I wake up about 4:00 am. I hear Mira in the kitchen preparing for the day’s activities. She has a hungry husband and two children to feed, not to mention two house guests, Reddy and Me. I crawl out of the bedroll and slip into a pair of gym shorts then roll up the bedding.
To clean up, I must pass the kitchen. “Good morning, Mira.”
“Oh! Good morning, Jay. Did you sleep well?”
“Very well, thank you. The fresh country air and silence are wonderful. I even had some interesting dreams, too.”
“The dreams were not terrifying?”
“Oh no, fluffy tigers and silly monkeys. Last night during our walk, Reddy told me about the animals at the game preserve.”
“Did Hanuman appear in the monkey dream?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact the monkey god was in it! Is it common for Hanuman to be in dreams here?”
“Only now and then. If you dream of Hanuman, that is very, very auspicious. He will protect you during your journey through India.”
“I guess I have a lot to learn about the history of the gods.”
“Go ahead with your shower, Jay. Ramjeer has taken his already and has gone out to check the rubber trees.”
“I’ll do that, thanks.”
I make my way to the back of the house. The privy is an afterthought. It was probably added on a few years ago to the 100 year old house. There is the infamous Asian toilet. The sink has been carved from some sort of marble, it’s beautiful. The shower is out in the open. There is a four-foot tall concrete partition with towels placed on the top. I take a large bar of sandalwood soap for my hair and body to clean up.
I then rummage through my backpack to find my outfit for the day. I will wear loose, white khakis with a turquoise button down shirt. I look up and see Reddy watching me.
“Good morning, Jay. You look like the Maharaja today. Very nice!”
“Hello Reddy, thanks! Today I meet Kalu Chonye in person for the first time. I want to show respect.”
“Yes, looking like that, you may as well be meeting with the Dalai Lama. Your appearance is perfect.”
“I want our first meeting to be a good one. I had a dream of Hanuman last night. Mira told me that is an auspicious sign.”
“Yes, very, very auspicious. I will see you at breakfast. Mira is preparing a traditional Karnataka meal for us. There will be cardamom yoghurt especially for you.”
The kitchen table was constructed of large thick planks. As is the custom, the meal was served on banana leaves. There was dal in a small bowl. Otherwise a generous portion of basmati rice along with a thick yoghurt flavored with cardamom had been placed on the leaf. By now, I’d become accustomed to eating with my fingers. I was becoming an expert with naan and sauces, too. I still found it difficult to get used to the patriarchal tradition of rural India. Ramjeer, Reddy and myself sat at the table. The daughters, Prema and Rishima, sat on the floor with their breakfast. Mira waited for us to finish eating. She had her breakfast later, eating from Ramjeer’s banana leaf.
“Jay, do you want more chai?”
“No thank you. Everything was excellent. I have never enjoyed such a beautiful and tasty breakfast in my life. Your cooking skills are wonderful.”
“You should stay here, Jay. We eat like this every day.”
“Ramjeer, your hospitality is the best. However, I have paid for a week’s retreat at the monastery. I will have to eat whatever the lamas concoct. I’m sure it will be OK, but not as good as Mira’s cooking.”
“You are welcome to stay here the next time you visit Karnataka. I must check on some things in the mango grove, then I will drive you to the village so you can catch your bus to Mysore.”
“Thank you Ramjeer. Reddy, will the signs on the busses be in Hindi and English or only in Hindi?”
“Not to worry. No Hindi on these busses, only Kannada. Ha, ha, ha. Oh, and English too.”
“I’m a bit nervous. I have always had you to help me travel as long as I’ve been here. I will be solo until I meet Kalu. I hope he knows where the bus will park.”
“There will be no problems. Just remember to wait near the main door at the station. Everybody passes near there. You have Kalu’s photo and he has yours, right?”
“Your photo is recent, right?”
“There will be no problems at all, then. Simply relax and be yourself. You will enjoy the beautiful drive to Mysore. The city is very nice, too. We must spend time together there after your retreat.”
“Reddy, I do wish I could bring you along. You’re such a great travel companion.”
I bid farewell to Mira, Prema and Rishima. Reddy reminds me of our rendezvous in one week at my hotel in Mysore. Then he squeezes me in a strong bear hug. I climb into Ramjeer’s vehicle. It’s a sporty, black Mahindra four by four with custom chrome wheels and accessories. It looks like a full on copy of an American Jeep Wrangler, except that the steering wheel is on the righthand side. Ramjeer is proud of the little truck. We travel the eight kilometres to the village where he drops me off and I bid him goodbye.
The bus station is a snap. It’s a small depot with one sales counter. I purchase a ticket and proceed to the only bus that is parked. The sign says “Mysore”. The driver welcomes me aboard the behemoth contraption. Within ten-minutes, about 20 people, including me, are riding south to the city. The heat, the humidity and the droning engine work together to lull me into semi-sleep.
My thoughts go to Kalu Chonye. I remember our introduction on the telephone. He said to pronounce his name Kah-luu Chohn-yay, he repeated it three times in broken English. His translator resumed the phone call and helped us to establish the beginings of our friendship. Kalu is a refugee from Lhasa, Tibet. He became a monk while still very young. His primary schooling took place at Dharamsala in northern India. Now that he is at university level work, he transfered to Sera Je monastery in southern India. Monks or lamas are in continuous need of funds.
The best way to find a steady source is to befriend laypersons who can become their sponsors or benefactors. I sponsor two monks. Kalu is one of them. The other one, Jigme, is visiting his family in Nepal at the time of my visit.
The retreat for laypersons and student lamas is being provided by an esteemed Geshe (guru or teacher) from a monastery in Bhutan, Zoha Rinpoche. It will be well attended. Kalu and his translator friend will be taking notes. They promised to help me with some of the finer points of the Dharma talks (lectures). I’m trying to visualize how these people and activities will converge when suddenly….
The bus lurches to a halt. The engine is switched off. I open my eyes and see that we are parked in a lot filled with busses. I grab my backpack and follow my fellow passengers down the aisle. I verify that we’re in Mysore then exit the vehicle.
As I try to orient myself to the new surroundings I notice three young men wearing purple robes. Tibetan monks! I make my way through the crowd. I notice that one of them is Kalu.
“Kalu, Kalu! Hello! Kalu?”
“Jay? Hello, are you Jay?”
“Yes, I’m Jay. Are you Kalu Chonye?”
“Yes, I am Kalu. Tashi Delek! (A Tibetan greeting)”
“I’m so glad to meet you.”
“These are Narayan and Anil. Anil will translate.”
“Tashi Delek, Anil.”
“Jay, we are here to bring you to the monastery. We have hired a driver and a van for you and three other sponsors.”
“Thank you, I was wondering how to get to Sera Je.”
“Let’s find the other sponsors then we shall travel to the monastery.”
Some conversation in Tibetan between the lamas took place as we located everybody else, then we all drove off inside a Tata minivan for the retreat.
The Blue Jay of Happiness hopes you enjoyed our little journey.