When I was 5, I was crying because I hadn’t seen
the park 20 minutes away from my house. I only ever went
to the one right downstairs.
I told my mother, “I want to see more! I’m bored of this place.”
So when I was 12, we were going to Himachal Pradesh,
I remember the cold biting into my skin,
and the Indian Rail packet tomato soup warming my throat,
I remember pressing my nose against the window,
watching farmlands go by,
the endless expanses, interrupted with small houses,
like commas, giving a pause to a sentence.
We reached Manali, and took what was an endless drive upwards,
going round and round about the hills.
I remember how it all looked like an oil painting,
the blue sky, with splashes of white,
As if the painter forgot about that part.
The trees stood on various inclines, and somehow,
they didn’t trip on their roots like shoelaces.
There were Buddhist monasteries everywhere,
The orange and red, with a dragon spitting out concrete fire.
The loud ding of a golden gong made
everyone stop for a minute,
before nature started speaking again.
In the Himalayas, you really can’t make nature stay silent for more
than a minute.
I woke up one morning to cold feet, cold knees, and cold hands,
and then I turned around to see snow capped mountains,
standing there, intimidatingly, not cold at all,
beautiful, majestic, stunning, khoobsurat.
When I was 17, I was in Mumbai, struggling
to get onto a local train. I was lost in a sea of people,
Gasping for breath. On my first day, I hated it,
The rush, the noise, the people.
To escape it, I sat by Marine Drive, and the rush was still there,
the noise, the people, were all still there,
but so was the sea. Its silence, and its vastness, and its emptiness,
and suddenly, I didn’t hate it anymore.
It became Bombay to me, with its busy charm growing on me,
With Strand bookstore shaping my mind,
with every auto ride where I felt the wind against my face,
and with every train ride, cramped into a small compartment,
my head straining to reach out towards the window.
When I turned 18, I was in Goa,
going as far into the sea as I could, as far from the shore,
till the water rose to my waist, and fell not far below it.
I remember smelling the sea, not hearing the speakers blaring Bollywood,
and watching the sun go down, colouring the sky
with shades of orange, dark blue, and red.
I remember a taxi ride to Arambol, with the wind ruining my hair,
my hands surprisingly warm, and what felt like a valley closing in to me.
There was a café with hippies, singing away to no tune,
smoking ganja, relaxing in loose, cotton clothing,
and I remember thinking, “man, maybe this is the life.”
The night market later was filled with the same hippies,
playing their guitars, drums, tablas, sitars,
and in that night, I felt the calmest I ever have.
At 18, and back for the first time from university,
I was in Banaras. I was visiting the Kashi Vishwanath Temple,
I went in to a sensory overload. The place was
replete with music from what felt like a thousand different instruments,
with not a moment of silence,
with every colour you can think of,
with every sort of person you can think of.
Later that evening, I found myself on a boat,
in the Ganga, watching people pray,
lighting up the dark with holy fire,
stopping silence in its tracks with prayers, with
no fear of the sea in front of them.
I remember watching cremations at Harishchandra Ghat,
the deafening silence of the acknowledgement of mortality,
and a solemn acceptance.
I have found myself in so many places in India,
in Calcutta, Haridwar, Mumbai, Delhi
my parent’s house, in my grandmother’s room,
in my old school, in broken down buildings,
in chai stalls, in bazaars,
in poorly lit lanes, and in massive malls.
I have been by the sea, and been in the mountains,
in breaking down buses, and in new cars,
I have seen joy, and sorrow,
poverty and affluence,
and I didn’t ever have to leave the country I was born in to see these.
ye India hai, meri jaan.
Image: Chandana Rao via www.nativeplanet.com