I am 30-some thousand feet above the earth now, making the journey home. The conclusion of these long, deep adventures is always a bit surreal. As I sit in literally the same exact seat on the plane as my flight to India, part of me questions if all of that really just happened. On one hand, it seems like the last month transpired in the blink of an eye; on the other, it feels like I just spent a lifetime in India.
Having an entire month in one place really gives you a chance to jump in and assimilate with the region’s way of life. To dive into the culture not as a mere tourist, but also not quite a local. There isn’t really an adequate way to describe India to someone who hasn’t been there. Though I bring back a heart full of stories and a camera full of photos, I cannot properly convey the full experience of being there, other than in tangible sensory descriptions.
There are all the sights: seas of people, rainbows of saris, rickshaws moving at the speed of jet planes, old Ambassador taxis, oodles of local buses that rule as road king (unless a cow wanders out – they trump everything!), fancy hotels next to cement homes with tarp roofs, cockroaches, people using the world as their toilet, beautiful flower offerings, entire families on the back of a motorbike (none of whom are wearing helmets), tea stalls, food hotels, heartfelt smiles full of rotting teeth, pure joy in the eyes of many and some of the deepest pain and sorrow I’ve seen in the eyes of others.
The sights are followed by the smells: flowers, farts, cinnamon, the fresh ocean breeze, stifling exhaust fumes, ripe fruit, a wide array of different body odors, cardamom, burning garbage, jasmine & curry.
Lastly, the sounds: endless honking, dogs barking, bus engines, loogie hawking, choruses of birds singing countless melodies, merchants pushing sales, chanting, harmoniums, tablas, sitars, children playing, people shouting, goats, cows, mosquitoes buzzing – India has a round-the-clock soundtrack playing!
To say India is sensory overload would be an understatement. It is the union of opposites properly defined. A stark contrast of rich/poor, love/hate, radiant/decrepit, beauty/poverty, joy/despair. The whole country is a contradiction of sorts and I left feeling the same about my experience. I had moments of great challenge – being tested and pushed in ways I didn’t expect. They were equally matched with moments of awe, wonder & deep connection with the divine.
India is often referred to as The Motherland. I understand why now after spending a month with her. Just as a mother does, she showed me so much grace along with doses of tough love. On the surface level, I saw another country – its terrain, people, and culture. But the real trip, the true journey, was the one within myself.
A part of me could not wait to leave – to find solace in all the comforts of home, yet a part of my heart remains in that soulful country. While I left a piece of myself there, I also brought home a changed soul. I view India as a grand outward expression of all that is within us. The good, the bad; the joy, the sorrow; the beautiful, the ugly; the dark, the light.
Life is a constant tug of war between these extremes. In the end, we choose what we want to see and what decide what will prevail.