Not big on advanced planning, Vipassana ended and we had to find somewhere to put ourselves. We decide to go to the small city of Pushkar, 6 kilometers from the Vipassana center, because we had been told that we could catch a local bus there for less than 15 cents. “How convenient,” thought we, still lingering in the peace of 10 silent days, “a bus ride to town sounds lovely.” When the bus arrived and pulled to the side of the road to let us in, we quickly realized the ways a city bus in India differs from any city bus we had known up to that point. Though convenient enough, this bus ride to town was not going to be lovely.
Our optimism and blissful smiles waned as the bus screeched to a dusty halt. The quiet country road we were on was suddenly transformed into what felt like a boulevard of stimulation. We were pulled from serenity and confronted by a bus teeming with people, sounds, smells and lots of touching. And now we were supposed to interact with it. Packed and crammed beyond its capacity, this bus didn’t appear to have room for two more travelers and their packs. Every face peered out the barred windows at us, obviously fascinated by our whiteness, westernness or otherwise. In a moment of utter regret at the decision to take a bus, Austin turned to David to point out that every person on the bus was male and she was sure that buses so crowded that people are literally overflowing out of the doors and windows are exactly the sorts of places where white western women get sexually assaulted. But before we could change our minds and opt for a taxi instead, we were yanked into the bus by several helpful overflowees clinging to the doorway. The bus lurched forward while we were still making our way up the stairs or, rather, getting pulled and pushed through the throng to our places.
A fellow Vipassana student had somehow managed to squeeze onto the bus with us and though we had barely met him moments before boarding seemed to take it upon himself, perhaps inspired by an enlightening Vipassana experience, to be our benevolent attendant of the bus. Our savior took our backpacks which were then hoisted and passed overhead and came to a lofty resting place far from our reach. Austin was given a place near the door. To call it a seat would be an exaggeration, as her left butt cheek was sharing a tiny bench with two men who, in all fairness, were doing their best to accommodate her. The rest of her body was in the aisle where it was repeatedly stepped on, squeezed past, and shoved aside while she did all she could to maintain her balance on the bumpy road and the valuable real estate her left cheek was barely occupying. Meanwhile, David was shoved somewhere deeper into the mass and was given a cozy portion of space to stand in the aisle. When David began to fish for bus fare our hero gestured that he had already taken care of it. What a guy!
Six kilometers later our bus angel alerted us to our stop and then arranged for our packs to be retrieved and passed overhead to us, and the whole cramming-through-shoving-past-stepping-on ordeal was repeated in reverse as we were heaved toward the exit. We crowd-surfed out the door with just enough time to wave and shout a thanks to our divine agent of transportation before the bus pulled away leaving us in a dusty cloud on the side of the road.
After 10 days of not interacting with people, having delicious meals prepared for us, and feeling a general sense of ease (this is relative of course, as we wouldn’t exactly say Vipassana was easy) in the controlled bubble of the course site, we were suddenly thrust, quite literally, back into the real world. Oh, right. We’re in India.