One of the retreat attendees was the woman with the wise eyes whose purse I had silently admired at one of the public satsangs during our early days in Tiru. She and her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren were on a spiritual pilgrimage from their home in Germany. They had been living in Tiru for several months, and after attending a few of Devaji’s public satsangs, she and her daughter decided to sign up for the retreat and attended most sessions.
After we could speak again, I approached her and, in an uncensored moment, told her how much I had admired her spangly purse the first time I had seen her at that public satsang. She immediately asked me if I had a plastic bag. I looked at her quizzically. “If you have something to put my belongings in, the purse is yours,” she said, smiling. Though genuinely touched, I thanked her for her generosity and responded that I couldn’t possibly accept it. She, however, was adamant, so I went to my room, found a plastic Ziplock bag and returned to her. She unceremoniously transferred all the contents of her purse to the plastic bag and handed the beautiful cloth purse over to me. I accepted it mixed feelings, but in the end, the purity of her offering won over my reticence. The cloth bag, covered in sequins, spangles and pearls, was indeed lovely. Smelling strongly of incense, it was frayed in places from being carried by this dear woman, whose name I don’t remember, but whose kind gesture I will never forget. It is one of my prized possessions from the journey.
After participating in group photos, five of us joined the throng, comprised predominantly of barefoot Indians in traditional saris and sarongs. There was a celebratory feeling in the air that felt appropriate on this, our last formal retreat day. We walked with the crowd for a mile or so in the warm, humid air, basking in retreat afterglow and enjoying the sense of camaraderie, and then turned around and went against the tide, returning to the ashram.
After dinner we relaxed and chatted for a spell, taking in the surreal vibe--a greenish cast lent an eerie air to the entire scene. Sitting at a nearby table against the outside wall were three men, framed by the lush vegetation outside, speaking English with a British accent and exchanging tales of adventures. One with wild hair and eyes, who looked like he had seen and done it all, punctuated his animated conversation with erratic gestures that only amplified a sense that I was witness to some intrigue. It was all good theater, and I slept deeply that night for the first time in a long while.
Next: Departure and Homecoming