From time to time, while I lived in a small village in India, I would invite to my home westerners I’d encounter in the bazaar in Jaipur who seemed that they could use a dip in “real India.” Such it was with a group of 5 Europeans who came and enjoyed my village for 5 days.
They were a group united by their fascination with this ancient and beautiful culture, and in that visit learned more – I’m sure – than in the rest of their travels combined. But no education better than the Lesson of the Marble.
I was fixing tea the morning of their second day as they busied themselves for the project I had assigned them. My heavy door came open suddenly and standing there with a sad face was my close friend and mentor to the Brahman community, Parbati Sharma. She was 5 feet nothing and weighed maybe 80 lbs, and the wrinkles of her 70-odd years played their own history across her face. Of course I was very accustomed to her walk-ins because in India there is not a concept that reflects the idea of “privacy.” Privacy is a product of the West, and it takes awhile for a westerner to become acclimated to a people who have nothing to hide and nowhere to hide it. Why would there be privacy in a land where every thought in your head is public knowledge?
Parbati put on her usual show of sadness that she had a pain and needed my ministrations, as I also performed the doctor functions in Rhani Khawa, inherited thanks to the miracles of a bottle of aspirin – which is another story.
This pretense fell by the side when she observed that one of the girls in this group was walking across my main room with a book balanced on her head, trying to get some physical experience with what the ladies in this land have done so effortlessly with water pots and firewood and whatever else they need to carry.
Parbati’s face lit up, her amazing smile revealing a few gaps, while she charged past me in to the room. She went straight to my top-secret stash of marbles that I held for village kids and for which I had told no one their hiding place. It was a hole in my wall behind a mirror I used to talk to myself in the lonelier times.
She got on her tiptoes and, moving the mirror to the side as though she had done it a thousand times, reached in and grabbed a marble. She turned and went to my kitchen corner and picked out a round steel bowl, 3 inches in diameter and about 2 inches deep with a flat bottom. She went back to the center of the room where everyone was, by this time, completely captivated by her actions – including the one with the book, who now stood facing Parbati at 3 feet.
Parbati turned the steel, flat-bottomed dish upside down and placed it on top of her head, the bowl now serving the purpose of a miniature table. She placed the marble on the center of this flat surface, let it go, and began to dance around the room, swooping and turning and singing, “Ahhhhhh, bana tuget a muti barti, Engereg a ki gardi!” (Which means don’t sit in the English sky carriage as it must soon come down!! Airplanes were a complete mystery when they flew overhead.)
She danced for several minutes, the group – including myself – spellbound by the fact that the marble on this flat, steel surface never moved from its center. Every swoop and twirl was like a fast turn at La Mans when the stomach tightens and the threat of disaster looms, only to be replaced by the recognition that this woman was in complete control of this entire elegant expression of a spiritual being at play.
She came to a sudden stop right in front of her protege, whose eyes were still riveted on that marble. I was watching Parbati’s face as she gazed in wonder. At what, I cannot tell you, but suddenly the ball, with no apparent coaxing, rolled off of the dish, hitting Parbati’s forehead and careening off her nose and in to the young woman’s shirt pocket.
Parbati’s smile did not change as the young women looked from her pocket to Parbati’s remarkable face – and burst in to tears. Parbati reached out and cleared the hair from her face and patted her on the head, and gave a mischievous glance my way as she walked out of the room.
The State of Grace affects people differently. Sadly, most miss it when it stands in front of them. It was my great privilege to witness the effect it had on this young woman, who’s life was forever changed. Her friends were puzzled why she cried, and remarked about the dance and the marble for the next several days, but she never said a thing about it.
It wasn’t about the marble.