Single Indian women walk the Narmada Parikrama too; some even barefoot or with their few months old baby. When I was crossing the woman seen in the picture, I could not believe my eyes. I was just about to exit Shoolpani area, when I see her sitting on the road, holding her baby in the arms and hiding from the burning sun in the shadow of a tree. I wonder why this woman sits on the road. Then I see her Kamandal and walking stick, the typical signs of a Parikramawasi. No, it can’t be. Is she doing the Narmada Parikrama with her baby? I stop, smile and give one of my biscuit packs to her. She smiles back. But I feel it to be a careful smile with a protective screening of who we are. Shortly afterwards fate brings us together over a tea invite by villagers. In tears of pain she shares her story. “Don’t walk with your baby. I know someone who can help. I will cross the river and bring you there. My Parikrama does not mean anything. I can help you.” Parikramawasi Deepak says. “My mind is not ready. I need to be with Mother Narmada” she replies with tears running down her cheeks. We try to reason her, but there is nothing we can do. It is her wish. Eventually we keep walking. All of us feel highly disturbed. We are humbled and silenced by this meeting. Everyone has their own reasons to walk the Narmada Parikrama.
But if you are a young white woman reading my blog, please do not get fascinated to walk this Narmada Parikrama on your own. I did not walk on my own but with my two Indian friends Sachin and Sajesh. It is NOT a good idea for a somewhat young white woman to walk alone on this Narmada Parikrama. She attracts a lot of attention. Selfie requests came from both women and men. But it was primarily men who got really excited to see me. Their intention is not ill willed but rather out of curiosity. Yet most of the time there was a great lack of awareness on how to approach
Imagine a pink elephant walking through your streets. Of course you would stop, look, take pictures and try to connect with that elephant. It is a natural human trait. Once we overheard a young village girl, who saw me passing her house, shouting to her family “Come! Come quickly! An alien is passing!” Her mother runs to the door, sees me and gives a slight smack on the girl’s head. “It is a white person, not an alien”.
Due to me, Sachin and Sajesh got flooded with endless requests and calls. Thankfully I had the escape of not speaking Hindi, which left Sachin and Sajesh to repeat hundreds of times the same introduction about me. “She is from Germany,” they say. “Oh, you are from the land where white people live” others would reply. Of course being a white female Parikramawasi came with great benefits too. We got many more tea and meal invites. While starving and not knowing when and how we will get a meal or tea, the sound of “Betho. Betho. Stop. Stop. Have chai. Eat!” from strangers across the road are in that moment the very sweetest words I can hear. During my Parikrama I became like a child. Every bag of biscuits which was offered, usually Parle-G, was like Christmas to me. It would be the nicest gift I could get. Like a child looking at sweets, I would open both my hands, receive each pack with a big smile and proclaim a cheerful Narmade Har to the giver.
Instead of thinking about God, I thought about tea and biscuits; and when and how I may receive them. When our stomach is empty, food becomes God. I started to wonder about myself and many funny traits that started to arise in me. How easy it was for someone to get a smile from me for a 5 Rupees tea. What a dependency on food I have! Receiving anything, but especially food that was cooked by someone else, creates a lot of subtle ties and influences. There is a reason why Sadhaka’s only consume meals that they prepared themselves.
People would always give me the first choice. If there was a blanket, it would be given to me. If there was a chance to heat the water on fire, it would be offered to me. If there was some more tea left, it would be poured into my cup. They address women as Mataji as Mother. I see love and respect in their eyes. People of the Narmada Valley truly honor the sacred feminine. They see Mother in everything and everyone. And I feel so very deeply grateful to the many souls who served so lovingly and selflessly, specially Sachin and Sajesh. Nothing is for free in life. I have a great debt to pay off, a great responsibility to honor for the rest of my life: To serve others how I was served!
But all this attention also meant that newspaper and TV media would literally chase us down. One guy drove against the traffic on a national highway and parked his car in the middle of the lane to ask for a selfie. Others physically pushed me, held me and insisted I shall come to their family home for a tea. Another followed us for a couple of days, calculated our walking speed and tried to locate our whereabouts. He would give me bananas, sweets, tea, touch my feet and ask for blessings. The contradiction is, that as much as I tried to escape from this drama, as much my stomach was so very grateful to receive the offerings.
Most act simply out of pure love. They see Maa Narmada in us Parikramawasis, specially a female Parikramawasi. They feel so much love, that they can’t help themselves. Love overwhelms us. Others simply act out of curiosity. I never felt in a dangerous situation; not during this Parikama nor during my entire time living in India. I feel more save here in India than in Europe (of course I follow and am aware of cultural sensitivities). It was at times just incredibly intimidating.
I feel very grateful to Sachin and Sajesh for walking together with me. Their individual Parikrama experience got altered due to my presence and they added immense security and comfort to my journey. Without them I could have not started nor completed this journey!