Tags: Asia, India, Quarter Finalist, Volunteering
The splash of vibrant fuchsia mixed in with a tinge of twinkling turquoise and a glimmer of iridescent crimson backdropped with lofty mountains was enough to complete my mental photograph of the incredible beauty that is Pune, India. As I futilely attempted to capture this elusive wonder with a camera, I felt a slight tap on my shoulder but when I spun around to see the finger’s owner, my eyes found no one. Again, a tap came but this time, I reached out to grab the perpetrator’s spindly wrist. However, as I turned around, a flash of color was sprayed out of a local water gun called a pichkari.
A young boy with various shades of color smeared across his face but with a discernible grin and eyes filled with mischief greeted me.
“Tag!” he yelled as he pulled out my grasp and scampered away. “You’re it!”
Who would’ve known that I would travel 18 hours on two separate flights through customs, immigration and a four hour bus ride on unpaved dirt roads to play a traditionally American game of tag with a colorful Indian twist?
When I finally caught up to him on the roof of the temple, we were both thoroughly exhausted but thankfully, the simmering heat of the afternoon had given way to a refreshing breeze. I climbed up onto the ledge and studied the young kid next to me as the sinking sun slowly made its way below the horizon.
“I wanted to show you the view,” he confessed. And what a breathtaking view it was. The towering mountains seemed even more massive compared to the seemingly tiny village that lay beneath it and yet, the beauty of the landscape was mirrored in the kindness of the people with hearts that matched the magnitude of the mountains. As I glanced back at the boy, he had a small smile playing on his lips as he looked out onto his home and the only world he had ever known. Yet, he was content and satisfied with the life he lived despite the lack of material comforts that I had grown accustomed to. I was constantly searching for true happiness and yet, this adolescent seemed to have found his fair share amidst his countless brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts in the village.
On the morning of my final day in the village, I made my last trip to the roof of the temple where I sat on the ledge and watched the vibrant sun burst up in a ball of fire across the horizon, alighting the valley in a warm and pleasant glow. Once again, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked back to see my young friend.
“I came to say goodbye and give you this,” he muttered as he thrust a charcoal drawing of Ganesha, the god of wisdom, in my hands. “He will bring you luck.”
I was surprised but exceptionally touched by his gesture. I drew him into a hug and promised to treasure the artwork forever. He grinned and turned to leave.
“Wait! At least tell me your name!” I called to him.
“Arun,” he yelled over his shoulder.
Arun. In Sanskrit, Arun means "the rising sun". I glanced back at the glorious sunrise and realized that I had met my own little sun in India, one that had opened my eyes to a version of happiness that I had never known. Happiness that is not accompanied by an expensive party or a new car but rather, one that exists in the simplest pleasures of giving and receiving love.