Monday, February 11, 2008

Ben Left...

Ben left the other day.

I can already tell that he left a mark.

His departure marked several very touching scenes. His last assembly, we played the song that Ben and I had written one last time for the kids. After this the assembly was over, Sir ji asked the children if they had anything to ask or say to Ben. Everyone stood uncomfortably for a while, obviously not wanting the moment to end, having to say goodbye to their new giant blonde friend. Some awkward silence was broken by the gossipy whisper of the eighth grade girls. They asked Ben to sing him a song which made sense. Ben had song his own songs with guitar in many of our assemblies and without fail, the three gossipy 8th grade girl had been sitting at his side looking at him adoringly with those dreamboat googly eyes. Ben is one of the few singer/songwriter with a 8th grade village Indian girl fan club.

But on the fly, he played a song that he wrote about leaving when he left washington some six months ago. He prefaced the song by saying that leaving the ashram had brought about many similar emotions that he faced upon his first departure, how the ashram community had adopted him into the family and how close he became with the children made it difficult to leave, but nevertheless he had to go. The trip would be bittersweet, but to a much different tone than the departure from the states, swapping the comfort of that life for excitement of the unknown. Now he was swapping the comfort of the ashram to the comfort of his home, which apparently can overweigh a Himalayan paradise. But one can easily see why, a month of drinking nescafe and the absence of microbrew is torture for the Seattleite, or probably more likely a loving family, an excellent girlfriend, and bucketful of close friends can draw one away from social work with amazing children on a meditative spiritual path. Wait a minute, Ben is totally selfish, what a jerk.

I kid, I kid.

But after the song ended you could tell it affected the children, they didn't want him to go but couldn't think of anything to say to keep the assembly going. After a couple minutes of silence, sir ji said, 'chalo' and the kiddus sadly scampered off.

After his last meditation, Sir ji ended the session early, apparently so we could have an hour long affirmation session about how great Ben is. We went around the room saying how great Ben was, how he was the perfect fit for the ashram, how much we would miss him. Ben must have left that session pretty high, I bet.

In the morning he was presented with gifts, a shawl from the ashram and even more important, a package of pictures and fond wishes from the third and sixth grade. Highlights from the third grade was probably that everyone spelled his name wrong, calling him Ven sir and the picture that they drew of him on the back of the card which was a dead on rendition of a digital surfdude sasquatch. Those kooks.

After some hugging everyone in the ashram (which was amusing for me to watch, seeing the girls akwardly squirm through their hugs. Apparently hugging giant unshaven blonde foreign men, let alone Indian men, isn't woven into the fabric of mountain village life), we took off to wait for the bus. I decided to go down with Ben to Dehradun to run some errands and see him off.
While we were drinking some chai waiting for the bus by the side of the road, one of the KG saw Ben and immediately started dancing, doing the sprinkler. Ben taught the kids that dance in one of our dance classes with the younger kids. Way more satisfying than a mere wave, and the kid would not stop dancing, even when his father, who was walking with him was shaking his finger at him. Ohhh...precious moments.

I exited the train after making sure that Ben had found his seat. Despite it being around six in the morning, when we got on the train, the platform was bustling with activity, but when I left, I found it barren. The only things I could see is the dimly lit vendors idly looking off to the distance, and what I assumed to be a tearful lover trying to hold on to her husband before he took off to the moving train. Not the best situation to be alone for essentially the first time in a month (Ben had more or less been attached to my hip in the ashram). And then his damn song about leaving, the very one he sang at assembly, crept into my head as I walked down the dark streets to find the vikram that would take me back to the hostel. For me his departure was also bitter sweet; I loved having Ben around, our days tended to be one long joke interspersed with some creative motivation to work on our respective projects and playing with children. But I also can be a very private person who enjoys his own space, space that has been inhabited by Ben for the last month, so I looked forward to returning to that form and being a bit more productive in terms of the projects asked of me.

But as I write this during my supersecret productive time between five and seven in the morning, it is kind of sad to not to be able to share this with Ben. During this time after meditation, Ben would stay up with me and work on his personal projects. While I get a much bigger share of the terrible Nescafe coffee pot, I can no longer look over to the left of my desk, just over the space heater, to see Ben sitting upright covered completely head to toe by his sleeping bag and array of blankets stacked upon his lap, book or pen in hand, working away to the candlelight emanating from bedstand beside him.

But Ben's legacy lives on, and I don't see it fading away anytime soon. Everyday, I find a kid singing, 'and you and you and you' the chorus he wrote to the song. Mohan still makes the perfect impersonation of Ben's apparent surfer Hindi accent, 'tum kar rahe ho?' Ben's favorite phrase. The ashram girls still ask me when he is coming back, Sir ji is still slinging him compliments.

It is amazing how much a person can have an impact on the right community in such a short stay. But it isn't to surprising that Ben himself made the impact on this community. He made a great fit, his creativity, love for children, outgoing personality, communication skills. His personality, as well as his contributions to the music and input towards the documentary I am making about the ashram will long outlive his stay.

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