Wednesday, September 1, 2010

India Again

I've been to India before.

I came to India for the first time in 2008, when I was 19, although I had had India instilled in me far before then. My grandparents best friends are Indian and reside in New Delhi, and the two couples spent much time together trekking throughout the subcontinent, having adventures of a sort that (they will reassure you) are completely improbable and impossible today. Travel in India was an entirely romantic and mostly 1wonderful affair: conducted in private train cars, conduced by pack pony's over Kashmiri passes, long evenings at Moti Mahal and safaris conducted on the backs of elephants. My mother went to India, too, when she was my age - Srinigar houseboats, enormous languar monkeys outside the Himalaya guest-house, dead bodies beside the ghats and accidentally hallucinatory nimbu-paani. Of course my ass was going to India. Everyone else's did.

India was by no means a disappointment. I was 19, as previously mentioned, and coming out of an academic year where I had managed to do a through job of driving myself completely insane: a third world accented release into something larger and mroe formidable then my own location seemed like just the thing. (This, too, an American construct. A country of a billion people, serving as a source of therapy and renewal primarily for yours-truly). I ended up half-heartedly "interning" at a profoundly dysfunctional Bangalore music magazine, run by a coke head half-American desi. I spent the majority of my time exploring Bangalore's streets, perfecting the fine points of verbal pissing-matches with rickshaw drivers, and delving further and further into the magical world of Bangalore's night-life. All the Bangalore clubs had to close at 11:30, that was the law, but there were after parties, there were models (male and female) and business tycoons and aspirant actors, there was pretty much everything a stimuli hunting teenager could possibly ask for, it was all there. Everything was cheap, too. I could live the life of a mid-range high roller off my small-time savings from working at the local art supply store and hoarding my Christmas money. A dream, un-deferred. I deferred very little, at that time.

I spent two and a half months in Bangalore, and then I decamped for Delhi. I met Auntie Sheila and Baldev for the first time, another experience: walking into their house like a parallel universe of my own grandparents, expensive whiskey and scratching the block-head of the family Labrador retriever, comfortable as anything. I got dropped off at the Chadwni Chouk and was told the car would come back for me in two hours: I was, as I recall, wearing a sundress, and I could see the beggars coming at me from roughly half a mile away from the steps of the Jama Masjid. It is hard to imagine the other world that goes on in the stalls and backallies of Old Delhi if you have lived as I have, but it is good to walk into it. (An indication: that this India did not exist primarily for the purposes of my therapy, that it was larger then me, immense even, and capable of crushing me, and did not care in one way or another).

I then spent a little over a week in Mumbai, visiting Aneesa and her sisters and her family there. I had met Aneesa at the Bangalore guesthouse: she was raised in London and possessed an extended and friendly family throughout Greater Mumbai. She, her sisters, and her cousins (especially Saleem, my evil Indian twin, my counterpart) showed me the city in the most pleasant way conceivable - bundle me into the back of taxi cabs and showed me the good places to eat, introduced me to my very first encounter with the overawing and largely benevolent primacy of Indian male protection. Never had that much fun before in my life. Kebabs on the hood of a car at 3:00 in the morning, terrorizing the Taj hotel wait-staff at 4:00 in the morning, endless taxi rides through late-night rain, Chowpatty Beach and the roofs of international hotels, on and on and on.

It's hilarious that I am writing this and looking back at it all with such a sense of nostalgia and general aged and grizzled malaise: I was 19 then, I am barely 22 now, God only knows how I will feel about all this, about right now, when I have actually attained something approximating age.

I was going to go back to the USA, and then the airplane caught on fire. Not a big fire, of course. More of a puff of smoke. I camped in the airport in Delhi overnight, being stepped over by Ethiopian stewardesses. I met a woman who had really done the ashram thing, was going back home to Scotland for the first time in 20 years. I said I didn't want to go back to the US, not really. "Well, there's no harm in staying," she said. I saw the logic in this: I pushed back my flight for two and a half more months. My money would mostly hold out. I knew some people.

Back to Bangalore. Fell for one of my house-mates, with the expected humiliating results. Got rejected from all my transfer schools due to a clerical error. Got more and more involved with the party scene in Bangalore, and began doing more of it - it was an endless progression of people-to-meet and parties to attend and was of course the most interesting thing in the entire world. I began to entertain thoughts of flipping the eternal bird to the USA and staying here and making something of myself. If they did not want me (at least in their top-shelf universities) I could just as well not want them.

Began drinking to excess. This was less out of spiritual or psychological need and more out of a sense of symmetry, a sense that this was what writers and artistes did when things did not go our way, we develop a reasonably poetic and easy to maintain addiction, the kind that allowed us to stay both attractive and fun-loving. ( i feel this is a bit of a theme in my life: doing things more for their aesthetics, less for the pleasure of them). A lot of us young first world travelers are, I think, afflicted with this third-world travel dream of attractive and slightly dangerous degeneracy, of debauchery. We are out seeking adventure, and are more then happy to run across it, as long as it does not frighten us too much.

It's a long story short: I got into Tulane University, with a scholarship thrown in. I came back to the USA and I moved to New Orleans and I got a BA and I made a lot of friends. Mumbai was savagely attacked by Lashkar A Taiba and Saleem was on his way to the Leopold Cafe at the time but did not actually go, and I watched the whole thing rapt in front of the television, wondered if it would ever be the same, if everything had changed. I wrote about India a lot for my nonfiction class because it was a subject that could not stop being interesting. I found myself relatively happy and content with my life, which is actually not a mean feat for a liberal arts major in her early twenties.

I got a job in Cambodia and was thus accorded the chance to go back to Asia, which is what I wanted to do and insofar as I could figure, what I had to do to be able to live with myself and look at myself in the mirror at a later date. That brings me around to here. So, back to Bangalore, game-set-match.

I wondered why I was going back to Bangalore for a while there, which was actually after I booked the ticket, there was that little conscious thought involved in this.

I guess we (as humans, as the nostalgia-bound such as myself) have to go back to the scenes of our old formative life experiences and sniff around their perimeters some. Has it changed much in our absence? Did we change it any ourselves? Are our memories correct or growing faulty and stale as time goes by?

There's only one way to find out.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Faine, stumbled across your IndiaMike post. Lovely reading this. I am a Bangalorean living in Mumbai, but for the moment in Paris. I would have liked to say hi in Mumbai, but back only in mide Sep. Have a good time!