I am drawn to India for its food, its history and its culture, but even more so for its mystics. On my first trip to the subcontinent, in 2004, I spent four days in Mumbai attending a jewelry conference. On my final day, I set aside a few hours for sightseeing and shopping. My guidebook mentioned something about a group of psychics and palm readers who hung around Victoria Terminus, an icon of Raj architecture in the colonial heart of the city. I couldn’t resist paying them a visit.
When I arrived at the designated spot, all I found was a disheveled, pot-bellied man in an alcoholic stupor. He grabbed my palm and proclaimed that I would have perfect health until I reached the ripe old age of 70. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to foresee a much more imminent threat to my physical self: The spicy food I’d eaten for four days straight had finally reached a boiling point in my stomach. Before the drunken lout could finish my reading, I slid down from the concrete tree well where I was perched, staggered to the curb and, in front of the 20 Indian men who had gathered to watch my palm reading, unceremoniously retched into the gutter.
On my next visit to India, in 2006, I was determined to improve upon my previous psychic encounter. This trip found me in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, a dry, desert state in northwest India known for its rich Mughal past.
I stopped in at the office of a famous local astrologer named Dr. Shastri. I’d had my chart read before but never by the likes of a diminutive Indian doctor dressed in black-rimmed spectacles and a grey Nehru jacket. Dr. Shastri sat behind a desk and recited many nice things about my long and abundant life. I found the session more amusing than meaningful but it was certainly worth the price of admission.
Still seeking a taste of true Indian mysticism, however, I tried again a year later. At the suggestion of a friend, I went to see Ramesh S. Balsekar, an aging guru who lived a few minutes from Mumbai’s famous Mahalaxmi Temple. He welcomed an audience of mostly graying American and European hippies into his apartment every morning for a satsang, or a devotional speech, during which he answered questions about everything from anger management to career crises to broken hearts. To his visitors’s myriad requests, Ramesh had but one simple message: “To be enlightened is to be able to accept with equanimity anything in life at any moment as God’s will.”
That message of acceptance has guided me ever since, proving that in a search for wisdom, as in many of life’s pursuits, the third time’s the charm.