave.

Only five of my fellow travellers will perform the whole rite. They will climb up to the eighty-fourth step which is in the open air. A night and a day spent praying in a cold place, at the core of their heart, an effort to forget their past and be light again. Their bodies bend, somebody will ask for help but they don’t give up, hold tight to that white marble womb. They don’t leave the steps. It’s not time to leave yet.

But this will happen tomorrow.

In my room there’s no one. I look at the clock: 10:30 p.m. On the balcony the night is different, small shapeless houses, herds of buffaloes, a light, a swamp. The dusty and noisy landscape is silent now, not even a monkey.

I don’t lock my room because doors need to be left open on a night like this. Later I hear Maria Luisa and Marisa coming in.

And tomorrow it’s New Year’s Day: Diwali.

The day after
It’s impossible to sleep on this journey; it’s already dawn; I get up. In our room only Avtar is missing. She is still at the eighty-four steps. This is the second time for her.  Is she looking for peace or is she fighting a war? Who knows which of our achievements are considered in heaven. The white temple is still empty at dawn; I see the buffaloes waking up behind the house and women wrapped in their shawls with buckets in their hands. The dust comes back.

Maria Luisa and Marisa are not very talkative. Is it the experience of the eighty-four steps that clears their mind or is it only tiredness?  Who has remained at the eighty-four steps?

The langar, the refectory where everyone can get something to eat, is still closed. It’s a big building near the temple where you can sit on long jute mats, dirty and humid, laid in parallel lines. The first time I was in a langar I had to struggle between the food that was offered to me and the filth which India naturally shows. I thought that thousands of people had already used my dish. I had to struggle between my personal idea of hygiene and the chapati with lentils offered by a thin, smiling man.

“Food prepared with love is never bad.”

I’m ashamed of what little faith I have. Guru Amar Das has established these day-long open eateries in one of the poorest countries in the world.  In here, food is given to anybody. Guru Amar Das was a good man. Now it’s getting better; I’m getting used to Goindwal.  I enter, sit, and eat with everybody. I look at hands and learn how to use the chapati better to prevent the lentils from falling. People smile at me once more.

In the meantime we eat bananas and dried fruit.

At 7 a.m. I visit the other rooms. Voices and noises cross the walls and I begin to count my companions: Paola, Camilla, Sandra, Emanuela and Avtar are missing. They are still on the eighty-four steps. The others don’t speak. Their hearts are still upset.  I run into Monty who has given up his refined appearance and walks around with a checked towel around his waist and very few ideas on his mind. He hugs me and waits. It’s better not to upset life too much.

At 8 breakfast is served outside on a yard behind the langar, where there are pans boiling and men working. Chai tea and yogurt. The morning gray mist and flocks of birds are replacing each other. The yard is enclosed by a low dry wall and the silence of the morning comforts me. Faces of boys, the warm tea, Dharma’s words, gestures of working people, the trees and the distant sun.  I enjoy this peaceful moment, and I hold tight to it.

Elisabetta arrives. We were wrong about who was still missing. Memory confuses steps and people. She is cold and tired. Does she want to give up or get some rest? Her room is locked, and her roommates have taken the keys with them. Misunderstanding between roommates.  Elisabetta doesn’t yell.  She’s nervous but surrenders to our smiles and our caresses that we have abundantly distributed during this journey. A peaceful moment among women that makes the world a better place. Elisabetta with her big eyes loses things because they’re not important, and sheds tears because she has a good memory.

We decide to have a girls’ day out, shopping and touring the village.

With a sleepy and dreamy look we slowly leave the area of the temple and are on the road again.

Sweets are fried for New Year’s Day. Fireworks are sold and people chat. We visit three gurdwara and I pray to everybody: God, the Gurus, Jesus and the Holy Mary; they don’t mind promiscuity.

We give dogs the offerings we collect at the temples and walk in alleys like princesses followed by a procession of children.  A fifteen-year-old boy stops me.
   
“May I introduce you to my grandfather?”

An old man with glasses, a white kurta and a blue turban.

“Can you take a picture of us?”

He hugs him, they pose, the boy smiles and walks away. He doesn’t ask for the picture; he knows already that it’s printed forever in the vault of heaven.

We find a draper’s shop and it’s the end. One colour after another, a storm at sea, white, blue, yellow, red, green, pink. We want more. The Indian man unrolls the fabric in front of the street.  A small cluster of people stops. They are curious. They comment and smile. A camel passes by.

“Is it linen?”

“Is it cotton?”

“Do you prefer this one or the other?”

“Isn’t it better whole white?”

“How does it look on my face?”

Monty joins us when our enthusiasm rises to a fever pitch. He has found his trousers. He looks like an Indian, with his phlegm and courtesy. He explains, touches the fabric, informs us, reassures us and gives advice. He tries to buy a piece of cloth but somebody takes it from him.  Now we need a tailor.

Two shops ahead there’s a man with a brown vest and measuring tape. He nods to show approval as well as disapproval. He talks to me in his language and I translate, which is quite ironic.  He measures and I keep translating, but we don’t understand each other on the day of the delivery. In India nodding means assent as well as dissent.  The head doesn’t change direction.  At 6 p.m. our dresses will be ready. A puppy dog with a bad wound on his neck and a few days left to live walks ahead of me wagging his tail.  My strokes won’t heal him. A newborn calf and his mother, tied.  Life that barks and moos.

We return to the gurdwara.

“You can complete the eighty-four steps by reciting the mool mantra on each step,” Jaswinder told us. This piece of information is given us by an orthodox Sikh. He will be responsible for us under heaven.

“He could have told us before.”

I resume the rite at the eleventh step; warmly dressed I recite the great prayer on each step, “Ik ong kar.” My face towards the exit and my heart begins to move. Old mysteries come to visit me once more. Those images of the universe that often come upon me. A faraway place that brings nostalgia at every awakening. The centre of stars where it was easy to receive kisses. From the thirtieth to the fortieth step, the steps of the heart. My friends, naked and wet, keep on climbing. I’d like to tell them that you can do the rite with warm clothes and without any resistance, but I don’t even dare to touch their hearts screaming to heaven.

The eighty-fourth step, the end of the rite. The old skin has remained inside. There’s light; it’s the sun shining. The male corridor teems with Indians in underwear going to the pool. Women and children climb and descend, somebody is pushing to find room in the pool, on the steps, for a prayer and a bath.

At sunset, the ceremony of candles begins. On New Year’s Day, Indians take a small candle with them. They light it and put it on a small wall near the temple. The candles are placed side-by-side so the wax of every candle melts into a single fire; a fire for many hands and many thoughts. Hopes and wishes have their own light and their own colour. The night writes them so they don’t get lost.

My companions have left. The rite has come to an end and our hearts are still beating. Camilla, Paola, Gurusandesh, Sandra, Avtar, may that water wipe from you all the unspoken pain and all the past lives; forever. Our family is together again. Tonight we’ll sleep and get some rest.

The eighty-four steps are deserted now. No one performs the rite on New Year’s Day. I stand near the arched entrance and listen to the echo, the lingering muttered words, thousands of prayers, steps, stories. Life crouching on the white and cold marble steps, breathes and returns. The steps are deserted now. There’s no one to ask them about so much pain and what happens to so many naked people. No one knows how much suffering stays on those marble steps. Stones don’t like words. They cement life. I keep on listening to voices and I don’t want to leave those steps. No one will console them or talk to them. The clearance is empty.  It’s night.

Amristar
We’re back on the clearance in front of the temple of Goindwal waiting for our driver who went somewhere following an Indian pace. We need to watch our luggage. Today there’s fresh dust. We have fruit for breakfast. Curious people are staring at us. I’m getting used to these dark eyes that search you inside and smile at you.

We have changed, all of us: those who climbed the eighty-four steps and those who climbed only one, two, ten steps, those who didn’t do the rite, and those who didn’t think about it, those who hated the eighty-four steps and those who believed in a miracle. The truth is that we’ll never forget that rite. That slippery, putrid, wet, undesirable climb is engraved in our flesh, like the beads of a rosary engraved in our hearts and recited to bribe heaven, a never-ending invocation that will always be heard.

The bus leaves for Amritsar. There is the usual empty seat left beside me for Jaswinder. What an absurdity!  I can’t remember the words spoken on this journey.  I can’t remember what he says, what I say. Maybe I was already aware they were useless words. He stares at me in the usual way and then incidentally he takes my hand.  The journey seems short this time, or maybe when there aren’t memories, stories get shorter and excitement fades.

My companions are prettier than before. They’ve survived everything. We left because we were passionate. Who would have left on such a journey?  Only people who struggle with life for treasures and beauties, for truth and silence.

We arrive at an oriental-looking hotel. It looks like a Chinese brothel or an Indian movie in Technicolor.

“Nice!”

Hanging bougainvillea, a welcome tea, smiles and kindness.  No flowers around our necks though. Walls are made of bricks but they seem to be made of cardboard. I’m afraid to touch anything because it will break. The owner shows us his face, more Chinese than Indian, and his flawless courtesy.

Monty leaves us; dear friend, I don’t know how to keep in touch with him in India. He can’t afford our hotel so he joins Franciane and Michelle somewhere else. He promises that we’ll leave together for Rishikesh. But in India promises are like clouds. We wait on Manù and Simona. We don’t know when they’ll arrive; we couldn’t reach them by phone.

I share my room with Dharma, Gurusandesh and Maria Luisa who complains:

“I don’t want to sleep on a queen-sized bed with somebody.”

I don’t understand her problem. We know each other pretty well by now. Dharma and I are very happy to share a king size bed.  Maria Luisa keeps on complaining.  She doesn’t realize that her bed is very large. She feels deprived of something.

Finally we can take a hot shower and use a scented shampoo. The shower squirts everywhere. After you have flushed, the water stays in the toilet. A boy comes carrying a bucket. He carries it as gracefully as if he were carrying an ice bucket for champagne. The problem is solved, for the moment. The smell of fresh paint tells us that somebody has just finished painting the room. I find out that one of the walls behind the curtains is actually a French window leading to a patio where people eat, chat and have fun. Good.

While my companions fight with the toilet, I lie on my bed but can’t fall asleep. I’ve got a lot on my mind and in my heart. It’s only by chance that I get some rest. Dharma falls asleep.  Manù and Simona finally arrive. We’ll never part again; we’ll end this journey together.

We go to the centre to buy the Guru Granth Sahib for Sadhana in a shop near the Golden Temple. We feel like shopping. The Camille are ready. Livia has many ideas. Elisabetta is putting make-up on while tour taxis arrive. They’re something between a motorcycle and a pick up.

In every city the traffic is horrible. I get dizzy and lose direction. Lots of vehicles and pedestrians move in every direction. I feel seasick once more. I’m enchanted by every shape, every beauty and every ugliness. I’ve even got accustomed to the filth. Only smells are still too harsh sometimes.

Visible wounds, deformities and leprosy worn like a dress. I’d like to perform a miracle.

We’re going to buy the Guru Granth Sahib tomorrow. We go straight to the temple now. New Year’s Day atmosphere still lingers and Diwali is written everywhere. The temple is crowded because of the holiday; sadhus at every corner, pilgrims, families, warriors, wandering children and fast teenagers heading to the entrance of the temple which we can’t see.  I leave my shoes, bags and parcels. I wash my feet, my hands, and there it is, the Golden Temple. It rises from the water, a huge pool, called the Holy Water of Immortal Nectar, surrounds it. The fish swimming in it are huge; it seems that the vibrations of prayers make them grow bigger. If only my parents had known; it would have been so simple to grow a little bit taller. Built by Guru Ram Das the temple is a square and shining building; it’s solid, powerful and able to heal the wounds between heaven and earth. We get in line to enter, but we are pushed and overwhelmed by an inextinguishable devotion that makes us kneel and pray. To honour is a pleasure. More prayers, mantras seem to come from the mosaics but it’s the singers beside the altar where Guru Granth Sahib speaks his words. Many people have translated God’s words. From the second floor you can see the pool and the crowd. Ordinary people looking for God, thronging around him so he can’t flee.

The sun is setting. We don’t know what time it is but we need to make a decision.

“Who wants to go to the hotel and come back to the temple at 3:30 to see the opening of the doors and who wants to spend the night here at the Nivas?”  The temple hostel.

I look at Dharma. We had decided to return to our comfortable bed but I tell her, “Let’s stay here.”

We don’t have anything with us, no clothes, no sleeping bag.  An unexpected decision that makes no sense. The others, who wanted to spend the night at the temple, are well organized.

“Okay, let’s stay.” Little Dharma is always courageous and available.

Elda, Jaswinder and I go to reserve a room. Jaswinder speaks his language while we sit on a bench filling out an application. We look at our neighbours. This building is ugly, old and dirty. It’s so crowded that it could burst at any moment. We have our keys, go and see the room; fourth floor, you can hardly open the door when you are violently hit by the stench of urine. Beds are placed side-by-side, like a campsite, age-old blankets in a corner. It’s gross!  The bathroom is another Indian artefact of stench and leaking pipes; everything is dirty. Elda goes to the bathroom. I don’t provoke Jaswinder but this time I hope that this moron will do something. Nothing, not even a kiss. He holds my head in his hands and stares at me. I’m getting bored. We return to our companions with the keys in our pocket, but prefer to avoid any detailed description of the room. I’m jealous of those who have gone back to the hotel but it’s too late now. We daydream at sunset. An Indian girl asks us what we are doing there, what we are studying, who’s our teacher and she smiles; the best thing in India.  Small boys stop beside us and pose for pictures while Jaswinder tells about the tree where the Guru used to pray and about the mice living in it. Meanwhile people lie down and fall asleep on improvised campsites, or on corners and on the floor. A simple gesture: lie down where you are. You don’t need anything else.  Sadhana and Jaswinder will sleep outside the temple with the other pilgrims, too many women in a room and the air outside is surely cleaner.  After a second tour of the temple, I’m really tired.  Stars are visible in the sky. The others go to eat at the langar while Dharma and I eat some dry fruit and go to sleep.

We look at the beds and don’t know if it’s better to lie on them or to put a blanket between us and the beds.

“How do we sleep?”

We put our shawls on the bed. We cover our feet with the blankets and try to occupy a little portion of the bed. It’s impossible to avoid touching anything. It feels like sleeping in a latrine, but we fall asleep all the same. The others come back, the light, the noise, silence again, Avtar sets the alarm clock and we return to the breath of sleep.

The alarm rings, but nobody gets up. Could it be an auditory illusion?  I fall asleep again. Suddenly Avtar jumps to her feet. It’s 5 a.m. and she doesn’t hear the alarm ringing. I don’t really mind what happened. Dharma and I clean ourselves with wet wipes. We iron with our hands our wrinkled clothes and can’t wait to breathe fresh air. The rite of the opening of the temple with the Guru Granth Sahib carried beneath a canopy has already taken place. It’s very crowded. We spot Sadhana leaning on a windowsill on the second floor; he’s still sleeping. We let ourselves be carried by the ocean of people and try to find a place to listen to the prayers. We can’t stand or sit. There’s no more room available. The only white bodies are ours. We listen a little, pray together with the crowd, and then we try to reach the terrace upstairs, the roof of the temple. We can listen to the prayers from there too. The Camille join us and we sit down, lost in our thoughts.  It’s neither night nor dawn.  Avtar asks Jaswinder every kind of question. I feel more tired than I thought I would and I’d like to go back to the hotel. Jaswinder reaches the altar on the terrace, inside a glass room. He passes a soft brush on the Guru Granth Sahib, a rite to dispel negativity, and begins to read it. Can you picture him at lunch with my mother moving his brush on the holy book to remove any negativity?  I’ve never seen a woman doing it.  Is the ministry something for men only?

Finally we go back to the hotel. The shower splashes everywhere. The water in the toilet won’t go down. We have breakfast and take a nap before a yoga class. I never know what time it is or what day it is. We eat and sleep very little and there’s always something to do.

We’ll take a yoga class on the lawn outside the hotel.  It doesn’t seem difficult this time.  We feel more athletic than ever. We stretch, breathe, raise our arms.  It’s a trap though. It’s a class for our hearts. We’ll feel the consequences only later. Micaela cries her eyes out, other tears that somebody tries to hide are wiped on a sleeve.  My eyes are wet, but I’m not crying even though I can feel my heart pounding in my chest.  And every time I see Jaswinder, I don’t feel good. He’s affectionate and distant at the same time.  I recognize his ambiguous strategy which I’ve never liked. He’s a man who doesn’t know the order of love.

We go to buy the Guru Granth Sahib. We change our money, do some shopping and bring to the temple the cards that those who remained in Rome gave to Sadhana. On those cards dreams and wishes, as if they wanted to say, “I’m not going on this journey, but I’ve got something to say to God.”  I read some of these cards: love, life, be better, promises, and hopes, token and responsibilities, requests, deals, silences.  A daily fight against anguish to fool pain.  I know only some of these pupils but I can feel their hearts throbbing in these cards. I wish I could turn their pain into a precious piece of fabric, a legacy for the future.

While I’m walking with Sandra to the bank, my heart collapses so I quickly ask her for her sunglasses. Since I was a child, I’ve always hidden my tears. Why?  Who would have understood? But Sandra looks at me and understands. She takes off her glasses and gently touches my shoulders. Just a moment to overcome embarrassment and resume our appearance as strong women.

The most awaited moment has arrived. We go to buy the Guru Granth Sahib. We didn’t know anything about its dimensions or its weight. Now we see it clearly.  It’s a huge book like those you see in movies with giants.  Sadhana goes to buy a special suitcase to carry it, a pink and colourful piece of fabric for the altar, and a white soft brush. We didn’t know at that time what it would have meant to travel with the Guru.  Everybody is happy, the Camille buy wood combs, shawls and scarves, small pictures of Gurus, turbans. We all do what we can.  It’s very reassuring to carry the sacred and the profane crammed in one bag.

Back to the hotel, we need to pack, eat and leave by train to Rishikesh. Monty will wait for us at the station. We’ve lost track of Franciane.  Such is India.  Everything appears and disappears.  Illusions and magic colours that violate our hearts. Another night and tomorrow who knows...

A bus to the train station. I hate Jaswinder’s ambiguity, and his presence annoys me. As soon as I think I’ve got rid of him, he takes my hand affectionately and together we walk to the bus.  The laws of attraction and repulsion are ferocious lies.  They can maintain somebody’s image longer than a mirror. 

We hurry to the station, second class, the train is once again an ancient mastodon, having survived through every era.  Monty is at the train station.  He’s a dear friend.  I missed him and he probably would have left if he had known he had to carry Simona’s and Sandra’s suitcases.  Once again we don’t understand which are our berths.  This time it is even more confusing because we’re not in the same carriage.  A small group is in one carriage. T he others are in another.  We hastily part as the train is about to leave.  The train puffs, dozes off, but then moves.  I can’t see any difference between first and second class. Narrow berths of dirty plastic, no fresh sheets, rustier chains holding them.  Only the filth is the same.  Jaswinder tells us that tonight we’re going to travel through a dangerous area, and only now I understand the presence of barred windows. We’re all upset now thinking marauders might attack.  We need to arrange our luggage, cram our suitcases and bags under the berths, sleep on them.  Smells and people, many stars.  We’re on the road again.


Travelling with the Guru

The Guru lies inside a semi-rigid brown suitcase. We had no idea that travelling with it would have meant so much submission.  There are strict rules to observe when travelling with the Guru Granth Sahib.  Our passionate and anarchic group will make things hard.

Never place it on the ground.  This is the first rule to observe.  If it can’t be avoided, never put it on the street, but on the sidewalk, always a few inches higher than mortal souls.  So when I saw it on the sidewalk in front of the station in Amristar – even its caretakers had forgotten about it busy as they were counting us and our luggage and keeping us together - I thought it was better to move it closer to us. I tried to lift it but it was something for body builders.  I left it where it was and kept an eye on it.  Then I had something to do and decided it wasn’t my problem.  It’s only a book in a suitcase.

We get on the train and are scattered in two different and distant carriages and the Guru is always escorted after us. Its caretakers bring it to our carriage and Sandra gets upset.

“I don’t want to sleep on top!  I’m not a young girl who can climb everywhere!”

Livia supports her, claiming that she is a mature lady too.  We try to find an arrangement while the train leaves.  Sandra and I change places so now everything is fine again. Livia will sleep on the bottom berth, Dharma and Micaela on the top berths.  We leave the younger women to climb.  Jaswinder’s berth is on the other side of the corridor. From there he stares at me deeply as he usually does.  Has anybody ever told him that a soap opera doesn’t last long if nothing ever happens?

Monty disappears into the other carriage. He’s the only man who, with kindness and a gentleman’s manners, knows how to treat a woman.

“Where do we put the Guru?”

Avtar brings us back to reality.  I pretend I’d like to look after it.

“You could leave it on my berth.  I’m tiny so...”

I can already imagine how that huge book will occupy most of my berth.

Second rule: never turn the soles of your feet towards the Guru.  So, if it is placed in my berth it has to hit my head.  My suggestion is refused.

“It’s not high enough,” Avtar rules.  So I’m not responsible for it.  The Guru is eventually laid in the third berth on the other side of the corridor; the one from which Jaswinder was staring at me.  While we try to find the right policy to deal with the Guru, Sadhana and Jaswinder go to see what’s going on in the other carriage.  Chaos reaches its climax.  An inextinguishable flow of Indians is boarding the train. There’s no room left, bodies crouching in every corner in the same position we all had when we were born. Second class broadens the boundaries of democracy.  There are more poor and more beggars.  We are the only rich.  Avtar leaves too to see what’s happening in the other carriage.

“Please watch the Guru.”  Sandra and I can’t take it anymore and burst out laughing.  She’s a Sagittarius. I’m a Gemini.  The irony of submitting ourselves to the holy book in the Indian chaos pervading the train puts us in a good mood.  The marauders of the future, the robbers of the past...  I decide that the Guru is wise and can take care of itself.  Tiredness puts us to sleep.  It doesn’t last long. Sadhana comes back with Elda crying.

“They were getting up all at the same time and were taking our berths.” The Indian crowd was crushing our companions, the B group was with them, but of course no one felt reassured by Paolo’s presence.  I don’t know where Monty is; he seems to be somewhere on the train.

Jaswinder remains in the other carriage watching over the group.  Sadhana has given his berth to Elda.  He arranges his luggage and sleeps on it.  Avtar goes to sleep with the Guru and everything falls into place.

At dawn we’re still crammed but safe and sound. No assaults, no robberies, more stink than ever and I feel sorry to make a tiny, bony woman of uncertain age move from the bathroom door where she is crouching.  Space is very important in this country.  We quickly cross it moving from one place to another. We occupy a space for a very short time and then we leave it.

In India you stop and wait on a square metre of sidewalk, of floor, of ground.  It’s a space where you stay and the poor always stay the longest. The train is so crowded that you can’t but look at people’s faces, touch them, talk to them. You can’t distinguish your body odours from theirs. A bunch of smells that open your nose and if you take them too seriously, they might annoy you.  Who knows why this body language seems smell to us.

At dawn the chanter of the morning arrives.  He’s a handsome and intense child with dark, proud eyes.  A smaller boy is with him.  They’re dirty and wearing worn out clothes but they’re fast.  The small one moves his eyebrows, his belly, his shoulders and his hands like a juggler and winks at us.

The other plays his percussion and sings with such a beautiful voice that stays in your heart. He takes his money, says goodbye and leaves. The train is long. Livia’s Indian admirer, a chubby man sleeping on a nearby berth has given her signs of courtesy and kindness since the previous evening.  He gets off the train at the station to buy her breakfast, fried food that he offers to everyone laughing.  I don’t dare eat it.  Nice family, the train. 

Rishikesh

Another day.  It’s morning and it’s warm. We get off at a station where we’ll take a bus to Rishikesh.  We leave the train and its inhabitants to continue on their journey.  The small Indian chanter is sitting on a box, eating.  We could have given him more money.  We take our luggage and Livia’s sandal which she lost on the footboard of the train.  The suitcase of the Guru is well off the ground.  Jaswinder, the B group, Monty, and the others join us.

On a bus again.  Jaswinder sits beside me one more time.  This time we’re travelling on a mountain road, run down, narrow and winding.  Finally the air doesn’t stink; only trees and earthy and fresh odours. Everybody takes a nap; but when I try to stretch my legs, Jaswinder yells at me.  The Guru Granth Sahib lies in front of me, and you can never turn your soles towards it.  I’ve always thought that rules are supposed to give an order to the universe not to aggravate people, but who knows...

A large town lies behind the trees. It’s Rishikesh. The bus can’t take us in front of our ashram because there are men working on the road.  So we collect our luggage and begin to walk on a dug-up road.  Luckily our ashram is nearby.  At reception everybody is nice.  Large smiles greet us.  Two men are loading our luggage on trolleys and walk in the alleys of this vast ashram which looks like a village.  I don’t know where we are.  All I know is that we are by the Ganges.  We stop in front of a building.  Dharma and I take our keys and enter our room. When it comes to doing something quickly we work at the same pace. The others follow suit and disappear two-by-two into their rooms.  A night spent on an Indian train leaves you with signs of tiredness and the wish to shower.

The walls are chipped and mouldy, the bathroom is small. The taps are placed at an unusual height, but it’s our room and it’s wonderful.  The barred window in our room looks out onto a small garden, and we listen to the peaceful silence.  Monkeys rule in this place; never leave your shoes or your clothes outside the window.

Clean, washed, and smelling nice we go back to the world.  We’ve got some free time and later a yoga class in a room beyond the entrance of the ashram.  The room is in the garden where a tall blue statue of Shiva smiles at everybody.

We walk around the ashram, sleepy and curious.  We pass low buildings, a tree with monkeys.  We visit a room with thousands of statues of the saint of the ashram: a colourful and sneering woman.  Why so many statues?  Was the sculptor suffering from an obsessive disorder or was the saint affected by delusions of grandeur?  Near our ashram stands the college for the Hare Krishna.  Children and teenagers of every age are busy praying and playing.  Mechanical bells ring at specific times.  They make a lot of noise.  From the main street you reach the stair descending to the Ganges. On a small island another tall statue of Shiva observes everything.  By the river every culture is represented: Indians, Europeans, mixed races, prayers of every kind.  The Ganges welcomes all, takes our hearts to make them flow, throb and live.

This place makes me dizzy.  Yoga, dances, massages, chants, astrologers, mantras.  The land of the soul and of every flavour.  People dressed in white or wearing bright colours like the Indians, but, most of all, people dressed nicely. We are peaceful and good. We’re lost in different kingdoms of the earth, to count the breaths that make us human beings.

The street along the river is an endless line of shops selling clothes, fragrances, jewellery, small statues and sacred images and books. There are restaurants, the bank and the exchange too and everything for the healing of the soul.  It’s Toy-Land. T he beautiful bridge across the river is made of flexible material.  It shakes when you walk on it.  We just look at it now. 

Dharma is very dubious: “I’m scared of crossing that bridge.”  We’ll think about it tomorrow. At 6 p.m. there’s a ceremony on the Ganges during which the river accepts prayers and gives miracles in return.

Jaswinder is still distant and quite silent. I’m too excited in this corner of the world, so I decide to forget about him.  Elisabetta openly talks about him: “He’s a shallow little boy.”  I realize that he begins his game of stares with her too.  A very bad omen.

Monty is happy and good hearted. He never misses a chance to be nice or to speak precious words.  There are men who can penetrate the secret doors of the heart to make it beautiful.  Other men, on the contrary, can’t even hear the sound of the heart or its pace.  But they stick to it to stay balanced.

It’s time for our yoga class but the room is locked.  Shiva looks at us and remains silent.  Sadhana goes and ask for information and the room is eventually unlocked.  We are tired, thinner and would like to do something else.

“The sadhana will begin at 3:30 a.m. because they need the room later.”  With this brilliant news, which mixes day and night even more, we get ready for the ceremony on the Ganges.  We find a place on the stairs in front of the river. The brazier is placed at the bottom of the stair. At the centre, a group of players.  The Hare Krishna children are coming.  They’re walking in line: the smallest in front and the others behind them.  They’re wearing their tunics.  Their leader’s head is completely shaved except for a tiny pigtail.  It’s impossible not to stare at them.  Some look inspired.  Others seem to be there incidentally.  Some chant with eyes closed.  Others look around curiously.  Some will remain in college. Others will leave.  Were they brought here by their families or were they selected by gods?  Only Krishna knows.  The last participants arrive.  They sit down and the ceremony begins, between water and light. Their prayers broaden every time and every space, their repetitive chants confound the listeners whose minds begin to wander, and flow like the river. People clap their hands to the rhythm of mantras and while heads and hands, dreams and souls swing, the ceremony of fire begins. Copper braziers shaped like snakes are passed.  Participants need to spin them in front of themselves, of Shiva and the river.  Night has fallen. On the opposite riverbank are the lights of scattered houses.  The children leave and the watchers disappear into the night.  Some stay, some bathe in the river.  Prayers linger.

We split into small groups and have dinner in different restaurants.  We wander in this enchanted land.  The food isn’t good.  Maybe we picked the wrong restaurant.

At night the cold wind from the Himalayas starts to blow. The cold air cleanses the streets and what remains of our hearts.  Everything is quiet now.  The gates to the river are being closed.  Shops and restaurants are closing.  Every day people get up before dawn. Wrapped in our brand-new shawls we chat a little bit on the benches and then go to sleep.

“Tomorrow the sadhana begins at 3:30.”  How could we forget about it?

Somebody wakes us up too early.  Our sweet family is simply worn out.  Dharma mumbles, “I won’t do it today,” turns and goes back to sleep.  I really have a hard time getting up.  It’s cold outside, the cold wind has been blowing all night, but there are already people walking on the street: men going to pray.  We go through a door, cross the garden and reach the room for our yoga class.  All I can remember of this sadhana is that we were lying on our bellies keeping our arms near our bodies, our chins on the floor while we did sa ta na ma with our fingers.  We wish to fall asleep.

Breakfast is the best meal I have at Rishikesk.  A wonderful porridge and buttered toast.  A sign informs customers to eat in silence, which is very difficult for our group.  Somebody starts to talk and we get evil eyes from a group of very quiet boys.  They are from Northern Europe.

We have some spare time in the morning, so Dharma and I decide to go to town.

“I’d like to buy a new sari and a wig for my Indian dances.”

I don’t know what I’d like to buy.  For me shopping is a side activity, but I feel like walking around.  The others scatter through the city, following different directions. We succeed in crossing the rickety bridge.  Dharma crushes my hand when she’s crossing it.  More shops on the riverside, on a small square we take a motorized rickshaw to join the crowded centre of town.

And indeed it is crowded.  Even here traffic follows no direction, black smoke rises from crumbling vehicles, and every kind of cart makes its way through the chaos.  We take a side street to the market.  We buy some ankle-bracelets, and we find that you have to wear more than one.  Only whores wear a single ankle-bracelet.  Fabric and saris, “First we need to go to the bank,” numbers, names, clerks. We change our money, and I feel numbed by the noise in this frantic town, which seems like a beehive, but we are here shopping for clothes and new saris.  We finally arrive at a draper’s shop.  I can’t count how many cups of tea we’ve been offered so far.

“The green one.”

“The red one.”

“The purple one.”

“The embroidered one,” the owner patiently unrolls pieces of fabric and displays saris.

“Which looks better with my face?”  Dharma would like to buy them all.  I get annoyed.  I’m a fast shopper, but eventually I surrender to the Indian pace of life.  So I wait.  I’m actually staring at people’s faces and hands which shamelessly tell a lot about their lives.  People’s flaws and wounds tell the most interesting stories.  Their bodies become the symbols of a higher design.  More than pain, what strikes me is the indifference with which Indians bear it.

We leave the shop loaded with bags of every size.  We stop to buy some more skirts and shirts before reaching the bridge and I think we’ve bought too much. I’m still unaware of the fact that, in the meantime, the others are emptying as many shops as possible on the opposite riverbank.  The Camille, Livia and Sandra have bought mostly jewels.  And the jeweller, a chubby man, as every jeweller should be, is so happy that he gives away small purses, fragrances and notebooks, to every Italian lady who steps inside his shop.  So I leave with a white purse and a small bottle of perfume.  The Camille are now friends with the jeweller, and we end up buying a necklace for Maria Luisa’s birthday which will be on the last day of our journey.

Some, holding tightly to the chains, have immersed in the purifying ice-cold water of the Ganges, to feel light again and change their lives.  We would do anything for an instant of happiness. We look like a team of survivors.

We have lunch at an awful place.  An Indian fast food place serving poor quality food at tourist prices.  Avtar gets upset at first because no one pays attention when it’s time to order, and then because no one pays attention when it’s time to pay the bill.  Stupid events that upset the order.

While I wander through the alleys of the ashram Jaswinder joins me, takes my hand and staring at me says: “Can I come for Christmas?” and adds “Can I stay at your place?”

It’s the last of Jaswinder’s spells, the worst one. I would like to say no, but I say yes instead. I don’t agree because I love him but because I’d like to welcome him.  I think, “What would I do with a man like him?”   And maybe it’s life that helps us out when we say yes but we mean no, when we say I love you but we mean I can’t stand you any more, when we say I can’t live without you but we mean I’m getting tired of you. A few minutes ago I had no commitment, and now I’m expecting love once more. A reasonable expectation if only men knew how to deal with women’s hearts.

I tell Dharma about what happened.  I think about it but there’s nothing I can do but wait until Christmas.  It seems a nice story with a happy ending, which will never happen.  Livia insists:  “He wants to settle down and leave this shit hole.”  I can’t think badly of people.  I think they’re beautiful till the end.

At 6 p.m. the second ceremony on the Ganges, the prayers on the river sooth our hearts once more.  The little Hare Krishna do their best.  They swing, chant and perform the ceremony of fire one more time.  At the end everybody leaves a lit candle on the river.  My candle dies out immediately.  I have an answer already.

At 3:30 a.m. another morning prayer.  I don’t get up this time.  My body feels heavy and numbed, absorbed by the force of gravity.  I hear Dharma getting ready and leaving the room.

We eat the second wonderful breakfast in a recently opened restaurant. We have sweet apple or banana chapati. We are in a hurry but the cooks are slow; they mix up our orders and we’re running late. There’s too much bustle before dawn.  We’re leaving.  The time has come to say goodbye to Monty; his kindness has kept me company throughout the journey, a shelter for my heart.  He’s about to cry and hugs me.

“I will miss the whole group, but you in particular.”

I hold him tight so I can’t lose control.  My face hidden in his checked kurda.  I say goodbye.

“We could have stayed longer...”

We all agree, the spell of games and magic, the protection of the river, the beauty, the wind from the north, they have once more comforted our hearts. Even beggars seem more beautiful here.

A reverse journey, the dug up road, the bus.  The gates to the Ganges are still closed, the bus leaves.  Jaswinder sits beside me.  The warmth, the holes of the road, pitiless India, no bathrooms, no welcomes.  I try to focus on the last colours, stains, worn out clothes, dust and birds singing.  We stop at a bar for some chips and water and to pee.  We’re late due to the traffic jams, like in movies.  Then we arrive in Delhi, at the same Western luxurious hotel so shining that it erases all the ugliness of the world.  All those misplaced human beings, all those black eyes that have never left me since then.

The return

We’ll stay in Delhi till 3:30 a.m. then we’ll leave for the airport. Sadhana doesn’t even suggest the possibility of having a yoga class.

“Let’s go to the fabric market.”

“To the Red Fortress.”

“To Fabindia.”

Before making any decision Dharma and I disappear in our room to take a shower.  I don’t feel like shopping.  Besides, I don’t need anything.  Most of my companions, except for somebody who goes to the Red Fortress, which I’ve already visited, decide to go to the fabric market.  Our taxis are waiting for us. Jaswinder will take us to the Sikh district where shops are run by Sikhs.  I don’t know whom to follow then decide to follow Sandra and Livia who step inside the temple of fabric where colours and cloth intoxicate the eyes and hands.  Livia is very excited.  She feels like she’s inside one of her paintings. Sandra needs new curtains for her house.

Livia gets no break: “This is wonderful.”

In the meantime fabric piles up. There’s a lot to see, the steadfast owner unrolls cloths.

“Look at this shade of red!”

“What colour are the rooms?”

“One room is green.”

“So are you taking this?”

“May I see that fabric, please?’”

Pieces of fabric and walls are counted.  It’s a real role play.  All of a sudden, Livia comes to me and puts a piece of purple silk in my hands. “This looks great on you.  You can make a dress.  And with a piece of green and blue shot silk you make a scarf.”  Before realizing what’s happening I buy the two pieces of silk.  Livia is satisfied and goes back to Sandra who hasn’t made up her mind yet.  Livia exalts the beauty of the fabrics, creates visions, and Sandra eventually gives in and buys.  The Indian merchant counts the metres of fabric.

“Will it be enough?”

As two true Oriental princesses they leave the shop followed by an Indian attendant who carries their purchases to the taxi. I’d like to go to the market where everything is stench, sewage, junk and negotiation.  But no one seems interested in this programme.

We stop at the hotel.  The Camille are getting ready to launch an assault on a nearby mall. Fabindia fans have already left by taxi, while Livia and Sandra want to join the Camille. I can’t see Dharma or the B group.  Jaswinder is in his little world, and I’m puzzled with the thought of returning home.  Everybody leaves.  I stay at the hotel.  I gave my last rupees to the beggars.  I stare at the waiters, the receptionists and try to read the stories in their eyes, their movements, their stares and smiles.  I go back to my room and take a nap.  Dharma comes back with many bags which she puts on her bed.  We try on the skirts and the shirts she bought.  We touch them, a game that makes us happy.

Time passes. We need to get ready for dinner at a restaurant.  We celebrate Maria Luisa’s birthday.  The B group doesn’t want to pay for the necklace and decides to buy a different present. Dharma who collects the money for our activities always has a hard time with them, but she keeps smiling.  Paolo starts a fight with the receptionist.  Nobody knows why he’s so enraged and walks around muttering to himself.  Marisa and Paolo will stay in India ten more days.  Why did they leave with us then?  Jaswinder doesn’t show any affection, and I’ll return as a stranger to my mother country.

In the restaurant the air conditioning is turned up extremely high, and we eat some food made for tourists that our memories don’t even record.  Elisabetta, going against any yogi rule, orders some chicken followed immediately by Gurusandesh. We feel like drinking and more.  It’s time to give Maria Luisa her present.  Somebody gives her a case with the necklace.  We all approve of Camilla’s choice.  Maria Luisa is touched and recites a piece of poetry she has written during the journey.

I go back to the hotel.  The party isn’t over yet; we’ll meet in Sadhana’s room for the cake.  Once there we get serious and ask Sadhana, “Who is the Guru?”  He has prepared a book for us, which will help us understand.  In turn we read the little book on yogi theology but I’m still confused. T he Guru isn’t God or a man, but it’s nice to read together.  Jaswinder keeps his distance while I sit with Elisabetta on his bed. I don’t understand why I’m letting him visit for Christmas. The cake is served. The B group has disappeared for good, we congratulate Avtar too, whose birthday will be in a few days.  She is a Scorpio as well.

Sad and tired I reach my room.  We can sleep only a few hours.  We’re going to meet in the hall in the middle of the night.

The alarm goes off, already.

Jaswinder gets up to say good-bye.  I don’t even feel like approaching him, but he greets me and mutters, “I’ll write you in three days.”

Our bus leaves in the stinky mist hanging over Delhi.  The people of the earth are lying on the sidewalks, a few hours to numb the pain, the fatigue and every absence.  My companions are here with me.  We reach the dirty airport.  Our journey is over.  We bring all our secrets with us, an effort to find a little peace in the land of poverty and prayers.  We’ve all prayed, atheists and believers between devotion and the misery of miseries. We’ve all prayed to God, the universe, the energy, the Guru, you name it. We’ve prayed in a different language, with other sounds.  But we prayed for us, for the people we love, for the world, for all of those who came to our minds.  We prayed out of enthusiasm or unawareness, because here it’s natural to greet everybody keeping your hands clasped near to your chest.

Our journey is over.

India is a crouching country.  Children, women, the cripples, the lepers, are crouching, like plants by the roads which barely move.  Rootless bushes which don’t feel the wind.  Dogs as poor as men and four legged men like dogs.  A land without childhood where tiny human beings carry huge things, buckets, bags, brushwood.  The price you pay to survive.

Since my arrival my heart has never stopped moving.  Since my arrival I can only laugh or cry.

The day breaks and the night falls on the prayers coming from the Gurdwara of white marble where a single tree grows among such a great amount of stone.  Men and women pray, children follow suit.  I was used to silent prayers, but never ending voices that cross the night become a rhythm I can’t control, like the rhythm of my heart.

I can’t but watch people’s feet.  An ocean of feet.  Thin, ruined, short, small feet, that part of our body that binds us to the earth. They fly for a while and then they get dirty again. Feet that need to be washed in front of the temple, a never ending washing before every prayer.  Numbers and steps, an obsession here in India.  You approach God one step at the time.  One step at the time and a number on each step to recognize the way to God, each single stop.  A step with a number on top to give an order to life, like the way to the stars.

In the Hindu temple I don’t know to whom to say good-bye first.  Who is the leader of those laughing or mysterious, armed or indifferent gods?  Unknowingly, I save a few blessings; you might always need them.

A land of cows and monkeys, of rugs and dust.  A land that produces noise so that somebody someday will hear it.

Maybe even to God mankind in its poverty is beautiful: terribly beautiful.
    
I’m overwhelmed by love, a kind of wind I can’t control, an aching pleasure aroused by familiar smells and the continuous process of decay.  I’d like to touch them all.  The poor, the old, the children.  I’d like to touch them all.  The women, the dogs, the warriors.  A kiss for each till the end of time.

What we’re left with is life.  We can hate it, love it, flee from it, wait for a better one, which doesn’t ask for tears and pain.  It doesn’t ask.  Or we don’t wear our hearts on our sleeves and learn to smile, a miraculous art.  In India smiles are given for free everywhere you go.  You can’t keep such a precious gift only to yourself.


The previous installments of Riso Bianco were published in our November 2008, May 2009, and July 2009 issues.  To read them, Click here