India / Southeast Asia

Over a Morning Chai

This morning I learned that a 24 year-old boy drown in the Ganga yesterday. He was just 2 years younger than I am now.

When I heard the news, I was having a masala chai at one of the stalls that line the streets in Rishikesh with one of my teachers. We sat together under the tin roof drinking our milky, spiced tea as she talked to the chaiwala and other locals about what had happened.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to drown in the Ganga, even locals. This boy, whose name was not spoken this morning, was born near Rishikesh and works at one of the cafes in town. He had gone for a morning tea around 11am and then went to bathe in the river. Even though he was accompanied by friends, they couldn’t rescue him in the rough waters. The air was heavy with the news of his death and the thought that the family can’t have a funeral for him without a body.

After a while, my teacher took my hand and we got up and walked to sit on some steps across the street. “The air was sad over there,” she said, weighted with the news of the young man. We started talking instead about our own lives over the past few days and preparing for the final classes of the training. Something she said then stuck with me–especially in light of the news from the chaiwala. She said that a few days ago she was walking down the street feeling frustrated and angry about something that had just happened in her life and all of a sudden it occurred to her to focus on her breath. Each inhale and exhale was a reminder that she was there and in that moment and suddenly nothing else mattered. She was thankful to be there and saw each breath as a gift.

She said it’s such an obvious thing as a yoga teacher–to focus on the breath–but in some moments in it just clicks. Life is precious and it’s driven by a force much larger than us. The best we can do for ourselves and others is to be present for it while we can. I am taking that attitude of presence with me into the last 4 days in Rishikesh partly in honor of the boy who passed and partly in honor of myself and those with whom I spend my time.

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