I Travelled to India and Came Back With An Appreciation for How Rest is Built Into Each Day


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I was born in Bangalore, now called Bengaluru, on a stormy full Moon night into a swirl of languages, colors, spices, chameleons, car horns, and the charms of a vast and vibrant family.

When I was eight years old, we moved to the United States, where my parents were convinced that my life would be filled with the greatest of possibilities. Despite having an American passport, I always feel that my core is Indian. My warmth, resilience, absurd optimism, and penchant for spice feel nurtured by the trips my mother and I make back to our home. I savor these experiences, absorbing every little bit of the culture that I possibly can.

One of the strongest traditions for my family in India—the backbone of each day—is ritualized rest. These designated pauses slow the speed with which the hours pass and allow for an essential stepping out of obligation and into self-care. It is unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else.

Drip Coffee Upon Waking

I recently returned to India after five years away. At my grandmother’s two-bedroom apartment in Bengaluru, my mother and I shared a bed for the first time in almost 10 years. Each morning we awakened to a cacophony of dogs barking, cars honking, Bollywood music, the sound of conch shells calling a nearby family to daily prayers, and so much more. Then my mother would heat up milk and set up the beautiful brass filter for coffee.

Filtered coffee is a point of pride in South India. It is nothing like the drink we pour from our coffee makers in the States. The ritual of making coffee in a gleaming brass, multi-part, drip filter is an ode to the slower pace of life. We cannot rush the dripping process, so we practice patience, knowing that our wait will be rewarded.

Once the coffee fell and the hot milk was frothed into it, my grandmother, mother, and I would sit in the living room and sip from our small, steaming metal cups. This was the first notable pause of our day.

I would watch as my grandmother sat on the divan, her back straight, with absolutely no intention in that moment other than to enjoy her cup of coffee. She sat silently, and I would wonder where her thoughts wander. Once in a while my mother would mention our plans for the day, but in general, the time was a slow awakening, like a dried flower slowly unfurling in a cup of hot water. No phones, no books, no TVs, no radio. Simply the rise and fall of our hands as we lifted our cups to our lips, each of us drinking at our own pace.

(Photo: Milan Sundaresan)

I fell in love with this ritual. As a non-coffee drinker, I sipped what was essentially milk with a drop of espresso, but I deeply appreciated starting my day with such intentionality. I used the time to observe my surroundings, to ground myself in space and time, and to clear my mind, knowing that as soon as the last drop was drunk, we would begin cleaning, bathing, and preparing for the chaos of the coming day.

Chaos is the most honest way I can describe the cities in India. In a country of a billion people, every home has its own languages, recipes, and values. The amalgamation is spectacularly overwhelming at first, and then completely absorptive. In such constant commotion, ritualized pauses become even more integral.

Morning Walks

The next break in the day was our morning walk. Whether in Bengaluru or present-day Puducherry, which I grew up calling Pondicherry or Pondi, the timing of these walks was dictated by the traffic patterns. In a world where sidewalks hardly exist, we negotiated space with motorcycles, bicycles, cars, cows, and stray dogs, not to mention heaps of garbage strewn anywhere and everywhere.

In Bengaluru, we walked as early as we could. Sometimes it was just after sunrise when the vegetable vendors’ blue carts were full of fresh, dewy greens, and the flower ladies’ baskets were laden with garlands of jasmine and rose buds. The vendors stood nearby, eagerly waiting for the morning bustle of shoppers and the inevitable onslaught of traffic. They seduced us with the aroma of dill and mint wafting off their carts and were experts at throwing their voices to prospective buyers, swiftly calling out their low prices for green beans or eggplants in Kannada, the language spoken in the state of Karnataka.

Bunches of green herbs including dill at a street cart in India
(Photo: Milan Sundaresan)

One morning we were slow to wake and left the apartment about an hour later than usual. We found only one vendor with a lonely stem of tuberose resting wistfully in a basket and a cart with a handful of bruised cilantro staring dismally back at us. Tuberose and milk were all that we picked up that morning.

In Pondi, we usually walked mid-morning to avoid the school rush. While I enjoyed seeing the children in uniform and reading the names of the various medical colleges on school buses, I enjoyed even more walking without worry that a motorcycle would maim me. Regardless of the time, our outing could not be skipped. We would walk at an unhurried pace, always along the same few paths, generally drinking fresh coconut water and running small errands along the way.

The shopkeepers knew our family histories and we, in turn, learned theirs. The milk lady knew my grandfather and remembered when my mother used to walk with him. She told us she had lost her husband and her son during the pandemic, and was now running a household with only her daughter-in-law. Every day, customers stopped and chatted with her not merely to purchase milk, but to connect more intimately. I felt certain that she was the heart of this neighborhood— a woman who knew the when and where and why of so many lives around her.

The lady who cleaned and ironed saris announced to us proudly that she was closing her shop for several days for her daughter’s wedding. When I walked by her closed storefront the following week, I wondered what she was wearing to the wedding and smiled at how happy she had been the day we last saw her. I loved knowing that when she returned, she would be certain to regale her clients with tales. I marveled at the warmth of the community, the tightness of its fabric, the blessings of such togetherness.

One day we walked past a levitating basket. I felt like I had wandered into a scene from Aladdin until I noticed a rope tied to the handle. I looked up to a balcony where a woman in a nightdress was casually leaning against the railing, looking down at us. We eventually came to understand that the basket was part of a pulley system and the woman was waiting for the milkman to drop her milk into the basket.

My mother and I laughed and waved, admiring the woman’s ingenuity. She smiled back warmly, and I felt a sense of contentment emanate from her. Perhaps these few minutes every morning were her version of ritualized rest. Her opportunity to bask in the morning sun, away from her chores, observing the lives of her neighbors and the details of the street where she lived. I sensed that she lorded over her little street in some way, always in the know and confident of her place in this part of the world. I still smile as I recall her knowing gaze.

As we walked back home, our conversations became quieter and filled with longer pauses. I felt like we were stretching time, allowing me to notice the sweet intimacy of walking with another person—hands occasionally grazing as we walked together in stride, moving in the same direction, the leisurely cadence of our steps allowing us to speak freely or simply fall into a safe silence.

I found myself going a bit more inward during our return, reflecting on what I had just observed. I considered the walks I took in California, taken in a lot more space with a lot fewer people. When I crossed paths with others, we rarely interacted. If we did, it was usually for a cursory smile and a nod or a wave. I wondered where the balance was between too much and too little space.

Afternoon Naps

The next pause in the day was the afternoon nap. Bellies full after lunch, we would all lie down— grandmother in her bed, my mother on the divan in the living room, and me in the guest bed. The apartment was always warm at this time of day and we would flop onto our respective beds, always over the sheets, as though lying under a sheet signaled a longer rest than we had allotted time for. The ceiling fans spun lazily, a poor man’s sound machine, lulling me to rest despite the relentless din outside the windows.

Sleep was not always achieved, but the pause was a much-needed respite in an otherwise whirling day. I nap on my back with one hand on my heart and one hand on my belly, or as my friends tease, like a corpse. The technique helps me automatically reconnect with myself, physically and emotionally. First, I would take time to register just how tightly wound my muscles were. I would do my best to breathe deeply and allow myself to relax completely, feeling each muscle unclench. Once I was physically grounded, I was able to pause and reflect on the morning and on how I had shown up. I would also contemplate how I was feeling in this moment and decide, intentionally, how I wanted to continue my day.

Tiny cups of chai tea in India
(Photo: Milan Sundaresan)

Tea Time

Eventually, the fragrance of chai would waft through the house, instantly enticing and awakening us in its presence, beckoning us to come together as a family.

The ritual of making chai is, in and of itself, a slow bringing together. Boil the water. Grate the ginger. Peel the cardamom. Crush the pods and the black peppercorns. Break the star anise. Allow the individual aromatics to simmer and meld into a steaming elixir. The process is unhurried, methodical, intentional—and a true pleasure.

This has long been my favorite pause of the day. Since childhood, tea time in my family has been at 4 pm. Sometimes we would sit and sip quietly, letting the time be introspective. Sometimes we would chat incessantly, sharing our concerns or experiences.

When I was younger, we would play games at tea time. My fondest memories of chai stem from a summer vacation at my grandmother’s home in Kerala, where my cousins and I played vicious games of Chinese checkers with our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and each other. The games began before the first cups of chai were poured and persisted well into the night. Those of us not playing a turn feasted on chips made from jackfruit, plantain, or tapioca as well as sweets while sipping happily away.

As I have grown older, I look back on chai time as a time for togetherness and restoration—for the family to step away from the day, congregate, sit, share, listen, and, of course, indulge.

How I Brought Ritualized Rest Into My Life

The beauty of having so many structured pauses each day is that they allowed me to shift course as needed. If I woke up grumpy, the morning coffee and walk would allow me to shake things off. If something saddened me in the morning, the time to lie down after lunch would allow me to reflect on what I had experienced and contextualize it. Chai was generally a happy time, the deliciousness of the drink filling me with a warmth that sank into my bones and made it feel effortless to let go of any lingering negativity.

Each of these pauses raised my self-awareness so that I was generally able to show up as the best version of myself—calmer, less reactive, more patient. I was easily able to return to a place of gratitude, joy, and ease of mind because at least four times a day, I was given the opportunity to go inward, even if just for a few moments. Some days I needed those introspective moments more than others, but knowing that they were always available was extremely comforting.

Back home in California, I have become far more conscious of the need for such ritualized rest in my days. When I am able, I start my mornings with tea or warm water with lemon while meditating or journaling. Only then do I begin to work.

While daily naps are not feasible in my line of work, I let myself enjoy them whenever I can, knowing that the 20-minute respite will do wonders for how I show up to the rest of the day. Instead of daily morning walks, I take Monday morning strolls with my love that allow us to start the week connected—to ourselves, to our community that we are each a part of, and to each other. Chai is reserved for when I am with my parents; however, I aspire to integrate a similar afternoon ritual into my days.

My intention in the months to come is to cultivate more moments of stillness into my everyday life. Moments without technology in which I can simply observe how I feel, where I am, and how much beauty surrounds me.

About Our Contributor

Milan Sundaresan is a 200 RYT yoga instructor currently teaching at Yoga Beach in San Francisco, Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary in Sonoma, as well as at international yoga retreats. While not on a yoga mat or outdoors, Milan practices as an immigration and human rights attorney, advocating for migrants seeking immigration status in the United States. Follow her on Instagram @milanyoga.

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