Friday, April 30, 2010

Memories of Mela

On my nightstand now is a book written in 1966 by Alan Watts entitled The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. I’m an avid reader of leadership books, and when one recently cited many of Dr. Watts’ quotes, I was intrigued to pick up a copy from our local library.

Dr. Watts was a British philosopher, writer, and speaker who introduced and popularized Eastern philosophy to Western audiences. As a writer, he was an early master of the sound bite, as demonstrated in the many provoking quotes in this slim book. An excerpt that resounded with me:

“Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering, for there is no other way of discovering marvels and surprises, which, as I see it, is the only good reason for not staying home.”

When I contemplate the “Who Am I Really” question, I could simply let my wallet do the talking, overstuffed with dog-eared artifacts that prove I am who I am: as a driver, a voter, a reader, and a shopper.

But who I am really is a tally of the many life roles I play in my relationships. Along with wife, friend, and slave to cats is one I call Discoverer. What better way to find out who you are than to explore other cultures and lifestyles?

Economic times being what they are, it’s fortunate that we have a plethora of multi-cultural opportunities here in Austin to experience worlds outside our own. Recently I gathered with friends to attend the annual Mela celebration at the Barsana Dham, a Hindu temple and ashram sitting on over 200 acres of beautiful Texas hill country.

One of the largest Hindu Temple complexes in North America, Barsana Dham is a savory treat every spring with its fluttering fields of red poppies bowing in the wind. Under the most perfect azure sky, we were greeted by hundreds of rose bushes abounding in blooms--an astonishing gift from Mother Nature after our unusually difficult winter of extended freezes.

The word mela means fair, and every year near the last weekend of April, throngs gather for this festive welcome to spring and wander the open air shopping bazaar, win prizes playing games, ride in a Clydesdale-drawn carriage, pose for a fast flourish of mehndi flowers, and wince while excited children batter the rabbits, chickens, and baby pigs at the petting zoo.

One special treat of the fair is sampling the authentic dishes they prepare. To dine in their indoor cafeteria, you plop your shoes outside on racks or in piles and cross the threshold barefooted into an exotic world of sultry, spicy cuisine. From their Northern and Southern India menu options, we bought and shared a variety of vegetarian specialities including crisp roti, dosas, lentils, and rice. We drank the thick and satisfying mango lassis, black pepper lemonade, falooda (rose milk), and chai. For dessert we nibbled on gulab jamun, fried milk balls in a rosewater and sugar syrup flavored with cardamom seeds.

On the performance stage, a kaleidoscope of stunning saris swirled about on the colorfully swathed dancers. Both traditional and modern songs vibrated across the grounds, with the audience nodding in rhythm as an ensemble of young performers pounded out a Bollywood hip-hop routine to “Jai Ho,” the theme from the film "Slumdog Millionaire." Jai ho roughly translates as “victory to thee,” and its jubilance perfectly lifted the day's spirit.

What do you consider a really great reason for not staying home? What recent adventure taught you more about yourself? Where does your Discoverer self lead you?

It was a challenge to stay clear of the roving acrobats on stilts, but I’m glad we stepped out of our homes and transported ourselves to India for the day. In coming together, we learn that we are far less separate than we may have believed.