Imagine an alternate universe that’s accessible by easy flight. A Mars or Twilight Zone with roaming holy cows, instant disease upon the consumption of food, toilets seemingly nonexistent, and pimped out buses roaming the streets. And imagine this place has so much of great appeal: colors, spices, drinks, music, dancing, people, animals, mountains, beaches, and this list fails to find its end. The journey is costly, but the destination is not. And it is nearly impossible to find a side of this culture bland…in any way. India is a place for me to find beauty, tragedy, and examine what is “necessary”. Many destinations make sense to the Western mind (I was instantly down with African and South America), but India for many leaves us cowering or flailing or blinking our eyes repeatedly, trying to figure out, “Why?! Wah-wa-wah-WHY?!” This shock to the system is harsh and often welcomed enthusiastically by travelers jones’ing for something refreshing.
This is one of the reasons why I won’t be coming back to India for a while. I have to preserve the Subcontinent as something unknown and confusing, keep it in mind as a throbbing, spazing, flowing, technicolored fantasy world that is possible to traverse and experience in reality. To be all knowing about the ways of India, I fear, would be to take the mystery out of this world. It’s the constant quest for knowledge with the joys of an infinite library.
I spent my last days in India hanging out in the ‘hood of Pahar Ganj among the novices, the immigrants, the locals, the travelers who never left, the familial frequenters who find the area comforting…and I knew I wasn’t any of them. I had my friends and the necessary haggling skills. I was stained by henna and dirt, sweating from every pore. My physical presence was in Delhi; my soul was not.
This is not a place for me to be but to remember like a past life and wonder if it really was. And one day, when I make that fantasy ride back for whatever demanding purpose, I’ll be floored once again, uncomfortable, and in need of the necessary transformation to deal with the organized and beautiful chaos of India.
I brought my recently finished book to my friend’s shop and exchanged it for a beautiful, purple scarf; this wasn’t really customary, but I think they wanted to do me a favor. With a telling hug, I knew, as did India, that I’d be a while. On this endless path, I’m learning where I don’t belong, and through the eventual process of elimination, I’ll soon find where the chaos makes sense to me.