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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Musings #3: Low points and solace on the road

Being alone on the bus for 14 hours has given me the time to reflect and to write (although half of what I wrote on that bumpy journey is illegible even to me).

It is interesting that my views and impressions of India to date have been heavily coloured by my narrowed perspective of living stationed in one place rather than travelling about. Although I write about all the interesting things I see and the little idiosyncrasies I cherish, my day-to-day is not all colour and new sights. Travelling to me goes hand-in-hand with a certain laidback attitude, a taking of things in stride, where everything – bumps and all – are new and fresh and therefore easier to handle. Making a life in Chennai I am finding, is a little different: those unknowns, bumps and challenges can turn into annoyances and frustrations. Yes, the crush of people is lovely and exotic, but I’m tired after a long day and just want to get home and out of this traffic; the cultural differences turn into barriers to getting things done rather than simply amusing stories; the idea of wandering the market absorbing the atmosphere is great and all, but on my one day to get chores done I really just need to find a barbershop, a dry cleaner and something resembling a 7-11. I am more dependent on my colleagues and housemates to take care of details, show me where stuff is, explain the differences and to translate – a real “hold my hand” feeling. When I have to deal with India at the times when I’m cranky, tired or stressed, it is harder not to blame the place, the people or the culture, to want to extrapolate whatever minor local annoyance to India as a whole. But I recognize these lows points come and go and are natural for me and therefore shouldn’t be given too much credence. So while it is easier to be upbeat & positive while travelling, in regular life, even one in another country, that can be harder. This is my first time dealing with such feelings and it is one of my most poignant lessons to date.

But now that I’m moving under my own steam, I’m slowly clearing that malaise and am feeling more positive. I am happy to be free of the smothering convenience of people to hold my hand. I am heading on a new adventure and I am excited to get a different perspective of India and broaden how I define it. Regardless of how this trip goes, it will be a good experience. We’ve stopped for dinner and I’m feeling happier and positive about all things India now that I’m well fed, comfortably set up in little niche bed and caffeinated with surprisingly good coffee. Fighting for service and holding my own in the scrum of hungry passengers (several buses let off at once) was fun again.

It does feel really good to be travelling again, even for such a short trip. It is good to get back briefly into the rhythm of timetables and delays, sketchy (but predictably so) tour operators and pleasantly un-sketchy little hole-in-the-wall meal stops. It is interesting that in a far away land, moving can become your familiar ground, your comfort from the chaos of life. I suppose it is because travelling is a simple thing, a quiet thing and a very human one. It is easier to take things in stride when the consequences aren’t being late for work or stress after a tired day. It is easier to accept things being painfully bureaucratic or poorly run when it isn’t your home. It is easier to strike up a conversation, haltingly perhaps, or just a shared smile with fellow passengers due to your shared condition – for a while you are literally all in the same boat or the same crappy bus, overfull train or delayed flight.

I wonder if it is the almost fatalistic mentality of travelling that I take to: you are at the total mercy of the transport and the unknown world around you and as such you are stripped raw of the protective cocoon of civilization, left only with your wits and the tools and systems you can carry with you. Whatever comes, comes and you simply have to deal with it when it does – whether you like it or not. I’ve just decided to like it I guess. I suppose I take to the purity of it all – since you cannot control or predict the bumps and forks ahead, large or small, you have to just stop trying to control the spin of the universe and go along for the ride. And while you’re at it, not sure if you’re going to get where you want to go, or even if you’re going the right direction, you enjoy the company and scenery of your little moving world.

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