My transformation began with the first step off the gangway. The equatorial sun toughened my already sun-kissed skin, pollution darkened my nostrils, mosquitoes feasted on my leg, and the stench of the city penetrated deep into the fibers of my clothing. Any Westerner would experience this discomfort with a visit to Chennai, but this is not the transformation I am talking about Now I sit under a canopy with yellow spices under my fingernails, jasmine in my hair, red and yellow pigment on my forehead, seasoned air in my lungs, dirt covering my bare feet, and the sound of a thousand school children resonating in my ears. These sensations are by choice and this decorative lifestyle I once found tacky is gaining my appeal.
I shot one hundred and fifty photographs, and the best ones were those that the school children took when I let them push the shutter. Vivacious curiosity captured even through the numbing effect of the flash. This moment is beyond storybook…it's time travel. Instead of bringing popular inventions and artistic prints like Marco Polo, I can only offer my worldly stories and a deck of IU playing cards. A coconut just crashed to the hard dirt ground, splashing its milk onto nearby flowers…THAT moment was storybook.
Smiles from old man gardener make me comfortable, but his eventual hover over my writing does not…ok, he just left.
I'll never be further away from home as I am now (unless I follow Sally Ride's footsteps into space), and it just shows that physical proximity has nothing to do with proximity in the mind. Home is a constant thought, here, in the land of colorful gods and caste systems. I can only imagine that when I return, India will come back to me in vivid memories
How will I change when I go back to my SUV, my air-conditioned dream home, my wasteful lifestyle? Will I be a snob with a knowing smirk and exclusive adventures that no one wants to hear? Will I drop every modern convenience and result to an ascetic life?
Never mind my literary fluff because I know what will result from these priceless journeys…a mind that give me confidence to test and question. The old gardener just asked if I ate lunch with my hands…yes…and it was good. Earlier today, I followed a band of drummers, adorning a welcome lei and a bindi, and with the turn of a corner, one thousand girls and boys came into view, sitting "Indian style" facing 10 empty chairs. Ten Americans stood in disbelief before taking a seat of honor. I could imagine multiple SAS people who would laugh at the situation or find it ridiculous, but as these children sat meditating and praying in unison for the prosperity of the world, I found great pleasure being in their company and not the shipboard community.
These children are many and fill this country with humor as vibrant as their sarees. It could be wonderful to fill your days with smells of wet soil or the sweeter sound of classroom recitations in unison, like the old gardener (who just offered me a handful of freshly picked berries). I can always have that option later in life, but for now I will search for this feeling deep in the bowels of overstuffed and under-cultured Indy, where at least I can enjoy my own family instead of the idea of others. I'll take it as a sign that I just ate the last offering of flowers from the gardener.
Just putting my thoughts into words...what do you think? Do you ever have similar musings?