I started writing this piece on a shuttle ride to the Denver airport. It was the first time I had been on a bus since India, and my brain flooded with a horrible nostalgia; I sat on the bus and let memories of India entice my brain into a dreamlike state and transport me back to a bus ride in India….. Suddenly, the cacophony of blaring bus horns awakened me out of a moment of…well…. Not silence. Never silence.
I gazed out the window at the extensive rows of faded blue tarps, which hung over shoddy frames of twisted sticks and scrap metal… India’s substandard suburbia. My nostrils reeled as they whiffed the pungent odor of burning trash. India is an all out blitzkrieg in the form sensory stimulation; bulging eyes and gag reflexes can be triggered at any given moment.
I got flustered hearing the continual snarls of the bus driver as people haggled their way onto the bus, even though it already soared over capacity. The TV obnoxiously blared Bollywood shows; I witnessed melodramatic performances that could put even telenovelas to shame. The changing scenes casted light down the main aisle of the bus floor where sleeping bodies folded over each other like ragdolls.
We would arrive several hours late, right on time. And before stepping of the bus, I would mentally prepared myself for that immediate, loyal tribe of mangy, naked children who would latch onto loose articles of clothing and any tipoff of conveyed emotions. I would feel little hands pulling on my shirt, and heartstrings, and delicately touching my arm in a practiced manner…
I had always believed that one small act of kindness could help the world, and I still like to believe that… But sometimes it was not feasible to make a difference in India; one small effort always became mute when I subsequently looked into pair after pair after pair of vacant, pleading eyes, day in and day out. Their eyes probe into yours, instantly assessing the extent of your soul, and this judgment will determine the extent of their efforts. It killed me to never be able to give selflessly in place that needed it, but giving became too physically and mentally exhausting; I came to terms with the fact that I was not emotionally capable, nor did I have the resources to help the endless abyss of people who could claim only one thing: nothing.
As a resident of India, I was there long enough to have this poverty-provoked powerlessness haunt my thoughts and weigh like the world on my shoulders. It began as a little seed, which I could just shove to the back of my mind, but it grew and blossomed into a devastating reality. Several times, upon seeing the throngs of people in their wrenched conditions, my body would literally become fatigued; I though I would collapse with the overwhelming sensation of helplessness. It’s a heavy burden, which chokes up your throat, and at night the faces that you had to turn away crawl into your dreams nag and at your composure.
And lets talk about composure: on top of my already volatile emotional states, there was the heavy, unwavering stares of Indian men who, un-discreetly held camera phones up my face,… sometimes I wanted to scream and rip out my hair. Sometimes in defiance, I would stare back, but frankly Indians excel at staring… and at my peak of irritation, I taught myself to laugh because… how senseless of me to actually host the idea of Indian losing a staring contest…
Then my heart would experience violent upheavals of forgiveness and renewal, as I was soothed to sleep by the rattling metal on the long train rides. I would listen to my ipod, which always created a personalized soundtrack of the passing sights, but it never overpowered the reverberating, nasally song of the chaiwalla offering ‘chaiiiiii, chaiiiiiii coffeeeee’.
And that train ride, every train ride, would prove that nothing ever ceases in India.
Women’s curvaceous bodies danced in sync with the flowing movements of their saris, and the items teetering on their heads mimicked the way Indian heads move in an, infinitely indecisive figure eight.
And on the trains I would realize that the poise of India lies in its obvious paradoxes. Dirt and trash juxtaposed amidst the radiant fabrics and jewels. Filthy rich and filthy poor. Yet India is refreshing in that it’s disgustingly honest, relentlessly raw, and always uncensored. It was a screaming lull of organized chaos.
A man’s traditional, dominant position was never compromised, even if he was parading around in a fuzzy pink sweater-vest. India is a big, fat oxy-moron.
Hindus, cows, Muslims, monkeys, Christians, elephants, Sikhs, peacocks, Jains, foreigners, etc. run amuck together, undeniably connected by the verve in their spirits. This high degree of spirit originates from the never-ending cycle of being pushed to your limits and then being renewed by people who were pushed past their limits long ago, but can still smile and produce profound gratitude for the littlest of things.
As Keith Bellows, Vice President of National Graphic Society, so eloquently writes, “There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place… It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant Technicolor.”
India is a land where nothing ever comes together, but nothing ever quite falls apart either. Everything is constantly on the brink of careening and colliding yet somehow in a cosmic moment… harmony ensues. Even though every day was an incessant love-hate relationship, looking back I can remember nothing but feeling that India felt more like home to me than I had ever known.
I woke up. The huge bus, which carried me to Denver housed 3 measly people, and it was dead quiet. The visions of saris dancing in my head had the power to make even the beautiful Colorado colors look bleak and grey-toned. Yes, something was definitely missing.
Or, maybe I was just missing India again.
Photo Credits to my traveling companion and roommate in India, Sarah Fiske Phillips.
Her blog about India can be viewed at: www.sarahfiskephillips.wordpress.com