India – delayed reactions

September 2nd, 2009 | No Comments

February 22, 2009

My last India travel diary entry was sent with time remaining in Calcutta. Collecting the final stories for my own purposes, I felt the need to round it out with some post-game reactions.

I have now been home from India longer than I was away. It’s a post-vacation benchmark that usually elicits a couple days of pensive longing that only gallons of movie popcorn bathed in Chernobyl butter can rectify. Conversely on this return, it was several weeks of immediate depression that preceded a return to balance.

India is a land of dynamic colour. Barren rice fields, dried and scratchy in the off season and framed by brick-red dirt roads, are punctuated by brilliant saris that emanate from the petite frames of the women walking deliberately about their day. Outside the major cities, blue jeans are unheard of. We demand less of their personalities because of the vibrancy and expressiveness of their clothing. By contrast, the people existing in the blue jean culture of Vancouver dress as though they are in perpetual mourning. I stood by the downtown library and had fingers to spare in my one-handed count of pedestrians who weren’t wearing a black coat with black or blue pants. The slimming effects of black now seem to extend far beyond their superficial motives. This compensation for confidence is ironic in a society comparatively lacking in humility. Apologies, this trip was supposed to be about being beyond passing judgment. 

vibrant colours in rural India

vibrant colours in rural India

There is a line in Autobiography Of A Yogi that asserts “human inadequacy becomes clear in the gloomy abode of miscellaneous bones”. I wish I had that at my disposal earlier to describe the funeral ghats in Varanasi. One lesson that has been worthwhile to adopt in hindsight relates to a delayed observation about the inhabitants of the ashram. I found that within its confines, people stop asking for what they want and start asking only for what they need. The result is that one finds it much easier to offer charity. It is easy to block out the requests of others if we judge them to be superfluous, but when we become used to our peers only reaching out when they need us, the wall that filters these requests diminishes.  ‘They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t need it’ becomes the mantra, and you give without a second thought.

Giving to myself on my final days in Calcutta, I took it very easy and watched a little too much India television. The media is trying so hard to create a wider culture of fear surrounding the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November, and refer to the event as 26/11 – attempting to associate it with 9/11. On a lighter note, the music videos are beyond cliché, and stick to a very strict formula: ridiculously stunning woman serenaded by epically un-cool guy, backed by a cast of thousands. It is like a cross between Grease and Ben Hur. At the behest of my boss, I decided to catch a movie at a local theatre. I had hoped for a Bollywood film, but my only option was to see “Australia”. We had planned on visiting the theatre in Jaipur that is touted to be the nicest in Asia, but didn’t follow through. So I hit the “nice” theatre in Calcutta. I was relegated to the dress circle of this dingy time capsule of a theatre where they show the movie’s certificate before the feature, there is an intermission, and you can hear conversations coming from the projector room, along with the projector itself. I got the impression that tourists are not allowed to sit in the lower level – although I would have preferred that to having to listen to a 10-minute cel phone conversation going on near me. Inside the theatre is both a bar and a restaurant, but alas, no popcorn! This was a new experience indeed. Oh and a piece of random advice for travelers to India – don’t drink from the straws. Just don’t.

That same day I hired a cab for a few hours to tour me around the city. Inspired by postcards I had seen, I visited the incredibly ornate Jain Temple. I only wish photographs were permitted inside the temple. Not even Donald Trump has seen this level of gaudy. Outside the temple I donated the last of my ashram clothing to a woman who was begging from passersby, which I took with me in the cab in hopes of finding someone to give it to. 

the Jain temple in Calcutta

the Jain temple in Calcutta

Next stop was Mother Teresa’s Sisters Of Mercy. Her tomb is just inside the main doors, and visitor’s prayers are placed at the head of the monument. As I toured the site, one of the sisters of the order struck up a conversation with me. She asked if the beads I was wearing on my wrist had been blessed. I said no, but that I did have beads blessed by Ama, the living saint of Kerela. “False prophets!” she exclaimed. Which opened the door to a conversation about the validity of different people who carry the word of god/love/whatever you want to label it. She insisted that I look to the bible as my only resource. I asked why that should be trusted when in the bible Jesus goes from age 12-30, and why those years were omitted. Let’s just say that the conversation got a little more intense, and then I realized that I was debating the validity of the bible with a nun at Mother Teresa’s, and that I should probably show a little humility myself. She said she would pray for me, and when I responded to her request for my name with “Christian” she exclaimed “well you HAVE to read the bible!”. I made a donation at the door and went on my way. 

Mother Teresa's tomb

Mother Teresa's tomb

My first trip with a digital camera resulted in over 1,000 photos taken. Waiting at the airport for my 2am return flight I took the opportunity to cull the herd by a couple hundred. At the same time I began to believe that the real reason for the Vatican’s recent eradication of Limbo from the detailed levels of heaven and hell is because it already fully exists in the corporeal realm in the form of airport lounges. No amount of caffeine can solve the monotony that perspires from these faux leather starting blocks. I am furthermore convinced that if you ever wanted to deliver a virus on a pandemic scale that you could do it through Pringles. They are sold in more countries than heroin. Right now in Siberia they are probably being sold next to “I survived gulag boot camp” T-shirts. Checking in at the airport, Lufthansa offered me a 750 Euro voucher to delay my flight by one day. 5 weeks ago I told Pam that I would jump at an opportunity to cash in on an overbooked flight. However the call of my own bed and chopped-scallop sushi was far too loud to ignore.


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