My visa to stay in India was coming to an end. Among the many places that I regret not having visited I would highlight the birthplace of the Buddha, Lumbini, at the borderline between India and Nepal. However, those three months had given me much more than I ever imagined. Now I had to get a plane in Kathmandu’s airport and fly to Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay), on the west coast of India.
The departure was announced with delay, due to technical problems in the aircraft. After waiting for many hours, the flight was canceled and we were moved to a hotel. It was nothing less than a five-star hotel, and I was allocated in a room overlooking the stupa of Boudhanath, whose huge painted eyes seemed to look at me with curiosity, as if trying to tell me something. I shared the room with a merchant of Persian rugs, an extroverted chubby Muslim. After chatting for a while, I asked him if he could recommend me a hostel in Mumbai. “Of course,” he said. “There is one in the way to my house. We can share the taxi.” We went down together to the restaurant to enjoy the buffet, and then (just myself) to the pool. After months of rice with vegetables, chapattis, bananas and cheap hostel rooms, the unexpected luxury didn´t seem to match with the rest of my previous experiences. Just when we were about to sleep, we were told to get ready: the plane was fixed. Indeed, just one hour later we were taking off from Kathmandu.
We landed in Mumbai in the middle of the night, and I shared a taxi with the merchant. Before getting out of the taxi where he indicated, I gave him a kata (Tibetan scarf) as a token of appreciation. The taxi pulled away and I stood in front of a locked door. If that was a hostel, they were not waiting for a customer at such unusual hour. I was at some point of the second most populous city in the world, in the middle of the night, and not precisely in the posh area. I was the only person who walked through the streets, but not the only one that occupied them, as hundreds of bodies lay on the floor, as if a neutron bomb had exploded killing the people but leaving intact the buildings.
I began to recite the mantra of great compassion and to walk without knowing where I was heading to, trying not to disturb all that sleeping humanity. The steps led me to a police station. I sighed with relief, and sat on a bench in front. The officer on duty came out of the building to check out who was the visitor.
“Good night,” I said. “I come from the airport and wondered if I could stay here the rest of the night.” The officer thought for a while and finally swung his head in a typically Indian gesture that means okay. I sat back and waited, half asleep, half awake, for the dawn.
“How strange,” I thought while reviewing the events of that weird night which had begun as one of the most luxurious and had finished as one of the most miserable of my life. From the comfortable bed of a luxurious hotel to the bench of a poor suburb. The lifestyle of the whole trip was self-balanced in a surprisingly sudden way.
Certainly, life has a lot more of imagination and fantasy than of Cartesian rationalism, regardless how much we Westerners have tried otherwise during the last three centuries.
With the light of the dawn and the chirping of the birds, we all got up little by little. Twenty millions of yawns, stretches, pisses, clearings of mouths … the sounds of life itself willing to jump on stage one more day. As Freddy Mercury said shortly before stepping out of it: “The show must go on!”.
I spent that day walking down across crowds, heavy traffic, skyscrapers, huts, dilapidated colonial buildings and temples. I rested next to a mysterious pond called Banganga, and continued as far as the “Gateway of India”, a huge arch of triumph with the perfect name for my farewell. That night I flew away, back to Japan.