A couple weeks ago I decided to pack up my bags and hit the road for a week.
First on the itinerary was Bangalore. Our family friend, John, had an aunt who lived in Bangalore as a Christian missionary (the Indians called her “Mummy”), and after she passed away some years ago, he inherited her Indian property–as well as the responsibility of managing her estates. I took an overnight bus to the city center, then an autorickshaw over to the house of a man named Solomon. This is where John was staying.
When travelling, there are some people with whom you only cross paths for the briefest of moments, yet whom you’ll never forget. Solomon had one of those indelible personalities. Within sixty seconds of his welcoming me into his house, we were sitting in his living room, his wife was offering us tea, and Solomon was asking me to share my Christian testimony.
So I gave him my testimony. I told him how I had grown up in the Christian church but had come to find a powerful peace in eastern spiritual practice.
Solomon proceeded to share about how he had been raised in the jungle by a Hindu priest. Solomon saw his first white person in his teens when a Christian missionary came to Solomon’s house and converted Solomon’s family. Solomon saw his first city a year or two later when his father moved the family so that Solomon could attend a Christian boarding school. Today, Solomon is head pastor over a large church network, and his children are living the western dream, working as journalists, iPhone app creators, and Zynga employees.
As Solomon spoke, I was struck by a sense of sublime irony. After all, I was coming from an ashram mostly populated by westerners, 95% of whom seemed to be deeply disillusioned by western consumerism, philosophy, and lifestyle. I’ve heard so many people at the ashram tell how spiritual practice and devotion to the ashram’s guru has changed their lives, just as Solomon spoke of how following Christ took him out of the bondage of Hinduism. Solomon’s early years in the jungle, devoid of societal conditioning and attachment, would have seemed to so many ashramites the perfect existence.
For me, talking with Solomon highlighted the dialectical tensions at the heart of India.
Anyway, I spent the next two days being shown around Bangalore by Solomon’s friends and family, shopping, eating amazing Indian food, and visiting some of Solomon’s churches. For all the differences in perspective between Solomon and the people at the ashram, the church services seemed very similar to services at the ashram. There was chanting, eastern-sounding worship music, and a talk, just as there would have been at the ashram. As a person who was friends with John and therefore connected to mummy, I was given a seat of honor and asked to say a few words to the congregation at the end of the church service.
After Bangalore I boarded an overnight bus for Kotagiri, which I’ll write about soon.