We leave at four in the morning. Guman, whose love for genuine conversation has managed to overcome the fact that I cannot understand Hindi and he cannot speak English, is telling me how Guru (teacher) is god. It is apparently written in the Bhagvad Gita. Those from whom we have the opportunity to learn gifts us something priceless. I pull my coat tighter, and watch the stars. They flash by in the hundreds; spots of light pricked into the night sky, splayed over its expanse, the kind you would never see in Mumbai.
I have had my last conversation class that evening. Five Tibetan refugees gather around me in the small office in Dharamsala and lean in closer so that my unfamiliar words are easier to understand. We speak about learning. The monk in front of me looks old, but is only in his thirties. Two wisps of beard sprout at the corner of his lips. He tells me that learning is the key to unlocking the world. Tibet was once conquered because it was ignorant; now the world has come to its doorstep and it has the opportunity to go discover, an opportunity he wants to take full advantage of. He asks me the same question. What does learning mean to you? Learning, I say, is constant change. Accepting that all you see and acquire will seep into your bones, dormant or active, and, however grandly or minutely, change you.
I am given two Tibetan white scarves. They place them around my neck, as if in ceremony. LHA hands me a scroll that says Thank you for Volunteering and I pose with it. Dukthen, the beautiful, mischievous Tibetan I have been helping with Contact Magazine, hunts through a rickety cupboard to give me a volunteering T-shirt. “Blue?” she asks, holding up the options, “Or Red?” “Blue,” she decides, before I can reply. I tell her this is unnecessary. She smiles. “So that you remember us.” Khenrab, the monk I have been tutoring for a month, gifts me blue bracelet. Students tell me to come back in April when the weather is nicer, because Mumbai is so close. I smile, I nod and go back to my budget room to pack.
The scenery before me has changed. We are driving to Chandigarh, where my flight is waiting for me. The sun is rising and the horizon is painted purple, fading into the colours of the rainbow and then the sky. Black silhouetted trees stamp the air with their impressions. The air is cold. India is beautiful. In a way I could not have understood among the cars in Mumbai. In a way I could not have understood through the sadness of my heart.
The ageless monk asks my last question. The clock has struck five, and Jigme has knocked on the classroom door. Time’s up, pack up, come back tomorrow. But the monk leans forward. “How do you think we can overcome the sufferance of life?” This is a question he has asked me before. I say, genuinely, I do not know. I am only twenty-two. He nods carefully, like I have said something wise. Then he wraps up his own wisdom and gives it to me to keep, a parting gift. “An ancient Indian Swami once say, ‘If the problem can be overcome, there is no need to worry. If it cannot be solved, there is no use in worrying.’ ”
About the Author: Tashan Mehta is a writer and a keen traveller, although little of her life has actually begun. Her short stories have been published in magazines like Out of Print and Notes. She rambles at The Inadequacy of Language