Stepping out of customs and into a crowded pen of late-night travelers, the warm Mumbai air reassures me we are no longer in China. Bunches of people are waiting, but not for us. Unfortunately, that appears to include the taxi driver we'd supposedly hired in advance.
If there's one thing I've learned about India, it's that surrender really is at the heart of the Indian experience. There are so many inexplicable hoops and loops to everything here, and the method in which they are worked out rarely makes logical sense.
In this instance, in order to find our driver, we have to pay someone to contact someone else who eventually discovers our guy sleeping in his car.
Any mild relief I might have felt from this discovery does not last long. Once on the road, we quickly realize our driver does not speak English, nor does he appear to understand our destination. "No problem, we go!" he insists, lightly bobbling his head from side to side. He proceeds to divert half his attention to driving into the night, and the other half to his cell phone.
It is here, dear reader, that I offer you two things of note should you ever find yourself sitting nervously in the backseat of an Indian taxi. First, taxi drivers do not use any sort of tangible resource or device for navigation. Instead, they prefer to stop for verbal direction along the way. Repeatedly.
Second, 100% of taxi drivers will tell you that yes, they know exactly where your final destination is upon looking at any given address. About 50% of those drivers will be telling the truth.
In the dark, I get my first glimpse of India: the shabby buildings, garbage-lined streets, mangy dogs, the colorful hand-painted Horn OK Please signs on semi-trucks, clusters of men standing around roadside fires. I can just make out the shadow of a cow rummaging through garbage. All are scenes that will soon become familiar.
Suddenly I'm jolted out of my window gazing. It feels as if the entire road is one giant pothole. All at once I am a blend of exhausted, fascinated, and worried. I still suspect the driver has no idea where to take us, and as if in direct response to this fear, I now realize we are heading straight for a shoddy underpass parking lot.
Our car slows. It's scummy, dark, and creepy here. I start to really panic. I have the thought that my mom would never approve of this situation, but what to do?
Images of a gang of robbers snatching our luggage, or worse, fill my mind as we pull to a stop. In the dark, I am mildly relieved to recognize the logo of our taxi company on a vehicle parked beneath the shadows. Someone gets out of the other car, and so do we, hurriedly.
"No problem, no problem," this new guy says, in an attempt at reassuring us. He turns to our driver and they chatter away. Then he starts to laugh. Patting our driver on the shoulder, head bobbling, the new guy says: "don't worry little one, next time you'll get it right. This is a home address, not a hotel."
Sometimes you have to surrender before you win.
I am early for our meeting time, so I sit down outside and absentmindedly begin massaging my aching right foot. This is my very first full day in India and I have since napped after our bumbling late night arrival just hours before.
A classic-looking Indian holy man complete with white beard, black framed glasses, and white robes, has been watching me all this while. I smile at him. He walks past. I keep massaging my foot. He walks back to me.
"May I sit?" he asks. "Yes," I say. He is silent for a moment.
Then he asks very quietly, "you have pain?"
"Yes," I say, sighing. It is never easy to explain exactly what is wrong with my foot. To put it simply, I have a chronically broken bone that modern science does not seem able to adequately fix. For the past six years, I have been left to manage occasional pain. I am not so old, but it is something new to mentally grapple with a permanent physical flaw.
"May I see it?" the old swami asks. I show him my bare foot.
"May I touch?" I nod.
He proceeds to cup my foot with a light pressure. Then he tells me to close my eyes. Moving his hands over my foot and lower leg, he begins performing what I assume to be reiki, a form of energy healing. I peek, bewildered.
"Relax," he says. He touches my face, the bone above my eye sockets, putting his thumbs on pressure points above my eyebrows.
This happens in a few minutes of silence. All the while, I'm thinking about how wild it is that I should find myself sitting here, in this exact spot in all of India, and that this holy man should approach me, unsolicited, to address a problem I've grappled with for years. It is exactly the sort of encounter I expect from India, yet it is almost too cliché to be true.
When he is done, I feel lighter. I know my foot is not fixed, but there is temporary relief.
The man sits back down next to me, and speaks softly, "awareness is the most important thing. Everyone goes about their business, so distracted and hurried. It is most important to be silent, to be aware."
Awareness. He is speaking of the essence of all I've ever read or learned about meditation. He is talking about awakening to what's before us, of learning how to practice living in the present moment.
Somehow for a very long time I've been aware of a pull to come to India, and I've never been entirely sure why.
Maybe it is the country's underlying history of spirituality embedded in the land and its people, something we just don't have back home.
Maybe it is the idea that unexpected moments like meeting this old man could happen in a distant far-off land.
Or maybe it is something else I haven't yet discovered.
But this I know:
Sometimes it pays to just show up, even if you don't know what will happen next.
Sometimes if you feel a pull to do something, you should do it, even if you don't know what will come.
The things we feel drawn to have meaning. And I am certain that mostly good things happen when you put yourself in places you think you might want to be.
Sometimes you have to surrender before you win.