A poem I wrote in October, 2015:
Living in a paradox
I questioned everything all at once. All at once, the world tumbled down and I fell apart. I questioned my own questioning, I cursed a land for being so open and honest. I hated the land I was in. I was angry at the sight of the amount of garbage all piled up in heaps and the people that just walked right past it, the kids that played on it, just a normal day in the neighborhood. I was emotionally drained. I couldn’t fit all of India’s things into a box and it scared me. All my life, things at least sort of made sense. But India is something entirely different. Nothing makes sense.
Yet, I don’t entirely feel like my poem from October speaks to me anymore. I took a turn off the dark path and the “why’s” eventually turned into what is now an embracement of India’s character.
Maybe it is my mind attempting to make sense of the inexplicable contradictions, but I feel a spiritual air here. Sometimes the people just know. So many times The Secret’s “ask and you shall receive” notion has landed me with an answer from the universe. Things work out when you learn to embrace. Embracing complexity brings an inner awakening, a deep fascination in a whole other realm of thought.
There are too many things about India that now make me giggle. There are countless moments when I think, “Wow, what a way to get that done.” It simply just marches to the beat of its own drum. Construction workers still use the absolute slowest way to do their work. I used to get frustrated at the pen-pusher society most of India is. When I looked deeper and listened harder, I began to see how the failed education system impacts this (or causes), as well as the solipsistic ways brought on by the religion that inherently penetrates all to their core. I thought of an extraordinary amount of ways for the worker to transport the asphalt quicker and without breaking his back. And for the people of the lower caste to break out from the bottom. But at the end of the day, this is India. For the most part, people take their time and enjoy the moment. They accept who they are and where they are in society. They accept what they have and don’t desire much more. And I am here to be awed by that.
The people are remarkably skilled and capable. The vendors can see me from a mile away and I watch as they get ready to begin the sale pitch. They are excellent and totally fascinating salesmen. In Jaipur, we stopped at a textile shop. Before we knew it the owner had us sitting on a comfy couch as he tore his entire shop apart, ripping tapestries and bed sets off the shelves and displaying it in front of us. “See the work!” he would say, every single time. Beautiful work it was, the whole shebang, and we all walked out of that shop with elephant tapestries.
There are the dark aspects too that easily dull the bright ones. Too many street corners are filled with lepers, beggars, families with naked children running about the stopped cars, putting their five fingers together and raising it to their mouth, the sign for eating. I am teaching the last year of education ever to 70 percent of my students, and it is me, someone entirely incapable to turn things around. There are the vendors who harass and absolutely lie to your face. There are the things I like to call “chicken busses” that deliver cramped cages full of squealing chickens to the shop where they sit in the hot sun. I have to go through metal detectors and give up my bag just to get into a grocery store. This is the part of India that makes you question everything. This is the India that is so honest you begin to curse every single part of it. It is the aspect of India that makes you look beyond all the good.
India is just a beautiful coexistence of contradiction. There are so many reasons to curse it, wonder where the heck the government is, whether do-good NGO’s actually exist in the world. But at the end of the day, all of it has taught me more about life than anything else. Real, pure, true life.
My entire outlook on a life meaning has changed. We say you go to school, college, get a job, have a family. But when we read between the lines, many times what we end up with is a degree for a job we aren’t passionate about and a home full of real nice things but no real and nice people. India has shown me how more connection and less things leave you living a happy life. In other words, one that isn’t built on the illusion of the externals we bring in, but the internal self-cultivated love we get when we care for others and ourselves, not things.
It has taught me about the importance of community, something we are either losing or have completely changed the definition of. It’s no wonder tourists look at slums and see happiness if oppression doesn’t come first. The people live off what they have and make the very best use of it. They can and do rely on each other for anything. They don’t fall under the pressure to have excess. I felt one of the strongest senses of community in my life when I shared a meal with a family in the slum and walked around delivering food to neighbors with them. The love I felt and received is absolutely inexplicable. I received the warmest hugs, most genuine smiles, a place to rest, and a home to just be.
India is a place of complete wonderment. It amazes me how it continues to function and the way in which it does. A place that seemed so distant and frustrating has become my very own temple to ponder and explore life. The way I can have an entire conversation and rely solely on the way my head tilts excites me. The times when I have no idea if an interaction will turn into a situation from speaking broken Hindi brings me pure joy. My heart is overflowing with love for this extraordinary place and its extraordinary people. It is beautiful, really, when you realize you are starting to become part of a place, a little piece of an impossible complexity.
This paradox has given so much to me. I know I will not come home able to say I solved a pressing problem India has been facing. I will not be able to single-handedly change one of my student’s lives. But I have listened to the rattle and hum of India’s heartbeat. I have completely immersed myself in its impossible difficulties only wanting to dive in deeper, learn more and listen harder. Not to make sense, not to change, but to share the celebration of life with other human beings- our existence at the same moment in time.