Learning to surrender

Laura MangiavacchiLSE


There’s a passage in Alan Bennett’s “The History Boys”, which has stuck with me. “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” Gregory David Robert’s “Shantaram” has been just that. The hand I’ve been holding tight. The author puts to paper so much of what I have felt, seen, and wondered in India. Shantaram shone a light on the meaning of the friendly head wiggle, life in rural villages, and on being tortured in an Indian prison – the latter, I hope, is an experience which remain exclusively the author’s…

More importantly, the book taught me to surrender. Surrender to the magic that commands the chaos. The magic which allows cars, bikes, and trucks swerve elegantly around impassive cows on the road. Every day I am learning. Learning to give up feeling conflicted about all the generosity offered me every day. I’m learning to accept the smiles, kindness, and welcomes, which I can’t help but feel are undeserved. Atithi Devo Bhava. Guest really is God and I tend to struggle with this newly acquired Godly status.

I have also come to learn that I am so totally unequipped for real life. The life away from technology. I can’t balance buckets of water on my head, certainly not without breaking a sweat. I also saw a little girl round up a herd of cows with just a little stick, I can’t do that, not now and not when I was her age. She’s already fiercer than I will ever be. What I can do though, is capture the beauty in the glimpses of everyday life offered me here. What is so routine and commonplace is surprising and beautiful to me. To peers’ and colleagues’ amusement, I am fascinated with the goods’ and rubbish trucks that roam the roads. Their painted faces put to shame most frescos in Italian palaces. What I hope to take with me always is that there is so much beauty in everyday life, and so much honesty in communication when you don’t share a language.