|Sunrise over the Ganges|
|The Residency, Lucknow, India|
The day before, after saying “No thank you” or ignoring every tout and shop owner and rickshaw driver lining the pink city, offering something for sale, a man came up to Mike and asked if he could ask him one question.
“You are American, right?” he asked.
“Yes,” Mike said.
“How come Americans have such problems with their egos?”
|Kandariya-Mahadev and Devi Jagadamba Temples, Khajuraho|
|High Tea at the Imperial, Delhi|
|Taj Mahal, Agra, India|
|Our bathroom in Lucknow|
|Morning Dip, Ghats, Varanasi, Ganges River|
A friend of mine wrote me and said that she had friends who described India as "sharply contrasting spiritual highs and wretched lows all bumping up together in the density of humanity." And indeed, this description is exactly the experience we are in the middle of. Just about to lose my mind on a rickshaw driver we turned down who followed us to our hotel, I walked past a group of potted plants with a sign that read "stay well planted," and I was reminded to be just that and let it go, find compassion. Just when I find myself having a pretty cool experience at a temple where we received a blessing by a priest and Mike and I excitedly talked about our future post-trip, an hour later I found myself sternly telling a young beggar girl carrying a baby who was physically not letting me pass her, "NO!" I felt myself sink with shame just hours after being completely uplifted. My "no" came from complete instinct and also a little knowledge. I have read about the kids in this area (Mother Teresa's house) who make such a killing from begging that they turn down offers to go to school. But still, she was a kid, probably doing what is asked of her by her family. The density of humanity, indeed. The bumping up, the friction, moment to moment. The swimming in my own skin in a body unfamiliar...
|Gandhi Smriti, New Delhi|
We never ordered chai, and an associate of his asked him to come with him for a moment. He deserted us and after waiting a couple minutes, we deserted him. An hour later, we found ourselves walking in a parade with marigolds being thrown out of a van to pave the streets before a float carrying a god traversed it. Ornately decorated horses and a regal camel and an elephant draped in red velvet led the parade. Men sang in Hindi and a marching band banged on drums. A sword spinner dazzled a crowd and not far from there, another man tossed out candy to a gaggle of children jumping to try to reach his hands held high above his head. We stood there taking pictures and waving at children excited to say, “Halloo!” We took pictures of them while they took pictures of us. Mike and I moved along, opting to walk home instead of another rickshaw. It felt good to use our legs and our instincts in a country that so completely can take them out from under you. When we approached our hotel by foot at the twilight hour, none of the rickshaw drivers said a word.
Now, we are in a new room at or hotel in Kolkata, and tomorrow we will make the overnight train trip up to Darjeeling to see what the north of India has in store. For now, we are trying to take care, me nursing my cough and Mike covered in cortizone cream. We are in another hotel room with our laundry strung above us, a fan gently swaying the room, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on the television, staying well planted.