Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Flashes from India

Not the exotic India, not the economically booming India, not the slumdog millionaire India, not the colonized India, not the India with Gandhi. Just the India that I see. The India where I grew up, the India which I go back to, the India which I left, the India which it has become.

What can I tell you about my time in India this time? A foreigner described being in India as a "sensory overload". But that is not how I feel when I am in India. However now that I am back from there, all I have with me are flashes...flashes of sensations.

Stepping into tulsi baag and laxmi road, the busiest part of Pune the day after my arrival. The chaos brushing past my skin leaving me untouched. As if I did not see any of it. It was part of me as much as I was a part of it, without actually my being it.

A midnight drive to F.C. road to eat some black current ice cream. Driving through corporation, under the bridge, flickering tube lights, two old men sitting on the ground, inhaling the pollution. My own face reflected in the window. Ah the taste of black current ice cream.

The terrace so inviting, with its swing outside my room where I have spent hours upon hours, dreaming, thinking, and dreaming some more. I step out into the terrace that fills up with sunlight only for 3 hours in the afternoon because of the tall buildings all around. But there is no time to sit, I need to run up to the third floor to help my relatives.

Practicing the song the three sisters sang. Treasuring every moment with my sisters. Only to be found during chores. Let us connect, share with me, don't leave me I urged. The tears would not stop that night. Then I sat in the terrace, looking up at the square sky, tears flowing down my face, shivering because of the cold and the deep loss.

We made our way on the scooter. Me at the back. The insanity of the traffic. When I looked at the people driving their cars, their eyes focussed on getting through. The India with dreams of cars and lavish weddings. The India that says "me first, me first always". If this is what I call home, then why do I feel so alone?

But I am under the trees now, in my cocoon. I struggle to be free even though I am allowed to be free now. I look at her, soaking in her words, allowing my words to be expelled into the air. They were received and embraced. A short hour of depth.

Holding old age in my hands. Watching fear and life slowing oozing out. Watching myself watching a scene which I could not react to. I back away slowly from the unknown and inevitable. Who are you? I do not remember you. But I will still stroke your hair tenderly and tell you not to be afraid.

Journeys in the bus are always more involved in India. As we rode towards Konkan, you can never be just an observer of all that is outside. No glass separates you, no eyes create distance. The smells and chaos of the people in the bus create a world that is both inside and outside. Yet I am within it and lost to it, as my eyes can only focus on the distant mountains, the fields near by, thoughtless, impressionless. Suddenly I turn to her, unable to grasp her physical reality, the present moment extending infinitely, but passing at the same time. I look all over, begging my mind to grasp the moment and its beauty before it passes. But instead I have forgotten to breathe.

But the fields remind me of where I want to be and what I want to do. I will grow food. The red soil, I missed so much. What do I miss about home the most? The red soil. Red like blood. Get it on your clothes and it takes years to come off.

Supporting my body with my elbows, I watch the waves. Soon I can only hear them. My tears blur my vision, but they empty my heart and make me grateful for what there is. Sand slipping through my fingers, there it is again, there it slips away again.

Some connections remain, some are lost, some must be let go off. Remember me? I haven't forgotten you.

I rode the scooter this time. Early morning and its cold. My hands are freezing as I ride, but my heart is warm because of the arms that embrace me and keep me warm. Another chance to reflect under the trees, under the peeping sunlight, another chance to change.

As we sat in the bus, listening to music, one headphone in each ear, the school boys stared at us. Probably watching our breasts heaving up and down as the bus wound its way over the mountain towards the beach. Wondering who these girls were? alone? rich fucks? chatterboxes!

We at food at the Great Punjab restaurant. Butter chicken. Full tummies and empty hearts. Anju will not come home with us today. As we say our goodbyes below the restaurant I observe the puppies playing with us, hoping to get some food from us. But nobody cares. There is no time.

I touched so many hands. Hands with rings, hands with watches, hands with wrinkles. I wiped some tears. Not just my own in the bathroom with the towel. So much love conveyed through those loving hands. So grateful.

Avoiding the gaze of a hundred people who stared at me in my hot pink dress, wondering what to make of me, how to reconcile my dress with who they thought I was. The make up gave me a headache. I am not very flexible. I could not cope with the role of someone who puts makeup on.

The wind blowing through my hair as I weave my way through the traffic. Change gear. Beirut. Just me. Change gear. The night. The thick pollution like a fog that refuses to lift. At the beach there were stars. So many of them.

But I will come back, I say to myself, as the plane goes higher and higher. Sleepy eyes catch glimpses of cities in the dark. A maze of glittering lights. Darkness. More glittering blurry lights. I close my eyes giving up the urge to stay awake. Satisfied with my share of experiences, looking forward to what lay on the other side. A west-coast friendship.