Up until a year ago, I had no particular interest in India. I mean it was on my list of places to visit but I had just never given any thought to go to conferences there (although on reflection I should have). As a Western astrologer, I knew there were huge differences in the manner astrology was practised between the two cultures. But I had rather stupidly assumed that it was a gulf that was too wide to bridge.
How wrong I was (and with my Mercury in Leo, you know it hurts to say that).
So that leads to the question of how I did get to India.
|Bollywood actress Mahima Chaudry at the KIA conference, 2016|
|Nope, you won't find this at Heathrow|
Every moment of my first visit to India was a gift to my senses but I was a bit overwhelmed with culture shock even before I landed. So many people, so much noise and the language was completely beyond my grasp. I was a lone traveller so how was I going to get from the airport to the hotel?
I need not have worried! Gopal had sorted it out.
You know when you see people at the exit gates holding up signs with the names of the folks they are supposed to be collecting? You know, important people? Well there were two very nice gentleman smiling and holding up a sign with my name on it. And it was even spelled correctly!
Once settled in the beautiful accommodation, we were taken on a tour of the city. Living in London, I thought I would know what to expect from a busy city. Once again, nothing could have prepared me for Kolkata: the differences in culture could be seen wherever I looked. I saw men being shaved with straight razors in the open, I saw millions of people just getting on with their daily lives (washing, cooking, shopping, arguing) and of course I saw poverty like I've never seen before--and it bothered me. As I was thinking this, I saw a boy about 7 or 8 years old on a bicycle that was too big for him, pulling a small, open trailer on which a toddler sat. There were no safety precautions--and to my western eyes, it was just so dangerous with so much traffic whizzing by in what seemed like from all directions. At that moment, the boy caught my eye, gave me the biggest grin and waved. "This is my life," he seemed to say, "And isn't it great?" It made me realise who the real pauper was.
|Just after visiting Kali Temple, Kolkata|
We were taken on a tour of the Kali Temple and I, who can barely manage the crowds at Sainsbury's on a Saturday morning, was oddly soothed by the chaos of what was around me. I looked up to the fading sunlight and felt this unity with my fellow travellers and natives of this hectic place. We were all in it together and wasn't it divine? All under one sky. It was a feeling that would stay with me for my entire journey through India and would return to me when I visited again.
I was completely spellbound by the beauty of the dancers, the music and the atmosphere. Oh yes, I thought to myself, I am in beautiful, mysterious India.
During conference breaks, I was again completely surprised by the enthusiasm of the crowd who wanted photo after photo of us speakers. If there was any disappointment, it was only my inability to speak Hindi. I vowed that if I was to be invited back to the conference, I would put that problem right.
Of course at any conference, the joy comes from the people you get to know better and the people you meet. I enjoyed hanging out with fellow speakers but I was entranced by Sanjay Pandya and High Court Justice Shankar Nath Kapoor. (A week or so later, I was invited to have dinner with Kapoor Ji and his beautiful wife in Delhi along with Naomi and Ehsan Kh of Iran). As an aside, I am so pleased Naomi, Ehsan, Michelle Gould, Richard Fidlar and Ema Kurent became such close friends and that we were re-united in Cape Town later in 2015 and returned to Kolkata in 2016.
Shortly after my lecture, we were presented with the clothes we were to wear to the closing ceremonies: saris for the women and kurtis for the men. Me in a sari? Fortunately there were dressers to help because I would have worn the sari like a sparkling toga.
The biggest surprise was being crowned "Krishnamurti Institute of Astrology's International Astrologer of the Year, 2015." Yes, I got a tiara and beautiful jewellery but even better, the award was presented by Kapoor Ji and Minister for Women and Children Dr Shashi Panja--that's right: a top judge and politician at an astrology conference!
|Shocked to be "KIA International Astrologer, 2015"|
I really had no idea there was any sort of judging going on: I just wanted to show the good people of India how astrology could be an aid to education. But for me, the greatest honour came from the opportunity to meet Shashi, whose interests in women's and children's rights were so close to my own heart. I didn't have too much of a chance to speak to her at the time but we have kept in contact via social media. Both she and Kapoor Ji are very busy people but they each made time for me in their own ways. How fortunate is that?
And oh yes, after a lot of practice, I did present my opening address in Hindi! Here I am, being very careful with pronunciation:
Gopal Bhattacharjee will surely go down in astrological history as the man who has so successfully united Vedic and Western astrologers in a way no other astrological conference organiser has ever done before. The wonderful collection of astrological essays are compiled in the beautiful "Nakshatra Barta" magazine and everyone eagerly looks forward to raising the bar even higher in 2017. What a wonderful honour it was to have been a part of KIA in 2015 and to be invited back in 2016. I'm not sure exactly what Gopal has in mind for 2017 but I do know he and the KIA board members have already been called to begin preparations. Already looking forward to it!