On the last two days of my trip to India, I visited Pune. In my undergrad years I studied here and I couldn’t imagine coming all the way to India without stopping by to visit friends and see my old favorite sights.
It’s incredible to me how much of the city I remember from 5 years ago. I’ve been able to navigate easily to my favorite restaurants with still-stored memories of the streets. The host in my all-time favorite restaurant, Vaishali, is even the same and the dosas are just as delicious as I remembered. Of course a lot has changed too. The city is more crowded than it was 5 years ago and some of the establishments I visited as an undergrad are no longer here in the same way. Even still, it feels like home, and I can’t help but reflect on what I learned in Pune and Rishikesh at the end of this journey.
I will always associate Pune with the Hindu god Ganesh. I was in Pune during the Ganpati festival when I studied here for a semester and the city itself is full of colleges and learning institutes very much in the spirit of Ganesh—god of wisdom and good luck. My time in Pune was rich in academic knowledge and I grew a great deal as a student of sociology here. My time in Pune set me on course, in a lot of ways, towards my interests in social work and international development. I applied for my first post-grad job in Haiti from my room in Pune with the new confidence that I could live far away from my family and friends. I took my first gender course here and became interested in how public spaces can be gendered—a topic about which I’m in the process of publishing a paper. This place was and is formative for me as a student.
Rishikesh, on the other hand, I associate with Ganesh’s father, the Hindu god Shiva. Shiva is the creator and the destroyer, everythingness and nothingness. In Rishikesh I learned about my spirituality, the divine in each and every person, and how we are all connected to a greater cosmic energy/God (whatever you want to call it). In Rishikesh I grew as a yoga practitioner. Not just in the physical practice of asanas, but in the self and social disciplines of non-violence in thought or action; purity of mind, body, and spirit; service; and contentment. Rishikesh is a place where I grew in my connection to “Om” by chanting it with others, where I learned to breath deeply and fully, and where I found comfort, joy, and even bliss in daily meditation. I don’t know exactly how my time in Rishikesh will contribute to my future journey, but I am once again leaving India a changed person. Although my religion is not Hinduism, Shiva and Ganesh have taught me a lot about myself.