Tuesday, August 20

True beauty and the note of gentle sadness

From August 15-18, I was in a place called Sattal with 47 other young people from Delhi. We had a four-day camp in the monkey-filled jungle mountains; a place where the silence is tangible and the air is medicine to polluted lungs.  I met a number of new friends, but in my treasured moments alone I read a book, and I took pictures, and I broke in my new hiking boots on and off of mountain trails. Frogs and mushrooms and seedlings shared with me their reminders about the secret habitat that fosters life, and tiny self-contained ecosystems of moss-fostered plants which thrived upon stone drew my attention from the fog of discontentment to a sharp-edged clarity. There is something completely uncontaminated in the beauty of a place where the clouds roll in around and below you, and beauty is what led me to peace this week.

 “In all probability everyone is sensitive to beauty, although obviously some are far more so than others.

 Experience shows that even those who are apparently most prosaic are touched, even to their own surprise, by certain forms of beauty. The line along which this half-melancholy, half- magic touch may come varies enormously with different people.

 All poetry and music and art of every true sort, bears witness to man’s continual falling in love with beauty, and his desperate attempt to induce beauty to live with him and enrich his common life.

 True beauty always seems to bear with it a note of gentle sadness, sometimes very poignant…

 It is possible that beauty is a hint of the real, and true, and permanent; so that we feel without conscious process of thought, ‘This is what life should be. This is what is in reality.’

 It is possible that beauty is a kind of nostalgia – what Wordsworth would call an ‘intimation of immortality’.

 The appeal of beauty which is universal, however distorted or debased it may have become, cannot be lightly dismissed.

 We can at any rate say that beauty arouses a hunger and a longing which is never satisfied in this world.

 Both beauty and goodness exert an effect upon man which cannot be explained in terms of the world that we know, and to this we may add his search for Truth.

 Man reaches out to grasp more and more truth through science, philosophy, and religion, and yet – why should he? Why should he not rest content with what he has and what he knows? Why can he not accept death and evil and disease without worrying about them? Why does he, in all ages and all countries, reach out to find Something – something which will harmonize and explain and complete life’s bewildering phenomena?

 Arguing, as we must, from what we know to what we don’t know, we may fairly say that as food is the answer to hunger, water the answer to thirst, and a mate to sexual desire, this universal hunger for Truth is unlikely to be without its answer and fulfillment...

 however hard to find it may be."

J.B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small.

By the way, i found out after returning that in these very hills,
a girl was recently mauled by a tiger. 
Guess we can be glad the biggest living thing i encountered to
photograph was a toad, huh?
Love from Delhi,
Julie, singing the note of gentle sadness. 

Friday, August 2

if you love them, you will make them chai.

Noteworthy: Yesterday I visited an English student’s house, and in doing so I crossed the holy Yamuna River, traveled to another state of India, looked from a rooftop across a close-knit multi-religious community: a sight complete with goats and chickens in the jungle and kites and helium balloons floating from the neighboring terraces, ate dinner in the dark with a very endearing Muslim family breaking their daily Ramadan fast at sunset, and traveled back along a dark jungle road in a shared vehicle driven by a man smoking marijuana.
It’s a nice short story, but a tedious long one.

Tonight I poked my head into the bedroom with the TV. “You want chai? I’m thirsty.” I smiled, knowing that about seventy-five percent of the time, Praise will take highly caffeinated chai even after seven or eight o’clock, which is a tendency only she and I share.
“Oh, you know, I have a headache.” She moaned as her hand flew to the crown of her head and tugged on her hair as it always does when she is getting a migraine.
“If you love me, then you’ll make for me. “ She constructed the idea as if it had been hers in the first place.
I sighed a little. “I love you,” I said dismissively. “I am making.” I walked out of the room. (This thing happens in India where we drop the object of every sentence. It’s unavoidable in that it happens to everyone, no matter how unassailable their English may be before they get here. Actually, it sort-of makes me feel like we’re wasting time tacking that object on when we continue in the same subject – it becomes redundant after awhile if you think…. I mean, yes. Grammar. whatever. We drop the objects. We drop. Don’t worry about it.)

Standing over the pot in my open-air kitchen, I added cloves to the aromatic tea leaves and hunks of crystallized sugar in water which was beginning to simmer. All at once before I had even put them down, it occurred to me. I do love Praisey. I love her like my family.

You know, India does not always make me happy. India has taught me lessons the hard way instead of the kind way. India has displayed character traits deep within me that I didn’t care to know about myself. India has stretched me until I broke, poured of my soul until it was empty, come alongside me only to disappear leaving me bewildered, and tested me, only to find me wanting. I often want to leave. I often want to yell. I often get the distinct feeling that this country will never change.
But I love India. I love India like my family, in that tense no-man’s-land between love and hatred.
How could I have asked for more from these past eleven months?
I’m reading the book Shantaram right now, and I’m not very far into it, but the green-eyed heroine of the book is a European who finds herself in Bombay, and says of the experience, “Sometimes you break your heart in the right way, if you know what I mean… You learn something new or you feel something completely new, when you break your heart that way. Something that only you can know or feel in that way. And I knew, after that night, I would never have that feeling anywhere but India. I knew--I can’t explain it, I just knew somehow-that I was home…”
I love that she said that, because almost all of you know that’s just how I feel; have always felt.
India is home, and home means family, and family means gritty everyday life.
India has broken my heart in the right way.

Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and that’s what I needed to remember. Travel is shiny and culture will make your eyes go wide, but life, that’s what really does you in. When you get tired of somewhere and you want to leave, that’s when you know that place. 
Because life just isn’t easy anywhere, friends.

At first, I thought that at their core, people are people, no matter where you go.
And then about six months ago, I realized: people with different backgrounds are fundamentally different, with different desires and loves and passions; different morality and preferences and wives’ tales. They behave differently and they yearn differently. They believe in different truths, and that makes them deeply and vitally different.
But tonight, coming full circle, I can finally believe again that laughter, pain, and love link the worldwide race of humanity, this time in practice rather than by way of ideology. And having felt the annoyance of my younger brother loudly clanging on his cart, selling snacks in the street past 11pm; and having felt the burning frustration toward the better performance of my older sisters, with better grades and better singing voices and more knowledge of peoples’ inclinations than me; and having felt the endearing irritation of my mother’s discourse as she falls behind the forward heave of technology and clings to her boom box, smiling contentedly; and having felt the baffling reverence towards everything slow – protracted speech, unhurried mindset, measured understanding, glacial change, calculated planning – of my father; I am beginning to truly believe we are all related. 
Because people may drive you crazy, but no matter who or where they are, when you see them, you love them. Look down on the snack-seller from your home and watch him caring for his craft. Watch the college girls smiling as they walk together and dancing on their way to their college. See the aunties chatting, or working to make dinner, or looking at old photographs, or sitting in the sun. Catch a glimpse of the pastor, praying ceaselessly, and serving with gladness… I am telling you, if you see them, you will love them.

And if you love them, you will make chai for them, no matter whose idea it was.

Love from Delhi,

Julie: chai-wallie.