At Home in Bangalore
Even after two years of sobriety, I wasn’t as spiritually “fuel-efficient” as I sometimes imagined myself to be. I’d just relocated to India to work as a language specialist for a major computer firm. After three days of travel and no contact with my tribe, I was running on fumes.
As I set out in search of my first AA meeting in Bangalore, the aroma of incense, the muskiness of recently turned red earth and the smell of burning leaves and grass hit my nostrils. In a sprawling metropolis of some seven million souls, there are nearly twice as many motorcycles, scooters and rickshaws as there are people.
Traffic is chaotic and frantic on the city’s clogged arteries. No traffic lanes exist, and even if they did, the sheer volume of vehicular movement couldn’t be contained, nor the noise suppressed.
Even louder than the traffic all around were the demons inside of me that fed on ego, that craved to belong to any group, no matter how lost. The other new language specialists, with their spirited talk of the pub scene in Bangalore, had awoken those demons. I needed to find a meeting.
The address I sought was defined not by a street number but by its relation to other buildings and landmarks. It was in the Resurrection Church Compound, on Old Madras Road, near Isolation Hospital. This is where on Tuesday and Thursday evenings the Lotus Group meets. Beside the church a small light from a building drew me in.
I stepped in just in time to hear “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Upon hearing these words, I knew I was home. I took a seat on an old wooden pew in the back. The secretary nodded and the other 10 men turned and smiled at me. I tried to blend in, but it was obvious I was from someplace else. The chairperson addressed me.
“We have a visitor in our midst,” he said. “Would you like to introduce yourself?”
“I’m an alcoholic named Baxter from Sacramento, California,” I said. My answer was followed by smiles and clapping around the tiny whitewashed room with the high-backed wooden pews. A ceiling fan whirled overhead under the fluorescent glare of two exposed tubes. Outside, great stalks of an ancient bamboo grove creaked in the breeze of the season’s first monsoon. Inside the room, a moth fluttered toward the light as the sharing moved toward Tradition Six. Tradition Six lists causes and conditions for our diversion from our primary purpose of carrying the message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
Harish, 28 years sober, explained that without Tradition Six, the unity of the AA program would be secondary to material gain, to earthly passions. “If our common welfare is not placed first, then there is no place for our personal recovery,” he stated. “If it was so, no place would there be for visitors such as our friend from Sacramento or for our newcomers to gather if not for some small personal sacrifices for the good of all. Tradition Six is, like all instruments in the quest of truth, as simple as it is difficult.”
After a pause, Harish continued, “I’d like to hear from Baxter, our visitor from California.” I shifted and unclasped my hands on the hard bench.
“I’m an alcoholic named Baxter,” I said. “Thank you, Mr. Secretary, for opening the doors up and for all of you being here.”
I was nervous. I shifted again and cleared my throat. “Harish is right,” I continued. “If I don’t subsume my personal instincts for money, property and prestige to the needs of the group, I am destined to drink again. If I don’t try and carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers, I will not be able to keep what has been given to me.” My nerves calmed. “If I imagine my good fortune to have come from within me and not from a power greater than and outside of myself, I’m suffering from the same illusion of power I had before I got sober.”
My share was met with the Indian version of nodding, a circular side-to-side motion of the head. One member, an older gentleman with the red kumkumam anointment of the Hindu religion on his forehead, was called on to speak.
On the topic of unity, he proffered that the dialogue between Vasishtha and Vishvamitra, and the parallels between Christianity and Islam, all bear out that the seeker of truth should be humbler than the dust. Then, and only then, is one offered a glimpse of the truth. “The instruments for the quest of truth appear quite impossible to an arrogant person and quite possible to an innocent child,” he said. “For they are, as Harish so eloquently put it, as simple as they are difficult.”
In silent agreement, I nodded my head while they bobbled theirs. We all smiled as our faith met in the middle of the room and expanded to fill our spiritual reservoirs. To make it through another day of sobriety, to accept life on life’s terms, these are the results of what some doctors have called the “x-factor” in AA. I call it, simply enough, God’s grace.
An older sister in sobriety, in a brightly colored saree, tied the wisdom of the wording in Step Three, “as we understood Him,” with the unity of Tradition Six: “There are innumerable definitions of God,” she explained, “because his manifestations are also innumerable.”
On her brow, a bindi, the sign of Brahaman, the One, the ultimate reality, reminded me that goodness, in all its guises, comes from a single source. We closed not with the Lord’s Prayer (as I half expected) nor with the holding of hands, but with the Serenity Prayer.
At the meeting after the meeting, Harish invited me to join him and the other members of the Lotus Group Fellowship for dinner and coffee. I felt uncomfortable. I didn’t know these people. I was tired. I hadn’t slept in a couple of days, but I knew that if I wanted to stay sober, I shouldn’t say no. My newfound experience of what AA was like in India would be incomplete if I said no.
I knew that if I connected with other alcoholics, as Bill did with Bob when he went on that fateful business trip to Akron, Ohio many years ago, my chances of staying sober, of growing spiritually even in a country with such diversity of faith as India, would be that much greater.
It’s been a week since I accepted their invitation. I was shown the true meaning of brotherly love, and I’m still sober. My faith in this program of right action has deepened, and Harish, the dignified gentleman that I’d like to be on the day when AA celebrates 100 years, is now my sponsor