Rushing out of the relative comfort of a high-end internet cafe, I’m greeted by a torrential downpour that began not more than 20 minutes ago. I smartly flick out my umbrella which I imagine to be quite a cool contraption to the casual Indian observer, as if pressing a button to release it must seem all too James Bondesque to the them. After all, I seem to be one of the 20 people in a city of 5.5 million that actually has an umbrella. Immediately, I discover that my umbrella isn’t quite adequate cover in such violent rain, so I’m starting to get soggy in the first second under the weather. Descending the steps to ground level, I suddenly realize that the road in front of me has become a river. Nine inches deep and surprisingly fast-flowing after only 20 minutes of monsoon. I timidly cross the rapids to try and hail a rickshaw, almost loosing my chappal once, and my footing several times in the strong current. Fortunate enough to grab a rickshaw within seconds, I contemplate writing a blog entry titled “Monsoon Pains” in contrast to my Monsoon Joy entry from a week ago. How quickly perceptions change.
As we sputter down the road, I see about a dozen kids in the road-cum-river dancing and splashing in the water, some on their bellies. Their smiles are especially bright under the darkness of the clouds. Suddenly, something shifts inside me. Its still all good for them. They’re not the least bit upset to be soaked to the bone (certainly much more wet than myself). This is like a waterpark for them. Just as I think how silly it is for me to think all of this is anything but All Good, the rickshaw driver tells me that most of the rickshaws start failing in the rain, especially in floods. They’re not very well built, so the moment moisture gets in to the engine, you’re stuck. I had a meeting to get too… and the weather might make that impossible? In a flash, my mind goes back to thinking that this weather is a bad thing. Still remembering the smiles of the children, I rationalize that they’re able to enjoy what’s bad out of an innocence and lack of responsibilities or work deadlines begging completion. The joy of innocence.
We arrive at an under-bridge where a traffic jam has developed. As we nudge and weave our way forward, my driver delcares the under-bridge flooded and impassable. I can’t see a thing through the water streaming down the windshield, so I stick my head out and sure enough see several feet of water at the lowest point of the under-bridge. I direct the driver to turn around and take an alternate route. He pulls a U-turn and we sputter up the slope. I look out and see several stalled and stranded rickshaws on the incline. The drivers have teamed up two-by-two and are pushing their rickshaws up the incline. “How miserable,” I think. And then I look closer and see the same glowing smiles across their faces that the kids wore on theirs. Stranded, soaked, and surrendered drivers were enjoying this? They had simply surrendered and were fully accepting whatever came their way. The joy of surrender.
I pull out my cell and call Anand to explain that I’m detouring due to flooding and will be later than the 10 minutes I am already. Fine. As we approach the potential detour site, we discover more flooding there, rendering it equally impassable. “Shucks! This stinks,” I catch myself thinking. Another mental flip-flop, so soon after the last one. Just as I’m about to call Anand to inform and strategize a new route, he calls me and tells me that he’s going to come pick me up in the Indicorps SUV. Great. Solved my problem, but I’m still not pleased with the weather. Sitting in the leaky rickshaw, I’m still getting wet from wind-generated sideways rain. A few minutes later, a couple walks by. They’re middle-aged and poor. From their clothing, I can tell that they live in an improvised shelter on the side of the road in something like their own personal slum. Everything they own, however little that might be, is likely drenched by now if not already washed away. How tragic and painful that kind of a life must be– they must be cursing this weather. As they get closer, I see first the woman and then her husband smiling in what now is an all too familiar smile. The one I saw in the kids, and then the rickshaw drivers. These poor, simple people are enjoying this weather? Incredible! When you live at the margins, you have to accept and deal with so many things so much worse. Complicating that reality by interjecting your likes and dislikes into the equation makes matters worse. Simplicity absent unneccesary preferences was how this couple was dealing with the morning, fully immersed in not just the weather, but also that joy of simplicity.
Suddenly my cell phone is ringing. Its Anand.
“There’s no way I’m going to be able to get to you,” he says.
Moreover, the rickshaw I was in just died. My heart sinks for a second. How will I get home? I hop out and run for shelter under a bus stop. As I wipe the drops off my glasses, a new clarity emerges.
I think of a quote by a saint I greatly admire.
If you don’t think of God in the summer of your joy, you can’t hear Her whispers in the winter of your despair.
Goosebumps, the kind NOT induced by cold, run down my body. God’s beauty is equally manifest in all things and circumstances, regardless of what one’s limited, ego-driven perceptions label as “good” and “bad”.
A second wave of goosebumps. Wasn’t I hearing the whispers of God all morning? In the innocence of the children, the surrender of the rickshaw drivers, the simplicity of the poor couple. All gateways to that same spoiled-by-describing joy so apparent in their faces.
I add my smile to the ones I’ve seen all morning and start splish-splashing down the road. How quickly perceptions change.