Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sianara, India.

I’m leaving tomorrow. I’mleavingtomorrow. Tomorrow, I am leaving. I’m leaving. Tomorrow. Yep, no matter how many times I say it, it still feels unreal. India has become the norm for me. I live here. Na uru Vizag, as we say in these parts. India has become a part of me, and I hope I have left a small mark on India.

Not least of all, I have been affected by the people I have lived with. Yep, I saw the same 10 – 15 people every day, and you had better believe I picked up on their mannerisms – like a raspy, heckling old man laugh that we all do. And the nasally “Aaaa” head jiggle from my fish village widows. Family, I am going to be weird when I get home. And smell. But that’s another story.

A story I will tell right now: So cumin is in just about everything we eat here, and, according to Wikipedia, it is causes people who eat it frequently to smell distinctly. It will lend me distinction. And I eat curry powder. And turmeric. And garlic. And I’m pretty sure my teeth have been stained by the curry. So family, you’ll have a smelly, yellow-toothed, slightly tanned, henna-ed, baggy-clothing-wearing daughter home in a few days. Excited yet?

But I am also a better person. Now I don’t really know, because this is the first time I’ve ever left the US, but I think that every time you travel somewhere you project your expectations and needs onto a landscape, a people, who then reply, respond to those parts of you and show you yourself in a whole new way. I had to relearn patience and refine my understanding of respect and communication. I learned that there are things that I can do without no problem, and there are things I need in order to be content – surprisingly fewer than I knew. Like a sink. I don’t need a sink. Or an overhead shower. Or a toilet that flushes. Or a table to eat on. Or couches. Or arch support. Or cold milk. I have been perfectly content without them. Though I’m beginning to really crave that cold milk.

I’ve also confronted true poverty for the first time. People who truly have nothing and no self respect anymore as a result of constantly having to debase themselves for money. I’ve been chased down by men missing legs and been watched by women carrying small children, helpless and too weak to anything but silently ask. It is so hard to see them and not help – we’ve been told its not wise to give money to them. But John taught me a way to help a little – you give them food instead of money. Sometimes they angrily refuse, but other times they humbly accept the stack of biscuits you offer – so humbly it almost hurts to see.

But I’ve also been accosted by professional beggars – and there are such things. For instance, there is a tribe of young boys who are painted silver like the moving statues in San Francisco and dressed up as Gandhi – kind of like a modern day band of Fagan’s boys – who walk around Vizag and bang their walking sticks at people and called after you, “Amma! Amma!” I don’t know if they planned it or not, but you certainly feel like mud when Gandhiji bangs his stick at you. Even a silver Gandhi.

But smells and souvenirs aren’t the only things I’ve acquired here; I’ve become the proud owner of quite a few valuable skills as well. For instance, I can bargain an auto driver down from 40 rupees to 15 and a saffron seller from Rs. 200 to 120. Also, ladies in my branch only perform minimal changes to my sari wrapping anymore. One woman even asked where I bought mine. Success. And, not least of all, I can understand and, moreover, speak Indian English. That could put my grammar in trouble when I go home and try and write this paper.

Telugu has also crept into my vocabulary. Into all of ours. We say things like chesara, kooncham, challa and chappundi all of the time – when they make sense and when they don’t. We’ve also adopted phrases that I can only describe as coping mechanisms. Like “kooncham little smoky” which is an adjective phrase or anything small or anything we feel like putting it before. “Chunst” for having a ghee belly and “chapped” for being angry or frustrated and others like “cocoa curmudgeon” and “platty lips” filling in the conversation.

I discovered new loves, too. Like pineapple and papaya. And coconut chutney. And shiny, metallic cloth. Who knew that I would one day be the proud owner of a shiny, silver sari and gold pants? I do own them, and I am proud.

But the biggest love I discovered was the whole country of India. The whole width and breadth of it. I love the crazy, crowded, busy cities and the pastoral, quiet, exotic, ancient countryside. I love the palm trees, the flowering trees, the zig-zag stairways, the power outages, the camp stove kitchens, the open air markets, the jewelry shops every 10 yards, the banana leaf plates, and on and on and on.

I will not say good bye, because I am coming back here as often as I can afford to. And I’m willing to do without a lot in order to afford to. So, see you later, India. I’m glad we could be friends.

1 comment:

  1. I know it's sad to leave but I am so so so excited for you to come home so I can see you! I've missed you!!!!!