Flower Children

The title of my new book is Practice.  I am hoping to release in 2-3 weeks.  Until then, please enjoy this sample chapter.

The flower sellers of Rishikesh gave me frequent off-the-mat yoga practice on all three of my trips to India.

Early on my first visit, I was in random wandering mode, exploring a new area. I crossed the Ram Jhula Bridge and began walking downstream along the ghat. With my camera in my pocket, I was always looking for unique shots and found an endless supply of subjects.

While strolling along the cracked stairs, I noticed a large pig waddling toward me. The cows and monkeys no longer surprised me, but my first pig was worthy of a snap. I was crouching down for the shot when the animal suddenly scampered in another direction. Apparently, while I was focused on the pig, four young boys had seen an opportunity for commerce. Given my light skin, bald head, towering height, and bright shirts, it would not be unreasonable to say that I stood out in a crowd. They had swarmed me and inadvertently startled the porker.

These adorable boys were half my size and carried cracked plastic colanders loaded with identical inventory. Their foil-lined paper bowls, called puja bowls, were filled with marigolds and topped with flammable waxy cubes resting on quarter-sized ceramic saucers. Each one also included a colorful box of wooden matches and a long stick of incense. Tourists and locals purchased the bowls to ignite the flame, say a prayer, and float their intention down the river.

In unison, the boys began the sales pitch: “Please, please, please, flowers, sir. You want flowers? Please, please, please. Buy flowers, please?”

I had no desire for the flowers but felt a need to reward their relentless efforts. I gave one boy a $10 bill and asked him to share. Instead, he sprinted away and was chased by his three former friends. I later learned that my money could have procured around 40 flower bowls.

On the way back to the bridge, a much less aggressive flower boy approached me. Instead of going for the immediate sale, Ardul was interested in developing a customer. He wanted to know where I lived and what I was doing in India. Then he patiently answered my questions about his family and his life. After crossing the bridge together, we prepared to turn in opposite directions. I was headed downstream to the ashram, and he was headed upstream to sell flower bowls. “I really appreciate your being so polite,” I told him. “You are now my exclusive supplier of puja bowls.” His eyes lit up when I gave him some cash.

During lunch, I asked my friend Laurie how she dealt with the army of children who were selling anything to survive. She said, “I try to persuade them to visit me at the ashram, so I can help enroll them in school.”

I became hopeful that I could lead Ardul on a path to school. Each time I bought his flowers, I tried to persuade him to enter the classroom. As far as I know, he still has not done so. But I will be back in Rishikesh soon, and I will continue encouraging Ardul.

On another day, I was lying on a sandy beach by the river. I was dozing off when I felt the presence of another creature. Startled from sleep, I glanced around to find a cow standing just inches from my head. She casually walked past, barely missing my Kindle by half a hoof. I laughed, imagining that call to Amazon customer service.

I covered my eyes with sunglasses and attempted to resume my nap.  Before full sleep, I saw a group of flower girls heading in my direction. Three little girls planted their knees inches from my towel, sat down, and stared at me. My lack of motion did not deter their sales pitch. One of the little girls even reached down and removed my sunglasses to see if I had any interest in their flowers.

She said, “I need rupees. Please, please, please, give me some rupees.”

Intrigued by the bold intrusion, I shot back, “What if I need rupees? Would you give me some rupees?”

She closed one eye, gave it a thought, and said, “Sir, if you can honestly tell me that you need help, then I will gladly give you my money.”

She unzipped her coin purse and tipped the contents onto my towel.

They left with all I had.