It’s the last day of 2013 and yet I feel like the year barely started. On January 1 I woke up sick in the slums of Ahmedabad. A family was kind enough to host me through a program attempting to bring the poor and the well off together. It was organized through a non-profit that sent several of us into the homes of trusted slum-dwellers. My host was a grandmother who was a sweeper for the non-profit. She would wake up early every morning to sweep the grounds of the organization and then return home to make breakfast for her grandchildren before they headed off to school. I was supposed to sweep alongside her in the morning, but because I was sick, she insisted I sleep in. There must have been eight women in the family sleeping in her one room shack, while the men slept outside, but they insisted I have my own bed. I was on the fence when I originally heard about the program, considering that I already hate using the facilities when I stay with my well-to-do relatives in India. But then decided to do it at the last minute. I had no other plans for New Year’s Eve and figured it would be a good experience for me. I had spent countless other times drunk and cold and tired and hung-over. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of NYE celebration, but it turns out there wasn’t any – after watching TV, we must have gone to bed at 10pm. There was no question of doing a midnight countdown, as I was fast asleep when the year changed. For my sweet host and her family, it was a night like any other. In the end, it was a great experience. I was humbled by the family that took great care of me and even insisted on giving me money from their meager savings for the auto rickshaw ride home since I was sick.
The year started off with me being humbled by many things. Not only by my host family, but also by Raghu Bhai, my host in Ahmedabad who was constantly hobbling around on his hands because his legs were crippled by polio as a child. Though he grew up dirt poor in a village many miles away from Ahmedabad, he refused to beg for food. Instead, he arrived in Ahmedabad penniless. At night he slept on the streets and by day he guarded shoes outside a temple, only accepting donations from well-meaning individuals as compensation. Throughout his hardships, he remained an inspirational, generous and positive being, always striving to make the world a better place and even considered his misfortune early in life to be a good thing because it pushed him to help others.
I was humbled by the immensity of our planet and how different things are from the fast-paced cities and internet and constant TV news coverage I’m used to when I stayed with a family in a remote village several hours outside of Ahmedabad. This was a place without paved roads, where the homes had mud floors and wasted little electricity. My gracious hosts cooked a meal with vegetables picked directly from the farms nearby and generously gave me and another visitor a small cot to share at night where I fell asleep under the stars listening to the sounds of crickets and restless cattle snorting nearby.
I was also humbled by my first real taste of failure – attempting to start a business and deciding not to and then figuring out how to tell family, friends and professional colleagues that I felt like a flop. By having surgery and being reliant on others for everything and realizing how lucky I am to be in good health.
I managed to complete The Artist’s Way. Definitely a struggle at times, but worth it in the end. When I think of the book, I think of long evening walks in Colonial Park where I saw rabbits and turtles and ducks and managed to regain a sense of calm amid the turbulent waters of home.
I learned how to sew, which turned out to be more fun than I imagined. I always loved fabric and then to be able to create anything I wanted with the fabric of my choice was pretty exciting.
I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn that I don’t love and started a new job I am not excited about. But in the end, it was the right move. I needed my space and my sanity back.
A very challenging ten-day silent meditation retreat gave me a lot to reflect on in life and happiness and priorities. It was profound and life-changing in so many ways and still brings a lump to my throat when I think of it. I tried to explain the experience to people, but realized it’s impossible. Some things are yours alone.
And now it’s December again and it feels like the year has gone by way too fast. It seems like just yesterday I was waking up freezing cold in the slums of Ahmedabad with an unwelcome rumbling in my stomach. The year has been challenging and a struggle. I don’t know yet what lessons came out of it. The journey continues.
On to 2014.