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Back Into India

September 30, 2018

A chicken shop in the village of Vashisht, Himachal Pradesh. 

 

As I write this I'm sitting in the Lufthnansa Terminal of the Frankfurt Airport for the fourth time in as many months. As I stepped off the nine hour flight from Calgary, it hardly phased me that I had slept through an entire journey from one continent to another, but as I worked my way through an airport security checkpoint for the seventh time this month, I thought about how unbelievable it is how accessible the world has become.

 

A man selling offerings outside a temple in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. 

 

In Calgary I got a drink at A&W before the flight - the new International Terminal doesn't have a Tim Hortons. The woman who took my order was from India. The man wiping mayonnaise and yellow mustard on burger buns was from India. The airport worker behind me in line was from India. They spoke to each other in Hindi. I understood them but didn't say anything. I wanted some way to let them know that I understood them, that I knew where they were coming from, but instead I paid for my drink and waited for my flight.

 

Tourists at the Qutub Minnar in Delhi.

 

In Frankfurt the woman in front of me in line for coffee spoke no English. The barista (who was from Greece) was trying to explain to her that she could pay in Canadian dollars, but her change would be given in Euros. The woman didn't understand. So I explained to her in Hindi what the cashier was trying to say. Neither the woman nor the cashier seemed surprised that I could speak enough Hindi to communicate with this woman. The Indian lady complained that the water was so expensive (bahut mehenga) (the bottle of water was 25 times more expensive than it would have been in India), and I got my coffee.

 

Pilgrims at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab.  

 

So maybe let me update you all on what I've been up to over the past month that I've been out of India. I started with a four-day seminar in New York. I went on a ferry ride down the East River and watched the sun set over New Jersey from Battery Park.

 

A traffic jam on the highway running along the Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh.  

 

Then I flew to Vancouver, where I bought a lot of nice yarn, drank a lot of nice coffee, sat on a lot of nice beaches, and spent time with all of my friends that I haven't seen in a year. It was a perfect week-and-a-half, and was exactly what I needed to recharge after a year in India. I swam in the ocean at sunset, sat in a coffee shop armchair for four hours knitting, and walked a large majority of the sea wall. I also got to spend Rosh HaShana at my college Chabad House, and even though virtually all of the students I know have graduated (that makes me feel old), it was really special to reconnect with the places that used to be my home. And then I met up with my parents who were cat-sitting on the Sunshine Coast, which involved BC Ferry rides and ocean-side Happy Hours, both things I love.

 

Ritual pigments being sold in Cochin, Kerala.  

 

And then I finished with two weeks in Calgary, mostly going to the Dentist and Doctor and Hairdresser and Optician, but also seeing friends and family (and buying more yarn). Which was nice. Calgary doesn't necessarily feel like my home anymore (especially since I haven't actually lived there in over six years), but it's always nice to have a real house with real sofas (in Mumbai I have a mattress on the floor) and also parents that make me coffee in the mornings.

 

Buddhist Prayer Flags outside Manali, Himachal Pradesh.  

 

And now I'm going back to India for another year, which in some ways feels like going back to the same and in some ways is completely different. The long-distance flights (and layovers in Frankfurt) feel familiar. I have an apartment that I'm going back to, and I know what to expect at work. But in a lot of ways it's like a whole new adventure. In a lot of ways the experiences I'll be having will be totally new experiences, the travels I'll go on will be to totally new places, and each interaction will bring totally new encounters.

 

Mirror work at the Mata Temple in Amritsar, Punjab. 

 

The man across the aisle from me on the plane from Calgary was a Sikh man, transferring through Frankfurt to Delhi. He sat very still the whole plane ride. He didn't eat, didn't sleep, didn't watch a movie, didn't look at his phone, didn't even take off his leather jacket. He just sat quietly by himself, for the entire nine hours. While I worked through three separate knitting projects, watched a movie and two halves, got up and walked around, and had several naps, he just sat in silence.

 

Local transportation near Allepey, Kerala. 

 

Everyday in India is something completely different. In some places in the world you can go days never breaking from routine, but in Mumbai every step is a break from routine - everything I encounter is both completely different from everything I know, and completely different from the other things I've encountered in India.

 

Laundry drying on a ghat in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. 

 

In mid-June this past year I found myself spending several hours in the tiny and remote transportation hub (in a very relaxed sense of the word) of Barsheini, in the North-Western state of Himachal Pradesh. Barsheini has nothing. It hardly shows up on maps. There are three roads which serve as a market district, with surprisingly the highest concentration of acrylic wool stores I've perhaps ever seen anywhere. One of the market roads widens at one point, and in this widened length of road, local Himachal Road Transport Corporation busses pull up and stop for 20 minutes for bathrooms and jalebis on their shaky long-distance routes.

 

The Fatehpuri Masjid in Old Delhi. 

 

I arrived on one of these rickety metal busses with no window panes, and spent the afternoon waiting for the bus that would take me from the Parvati Valley where I had come from East into the Kangra Valley. I headed down towards the river, where rows of tarp-covered slum housing crowded the stony riverbank. A narrow metal cable bridge bounced across the Beas River to the residential district on the other side. Several men were selling peacock feather fans, even though everybody around me seemed to be a local. I stood on the bridge, warmed by my sudden descent out of the altitude of the Parvati Valley and took in the sight of the layers of blue mountains fading from view as the sun set below the horizon. The shifting shades of blue looked just like the fading mountains surrounding the Georgia Strait in Vancouver, and for a moment it felt like I was back at Kits Beach, four blocks from my apartment, watching the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. 

 

A fisherwoman on Kainikary Island, Kerala.

 

And now I'm back in Mumbai. My apartment is the same, my things are where I left them five weeks ago, and I'm feeling ready for a year full of continuing the explorations I've begun, encountering totally new things, and continuing to build my home in one more place in this world. 

 

At the Khari Baoli Spice Market in Old Delhi. 

 

Tea Plantations in Munnar, Kerala. 

 

Doing laundry outside Manali, Himachal Pradesh. 

 

Attending the evening aarti in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. 

 

 

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