Thursday, January 13, 2011

Images of India

After a trip to Kenya about three years ago, I realized that my greatest regret was not having a camera worthy of the shots I was snapping; lions on the hunt, water buffalo migrating and elephants enjoying communal baths. Therefore, I did my research and learned all I could about pixels, ISO capabilities and image processors for color reproduction. Then, the ideal moment arrived and, at long last, I got myself a monster of a camera. With my acquisition, I was entirely certain that I would never again have another missed photo-op plaguing me throughout the duration of my photoshopping, printing and framing life.

Well, guess what I forgot to take to India? My f*cking camera.

I DID, however, remember to bring enough medicine to restock a pharmacy, enough clean underwear to cover the bottoms of a small nation and enough hand sanitizer to wipe out an entire colony of flesh eating bacteria. Yet, I forgot my camera. And now back home- I still have a full suitcase of unused pills, serums and sprays- but what I don't have are the photographs on the camera that I had painstakingly spent months and months learning how to use. Not one. And why? Cause I forgot my camera.

Luckily, my sister had her point-and-shoot with her. And even though she left it on the plane as soon as we landed (I guess absentmindedness is genetic, after all)- a man from the flight crew was compassionate enough to look through our snapshots, identify the two tall blondes in the photos, wait for us outside baggage claim and relinquish the object to its rightful owners- simply out of the goodness of his heart. (told you…I love Indians!)

Point is- we still managed to get a number of great photos- so here they are…

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

भारत गणराज्य* a.k.a. India

I went to India and did everything I could in the short time I was there. Then, I came back from India…and now I am sitting here wishing to g-d that I had stayed longer.

Nothing I had read- and nothing I was told- could have prepared me for that country. My expectations- although not completely off base, were misguided. I expected to feel suffocated and uneasy- to be agitated. Instead, I felt tranquil. Everything around me was sheer pandemonium, yet inside- complete stillness. I was happy in India- it agreed with me.

The major cities are crowded and dirty- but the crowds are swathed in dazzling colors that dot the streets like little bits of sunshine. I didn't see the litter and pollution- I saw the silk shawls and satin saris waving in the wind, brushing the feet of the women walking in their hand-woven leather sandals. India smells- but it smells alive- a powerful mixture of spice and stink in the air- so potent that its hard to discern what it is coming from or where it is going – and you never know whether the next waft will make your stomach moan with hunger, or completely rob you of your appetite.

Next to every five star hotel, is a slum- a makeshift community of littered paths and huts formed of materials found in the streets and strewn among construction sights. The abundant poverty is a glaring reminder of the fact that India, alone, is home to 1/3 of the world’s poor. But even though nearly 50% of the population falls below the international poverty line- they all smile. I swear, I rarely saw anyone without a beaming grin across their faces and friendly open arms. And regardless of income bracket or mode of transportation- Mercedes, rickshaw or donkey…everyone welcomed us- wanted to share something- whether it was a cup of tea or a simple word. The people of India received us- and took as in as if we had always belonged.

Of course, one must be careful not to drink the water- and I, for one, had a suitcase filled with antibiotics to cure any stomach ailment that has ever plagued humankind- but India was a feast of gastronomic delights. It was a banquet of tastes and flavors and smells. And as a lifelong vegetarian- I had found my culinary paradise. It was the first time in 26 years that there were so many options on a menu, I had trouble deciding. India may be loud- horns honking, donkeys baying, people haggling and animated friends eagerly signaling and saluting one another. But I don't know if anyone can tell me that they don't hear the same amount of noise in Manhattan. I quickly became accustomed to the racket- and within a few hours- I loved it. It was different from the chiming bells of Italian churches- but it was a constant reminder that “yes, I had finally made it to India.” And what a good reminder it was…

Amidst the chaos and the inescapable shifting of people and objects and animals- I felt at peace. And I felt safe- I had a sincere sensation that no one there could hurt me- or would hurt me. Of course, there is always the threat of being run over by a tuk tuk- but that would be sheer carelessness. And unfortunately, our trip coincided with the onset of some major terrorist threats- but that could happen in any nation- to anybody- foreigner or national. So I can’t blame India for being targeted.

What I felt in India was like an alarm clock- but one that wakes you from a dream where you slowly realize that the reality is so much better. Not the other way around.

I know that I have become complacent over the past year. My life is incredibly easy- and good. But I don't take risks…I don't venture out of my comfort zone. In fact, it’s hard to- when an entire country seems to have been created simply to satisfy every human desire on a daily basis.

The India trip, in contrast, was not meant to be comfortable. I wouldn't have wanted it to be. It was fast-paced, stressful and dirty. It was incredible.

India is wild and chaotic and so noisy that it is almost deafening. Traveling in India is a bumpy ride- anyway you look at it.

The vast subcontinent, with its outstanding diversity of cultures religions cuisines and languages would take a lifetime just to get to know. But in that lifetime- one would realize that there is a unity between geographical locations, castes and religions- and it's a harmony I had never felt before in any part of the world. There is an incredible sense of pride in it’s people- a dignity synonymous with honor and delight about its history and heritage- and although I am the first to admit that I have only just touched the tip of the great wealth of wisdom India and its people have to offer, what I do know is that I am hooked. And I can’t wait to return.

I wish I could report some big change in myself but unfortunately, I wasn't there long enough to undergo any transformation. Instead, it was a reminder of why I have always wanted to see India- why I travel, and why I plan to always travel. There is a lot to be said for having a home- someplace to come back to and be enveloped in- and Italy isn’t a bad place to call that “home.” But in this life of comfort and ease, challenging oneself to embark on a few adventures is a priority. I think a lot of lessons can be taken from the people of India. They are kind and welcoming. They enjoy as much as they can and they smile continuously. In India- family is important, self-respect is abundant and beauty is boundless.

I used to travel and hope to change myself in some way. I traveled for inspiration and I traveled to broaden my knowledge and understanding. Even though I still do that- I still hope to learn more about myself and the world- I’m beginning to think that I’m done changing. At the same time, I’m not focusing anymore on becoming a different person. But maybe I’m making a mistake. Because after just a few short days in India- I realized that I could live my life in a better way.

While traveling, a quote by Gandhi kept coming to mind: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possibly. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Listening to what Gandhi said, and applying it to my own life, I think there is a great lesson to be learned. That no matter where our homes are- or what they are made of- it would be a sin to close ourselves in, under our roofs with our locks and keys- pretending to protect ourselves from whatever is out there in the great wide world- ugly or beautiful, dangerous or safe. It’s all there to discover, absorb and ultimately understand. We should accept whatever may cross our paths and learn from it- but to remain true to who we are. 

And when I return to India, it is with these thoughts in mind that I will confront, yet again, one of the most magnificent places I have ever been. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

And a New One Just Begun

I was wondering…how does one welcome a new year with enthusiasm when the old year was already so good?

Truth is- I would have been perfectly content sticking to 2010. The arrival of 2011 means that I am less than a month away from hitting 30…an age I was planning on avoiding…

2011 means that I graduated from my MBA “last year”- not “this year”- soooo… more excuses.

2011 means that if the Mayans were right- this is it. Our final year. Our last remaining chance to do everything we told ourselves we would. And even if the Mayans were wrong- the New Year means we are all (me…you…them) one year closer to the inescapable finality of our time on this earth.

I have never been good at making resolutions- and even worse at keeping them. I.e. Eat less- sleep more. Bitch less- write more. Spend less- smile more.

Truth is- whatever resolutions I would have made- had I bothered to make any- would have been the general rules I attempt to live by on a daily basis.  (And usually come up a bit short).

But enough of my unconstructive ranting. As with every dark cloud- there promises to be a silver lining. Therefore, my resolution this year will be…(drum roll please)… to seek the light out from the dark- to live within the silver lining- you know, glass half-full kind of thing.

Instead of moaning about the Christmas lights coming down and the dumpsters full of half dead pine trees- I’m perusing the stores, making a check list of all the goodies I plan on buying when the sales start in 3 days. And yes, I may be getting older- but I am convinced that I am also wiser. Plus- although the New Year means that I have no more time to fit anything into last year- I am told that we all get a clean slate- that we are absolved of our past transgressions and indulgences- saints and sinners alike- and everyone in between…

Other than that, the transition from one year into the next means what it always inevitably does- a chance to celebrate.

Being that my life, currently- is pretty much a infinite holiday- one big, fun stimulating feast of extravagance and excess…it was a bit hard for me to allocate too much importance to New Year’s Eve. But it seems that everyone else around me insisted- so in normal Italian New Year’s fashion- I attended a fabulous party with fabulous people at a fabulous locale- I ate too much, drank in excess, danced just enough, had my new years kiss and managed to not burn any body parts with sparklers. And due to the horrible man walking around with a bottle of Sambuca- pouring that syrupy sweetness down the throats of innocent party-goers (including myself)-I spent the following day ringing in the New Year comatose on the couch- nursing a hangover and begging Dudy not to pee on the floor until I had the energy to get up and take him outside.

Now that the festivities have officially come to an end- and I have finished complaining- I can only hope that 2011 brings me as much excitement, happiness and pleasure as did 2010.

Happy New Year! And may all your resolutions come true…