I have been trying to slow down. Over the past eight months, I’ve recalled the mantra of my friend from the ESL certification class: Live slowly. An absolutely impossible task. My idea of living slowly included meditating for as long as I could in the morning, running to work, dashing to the yoga studio and wallowing in my own garbage for the rest of the evening. I’d often come to and realize I hadn’t taken a real breath in hours. I could not seem to find or make the space I needed.
In India, life is unhurried. On one instance last week, Kyle and I were under the impression there was a school holiday. We stayed around the house leisurely drinking tea and immersing ourselves in European literature. The following day we returned to school and casually caught wind of the fact that there was, in fact, a full school day, yesterday. The incident was never mentioned to us by the administration.
In truth, its been efforting to adjust to being under less pressure. Here, the children are much less controlled. They’re not forced to stand in lines until silent, pay petty respect to meaningless displays of authority or comply with militaristic classroom organization. (Although the devotion to religious observations can be equally authoritative.) The lively exuberance of the children stands out as a contrast from what I recall from my own youth. In elementary school, I was reprimanded and heard the word “no” constantly. This type of baseless scolding is far less prevalent from what I’ve observed. The aggressive pace and order which dictates American life is absent.
Yet, I see many people in India attempting to recreate perceived aspects of American life. Today, was my first day encountering this sort of Western fatuousness. While waiting for my vegetable naan bread, I was forced to listen to an inane twenty-something-year-old Indian man. He rambled on for what seemed like hours – but was only maybe five minutes – talking about some failed relationship. Posturing Western pretensions, he complained loudly about women and each sentence contained a slew of slang and profanities. My irritation led me to make comments like, “I’m talking really loudly in a restaurant.” Still, it wasn’t so much the noise that bothered me as simply the illusions to Western stupidity. Each trek into town I encounter the pusher, the sorostitutes, the spiritualist, and a myriad of other Western stereotypes. Is it inescapable?
In an effort to push it all aside for awhile, Kyle, myself and our fellow teacher Janosch rode Indian-style on his motorcycle to a neighboring town, Vattakanal. I had no expectations – which is probably a product of juvenile nihilism rather than fragments of an adult enlightenment – and was pleasantly surprised. We parked on the side of the rode and walked to a path which led through the woods. The path was directed downward and I anticipated entering a village with a few small shops. The town is known for catering to Western tourists, especially Israelis. To my own amazement and satisfaction, the path led to a large mountain ledge. Kyle suggested we walk up to it. I responded that it, “probably wasn’t the edge, there’s always like five edges.”
I was wrong. The ledge cut straight down at, what might as well have been, a 90 degree angle. Miles and miles of India were visible. Uninhabited mountains, the flat sweeping plains and more mountains covered in dense forest. It was not only breathtaking, but physically disorientating. I literally felt that I might just fall over. I’ve done a fair amount of climbing before, but never felt this sensation. My body simply could not physiologically make sense of the environment.
Another bewildering aspect of the isolated mountain spot was the amount of trash.
Before piling back onto the motorcycle, we perused the streets a bit. I drank lemon tea, pet a stray dog and met a man whose family member is faculty at UW-Stout (which I attended for one year). A fairly average day in India. After returning home, I stayed up late, spent a good 45-minutes crying and attempting to my sense of myself. Then, finally, I succumbed to the unconscious. I’ve come to conclude that life in India can consist of chasing various trivialities or be a slow and prolonged step toward a more full expression of my self.