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FEATURE - September 2019
A Trip to India Proves Life is Sneaky, Mysterious, and Filled with Wonder
By Pam Grout
“Joy is the ultimate act of defiance.”—Bono
When TribesForGOOD, an inspiring new program in India, invited me to join their maiden social impact journey, I didn’t hesitate. I’d always wanted to visit India and Tribes’ mission, to empower change-makers and uplift the world, aligns perfectly with mine.
Mandeep Kaur, the young dynamo who started this innovative enterprise, had read a couple of my books, knew I was an avid traveler and seemed convinced I needed to play a part in the first of her seven-day social change expeditions.
“Are you kidding me?” I responded. “Of course, I want to spend a week boosting my social media skills, learning about sustainable development. Of course, I want to participate in a program that’s working to disrupt the status quo.”
Little did I realize how dramatically my own life was about to be disrupted.
But on October 14, a few short weeks before I was headed to Mumbai, the unthinkable happened. My gorgeous daughter, Taz, my only child, died unexpectedly of a cerebral aneurysm. It was exactly one week after her 25th birthday. We had been texting back and forth about going to see the movie, “A Star is Born.” I was sitting at the kitchen table, vaguely aware she hadn’t answered my last text when a policeman came to the door, informing me she was at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, about to be life-flighted to KU Medical Center.
I won’t get into the details (since this, after all, is a tale about India), but my life was completely upended. Nothing made sense. How could I fly halfway around the world to India when I could barely hoist myself out of bed? How could I possibly go alone and be with people I didn’t even know?
My best friend from college who, like me, longs to make a difference in the world, had expressed interest when I first signed on with Tribes, but because the date fell around Thanksgiving, she eventually declined.
After Taz died, I asked her to reconsider. I knew it was a big ask. Luckily, Mary is a loyal friend who intuitively knew the 222 Foundation I was creating in Tasman’s honor would give me a much-needed sense of purpose.
My big-hearted daughter and I had a thing about 222. We often texted each other photos of our special number. We frequently got room 222 at hotels on our many travels. Giving a grant each year on February 22 (2/22) was something I could do to keep her vision alive. Everything Taz did was some version of this theme: Create relentlessly, love fiercely and do quiet, kind things for the underdog. I always marveled that this amazing spirit chose me as her mother.
In my books, I talk a lot about synchronicity and signs from the universe. But how could I have guessed, when I agreed to travel halfway around the world, that I would be needing the skills to start a Foundation?
And why did Mandeep feel impelled to invite a self-help author from Kansas to a grassroots program for startups in India that address urban poverty, sustainable fashion, and women’s empowerment?
How could I have known how relevant my week in Mumbai was going to be? How could I have predicted that Tribes’ workshops, field visits to schools and slums, and hackathons with young, ambitious social entrepreneurs would prove to be so useful? The universe can be tricky like that.
The synchronicity didn’t stop there
After our week with TribesForGOOD in Mumbai, Mary and I, of course, played tourist. We visited emperor’s palaces, bought carpets, had high tea in fancy hotels. And, despite our reservations that India’s top tourist attraction would be claustrophobically busy and potentially cheesy, we decided to visit.
I knew Taz, an avid adventurer, would kill me if I went all that way and didn’t pay homage to the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s seven wonders. I could almost hear her whispering in my ear, “Mom, where’s your sense of fun?”
Little did I realize, she also had other plans in mind. The Taj Mahal and its 42 white-marble acres is magical, spiritual, truly unique. It was designed as a tribute to love and to Moghul Shah Jahan’s favorite wife who, get this, was named, MumTaz.
But when our guide (who besides English and Hindi, spoke Spanish, Taz’s major) informed us it took 20,000 workers 22 years to build, Mary and I practically fell over.
My Taz couldn’t have been more clear that part of her ashes should be memorialized there.
Taz also led us to the first recipient for her 222 Foundation: a nearby café/coffee shop run by victims of acid attacks, 10 women whose lives were turned upside down when men who allegedly loved them threw acid that melted their skin, burned their eyebrows, and disfigured their lips, faces and necks.
Geeta and her two daughters, for example, were attacked by Geeta’s husband, their father, while they were sleeping. He was mad his wife hadn’t produced a male heir.
Rather than hide, rather than feel like outcasts, these amazing women offer coffee and free food to anyone who stops by, no questions asked. Rather than protest their unfortunate situations, the women at Sheroes Hangout, as the café is called, choose to give, choose to love, choose to exemplify that, despite being culturally shunned, they are beautiful and worthy and bursting with important gifts to bestow upon the world.
Because of their difficult circumstances, these eloquent women demonstrate the importance and truth of inner beauty. They demonstrate unconditional love. They inspire all of us to turn tragedy into something that helps others.
Which is exactly what my journey to India ended up being about. On the material level, neither Mandeep nor I had any idea what was about to transpire in 2018.
But that old trickster universe was working behind the scenes, lining up much-needed proof that life is eternal and far beyond my comprehension. My only choice now is to bow to the mystery, to recognize that life is far more profound than I—at least while in this body—can begin to understand.
Pam Grout is a hopeless romantic who still believes the world is a beautiful place, that people are noble, and that anything is possible. For a living (and she always wonders why people think that's such an important question), she writes books and articles for such places as People magazine, Men's Journal, CNN Travel and Huffington Post. She has written 20 books including the #1 New York Times bestseller, E-Squared. Find out more about Pam at her sometimes updated website www.pamgrout.com.