We Precipitate a Fist-fight Outside the Pune Marriott

This story is out-of-place and out of time.   But I ended up writing about it this morning, so here it is, and I’ll try to get up to date on our trip soon.  Since my family arrived I’ve had less time alone for writing my blog!

One thing we are learning is that you can get a pretty good read on a person right away, if you will only trust your impression.   During the times we’ve had trouble with a tuk-tuk driver, for example, Jennifer and I have had an immediate bad feeling about the person. Unfortunately, the impression is subtle, and we have not always acted on it–refusing to engage and walking away and have regretted it.

This seems like common sense, but when someone has an open friendly face and demeanor, a person who engages with you in a friendly way, looks you in the eye, they usually turn out to be an honest, friendly person.   The times when a person has had a brooding, sullen, silent, shifty, unfriendly demeanor, often with their personal hygiene and appearance looking more shabby, it’s best to stay away.  I’m not sure if that sounds conservative.  Sometimes people are just down on their luck.  And of course there are naked holy men walking around.   But most often, these less open an friendly people have been the ones who have cheated us or tried to cheat us. I remember there was a book that came out a few years ago about how women should trust their instincts.  Of course, there are exceptions, such as the slick con artist, the woman at the Gateway to India on my first visit.

Anyway, on our second day in Pune, it was Jennifer’s birthday!    As a treat, we took a tuk-tuk to the Pune Baking Company in the Marriott Hotel, for espresso drinks and treats for the boys.   We had a fine ride over, and a very nice air-conditioned time at the coffee shop.  A real relief since our flat is not air-conditioned.

As we were leaving, on the way out to the street, we were looking for a tuk-tuk.   A driver at the corner waved us over.  (Beware of the overly helpful!)   So we went.   He was a bit shabby looking, with long stringy hair, poorly shaven, and without an open clear face.  There were two tuk-tuks sitting there.  We got into the first one, not the one of the guy who hailed us over.  I knew that usually you take the one in front, as they line up like taxi cabs at airports.   The driver didn’t seem to know the place we wanted to go.   So we got out and moved to the one in front. Jennifer and the boys got in.  I was asking the driver how many rupees it was going to cost.

Then a young guy in jeans and a polo shirt walked up.  He started talking to the driver, intervening in the conversation, talking in Marathi or Hindi to him and to me in English.  Evidently, he was worried about the driver cheating us.   We hadn’t agreed on a price, but the young guy was emphatic.

The driver was angry.  He says:  “Do you know this guy?  He says he’s a student. Are you a professor?”

“Yes, I am a professor.

“Is he your student?  Look, he’s smoking!!!!!”

He held up the student’s cupped hand in which he was holding a cigarette.  I’m thinking, “Why the hell would I care if he’s smoking.”  I made a gesture showing I didn’t’ care.

The student said, “Don’t let these guys cheat you. They are supposed to used the meter.  They’re trying to cheat you.”

This is all weird.  Whether you pay 50 or 100 rupees is not that big a deal — a dollar or a dollar and a half.  And I felt that his help was a little premature, as I had not even settled on a price with the driver. We had just taken a metered ride from the flat to the hotel, so I knew what the price should be.   Plus, he probably thought we had just arrived in India and didn’t know what we were doing, when this was my third trip to India, and on this one I’d already been here a month and taken many tuk-tuk rides.

My basic rule is, “No meter, no tip.”   I tip generously. If the meter says 50 rupees, I give a 100.  I want to share some of my Fulbright funds with ordinary folks, not just hotel owners and airlines.  But if a driver want to try to negotiate a price instead of using the meter as he’s supposed to do, they’re going to be worse off.

Anyway, the guys are starting to really argue. Jennifer seeing that this was not going well, gets herself and the boys out of the tuk-tuk and says, “Come on, Michael. Let’s find someone else.”

I think, okay, that’s a wise move. I start to move off toward the family and then hear shouting behind me. The driver and the college guy are really yelling at each other.  They begin to push and scuffle.  Then the long-haired driver swings and hits the college kid.

I yell, “Hey, you guys, break it up! ” I go back to try to do something.  I was feeling bad since the college kid had been trying to help.

They keep shoving and pushing each other. As I get close to them, Jennifer yells,
“Come on, Michael.   Don’t get involved in that!”

I turn back.  As I do I look back and the driver’s wrestled the college guy to the sidewalk.  He’s on top of him.  I start to go back to help.  But Jennifer and the boys are walking toward the hotel entrance. She tells a security guard that there’s trouble. I pass the hotel gate and tell another guard that there’s a fight on the corner. The guards (there are security guards everywhere) go over and start breaking up the fight.   I stop to see what happens. The guards have separated them.   They guys are still swinging, yelling at each other.

I catch up to the family.

“Let’s cross the street and cross the main street and we’ll get a tuk-tuk on the quiet street we came in on.”

So, we do.  I’m worried about Aidan and Kellen.   I say, “Everyone was okay. I watched to make sure no one got hurt. The guards broke up the fight.”

I can tell that Aidan is upset.  I keep reassuring him.  He’s quick-witted, always looking for solutions.  He says,

“I like older tuk-tuk drivers. I don’t think we should use the young ones anymore.”

The rest of Jennifer’s birthday day went off without a hitch.

 

 

 

Back in Mumbai, To Pick Up My Family

A taxi brought me the three hours from Pune to Mumbai, so I can meet my family at the Mumbai airport tonight at 11:30.  A very nice driver named, Shankar, brought me.  After we said goodbye, I felt I should have tipped him more than I did.  I never know exactly what amount one should tip.  2011-02-22-CentralMumbaiskyline

 

 

 

 

Mumbai_704x385 Mumbai_skyline88907

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I just can’t wait to see my family!   The poor things will be so tired after some 30 hours flying time.  Boys

Since becoming a father, I have realized how deep a parent’s bond is to their children, a feeling of an almost physical connection.  In one of my poems, I have a line that refers to “this animal belonging-together.”   It’s like that.  You feel connected on a cellular, instinctual, animal level.  When I’m away from them, I feel some
physical part of me has been severed.  wolfpack

 

 

 

 

 

Probably because of being away from them, in reading the news these past weeks, I have been feeling especially sad for the parents of the children lost in the South Korean ferry disaster.  I can’t imagine what they must be going through.  article-2610136-1D40F0B700000578-49_634x419

 

 

 

 

 

In a text from Amsterdam, Jennifer told me that poor Kellen threw up on the plane to the Netherlands.  But I was so glad to hear that they made it safely there.  Now, they’re on their final flight.

After my very hot, three-hour drive, I’m back at the West End hotel, in south Mumbai, not that close to the airport, but the Fulbright folks suggested it again, so I went for it.   I think we’ll stay for two nights, so Jennifer and the boys will have a free day tomorrow and we can see the Gate of India and some sights I saw three years ago when I first came.   Here are a couple of pics from my first trip.

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026The Gate of India is where everyone arrived by boat before the days of air travel.   It’s on the Arabian Sea, and of course Americans and Europeans had to go through the Suez Canal to get down here.  A pretty cool adventure it must have been.

 

Everywhere I go I am so impressed at how kind and friendly the Indian people are.  The folks at the United States-India Education Foundation have been especially amazing.  Here’s a shout-out to Sachin and Amrita, who have helped make this trip smooth-sailing so far!

Four more hours and I get to see Jennifer and the boys!

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I Interrupt these deep thoughts about the Divine, to file an update about my efforts at being registered as a foreign researcher in India

Dear Friends,

If you read my post of a week and a half ago, about my epic struggle to get registered as a Foreign Researcher in India, I have an update.

We left off with my having completed all forms, gotten all signatures, having stood in long, hot lines at numerous counters in two different police stations, inveighing and pleading, squirming and twitching before the faces of the bureaucracy.  After those many hours and several days of effort, I was told to return in 10 days to pick up my certificate.  Okay.

IMG_8887Yesterday, one of the very kind souls at the United States-India Education Foundation kindly called the FRO to ask about what time I should drop by.  I was told, “any time between 10 and 1 and that I should bring all my papers.”   Okay!

I was ready.

FRO      I hired my tuk-tuk and headed over.   I had a foreboding feeling, but I figured that was just being gun-shy after my earlier traumas.   So, I get there, and ask where to go to pick up my certificate.  I am told this, by about ten people I kept asking and re-asking:
WE HAD A COMPUTER MAL-FUNCTION.  YOU NEED TO GO TO THE WEBSITE AND APPLY ONLINE.

I was able to understand that all my forms and my application had been lost.   I had to start over.  That whole epic struggle of a week ago and all its progress had been for naught!

I had to use the ‘ONLINE FORM” which 10 days before I had been told NOT TO USE.

FRO2

 

 

 

 

 

I had to find an Internet cafe, because I would need to fill out forms, scan documents. print things, copy things.   Cyber cafes are not so numerous as they were before the days of wi-fi and iPhones.  But I found one in a hot basement behind some stores.

DSC02778   I spent hours there, filling out forms, uploading, scanning, printing, copying. Sizing and resizing my passport photo.  Luckily, as always the guy in charge was so incredibly nice and helpful.  I think all Indian people are so nice because basically we are all going through this hell together, and we bond over it.    There were many people there from the FRO office.

By the time I finished, I walked out into the mid-afternoon blazing heat, and thought I was going to pass out from heat exhaustion.  I let a guy shine my shoes, paid him exorbitantly, and went and got a cold bottle of water.

I went back to FRO, and stood in four different lines for about one half-hour each, and by the end of the day, got to the exact place I had been at ten days before:

Come back in 10 days to pick up your registration certificate.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Some Thoughts About “That Thing” Some People Call “God”

What happens in deep meditation and contemplation?  Different religions have weighed in on this question.  And when we compare those answers, we discover something pretty amazing.

In doctrine and dogma, imagery, ritual and practice, religions differ greatly.  They try to articulate the “truth.”  They have been known to fight, kill, and die for their “beliefs.”     (And isn’t it interesting that most people follow the religion they happen to have been born into–and believe that that one just happens to be the really true one.  How lucky I was!)  christian persecution iraqi-refugees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But when we listen to people of different faiths when they talk or write about their inner life of prayer and meditation, especially the writings of great contemplatives and mystics, we find them talking in very similar terms about what they encounter:

An experience of peace, stillness, tranquility, often a feeling of expansiveness, joy or bliss, and of a deep and abiding love growing in their hearts.  Out of this time of prayer and meditation, they find in their daily lives a greater sense of calm, fewer occasions for upset, a greater sense of connection to people and to nature, a growing love and compassion for others.  And often out of this experience of greater love and connection, comes a desire to serve and care for others.   amma-rajbhavan3 burma-myanmar-clinton-military-hunta-economy-china-us-9-20111129 mother_teresa_tout

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been reading and studying the works of the world’s mystics and contemplatives for most of my life, since I first discovered them in college.

I was struck then by the similarities in descriptions of their inner experience.

Saint John of the Cross’s or Thomas Merton’s descriptions of Union with God (in Dark Night of the Soul and In Seeds of Contemplation) sounded strikingly similar to Paramahansa Yogananda’ description of samadhi in Autobiography of a Yogi, and to Buddhist descriptions of satori or awakening, to Rumi’s descriptions of Fana–annihilation in God.

enlightenment- night-startled-by-the-lark-1820 therese1 It seemed that apart from the divergent doctrines of the different faiths, the contemplatives were encountering something very similar in their meditation.

It was clear that when they tried to explain their experiences, they reverted to the doctrines of their particular faith, Christian mystics talking about “The Presence of Christ or the Holy Spirit.”  Yogis talking about “The Union of the Atman (individual soul) with Brahman (God, the Universal Soul).  Buddhists describing the experience of “emptiness.”  Sufis celebrating  “annihilation in Allah.”  Yet, if we look carefully at their descriptions of what they felt and experienced, before they try to name and explain it, we encountered something very similar.  And, they all say that what they have experienced cannot be described in words. samadhi samadhi2

What is this Reality experienced and described by those of different faiths?

In this and the next two posts, I’ll offer some thoughts about how mystics of the six main world religions–Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam talk about that Reality experienced in prayer and contemplation.

Let’s begin with Taoism, the ancient Chinese philosophical, ethical, and religious system, which dates from the sixth century, BCE. 

Taoism first of all emphasizes the ineffability of such experience.

 The Tao that can be told of
is not the Eternal Tao
The Name that can be named
is not the Eternal Name

bamboo1According to tradition, Taoism was started by the enigmatic character Lao Tse.   “The Tao” (pronounced “Dao” and often transliterated today as “Dao,” though I like the elegance of the-old fashioned transliteration, “Tao”) is often translated as “The Way.”  It refers to the nature of being, the absolute truth behind the changing phenomena of the world.  It is aligned with nature.  Tao denotes something that is both the source and the driving force behind everything that exists.   Like “The Force” — of Star Wars, which is where Lucas got the idea, of course.

     It is ultimately ineffable.  Essential to understanding the nature of the Tao is this realization that it is beyond words, beyond thought, beyond language, beyond concept.  But the good news is that it can be experienced.

Through meditation and living in harmony with nature, one becomes one with the Tao.

The Tao lives inside of us and outside of us.  It is our true nature.  We go astray when we think of ourselves and separate entities, focused on our own wants and needs, desires and ambitions.

“Ever desiring one sees the manifestations.
Ever desireless, one see the Tao.”

lao-tse“Embracing Tao, you become embraced.
Supple, breathing gently, you become reborn.
Clearing your vision, you become clear.
Nurturing your beloved, you become impartial.
Opening your heart, you become accepted.
Accepting the World, you embrace Tao.
Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
Controlling without authority,
This is love.  This is the Tao.”

Buddhism asserts that what exists beyond the changing phenomena of the world and what is encountered in meditation is “Emptiness.”  Now, this seems depressing.  Just like the first of the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths”–that suffering is intrinsic, inherent in human existence.  A Western wit once remarked that whereas Jesus brought the “Good News” of the Gospels, Buddha brought the “bad news” about suffering.  And Emptiness.

But if we go a little deeper into what is meant by “Emptiness,” we find something pretty liberating.  In his book on the central scripture of the northern or Mahayana school of Buddhism, the “Heart Sutra,” the Dalai Lama defines emptiness as “the true nature of things and events.”  dalai lamaThe Buddhist writer Louis Richards has interpreted explains,

that nothing we see or hear (or are) stands alone; everything is a tentative expression of one seamless, ever-changing landscape. So though no individual person or thing has any permanent, fixed identity, everything taken together is what Thich Nhat Hanh thay-w-bellcalls “interbeing.” This term embraces the positive aspect of emptiness as it is lived and acted by a person of wisdom — with its sense of connection, compassion and love.”

No one and nothing “in itself” has an independent, fixed, permanent existence.  It is, we are, empty of a separate existence, because everything is interdependent, connected to everything else and constantly changing.   Every seven years all my cells are new.   The food I eat becomes part of me.  The air I breathe.

This is well-known by science.

When we experience “emptiness” in meditation, it is not a kind of frightening void.  Rather, people describe it as spaciousness, infinite freedom, a feeling of a connection to all things, joy, bliss, compassion, love.

Lewis Richmond writes that “my teacher Shunryu Suzuki said of emptiness, “‘I do not mean voidness. There is something, but that something is something which is always prepared for taking some particular form.’ Another time, speaking of the feeling tone of emptiness, he said, ‘Emptiness is like being at your mother’s bosom and she will take care of you.'”

The other reason Buddhists use the term Emptiness is to emphasize that if we give this experience, the Reality behind phenomena a positive name or image or concept, then we have a mental construct that we then try to realize.  But Reality cannot be contained in the mind.   It is right in front of us, it is who we really are, but the mind cannot grasp or hold it.  When we make mental images or concepts about it, what have really done is to  create an idol that stands before us and that Reality.

 

Next Post:  How Hinduism and Judaism talk about that Ultimate Reality.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Days at the Mandir

I’ve been in India for two weeks now, and for almost that long here in Pune, visiting the mandir (the ashram) everyday.

Goodbye to Mandir 006I’ve found I love going over at 5:30 in the morning for a walking meditation around the temple building through the gardens, singing a famous, ancient chant, called the Hanuman Chalisa.  We do this in the dark.  It’s a long chant, and I have a little book with the chant that I got when I was here in 2011.  Since it’s dark, I started bringing one of those little reading lights so I can see what we’re chanting. It seems  a little strange but it works.

5;30 is a wonderful, cool time of day, with so many birds singing and crying out.  Here’s one of the gray-headed crows.
003After the Chalisa, we go  into the temple, for meditation, the Arati ritual–the waving of the flame before the altar–with more chanting.  Afterwards, we sit down, facing the altar for the singing of bhajans, spiritual songs, meditation, and chants.

The mandir was started by two gurus, Sri Dilip Kumar Roy and Ma Indira Devi, my guru.  “Ma” means mother, a name often used for female gurus by their disciples.  (Guru is one “who leads you from darkness to the light.”   Etymologically, though, the word comes  from a Sanskrit word that means, “heavy,” like, “That dude’s heavy with wisdom!”)   Sri Dilip Kumar Roy was a famous classical Indian singer and left a fabulous singing profession to become a disciple of Sri Aurobindo,  Sri_aurobindoan Indian freedom fighter and later a famous Indian writer and guru.

 

 

 

 

Ma DivanMa India Devi came from a very wealthy family from Baluchastan, an area that is now in Pakistan.  Her family were Sikhs — probably one reason I love the Sikhs so much!  She was a was a classical Indian dancer and great philanthropist, but like Dadaji (Dada means “brother,” the term devotees use here for Sri Dilip Kumar Roy. —  “ji” is a little affectionate ending added to someone’s name.  You can add it to your partner’s or child’s name, even in English. Try it!  I think of it as something like “sweetie-pie”), Ma Indira Devi similarly left her worldly life to become Dilip Kumar’s disciple.  This pattern of abandoning a worldly life to become a spiritual seeker is a classic pattern in India–one also followed by the Buddha.

Ma Indira Devi and Sri Dilip Kumar Roy wrote a classic dual autobiography, Pilgrims of the Stars, which I read back in the 1970s.  I was on a different yogic path at the time, but the book stayed with me.  Little did I know then that Ma would turn out to be my guru.

A famous yogic aphorism says, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.”   I wasn’t yet ready.  I had to go through a few more spiritual crises, first!

The guru-disciple relationship is a special one, and it’s said that it can continue for many lifetimes.  That your guru will never abandon you, but will lead you to the Infinite even if it takes you a very, very long time.  Another yogic saying says, “God, guru, and self are one.”  The guru is a kind of channel to the divine, a kind of empty vessel, really.   Empty of ego.

Not everyone finds one particular teacher or guru to follow, but for those who do, it’s a very special and mysterious relationship.  The guru principle more generally stands for anything or anyone that can act as a teacher for you.  It could be nature, or a concept like love, or your partner.  For the famous guru Ramana Maharshi, it was a mountain, Arunachala, sacred to Shiva.

Deepam Festival, note fire on top of Arunachala

Deepam Festival, note fire on top of Arunachala

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ma Indira Devi passed away in 1998, and I never got to see her in her body.  But one of the devotees here, told me that Milarepa, the great Tibetan Buddhist teacher, once said that a guru’s (he would have said “Lama’s”) real work begins after they leave their body.

(To all my atheistic-Buddhist, atheistic-scientist, atheistic-rationalist friends, this all sounds loony.  Thanks for loving me, anyway.)

The mandir today has just five resident monks and nuns, in addition to many lay people who come everyday for the meditation, chanting, and services.  I wrote about some of them in my 2011 blog.   But I’d like to mention them again, because I love talking about them!

The two I know best are two nuns, Manjuji and Bharatiji, sisters who were both professors, of chemistry and engineering.   After they met Ma they left their professions and became nuns at the ashram.  I think of Bharati as the mother superior, who always takes care of me, when Karishma (below) is not here.  Manjuji in 2011 used to sit down and rub her open hand on the place beside her to invite me to sit down by her and then tell me story after miraculous story about saints and spiritual teachers of India, many of whom she had met.  These days she says she is trying to not talk so much and spends most of her time in meditation.  I miss those stories but know that there are many monks and nuns who take vows of silence.

Everyone has an amazing story about how they got here.  Karishma and her husband Udo came 24 years ago from Germany and met Ma.  The next year they came back and never left.  I LOVE them.   The moment I saw Udo, he seemed like someone I have known all my life.  He is such a sweet, bright, kind man.  Very bright.  They are both very deeply spiritual, very evolved.   Karishma is of Greek descent.  Dark hair, full of spiritual fire.  They are both in their fifties.   She is very intense.  She’s the one who takes care of me.   He’s very joyful.   As noted earlier, they are in Germany right now.       


Rajkumar, whom I’d also been in touch with from the US,  is a brilliant, 44-year-old cardiologist from Chennai (Madras).  He cared for Ma for forty days as she was dying. He was a skeptic and atheist when he first came.


Rajkumar, outside Ramakrishna Mission Temple.

It’s cool here.  No one tells anyone what to do, spiritually.  Ma said that after she was gone it should be this way.   She once said, “Not only do you have to walk to God alone.  You have to go naked.”   So, everyone lives here or meets here, but no one tells anyone what to do.  Very laid-back and friendly.  You come and go as you want.

I love India.  It feels, I don’t know, just very real.  Like a place I’ve always lived.  Not like déjà vu–but more like I never even left here.  Like I’ve always been here.  It’s crazy and wonderful!

Thanks for reading!

 

My Friend Marilyn says this about tuk-tuk drivers

My friend Marilyn — whom I met online a couple of years ago, as a result of this blog, and who has since been on a pilgrimage to India, and written her own blog about her trip — see http://marilynsandperl.wordpress.com —  says this about the indefatigable, intrepid tuk-tuk driver:

“rickshaw drivers are blessed with magnificent spatial awareness and an unconcerned attitude to life and death which I try to emulate not altogether successfully!”

Thanks, Marilyn, and

“Amen” to that!

My Quest to Be Granted the Title, “Foreign Researcher in India.”

The quest to gain the title of “Foreign Researcher” in India is a task required of all Fulbright Scholars, but should not be undertaken by the feint-of-heart, impatient, or quick-to-anger.  Rather, one must marshal all one’s courage, perseverance, piety, and a willingness to grovel, fawn, and whimper before the stone faces of a faceless bureaucracy.   Spells, incantations, secret rituals, prayers to one’s guru or divine intercessor are recommended prior to setting forth upon one’s steed or noble tuk-tuk.

(Yet let me say before I recount the story of my quest, that the faceless intelligence behind the trials, tribulations, perils, and tricks to trip you up encountered on this quest, has his or her counterpart in my homeland, America, where hordes of immigration lawyers and mercenary tax attorneys often must be hired to engage with the faceless bureaucracy there.  At least here I could embark upon this quest on my own.)  So,

let us go then, you and I, while the sun scorches the countryside, for our destined door, called the FRO (“Foreign Registration Office”), is open only from 3:00 to 5:00.

But first (and there will be time for more hesitations, recapitulations), you must find the national online FRRO form (“Foreign Researcher Registration Form”), which however, must not be filled out.  Instead, the site of the local FRO has a different form, which also must not be filled out, but printed and filled in by hand.  When you print the form, it is magically transformed into many different forms.  These would perhaps be riches in other circumstances.

I dutifully filled out every form in excruciating detail.

Meanwhile, my allotted time was running out.  The registration process must be completed within 14 days of arriving in India.  This is VERY IMPORTANT.  For various reasons, by this point I had five days left; two of the them were weekend days and one was a holiday.

I had had to go to the university and have a certain form signed, and request a letter stating that I was affiliated with the university, even though I already had such a letter.  I needed a second one signed after I arrived in India.  Further, the university had to provide me with a “Unique ID Number,” which their computer would generate.   Of course this required more than one visit to the university.  Ok, I did all that.

Thus, on my chosen day, I put all the forms in a big accordion file with all my other papers, put them in my backpack, and armed with my vorpal sword of optimism, I hired a tuk-tuk driver to take me across town to the gate of the FRO.

On the way, I experienced the sights and sounds of the city, the terrors of being crushed as we weaved before trucks, the horrors of nearly crushing motorcycles weaving before us.  I had no handkerchief to cover my face, I breathed fumes bravely, and alternated relaxing my muscles to reduce the generation of heat and tensing them to brace for impact.

My dauntless driver dropped me off at the FRO and I approached the door with the excitement of getting a task done quickly and well.  At the door, however, I was stopped by a guard, a young female in a brown uniform, who told me that I could not enter with my backpack.  Why?   Well, of course backpacks are notorious for hiding bombs.  India is third on the list of counties most attacked by terrorism, after Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But couldn’t they have mentioned this on the website?

“Can you check the backpack for me?”   “No.”   “What should I do?”  “You can go over there to ______ and check it.”   She pointed across the street to a row of restaurants. I couldn’t understand the word she was saying.

This is perhaps the worst of my seven deadly sins.  I am still learning Indian pronunciation of English.  In modern day India, speaking English for many is a ticket into the middle class.  There are numerous schools for learning it.  It is a matter of pride among those who know it.  I have no trouble among the well-educated people at the ashram or university.   But my trouble understanding those in the bureaucracy has been experienced by them as an insult and impertinence.  Here’s the worst example.  A female officer tells me something, and I say, trying to be modest, “Sorry, I only understand English.”  She bristles.  She was speaking English.  And I, an American, thought she was talking in a different language.  Lord, I’m trying my best.

So I crossed the busy street but found no restaurant that would check my backpack.  Plus, I was leery of giving up possession of one of my most important items for survival.

So, crest-fallen, I flagged a tuk-tuk and returned home, my head bloodied, but now bowed.   Yet.

Next day, despite the heat, I left my flat in a long sleeve button-down shirt and tie.  I figured I should dress like I knew what I was doing.  I carried only a file of my papers, my passport and my money belt.  The sign above the FRO door had said no cameras, as well, so I assumed that meant no iPhones.

I hired a tuk tuk driver and relived the experience of the day before: split-second misses, sudden smashings of the brakes.  I concentrated on the women, old and young, in beautiful saris.  “The beauty of woman is the glory of God.”  I read that somewhere.

At the door of the castle of FRO, I gained entrance.  I singed my name in a three-foot tall ledger book.  I proceeded on to a reception office.  I stood in line.  It was crowded and hot.  When my turn came, a woman in a brown uniform (almost all of the officers in police stations are women) told me that my “Proof of Residence Form” had not been signed.  That was clear.   I filled it out.  It was their job to sign it.   “Not this office. This is the Pune Police Commissioner’s Station.  You have to take it to the Shivaji Nagar Police Station, your neighborhood station. After you get it filled out, put inside a sealed envelope, and stamped at that office, bring it back and I will help you.”

You’ve got to be kidding.  Couldn’t this have been explained somewhere on the website, maybe beside the note about backpacks?

Now, it did not matter that I already had the “C-Form” filled out, stamped, and registered   The C-Form is one your landlord fills out and submits within 24 hours of your arrival to register you as a guest in their house or apartment.   The C-Form, already stamped and approved, is official proof of where I’m staying, who my landlord is, how long I’ll be there, etc.  But this will not do.

Granting me (or my tie) a small mercy, she whispered , ask for “Mingale Madam.”  She wrote down the name.

“Ok, thank you.  But, this is my last day to get the papers filed.  It’s 3:30.  Will I have time?”   She said, “We are open until 5:30.”

So, I ran out and flagged another tuk-tuk driver.  Luckily tuk-tuks are everywhere.  You never have to wait for one.   I told the driver “Shivaji Nagar Police Commissioner’s Office!”

He took off.  However, before long it was clear he was going a different way.  This worried me.  I was once seriously cheated by a taxi driver in Barcelona, who took Jennifer, Aidan, and me on a route to the airport that cost twice as much as the taxi from the airport three days before.

My first ride of the day only cost 50 rupees, and I gave the driver 100 (about $1.60).  But I only had 290 rupees left, as I had not gone to the bank for more cash.  The ride took longer, but the fare was only 70 rupees.  I gave him the usual 100.

I crossed the busy road and entered a kind of dirt encampment of one-story buildings like barracks.  I asked a group of officers, heavily armed, one with a Uzi-like weapon, where the office might be for getting my Proof of Residency form signed.  One smiled and said, “Right here.”  But, he said, the officers who could sign it were not there.  They’d be back in a half hour or an hour.  I asked specifically for Mingale Madam.  Is that a woman?  They all laughed.  You mean, Madam Mingale.  “She’s on a body-guarding detail.  Half hour to an hour.  You can wait.”

So we hung out like guys do, talking about soccer, cricket and other sports I know nothing about.  I asked him the name of the giant birds down on the game field.  In Hindi: Ghar, for vulture.

Finally, a group of women in brown uniforms came through the gate and walked into the building.  The kind guard indicated which one of them could help me.

I went in and spoke to her.  She was young, attractive, and as nice as flint.  She flipped through my forms and then asked where my Aggddeeeemt was.  “What?”  “Your Aggddeeeemt.”  “Sorry.  My what?”   She turned away in disgust.

Now what?   I didn’t know what she was saying.

The kind officer had come in and sat down and put his feet up on his desk and said “you’re having a pronunciation issue.”  How do you say “r” in American English.  I demonstrated.  Rrrr-pointed to my throat.  Then I figured out she must have been saying, “Agreement,” but by rolling the r, it sounded more like the letter “Y” in Spanish”:  Igriega.”

Ok, fine.  But, what agreement?  I’ve agreed to everything required of me. I’ve been following the rules, agreeing to everything!   The group in the office helped me understand that what she meant was: “The Lease.”

“There is no lease. I’m a guest.”

Everyone wagged their heads, like, “Well, that’s odd.  Too bad, really.”

So, I start in on the fact that the C-Form proves my place of residence, date, address, length of stay, landlord, etc.

No taco.  Madam Flint insisted that I must have a copy of the Aggddeeemt.

She said I could wait for Madam Mingale.   Well, time was running out.  I sat in the hot office among the officers in a plastic chair like a docile whimpering puppy, hoping for a little bone or chunk of gristle.  Then the guard with the Uzi comes in and talks to Madam Flint.  He stands right in front of me, before her desk, his Uzi dangling from his belt, right between my legs.  She writes down my name and address and gives it to him, talking in Marathi.  This seems odd.  Why does a man with an Uzi need my name and address?

Finally, after fifteen or so more minutes, the kind guard at last says, “Madam is in.”   “Where?”   “Last door.”  I go out and walk down the row of doors.  I walk in.  As I enter, two bald, obsequious men, start bowing and smiling and welcoming me like they’ve been expecting me for days.  They lead me straight to her office.  Obviously she has brow-beaten them sufficiently to her liking.

She’s sitting behind her desk.  Heavy-set, a full face, reddish-brown dyed hair, in Western waves.  She smiles.  We take an immediate liking to each other.  I get along with women who are older than me.  I get along with women in general.  Probably because of my close relationship to my mother.  Anyway, we exchange pleasant conversation about my profession, where we grew up, etc.  She signs and stamps the form, barely looking at any of it.

“Take it back down to officer [Flint].  She’ take care of you.”

I want to kiss her.  I want to fall at her feet.  I say “thank you” fifty times with my hands together.  We have a nice goodbye.  In another life, we could have been best friends.

I go back down to Madam Flint’s office and say that Madam Mingale “said it was okay.”  Maybe I was a little to happy.  M Flint is obviously pissed.  She’s been proven wrong.  She was following protocol.  “Applicant must have copy of lease.”  Madam Mingale had the insouciance of long experience.  M. Flint is young, a stickler for rules.  So, she takes her sweet and lovely time going back carefully over all of my forms, while the clock ticks.

“You need photocopies.  And an envelope.”

“Can I get them here? ”

“No.”  She points.  “Across the street you can get them made.”  OMG, I’ve heard this before.

I take the forms out, venture across, and sure enough there’s a little copying place, one of the tiny shops the size of a kiosk.  I get the copies.  Six rupees. All I have is a 100 rupee bill.  The guy wags his head and says, “Next time.”   Store keepers say this all the time when you don’t have exact change.  It’s so sweet.  They won’t let you round up in their favor.  They always round down in your favor and say, “Next time.”  One of the things I love about India.

So, I go back.  Madam Flint slowly and carefully goes through the papers.   “Copy of letter from university?”

She had not told me to copy that.  Is she F-ing with me?  Well, luckily, I have an extra copy.  I hand it to her.  She very carefully arranges them, and, Praise-Be-To-Jesus, as I wait expectantly, she signs and stamps the GD form.  Then she wants a picture of me–and not because she likes me.  Based on my research at home, I have brought something like 25 passport photos with me for situations like this.  She pulls out one of the giant ledger books and pastes my picture in it and fills out a row of information about me.   While the clock ticks, I try to arrange my body in the right way.  Not triumphant, not too to obsequious.  I don’t know how to sit in the chair.

She puts everything in the envelope, takes out some paste, slowly seals it, then puts three official stamps across the seal.

So, I’m off!   I flag down a tuk-tuk.  He quotes me a flat rate — 50 rupees.  Once more, across town.

I arrive at Castle FRO.  I do not wait to be checked in.  They know me.  I hurry to the office.  My friend is not there.  A guy checks over my papers.  He tears open the sacred envelope and tosses it.  Puts the Proof of Residency with the other papers.   Tells me to go back to another counter.  I go back.  Another brown-uniformed woman goes through my papers.

While waiting, I ask a nice young guy who’s also waiting, and sweating (we’re all sweating), where he is from.  “Iran.”  We smile.  Of course Iran thinks the US is the devil, and the US has a like opinion of his country.

“I want to visit Iran someday.  I love the poet, Hafiz.”

“Hafiz.   He is a very great poet.”  This broke the ice.  (Who said being a literature major has no practical value?)

The brown-uniformed woman says, “Where’s the “Bona-Fide” and “The Guide.”

I worried about these forms.  They are clearly forms for students.  They ask for admission date, course of study, major professors, etc.  See–the basic set of forms I’m working with are classified as “Research / Student.”  These officers usually see foreign students.  I protest that I’m a professor, not a student.  I have a letter from the United States-India Education Foundation, a letter from the University of Pune attesting to my affiliation, one from before I arrived, one from after I arrived.  She was doubtful.  I showed her my “Unique ID Number” on the University letter.

“Well.  I’ll accept these.  But my supervisor may not.   Where is the copy of your stamp date?

The what?

“Stamp date from your passport.” She shows me the page from my passport that is stamped on the date I arrived in India.  “You need a copy of that.”

“Can I copy it here?”

“Across the street.”  I know.

I ask some people where to go.

“Behind the petrol station.”

So, I’m  off, dodging traffic, to another kiosk-like little shop.   Many people lined up for copies.  It’s run by an old woman with a roving eye and her beautiful daughters.  They make my copies.  I check and double-check that I have everything and head back.  It’s 5:15.

I go back to the brown-uniformed woman.  She says, okay.  Now go to computer and scanner.

What?  Finally, she tells me that there are officers by a computer who will input everything for me and someone at a scanning counter who will scan everything and take my photo.

The woman at the computer is the one I insult, “Sorry, I only understand English.”  She still works with me.  At the scanning counter I stand beside two young, beautiful, seven-foot tall African men.  We exchange smiles.  I wished I was their age.  There’s also a guy with a passport written in Arabic.  He looks at mine.  Figures out that I’m an American.  I give him a knowing smile.  He smiles, too.  It’s like a little secret.  We recognize each other’s humanity in spite of the warring politics of our countries.

So my papers are scanned and I’m photographed.

I return to the woman who accepted my papers.  She says,

“Come back on the 21st to get your certificate, assuming my supervisor accepts your application.”

It’s done.  I can’t believe it.  I head out and flag another tuk-tuk.

I’m in my fifth year without alcohol, but I feel like going home to my flat and getting completely wasted.  I make it back and settle for these yummy little Ritz-like crackers, some Gouda cheese I found, and apple juice mixed with sparkling water.

Now, I wait for knighthood–or at least to be conferred the august title, “Foreign Researcher in India.”