"Aathite Deveo Bhavya."

Being home is like returning to Oz.  I suppose that's fitting since Seattle is known as the Emerald City.  But beyond that happy coincidence, lie the magical aspects of living in one of the cleanest cities in the world, in one of the most advanced nations on the planet.

Getting drinking water from the tap, sleeping in a bed with springs, going into a grocery store and not having to wipe dust and dirt off the boxes, fruit, veggies, or swipe flies away from the meat are all rediscovered joys.  I knew how much my groceries were going to cost.  I didn't have to argue with the sales guy over using a 20 dollar bill.  I'm reveling in my home which is filled with color and beauty, not locks and tin trunks filled with God knows what.  I'm waiting patiently to go to a restaurant this afternoon to order food which will be served on plates that are unlikely to be suspect, germ-wise.

I can pick up my phone and call friends far and wide.  My Internet is lightening fast.  Texting is called "texting" and not SMSing, and I can do that too, with pictures attached if the mood strikes me.

It's amazing how giddy all of these things make me.  I literally giggled when I bought my groceries.  I said, "My BED" out loud 20 times before I could accept my good fortune and fall asleep, sound asleep, blissfully asleep, feeling as if my ordinary pillow-top mattress had been transformed into the most opulent feather bed made for the most glorious queen.

One thing has been unsettling and that is the silence.  This morning I sat at the kitchen table and felt like I was drowning in silence.  All I could hear was the ticking of the clock, and as any bad horror movie will tell you, that's a disturbing sound when left all on it's own.

I left Seattle fearful of the impending lack of silence in India, and I returned unable to comprehend the quiet.  Where are the packs of dogs barking, the sacred cows mooing, the sweepers moving dust around, the calls to prayer blaring in loud speakers, the horns announcing, the people talking, the peacocks squawking, the laundry being beaten against a rock?

In the silence of my kitchen, my espresso maker sounded like a jet plane with only the ticking clock to compliment it's song.

I haven't seen too many people yet.  The few I have all ask the same question, "How was it?"

I don't have enough perspective yet, I tell them, to deliver the summation they all seem to want...the sound bite....the elevator speech.  Going to India for three and half months might be one of those things that can't be explained in any satisfactory way to someone who hasn't been to India themselves.  Like childbirth.  Unless a miracle happens and I get pregnant sometime sooooon, I won't really ever be able to understand what giving birth feels like, physically or emotionally, or how, given the absolutely intense physical ordeal some women have, why they would do it again.

But there is one nagging loose thread that wants to be pulled.  It goes back to something I asked in my first week in India, when I wondered what this Indian idea of "duty" in relation to visitors was all about, and why does it seem so foreign.  Over the months as I was repeatedly a guest in other people's homes, I tried to unravel the mystery.  I also tried to reconcile the stubborn insistence that many Indian's had to feed me, even when I was sick, and with the absolute inability for many Indians to actually listen to what I, the guest, wanted and needed.

As chance would have it, a young Indian girl who was traveling by herself from Varanasi to Delhi befriended me at the Varanasi airport.  She had come to Varanasi to take her university qualifying exams and was on the way home.   She was obviously a very independent young person.  She is intent on being a doctor, isn't worried about marriage.  She told me how her parents were very forward thinking and how they weren't "hung up" on all the more traditional aspects of raising a daughter in India.  What they wanted from her amounted to three things: Be Helpful, Be Respectful, and Trust in Your Heart.  She said, "I don't worship God very much.  But I worship my parents."

She plied me with questions about my trip and somehow the idea of duty to visitors came up.  So, I asked her what that was all about.  She said, "We explain it as Aathite Deveo Bhavya.  It means, Guests are God.  No one knows what God looks like, so anyone could be God and should be welcomed into the house, country, our lives, accordingly."

Wow.  It's so simple.  If each person you meet could be God, then best to pay your respects, bring them sweets and food, just like they would when they go to Puja at the temple.  No wonder no one listens to what the guest actually needs.  After millennia of worshipping a pantheon of Gods, the Indian folk probably figure they've got the process down.  After all, rarely, I'm guessing, does Ganesha say to a devotee who walks up to his shrine with sweets and food, "Hey, listen, I'm really not feeling well today, so I'm afraid what I need instead of candy and biscuits is a little peace and quiet and time to sit and read a book."

The other glitch in this system, this practice of Aathite Deveo Bhavya, is the presumption that neither they themselves or the people that they encounter everyday could be God.  I mean, they don't offer the gal who sweeps their floor every morning biscuits and tea, nor do they force their mal-nutritioned cooks to partake of the amazing chicken curry that they've spent all day slaving over.  They turn their daughters into burdens, their wives into work-horses, their husbands into good-for-nothings, and their planet into a dumping ground.  But, guests are God.

As I re acclimate to the joys of western living, I find myself making sure that I take the time to really say hello to each old friend I greet, to hug them with all I've got.  Not only does it feel blissful to be able to hug and touch another human being in public, I am newly aware of how special and beautiful each of them are.  Not only have I been a guest in India for three and a half months, but India, in some respects, has been a guest in my life and heart, an entity that I tried to be respectful to, to listen to, to learn from, to be fully present with.  I want to make sure that I am engaging with my "same old-same old" life here in America with the fresh eyes and open heart that I gave to India.  I want to remember that not only are guests God, but so am I, so are you, so is this planet.

While I settle into backyard bbq's and relish the clean streets and put together quality of life in Seattle, I also want to hold onto what India taught me about our humanity, the complexity of it, the room we all have to be fragile AND strong, smart AND bone-headed, adventurous AND cautious, clean AND dirty, available AND shut away, full of grief AND filled to the brim with joy......