By Upendra Mishra
BOSTON—As my trip to Mexico was nearing fruition towards the end of 1983 in JNU, my love and romance had literally gone back on the back-burner—except occassional outbursts and cravings for sweet company. My top priority had became to figure out how to plan my trip to Mexico, especially since I had no money–except one-way ticket to Mexico given to me by the government of India and one-year scholarship at El Colegio de Mexico, one of Latin America’s most prestigious institutes.
After my trip to Mexico was finalized and the departure date decided, I visited my remote village in Eastern UP to say good-bye to my family. It was emotional. For the first time someone from that area was going abroad. So many people—old, young and adults—came to meet , greet and wish me a great trip.
For my trip, my family also gave me Rs 300, which was then equal to $15. I had also saved a few hundred rupees, but not enough to buy a small suite case and other basic things I needed to take with me. While in the village, I remembered that when I had visited my step-mother’s parents for the first time, they had given me a golden ring and it was with my step-mother for safe-keeping. I went to her, and asked if I could take that ring. She gave me that ring happinly.
I had planned that when I would return to New Delhi, I will sell the ring and get some extra cash to buy things I needed. The most important among them, however, was to take my professor out for dinner at the nearby Siddharth Hotel in New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar. He always teased me to celebrate my upcoming Mexico trip. I knew he would pay for the dinner, but I made a deal with him that this time I will pay, and he proudly agreed.
“One condition, though,” he said playfully. What, Sir. Anything for you? I asked nervously. “You must invite that girl also for your farewell dinner,” he demanded seriously. I knew he was talking about my JNU friend. Whenever he would have a party or a get-together at his residence or at any Latin American embassy, he would always ask me to invite her. I often wonder what would have been going through in his mind when he would ask me to invite my friend. Prof. R. Narayanan, the man who singlehanded changed my life and put me on a track that has brought me up to this place, sadly passed away on March 6th last year. Whenever I used to visit India, his home used to be a must-stop for me. I often wonder, where I would have been without his help and blessings.
Nevertheless, a few days before I was supposed to leave New Delhi for Mexico City, Mexico, Prof. Narayanan and I went to Siddharth Hotel and had a lovely dinner. He kept teasing and asking me about my friend, and my response always was the same: a complete silence and a giant smile inside me. When the dinner was over, he took out his wallet to pay, and I said: “No way, Sir. Not this time.” Before leaving the restaurant at the hotel, he took out a napkin and wrote with his pen: “Mexico Chalo.”
I kept that napkin dearly and packed it with my other precious things, including that large notebook where I had written my poems during my Allahabad University days, and a letter that I had received from my doctor friend. One of my uncles had come to New Delhi to take back my belongings home. I had packed everything and went to drop him off at the New Delhi Railways station. While we were sitting on a bench at the railway platform, he told me three things very sternly: (1) Do not eat meat; (2) Do not drink alcohol; and (3) Do not marry a foreigner. After the train left, I came to a friend’s home, who would drop me at the airport the next day on his scooter. I could not sleep that night. I was so excited for the trip. For the first time I was going to not only see an airplane from so close but also travel in an airplane. I was nervous. I was also scared as I was traveling for the first time abroad. I was terrified. I also kept thinking about my professor and my JNU friend.
The next day in the morning, my friend dropped me at the Palam International Airport (now Indira Gandhi International Airport) on his scooter. I had only one small handbag to carry. At that time, we were allowed to buy only $20 at the airport for foreign travel. I went to the foreign exchange counter, and took out all the rupees and coins I had. I was able to buy only $8. I did not have enough money to buy even $20 allowed at that time.
With that $8, the Spanish book and the photo my friend had given me, an audio cassette of Pakeeza on one side and the Anarkali songs on the other side I had bought, and a few other belongings—and two more important items—I left New Delhi. After the immigration check, a fancy bus came at the exit to take all the passengers to the airplane for boarding. When I sat in this bus, I thought this was the actual airplane and I was a bit disappointed with the type of so-called aeroplane—until we finally reached the actual Air India plane.
The other important thing in my bag was an astrological chart (kundali) of the younger brother of my grandfather. He had passed away in early 1970s after suffering from cancer. When I was going to Allahabad to join the University of Allahabad, my grandfather gave me that rolled kundali and asked me to drop it in the holy Sangam (the meeting of Ganges and Yamuna rivers in Allahabad.) Also, he game a tiny branch of an amla tree that was literally dying. Someone had told him that if a branch of the tree was thrown in the Holy Ganges, the tree will survive.
I took both items, and promised him that I will do as asked. I kept procrastinating and never dropped them at the Sangam while I lived in Allahabad. When I came to JNU in New Delhi from Allahabad, I brought both items with me, hoping that when I visit Allahabad next, I will take care of them. I did not do that either. And, I could not throw them in the garbage either because I had made a promise to my grandfather. When I was going to Mexico, I kept them both items in my bag, hoping that when I will return to India I will go to Allahabad and I will drop them in Sangam. To make long story short on this item, I brought them with me to Los Angeles where I did my masters in Journalism and during the Christmas break, I visited India, went to Allahabad and finally dropped that kundali and the tree branch where Gangaes and Yamuna rivers meet—the holy place. I felt relieved.
Although I did not visit in Mexico, Central American, the Caribbean and Norway during this trip, I thought it will be be quite fitting to talk about my experiences in Latin America as part of my love and romantic journey. When romance turns into love and love into pleasure or vice versa, I have no idea. Sometimes they just happen randomly, it seems. They unfold without any design, I think but I am not sure.
When I moved to Mexico City, Mexico, in January 1984, I was in my early 20s and had just experienced the real love in JNU. Maybe it was not even love. May be it was just a figment of imagination or a wishful thinking. If it was the true love, why I could not gather courage to follow through? I left India abruptly without any closure, without knowing what I was going to do in the near future. No plan. Nothing. Nada. Neither personally nor professionally. No career in mind. The immediate goal was just “Chalo Mexico.”
After arriving in Mexico City, I became totally lost in the new country, new culture, new language, new food and everything new. My yearning for love gradually slipped away from my mind and heart. How can that be—if it was the true love? I often wondered about this. Sometimes I think it was real. If it was real, then I was either a coward because I did not have the courage to tell or I did not know love. During the early months of Mexico, these questions also faded away slowly.
During my first two years in Mexico, I met some loving and beautiful girls who became great friends. We traveled together, spent time together (not with all of them at the same time). After my binge dating, I also began to realize that despite all the fun and instant pleasures I was not at peace with myself. I felt inadequate emotionally.
As I was trying to become serious with my life and beginning to think of settling down, none of the girls in Mexico fit into my heart. To make the things worst, my uncle’s warning that “do not marry a foreigner” kept chiming in my head. In reality, what I was looking for was an intimacy, closeness, and I could not find it because I had closed myself to everyone. I had created layers after layers inside me. I was hoping that physical relationships will lead me to a peaceful and joyful place, and they did but temporarily. As time passed, every girl I would go out will remind me of my JNU friend. I will think of her and then I would either walk away or back off without any reason. My uncle’s warning was not helping me either.
When the joy and peace seemed unreachable, I turned to drinking. It did provide some relief for some time, but again I realized it was providing only a short-term respite. At the core, I was looking for that illusive intimacy. Later, I combined both alcohol and physical relationships, hoping that they together will lead me to my ultimate destination of happiness and closeness, but no. How could anyone become intimate when I myself was building the wall in every relationship and would not open up. After every outing, my heart will hanker for my JNU friend. Whenever I will go out with any girl, the face of my JNU friend would flash instantly. It would make me miserable and indecisive.
I still wonder about intimacy. A few years ago, a friend of mine had given me a book titled “Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee. It answered some of my eternal questions in a way. Those who are not familiar with this book, Palace of Illusions is a fictional autobiography of Draupadi based on the great Indian epic Mahabharat.
In one of chapters of the book, Draupadi is recalling lessons her sorceress had taught her. One of lessons she is recalling is about seduction, or the first role of a wife. “She demonstrated how to send out a lightning glance from the corner of the eye. How to bite, slightly, the swollen lower lip. How to make bangles ring as I raised my arm to pull a transparent veil into a place. How to walk, the back swaying just enough to hint at hidden pleasure,” Draupadi recalls. “In bed you must be different each day…sometimes a lioness, sometimes a trembling dove, sometimes a doe, matching its partner’s fitness.”
While sorceress was teaching the seduction techniques, Draupadi asked: “Teach me how to love my husband, and how to make him love me.”
Sorceress laughed out loud, and said: “I cannot teach you that. Loves comes like lightning, and disappears the same way. If you’re lucky, it strikes you right. If not, you’ll spend your life yearning for a man you can’t have. I advise you to forget about love, princess. Pleasure is simple, and duty more important. Learn to be satisfied with them.”
Somehow, I wonder may be the lightening did not strike me right the first time, but who knows. I am very grateful though that life has given me such an enriching experience.
Stay tuned for Pearls of Wisdom-7: Simple Pleasures of Life in Mexico and Norway.
(Mr. Mishra is managing partner of the Waltham, MA-based integrated inbound marketing and PR firm The Mishra Group. He writes about his three passions: marketing, scriptures and gardening.)