Several Days among Clouds

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This will be the final post of “In India.” – I return to the States in under a week!

Five days ago a dark green hillside spilled over into an expanse of fog and cloud. My taxi driver announced Darjeeling, and my friend Travis and I stepped into a quiet hill station saturated in early spring. Known for it’s mountain views and its tea, Darjeeling assaulted our senses, but not in the ways I expected it to. Our hotel, appropriately named the Seven Seas, served as an anchor to us in a sea of clouds, rain, red pandas, bacon, and of course, tea.

Among our daily outings, we visited a zoo, a Buddhist monastery, several good breakfast places, and a tea plantation. The time was fun and somewhat comical, since we had maybe fifteen minutes of mountain views during a stay of four days.

For me, Darjeeling was a cold place – pleasant, but full of silence and solitude. For three of four mornings spent there, the windows of our hotel remained various shades of gray blue due to thick immersion in clouds. The time was somewhat surreal, and I spent much of it tucked in blankets, thinking of the future, of home, and of a year gone by. Often it seems that the episodes of our lives shift in rapid succession, so I am thankful to have had a few days to come to terms with the end of a year in India, and the beginning of several in graduate school.

I can’t articulate the process of finding the end of one journey and the beginning of another – when I wasn’t freezing my toes off on the puddled pavement of Darjeeling’s roads (I only brought sandals), I was reading online comics or Rousseau’s Emile. Darjeeling was a place to dream: of the past, and of the future. During the moments of the present, the town was quaint and the tea lived up to its reputation – but it is hard not to daydream when literally up in the clouds. I am glad I went, however. Upon returning to Delhi, I feel ready to return home.

 

“The Deep South”

Seventeen days ago I departed Delhi for the South, eleven of which were spent in the Pondicherry/Auroville area. I stayed with my friend Carolyn, and met some new friends, her roommates and friends, Kim, Melanie, and Manasvini. The nature of these friends, and of the area’s climate (both physical and cultural) persuaded me to spend a lot of … Continue reading

A lot has happened, so let’s dive in.

I am currently sitting in the overly air-conditioned cafe of Hotel Manhattan, hemmed in by Chennai’s Police HQ, the Indian Ocean, St. Mary’s School, and the sweltering afternoon streets of the city. This is the first stop in what will be a jaunt along the majority of South India’s coastline, from Pondicherry to Kanniyakumari to Kochi, Mangalore, and Goa. More accurately, this cafe is a brief pit stop until I secure a voyage to Pondicherry by some bus either this evening or tomorrow. The majority of my travelling will actually be via traincar, but I will keep you posted over the next month as I gather ticket stubs, photos, and impressions of “the South.”

The past few weeks, and in truth the past couple months, were exciting to say nothing else. Just before hopping on a brief flight to Chennai, I returned from a 5-day whirl in Nepal, featuring whitewater rafting, sunburned thighs, mountain biking, mountain views, and a millet-seed beer served hot in a wooden mug, called Tungba, (which I sipped through a bendy straw). You might not guess it from the pictures, but I travelled with Dan and Travis, a couple of my fellow Delhi ETAs, and I’m glad to say, friends. In a way our tour of Kathmandu and Pokhara was a “last shabaang,” even though Travis will join me for the majority of our Southern slough. The trip was a success on many levels, since Travis executed his triathlon in Pokhara, Dan and I scaled a 12km uphill bike/hike (the difference between the two was difficult to distinguish), and we all woke up to omelette breakfasts and snowcapped mountains.

Happily for me, the heights of Nepal haven’t dwarfed the rest of my recent experiences in India. Although I haven’t made a final decision, all three graduate schools to which I applied sent me acceptance letters. Additionally, I finished my teaching duties and shared warm farewells with students, teachers, and friends. In the midst of those farewells, my friend and colleague Somvir invited me to play Holi with his family, which I did. I can’t say much about the experience other than that the warmth, kindness, and energy of Indian people continues to bring fresh smiles to my face.

With that said, I will try to keep you more consistently updated in the near future as I wrap up nearly a year’s worth of adventures in India.

First Attempt at Portraiture

First Attempt at Portraiture

Admittedly, this was supposed to be half of the painting. The other half was spoiled due to a strange blistering of the paper after I applied water – something I assumed would not happen to watercolor paper… In any case, I felt that this mustachioed Indian boy (and myself, the intended subject of the missing half) would be safe guinea pigs for my first try at a portrait.

Nearly a Month…

I experienced my first front yard two days ago in celebration of Republic Day. Many Indians I know are patriotic, even if they talk through the national anthem. Today marked the first and final performance of Twelfth Night by the students of 6A,B,C, and D. In my opinion the makeup artists put too much foundation on Shreeja. She resembled an abused animal, because of her eyes. My cooperating teacher didn’t eat her fruits today. I recorded our performance with a bad camera. We weren’t invited back, but were told to wait for around half an hour. Mukul’s smile spread through a room of older girls this morning. “Really pale.” “The English boy is here.” I attended a literary festival in Jaipur almost two weeks ago, along with many others who identify with the Fulbright program. I remember feeling good about my Great Ideas major after listening to a seminar by a “political philosopher.” Unfortunately the book I found was lost in the bunk of an auto rickshaw, along with a cake I baked. The second night in the city brought me to what resembled sand dunes, a slum, on the banks of dirty water, under telephone wires, above the buried bodies of pregnant women and children under six. Stephen, a PhD student on his way to the Himalayas, finds peace and quiet there, and relieves himself if necessary. I am the new owner of pants that span the color wheel, including sea foam green. The landlord took the terrace for the day, along with two tables, two chairs, the clothesline, and the scum on the bathroom floor. He left the peels of the kitchen ceiling intact. The New Year took place around a bonfire in a Rajasthan desert, nearby to camels named Mr. Jangles, poets wrapped up in burrito blankets, chivalry buried in layers of pants, a pair who slept with a dog, legacies of dancing on knees, George Clooney the taxi driver, and a warm reprise of those knees in a sleeper bus compartment. Looking back, I’m glad to have walked among all of the blue buildings.

Oh Yeah…

After a couple weeks of practice, Delhi’s ETA’s gave the Fulbright conference a taste of Bollywood dancing.

                Today is a caesura in my school week – a brief inhale before the onset of winter break and a calm exhale accompanying the close of the year. My clothes are blowing on the line, echoes of hammers and handsaws are bouncing off of my terrace façade, and as I write to you for the first time in a long while, I feel more relaxed than I have in a long while. It is Christmas Day, and the Sun has been followed by a lately-shy companion – the blue sky.

                Since I’ve last written to you, enough has happened that I won’t try to explain everything, or even much at all. I am making progress in the classroom and with Hindi, I am nearly recovered from some sunburn I picked up in Sri Lanka, and I am pretty happy through and through. Just a few days ago I turned the final pages of Madame Bovary, and today I’ve already put a considerable dent in Candide. My house is relatively clean, most of my holiday travel plans are set, and I am nearing the completion of my final grad school application for the time being. If that wasn’t enough, I also had the chance to chat with my family for some time this morning – an event that unfortunately doesn’t happen enough – and have the promise of celebrating Christmas with Sam on Skype this evening.

                For these reasons I feel extremely lucky, although I am often reminded that many aren’t in a position to share my feeling. On the street sides lately harsh nighttime temperatures make those in need appear more desolate, ragged, and lonely. Especially on mornings when fog and smog coalesce into Delhi’s characteristic damp, bone-chilling haze, the embers of overnight fires attest to daily struggles with hunger, thirst, and warmth.  I know these bleak images aren’t necessarily charged with Christmas cheer, but India doesn’t hide their existence, and neither will I. Even so, on days like today it is impossible to deny the beauty of Christmas in India. Perhaps in a similar way to the opening chapters of Candide, a source of India’s magic may be the ability to witness horrible human truths and still hold on to the idea that this is the best of all possible worlds.

We, all smiles behind dusted crates of Singapore

                                Compared fingerprints and bellybuttons

                Hope gushed across the foams of coming tide

                                Parrots in wire mesh laughed at the webs

                                Of our hand, green and crimson

                                From a jeweler’s imagination

                                                Clasped shut with tightness beholden to

                                Unworn leather belts, nearly forgotten under

                A floral Parisian bed sheet

                                Giddy

                                                Milk tipped from an unfrosted mug

                Some charming rattle

                                                Broken by teak steps above

                                Her eyes

                                                                Peach pits

                                A flawless afternoon grape

                                                                Rough skin of the knuckle to braise the

                                                Sows of carriage-carried adultery

                                                                The fuzz of her upper lip

                                A feeling of moss cleansing tree bark of its bite

We, all smiles behind galvanized dreams in the Luxembourg Gardens

                                Took chisels to our shoulders in order to find shelter.

Painted today.

Painted today.

I know, I know, it’s been awhile. But here’s what I’ve been up to this weekend.

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