Yesterday, while driving in a taxi, still amazed and wide-eyed, I realized why India is so exciting for me. It’s not the absolute intensity of everything, the colors, the food, the smells, the sounds……. All of which make for a visual paradise, if you’re an artist of any kind.
It’s not the craziness of it all, the bizarre juxtaposition of the old and the new – I mean the very old – an ancient barefoot man (who could very well be younger than I) jogging down the street, pulling a rickshaw whose passenger could be human or could be 18 five-gallon jugs of some yellow liquid, passing a cow perched on top of a heap of refuse – and a young, very beautiful 20-something woman in tight jeans and tank top, navigating the sidewalk in teetering heels while plugged into her iphone, moving in the same direction as her antique counterpart.
It’s not the remarkable architecture of the temples, the ruins of civilizations past, the amazing shrines that can be found everywhere – and I mean everywhere – on the side of the road, on the side of a building, inside a home, on a lamppost, in a market stall, tacked onto a fence, on a shelf next to plastic things, under a tree, on the dashboard of an auto-rickshaw, a taxi, a bus, or a private car.
It’s not the fantastic deities painted onto the side of a truck, a building, a rickshaw (auto or human), or any paintable (or non) surface for that matter.
It’s not the festivals – Diwali, Holi, Durga Puja, Christmas (yes, Christmas)…. Or any of a number of festivals devoted to a deity or historical event.
It is of course, any and all of these, but the real reason is that on the two occasions that I’ve been here, whenever I’m in the streets, I’m in constant conversation with myself. My head spins, not in a vertigo way, but in a dialogue filled with curiosity and wonderment. I get ideas – sometimes for an artpiece, that probably won’t ever materialize, but that forms in my head. I will often have a discussion with myself about issues of poverty, sadness, privilege, karma, beauty, guilt… Nothing ever really gets resolved of course, but this energy must excite neurons somewhere in my body that make for an experience that I’ve not encountered in any other country. Although sometimes it’s simply: “Wow, look at that!” or “You must be kidding,” or “Where the *%^$# am I?” or “Get that baby off the road!”
People that we know who have lived in India for over a dozen years now say that there are two kinds of people in the world – ones who have been to India, and ones who have not. The rawness of the country seizes you and doesn’t let go. I don’t know what it is exactly that has drawn people here for hundreds of years – the spices? The physical beauty? The spirituality? The craziness of the various cultures? The exoticism?
We were here for less than a month two years ago – we did so much, met so many people, visited many places. We are now living here for the next four months – we’ve established a home for ourselves – our own nest – the pantry filled with spices, familiar and not, a Chicago magnet and an Obama button brought from home, to remind us of where we came from, a few pieces of tribal art on the walls and about a dozen books to give us a sense of comfort. A workroom is slowly emerging.
At home, we work to pay bills, to maintain a household, to parent our children, to live a life. There are worries and issues. I get caught in the mundane, I don’t see enough of the magic around me that I see when I travel. I am more open to experiences, to wander down an interesting looking road, to explore. At home I get worn down. Whenever I return from traveling, I swear to myself that I will try to maintain the same level of energy and wonder for as long as possible. It doesn’t last long, and I quickly return to a routine of work and stress. In the last 40 years I’ve never been so far away from home for so long. It will be an interesting experiment – to see how long this magic can be maintained. After all, this is now home.
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