Monday, January 22, 2007

Goodbye India

It is somewhat presumptuous of me to bid farewell to India. In the last six months I have seen only what my prejudiced eye has allowed. There are, of course, bigger stories than any one individual can at any one time relay.

My arrival here came via expectations foretold in ancestry, myths, rumors, and racist travel legends. In this context I arrived shocked in what is nothing more than prejudicial preparation.

As the minutes added hands to the clock that became more and more important to me, I layered my shock over experiences that tested my being like never before. I began to understand that knowing India would inevitably be ‘unfinished business’ in any context.

In previous posts I have written honestly, and without hiding my prejudices, about living in India for six months. The hope and despair that has been a constant vacillation is real to me. But my momentary lapses of judgment and quick draw arrogance do not encapsulate what I have come to appreciate about India.

But in fairness, India is too big and complex to understand in just six months. In fact, it is too big and too complex to understand with nuance in six centuries. There is more than even more can contain inside of India.

What stands out most is that in India very little is hidden. There are no walls that close off the full compliment of what it means to be human and mostly poor in an undeveloped country. In contrast, life in the US is thoroughly compartmentalized and hidden under flimsy notions of liberty and individualism.

In India the individual is laid bare as a theory of fancy. You exist, and never alone, ever, in fluidity that challenges propriety and any other notion of separateness. Even the act of reading a newspaper or taking a picture can, and will, become more than just your affair.

I learned really quickly to move with the pace of Indians. The hurried horns and chaos on the roads all seem to work out in ways I can’t still comprehend. Me, the man who loves cars and motorcycles, will not set wheel to road in India, well not as of now.

But I found new things to love here. New words and words used in new ways I have not thought of before. Phrases like “in the last one year” still make me giggle for no real good reason. Also, the first time someone asked me what “my good name was please” it made me wonder if I had one.

I have also found kind people everywhere. Language differences aside, it is easy to talk to people just about anywhere. And though you may grow weary of answering questions about where you come from, etc, it is way better than sitting unrecognized and ‘invisible’ in the West.

Goodbyes are nicer when they are positive and heartfelt. I have written below of what pisses me off about India, Indians, and the elite politics of development that is too familiar in its duplicity. No matter what the pundits may think in New Delhi, India is far from the power-house they would like to pretend it is. There is a lot that needs to be done at just the basic level. Putting clean drinking water and sewerage draining systems into people’s lives would be a good place to start.

Also, granting independence to Kashmir at the regional level would be a great boon for peace. And, last but not least, dealing more directly with poverty and its relationship to caste would really be a move into the right and humane direction.

But India has also offered opportunities and challenges to interrogate my assumptions and thinking about these issues above. I have found myself wanting to understand and know more. And I have been thoroughly schooled at times. Even humbled at times.

What has emerged is that I feel more alive than the 23 years I spent almost euthanized in the US.

When I laughed I laughed for real. When I seethed I seethed for real. No excuses and no pop psychology or ‘Oprah rationalizations’ about my needs and having them met in an atmosphere of empowerment (you know how that crap is spoon fed to the living dead).

The greatest lesson in this context is that I will not spend another day regretting my life and its course, ever. No more going to bed and waking up with the lament that I hate my life. There is no time to hate my life when so much needs to be seen, felt, and done.

My time in India has reasserted upon me with great fervor the need to live past regrets and to live even bigger than my fears.

My closing thought goes out to the young child (about four) who came to my rickshaw to beg for rupees two days ago. I sifted through my pockets then shook my head because I could not find loose change. The child then put his head on my feet and begged me even more determined.

My heart broke. He is after all my child, your child, our child. India cannot live, and we cannot live, with dignity and humanity, while its children suffer humiliation and abject poverty. Their pretences about global markets and aspirations are worth nothing if Indian children continue to live on the margins.

But in the final analysis, this is really more about the human condition and our political will to create a balanced world in which all children live with dignity. In this sense India cannot be separated from all of us and our collective quest to live really free.

The struggle continues.

Ridwan Laher
New Delhi


Sumanto said...

i almost got what you said. and you can't be more true.

Ridwan said...

Thank you Sumanto. I wrote this post a long time ago and your comment made me read it again.

Peace to you,

Fanaah said...

I relate so much to what you say, having lived in India for years I feel I dont know her well enough.

Am sure you feel the same way about your own country too. So so much more to discover :)