Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thoughts on India

Spending some relaxing time in Kochi and listening to the music and watching some dance has given me room to digest much of the trip thus far. In fact the journey itself has given me the opportunity to observe and gather many thoughts. A fraction of them really make it into this blog since I'm only typing a basic outline of the events to help my memory and let others know where we are.

This post has not particular order. It is mostly a conglomeration of thoughts and observations that I wanted to write before I move on and they fall out of my head into the ethers.

My processing power is mostly only concerned with the current moment. I don't have emails, text messages, or phone calls to keep me multitasking. I am not sidetracked by any other conversation since I cannot understand what is being said. Even most of the westerners use their native foreign tongue so rarely is English in the air. I see few TVs and those are always broadcasting a game of Cricket which only entertains me for a minute. There are no thoughts of work tasks past or present or any other daily task for that matter. I don't have to come up with what time I'm supposed to pick up my daughter or where I should meet my father for lunch. While not living day to day I am able to think beyond day to day. I'm not only traveling to see shit on the outside, this allows me to check shit out on the inside. I think more people need to give themselves this vacation of the mind.

So if I've spent so much of this time thinking in India, what do I think about India?

I realize that there is no easy way to tour this country as rapidly as we have without being a tourist. My perception of India is only from the point of view you get as an outsider. I made the decision to see as much of India as I could sacrificing the chance to see deeper into it by becoming saturated in one spot. It would not be fair to try and judge anything from this distorted perspective.

A man from Malaysia said he was returning to Varanasi with excited anticipation as well as a bit of dread. I asked him why he keeps coming back. His answer was, "India is a land of contradiction that allows you the freedom to think any direction you like". If nothing else, I certainly saw the contradiction.

Everyone is impatient, almost pushing through each other, yet nothing happens quickly or efficiently here. I cannot discern the order in the chaos and am amazed that anything even happens here. The simplest things run through a gauntlet of hands to get done leaving multiple points of failure in any given transaction. I am surprised a rickshaw driver can get us to any given destination and even more surprised an airplane gets off the ground here. I'd have better chances on a roulette table than I would getting into the correct line at any given public transportation center and asking 10 different people will get you 10 different "correct" answers. Things don't get done around here because of any order, policy, or procedure. I guess things get done here because they just have to.

At the same time, you get to see how it all happens here from beginning to end like no other place I've been. Anything consumed can be witnessed from it's initiation. We have watched the planting and harvesting to the preparation of the food we eat. We watched them make the utensils we used eating the food. We've seen the textiles being woven and knitted. We've seen what they do with their trash. We've seen what they do with their animals. We have watched how they transport everything form the peanuts on the carts to the bundles of hay on the backs of women. We have witnessed the may ways they show their devotion and we have watched what they do with their dead. Because of this, India seems so much more real. The most we witness in America is the semi truck pulling into the rear loading docks to stock Walmart. Everything in the states happens behind the scenes.

I knew the basics of Hinduism coming here and although I never thought I would show up and adopt it as my primary faith, I was hoping I would gain a little more insight to a powerful and complex religion. I have to admit that I am no closer to embracing it than before. I did not have a epiphany or moment of greater understanding while being in the thick of Hindu spirituality. There are some fundamental aspects that do make sense to me. I get that all the deities are different representations of human nature in various forms and that paying homage to one is to acknowledging this incarnation within yourself. Ringing the bells and light candles at a temple, rubbing paint from an idol or statute, or chanting love song for a god is the the display of repeated devotion to highlight your intentions... or at least that's the spin I'm putting on it. It's all a prayer to manifest our wishes.

Yet this county, being steeped in a vat of religious spices, does not appear to have in some way moved toward a sort of enlightenment. I think that is up to the buddhists anyway. These people are hoping to come back in another more comfortable life and with the discomfort they have to work with here I don't blame them. When they reach their highest level then they win and do not have to be reborn and come back to deal with this world again. I guess this does not work for me since I have had a blessed life. My suffering has been trivial and I'm enjoying this existence. Had I the choice to return I would choose the life I have.

There are more than Hindus here. Every religion is mixed around in India. Buddhists, Muslim, and Christians are just as devoted. There is a mosque, church, temple, or stupa around every corner. When I think that it seems too much I think of the churches in the states. They may not be one at every corner, instead they are huge modern affairs sometime built of all glass with built in audio video sound systems. They may not be any more fanatical here. It just shows up differently.

The food has been wonderful. I like the eats in the north better. The south is bit blander and after ordering hotter and hotter up north I don't feel as satisfied in the lower half of India. I do miss the availability of beer yet I'm also glad there is not an alcohol problem in such a populated area. The few drunk locals I saw in Delhi was enough to make me want to promote the no drinking policy here.

There are your run of the mill farm animals here except they are not restricted to farms. The chickens, goats, pigs, and the sacred cows are at home in the cities as much as anyone. They seem to be much thicker in the northern states, while Goa and Kerala allowed me to wear flip-flops without having to worry about dodging so much shit. I saw only one elephant while riding the bus in Kerala. There were monkeys nearly everywhere in the north. I did not see any while visiting the shore. The streets throughout India are home to cats, rats, dogs, ferrets, cockroaches, and mice. While we were less urban we found lizards, bats, spiders, snakes, crabs, frogs, and a slew of birds. We saw our fair share of Kingfisher with their brilliant colors. There were parrots perched on just the right places. White egrets were scattered about the fields or taking rides the on water buffalo. We saw eagles that most resembled the bald eagle and we saw the soaring vultures. Of course there was the universal bird, the one that should be upon the
Earth emblem, the pidgin. But the bird that was with for every step of the way, the birds always watching us and calling our attention to something new was the Indian raven. These birds were not completely black like the ones in Colorado. They had a blue-gray collier to crowd a slightly smaller. It seemed like each one had a different voice and different accent making a crazy range of birds calls and banter all from the same spices. I wonder if the crow will be there in south east Asia.

The scent of India is as expansive as the rest of the country. The spicy aromas wafting from any given kitchen are immediately shattered by feces in a quick moment. Incense burns everywhere trying to cover the smells of the ever-present garbage. And you can always catch that special odor I have labeled Urincense hiding in the less blatant corners. There is the smell of flowers and there is the smell of death. India has is all. One of the best things about the extreme smells going on here is that Asiana has been battling other repulsive oders and doesn't complain out how ripe I am.

Chronic road-rage offenders should be sentenced to a one month driving a taxi here. Yes we all know it's complete lunacy on the streets here, but as nutty as it is there is no anger involved. The honking is continual. People are cutting each other off form every possible angle with every possible type of contraption of transport. How could they not when the rear view mirror is angled directly back to the drivers handsome face. Oh did I mention there's a shit ton shit in the roads. With so much stress on the street nobody gets truly upset over it. They don't take it personal like we do. I have to admit that it seemed like each block we rode had some of the closest accidents I've ever been involved with, yet i have not seen one crash outside of a minor bumping of a couple of motorcycles. I see more crunched cars on the side of the road in a day in the States than I have the whole time here.

To me, what really makes India so distinct is the people that inhabit the subcontinent. They are the creators of the beauty and responsible for the filth. Although their noise and aggressiveness got on my nerves at moments everyone was completely kind and helpful... or at least tried to be helpful. The stern stares snapped into broad smiles the moment I said hello and gave them a grin. The people in India are full of love. There is no other way they could exist together in such crowded and intense conditions. There is a sense of national community here partly because there is no privacy anywhere. They bath together, cook together, wash together, and live on top of one and other. They are more comfortable with each other making the western world seem uptight and tense. There is nothing to hide here.

I wince each time a local throws trash on the ground and garbage out the windows of the train. I have used the filthiest toilets imaginable and that is after seven visits to burningman. I have refrained taking pictures of what would be heavenly scenery due to molding of garbage or all the bottles floating down what would be a stunning river. The Arabian sea in Goa was swimable but the greenbrown water was only inviting to cool off or a quick dip to pee, but not the kind of ocean you want to stay and play in.

I feel fortunate to have spent a month journeying from the high north to the slow south. I have only gotten a small sip of India as a traveler and I know there is so much more to it. I have met Europeans that come back every couple years saying they love the place more with each visit. I know I would love it more if I melted into the community in any given place. Although I am glad I visited India, I question if I would return any time soon. There are a great number of places on the globe I would love to visit and I think I would choose to make my way to other far off destinations before spending more time here. But I do love India and am very grateful to have the change to taste such a magical country.

Namaste and Danyabot!


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