The curse of normalcy.
I take a rickshaw to the same school, the same classroom every week. The bell rings at the same time. I walk out the gates by 2pm and I fall asleep in the same bed, to the same distant sound of trains passing. My phone has an address book filled of numbers belonging to people I never knew existed just a year ago. Now, they’re my friends and we see one another from time to time. I’m not that same girl who didn’t know how to get around, who didn’t have any friends in this city. An outcast? Nope. Not this girl. I now swing myself confidently inside rickshaws, I can direct them if they don’t know the location which I am trying to reach. I don’t accept good enough prices from vendors, I accept what is fair because I now know how much things should cost. I am able to walk three blocks and eat two plates of dahi puri. That’s a good thing because dahi puri is cousins with pani puri. Pani puri is the kind of street food you’re probably better off without. Yet, I stomach dahi puri because I love dahi puri and it’s a steal at only 35 rupees. I look up at night and seeing bats fly overhead is about as normal as seeing clouds in the sky. I pay no mind to the sound of cars honking in traffic. This is all, normal.
I no longer speak of culture shock.
If I wanted to experience culture shock you’d have to silence the streets. Someone would have to pave every road in the city and there would be lanes which commuters abide by. This would mean maintaining a safe distance from the vehicles around you and clearing the road of so many two-wheelers, rickshaws, cows and occasional camels. The weather would have to drop by 20-something degrees and the people around me would be drained of melanin. The women around me wouldn’t wear sarees. I’d find dogs inside homes, rarely any in the streets. Spanish, Chinese and an American accent would replace Hindi. A head bob that means yes to me would make others think, “Why did she just do that?” and above all these, the shock would take it’s final form in the people I’ve known for years. Family and friends regaining lifelike qualities and no longer existing only through computer screens and phone calls.
Now forgive me.
Rereading this leaves me feeling foolish and almost arrogant. Just because India has become normal to me, it is still not my place to to say I’m over it. I am writing this so you know. In all honesty there is a part of me that wants to confess, “Dear America, India is really, really great and thoughts of seeing you again force a nervous smile upon my face.” I share this with you because it is a very real part of my story here in India. A story that is climaxing and spiraling gracefully towards it’s finale. Travel works this way, I guess. We get bored. Then we realize that’s an insane thing to say—specially given where it was we were a year ago, then we get all sentimental about things like dahi puri. Then we start to announce “I’ll miss this” and “I’ll miss that” even though just two hours ago we were walking down the street with a death stare. Travel houses a spectrum of extremes. It is filled of beautiful sensations and it leaves you awestruck, multiple times. It is not warfare but it is difficult. Lessons about oneself and the places and people around you are hard-won. You find many things for the first time and ask questions nobody seems to know the answer to.
It is mid February and I am eating gulab jamun by the dozens.
The thoughts of an end mimic the restless emotion of August, having just begun and on the brink of it all. Only this time, I know when tighten my grip and hold on. This time I know all there is to be gained in letting go and redefining shock. Redefining normal and along with normal, redefining home.