Today is my last day in India. After three weeks, I feel I’ve seen and done enough to fill twice that amount of time, yet I find myself no closer to answering the perplexing and inevitable question, “What is India like?”. I cannot presume to know how to answer this question adequately in three weeks’ time. I suspect three years wouldn’t be enough.
In A Passage to India, E.M. Forster wrote “nothing in India is identifiable, the mere asking of a question causes it to disappear or merge into something else.” I find this to be absolutely true of India. Every village, every city, and every local person you talk to can change your conclusions in a breath, leaving you unsure of what it was you thought in the first place. But, there’s just something about this place. It has its beauty, but its landscape is so stripped raw by poverty and pollution as to render it naked and vulnerable, revealing only truth. I’ve seen very little that is contrived here. India doesn’t put on airs or make apologies, even if the people might.
India is what it is.
Maybe that’s the “something” about India—the truth of it. A truth as complex as it is contradictory. It is a place of intense spirituality and archaic superstition. It is both wealthy and achingly poor. It is a place of magnificent beauty and utter wretchedness. It is both proud and humble, humane and inhumane, dignified and wholly, unapologetically without dignity. Perhaps the best way to look upon India is through the lens of Hinduism, for it has as many faces, incarnations, and attributes as there are gods in the Hindu pantheon. India is strong, weak, perseveres, falters, loves, hates, creates, and destroys in an endless cycle of birth, persistence, and death.
This is the India that I’ve seen in the last several weeks, and the one that I will miss. Still, I’m also relieved to be returning home, where I can brush my teeth with tap water, have reliable electricity, where there is far less trash in the streets, and no fear of stepping in cow dung when you walk in the city. Where I can be anonymous and not attract the attention of every Raj, Sumit, and Sanjay. And where I can finally be rid of the plague of Delhi Belly (which, of course, presented itself for an encore performance just as I begin to embark upon my trip home).
So, just as I began my trip by slowly plugging into the stresses and tedium of my travel life, I now begin to unplug myself from India so I can ease back into home. But India will never leave me completely. I am grateful to have had this opportunity to experience such a complicated and amazing country, and as always, I thank you for sharing in the adventure. Until next time…