The Little Would-Be Doctor in Ooty.

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

The Little Would-Be Doctor in Ooty

(India)

It was frigid in Ooty, all night and well into mid-morning. We arrived to this mountainous hill station on a toy train train, a five hour ride in one of four cars that stopped periodically at chai and snack stands nestled in lush green, rolling hills. I watched a little girl whose parents were lovingly trying to feed her chapatti and chutney. She refused, relented, refused again. Her father was so patient, but at the next pit stop he inexplicably switched to another car and we never saw him again.

Shortly after we arrived, stunned at the clarity of the cool air, we found a room with two heavy blankets, hot water from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. and cable TV. TV! We watched NatGeo Adventure most of the time while recovering from the latest stomach ailment – we were often in some state of needing recovery, and there were no pressing engagements that needed our attention. The very idea of the mountains all around us was enough travel for me at this point.

While watching a show about a guy walking the Carmino del Santiago, I had this strange sensation knowing that at this very moment, there were people all over the world, at the exact same time, finding their way among the lands of others, motivated by any number of passions. It felt so warm (the cozy blankets didn’t hurt either) to finally feel a sense of community in this strange and gargantuan universal space we’ve been inhabiting, with almost no awareness of the outside world.

I didn’t realize how cut off I’d been feeling, though a sense of removal was palpable. Somehow, I needed to watch other people delight in the world’s offerings to remember how lucky I am to be nestled in a hill station under blankets, drinking tea and wondering what India will end up like for us this third time around.

One day we went on what the local tourist map said was a 10 km rural walk around Ooty. It was gorgeous. Tiny hilltop churches and Hindu shrines commingled and everywhere there were vast, endless expanses of mountain, sky and sun. It was a small, leisurely walk and it was also as momentous as anything I could remember. We ate cheese spread sandwiches under a tree down from an abandoned construction project, and drank chai in a tiny shop served to us by a shy local girl.

We were trying to figure out which of two ways would take us to the next village when a little boy saw us and asked us where we were going. We told him, Kammandu, and he nodded his head and said, this way. We followed him straight up a mountain of small, sun-kissed tea leaves until we reached a small road and a pretty, large pink house. That way, he pointed. Then he ran inside.

Soon, his mother emerged. Come for chai, she said. We smiled and entered. The house was airy but grounded, like a transparent cocoon suspended on the very top of a tree. The chai was delicious, and we reveled in this nurturing mother’s warm embrace.

The son did the translating, and told us his father was a military doctor while his mother proudly showed us photos of the family taken at the Botanical Gardens in Ooty. We never found out how this wealthy family came to live in a house on a hill in the middle of a tea plantation. The little boy wants to be a doctor like his dad, and with his huge, soulful eyes and quiet, kind demeanor, I’m sure – and I told him so – that he would grow up to be the best.

People of the Heart

Tammy T. Stone

Tammy T. Stone

 

There’s No War in World: People of the Heart

(India)

 

 

There are people of the head and people of the heart. And since countries are extensions of people, comprising collections of them, it makes sense to say that there are also countries that think more, or feel more.

India is, without a doubt, a country of the heart. It has the biggest heart of any country I’ve seen. This heart has been nurtured and cultivated for thousands of years, I can only imagine.

Hearts like this don’t develop overnight, any more than we find ourselves capable of opening up to others, to ourselves, to life, in a short time.

We’re lucky – those of us who struggle with closed hearts – if we can make tiny strides in one brief lifetime. But for some, big-heartedness comes naturally, and by this, I mean that for whatever reason, the person or country has come already equipped with the makings of big-heartedness. Is it genetic or inherited? Does it come from one’s immediate surroundings, in the case of a country, it’s neighbours, its own history?

None of this answers the question, which is why psychology struggles with questions of this kind, even as scientists of the more ‘rigorous’ branches move farther and farther away from these areas, not purported to be in its domain.

No matter. Theories abound and it is up to us to decide for ourselves how important it is to understand every aspect of the heart question. But the feeling you get in India is palpable. People do not avoid each other and they do not avoid you. The men walk holding hands with huge smiles. They laugh, talk, joke. The women congregate together too, existing in communion – though you still don’t see as much of this out on the streets as you do the men in most places.

People are curious about you, and want to know where you come from, where you’ve been in India, why you’re here, where you’re going and how they can help you (and perhaps what they can sell to you), with the most amazing mixture of genuine friendliness and good-humoured self-interest I’ve seen. And very often, a great cup of chai thrown in.

Every encounter with someone, his or her large family and their culture as filtered through the endless shades of vivid colour here, is imbued with the heartiest/heartfelt-heart-based emotion. It’s all heart! (Despite the fierce mind-intelligence I also encounter everywhere.) Not to over-dramatize, but sometimes it feels like the entire country is bordered by a gargantuan circle of people holding hands, chests thrust out in humility, exuberance, well-wishing and love, singing their song of welcome, entreating you to enjoin with gusto.

Leaving India only confirms how much in the head we are most of the time, and where to go to if we need a refresher course on where to reclaim our hearts once again.