I had just finished college in Australia and was back at home in Singapore. Fresh out of school Free as a bird, thrilled about my new found freedom to adventure …
The world was my oyster and I felt like a myriad of possibilities were about to open up to me. I was in my early twenties at the time. Having returned to the tiny, densely populated island / republic of Singapore, I lived with my family as most young people do. My dad was looking forward to my getting a stable job and settling at home after having spent years away at college.
I, on the other hand, had other plans. I was ready to begin my career but I wanted freedom, adventure and growth to come with it. I was not about to choose an ordinary life. Much to the chagrin of my father I had firmly decided to design something quite unusual … even quite extraordinary.
I woke up one morning for an early morning breakfast in the heart of town. Sitting in Borders Cafe in the heart of an orchard I was in a great place to be the observer and take in the sights of this dynamic metropolis. In the small hours of the morning, the city’s peaceful demeanor was a rare sight. The city had not yet awoken … I leaned back enjoying my early breakfast and tea, sitting by myself and enjoying my own company.
On the table next to me, two women were speaking very excitedly and sharing a meal. I could not help but notice their bubbling exuberance and I found myself rather drawn to them.
Then a most surprising moment transpired. Like a gift fluttering from the heavens, a velvety black butterfly arrived and danced amongst our tables. The excitement escalated to giddy squeals as this force of nature came to each one of us kissing us on our cheeks, weaving past our hair. This butterfly was not shy!
The lady at the table next to me said “It’s a black butterfly! Black butterflies always arrive at the most opportune moments in my life”! She started regaling numerous significant moments in her life when black butterflies had appeared.
We basked in the butterfly and her story. This brilliant performance from nature connected us all instantly. The lady who spoke of black butterflies introduced herself as Shantelle Gold an Inspirational Life Coach. She asked me for a means of contact and I offered a simple business card that stated in plain and simple font … WRITER.
She gasped and said “I’m a writer myself and I’ve been looking for a writer to document MY Life story. I’ve had a remarkable journey to India in the past few years … I’ve needed help and here you are. The Black Butterfly brought you to me.”
I’d like you to work with me to write my story. Come with me to visit my guru in India. I want to share my journey with the world …and I’m leaving in ten days.”
Lo and behold, I had a week to obtain my visa and I was jetting off to New Delhi!
The adventure had begun in a most unusual way. Before we knew it, we were on a plane diving into the unknown. This would be my first trip to India and we would arrive on New Years Eve of 2002. The plane landed and we were whisked away to a home in the heart of Delhi.
All I remember upon arrival was being taken aback by the immense difference in my environment. The architecture was grandiose and old, emanating of eras and legends past. Cows walked casually in the streets, nonchalantly mingling with traffic and dust.
I had always been well-travelled, having visited most of the world’s continents, but nothing had quite prepared me for a sight such as this. The scene before me seemed to be painted in a reddish brown sheen. The buildings, even the air was painted in this rich coat of color. I felt like I had been delivered to an entirely new world. The noises and the hustle and bustle in the air seemed so foreign. As the observer, I watched this new society as it went about the importance of its daily regime.
Although I had lived in Asia, I had never been surrounded by such a crowd of beautiful people all with huge, almond eyes and long velvet lashes. In the midst of the clamor, I admired the raw beauty about me. It was as if I had been transplanted into the heart of a National Geographic Special.
All these thoughts buzzed through my mind as we were driven to the home of one of the Sangat. The family we would be staying with was actively involved in the running of the ashram we were to visit out in the outskirts of Delhi. We were being taken to their home in Delhi that was situated next to the restaurant that they owned. Half of the house was a family home and the other half opened up to a restaurant that served the most delectable Indian food I had tasted in my life! It was a family business and everyone had a role and was involved in its running.
Chotu (which in Hindi means tiny), was the name of the robust, stocky son who had picked us up from the airport and served as our main guide. He was a true testament to his parents as he was wonderfully respectful of his family and made it his responsibility to cater to all our needs.
Immediately, I sensed the strong bonds within their family. Although the mother of the family was Catholic and her husband was Sikh, they both warmly embraced their respective religious practices. The walls of their home were decorated with altars of the Virgin Mary and the Christ child, as well as depictions of Guru Nanak’s lineage of spiritual leaders.
Here we were, five strangers from all walks of life and different parts of the world who had been brought to their home. Knowing nothing about us, other than we were there for the ashram they readily assumed responsibility to take care of us, unconditionally.
In the excitement and glee, they hugged and welcomed us so warmly, I instantly felt at home. Truly this was a culture that was wonderfully accepting.
We were told it was time to feast and no one was about to argue with that idea. Our orders were swiftly taken and in less than an hour a huge buffet of food was brought over from the restaurant to the living room.
We licked our lips, as savory vegetarian dishes were delivered one by one … Saagpaneer, cucumber raita, spicy vegetable curries, and rich desserts. The feasting began and we were being spoiled. Everyone glowed and shared stories of who they were and what they were in search of. I was amazed by the different walks of life that had gathered and the gentleness in their souls and the deep desire that each one had to evolve in their lives.
I knew I was about to meet the young guru everyone was buzzing about. He was simply and affectionately known as Babaji and was said to be the reincarnation of ShriHaidakhanBabaji, a man who was said to be ‘pure at heart and holy in spirit’. It was said that “His voice was deep. His speech was full of gentleness and grace. He used to say that courtesy does not cost anything and only the meek and humble inherit the kingdom of God. Whenever he spoke, the air seemed to stand still and mute wonder lurked in the hearts of man and woman to imbibe the sweetness of his words.”
And so ended my first night in Delhi and I fell in to a peaceful sleep. At the crack of dawn, at 5 am, we were awoken. Several jeeps had been arranged for our group to be transported deep into the heart of the Punjab province to a small town known as Patiala. We would be visiting and staying at the Guru Nanak Ashram located in the village.
The open-top jeeps soon left New Delhi’s perimeter and began to speed past rocky roads. We travelled across the most amazing scenery, passing through villages whose people were engaged in their early morning activities. I was shocked to see so many making cow manure patty cakes that they were drying out to use in a variety of ways. Cow manure cakes provide the fuel that generates heat and electricity. I could see why cows are so revered in India. They provide dairy products, leather, labor and were also a valuable source of fuel.
I was jolted once more into profound culture shock. Seeing such poverty before me, I could only fall silent and give gratitude for the luxurious life I had been exposed to back home. How could I even begin to complain about anything in my life, when there are so many that people who inhabit this huge continent who smile and laugh despite the few possessions they own and the many adversities they face.
Even small children were hard at work, their childhood filled with the very mature, adult concerns of making money and providing for their family. It seemed like the innocence and rapture of childhood was stolen from so many.
My heart broke in witnessing this utter destitution. With poverty that was so extreme and conditions that were so widespread, I did not know how to embrace what I was faced with, except to make a sworn testimony to always be grateful and always live my life to the fullest, and to touch as many as I possibly can with my life’s work.
While my heart kept breaking, and I breathed into silence I knew I was being weaned on the milk of compassion. And this was the first and very powerful lesson of this spiritual journey.
Hours passed and we eventually approached our destination, the city of Patiala. It was a small quiet province in south-eastern Punjab. Foreigners were rare in these parts and we had been told to dress conservatively in Shalwarkameez in respect to the culture in to which we would be entering.
We brushed against green foliage and shrubbery entering into the humble infrastructure that made up the town. Donkeys lumbered by with their owners and the crowd stared at us quizzically. As much as we tried to dress the part, we were obviously foreigners. The town folk could not help but drink in our presence that represented a world so removed from their reality.
To be continued …
About the author: Born and raised on the tropical island of Singapore, Mahira Amir Khan is an award winning producer/writer/poet whose work has appeared in a variety of international venues. Having read her Bachelor of Arts in Australia, she is a world explorer with a successful career in the media.
Mahira’s career began in South East Asia with a background in lifestyle journalism. At the young age of 27, she held the post of Chief Editor of a Singaporean medical health magazine. She then travelled across the oceans to the West to dive deeper into her creativity. Whilst based in Los Angeles, she held a 6 year career as a producer in the action sports industry, producing 17 publicly acclaimed extreme sports films, several TV specials as well as two seasons of a popular reality TV series titled ‘The MOTO – Inside the Outdoors ‘. The series airs on Fuel TV.
True to her lineage that is Afghani, Persian with traces of Pakistani and Indian blood, Mahira possesses a rare and most innate gift for the arts. She is currently working on publishing her inspirational writings.
Her life’s mission lies in the production of film/TV and written works that are empowering and awakening. Thus raising the public to their fullest potential, offering knowledgeable entertainment and powerful new perspectives, inspiring her audience to live the greatest life they could possibly live.