Soul-Searching in Southern India

Soul-Searching In Southern India

Soul-Searching in Southern India

B*Real's Laura Janelle Downey shares her journey to discovering her inner Zen.

Published December 23, 2015

Just six months ago, I resigned from my position as senior executive editor of a national media company. Working nonstop seven days a week wasn’t what I had in mind for my future considering I had just spent the last 15 years of my journalism career married to my profession. I longed for a social life, quality time with family and friends, personal travel, a calendar packed with handsome dating options and so much more.

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As the universe would have it, I was presented with an opportunity to go on a short-term mission trip to India in October with Mount Paran Church a few months prior. After pondering the pilgrimage, I filled out my application and had my heart set on giving back in a greater way. The 11-day mission was to visit the S.A. George Children’s Home in Vellore, which is located in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Upon completing our assignment there (I was joined by six other missionaries), we would drive about 90 miles to Chennai (formerly known as Madras) to sightsee.

Traveling 18 hours to visit my other motherland was a must-do for me. Let me explain. I’m biracial — my dad is African-American and my mom, who is of Indian descent, was born and raised in Trinidad in the West Indies. Her grandparents, which are my great grandparents (Capri and MaryAnn Thomas), are from Chennai. Staring me in my face was an opportunity to help others and to place my feet on the same soil as my ancestors. It was the ultimate honor.


The first day we arrived at the 24,000-square-foot children’s home (which provides kids with a place to stay, food, an education in English and Bible-based teachings), we were greeted by the smiling faces of 132 boys and girls (ages ranging from six to 20) seated “Indian-style” on the floor. We were given a tour of the aging facility (think cracked walls in need of fresh paint, a small pantry area void of adequate shelving and mildew-infested bathrooms) by headmaster Paul Devanugraham. And even though the children’s living conditions weren’t the best, their smiles lit up as they walked around from room to room with us — an inner peace radiated from within them.


That was the tranquility I had been searching for. As we spent the week playing games like Bible trivia and tug-of-war with the kids, I couldn’t help but think about my busy life back in Atlanta and how none of it really mattered to me at that moment in time. My social media obsessed self (yes, I post on Instagram and Facebook, like, every day) didn’t even turn on my iPad when I was there. I wanted to be present when Natasha asked me to pray for her upcoming exams or when Saipriya said goodbye to me before heading home with her mom for a few days. There was even a point when I teared up after sharing words of advice that my grandfather told my dad on his deathbed: “Life is tough but Jesus makes it easy.” I thought it was important for the children to remember that.


This experience taught me that it’s OK to step outside of my normal uppity existence, which includes savoring four-course dinners at five-star restaurants, monthly appointments at luxury spas and shopping at high-end boutiques, only to humble myself in more ways than one. No hot water? I took a cold shower. No A-5 Grade steak? I ate butter chicken and naan instead. No Wi-Fi? I spent more time talking to the kids about the greatest gift in life — to love and to be loved.    


Now that I’m back in the States, I’m looking at my life through a different lens. Sure, I might not have a full-time job with a mammoth salary, benefits and the prestige that comes along with a highfalutin' job title, but I now have a stress-free life, have been jet-setting to places like the Hamptons, Las Vegas, Nashville and Washington, D.C. since quitting my job, have had more in-depth conversations with my parents and feel like I’m one step closer to meeting my soulmate.


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(Photos: Laura Janelle Downey/BET)

Written by Laura Janelle Downey

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