Last month American Hindu friends of mine were off to a joyful wedding in Lucknow, just outside Allahabad, India. I joked that it must be like Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding." If you haven't seen that movie, stop reading and do so now. But I didn't have the wedding quite right.
No, my friends insisted, this was not a Punjabi wedding, the subject of Nair's famous and exceptionally accomplished movie. This wedding was Rajput style. Beyond those strictures I could not understand. It wasn't even in Hindi, as incomprehensible as Latin to this Irishman.
Two days after my friends' departure Twitter brought the news to my beeping, awakening iPad: some dozens devotees had died in a religious pilgrimage of death toward not God but a train. They had been in Lucknow to partake in the Kumbh Mela festival, one of the largest gatherings of humanity known to humanity. Google it for astonishing images of faith you won't recognize. Their deaths took place in the Allahabad train station, the return central city from which in faith they had ventured to Lucknow as devout Hindus.
None of my friends or their families were lost. It took me another two days to find this out. Twitter friendly Mother India is sometimes not. I calculated the odds, read the Indian press brought to me by those Indians on Twitter whom I follow (@HinduIDF among others), and prayed (to whom?) that this family wasn't caught in the crush of death. Banal. Shabby. Final.
Yet there were the manifestly dead: husbands cradling wives who were dead yet in a moment before were worshipping God on the return journey of faith. Life, and life, over in a flash. In a crowd. In the noise and din of yet another hateful Indian train station.
Not exactly the final dance scene from "Slumdog Millionaire." Which, come to think of it, was a movie.
The photo above was taken before the most recent transit of Venus, which is to say shortly before I turned forty for a passport renewal. It was a particularly difficult period in my life. The placidity of the photograph surprises me now.
The now, no matter where you are in life, is always the surprise.
Flannery O'Connor (dead at 39) famously wrote that "everything that rises must converge." She borrowed that from another writer but someone else can track it down. (Teilhard de Chardin?)
Politics matters deeply but not more than many other things. My worry about the death of loved ones far across the world drove the point home to me.
Attachment & loss, Buddhists would say, is the cause of suffering.