I don’t have many true friends; what I call ‘heart people’. These friends are beings that stand for compassion, truth, and have been at my energetic-side- no matter how it goes. This next blog is about one such friend.
Last spring marked the 20th anniversary of a friendship. It began when I set foot on India’s sacred soil. India is an ancient land that carries a potent undercurrent of spirituality. America, by contrast, is a young country mired in a rebellious adolescence. Across the sea from the United States, India sits silent and still (though she has been indoctrinated by enticing Westernization in recent times) – She, India, is like a distant, great-great, grandmother whose most soulful whisper is heard only in quiet moments of deep contemplation.
On my trip there nearly 21 years ago, I met a young man who has become a lifelong friend. Shobhit G. was 19, myself 34, when we first crossed paths.
Just prior to our meeting, I had been on a 2nd class train for more than 40 hours, moving from the south to north: Bangalore to Delhi. I then took a donkey-carriage, at the suggestion of a Tibetan acquaintance I met on the train (the Tibetans are rugged people who have been filmed meditating in 10-15 degree temps for over an hour and not getting hypothermia). In this case, he was heat-testing me, I suppose.
We shared an open air journey from the train station to the bus station, easily more than 5 kilometers across Delhi mid day. It read 49 Celsius at the train station thermometer when I arrived. That is 120 F., up to the task of frying eggs on the pavement. Having had no shower in 3 days, the dirt, mixed with sweat-soaked sludge, then more dirt, sweat and god knows what else –all arranged on me like an exotic experiment for a cob-house building material. I was an extra for Frankenstein, the movie.
Then it began to rain; so I envisioned. Pure liquid delight. My eyes were closed and I turned upward to the sky, letting the heaven-sent drops fall over my face. I licked my lips in relish. Rapt grace. Then my eyes opened and I scanned the sky; not a cloud anywhere. The ‘rain’ still came, only now it was moving horizontal, floating in streaming droplets. I traced them to their origin, the underbelly of one of the donkeys.
God does have a sense of humor.
After the donkey-urinal baptism (an India trademark), I boarded a bus for what was to be an easy 5 hour bus ride to Rishikesh. The foothills of the Himalayas awaited, the bastion of yoga and cooler temps. Then about halfway to our destination the bus broke down. Years later I learned that this area was one of the most dangerous places for tourists in all of India. These ‘breakdowns’ were planned events with: theft, injury and death likely.
It was here at dusk, in some barren landscape near the outskirts of a tiny village, that I met Shobhit G. for the first time.
I got off the bus in disbelief, pure destitution with a backpack. Distraught, exhausted and without a clue. A 19-year old young man approached me with a friendly smile and solid english chops.
“Where are you going? He asked.
“Rishikesh.” I muttered.
“You will not get there tonight. The next bus to Rishikesh will not come until morning, maybe not at all. There is nowhere to stay here. Come with me back to my house. You can stay with my family.” I instantly acquiesced.
Three and a half hours after the bus breaks down, we get on another bus, standing in the aisle of this packed bus for a forty-minute ride to Roorkee, India. This is where Shobhit’s parent’s live. Our conversation was easy and heart-centered.
In this quiet, small village, I deboard the bus with him. We get a bicycle rickshaw to his house and I go in, covered in grunge to the point of extreme embarrassment, to meet his family
I would meet his parents, 2 younger sisters, a lower-middle class brahmin family that opened their heart and home to me. Shob’s sisters plied me with all kinds of questions about life in America. His parents just listened and smiled. I was home, an adopted son with his instant family. They had no running water but Shobhit got 2 buckets full daily, each containing about 3 gallons of water for use in the shower. He offered me one of his buckets. Never had I prized water so greatly.
In that shower I felt each and every water molecule as it danced down my head, across my face and down. Vast accumulated debris washed away. Thus began a relationship, a true friendship that has defied any idea of what friendship is. For Shobhit and I have never seen each other face to face again.
Like penpals of the spirit, Shob and I began to exchange long letters the first two years after my return from India. About three years later, Shobhit noted that he would not be able to afford tuition for his last year of college. He needed some 60,000 rupees (India dollars). Shob did not ask for money, almost hiding this notation amongst some stories of life in India. I did not have much money at the time. Instead a vision came. I was to organize a benefit run, a fundraiser for him. It was a semi-cross country 5-mile run/walk starting in the small town of Scotts Valley and winding up through the northern hillside, ending at the top of Mount Roberta, at 1410 feet, with a great view of the Monterey Bay.
I gathered family, friends, and acquaintances. They loved the idea and invested their energy, enthusiasm and time. My partner at the time, Evelyn, donated an exquisite piece of original artwork as a grand prize for a raffle we had planned. Others followed with additional offerings: my parents avid supporters and amazing givers opened their home –(as they always considered it a hotel for all to enjoy) as a post-run celebration and festivity gathering point. My sister-in-law Amy and brother-in-law Paul were both integral components in the event coming together. Mom even made a bunch of food, as did my sister Cheri who recruited several friends as well. My brother, Jeff, blind early in life, power-walked the course with his guide dog–the magnificent long-haired, german shepherd, Hale. The event was a huge success.
After the event was over we counted the money together as a group. It came to almost $1500.00-nearly the exact amount Shobhit needed for his tuition. As the currency exchange rate was about 40 rupees to the dollar, $1500.00 US dollars was about 60,000 rupees.
I sent the cash to Shobhit inside a spiritual book (for protection), with a letter telling him about the event.
A couple of weeks later a touching letter arrived from him. His whole family was grateful beyond words.
One day some 9 years later, after Shobhit had finished his advanced degree work, passed the Pharmacist-licensing exam and gotten his first job in the United States, a letter arrived. On that particular day I had been quite sick, delirious with fever, shaking, and deep, deep fatigue. Not known at the time, this was the early days of chronic lyme disease. The letter started with:
With God’s grace I send you $1,500.00 dollars from my first check…” Tears just poured from my eyes. Again, even now, they trickle down.
Shobhit’s parents always ask about me; my parents about him. For 21 years we’ve shared our deep joy and moments of sorrow, remaining in attunement with each other. Shobhit now lives in Florida and has two daughters with his beautiful wife Gitanjala (I have seen pictures). Anika is 4 and Riya is 6. I am envisioning our reunion some time very soon–and getting to meet his whole family.
Shob has sent money to me a couple of other times and finally I told him that he must focus on his children’s college education–this has stopped him for now!
Today I intuited him ‘feeling down’ and sent him a message of love and gratitude- because that’s what friends do.
He responded, saying “I’ve been so stressed lately…and finished with ‘I love you Mike.’
Later I phoned him, Shob’s been working hard to start his own pharmacy, away from the mainstream soul-killing conglomerate chains. His vision is to have a personal relationship with his patients (as he calls them), to treat them with the utmost care, not another prescription-fill. His primary stress-related episode involved a close friend/pharmacy Tech who worked for his business. He found out that she had been stealing money and drugs from his pharmacy for two years. The incident hit him very hard. Shob said to me:
“She cried on my shoulder nearly every day. It was all a lie. She could be a hollywood actress.”
I finished the phone call by telling him that Doc Mike’s prescription was a 3-day sabbatical in the mountain wilderness, to let good tidings wash over him and refresh his spirit. I noted that I ‘expected that he would be a compliant patient’ and we made a tentative plan to meet later in the year in the mountains of California.
A bumper sticker, I just read, captures this encouragement well:
“May the FOREST be with you”- my beloved friend.