Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Slices of India

I don't think I've much of a soul left. It's scattered all over the subcontinent, held hostage by elements anguished and absurd.

Darjeeling, a hill station famous for tea and Tibetan refugees in the Himalayan mountains, took a disproportionate part of my immortal me. A trip to Darjeeling is a trip through so many ages and aspects of India. It involves stopping in Calcutta, where rickshaws are still pulled by people. It involves seeing people from all over India trying tea in houses that are still reminiscent of the British Raj. Through slices of fog you can see the Himalayan Mountains. Then the fog shifts and you see a community of Tibetan refugees (I hate China). The fog shifts again and you see a grillion point five posters of Prashant Tamang, winner of Indian Idol. A final shift shows a Nepali woman walking up hills that leave me gasping for air, only she is carrying a 50-kilo bag on her head and walking at twice my pace. Darjeeling reflects the incredible mixing pot of India, the chutney of culture that ensures you had best keep your sense of wonder handy wherever you go. You will need it often.

On the way to Darjeeling, my French friend Sam managed to change his pants in the middle of a restaurant. In his sleep that night, he mistook my friend Bobby for his girlfriend, an experience from which Bobby has still not recovered.

But then the fog shifts again, and laughter gives way to something quite different.

As part of my Rotary duties, I got to vaccinate children against Polio. Every day I leave campus, I see people whose lives have been permanently marred by polio, people condemned to a life of lying on the road showing their pain, depending on the humanity of hundreds of people who walk by--humanity that so often goes undemonstrated. Their spines look like punctuation--question marks, ampersands, and tortured brackets. My bones quivered inside my skin as I inoculated children when the consequences of no vaccine were so poignantly around me.

And so the fog shifts once more, and we're left with the frankly nonsensical.

Nagarjuna Sagar, home to one of the largest dams in Asia and college town of my sociopathic postmodern ex-friend, Surya Raju. He said he wanted to show me some Bhuddist monuments, waterfalls, and a fun boat. Instead, he misrepresented my deepest held beliefs to everyone we met, introduced me to a professor who proceeded to confess that his wife no longer "cooperated" with him, then coerced me into speaking at a general assembly of 150 students . . . only male students ages 19-22. I was covered from ankle to elbow and still felt naked. One student said that "itwasaverynicespeechyouaresobeautiful." I suggested that he might just think that because I was the first non-family woman he'd seen for months, possibly years. He just stared at me.

I'm not sure sarcasm translates particularly well.

Since then, Surya Raju has written me a foot-long poem expressing his pain that I have completely stopped speaking to him. He also inexplicably offered me his kidney.