ode to india
As i sit here in the charles de gaulle airport, india 6,000 miles away, i'm feeling a lot of things. it's like a dam of emotions just gave way within my body, and i'm trying desperately to grab at any one of the 1,000 emotions that are flooding through my fingertips.
for one, i have absolutely no idea what i just ordered for breakfast. it's tasty, don't get me wrong, it's just that i'm doing the opposite of thriving with this whole "french" language thing. i did, however, manage to order the correct macaroon from laudree store. thank god i'm a decently proficient pointer.
i feel slightly lied to by airfrance too. i vividly recall buying one economy seat, not the half of one i contorted my body into. the precious man next to me was approximately a seat and a half wide, you see, and while his company was very enjoyable, my close quarters with the window was not. come to find out, he was the indian diplomat to nigeria, and i got so starstruck. Wow, i’m such a loser. heck yeah the diplomat can have half of my seat. he could have taken 3/4 of my seat and i’d have been like “yes omg! you’re so cool” Oh, and i totally got a selfie with him, no shame (he asked for one first, i promise!!!).
to top off all that, i started to smell something funky when i stepped off the plane. A few minutes into my walk to the security line, and i came to the horrifying conclusion that the smell was almost definitely me and a strange mix of curry. so that’s good.
the longer i sit here introspectively, the more i acutely tune into my feeling of displacement. The paris airport feels too nice; too luxurious. the ultra modern bathrooms felt futuristic without the presence of the squat toilets I used in india, and the floor to ceiling windows transformed me into an era of extreme refinement. don't get me wrong, such differences are the central reason culture is such a beautiful thing, but today, it's a hard adjustment from the one I left behind in india.
Another one of the feelings flooding my body? gratitude.
india has taught me so much about myself and the nature of mankind.
you don't truly appreciate the people in this world until you experience someone who gives you their everything even though you have nothing to offer in return. take my post office friend, sonu, for example. or the couple on my plane to india. or the guy just a few hours ago who wouldn’t let me pay for my masala soda because of the meaningful conversation we had.
maybe i feel so touched by these encounters because we live in a world where effort is minimal unless required. where helping someone is nice, but not expected. where decisions are informed by whether one will be praised in public or private. yet..what ever happened to pouring out our souls for the sake of soothing another's?
i think that's so much of why it was so important for me to get out of the usa this summer. i needed to be reminded of the innately good spirit of mankind. how refreshing it is to feel so fulfilled by humanity!
attribute their good nature to “karma” or whatever you’d like, but at the end of the day, these people impacted me in ways that i could never repay them. And all because we’re simply in this same human experience together.
Personal drabble aside, my last day in india was bittersweet to say the least.
how was i supposed to pick up and leave a country i had fallen head over heels for? India had made me so angry at times, yet had given me such serenity at others. I'd learned to cope with things i could never make sense of, and i made sense of things i thought i could never cope with. The entire 3 weeks was as much of a personal journey for me as it was one grand adventure.
The majority of my last day in india was largely spent in silence. I had returned from Goa the night before, but ethan was in rishikesh and the family was on their own vacation. Packing my bags became the metaphorical embodiment of me tying up the loose ends of my experience in india. piece by piece, my room became more and more empty until eventually, my bloated purple suitcase was the only thing that didn’t belong. it didn't seem possible that i had just packed away my entire life in india.
After lunch, I hailed my first tuktuk and even succeeded in getting to the places i was trying to go. At the grocery store, i expertly maneuvered through the aisles. At the pharmacy, I was in and out in under a minute. I even managed to get myself back home, which is just like... wow, go me. back at home, I made (and cleaned up) a huge mess from baking a second batch of the peanut butter dessert that the twins had devoured a week before. I stuck the dessert in the freezer as a surprise for the twins when they returned home, and left the two gifts i had purchased for Nani and Mamta on the coffee table (/dinner table) along with a note for when they returned. Saying goodbye to the house that made india feel like a home to me was tougher than i imagined.
Chandni and Mohit, the local coordinators in delhi, invited me over for my final dinner in india earlier in the week, and I gladly accepted their invitation. the uncle took me on his tour bus to Chandni and Mohit's house in sector 30-33, and i relished in the fact that for the first time ever in india, I was on a bus alone. While i enjoyed the extra space, it became strange after a while, and I even found myself nostalgic for the overcrowded spaces that i had come to associate india with.
In this round of inside jokes with the universe where sydney is all but amused, I slaved to get my suitcase up two flights of stairs. Me struggling with a rolling suitcase must be pretty comical, because it seems to be a trend. i didn't mind it so much by the time i got to the top because everyone was waiting at the doors laughing, ready to hug and help me.
My last night in delhi was a special one. I had gotten very close to the coordinators and to the volunteers living with them. two of these three volunteers- Hannah and Khush- had become some my closest companions. the night was spent enveloped in laughter and conversation, an atmosphere more genuine and enjoyable surely cannot exist. What a joy it was to spend my last hours in the company of some of my favorite people!
Dinner was an experience unlike any other. It was a feast of many cultures, and who other than myself would have offered to supply the dessert. We sat around a table filled with fried rice, fettuccini, curry, and peanut butter bars. It was the most random fusion of foods, that meal was. But isn't that what we all are here in India- a bunch of vastly different beings from very different backgrounds, sewed together by some random thread, this time the simple desire to unite for change.
We all crammed around the little glass table, the buffet of foods hardly leaving any room for our mismatched plates. We were so intentional in making the most of our last moments together in Delhi, and that made the moments so special.
At one point, conversation settled on the cultural differences between America and India. Raj mentioned that he made 356 rupees a day. I remember the exact number because it was so powerfully shocking. 356 rupees is the equivalent to $5.39. To put that into perspective, 356 rupees will buy you approximately 12 bottles of water in India. And the staggering pay rate is not the product of poor education or lack of work ethic. Raj works 9 hours a day, 6 days per week. He graduated school too. "Outsourcing," he explained to me. "my country supplies manpower.”
And it's no secret. Every developing nation has taken advantage of the available cheap labor in India. It's normal for everyone in india, yet for me, it was heartbreaking, especially hearing it from someone I knew personally. I asked him if he thought it was fair. i winced as he shrugged. "we all must work in some way to get by," he spoke matter-of-factly, "and if that is by earning minimum wage, then yes, that is fair."
He asked about salaries in the US, and I openly told him about my past employment experience. He gaped at the figures. I told him I thought he deserved to be paid like I was, if not more. Raj laughed, and then said the most incredible thing I've heard on my journey thus far-
"But here,"he said, pointing to all of us sitting around the table, "we have happiness. and that is all I truly want.”
I could just end the post right here and feel satisfied. I could honestly end my entire blog with that quote and feel like I had written something more powerful than all of my other words combined.
For most of us, it’s not the first time we’ve heard that “happiness” saying, or a variation of it, at least. So why is it that that quote is more impactful now than ever before? Well, for me, it’s because i didn't just hear it; i felt it.
Raj said something meaningful because he meant it. The entire weight of understanding fell onto me as i tried to grapple with his profound words. I understood what he meant, but i felt so selfish to have neglected to find such blissful happiness in my past.
we live in a world disillusioned by money, looks, and success; in a society that genuinely believes our happiness resides in the brands we wear or the cars we drive. but what if our lives were stripped of all of this? what if we were left with nothing besides ourselves and the people around us? In that moment, would we have nothing.. or would we have everything?
So as i sit here in paris finishing my fifth cup of coffee (i wish that was an exaggeration), i am overcome by a sense of contentment. sure, it’s strange being in an environment so different than the one i left behind. yet, at the same time, what a blessing this journey has been. i evolved as a person more in these past three weeks than I would have in the next 10 years at home. how can i ever put into words what india has imparted onto me? there’s a lot of other emotions to figure out, but for now, i’m in no rush. the planes silently barreling down the runway are calming and that sixth cup of coffee sounds even better than before. I’ll be in morocco in 4 hours, but I believe part of my heart is still in india.
phir milenge, beautiful india.