I.

This is both the end of the first period and the start of the second period of my life. At this point, I meet Kalyani, who becomes a significant part of my life. Kalyani provides all the spoilers for the first steps in this new life. She is full of joy and excitement and very talkative. She is like a blooming flower all the time. I, in contrast, have a daily quota of words to speak, and I communicate with people without ever exceeding this quota. I am so curious about the karma that brought Kalyani to me.

Kalyani gives so many pointers about the ashram* life that I play Kill Bill in my mind. I become a projection of Uma Thurman in this movie. Kalyani gives me some strategic pointers about settling down in the bedroom, doing the laundry, and having a shower with cold water. She is preparing me for the ashram life, and she always strongly emphasizes how she had a life-changing experience there. Each message I receive from Kalyani brings me closer to the ashram. I intend to bring a gift from Turkey for Kalyani. She asked me to bring her a book in our native language.
Upon Kalyani’s instructions, I go to an appointment to get a visa for India. I am saying I want a six-month visa, but the official pushes back a three-month visa. While I am there, I feel like smiling at her will relax her furious expression. Indeed, I just want to press her reset button. Instead, I signal my agreement with the rules and regulations by signing the paper and receive a three-month visa in return.

Seriously, everything happens for a reason. I am challenged by flexibility, where any situation can potentially transform in minutes. This is a challenge for me now because I need to change route. As I walk from Talimhane to Karakoy, I create and recreate another route over and over again. After being impressed by the documentary Buddha’s Lost Children, I am searching for the monastery’s web page. As they always say, “Let’s hope for the best.”

While I am so lost in Karakoy, I hear a recording coming from a lottery kiosk. It goes, “A life full of joy can hug you anytime.” The sound is healing me. I remember what I forgot, so that I can stop dwelling in the situation and cease mourning.

the indian way of hygiene

II. 

Kalyani introduces me to comradery in the second period of my life. She sends me a text: “Dhidam has a fever. She got an injection yesterday.”

I find this heartening after hearing all manner of bad stories about India from other people. I just want to do something for her before I see her. She wants me to bring her a book and a packet from a friend. I wonder what is in this packet. I try to guess, but I never got it right. Even Dhidam didn’t get it right—she expected to find some sandals inside. When I give her the packet and she opens it up, we just look at each other for a few seconds and see the same reaction on our faces. Today, those babbettes are still brand new and are travelling all over Sri Lanka and India in the bag.

For me, it is an important moment when I meet Dhidam. After a one-day flight with several culture shocks, Dhidam is the first person I see as I step inside the ashram. I am so exhausted that my legs are shaking, but I let myself relax when I see Dhidam. Once she hugs me and welcomes me, I feel like we already met in a different life. I regard her like a sister who’s been looking forward to meeting me. I take a deep breath and manage to exhale a hello. I feel that we’ve just rediscovered the bonds from a previous lives. In the meantime, even though I haven’t met Kalyani yet, I already expect to find a similar old bond with her too.

the indian way of hygiene

III. 

When it comes to personal hygiene, I go all out. There are no words to justify why I put eight packs of wet wipes in my luggage. I mean, why eight packs? I don’t even know how long I will be away. I must feel like eight packs of wet wipes will save me whenever I feel upset. Even though I make fun of myself for these eight packs, I also find it weird.

This habit starts changing only after a month and a half of being there. This breakthrough happens only thanks to Kalyani and Dhidam. They are so surprised to see me wearing gloves while doing the laundry and shocked to learn about how I have two pairs of flip-flops, one for indoors and one for outdoors. I had trouble getting used to the idea of having feet like the tires of a car. After a month and a half, I look at my feet during Vedanta class. My feet have clearly become summer tires now, but I just don’t care about it anymore, and I am happy about my new feet. I feel happy because my hygiene obsession was the result of some deeper questioning inside. Setting myself free from this has been priceless.

At that moment, I feel like I’m shining so bright as I sit there in the class. The camera flash is on, and I am taking photographs of my thoughts: I take responsibility for this body, yet I do not define myself with the beauty of this body.

I repeat to myself several times, “I am not this body—this body is not mine,” and this phrase now makes complete sense to me.

An ashram is a secluded building, often a residence of aguru, used for religious retreat or instruction in Hinduism.