Monday, June 4, 2012
I like to observe people. Seems like an obvious thing to say--I am a person, after all, so observing people just comes with the territory. Except I find the way I'm observing is more like one would look at a different species. For instance, I've noticed that people like to seek safety. Not just the kind of safety where you try not to get hit by cars when crossing the road (that's common sense; most people have that, unless wasted/high/insane). But safety, as in "I'd better not go to the movies/out to dinner/to a bar/on vacation by myself." Or, "I need to be married/have kids/have a career/own a home by the time I'm twenty-five." Or, "My God I hope that (insert race here) person isn't going to come over here and start talking to me." Stuff like that.
Somehow I overslept on the day God handed out safety sense to the other humans. I didn't get that, or the biological clock, or the ability to be around other people without making them feel they were in the presence of some sort of weirdo. I did, however, get a great sense of humor and a very sweet tendency to land on my feet anywhere in the world. Which is a pretty good trade since--as I said--I love to observe people. It has led me to some very interesting places (and also some hellish ones but let's save those for a different story).
India is a pretty damned interesting place. That's not even the word for it. Here are some other words for it: Mystical. Mind-blowing. Intense. Eternal. Shit-soaked. Sublime. Unrepeatable. Maniacal. With more than two thousand ethnic groups, over 100 languages, and 18% of the world's entire population practicing all of the major religions, it's unreal that people get along at all, that World War III has never broken out in India. People live in unbelievable poverty, in incredible situations; literally on top of one another, piled into tiny flats, twelve to a room. Why don't they kill each other more often? Why isn't there more violence? We in the United States go berserk on one another with frightening regularity compared to the Indian people. And we have acres more room. But here is my theory at the risk of being laughed at: I suspect that tolerance is behind the Indian people's ability to live atop one another without more violent crime. Of course, I know how this sounds in the face of poverty, grime, hopelessness, overcrowding, begging, and as a friend recently said to me in disbelief, “people dropping their pants to take a shit right there in the train station, man.” And yet, somehow we know this at heart: love is made for the ruins. It will shine out brighter for the filth around it. Go there, and see it for yourself; or just stay here, and consider the Taj Mahal. What would happen in our (Western, modern) world if some guy started building a monument—a grand, majestic, soaring, freakishly expensive monument solely for the purpose of expressing his undying love for his lady—in the middle of Washington DC or Los Angeles or out in the prairies of South Dakota? A building that had no other purpose but to house the ashes of his beloved? Would we admire him? Write him off as a lunatic? Envy his big fat wallet? The media would be all over it for a few months and then, with our collective ADD, we’d probably forget about it and move on to something else. But the Taj has stood for centuries as India’s greatest manmade landmark.
Back to reality: three days after landing in India, I developed dysentery and never got over it for the entire month I traveled the country. I alternately vomited, shit, sweated and shivered my way through hellish overnight train rides, miserable youth hostels, inhumanely packed bus trips, and a Himalayan trek. I nearly shit myself during a dawn trip to see the Taj Mahal. I nearly did so again as I knelt for prayers at a sacred lake in Pushkar. I rode a camel through the desert in Rajasthan, grinning sickly, yellow-faced, literally thrilled as hell to be lurching along at around 7 feet in the air on this awful spitting thing. I was (okay, dramatically) trying to decide if I had spinal meningitis, typhoid fever, or was merely seasick. I was in a lot of pain, that was not in question. Eric, my boyfriend at the time, was in the same boat. We had two ten-year-old kids as our guides, and thankfully they were used to people in our condition. They'd obtained some hash on our way out into the desert, and they rolled us up some joints at a rest stop. They instructed the camels to lie down--this almost did kill me, the thing going out from under me like a sinking ship, making sounds to rival Titanic's last moments. But the hash helped. I avoided losing any bodily fluids out either end, if only because I hadn't ingested any food for a few days. Eric too. And we both managed to avoid feeling guilty about the two kids rolling us joints like a couple of dealers. Like I said: pretty damned interesting place.
Which leads me to the next thought--this idea of safety, this thing about avoiding pain and seeking the comfort zone (get married, have kids, have a house/job/car/etc etc)--this is very much a first-world thing. Health benefits, job security, climbing the ladder, finding the "right" person, doing the "right" thing: that doesn't always happen everywhere else. It's bourgeois, upper-crust, a luxury. I'm not saying it doesn't happen in India; there are arranged marriages (somewhat fewer than there used to be), and the upper class lives very well. It's just that illusions about life are necessarily in shorter supply. It is an old, old place. People are aware that their souls, also, are very old. It is said that every soul on this planet was Indian at one time. I think this may be true. Small wonder that my own soul, despite the extreme discomfort experienced by the body it was housed in, was thrilled beyond belief to be once again journeying through the crazy, unrepeatable, mind-blowing, intense, hallowed land of India. Among other things (such as the true limits of my bowels) here is what I learned in India: “More than anything else, love opens us to the possibility of forever. When we love, we feel as if we have existed before and will exist again. The universe in its entirety stretches out behind and before us, all our past and future lives intertwining. We know this place and these people, and we will know them again.”
So. Love, and shit. Shit, and love. The two of them irrevocably intertwined. Isn't that what we learn from life, if our eyes are truly open? (If you have kids, you certainly know this.) When I'm dead, I'd rather be known as someone who loved too much (shit too much?) and ran a little wild, than as someone who took the rule-book everywhere. Not that I don't want to do right--but there's something to be said for getting messy. So I tried something new and got hurt/embarrassed. I lost my reputation. So what? I learned something. I grew a little, came up missing some skin. My old, old, Indian soul came back around to figure this out, one more time; because obviously I didn't figure it out the last time. Or? Maybe I did, and I'm back to play some more. That camel ride and the trip to the Taj Mahal and the Himalayan trek--they certainly did feel like play, despite some near-misses with the self-shitting. Not really sure where I'm going next, but guaranteed it will be an adventure.
Thanks for reading, whoever you are, and wherever you are going. I hope to meet you out there one day. Till then, Namaste.