From a guest house nestled along a shady boulevard, my afternoon nap is blissfully interrupted by a spicy scent wafting through my open window. Ahh… chana masala. The fragrant allure of the food stall across the street beckons. Despite my 14-hour jet lag and field work schedule exhaustion, I happily obey the command. For great Indian food— anything.
Heading out onto the sidewalk, my blissful trance is interrupted by my cultural nemesis. Indian traffic. A hot mess of moving machinery. A horn-blaring blur of cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, auto rickshaws— and an occasional ox-cart— where rules are less influenced by law than by popular consensus. Where stray dogs sunbathe on the center median and sacred cows saunter through the daily crush, either oblivious to potential danger or simply confident their presence will be noted and respected.
With stoplights and crosswalks scarce, Indian pedestrians transcendentally jaywalk across even six lanes without hesitation. Perhaps thousands of years of yoga and meditation has hardwired enlightenment into India’s DNA. Or perhaps organized chaos is simply the only way 1.2 billion people get through a day. But no matter how many times I travel to India— and no matter how many cultural hurdles I manage to cross— simply trying to cross a street on my own rattles me to my core. Sure I can do a mean downward dog, but with American traffic-law culture hardwired in my DNA, achieving this level of enlightenment still eludes me.
The secret is to tune out the mental noise. Go with the flow. And above all— DON’T compare anything to the rules of American traffic norms. (It’s that last part that I struggle with the most.)
Another waft of spicy aroma reignites my focus. I steady my nerve and take several deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Still your mind, Dina, I coach myself as I calmly place a foot down in the street. Focus. Breathe. Focus. Breathe.
From my peripheral vision an enormous dump truck is lurching directly toward me. Remain calm, BE the truck. Trust that the truck knows exactly where you are.
Aakk! I leap backwards onto the sidewalk. The truck rolls past, belching a poof of diesel exhaust in my face. I sputter out a cough. Images of broken bones and medical bills dance in front of my eyes. I wonder whether my will is up to date.
Shake it off, Dina. I slowly calm my breathing and gently coach myself to leave my cultural baggage behind. You’re in India now, Dina. Relax.
Just then, a tiny, elderly woman in a sparkly sari jumps off the curb and heads directly into a line of oncoming auto-rickshaws. Without breaking stride— or even glancing up— she glides across like on an invisible zip line. I study her technique. She knows she’s got this.
If she can do it, I can do it. I do a quick stretch and mental reset. Deep breath. Focus. BE the tiny lady.
Attempt two. One foot back into the street. Two feet. Just keep moving forward. Commit. Trust.
A family of five piled on a motorcycle like a DIY minivan suddenly sails past me— their toddler perched on the handlebars— smugly defying the laws of physics and every good parenting book ever written.
Oh god. Vertigo creeps in. My mind is flooded with seat belt laws, government–approved car seats, and calls from child-protective services. Again, I leap backward onto to the sidewalk. The cultural whiplash is brutal.
Again, I mentally regroup, determined to bridge this cultural chasm. I channel Indian spiritual guru Osha’s mantra: “Drop hesitations.” Deep breath. Drop hesitations. Walk straight, Dina.
Attempt three. I step back into the street— walking, dropping hesitations, walking, dropping hesitations. I got this.
Halfway across I freeze. Nope. Not happening. I don’t got this. Did you know that in the U.S., jaywalkers bear the blame for causing accidents, and drivers can actually sue them for harm caused to their car!?!
Vehicles honk and swerve around my mid-street paralysis. I ponder wonder what, if anything, about American driving culture would actually intimidate Indian drivers? Data on teenage texting (34%- yikes)? Trying to steer out of an icy skid during a Midwest blizzard? The frantic squirrel that can’t make a decision?
Suddenly, a cow angles into the street and heads my way. Tires screech, brakes lock, and traffic comes to a halt. Taking refuge behind my 1500-pound new best friend, Bessy safely escorts me to the other side of the street. I’m with her.
Finally reaching the other side, I hop off onto the curb outside the food stall. I give Bessy a pat of thanks on the head and order a plate of steaming chana masala. She offers a grateful nod to my vegetarian selection and saunters off down the sidewalk. At least my karma is solid.
Keep calm and carry on.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931 –1990), better known as Osho, was a controversial guru, spiritual teacher, and hipster-ahead of-his-time. In 1974, after developing syncretic meditation practices from a variety of religious influences including Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Sufism, and Christianity, he opened a groovy ashram in Pune, India where spiritual seekers worldwide have come to practice living life to its full potential. Although Osho (the man) passed away nearly 30 years ago, his teachings live on in the digital, multi-media world. Through downloadable video lectures, meditations, podcasts, e-books, e-cards, and even games available on the Osho mobile app, smart-phone spiritualists can now get their enlightenment on faster than they can say “ommm.”
So, whether you’re trying to cross a street in India, or simply ready to rock a plaid shirt, knit cap, and beard, check out Osho’s short meditation on “Courage.”
Just allow life to take you wheresoever it leads you an don't be afraid. Fear is the only thing one should be afraid of, nothing else. Move! Be courageous and daring.
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas
1 onion, chopped
1 tomatoes, chopped
1 green chili pepper, chopped
4 -5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch gingerroot, chopped
2 -3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
coriander leaves, for garnishing
Cut onion, tomato and green chili. Grind it in food processor along with ginger and garlic and make paste.
Heat oil in a pan and fry bay leaves for 30 secs.
Add the paste and fry on medium heat until golden brown (The oil starts separating from the mixture).
Add red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, garam masala and salt. Mix well. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add water enough to make thick gravy. Bring the gravy to boil.
Add can chick peas. Stir well and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes.
Garnish with chopped green coriander leaves and serve hot.