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India Blog 21: done

July 16, 2010

Arriving from the overnight train into Calcutta gave me the impression that
I expected. I could see miles of slums out both windows. Tiny shacks forming tight communities were on top of each other. We got off the train and went to our hotel. The streets were deserted and we soon found out why. City-wide elections were going on and there was talk of a few riotous crows around the city. We figured we should stay in our hotel, but once we got there everything seemed fine. Well, many things were closed, and there weren’t enough people around to cause any real problems. We stayed in a somewhat rundown area next to a nighttime hotspot. Later on, we found out there were a few people killed in different parts of the city, but we don’t think we saw any of it. We walked around our first night there and did see a large group of men down an alley that seemed upset, but we quickly walked the other direction.

The city is very nice. We went to many excellent restaurants, saw Victoria
Memorial, which was beautiful and the only reason it doesn’t get more attention is because the British built it. And we visited the planetarium because I often have the interests of an 8 year old boy.

I don’t have a lot to say about the city because the 2 days we were there
didn’t do it justice. It can be quite dirty in some areas but also an acceptable concrete urban landscape teeming with stagnant beggars and bustling businessmen, precocious shoppers and luxury diners. We didn’t see up front the poverty we had seen from the windows of the train, and maybe that would have changed my opinion of the city, but for me, I would like to visit again.

As we got into the taxi to the airport, I couldn’t stop staring out the
window. Calcutta, though it is a big city, represented India on my way out. I saw extreme poverty and the same dusty advertisements I couldn’t get away from elsewhere. The people weren’t the same but they were their country for me. Many trips I have taken have blurred together but this never will. Each region might but it is easy to separate chunks of my time in India because it was like visiting multiple cultures, peoples, countries. The goal of a colonizer is to divide and conquer and the British succeeded in that until they didn’t for a short period that brought Ghandi to public life and Nerhu into power. This country rallied around a single cause and that was spectacular. But the line drawn between the Muslim world, as well as the differences that were always there began to show and India became what it is today. Some troublesome areas, but really, 30 relatively harmonious states with more power than the central government. Extreme poverty exists in every state and permeates many, but the main ideal I got from India was tolerance, which some might find surprising. I realize there are many instances of intolerance everyday in India, but considering the melting pot that it is, considering that it should still be called a post-colonial nation, considering that the religions of India are living on top of each other and would be drowning in problems in any other country, considering the amount of people who need help, considering the amount of people who are helping themselves, considering the task put in front of local and federal government, things could be much worse. This country could be shrinking into a ball of confusion, and maybe it is. Maybe I can’t see the real India, but I definitely tried. I went for the bustling metropolis and the local farm, the mountain tribes and the fishing communities. I saw death and destruction but also self actualization and sustainability. The sheer movement of a population this size, by bus and train, was staggering. People hanging out the sides of trains for a breath of fresh air. A dusty station where an approaching bus causes a stampede. Sitting in traffic behind more modes of transportation than I thought possible. I also saw rural India mosey its way down dusty trails, spending downtime on a hot day chatting away along the walkways of tea plantations, mustering their way up steep mountains one step at a time with a bushel of long sticks balancing on their heads. They weren’t lazy they just knew what was ahead, they knew it would be a lifetime of work brittling their bodies, so they decided to keep their wits, stepping concretely up dirt roads to a wide variety of cultivation. I love this country but have my likes and dislikes when it comes to every region I visited. I know there is so much more to see here. I want to visit the desert and the western himalayas. I want to do everything I already did, 20 years from now, and see it differently. I’m not so sure I could live in India, not because I find the life difficult, but because I think I would find staying in one part agonizing. I don’t think I could live here but I could roam it nomadically for long periods of time, taking in a new perspective each day. Because that is what this country was to me: An alien nation, something so different that I never once grew weary of seeing what came next. I learned a lot about my own life in India. Hindu people have a theory about life that breaks it up into 25 year spans. The first 25 years of life are spent learning, the second is creating, the third is teaching, and the fourth is preparing for death, but I call it thinking. I am not sure I will ever stop learning but I do know that India has inspired me to create and prepared me to start taking on the challenge of creation. It has made me look forward to teaching, and made me understand the importance of concentration, where one considers life as well as death, and respects both equally. Indian culture from all over including all religions likes to specify how one should live and die but respects life for its impossible complexity.

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