I awoke at 6am in Ahmedabad, a normal time to wake up in previous versions of my life but not here in India. In India everything seems to start later, and even then everyone shows up late anyway.
I headed to the park five minutes from my friend’s place in the pitch black darkness. Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, was due to speak there at 6:30am. As I left my friend’s home I realized the park must be big and I have no idea where the event would be. I pushed onward nevertheless.
I arrived and entered the park. A little bit of lighting illuminated the beauty that was to unfold, another India I have yet to see and experience.
The India I have seen so far deliberately avoids, sometimes absurdly so, physical exercise and effort. To my shock, I saw hordes of people out exercising. Some were walking laps around the park, some were doing yoga, others laughing therapy (it was the first time I had seen/heard this in action and yes, it made me laugh!). I even saw a woman jogging, the first time I’ve seen a woman exercising after being in South Asia for two months.
This was a different kind of India for me, one I really liked and had hoped to discover.
The India I know is a constant mix of extreme beauty with extreme sadness and ugliness. But here were lots of people out seizing the beautiful morning sunrise, some exercising, some sitting and talking, some meditating and discovering the strength within – all before the incessant horn honking and city chaos overtakes their senses.
And the puppies I came across fit that beauty and ugliness dichotomy. Ridiculously beautiful to a fault, they are destined to roam the streets digging through garbage to survive with hardly any love.
I arrived at the park a few minutes before 6:30am and didn’t see any event taking place. I was on my third lap around the park and I assumed the event was either starting late or that it may have been canceled. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw the unmistakable glow of a video camera’s light on the street on the other side of the park’s fence. I knew the camera had to be focused on Tushar Gandhi and the crowd of people around him only confirmed my suspicion.
I exited the park and approached the crowd. There weren’t too many people, thirty maybe. I stood next to him unable to understand the conversation happening in front of me in Hindi. It seemed like the conversation was centered on the upcoming election in Gujrat, as I heard people mention “BJP” which is one of the political parties.
As two men in the crowd descended into impassioned debate, an Indian pastime, I tapped Tushar on the arm and asked if he’d be so kind as to pose for a picture with me. He happily agreed, but asked who would hold the camera. I told him not to worry, that I’m one of the best take-my-own-photo guys in the world.
And thus I got my picture taken with an utterly normal man with a connection to greatness I can’t possibly fathom, a great-grandfather whose ideals I try to embody and live my life by every day.
My friend’s mom here in Ahmedabad asked me why I’m spending all my money on travel. I think I need only tell her this story – finding a stunningly beautiful, different India in the park early in the morning and touching someone who, though far removed, represents the ideals by which I try to live – all before breakfast.
I chose to leave the shackles my corporate life imposed on me to instead be alive and free. I live to experience new things, like discovering a whole new world somewhere when you already think you have it figured out, or meeting a relative of someone you so admire. These are the enriching experiences I couldn’t have in my cubical or my apartment.
This is happiness for me.