Thursday, December 3, 2015

India Broke Me

I've been in Tanzania for 10 days now and India has caught up with me. There is a head cold muddling my brain and a dry cough rattling my chest. India broke me.

It's my way, to have stress get to me long after the fact. When I worked retail over the holidays, pulling double shifts, overtime, closing then coming in to open 6 hours later, I'd feel the stress of all that by mid-January, with a weeklong malingering flu or bronchitis. And now I'm feeling it. India broke me.
I was ready for it, or so I thought. It was going to be loud, smelly and dirty at times, I knew that. But I was sure the beauty of the place, the kindness of the people and the food (oh, that glorious food!!) would more than balance out. But India broke me.
First the beeping. The motorbikes, tuktuks (motorcycle rickshaws), cars, busses and trucks beep their horns incessantly. I'm pulling up next to you where there is no lane, beeep! I'm behind you and do not care that there are feral cows slowing you down, beeeeep!! The light has turned green and we five cars behind you want to make sure you know it, beeeeeeeep!!! It is endless.
Secondly the in your face commercialism, for lack of a better phrase. Everywhere I went, "Madame you like?" Getting off the night bus in Hampi we travelers were mobbed by tuktuk drivers, about 30 of them, thrusting maps in our faces. 
Most stores or restaurants have a hawker out front insisting you enter. The tourist restaurants were heartbreaking for me, with their multicultural menus, extolling Russian, Israeili, Chinese, pizza and pasta selections. Finding Indian food in those areas was like searching for the Holy Grail. When I did eventually discover a street vendor in Hampi or an All Veg place down an alley in Goa, I returned again and again out of sheer relief. Mumbai was, thankfully, flush with cheap, interesting and delicious street food. Fresh fruit and sugar cane juices, fruit plates, pressed sandwiches, idli, parantha, masala dosa, biryani and so much more were thick on the ground.
Third and lastly, the poverty. I'm no Pollyanna, skipping along whistling a happy tune and throwing rose petals about. I know it exists worldwide. For me what was overwhelming was the myriad of ways it presented itself everywhere I went in India.
The mounds of garbage on the side of city streets, country roads and beaches.
The begging children and cripples.
As I woke in the morning on the night bus to Hampi, I looked out the window to see picturesque rice paddies with men defecating in them.
An elderly women selling roast peanuts as I waited for a ferry in Hampi, stood and walked over to the side of the road, lifted her sari, crouched and urinated.
Plastic water bottles, which are almost always the only access people have to clean water, litter the countryside.
Big glamorous houses surrounded by shacks and squalor.
It was not all depressing.  There were moments of beauty and joy throughout my month there.
Finding a kind tuktuk driver who showed us the temples and markets of Old Goa.

Becoming a familiar face to the Superman-hatted sandwich vendor down the street from the hotel in Mumbai.

Finding tiny used book store oaisis' in Goa and Fort Kochi.

Listening to Israeli hippies pick up a tune strummed by the owner of a tiny roadside cafe as I read a book, drank a spicy chai and waited out the rain outside of Hampi.

Meeting a curious family in a bus station in Hopstet.

Those moments sustain me. They will, with the passage of time, help to soften the harshness and sorrow that India wrenched from me.
I love you India, and yet I do not always like you.
I'm off to Zanzibar next week.