I met Teresa at the 1-day Vipassana course at Gorai last Sunday. She was a plump Spanish girl, ostensibly in her late 20s and spoke English with a charming accent and with much flailing of hands. She wore a white kurta and beige cotton trousers, and said a respectful ‘Namaste’ to everyone who smiled at her.
One of the assistants asked if I could drop her off at the railway station. I agreed. Another middle aged woman in a bright yellow sari volunteered as well, presumably captivated by Teresa’s profuse Namaste’s. The three of us walked to the Esselworld pier to take the ferry to Gorai.
I didn’t want to seem intrusive, but I was curious about Teresa, about what drew her to Vipassana. She had no qualms sharing, thankfully. She said that she worked in a bookstore in Spain, and was introduced to Vipassana by a friend two years ago. But there were no introductory courses in Spain at that time, so she travelled to France. ‘I stayed at the centre for 3 ½ months,’ she said, ‘I did a 10 day course each month and assisted at the centre for the rest of the time.’
She laughed at my incredulous expression and offered by way of explanation, ‘After I did the first course, I felt I wasn’t ready to get back into the world, so I stayed there for a while.’
In the ferry, the yellow sari lady pulled out a single toffee from her bag and offered it to me. I made polite noises and declined. She offered it to Teresa who accepted it delightedly. The yellow sari lady looked very gratified and boldly pushed another toffee in my palm.
‘Your country is very nice,’ she said, ‘but not so nice for me to buy things here. If I go to buy Indian clothes, they charge me double.’
I sympathised with her, and impulsively offered, ‘Would you like me to take you to some places in town?’
She readily agreed, without any coyness. Her trusting nature amazed and worried me.
The auto drivers on the other side of the creek called out respectfully when they saw the three of us, ‘Yes medem, Boroli teshun?’ Respect turned into belligerence when I flatly told them I would only pay by the meter. Finally, one acquiesced and we headed back into the chaos of the city.
‘Obviously Vipassana made a big difference to you, since you decided to come here…’ I murmured, hoping it didn’t sound nosy.
She nodded and added, ‘But everyone in my family thinks I’m…’ She tapped the side of her head and pulled a comic face. ‘My friends say, we respect your decision, but they don’t understand it. I feel so lonely in my country.’
So that’s why she headed eastwards. She had a year’s visa, an open ticket and no plan. She was to go to Igatpuri, do a few courses, serve at the centre and then head out to the Vipassana centres in Bodh Gaya or Nepal.
‘I feel good being here. I feel happy,’ she said.
She was either supremely equanimous or supremely naïve, I decided. She’d just told me of the harrowing morning spent going round in circles and getting fleeced by cab drivers on the way to Gorai.
We were stuck in an almighty traffic jam for a while. Finally, the ‘source’ of the jam lumbered into view. An elephant!
Teresa clapped her hands and exclaimed, ‘Oooh, Ive never seen an elephant before.’ I started laughing and almost had a choking fit when she said, ‘Aaj main bahoot khush hoon.’ Even the hitherto unimpressed auto driver gawped at her in the rear view mirror.
The hordes at ‘Bolivari station’ (as Teresa called it) played the usual ‘avoid-subway-dodge-traffic’ game. I looked at Teresa to see if she was overwhelmed by it all. She seemed caught up in the adventure of it.
The yellow sari lady couldn’t keep up with the conversation in English, so I stopped every few moments to translate. Suddenly Teresa asked her, ‘Aap khush hai.’ The yellow sari lady blinked in surprise.
Teresa turned to me, ‘Is that an inappropriate question?’
I guessed the yellow sari lady had a problem understanding the accent and translated. She looked surprised again, like the question had never occurred to her, and said bemusedly, ‘Main khush hi to hoon. Khush na hone ki kya baat hai.’
She went away shaking her head. Meanwhile, Teresa was captivated by the food stalls at the station. ‘Do you want to have a juice?’ she asked. I looked warily at the nimbupani wondering if she had the stomach for it. She seemed keen, so I suggested a Frooti. She sipped it and smacked her lips, marvelling, ‘In my country the juices are so watery. This is so tasty and thick.’ I couldn’t help laughing, because I disliked Frooti for the same reason.
‘So we meet on Tuesday?’ she asked a little anxiously. ‘If it’s out of your way, I could come to Bolivari’.
When I assured her that it was no problem, she thanked me and then hugged me.
‘Um… hasta la vista,’ I murmured. She threw back her head and laughed.
Next: Tuesday with Teresa.