August 09, 2010
In one of my favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, the main character, Francie, prays, "Dear God, let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry...have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere -- be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."
Francie's prayer is my dream; a dream that is happening at this moment as I sit at the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, India, after yet another day of exploring India. This grant through the Center for South Asian Studies has made this dream possible, and for that I am grateful beyond what I can put into words. What once seemed like a vague possibility is now a reality that at times still has me pinching myself. I hope to explore some of that reality through this blog.
When I told my friends and family that I was going to India, they would ask how I felt. ‘Nervous' and 'excited' were the two emotions most often suggested, but ‘numb’ felt the most accurate. Though all the books I’d read, movies I’d seen, and stories I’d been told about India had built it up in my head to be a thousand things at once- inspiring and heartbreaking, filthy and yet impeccable, welcoming yet daunting- I couldn’t imagine how it would actually feel. I therefore deadened myself to expectations, and waited for that first glorious moment of MY GREAT ADVENTURE.
Some things I anticipated turned out to be accurate: yes, there are rickshaws, yes, I am stared at when I walk down the street, and yes, there are abundant mangoes. Never in my wildest dreams, however, could I have accurately predicted the exact sensations. And I suppose that’s what I came here to get- the precise scent of diesel, dung, and sewage that stings my nostrils as the rickshaw whizzes by… the eeriness of dozens of pairs of eyes peering through the fence around the clinic, watching my every move as I perform the most mundane tasks- eating, putting on my shoes, twiddling my fingers in my hair… the indescribable bliss of cool mango juice running under my tongue. There have been times in India I’ve felt gay (laughing over one of my many Hindi mishaps with Sambhavna’s custodian, Jameelabee), and times I’ve felt sad (watching yet another man with missing limbs pick through garbage on the street). I’ve been truthful about my life in America and about my intentions in India, and I’ve been a liar (of course I have someone to pick me up at the Bhopal station, I nervously fib to the men crowded around me on the train). True to Francie’s prayer, I’m trying not to lose any bit of living.
Regardless of my best efforts to get the most out of India, though, I sometimes have to continue to numb myself out of what I suppose is some kind of emotional self-defense mechanism. On one hand, the extreme poverty on Bhopal’s streets and the absolute lunacy of the politics surrounding the Bhopal gas disaster could throw me into a downward spiral of despair if I let it. The train ride from Mumbai to Bhopal as the solitary female in a compartment full of middle-aged men could have thrown me over the edge with fear.
So though in some ways I’m still numb, I’m loving every minute of my experience here. I’ll delve into the details later.
Posted by rachlong at August 9, 2010 11:57 AM