India has my heart.
I’m addicted to her madness. I’m helpless to the way she constantly flirts with my emotions and teases my good intentions. She is every colour imaginable and every grey shadable. I often hear other travellers talking about India as if they think they understand her, that they know everything there is to know about her. But India is beyond explanation, beyond statement. Just when I think I have her wrapped around my little finger, she evades me. Because whatever I could say to you about India, the opposite is also true. India is as sweet as she is scary. As beautiful as she is ugly.Like many women travellers, I spend some of my time here questioning my emotions. Because being with India means I must choose to give up a part of myself. Here, my femininity is a curse. I should always be aware and always be cautious. I cover up. I avoid eye contact. I remain silent. I am expected to respect a man more than I would my fellow woman and to take their discourteous and often inappropriate behaviour towards us as an acceptable by product of the culture and of my life here. But when you have to give up a part of yourself to be (with) someone else, where is it that you draw the line? It’s a lesson I’m still trying to figure out.
But despite all this, the bond we share is undeniable. I love her for all her simplicities and all her complexities. And in return she forces me to be present, makes me second guess myself and shows me how to live simply. She challenges me. She changes me. She brings me easy but beautiful friendships, makes me laugh constantly and she doesn't mind that I eat to excess or that I don't wash my hair. And she always, ALWAYS makes me marvel. But man does she test my patience….
India. She’s a bus driver that stops for a 30 minute chai break when you’re half way home. She's THAT uncomfortable stare from men. She's garbage lined streets. She’s a broken system. She’s a caste based identity. She's inequality. She’s a mange covered and unloved puppy or a ‘sacred’ cow dying a slow and brutal death. She’s ALWAYS a yes, when what she really means is no….
But she's also a local bus with your head out the window and the wind in your hair, she’s a 70 year Sihk with a hot pink turban, she's THAT head wobble. She’s a stranger who invites you in for chai, a monk with an iPad and a Naddi sunset. She’s an elephant walking on the highway, a bollywood movie and a giggling five year old migrant with perfect white teeth.…. She's eggplant masala with a garlic naan.
Oh LOVE. I may occasionally win the battle but I’ll forever lose the war.
Two weeks ago I travelled to Gajner, Rajasthan to help open up a new community cluster. As Renata and I are walking the camel lined and dusty streets, we hear a small schoolboy shouting. When I turn around, he races after us, as excited as he is anxious. As he and his friends chase us up the street, and in a rush of nervousness in what I think may well be the first time he’s ever tried out his English skills, he blurts “WHERE DO YOU BELONG?” They pause and wait for my answer. I laugh in a way he doesn't understand. India. She's always pulling these little tricks on me. Constantly testing me. Redefining me. While they stand there and watch.My absolute favourite place in India, is the local bus. Its also where our love affair was confirmed. In my fourth week here, and twice daily thereafter, I am sitting on a crowded Punjabi bus in 35 degree heat, hindi music is blaring from the speakers and Im sharing a tiny broken seat with 2 school girls, 3 kgs of vegetables, a bucket and a small baby, a bag in my face, sweating from brow to butt cheek. All eyes in the bus are on me. We suddenly come to a screeching halt because of a cow lying in the middle of the road, and I grin and brace as we all launch forward. I lose my heart on impact. India. She’s madness and she's magic.