Part of Shit and Sugar All in One Breath
The phrase many people told me since I came here, "It is really hard to come to India, but it is even harder to leave India" rang more and more true to me as I approached the end.
After recovering from Vipassana, I returned to Delhi. While I was on the train, I noticed a man out my window on all fours crawling along the ground on his hands and one knee. The other leg was suspended above ground and appeared to be slowly disintegrating revealing his tiny calf bone. His feet were twisted inwards 90 degrees. I watched him through the tinted windows of the train as he crawled along with a limp, dragging the one functioning but also deformed leg.
I then noticed a group of monkeys passing by in a row, maybe a baby following the parents. When I first arrived in India, they were so cute. Quickly I experienced them stealing my fruit, and heard stories of them breaking into living areas, ruining furniture, crawling through trash, throwing it everywhere, and destroying gardens and fruit trees. They were mere pests now.
They reminded me of children begging, hanging on your clothes, pulling you, following you until you gave them a few rupees. They too, sadly, had become pests to me. As time passed and my energy waned, I was just trying to survive. I watched local Indians whack the head of beggars or grab them by the hair as if they were a bad dog or cat crawling on the kitchen table. At first I was horrified watching this, but then I started to develop my own coping mechanisms.
Last night I talked to this traveler who also always dreamed of going to India. He almost left after 2 weeks of being here. He hated it. We were discussing why India made us so tired all the time. I never understood why I took 3 naps a day yet could sleep well at night after doing nothing all day. I thought it was digestive problems but after talking to him I realized it was not that at all. He had no intestinal complaints yet also felt exhausted every day. It was like I felt as a kid where I could not keep my eyes open any longer, and my parents had to carry me half asleep to bed. That was how I felt in India every day. I would fall asleep at the most random moments or struggle to keep my eyes open when the day had just begun.
He reminded me that every time we did anything like cross the street to buy a bottle of water, we were bombarded with so many hassles. We had to dodge auto rickshaws, bike rickshaws, bikers, cows, people rushing by, or anything that would knock you over without a second thought. You had to be aware of the ground to make sure you didn't step into a pile of human or cow dung or a 5 foot ditch. You needed to ward off beggars and sadhus, people selling you chai, hash, Siva stickers, hand-made bags, anything made in India. People would try to get you to use their tour company. Others asked you, "Your name? Which country? You married?" and numerous other questions if you let them. When you finally crossed the street to get some water, you had to bargain with the seller to make sure they were not ripping you off. You’d try to get away without them selling you juice, toilet paper, shampoo, or any other product they carried. Finally you had your water and were totally exhausted ready for a nap. Yet you just woke up. Here I was wondering why India made me so tired when every day I had to buy 3 meals, a couple of bottles of water, and possibly take a rickshaw to another part of town to check something out each action requiring just as much work as buying a bottle of water plus more.
In Delhi I had been thinking about going back to the states and comparing how that would feel. When I imagined myself back in New York City wandering the streets, I would wonder, "Where have all the people gone?" It would feel empty in comparison. I would pass by a beggar I saw every day on my way to work on the corner of 8th street and 6th avenue. I would look at him and think, "What is your problem? What are you worried about? You have both of your legs?" I would also feel liberated being able to smile without worrying about people leering at me in return. I could wear my clothes comfortably and buy a bottle of water without feeling totally exhausted.
These last few days in Delhi, I borrowed a tape recorder from another traveler and walked through the ghetto of Pahar Ganj. I wanted it all: the horns blaring from auto rickshaws, the cows mooing, the beggars begging, the music blasting, the harassment surrounding me. I wanted to record it all to remember how crazy this experience was for me. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by it, I felt empowered. The recorder and the desire to have and experience it all allowed me to waltz through the streets without feeling a hint of stress.
For the first time in 2 months, I felt sad to leave. I could finally handle it. It had been a living hell, but I was just starting to love it. India brought out the animal in me. It was a struggle for survival that put you in the moment. There was no past nor future to dwell on. I had to learn to join in the stampede or I’d get trampled. Finally my mother’s words, “You will love India but you will also hate it” were fully realized.