And so we watch and so we learn/With eyes wide for our dreams to yearn

Posts tagged ‘india’

Diwali in Two Voices

In my current travels through India, I’ve had the chance to spend time with Deatheaten. And what better way to document experiences with two scribblers such as ourselves, than through poetry?

Today was like a buffet which I did not start because there were too many entrees
And yet I still could not believe that the stones beneath my feet held me
Let me start by explaining how fireworks wok: first there is gunpowder, then there is fire – the rest is poetry
No, it’s all just a song, variations on a theme transcending this universe
In a way, Diwali is the biggest firecracker, and we’re just balls of flame
Some only fit to fizzle out, or be shot down by stupidity – others full of decent whiskey, something more
Everything bursting in the sky, and reflected in the water below – the sea, everything we see
And in that, the watchers are not merely observers, but feeling and reacting one and the same, that unified BANG
It’s good music you know, when you see it after hearing it
But not quite as good as music you reshape in the moment, surely
So we’ll stop telling you about Diwali – and get to the bananas
For there’s nothing quite as violent, as sunglasses slashing throats, with a delicate lady finger
…that’s what she said
(He wishes)
Well the lady is a firecracker
And thus, through gunpowder, we have created poetry

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Resolution

It’s August. August September October November…time is creeping closer. Diwali is nearing. The time to fly back to India inches it’s way over the horizon and into the periphery of my visible future. 

And I am scared. 

I’ll be flying alone this time. No family, no parents, no grandmother watching my back this time. I’ve flown alone before, but never so unshielded, so without established structure and shelter. And that is thrilling. But…it’s new. Daunting. India is dangerous, especially for an 18 year old, for a white woman. So many bad things could happen. This goes against all the conventions of safety. I don’t even know how well I will be able to cope amid so much unfamiliar, without anyone guiding me. If I’ll even be able to make enough money to afford the full trip. There’s so much uncertainty, trepidation, unfamiliarity and yes fear, of the unknown and quite possibly life threatening. 

But I have to go. 

It’s not a want or a whim or a fleeting dream anymore. This isn’t 2012. This is need, this is the moon calling ocean tides, tugging them closer, dhanyavad, shukriya and nandri being mixed with efcharisto and gracias in my mental responses, to my predominately greek and spanish speaking co-workers. This is the familiarity and trust and joy, established in the three days I had with my friends there, last time, demanding to be built upon. I need to come back, and find familiarity in the sound and sight of friends laughing beside me in person. I need to see the cities they all speak of, the beautiful and the ordinary and the ugly, the reality that created so much that I love. 

And it will be a risk. I am trusting myself to stand alone and strong, beside those who may permit me, in your India. Things can and probably will go wrong. But I have made too many plans to bail now. And I know, I believe with absolute certainty, that it will be worth it. 

Handprints

When I was in Rajasthan I stood in a temple and held my hand against a print on a wall. The village had been abandoned for centuries, lost and forgotten, save for the story of their disappearance, tourists clambered over old stone houses and posed amid the ruins. All we knew now, was that the village was haunted. 

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But I stood. In that temple. With that handprint. It wasn’t the only handprint, but this one was in my reach, close enough that I could stand on tiptoes and press my palm to match hers. I knew it was a ‘hers’. Another woman, just like me. 

But she was a woman of long ago. Who’s language I could not understand, even as today words stood carved on the pillars of that temple. Who’s life and culture differs from mine so greatly it takes whole books of ideas to understand. A woman’s handprint, henna red against sandstone. Bu I had been told, I knew what that means; a woman condemned to die. 

In my world, our world, we tell stories to each other, to explain feelings and ideas and what mere facts can explain. We share lives and fantasies as easily as the sun shares sunlight, as the breeze shares coolness with our vividly alive skin. Just think. To be alive. We weave our stories as immortality, armour against our world of fleeting life, held onto with every passing second. Because without them, we forget. What can we remember, but the stories we spin our lives into? Does this make us more substantial, documenting every moment of our existences, with diaries and momentos, Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. Clinging to our nows and making them forever. 

But we forget. 

We forget that lives happen, lives are lived and loved and lost in the hopes of so many, desperation and joy repeating like the seasons. That a woman once stood where I was, and grieved. Not just for the loss of her husband, but the loss of her life. Having tied all her worth to a mere mortal, her life was to be cut as surely as his was, be it by her jumping or being pushed onto his burning body. Cremation for two, because surely love burns eternal.

The real forever lies not in our tweets and saved MP3 files. It lies in handprints, scattered across the globe. It lies in carvings, not in rooms of wood and stone, but in time. We are as old as the universe, truly, and each moment we breathe merely adds to the compilation of time we barely know ourselves. 

Every inch of our planet is layered with the past, of stories and lives told over and over again. Searching for something greater, never knowing if we’ve found it. Will we find it? Maybe, one day. But until then, we can only feel. We can only remember.

We remember for those long gone, what their worlds would have been, when lives ran so alien to your way of now. They weren’t as different as we imagined. They felt wonder and curiosity and fear and pain and joy, just  the same. They died, just as their forefathers did before them. And as feet tread this well worn path, again and again, baby steps of change incrementing us forward imperceptibly, blinking under the sun, one handprint comes to mind. Red, small, thin. The handprint of a wife without a husband. The handprint of a woman about to die. A piece of humanity amid the wreckage ensued by time…more than what is left for so much more if our past. As obscure as our future and as alien as martian life…and yet, her handprint fitted mine, so perfectly, perfectly…

New World, New Delhi

Messy, dirty, madness. Breathe.
Don’t breathe – cover your mouth, filter the fumes
Ancient carvings, airtel ads, cows and pigs roam wild 
Madness here, seeks to push you out
Who are you and why are you here?
What are you doing here, with your blue eyes and red hair
Every face questions you, follows you
Watch your back, watch your purse
But not always. Too much to see
Flashing by in the gap between flapping plastic
Three wheeled madness on unregulated roads
Too many cars, too many people
Each glimpse a question
A sewing machine being used on the sidewalk?
Rows of shiny kitchen utensils?
Piles of fruit, mysterious street food 
Unfamiliar letters painted along walls
Cricket in abandoned constructions…

You wonder at the people here.
At men wandering the streets – where are they going?
No footpaths or signs that make sense to your eyes
The girls here are mythical
Brightly coloured, draped in textures
Or exactly the same as immigrants back home
Here, you are the immigrant
Here, you are the strange one
In a world scarcely policed.
Too much to do
(Baksheesh ma’am? Chai panee please)

Humanity overflows here
Vultures selling services circle;
Hesitation? They swarm
You escape by the hands of a stranger
Kindness pushes between hands that reach out for what’s not bolted down
Tapping at your window when traffic halts
Weaving between shiny cars and men pulling carts
Pressed between sky scrapers and crumbling constructions
Life here fights, in each tangle of power lines
And the scrawny dogs who still droop with lactating teats

Order surrenders to chaos
Though not entirely, never entirely
You can feel the tide tugging, reaching to drag your feet out from under you
There are pockets though, dusted squares
Of organisation – frustration resulting in mediation
‘This inch of land is predictable!’
Proclaim the planners, the pedantic
While piles of dirt heap at roadsides
Remnants of plans forgotten 

Weeds do not exist here
The vegetation fights in armies, or not at all
Tangling and darkening undeveloped corners
Or sprawling between cement patchwork
Until you stumble across tranquility
Serenity in a room, a garden, a cafe
You almost forget what the car horns mean
Abstract notes become background ambience
Reminding you relentlessly of where you are
Reestablishing life’s motion here
Of hassle and noise and unmarked roadways

Until you stumble across beauty
Delicacy in a colour or shape or smile
Or the taste of hot chai first thing in the morning
Sweetness, like everything here, is potent
You lose track of the days and dates
Only feelings matter, only endeavours
Adventure subverts the ordinary
And turns the simplest of tasks Herculean
And the Herculean tasks reform unrecognisably
Because what else could to expect?
Within the dazzling, befuddling world
Between the drama and the dismal and the drastic
Fluctuating between gorgeous and grotesque
The capital of the country, the city of djinns
Here you are. Welcome