She was dancing ecstatically down the street towards me as I emerged into the early morning madness surrounding Pune railway station – the alien sights and sounds, smells, chaos and dirt filling all my senses to overload - so foreign, yet so familiar. It was only six am, but already the noise of the rickshaws drowned out the cries of street vendors, the exhaust fumes mingling with the smoke from thousands of breakfast fires. A city of three million people waking and already throbbing with life, the temperature rising moment by moment with the sun.
I’d landed in India six hours before, arriving in Mumbai at midnight, and sharing a taxi with two friends I’d met by chance on the flight. One of them lay in the back of the cab with a blanket over his head all the way from the airport to Pune, muttering to himself over and over ‘I can’t believe I did this to myself again, why am I in India again, why did I come here again?’ It was my question too. My second journey home – I’d had a life and death encounter with Mother India on my first visit, and wasn’t sure what to expect now except the really really unexpected, and I was excited to be back – I’d been away in the West and dreaming of India for eight long years, never sure it could ever really happen that I would return.
We arrived in Pune at four am, found a hotel room near the station and turned out the lights, but I was too wired to sleep, and as dawn started seeping through the curtains I ventured out into the street to find what awaited me. Just outside the hotel gate I met a wretched beggar woman clutching a baby wrapped in dirty rags, and thought briefly about giving her all the money I had in my belt – that is, everything I had in the world – in an instant an avalanche of worst-case scenarios flooded my mind and I decided against it. I had been in India without money before, and did not wish to repeat the experience – at least, that’s what I thought. Little did I know.
I was still mindfucking about poverty, charity, what can I do?, why her not me?, the whole banana, when the piercing clamor of finger cymbals ricocheting off the cobblestones drew my attention to the street in front of me, where I saw the most stunning spectacle of my life – a beautiful Indian woman clad in sky blue silk sari, her thick black hair unbrushed tumbling in riotous Medusa-like cascades below her waist, dancing in slow motion to the hypnotic rhythms ringing from her fingertips and the mantras pouring from her lips, all while balancing a large silver tray on her head. On the tray were artfully arranged a vase of flowers, incense sticks, fruit, a mirror reflecting the sun, a glass of water, a statue of Shiva.
She was swaying from side to side, bouncing up and down on one foot for eight beats while her other foot moved gracefully forward to meet the earth. Her hennaed hands traced delicate mudras in front of her heart as the rhythms rang from her fingers and the tiny bells on her ankle bracelets,. She was accompanied by a sadhu with knee-length dreadlocks, carrying a Shiva trident. He walked quietly like a shadow down the side of the street, almost invisible, his presence like that of a guardian angel to his queen holding center stage.
It was obvious they were Tantricas, even though I’d never seen Tantricas in their natural state before. Devotees of Shiva who walk the path of Tantra, the ancient science of the soul, much maligned and misunderstood, their tradition is almost invisible in modern India. I had heard that centuries ago, thousands of Tantricas had been killed because they moved as couples, man and woman together wearing the one blue robe, which offended the moralists of the day. Since then they had basically disappeared from view. It was rumored that perhaps they were to be found in hidden temples in the mountains, but I never expected to meet some in the marketplace of a teeming city, and performing their rituals in public.
As the woman came close to me our eyes met, and for an instant I was transported into the beauty of her world, the depth of her soul – the trance dance, no-mind ecstasy passionate abandon, raw uncivilized life-giving primal woman sex energy, totally on fire. Her wild eyes spoke to me laughingly, they said, ‘I really don’t give a fuck.’ And we passed each other by, she dancing ecstatically down the street behind me disappearing out of my life forever, the most amazing woman I ever met.