The winter that changed my life

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In the quiet of winter night, you could see the snowflakes dancing in the yellow of dimmed street lights. The largest outdoor book market of Kyiv, Petrivka, was bustling. Frozen and lost amidst crowded stalls, I was looking for Christmas presents with a friend. If someone told me back then, it was the winter that will change my life, I would laugh it off. Yet, indeed, it was. I was leafing through the Oxford English dictionary meant for my friend’s father, when he diverted my attention to Melchizedek’s Living in the Heart with an ironic smile. “Don’t you like this esoteric kind of stuff?”, he brusquely remarked, handing me over thin paperback. Blushing with embarrassment, I glanced at the title, but couldn’t lay my hands on it.

After prolonged winter holidays, I returned to the market alone, located the row and the stall we had lingered in the other night, and picked up that book. Dreading my parents’ reaction, with the sense of absolute secrecy, I kept it in my handbag at all times.

The major part of my parents’ lives had passed during Soviet times. After Ukraine had declared independence in 1991, my mother reaffirmed herself as Orthodox Christian and father remained atheist. In our family, everything besides that was categorised as a cult. Failing to accept their views completely, I’ve been questioning the world and my place in it since teens. Fascinated with the books on psychology, history of religions and philosophy at first, with time I discovered how versatile spirituality can be. In the late 90s so many translations of esoteric titles became available in the bookstores. I read Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach when I still was in high school. Numerous books by Osho had followed. The more I tried to explain my reading choices, the more animosity it evoked at home. I had to accept that as something I couldn’t change and learn to live with it.

The only time I could read Living in the Heart was in the metro on the way to the office. “Don’t be concerned. Do the meditation and watch what happens,” was written in the book. “But I have no idea how to do the meditation”, my mind was crowded with thoughts. One thing I knew for sure, – I will regret if I won’t give it a try. I felt determined to find out how to meditate.

Soon after I joined a group called Sahaj Marg (today known as Heartfulness), practising meditation on heart, or raja yoga. Attracted by this exotic sounding word, I was drawn into the world of unknown and everything Indian. Gloomy and cold days in Kyiv now were lit with Holi and Diwali celebrations. I loved savouring the tastes of Indian cuisine. I made new friends, many of whom were Indians, but there was One, I was eager to meet the most, – our guruji, whom we lovingly called Chari. Before I knew it, India was on top of my destinations list.

I visited India for the first time in July 2011 to join his birthday celebrations. Thousands of miles away from home, amidst Indian monsoon, I was seeking the truth inside myself. Days in Tirupur were sullen from dawn to dusk. Red soil field across the meditation hall, looked pristine until occasional sand storms, or downpours would turn it into a muddle.

In India it is customary to keep your footwear outside the temple, home or any place considered to be sacred. Leaving and finding your chappals in the piles of shoes next to the meditation hall was really challenging. Some foreigners walked in, taking them inside in a tote bag. Indians would find it inappropriate and disrespectful, even at the cost of loosing shoes once in a while. At the same time, once you hear “Satsang is over”, they were always in a hurry to leave. I used to sit on the ground and observe local women passing by. They lined up at the exit, merging into colourful streams of sarees with no two same colours, or patterns. It felt surreal!

Tryst with India has magical power to evoke all kinds of feelings. Some people feel horrified, encountering that chaos on the streets, while others take it as adventure. I liked India, but never felt overwhelmed or overexcited.

I had not contemplated living in India until I met my future husband, Sudhir. We were introduced by a common friend, director and photographer from Belarus. Taking a decision to be together meant that one of us would have had to move to the other country. Born and brought up in Ukraine, I had to admit, India is not a very foreigner-friendly place. To be on your own without knowing local language is difficult here. Bound to multiple commitments in Pune, relocating was not an option for Sudhir either. So, It became clear that I was the one to make a move.

I stood in the line at Indian Embassy on my birthday, thinking about the snow which I will not see. It was just the beginning of November. I gave away my home appliances, winter clothes and other things no longer needed, packed essentials, and boarded a plane to India.

The winter was over.

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