I was walking down the aisle of Trader Joe’s in Santa Fe in a salwar kameez, bindi, jutis… my regular attire when I am not working out or torturing my beloved clients. I am lost in thoughts of spicy fish vindaloo and steamed rice for dinner, salivating at the aroma of crispy cinnamon toast with creamy brie sprinkled with rosemary and honey for breakfast, when I am startled from my deep food samadhi by an accented “Namaste.” A white man in a saffron kurta and white pajamas, with disheveled hair and a rudraksha mala around his neck has obviously figured out I am Indian. I fold my hands in Namaste and smile. This leads to a conversation, with him trying to speak all the Hindi words in his vocabulary. He tells me that he lives in India the majority of his year, spends his time in prayer and meditation, and works for the betterment of poor, downtrodden Indian women.
I tell him that I am grateful for the work he is doing in the land of my birth, fold my hands again, saying Namaste, while the gorgeous, peachy butternut squashes are calling to me so I can morph them into a soup. Ass I begin to walk away, saying, “It was nice to meet you…” Anandaji (the spiritual name he has taken) tells me how lucky I am to be living here in the states, which is so much safer for me.
I stop, there are a hundred answers, a million defenses going through my head, the nationalist Shibana saying silently, “What are you doing living in my country…taking an Indian name and Indian garb if its so unsafe?” This is where the teaching of patanjali comes in: I tell myself, vrittayah pancatayah klishta aklishta, (the afflictions of the mind, the coloring of thoughts cause a fluctuation which become the breeding ground of samskaras). I say a silent Om and turn to him with a smile, saying that he, trying to live the life of sadhu, should know that safety is just a construct of the mind. I felt and feel safe in India as much as I do here as I walk towards the pungent, warm ginger which will balance the sweetness of the squash in the soup.
I am driving to my client’s home today afternoon on Old Santa Fe Trail. The golden autumn sun is shining through my windows, the breeze caressing my skin has the crispiness of fall, the yellow leaves on the trees are offering themselves to the earth, and autumn is the season that teaches about the impermanence of everything. My head and face are covered in a pink scarf, protecting my skin from the sun, a habit from years so long back that it seems as natural as putting on my sunglasses when to protect from the glare of the brilliant sun. The melody of a Bollywood song sings “subhan Allah”(glory to Allah) loudly. I slow down as I come to a turn, and a group of middle aged white tourists look at me oddly, perhaps because my scarf could be mistaken for a hijab, perhaps it is the continuous rendition of subhan allah from the car, perhaps it is the small Indian flag sticker I put on my car in a moment of nostalgia towards my homeland… perhaps it is my imagination, but my heart begins to thump loudly, I remember the incident of a Sikh professor being assaulted just the day before because he was mistaken for a Muslim. I could easily be shot or assaulted in a hate crime, I think, lowering the volume of the song, and gratefully parking in my client’s driveway. I take a look in the mirror with my scarf still on, see the fear that had momentarily made home in my eyes and say softly that safety is indeed a construct of the mind, not forgetting that this how my many dear Muslim brothers and sisters feel everyday in this safe land, as the whiff of the sweet, comforting ginger date pie I made that morning wraps itself around me!