A man without a country
Trip Start Jan 27, 2008
30Trip End Apr 06, 2009
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This is hard to relate to the friends that are mildly happy to see you, and so you may feel as though there is no-one you can talk to that can understand what you have gone through.
This is why it is good to at least have a couple of days to sit, think, and perhaps drink before going back to the old daily life one left behind so many months or even years ago. There comes a sort of low-level lonliness and boredom during reentry that can only be remedied by activity, and of course a good meal and beer at your local. It is a sensitivity and emotional nakedness akin to the feeling of one's skin during a mild fever: electric and jumpy, and uncomfortable when touched.
People always ask the question: "so, how was it?" but the answer comes hard. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It just was, and sometimes one may feel a subtle annoyance at answering. After all, how does one explain what life is like halfway around the world, especially when it was not all dancing babas and incense? It is at times like these I can understand the agenda-oriented sightseer tourists who are on what I like to dub "the lonely planet trail." I believe it is much easier to explain the sights of a country, in particular India, with tales of the wonders built by ancient kings and emperors than to try to relate the story in terms of the people and culture of the lower and more hardcore cities. People seem to have a vision of the place as some sort of spiritual mecca, full of meditation and yoga, with people playing sitar and tabla on the streets and the spirit of samsara, dharma and karma filling up the soul with a sense of light and well-being.
The reality of the country is a constant motion, capitalism gone wild, everyone trying to turn a fast rupee in a changing nation caught somewhere between high-tech and home-made.
It is a dirty, polluted place with lots of pitfalls and danger, but I suppose that is what I like about it. The chaos of the cities and towns, the lung-cloging smoke and the smell of rotted shit, the complete and utter lack of foresight for tomorrow, let alone in the years to come. These are why I go there. India is a hard core uncharted territory in which nothing really works properly, there is no sense of time, not even the remotest idea of consequence. There is only the now, this moment, and nothing else. In fact, when one learns this fact, they may well realize that this is the "true" spirituality of India--the fact that there is none, only going through the motions of prayer and festival but otherwise only trying to survive one more day in an unforgiving world by any means possible.
Sure, the Taj Mahal is beautiful, many temples and landscapes magnificent, but the true reality is in the back alleys of the poor parts of town, the paharganj, hyderabad, smaller places no western tourist has heard of like Kottukota and Yargatti. This is where the real humanity lives and scratches out an always dirty and sometimes ugly existence, caring only to eat and perhaps be able to do the washing. In this daily struggle is not only the reality and ugliness of India, but also a strange beauty which, when it has permeated the heart of the observer does not soon fade. There is no fantasy in the back alleys, no "Om," no "Shanti," no Great Spirit, only the cold fact of survival in the solitary moment, dispelling all preconception and myth of some higher purpose or benevolent being watching over all humanity. This is truth at it's stripped-down best, no bells and whistles, only existence. Not disillusionment by any means, but more on the lines of "de-teaching," letting go of one's idea of some spiritual safety net, belief in afterlife, rebirth, and all of the other lies we tell ourselves to convince ourselves that there is something more after this life. There is only the one life, so, at least in my humble opinion, we must make it the best one possible by living, loving, learning, and creating. There is no time to waste.
This is the Tao of India.