Traveling India : eccentric Darjeeling hotel : Mother India
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
The hotel was located down one of the town's many dank and twisting, stone walkways, and after losing my way a number of times I finally ended up in the lap of one of India's most eccentric, incarnate expressions of the Mother- Amma Ongel, Mother Angel, owner of the Shamrock Hotel, a wayfarer's home away from home.
Amma was a rotund, fiery, loving and unbending matriarch. A woman who ruled her roost with care and an iron fist, making certain that each of her children- and anyone who arrived at her door was her child- were well-fed, well-bedded, and well-guarded from the insurrection of the night.
It was indeed a haven, a Shambhala for my soul, when I arrived into her bosom, and found myself eating home-cooked meals every night around a massive table, among other travelers, and being harbored from the neverending onslaught of invisible jackals at my heels. Amma received and released a multitude of souls like myself, all of whom came for corpulent sustenance acquired from the gravity of her soul's grounding. And when nourished they, like I, were sent off into the distance as if launched on the wings of her wisened dispassion. Roots and wings. Amma was the earth, but she did not withhold her children from the sky.
There were pictures in Amma's living room of her, this mother-to-all, standing with Nehru in the early 1950's, for her spirit had been a part of the birthing of Mother India, and she was resolute in her manner of approach, respect, and reproach, as necessary, to the entire populace of not only her country, but the entire world.
I was one of the many souls towards whom she had opened up her arms, had taken a liking to, and, after I had stayed with her for a while, she was even about to let me run the hotel for a few months while she was away overseas. That is, until she realized, in her own words, that I was "a drunkard and a womanizer"- facts which I could neither deny nor alter at the time. And who could blame me. I was alone, and so I chose to booze. I was alone, and so I chased women.
I do not regret any of my absurd and societally unacceptable life back then. I accept all of myself, no matter who chooses to deny me. After all, I was no murderer or thief. All I wanted was some liquor and love. And who could blame me.
Regardless of Amma's outright decision, I did not hold it against her. She had to keep the cocks out of the henhouse, so to speak, and her decisions were based on the best for all. And so I continued to stay on at the Shamrock for a month or more, living in one of the lower, unheated rooms, during the month of January, when it is very cold in Darjeeling- so cold that I had to sit wrapped in blankets, attempting to warm myself with tea and rum, while hovering over the little kerosene stove I had purchased for 70 rupees, and then occasionally turning on my laptop, and continuing to pour out, from the neverending cauldron, the many ingredients lurking within me.
Anyway, as I said, I stayed on at the hotel for another month, and then headed south to find some warmth, if nothing more. A few months later I met up with Amma again, unexpectedly, in Bodhgaya, where I had been licking my metaphysical wounds while living in a small mud hut on a large property where many supplicants were engaged in a silent retreat, which is where I had decided was the next imperfect place to write, drink chai, become frozen in wonder, and go mad.
I ran into Amma on the street, and she was quick to convince me to help her put on a meal for about thirty Buddhist monks at one of the many monasteries in the town. And so I chopped vegetables one evening for her, and added my pitiful baksheesh into her limitless alms, and then we parted with a hug of love and understanding, going our separate ways. And so I left her like the prodigal son once again leaving the Mother's home, out again, away again, to spend and lose and gamble away all that I had been given, and all that I could not maintain, because I was like an insatiable man outside of the Garden, off of the conveyor belt, and I did not know that my pockets were empty, my vessel run dry, and my heart grown more barren on each exodus out and away and into the ungrounded cosmos, into the sky, where all spirits fly freely with wings but have no roots nor nest to which to return, and so they fly on and on, always imagining peace up ahead, always yearning to find and never finding what they left behind but did not know it- home.
I have seen men like myself running on that outer edge, along the precipice of non-being, balancing on the point of the furthest visible star in the galaxy, and hovering there, in the painful and yet untroubled distance, where only drink, or sleep, or madness brings relief from the inexorable need to keep running with abandon, always further out and away from humanity, society, rules, constructs, struggles, life, and love.
I too have walked through that void bounded by euphoria and despair, where the wings without roots fly effortlessly toward nowhere, because nowhere is the absence of all else, of all that befalls us in our tramp through the forest of futility and care.
I too have left this earth because it was not enough and far too much for me, and I too have found that once you break through the stratosphere of souls, it is almost impossible to get back, because to get back means to accept everything you have rejected in order to get away, and that reversal is a gross bathos from the untethered reaches back to earth, which is a turn-about that the free-flying spirit rarely, if ever, dares to choose.
However, as I often remarked to anyone who commented about how lucky I was to live so freely, to come and go as I chose, and to make decisions based on no one but myself and God- I often declared with absolute honesty that freedom means nothing without love, because without love, freedom is merely exile, for though it be the unchained spirit which lifts the wings to soar on high, it is the roots of love which give the eagle's wings its nest. For freedom without love is merely a massive prison without any rest, and nothing to do but fly on and on and on, because without love there is no home and without a home there is no such thing as freedom, only flight, because freedom is not love, but love is freedom.
(excerpted from Roots and Wings: adventures of a spirit on earth, by Jack Haas)