Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Day One: Fog and Clarity
That my plane landed about 45 minutes early, yes, early, certainly had me feeling like this was an auspicious start. Just about everyone I know who's been to India prior had warned me to expect things to go slow, run late, etc. I figured I was coming in ahead of the game at this rate. Breezed through customs to find my bags already waiting alongside the baggage claim carousel. Made contact with my welcoming committee with little trouble at all. And aside from a fog (smog) hanging thick in the air, making visibility beyond ten feet obscure and breathing more laborious than it ought to be, my entry into India was picturesque.
Pamma, my local point of contact, was gracious and seemed very pleased by my intention to readily adopt the Indian habit of saying yes to everything. (Side note for the unacquainted. . . you're not going to hear "no" much around here, even if that's the correct answer, and there is a preponderance of ambiguous head bobbing instead of decisive yes/no nods) I find it so easy to take down walls and toss out expectations while traveling, more so than in everyday life. What good would it do me to have them? I might miss something remarkable otherwise. So I'm here to say yes. Want to see ___? Why, yes, I do! Want to taste ___? Yes please! Would you like to shopping for Indian dress? (I love how they say that!) Sure, of course!
But saying no to the beggars, thus far exclusively women and children, is hard, and it's only been one day. It's one of those things you're warned about and try to prepare yourself for, but nothing can quite get you ready. They see my white skin, my Western look, and bam! I become a supposedly easy target. I have yet to be asked for money by anyone looking too terribly malnourished or destitute, but then who the hell am I to judge that? These are people who have so little, especially in comparison to the abundant lI live, and they know so much struggle. And just because I know I can't help them all, and whatever I may be able to give probably won't make or break their lives, doesn't mean I feel any less guilty.
In fact, I almost feel more guilty (not that guilt is a great use of energy) because that attitude goes against the "every little bit counts" mentality us optimistic, liberal, tree-hugging types tout when talking about things like recycling, conserving water or contributing to your community. This IS my community, the global one, and it is hurting my heart to see what I know isn't even close to the worst of the suffering here. So I've been praying almost nonstop. I go around silently chanting the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra like a song on replay, sending prayers of protection and liberation to the souls in need. And who isn't in need of some Tryambakams?
I've been chanting not only for the people OF the street, but for the people ON the street. Everyone in a car, on a bike, in a rickshaw, my driver, me. . . we all need it. It's madness on these roads, though I can't help but marvel at how the drivers and pedestrians alike are all familiar with the steps of the positively insane dance that is navigating the streets of Delhi. The ladies ride side-saddle off their honey's motorbike like it's nothing. Kids don't even flinch at the [ever-present] sound of a horn blaring.
Then I walk around a monument or historic site for some sightseeing, and I become a target for something other than monetary handouts. Photo ops! I've been asked to pose for pictures with cute young girls in brightly colored, traditional dress escorted by their fathers, multiple generations of families touring around together, preteen boys in school uniforms snapping shots on their cell phones and asking if they can find me on Facebook. Seriously?!? Is this just because of my white skin? I'm not complaining in the least. Photo lover that I am, I'm generally happy to pose for a shot, especially if it is bringing joy to someone. It's just that it's a joy I can't quite comprehend. I'd never approach someone of a different ethnicity and ask for a quick pic just because of their skin, and I'd venture that most of you would agree. So I find it interesting and, frankly, odd, that I'm being propositioned for just that.
If I'm clear on anything after not even 24 full hours here, it's that I have to make peace with not being clear on a lot. This is a place of contradiction, conundrums and contrasts. Irony abounds. Polar opposites live next door to each other. Yes means no. Head bobs could mean anything. So long as I can be clear on me, on who I am and what I'm doing here, then that'll be enough.
And like an answer to my prayers, a space of calm amidst the chaos, strolling down the street from my hotel to get a feel for the immediate neighborhood, I walk dead-on into a Durga temple. Durga is one of the Hindu faces of the Divine Mother, and just happens to be my girl ;-) Amidst honking and spitting, polluted air and tattered clothes, buyers and sellers, beggars and businessmen, the Divine. Always the Divine. I shed my shoes, stepped inside the small, vibrant space, inhaled the incense and bowed my head in reverence. Out of the fog, clarity.
Posted by Just Jess