This piece is a longer version of a memory that I referred to in a recent Wild Inventures column in Martha Beck’s newsletter. It’s apropos of nothing, and in some ways, relevant to everything I think of when I talk about wild inventures. – Ro
On a crowded street in rural India, an old man spat in my face and changed my life. I was six years old.
I’d been clinging to my mother’s hand as we stood at the side of a road swirling with activity and red dust. We were both intimidated by the scene playing out before us—the road populated by all manner of humanity, livestock, vehicles. All my senses were overwhelmed: the saturated colors, the surging movement, the dubious aromas and the thousand relentless sounds—car horns, human voices, animal bleatings and shrieks.
On the other side of this writhing mass was our destination: an ashram, hidden behind grand white walls, peaceful and cut off from the super-vivid India around us. It was a place for western seekers and Indians alike, and would provide a spiritual haven for us after a long journey.
Or it would… if we could somehow get across this road.
Just as my mother summoned all her courage and took a tentative step toward a gap in the traffic, I tugged on her arm until she knelt down. Several specks of the road’s red dust had found their way into my eyes (still very close to the ground) and I couldn’t see.
Mum was trying to help me–probably gritting her teeth at this latest saga in an already lengthy journey–when the man appeared out of nowhere and gently pushed her aside.
My mother watched, too shocked to respond, as he squatted before me and looked into my face with eyes that shone in his deeply lined face. He seemed both timeless and also quite ordinary, lips twitching with mischief beneath a neat mustache. In my mind’s eye I see him leaning on a staff, or stick of some kind, but that could be my memory’s embellishment.
Because to me, he was all wizard.
In a moment that seemed to last hours, the man clasped my shoulders in his hands, and decisively spat into each of my eyes in turn.
Then he turned back to my mother with a sudden radiant smile, hoisted himself back to his feet, and wandered off on his way, disappearing into the crowded afternoon.
When my mother turned back to me, I was smiling, blinking up at her through my new eyes.
PS All inventures in parenting that I embark on now are inspired by my amazing mother. I mean, right?
This article originally appeared on Rowan’s Wild Inventures substack newsletter. To subscribe and get all Rowan’s posts in your inbox, head over to Wild Inventures on substack now.
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