Introduction: India, A Dream in Pieces
Ganga sat hunched with hollow cheeks, the flies landing and going, and the ripple of the water reflecting the thick air.
Ganga laid motionless, waiting for the air to speak, and the air did not speak.
Ganga cried, and the flies hovered, on sunken cheeks. And then the air spoke and rain came with a flood of wind, and it rained and rained and rained.
“It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams…No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream-alone…” — Joseph Conrad India comes to me in pieces.
We arrived late into the night and early in the evening, our hotel arranging a pick up at the Indira Ghandi International Airport. We ditched the smell of China and arrived to the smell of India, a smell hot of tarmac, onions and spices, and human sewage: cooking and public defecation are common problems outside the airport. The sticky, humid night heat with Delhi’s scent hit us as we found our taxi waiting to take us to our hotel in central Delhi. Our driver was a tall, quiet man who gave us brief descriptions of each landmark and asked us politely of our travels.
We drove by the President’s house with his 314 rooms; we drove by the five-star Taj Resort where diplomats stay during visits; we drove through three military check points and saw in the dark the men with guns standing guard along the streets; we drove past dozens of sleeping bodies big and small, young and old, sprawled out along the sidewalk and under trees; and we arrived at our hotel, The Metropolitan, and was greeted by a security guard carrying a semi-automatic who checked the hood and bottom of our taxi before allowing us in. It was 3:30 in the morning. The air conditioning froze us as our bodies adjusted from the dead-of-summer, monsoon heat in Delhi, and we walked into the brightly lit hotel reception with full-staff, even at 3:30 am. Our hotel room was lavishly garnished, and when we turned on the shower, the water came out smelling of blood: iron in the faucets.
Iron in the faucets: If I could harness all the energy of the entire place, all the hustle with the desperation to make a living, and if I could take all that frenzy with the traffic and the people and the noise, and the sellers and the barterers, and the rich and the poor, and the corrupt and the innocent, the heat sticking to every single part of your body, and every single, “Sir/Madam! Where are you free?” or “I give it to you for 500 rupees, a real bargain” and you ask for it for 200 and you settle on 350 knowing you had paid too much, if I could harness all that, I could light up the Himalayas.
Opening our hotel door to enter the streets of Delhi felt like descending into a jungle in which we did not belong but was a place we stumbled into, and every new street we turned into, we were descending, stumbling into the center of it, and all the while, we were wearing big bright signs that said, “We don’t belong here!”
We would spend 3 nights and 2 days in Delhi and the next five nights and five-and-a-half days in Leh, up in the Indu-Himalayas, close to the stars and the sun and the moon. We would walk through those days in Delhi with our feet dragging heavier and heavier, our bodies sinking into the ground along the make-shift shanties along the street corners, alongside the children playing naked and sleeping on the streets with the flies as we return to our too-cold hotel in the dead of monsoon summer. But in Leh, in Leh where the air is thin and the sky is close to the earth, we felt a lightness, a floating, and we did everything we could to keep the ground from falling beneath us. It was there in Leh that the heaviness was stripped from us, the veneer of grandeur built on top of slums hidden in a nightmare we forgot something distant, and we listened to our conscious breathing up in the mountains, and we were dizzy with the beautiful of it all.
We were dizzy with the beauty of it all. We were dizzied by the grotesqueness of it all.
We spun and we spun, and the contradictions around us spun itself into our minds and followed us even when we closed our doors, hush now, away from the outside, away from the chaos, to enjoy the splendor of all our own hypocrisies which we saw right outside our window (the children sleeping on the streets and the men with flies in their eyes) lying in bed with all the contradictions that India was happy to show us, laid bare the essence of the humanness, the worldliness, the deceit we were surrounded by and the truth of how none of it made any sense.
I will, one word at a time — in 4 pieces about India and 4 pieces about China — try to tell the stories of these trips from the past weeks which have spun themselves during my waking days and sleeping nights.
I dream of India. I hope I can do Her justice, those few days we met Her, I hope we do Her justice.