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,