Zodiac sign: Pisces. Nurse.
Good eyes, long hands and a thin face. She’s somewhat shy.
“I’ve been working in the hospital for 19 years.” Pediatric neurology ward, when life has just began and is already suffering.
She shows her mother like nature even in India, she hugs, touches and kisses everybody who’s in India out of need or only by chance. She doesn’t use her words and her loving touch for herself. Paolo would call her a lesbian.
I met her at a national yoga camp, two years ago. It was summer. She couldn’t help but talk about her ex-partner. We were close by a brick wall in front of the lake surrounded by those Umbrian trees that always seem so gentle.
“He was like that… and then it was over.” I was struck by her mercy when she was telling about those events that generally leave nothing but heartache. No signs of rage, no accusations against the usual man unable to control himself. The end of a love story, like a day that inevitably ends with a sunset. Such is pain, something that has to find its own pace. I understood then that she was a peaceful person.
She is quiet, doesn’t get in any one’s way, walks slowly, a constant presence that comforts me and changes the mood of the day and of the group. She sets the boundaries of her personal space and her daily activities by calmly agreeing or disagreeing. One night sitting on the stair in front of the entrance to the eighty-four steps, under the starlit Indian sky that soothes your heart more than a lover, she put her head on my knees. “I forgave him”, she’ll tell me. “He did me too much harm and I’m ashamed of saying that but I couldn’t forgive him. Everything is alright now”, she’ll tell me. Tears that seal both love and pain run down her face and then stop. It will be our last night at Goindwal.
Christian name: Emanuela. Zodiac sign: Aries. Photographer.
She’s everywhere, is late, is nowhere to be found. Every day she leaves her room wearing a flamboyant Indian dress, always more colorful than the previous one. On account of one of her relatives she has an oriental body. Dark skin, long curly hair and that Roman accent that clears up all doubts as to her place of origin. “I live with my parents. I’d like to live by myself, but I can’t; it’s too expensive.” Her mother takes care of her, she doesn’t know how to use a washing machine. Is she surrendering her independence or just refusing technology? She never talks about her father.
She gets excited at the temples, takes pictures of everyone, gets engaged with everybody, she hops around and even monkeys can’t elude her camera. She shakes hands, collects smiles which in India are the most important possessions and we can hardly make her get back in the taxi.
“They’re too cool.”
She keeps asking for everything: attention, objects, loans, for what there isn’t and there wasn’t. That wedge driven in your heart that stays there even though you hope that life will compensate somehow. But nothing and no one can compensate for the lack of love and heal the past. We have to do it ourselves in front of God. She comes up with ideas shapes, solutions, she makes wonderful turbans. At the eighty-four steps she doesn’t skip a single step, she doesn’t forsake her fellow travellers either, you do anything to achieve something. Without letting us know, she performs a ‘seva’ a service. She wrote, copied and coated with plastic the whole Japij Sahib, a present for us and our journey.
When she climbs on the footboard to teach yoga her excitement disappears, she lowers her voice, her heart takes some breath and with the care of a great teacher she leads the class. She takes care of the others gracefully and firmly and peace reigns.
Zodiac sign: Libra.
She makes her way through life using her eyes that she sends ahead to explore the future. She is keen on films and other things. She opens her eyes wide on the world and listens because she does everything with her eyes. In her eyes I see waves of coming and going, love and pain, giving and receiving. Her eyes are like a screen and she let us watch out of generosity and carelessness. She dresses like a true female and she forgets how pretty she is and that we are in a temple. When she goes inside wearing a wide-knitted sweater and her veil falls down, she doesn’t realize it. An old Indian lady shows her annoyance. She wastes time and loses objects, loses her peace of mind to overcome the pain she doesn’t talk about and carries her tears everywhere in the colours of India. She laughs and chats with the old Sadhu in the white deserted temple. He’s old among the wrinkles of the world, she’s happy with her curly hair under the warming sun.
They’re so beautiful that I’m dumbstruck because beauty overwhelms me as it spreads around to feed who plays, writes and paints, who treats people, arranges things and loves, who listens and prays.
“I’ve rented my house till December, I had to solve some problems, I’ll be staying with my mother or with a friend of mine when I go back… I could buy some goods to sell back in Italy.”
She purchases, changes her mind and finds solutions in her life that seems like a raft on the sea. Sometimes during our tour we lose track of her, at the airport in Amman she disappears. We make any kind of suppositions but she comes back and says naively and calmly “I went to send some postcards.”
She’ll succeed in looking into my heart and she’s not as inattentive as she seems. Her touch is modest and kind and leaves a trace that I can’t forget.
Zodiac sign: Leo.
Athletic body, a traveller, she finds the dirt of India disgusting. She talks interruptedly about anything, gossip, information, requests, she fills up the emptiness, the heart and she questions the sky.
That never ending chatter annoys me. I can’t follow it so I forget it. Once I found her after a yoga class sitting in a corner with a sad look upon her face. She’s staring at a faraway place, she’s quiet, sad and lonely. Her fear of that silence in which space changes, her effort to hide any sign of weakness. That cocky self-confidence that soothes children when they feel lonely and there’s no one to hug them. “I was…” she tells us about bygone journeys.
She’s a shop assistant in a department store and she is embarrassed to say that, as if her job was an inferior job. “Most of you are professionals,” as if working weren’t always something noble. That clean action that makes us heroes on earth. Wherever we are our actions fall on the ground and settle down forever, they’re meant to last longer than age-old trees.
“I’m taking this, can you translate what I said to him?” she asks me for help because she’s shy. The tailor listens to us and measures the blue cloth for her kurta. She stays with Elda and Elisabetta and tells them her secrets, she doesn’t approach the others and later she’ll explain why:
“I thought you were different, not so…”
“In a way…”
She smiles again, mumbles something, proceeds self confident, and she waits till the last moment in Rome, on the bus that is taking us from the aircraft to the airport. She’ll sit down and will cry: “I’m going to miss you.”
Zodiac sign: Taurus. Spiritual name: Fathé.
She works for RAI, Italian Television, I don’t listen to her when she gives the details of her job. I met her at a yoga camp in Titignano, at a seminar in Gallese. Once I helped her daughter save some insects from the swimming pool; we just say hello to each other. She has a swinging walk as if she needs to stand on her feet all the time; she’s not a troublemaker. She has a plastic bag crammed with balloons and small toys for Indian children, “My children gave them to me.” Common sense. Her suitcase should resolve all uncertainties in life and she looks like a fairy tale character, I expect her to do some magic every time she looks at me.
She is one of the “Camille,” she sticks with them and never approaches the others. However, something unexpected happens and we’ll often be around her. She feels sick, a colitis that isn’t a colitis, or any of the bizarre diagnoses that her friends in turns will make. Her kidney stones put her in a position in which she needs to be taken care for. When I suggest an examination, she ignores me. “It’s better to eat boiled rice, boiled vegetables, no tomatoes.” From colitis on, everybody gives her suggestions and nutritional advice. “Not all vegetables are good for you.” I have her kidneys in mind. She listens patiently, doesn’t get upset and waits. “It will stop eventually.” Jaswinder, the Indian ayurvedic doctor, comes to examine her. She doesn’t really trust him, even her prayer to the guru Amar Das isn’t really working. She doesn’t want to go to the Indian hospital. She waits and waits. Isn’t she in a hurry or does she hate making decisions? We run into each other sometimes during meals and we sit side-by-side but nothing happens so we just keep on greeting each other.
Zodiac sign: Aries. Architect.
She’s a natural born warrior: you’re either with or against her. None of us will escape her judgment, she talks and criticizes to pass her time. But she just wants to make a sensation and shows her good heart as soon as she forgets about herself. She’s a wonderful chef and cooks for us whenever she has a chance. She cries when nobody sees her and she needs challenges.
She’s tall and skinny, walks briskly among her fellow travellers. She’s the core of the group that will be called after her: the Camille. They’re a team, a water tight structure that never leaks. Her suitcase is so big that you’re sure you won’t run out of anything. Camilla always tries to control time.
“We do, we don’t do…We go, we don’t go…” She’s like that. She cleans up, does the washing, arranges the daily activities. Life has to be under control and escorted. We don’t have a direct relationship but we meet when we do something, when we sit side-by-side during a journey which becomes a story, a proof and a thought. I often wonder which is the competition she’s in, who does she have to show her worth to, a worth that she owns since her birth. A generosity she could live off. She belongs to the shopping assault troops, when they storm a shop nothing is left behind.
I neither criticize her ideas nor I dare to contradict her. I keep myself at a safe distance which prevents me from getting involved in hand-to-hand fighting. It’s the fault of my ascendant, Pisces. We need her energy to bring about that enthusiasm you experience when you live together, a pervasive system where everybody wants to give her contribution.
Zodiac sign: Scorpio. Former school teacher and yoga teacher. Curly haired, ancient, a mother like body, she walks with small steps.
We share the same room in Anandpur. I’ve never seen or met her before and now we’re going to spend a week together. We share a few interests: astrology, literature, esotericism. She writes poetry. She looks calm but her heart is never still, as dense and deep as memory that lingers over emotions. I know the story of her husband and her children, how mischievous she was as a child and how she quietly bore her solitudes. How all the “Yes” she said out of kindness and submission ruined her life. She measures my aura daily. It seems to be so bright that it shines at night and keeps shining until I’ll have the imprudence of falling in love. Then her opinion will change. “Your aura is spoiling, it’s losing energy.” She’s a careful and accurate sensitive who detects every single detail, especially the uncertain ones that nobody ever sees. Her slowness annoys me, ranges over time. I never find my keys when I go to our room so we make an agreement: we leave the door open and lock the wardrobe with money and passports inside. Her obedience embarrasses me. She passively accepts the fact that the shower isn’t working while I look every day for someone who can fix it and I take a hot shower in every room. Then something unexpected happens. During a yoga class she stands up and starts to dance and cry. Her nose is running but she keeps on dancing, the room is filled with sunlight, eventually she collapses on the floor and tells us,” I’ve seen the ten gurus coming towards me, they were coming from the sun.” She describes them with her hands and talks a while about them. We are confused by her great vision. Somebody is skeptical, others believe it’s true, no one says a word, two of us hug her and the invisible enjoys this scene.
Paolo and Marisa
They travel with us but they’re by themselves. They will be called the B group. We go somewhere, they go somewhere else, we do something, they do something else, except for a few yoga classes.
Paolo abuses everyone. He will call me an idiot and says that “Everybody has a huge ego.” He’s nice and kind to Marisa. Who knows what his break-point was, that point where his pain turned into rage.
He’s sturdy and short necked, he leaves footprints when he walks. He could have been a friend.
Somebody calls him a “sod,” but eventually we find out that that definition applies to all men and we’ll often use it not as a form of consolation but as a sad fact. The only one who can easily approach him is Maria Luisa, unaware of the evils of the world and a supervisor of transparencies.
Marisa smiles at everybody, she seems more pliable but she doesn’t care. She says “ooh” and goes her own way. Love locks them in a forbidden place. She’s long limbed, thin and tiny and teaches yoga in Spain. I try to speak in Spanish but I give up and lose myself in India.
And with prayers, feelings, handshakes, tears, dawns and nights that seem like days, I let them flow like water, they love each other and fight. They have a tailor make for them two identical blue dresses and they walk holding hands looking for their share of happiness.
Christian name: Simona. Zodiac sign: Taurus.
She teaches yoga and she’s graduating. She’s the youngest of the group and will be my roommate in the second part of the journey. She has very long hair and is learning Indian dances, uses her eyes like the sea and takes a serious approach to life, still she can laugh.
My side of the room is always nice and tidy with few scattered objects on the floor, her side is crammed with things, we don’t know how that happens:
“Why do I have so many things around?”And indeed her things and her clothes are everywhere. She’s very determined and moves as gracefully as the dances she loves and wears gypsy skirts.
We follow the same pace, we both go to bed early and walk fast, she’s nice but she’s not very keen on compliments. She collects the money for our taxis and our meals. It’s an exhausting and patient job since every time somebody forgets to pay and the accounts never seem to balance. She loses many too. “Well… I’ll pay.”
She’s afraid to cross the shaky bridge over the river Ganges and falls in love with insecure men who shake more than that bridge. But like the earth, that is her zodiacal element, she bears the weight of anything. Whether it’s a kilo or a ton, the earth bears everything. “Let’s go to the village of Rishikesh… Let’s sleep at the shrine… Let’s do.” She seizes new opportunities at once, she’s willing to change directions and fights for justice. That division between black and white that seemed so clear once, something worth fighting for. But now people’s hearts confound me. I love mistakes, wrongdoing makes me sad and uncertainties have turned into prayer.
Zodiac sign: Cancer. Architect.
I couldn’t figure her out from the beginning. She’s a mystery to me. She’s never out of place, never speaks a word too much, she manages her emotions flawlessly. Long dark hair, dark eyes, she never gets upset. Whatever happens will be dealt with scientifically, no room for women’s hysteria. She worries me. She belongs to the Camille, impossible to approach her and she lives her life dutifully. When she leads the yoga class in the morning she’s pragmatic and essential. She doesn’t have emotional swings even when she expresses her strong dislike “I can’t stand the way Simona teaches yoga, all that blabbering,” she sounds like a bulletin, an AP bulletin.
In Anandpur she will cook with Simona some wonderful pasta for Sadhana’s birthday, too bad that Suria will serve it for breakfast the following day.
She follows a few rules she has received from above. “If there’s something that has to be done, you do it,” a step at the time, just like the eighty-four steps.
“Let’s go a step further,” and one step at the time you make history.
It took seven days for God.
I don’t know how to approach her, she’s a self sufficient being that uses just the right amount of words. Nonetheless I know that behind that shield she hides dreams and fears, a melancholic past and a stupid future with its uncertain shape. And when she’s with the Camille she gives in, she chats with them and they all sound like a flock of birds flying home for the night. She belongs to the group of large suitcases, large luggage and care for details. The earth and the sky fall in this India which moves a heart every minute as well as illusions and reflections for every one of us. Paola is an older sister who stays where life has put her, ready to work. What else can you do?
Zodiac sign: Taurus. Architect.
Camilla’s sister, taller, very skinny, long blond hair. She smiles every time she meets me, a good land that welcomes you.
If I’m here it’s because of her. “Come with us!” She said during the seminar “Yoga in the Blue,” I agreed because trusting her is the least I can do.
Since her childhood she decided that being nice was the right thing to do and since then she’s never stopped being nice. She forsakes her desires and always looks ahead to prevent the pain of the past and the trouble of life from distracting her. In this journey she’ll join on the Camille group, a place to feel safe in a far away country. When Simona gets sick due to her kidney stone, she stays with her and gives up her pilgrimage to the 84 steps, she sees us leaving and smiles. Why should she have gone to the 84 steps anyway?
The right actions purify better than Karma and even for you, Manù, there’s a time for rest, a smile from above and a moment of stillness to receive love.
Maybe you know already, compared to us who trudge that a right action, or a dharma doesn’t require any effort, it’s the natural action of flowers turning to the sun, of breastfeeding, of courage.
“You don’t know how much I miss them showing me a picture: Maria, Andrea and Elena, her children whom she keeps with passion and ardour.
She keeps them in her eyes, her words, her body that three times has been filled up and emptied. Like a tide.
On the lawn in front of our rooms where we read, chat and sunbathe, we pass time, she sits on a white plastic chair devouring one of her books that she brought with her. She doesn’t show her thoughts, her memories or her sadness. That tactful heart of hers is still in order not to disturb anyone and you can hardly hear a gentle noise.
She’s the real fighter of the company. Sign of the Zodiac: Sagittarius.
Strongly built, determined eyes, she doesn’t show any sign of weakness, she has the age of a person who has already had a lot of experiences and works with art.
She has travelled a lot, whenever, wherever, just to go and see. Life is a fight, she knows that very well, it’s better to attack than be taken by surprise. I met her at the camp “Yoga in the Blue”. She comes straight to the point and doesn’t beat about the bush, doesn’t sugar the pill, doesn’t want to lose time, she discards sentimentalism, snuggling and useless tears.
She’s brutal when she analyzes events and people, almost knocks me out, my sensitivity is hurt and sometimes I’d like to kill her.
“He wants to find a woman to leave this place” she’s talking about Jaswinder.
Her life, deprived of every illusion, clashes with my ideals, nonetheless we get along pretty well because we both like courage.
She’s very generous and doesn’t count assets or liabilities, that’s something for accountants. She’s like a flood tide that never leaves the ground dry.
She leaves with a small suitcase but when we fly back her luggage will be four times bigger, dresses, colours, jewels which fill her eyes. She treats colour like very few people in the world. She blends them with clothes, shapes, mixes them, enhances them and rejoices at them. She lives off this action painting and pushes whoever is close to her to dare a colour an idea, a new model.
Men are just what they are, it’s useless to expect more. Then I listen quietly to that hum coming from her chest and I can feel the pain that goes beyond time, loneliness. “I miss my son” and the uncertainty that even a warrior asks heaven for a break and some love.
Zodiac sign: Sagittarius.
She is among the oldest of the group. She embarks with fear and courage, struggles with every kind of indecision, but she doesn’t show it.
She has a rhythmic sense of life: contradicts and obeys and does magic with her wit.
I met her at her publishing house to give her a manuscript that one of her readers will criticise “I didn’t read it, don’t know anything about it.” So in India she says, “We’ll discuss the matter ourselves”.
Short haired, an Indian chief face, she walks softly. You can find everything in her suitcase, clothes for any kind of weather, precautions and doubts, a lot of T-shirts, she has taken care of all the details and anticipated the future. She contradicts God, doesn’t like His name and every time she prays Him, she studies the sacred texts and she puts up with ties and hardship to honor him.
She’s a diehard at the 84 steps. I bother her: “You’re God’s favourite pupil!” She doesn’t react but smiles, it’s a title she has earned on the field.
She notices everything, she notices when something breaks down, “May I borrow your sunglasses” and with her help I hide my tears, she perceives thoughts, absence, role games, a thoughtfulness that touches me. She hides her shyness behind her irony and eloquence, tunes to life like a flying bird, it’s better to take advantage of currents. “I don’t want to teach yoga.”A whole evening spent around a table to convince her. She doesn’t want to handle her invitation, denies its worth, she withstands wittily and obviously two days later she leads the morning class, the sadhana. She teaches gently, we will call her way of teaching the humane face of yoga. She doesn’t talk about herself, tries to defend her heart from blows, that secret bundle into which she put every dream, voices, memories, those words that people forget, she has them ready for times of peace and war. Because the world gives unexpected things.
Zodiac sign: he says Libra, I say cusp Libra-Scorpio
His spiritual name which means discipline is the same name of the morning prayer. I met him at the camp Yoga in the Blue, I liked his strength and his great precision but not his stiffness.
He’s a handsome man, has worked as a model and gym instructor. Now he’s an orthodox Sikh, doesn’t cut his hair, or shaves, wears a turban and white clothes. His pupils are mostly women who out of vanity or challenge commit to life.
His role as yoga teacher keeps him violently bound to the schemes of his master Jogi Bhajan, of whom he’s a faithful disciple.
He gets embarrassed when he has to show tenderness and relies on provocation when it would be enough to show affection. He likes competition. A legacy of his previous life as a sportsman and continues in life through challenges. He deals like a gentleman with Avtar’s fits of anger, the Indian uncertainties and the defection of group B.
He clings to Jaswinder for most of the journey “He’s like a brother to me.” and I would probably drown too in those visions of perfection, in those ideal schemes that make the world a better place.
He likes to laugh and learn, two activities that he can do simultaneously. When his eyes shine with enthusiasm or when he’s touched on his birthday then he allows beauty to touch our hearts more than he can in a yoga lesson. He allows kindness to circulate freely and caress whomever it chooses.
He’s a good man who takes care of God and people, because he’s a good man who binds himself to the heart, so with disciplines and rituals, he becomes stubborn about being the best, the stubbornness of warriors.
Zodiac sign: Scorpio.
Sadhana’s partner is very English, fair skin, red hair, a dancer and a gymnast. She’s a sikh too, doesn’t cut her hair or shaves her body and follows a strict yogi diet, except when she’s in front of something sweet.
Sometimes her Italian sounds like a riddle, she dresses like a princess, veils, colours, ornaments, even wears two dresses in a day to show her rank.
She belongs to a kingdom I can’t approach, a crystal palace, she sings like an angel and her soul dances but she’s lonely. We stand in front of that glass to enjoy her beauty but we can only watch from a distance. She lives in a world of shapes, sounds, and colours, without worrying about somebody following her.
When we climb to the Indu temple she goes ahead and disappears, protected by her veils and ornaments, she defends her heart from dangers I’m not aware of.
She teaches us the Japji Shaib, the marvellous sacred text we’re supposed to recite on the 84 steps. Her pronunciation, vibration, the sacredness of the sound, we love this prayer despite the unfortunate time, 14.30.
You can’t criticize her ideas and I have too many things to do during this journey than looking for a closer intimacy.
“You must teach,” determined, independent, she uses words like goods to trade, but I can’t negotiate prefer the sky with its undefined boundaries, where future and destiny create their spaces among clouds. She is a healer of Sat Nam a kind of prajna inside yoga, she treats my stiff neck that won’t go away and takes care of Simona’s kidneys. In this land where nobody is safe she can’t hide her anxiety and moves jerkily forward.
She stays in a faraway place where she probably went when she was a child. A secret place where pain is unknown and nobody can take you away, a secret place to talk to God.
Zodiac sign: Gemini. Doctor.
I’m writing about this journey and I don’t know why.
Sounds, scents, and thoughts swell inside me at night and during the day. I don’t get any rest and I throw them out to have a little space. A handful of words exhumed from my soul which accidentally are exposed to life.
The noise of life is plaguing me, its imperfection, hardship, pain that doesn’t melt, the last caresses. India has invaded me, has stuck to me with its smells, its eyes, its smiles, its poverty.
I never shout my mouth, and sometimes I can’t stand it.
All these women embarrass me, a burdensome family run by women which feeds, sings and governs. Most of all it’s something I’m not really used to, a family.
I used to like Sandokan as a child. He was my favourite hero so when I meet Jaswinder I tell myself, “It’s him.” He has a turban, dark skin, moves like a hero and speaks about God. I’ve never given up my naiveté, a weakness of flowers expecting the sun when they bloom.
I like to think about God, we’ve been together for a long time, a relationship that wears me out, a dependency that scares me.
I often argue with Him, sometimes He doesn’t understand, sometimes I don’t understand, He’s close, He’s faraway, He’s jealous.
Since I was a child I’ve been thinking about him not because they talked about him at my house, but I understood we had met before.
I don’t know what I look like to my companions, which image I reflect and which I hide. I’m used to silent places, unspoken words, solitary journeys, ever changing beauty.
Shapes, the smell of nature, shapes the smells of human beings are beautiful to me so I don’t forsake this controversial and pitiful country because I’m waiting for another day and another sunset.