To greet a Satsangi you say Rhadasoami. To say goodbye you do the same.

I learned this – like most of the lessons I learn in India – on the fly, without any prior knowledge of what the Rhadasoami faith was or why followers of the faith are called Satsangis.

It was Sunday, the third day of our trip to Delhi and Agra. For fourth time in as many days I was up before five. Even so, we missed the Satsang service at the Rhadasoami colony. Satsang consists of prayer and mediation lead by the spiritual leader of the colony. We made it to the colony by six, just after the Satsang had wrapped up, but in time to work in the fields.

The Satsangis in Agra have attempted to create a utopian community, the sort which has faded from the American landscape but which is still common in India. They grow their own food, make their own clothes and even have an accredited univerisity within the walls of their colony. They live, work and pray together.

When we arrived in the fields, we saw hundreds of people – from the very young to very old – systematically flattening a plot of land to turn into a rice paddy. Some of the younger and stronger men shoveled dirt to form the walls of the paddy, while the rest of us drew small plows to flatten the land.

As usual, we were a spectacle, but we didn’t draw the same probing glares and the girls didn’t receive the sort of voyeuristic eye-disrobings they usually get. Everyone at the colony was concerned with their work, but more than that they seemed at peace. I saw my friend’s grandfather, who had been our contact at the colony, drawing a plow with the same serene Moses-down-from-the-mount expression he always carried.

The Satsangis believe that before one can eat they ought to sweat. After working for about three hours, we were granted the rare opportunity of meeting the colony’s spiritual leader. He spoke to us for less than ten seconds. None of what he said was remarkable – he only asked what we were doing in India – but I was struck by how deep and smooth his voice was. It seemed larger than his small frame.

The day before we had seen the Taj Mahal and Agra’s Red Fort, both sights of international acclaim and tremendous beauty. Photographs really can’t capture what it’s like to see an enormous marble structure rising up through the fog on the banks of the Yamuna River.

We came to Agra via Delhi. Delhi (pronounced dill-y by Indians; not deli) is the part of India people speak about when they talk about 10 percent growth. The city is flush with new capital and you can tell. Everywhere we went we saw the signs of new wealth: smartly-dressed IT professionals brushing past government officials, shops full of high quality wares and – above all – frenetic construction. Flyovers, bridges, high rises and highways are all being built at a fantastic rate. Sure, there are slums in Delhi, but one gets the sense that there might not be within a generation.

In Delhi,  we met up with friends from U.S. We marveled at the fact that half a world away from where we knew one another we could meet up for a casual dinner.

Two of our friends work for Delhi-based NGO that works with recovering intravenous drug users. Not only are many of the organization’s clients recovered addicts, so are many of the employees. All of this added an intersting wrinkle to their invitation to go back to their place (also their NGO’s office) to party.

Once we climb up to the roof we see 30 or so former addicts going crazy, dancing free form in a circle. Not one to avoid a dance party, I jump into the middle of the circle and do my crazy best (which for those of you who have seen me dance is a mixture of rap hits and weak imitation of bhangra). Sadly, though, the music cuts out after about a minute, ending my Napoleon Dynamite-esque solo. The guys around me shake my hand. One of them turns to me, and in halting English says:

“Good, but light. Light”

“You mean, not hard core”

“Yes, not hard core – light.”

I learn that former junkies aren’t easily impressed.

Advertisements