Amma.

Sometimes days happen like this in Mysore. Friday I get stopped by a woman in the street. She’s lost her yoga mat. Can she borrow mine? Sure. She repays me later in breakfast and it turns out we live in the same house. We see a flyer about Amma’s visit to Mysore this weekend. My friend is going, says my newly discovered housemate, I can ask her to get us tickets? I am curious, I say. Next day, practice, then conference, then some more breakfast. We’re indecisive about going. We get told you have to be there by 8am or you haven’t a chance of getting a hug. It’s now creeping up to noon. We decide let’s just go and see. We rickshaw over to the Ashram, the driver likes my skull tattoo. On entering a beaming face wearing all white greets us. My housemate mentions her friend has got us a ticket. Somehow she knows. We get fast tracked past hundreds of people to the front of the stage, hanging out with the VIPs. We exchange a look of disbelief – and guilt – people have been waiting for hours. Amma is a few rows ahead, singing, I’m trying to take it all in. When we exchange our ticket for a hugging number, I get A5. The order goes alphabetically. Before I know it I’m led through eager pushing Indians and I’m buying fruits to gift to Amma. What language? Where are you from? ask two men as I prepare for my hug. I get moved along into Amma’s arms and she makes what sounds like a wailing noise in my ear before giving me a mini banana and Amma brand sweet. I get told to sit on the stage behind Amma and I look to the hundreds queuing and waiting. At some point a group of Bharatanatyam dancers take the stage and I get moved again to the other side and find myself in a special queue of people to give prashad to Amma. In the queue we get trained how to put the sweets into Amma’s hand. Be fast, not too firm, you have to stretch, watch her hand at all times. I’m still not at all sure what’s happening but as I get closer, I feel my heart pounding. As I have my 4-5 goes at putting sweets in Amma’s hand I get a closer look at the hugs in action. So many people telling their stories. And women, Indian women clearly overwhelmed and overjoyed to encounter their inspiration. Women hugging women. And men, all the men too wanting a touch of this woman. And in this politics of late: of wrong female flesh, of male gazes, of violence and repression, the idea of Amma started to make some sense to me. Here was a safe space at a time when a safe space feels hard to find. After my prashad honour was over, I wandered the ashram grounds. Another kindly face dressed in white asks me if I have a ticket, oh they took it already I tell her. You have already met Amma! And you have had time to sit on the stage? Yes I gave prashad also. Wow! she exclaims, it is usually only us tour group who do that. Yes I say I don’t know how it all happened. “It is Amma’s grace,” she tells me. I smiled curious as to why Amma would wish to favour me. The skeptic in me had been trying to resist but I had to admit there was a very haphazard quality to the past two days. Whether there’s something more meaningful to the whole series of events, I still don’t know. When I left five hours later the queue had only got to L.

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