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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Life's Lessons - Who taught me What? (13)

            This post is a little different. This is not about "who" taught me, but "how" travels taught me some important lessons. That includes travels in general and specific travels.

What did Travels teach me?

Travels taught me many things about life and living.

The most important lessons were about being open-minded and flexible. I learnt that there is no one correct way to deal with daily tasks and life’s issues. There are many ways, each suitable to its place and context. For example, Chinese end their dinners often with soup or salad. The western culture starts dinners with soup. Indians mix soup with their main dish. (Incidentally, the word soup in English, Zuppa in Italian are similar to the word soopah in Sanskrit. This is an example of how travels gave me an interest in linguistics)

It is good to be prudent and plan, but not plan so much that spontaneity is lost. For example, when we (Ramaa and me) were in Turkey, we broke from our group and walked on our own. It so happened that this was near a University Campus. We stopped at a bookstore. A student who was working there wanted to practice his English. He told us many things the tour guide did not cover. More important, he introduced us to a Turkish writer most admired by Turkish people. The author’s name is Irfan Orga. We bought one of his books (Portrait of a Turkish Family) and found it fascinating.

This leads me to another lesson both Ramaa and myself learnt. Whenever we went to a new country, we wanted to experience three things – their food, their language and their music. To get these experiences, we must have an open mind and some amount of adventure. (Ramaa was more adventurous and, I had to keep her under some control for her safety) If we are going to stay within our own comfort zone, how can we understand another culture?  

We used to ask the locals what their “signature” dish (food) is, who their best author is and who their most admired musician is. Yes, we have tasted vegetarian and non-vegetarian food in every country we had visited. We have read at least one book by that country’s famous author in English translation. We often bought one tape or CD of each country’s famous musician. This is cultural education, even though that is not enough to give us a deep understanding of any culture. Ideally, we should immerse ourselves  in that culture by living among the locals for a few months. 

 I would like to share this habit, this lesson we learnt with youngsters. This will help open their minds to develop respect and tolerance to other people’s points of view and ways of doing things.

Travel with Visu: The very first travel experience without my family members was with Visu. It is one of the most memorable. I was in high school at that time. My brother made it possible, as usual. We had a marvelous time. We stayed in modest hotels and ate cheap but hot meals. Visu taught me how to find good places to eat, how to negotiate price and how not to panic, if things do not go as planned. Once we missed a train – almost. Visu’s comment: “So what? We take the next train going our way!”

The most remarkable memory was our visit to Ramana Ashram and the darshan of Ramana Maharishi. What an impression it left! I did not know at that time he was suffering from some tumor of the bone and had surgery on his arm “without anesthesia”. I learnt about that several years later. But I remember that he passed away a few weeks after we had the darshan. The peace in his presence and the glow of his body are still fresh in memory. They still influence me during my meditation times. The other lesson was: “ Ramana was also a human being. No one can escape illness and death. If a soul as serene and divine as Ramana can get cancer, what other human being can escape disease?”

The first trip to USA was a memorable one. That was the first time I travelled by plane. It was not jet age yet. I flew by TWA, “Super-constellation” and it took 3 days from Bombay to New York! It was hop - step - and - jump with several stops for refueling. It was monsoon season and naturally it was pouring rain at Mumbai. But I was so excited about the future, the present moment became exciting.

I learnt for the first time how to eat using knives and fork and how to open a milk carton. There was no one to teach, except the one in the next seat.

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