During sesshin Graham and I made a new friend outside of the ashram while sitting on a rock gazing at the scenery. Fifteen year old Joseph Stalin is from the nearby Periya Palipattu village and goes to school in nearby Tiruvannamali where he learns English and enjoys the Social Sciences and Tamil best. He is a bit of a walking encyclopedia, and impressed us by seeming to know more about the recent Obama-Romney presidential race than many Americans! He also told us that he was very interested in Bodhidharma and Prajnatara, both of whom apparently have small temples located nearby, where they are from (Andy Ferguson, are you reading this?). We got him an account on facebook (at his request) exchanged phone numbers and email and agreed to go with him to the nearby village to meet his parents after the sesshin was over.
It took a few days, but we finally made it out on the festival of Diwali. We walked out to the village in the morning (just over a kilometer from the ashram) and seemed to collect a large number of village children as we went (who all wanted both pens and their photo taken). Part of Diwali (festival of lights) involves setting off firecrackers everywhere, and so we had to be a little careful as we walked, but Joseph was an excellent guide and gave us the impression that we too would be able to set off our own firecrackers once we got to his home! As we walked through the village he introduced us to various family members, and we got the impression that it was a pretty big deal for us to be in the village in the first place, and especially to be visiting his home.
When we finally arrived we were warmly greeted by his grandmother, mother and father, his sisters, and many other small children (all sporting brand new clothes as it is considered the new year). We were ushered into their living room and given seats as everyone crowded in to see us. We had brought a tin of Oreo cookies (not knowing what else to bring!) and gave them to his parents. Soon thereafter we were fed dosas with a delicious tomato chutney, but unfortunately had to turn down staying for lunch due to a prior commitment. We were shown their puja room and then taken outside to set off firecrackers in the street with more of the village children. Afterwards we said our goodbyes and his father proudly took us back to the ashram on the back of his motorcycle. Of course we had seen as many as five on a bike in both Thailand and India, but it was still quite thrilling to be four of us, if even for just a kilometer!
When getting off the bike we noticed that his father’s leg and foot were quite enlarged, to which Joseph explained that he had a disease from mosquitoes which had caused the elephantitis. He asked us if we knew of a cure (to which we said no) and then he implored us to do some internet research on what treatment or operation could be done for his father. We agreed to look into it for him and asked him to text us with any other details he might have about symptoms, duration, and so forth. Afterwards, he asked if we might be able to help out with funds. In the end, they both bade us farewell, we wished each other happy Diwali, and promised to stay in touch. Graham and I went to sit on the rock where we originally met Joseph and wondered how stretched the heart can become without breaking, what were the possibilities of appropriate response, and when we would meet our new friend again.