“ . . . One flew east, one flew west, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” Children’s nursery rhyme.
Felice hummed the mantra she had recently been given as she scrubbed the tile floor with a hand brush. It was her secret, her one true self secret and it was part of the path to happiness. Her special song led the way on the road before her and the work was a joy even when the assignment was cleaning lavatories or putting in long hours at kitchen patrol.
She made good use of roadside distractions. Although initially unfamiliar with open fire cooking, Felice had become an expert chapatis maker, rolling out dough balls into thin crêpes, dropping them into the sizzling hot ghee and, after a precise time bubbling on each side, she held them with wood tongs over the flame to get them to puff out like a balloon. Her sensibility produced a delicate crispness that was extolled by everyone in the ashram including, secretly and in private, the head yogi who grudgingly admitted that nowhere in his enlightened view of the world had he encountered such delicious chapatis.
Over two hundred meals a day were served in the ashram, but that was Abhyasa, the reason she was there. To quote the Swami Sivananda, “the purpose for which we have come to this place.” Felice marveled at the simple concept, turned it around in her head as she knelt and scrubbed the rough tile scuffed by years, centuries, of similar acolyte offerings. She was aware the way was never clear, but sadhana gave it measured nextness for which Felice was happy, happy, happy.
At last she rose from her knees and immediately heard her name called. She was directed to the swami’s presence where the yogi said, “Ah, my little Socal. You have been in Bihar long enough. Now is time you are going to Mumbai. A hotel has bean arranged. We will miss your chapitas.”
The swami remained tight lipped, but in the few hours before departure, Felice learned she would be working at a Mumbai festival that would draw thousands. It was a celebration for the Tantric power of Shakti, a celebration of female energy, consciousness and love.
Felice gave an unquestioning nod of assent. It was the month of the mother and she knew departing the ashram, no matter how exciting it might seem at first, would be difficult. She steeled herself. To once again be among those on the outside would be both a selfless act of devotion as well as further demonstration of her personal strength, her discipline and willingness to sacrifice her ego for the happiness of others.
“You may now break your oath of silence since you will no longer be in the world.”
“Jai Ma,” she said in a little girl voice. Her throat was not used to speech and croaked, sounded rough after weeks of lying fallow.
“Jai Ma!” the yogi said in strident liturgical response.
After a formal salute, the soldier stood stoically in front of his commanding officer.
“At ease, Major.”
The CO read from a folder, slapped it shut on his desk and said, “You completed Ranger training at Fort Benning, Major.” The General’s words were crisp and precise. He mused out loud: “Hmmmm.” Then he adopted a congenial tone, said, “I must admit I am impressed. That’s a young man’s game, not something someone your age usually attempts let alone accomplishes. Not first, but not last in the class either. Congratulations.”
Franklin stared straight ahead in the presence of his superior officer; it was a vigilant rigid easiness that reflected his ever present sense of duty.
“Yes sir. Thank you sir.”
“We have a military plane leaving Kyrgyzstan for Istanbul in an hour. You’re on it.” The General plucked a packet from his desk top, handed it over. “From there you pick up a domestic flight to Mumbai. Here are your orders. Briefly, there is a meeting in Mumbai. India’s considering joining NATO. You are to attend. We want you there as eyes and ears, but don’t offer anything. In fact, I advise you keep silent unless asked directly and then make it short and on point.”
“Yes sir. I understand, Sir.”
“No need to rent a car. A driver has been assigned to take you to your hotel. It’s a long flight to Mumbai, but I’m told it’s beautiful country even from the air. That will be all.”
The Major saluted, said, “Thank you, Sir,” about faced with the packet high up under his arm like a British baton, and marched out of the room.
The front desk was falling behind. Two turban wearing junior managers were hard at work greeting guests, asking them a last name, if there was a reservation, to fill out the proper forms and surrender passports. Almost none of the travelers were from India, although a number were from various nearby countries including Pakistan.
Everyone spoke English so when Franklin arrived he was able to confirm his reservation and asked where the room was located. When he learned it was in the next door tower and not the 105-year-old hotel proper, he asked if it would be all right to take a room just up the stairs on the second floor.
“It would be fine with me, you see, sir,” the young man smiled as he explained the circumstances. Franklin at first thought this meant yes, he could stay in the old building rather than the new. “But it is not up to me, you see, sir. The rooms on that level are what we call second rate and often occupied by mendicants.”
Accustomed to getting his way and not being put off, Franklin asked, “So who can make a decision like that?”
“I will look up the manager, you see, sir, and you may speak with she.”
A woman wearing a rose and white sarong that flowed to the floor and draped her from head to foot appeared. She was exceedingly polite and asked, “Yes, sir. How might I help you?”