I had given a flower to a little girl with no shoes. She’d had been dancing all evening near me, staring up at me like I was magic. My group from yoga teacher training had been invited to join in on the celebration at a Krishna Temple. Nestled near the Himalayan Mountains in India, we were all staying at the Anand Prakash Ashram up the road, living and breathing yoga and it’s philosophy for 5 weeks straight. I think we all welcomed the opportunity to leave the space, just for a little, eager to get a little more than just a taste of the country where we were living. We had all walked delicately into the Temple that evening, memorized by the red, purple and green lights spreading over the white walls of the building, piercing the darkness of the usually softly lit Rishikesh. As we entered, color came into my sight from every angle. Massive paintings of Krishna hung on the walls near ornate chandeliers dangling from high ceilings. A gated off altar was set up at the front of the room depicting colorful versions of Krishna with light blue and hot pink backgrounds, flowers and golden framed photos.
I don’t remember where I had gotten the small white flower, honestly. Someone had passed one to me so I could pin it in my hair for the event, I think. I do remember being led out into the crowded dancing by an elderly Indian woman with a gentle face. The kind that smiles with her eyes, crows feet feathering outward in all directions. I remember the little girls that ran to join in, giggling as they danced, staring at all of our western faces with expressions of curiosity and excitement. So with men on one side, women on the other, we had danced, chanted, smiled and celebrated with the local families for what seemed like hours. Laughing and jumping until the tempo gradually eased and many of the locals began to take seats on the floor, still chanting and smiling as they lazily swayed to the beat.
I was sitting near one of the giggling girls who had been staring up at me as we danced. I knew my group and myself had probably been some, if not all, of the western people she had ever seen in her life in the Himalayas. I had never been somewhere where I couldn’t blend in, and sticking out like a sore thumb had made me extremely aware of the eyes that were locked on me at all times. She was staring at me as I sat, spying at me from the corner of her eye, pretending to play with the hem of her dress. I took the flower out from behind my ear and placed it in her view, smiling and gently waving her on to take it.
She was surprised by the small gift. But, after a few moments, a wide smile began to spread slowly on her face as she delicately pinched the flower between her fingertips. She inched closer to me and we sat there together chanting the next few rounds of Hare Krishna, she, lightly spinning her flower in between her fingertips, that smile still captured on her face.
Sarah, an Australian friend of mine I’d met in the program, came dancing over to us.
“I like your flower.” she had whispered over to the little girl as she sat down beside us, momentarily tired from the dancing.
The little girl peeked over at Sarah, her eyes lingering over her face and long blonde hair. Reaching for a small, sparkling pink clip that lay collecting her bangs, a soft smile grew on her face. Hair spilled out over her eyes as she removed the pink clip and placed the flower’s stem in between it’s clasps. I watched as she stood up and looked Sarah directly in the eyes as she clipped the flower into her light hair. She pulled her hands away slowly, admiring her work and flashed the same toothy wide smile she had when I had given the flower to her.
We heard a voice calling something in Hindi from across the room and the little girls ears perked at the sound. She took one last look at us, grinning from ear to ear, and the little girl who had danced all evening by my side, skipped out of the building toward her family.
An act no more than ten seconds made me fall in love with that night, that temple, that country. We all went back to the ashram later that evening, not wanting the celebration to end. Sarah, still wearing the pink clip in her hair, promising to keep it and the memory of the night with her.
I think we all knew that night would stay with us for a long time, reminding us of the kind faces and smiles of people, who didn’t need wine or liquor to dance and laugh with each other. To the men and women of Rishikesh who welcomed strange foreigners into their Temple and led us out on to the dance floor, sharing their space and Friday night. And to that little girl with no shoes, that reminded me to stop clinging on to what we are given, and share the beauty.