Exodus

I can't believe that it is my last day in India.  I didn't sleep terribly much because of the excitement of going home and because my nerves for traveling are really ramping up.  While I was getting dressed this morning I stopped, suddenly, and stood in the middle of the room saying out loud to no one but myself, "I am in India.  I've been in India for three and a half months.  My trip is coming to an end.  I'll be home tomorrow.  I'm in India."  It was like I had to fix this reality, solidify it, own it one last time because tomorrow the reality will be totally different.

Last night I stayed in the home of Aditya and Mridula who I'd met back in Santiniketan.  They are two of the country's leading historians.  They have a great home filled with eclectic furniture and books and wonderful artifacts and mementos of their studies and travels throughout the world.  Picture tribal masks from various African countries, Mexico, Korea and Japan mixed with Buddhist and Hindu statues, alongside, plastic thermometers from New York City.  If you had asked me what the home of two of the leading historians and academics in the country would look like, this is what I had pictured.  Cluttered, warm, full of the joys of finding treasure in odd and exotic places.  Aditya showed me his newest find, a piece of gnarled wood discovered in the forest next to his house while he and his daughter were out on a walk.  It is something I would have lugged home, had I found it.

Yesterday afternoon we went to a lecture at their university given by the man who had taught Aditya and Mridula history.  He's kind of a historian rock star.  The house was packed.  This historian is close to 90 and almost blind, probably almost deaf, and was completely oblivious to the fact that 99% of the house couldn't hear more than 20% of his words.  Nor did he acknowledge the piercing feedback that would terrorize the room whenever the technicians tried to find a way to mic him enough to be heard.  People would be fiddling with mics in front of him, piercing noise would threaten to deafen his audience and he just kept reading his notes.  It was uncomfortable to watch.

But it was also beautiful.  Hundreds of people from the ages of 17 to 80 sat and gave this man their total attention, when someone did need to navigate through the crowd, who were literally sitting in the aisles, to help with the sound issues, they said excuse me and were very polite; you could feel the room oozing with respect for this man, and each other.  At the end of the talk everyone applauded and speeches were give about how it was an "exhilarating talk" despite the fact that no one heard it, students took pictures of the little man at his table as if he were Paul Newman.

Can you imagine an historian commanding that much respect and attention and kindness in America?  Sadly, I cannot.

I spent my first two nights in Delhi with Chandana and her father, Ajit, and her daughter Nandini.  I was, of course, taken such good care of.  Chandana was in full mother hen mode, but also allowed me full sway to excuse myself and nap and take it easy.  When I finally admitted that I might need another prescription to get this stomach bug under control, Chandana phoned Dr. Ganguly and then ran out at 8:30 in the evening to get the medicine.  Ajit, played chauffeur while I just stayed home and played the dutiful patient.

Ajit, it turns out, was once the leading economist for India, "held the top post".  He is still, at 86-ish, whip-smart and funny.   Nandini has only just graduated from university and is socially and intellectually buzzing with brains and beauty.   Yesterday was her 21st birthday and the house was being readied for a large party, friends were calling and there was an air of festivity and the hope that comes from stepping into your adulthood held and cared for so meticulously by her family.

So, Delhi has been, for me, an immersion into the intelligentsia of India.  It's a completely different side to the country than any I've seen before.  I've seen glimpses of it in Santiniketan, but to be in these two wonderful and warm homes, surrounded by art and humor and conversations that go leagues above my head has been a wonderful way to end my first visit to the country.  Not only is it a new and fresh view, it's a place to wonder, one last time, how I got so lucky to be on this adventure in the first place.

Today I had a long visit with Aditya and then went to the tiniest beauty parlor I've ever seen to get my feet scrubbed and my face cleansed so that I can leave just a little of the dirt of India that's been absorbed into my being, behind.  I still have plenty of India in my lungs and digestive track and, of course, my heart and mind and spirit.

Just now, I've awoken discombobulated from a nap I've taken in Aditya and Mridula's living room.  They are off at a big lecture.  I could have joined, but I knew I wasn't up for being social and that eventually I'd have to rest.  Summer came early and suddenly to these parts a few days ago and the temperatures linger around 105 degrees outside and the air-conditioning isn't in for the season yet in this part of the house.  So when I was waking up, I was aware that I was sweating and achy and slightly nauseous.  I worried, for a moment, that I might be sliding backwards, health-wise, but then knew it was just the extremity of the heat.

Back home it seems to be raining and cold.  Several facebook status updates from friends in Seattle indicate that there is even snow in some parts.  As I look outside at the lush tropical forest which sits on the oldest mountain range in the world, I was told, I feel both here and there, up and down, in and out.  A peacock is somewhere, calling, which is both a reminder of the exotic nature of where I'm sitting (there are wild peacocks right outside!), and as familiar and comfortable sound as I know.  When I was growing up I could hear the zoo peacock everyday; his voice would float across the river to my house along with the occasional baboon yell.  Right now, I am 41 in India and 6 years old in Virginia.  Both.

But not really.

"I am in India.  I've been in India for three and a half months.  My trip is coming to an end.  I'll be home tomorrow.  I'm in India."

When I was going to sleep last night, I discovered that the house I'm in is in the flight path of the Delhi airport.  I started my journey in Mumbai, staying in a home in the flight path of that city's airport.  With all the other noise in India, I haven't heard an airplane, outside an airport, between then and now.  I could feel the circle closing.  In 24 hours I will be in the Newark airport.  In 35, I will walking through my front door in Seattle.  In 35.1 hours, I will be taking a shower and trying not to go instantly to bed.

While I write, I am aware of a deep well of sadness, grief even, to be leaving this place.  I feel frustrated on some primal level that here and there, have to be so far apart, that a choice has to be made.  With all that India has taught me about being able to hold multiple realities at once, I cannot really be both in India and in Seattle at the same time.  I can love India and hate India, I can wilt in this extreme heat and yearn for it immediately when I arrive in the cold and wet Pacific Northwest, I can want to throttle the shop-keepers here within an inch of their lives and, yet, revel occasionally in the absurd ritual of bargaining for every little thing.  But I cannot be on two continents at once.

Not really.

So, I must leave.  In order to go home....and I use the word "home" deliberately, specifically, strongly, then I have to peel away the fingers of my heart that are wound so tightly and resolutely around this place.  I must drag those angsting parts of myself kicking and screaming into the airport and onto the plane.

I am rather surprised to discover that there are parts of myself yearning to stay.  It's been such a tough few weeks.  For a while there I wanted to go back to Seattle early and was sure that I'd never look back if I did.  But then the gifts from India kept coming, bombarding me till I could open my heart once more to this strange, unfathomable place and now I can feel the bittersweet, tender bits that love this land and it's people with every fiber of their being.

But the leader in this exodus, who is gently prying the other parts away and pointing her finger to the future, is ready to leave and is packing nothing but gratitude for this amazing and dynamic land.  I feel like my inner child has grown up, gone on the great adventure she'd always dreamed of and learned, at the end of it, how to love being a grown up in her own right, how to place boundaries that really mean something, how to say "no" without feeling guilty or worrying that people won't like her, how to find peace and to enjoy silence in the midst of chaos instead of trying to insist that the world around her quiet down, and, most importantly, how to let people into her heart even when they scare her, or annoy her, or mystify her.  I think I'll always be an observer, but instead of observing from the place of a young and wounded child who is afraid to fully participate in relationships, in career, in life, for fear of getting hurt, I think that child went through a series of intense growth spurts and returns to the United States, on the verge of real womanhood.

But that's tomorrow.  Today, for 4 and a half more hours, I am in India.  I've been in India for three and a half months.  My trip is coming to an end.  I'll be home tomorrow.  I'm in India.