It was deep and sweet, and filled every gap in every prayer uttered there that morning. I smelt them in my heart.

In order to get to my favourite spot, I had to be standing at the gates of the Darshani Deori before they opened at 3am.

It usually takes me around 7 minutes to walk from the Ghainta Ghar to the Bridge (allowing for several episodes of weeping on the marble at First Sight and at Baba Deep Singh's Gurdwara).

January not being a busy month, I had to be at the Jora Ghar by 2.45am (allowing for time to tuck the sikka (for my shoes) safely in my bag and to switch my phone to airplane mode).

From where we were staying, the car needed to be moving by 2am (allowing for driver unpunctuality and car breakdowns, in which case I'd need to hail a last-minute auto).

The alarm needed to go off by 1.15am (allowing time for baby unexpectedly waking up and/ or a bad turban day).

In bed by 9pm. Early and light meal. No water after dinner and minimal after that (there was no way I was going to give up my hard-earned spot for a bathroom break). Every single piece of clothing laid out the night before. Plus shawl, shoes, socks, bag, handkerchief. My Type-A traits had kicked into overdrive.

All this military precision... just so that I could sit inside beloved Darbar Sri Harmandir Sahib for Amrit Vela. Specifically, to enjoy Asa Ki Vaar with an unobstructed view of my Guru. An age-old, much-loved habit. An attachment? Perhaps. 

I made it. By the time Asa Ki Vaar started, I was comfortably sitting in the front row, inches away from Guru Ji's rumalas

Except... instead of the usual stillness I was accustomed to settling into by this point, I was confronted by a wave of conflicting emotions.

Money was being thrown in from every corner... Humble offerings, or shiny, worldly distractions?   

Hordes of people rushing to get to the front, tripping over each other... Longing for divine darshan, or humankind's restless, selfish, and ruthless race to get ahead?  

The most sacred, sovereign message for this world, majestically crowned at the centre... Adorned in indescribable splendour, or lost under superficial layers of daily wastefulness? 

Royal court protocol befitting the Guru's darbar... Actions of devotion, or alienating, man-made rules?  

Men at the helm of everything: the leading roles, the soundtrack, the camera, even the money... Calls to service, or the immortalisation of gender inequality? 

Submission in all its forms: foreheads bowing on the floor, hands touching walls, fingers gathering dust into shawls... Heartfelt piety, or mindless rituals? 

Sevadar lips in constant murmur, carrying people's prayer to the Guru... Enlighteners, or intermediaries? Representation, or disenfranchisement? Access to the Divine, or the perpetuation of caste-like behaviour?

I felt disoriented, like two opposite and distinct emotive realities colliding. On one level, everything that was happening around me was so beautiful; so full of love, reverence, and surrender. It made my heart swell with light. At the same time, it was too much like the real, dysfunctional, outside world. The very one that I had tried to escape from by coming here in the first place.

This certainly was NOT part of the desired outcome of that meticulously-planned morning (cos you know, divine experiences can be programmed in advance *rolls eyes*).

As I sat there trying to make sense of the two worlds around me, the scent of marigolds wafted in. The rumalas were being decorated with fresh garlands, and the early morning wind caught their fragrance just so. It was deep and sweet, and filled every gap in every prayer uttered there that morning. I smelt them in my heart.

And right there, with those marigolds, Guru's lesson to me was revealed.

There is a sakhi from Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana's udasis from when they were in Multan. Guru Ji was presented with a pitcher full of milk, which he responded to by lightly placing a jasmine on the surface. The flower spread its fragrance to the milk, yet remained gently afloat, milk unspilled.

There are many layers to that sakhi... I'm simplifying it in order to draw out the one message relevant to me that morning: be a part of this world, yet apart from it. 

The world today, in all its madness, is what it is. Yet through hukam, this is the time and space that I am alive in. 

So live in it. But not just as a passive participant of life unfolding. The most important part of the story is not only to float through, but to spread fragrance while doing so. And not merely as a fragile, casual, or involuntary act, rather as a purposeful, meditative, and deliberate one. By summoning compassion from unknown depths, and forging courage from the hottest flames. By being the shining beacon, the soothing salve, and the necessary change, with every breath of life. 

Marigold. A tiny, ordinary-looking, commonplace blossom. Yet that morning, its fragrance asked so much of me. To live as Nanak did in this jagat jalanda, this world in flames: as a tireless seeker, committed rebel, immersed poet, devoted householder (though his father, Mehta Kalyan might disagree with me there), fearless revolutionary, firm friend, mystic wanderer, unchained thinker, bold truth-sayer, (this thread is impossible to draw to a close, so I won't)... To swim like Nanak through this murky, mucky world, by fiercely loving all whom I meet, unconditionally blessing all who need it, stubbornly changing all that I can, humbly bowing to all that I cannot, and even in my darkest and weakest moments, still leaving the sweetest of scents behind. 

An uncomfortable, tumultuous morning. Yet, Harmandir Sahib is my soul-song, my joy-jar, my bliss-burst. Of course I went back to Darbar Sahib the next morning. And the next. I love it for everything that it is (even if it brings me unexpected, otherworldly kalyug flashes), and as long as Guru allows me to, I will keep going back. 

Even if for no other reason than to recall this lesson:
Don't get swallowed up by the chaos.

Be that marigold. Be that marigold.

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