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On Endings and Beginnings

August 26, 2019

Me with some new friends outside the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai, Tamil Nadu

 

I picked up a dirty secondhand copy of the novel Life of Pi from a street stall in Madurai. I first read Life of Pi in the sixth grade. Looking back now, 14 years later, I can’t imagine what the 11-year-old me could have possibly understood from it. Nor could I have foreseen the references that intersect with my life today.

 

With my seminary friends on a boat trip outside of Tzfat 


For example, right on the first page of Chapter One, Yann Martel makes a reference to the teachings of “Isaac Luria, the great sixteenth-century Kabbalist from Safed.” I doubt at the time I had even heard of Isaac Luria, let alone imagined that nine years later I would find myself at a religious seminary in Tzfat (Safed) studying his teachings. 

 

 With a monkey in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh


I definitely couldn’t have imagined that 12 years later I would find myself on a flight from Canada to Bombay, just as Yann Martel describes himself doing.

 

Drinking chai in Bikaner, Rajasthan 


But as I sit in my Bombay apartment, 13 years later, in 2019, the names and the places jump out at me - Tamil Nadu, Kerala - places I thought I was encountering for the first time, but really had encountered briefly in the sixth grade before disappearing from my consciousness - totally forgotten. It makes me wonder, what else do we encounter in the world and then totally forget? What else comes back for us in the future?

 

The idli sambar I would eat most mornings from a street vendor on my way to work


I reread my journal from when I first came to India. I was so scared. I wrote about foreign people and bright patterns and uncomfortable tastes. I spent half a page describing idli and parathas. But idli and parathas became my everyday experience. The chai tasted strange to me. Now I relish every sip.

 

 Moving out of my Vancouver apartment in June 2017


So much of what I was writing was about leaving one amazing place and going somewhere else that would hopefully be just as amazing, and that still rings true. Leaving Mumbai is devastating, but I’m going good places. Leaving my friends is terrible, but I will make new ones (and WhatsApp exists so...). Going through what I was writing two years ago, it was almost as if I could cross out Vancouver and write Mumbai, and cross out Mumbai and write Glasgow, and it would be exactly the same. 

 

Moving out of my Mumbai apartment in August 2019 


When Yann Martel comes to India, he sets up in Matheran, a small hill station just outside of Mumbai. It recently was named as the wettest place in India, clocking 427 mm of rainfall in just 24 hours. Before I left I spent a weekend in Matheran with a friend (the very same weekend that received 427 mm of rain), reminiscing about our past two years together. We ate maggi and khanda bhajia in the rain, and got totally soaked through our raincoats. We stayed at a rundown homestay where the wife delivered thalis to us in bed each night. 

 

 Hiking in Matheran (after the rain)


When I left Vancouver I went through visiting all of my favourite places. Most days I went to the beach three times. My friends and I would go hiking and camping, taking in my last little bits of Vancouver. These are some of the things I remember most - the time we bought a tent on craigslist at 4:00 pm and got to Porteau Cove after dark, setting up the new tent by flashlight; roasting tofu dogs on a makeshift beach fire that got washed away by the tide; sitting in Matheran keeping our chai and Parle G away from the monkeys; my last day in Mumbai where we ordered pizza and sat around the office reminiscing.

 

Enjoying my last month in Vancouver

 

Yann Martel dreams of writing his novel in Munnar, the greenest of tea villages, with rolling hills of fresh chai - a place I’ve spent lots of time. He finds inspiration in the shifting hues and quiet lusciousness. He drinks chai and tells his story. Writing is also something I’ve come to discover in India. I’m sure my sixth grade teacher would tell you that writing was never my favourite activity, but being constantly surrounded by so much inspiration has pushed me to tell my stories as well. While India has shown me so many places and ideas and experiences, it’s also shown me new ways to share them. 

 

 Visiting the tea plantations in Munnar


Yann Martel finds the inspiration for his story while sitting in the Indian Coffee House in Pondicherry. Indian Coffee House is a cooperative chain of cafes started in the 1940’s in response to British restrictions on Indian coffee culture. Still owned by the workers, it serves as a symbol of nostalgia and old-world charm. The Indian Coffee House in Pondicherry is all greens and whites and old arched pillars. Yann Martel sat drinking filter coffee and french toast (which coincidently is the exact same thing that I ordered when I was there, even before I had re-read the book - Canadians think alike!), watching the people pass by. While the inspiration of India comes through in the major sights and historical landmarks, meeting the people, walking on the streets, sitting and drinking some nice coffee - these are the bits of residue that I’m carrying home with me. 

 

Drinking coffee in Pondicherry (although this one was a bit fancier than the stripped down aesthetic of the Indian Coffee House)


I’m trying not to compare these two experiences too much. While it’s easy to think of Scotland as India Round II, I want to consider it for what it is. I noticed all the remnants of Indian culture I found in Canada - the Marathi language book shelf at the library, the aunties calling out orders in Hindi at Tim Hortons. I can think back to two years ago when I was in this exact same position - sitting alone at an airport and moving across the world to a city I’ve never been to. I don't know very much about Scotland. 

 

 Leaving behind my friends in Mumbai


So here I am, starting my 14th year since sixth grade, setting out to experience things I’d never imagined for myself. It feels like coming full circle. I’m taking with me everything I experienced in India, and everything I’d experienced before that as well, and I’m looking forward to an amazing two years encountering things that I don’t yet know.

 

Enjoying in Hampi, Karnataka 

 

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