INDIA ADVENTURES, DAY FIVE (part 1): In our previous episode, Sage was ignored by a robot and sparkling firecrackers filled the air. And now, today!
At two a.m. I wake up and pee, then find out there’s no toilet paper. I call to Todd, “Uh… any ideas on this whole hose thing?”
Todd says, “What a time to learn! Okay, as far as I know you use the hose to wash yourself.”
“Well, but… then what?”
“Then you’re done.”
“But what about the water from washing?”
“Oh. I think you use a napkin.”
“Do we have any napkins?”
We both laugh and laugh. Living in a tent in the woods for two years has made us both casual about bathroom matters. Once you’ve dug a hole to compost your own waste, once you’ve dragged the outhouse bucket into the one room tent in the middle of a very cold winter to poo, it all begins to feel very everyday and practical. (If we’re getting the washroom proceedure wrong, by the way, I’d love some pointers from those of you in the know. I never did find that travel kleenex.)
We wake up and head downstairs for breakfast. Todd has sambar and idly and I have cereal, pakoras, and chutney. The hotel tv is playing a soccer game and for a moment it’s a parallel universe version of the late great Detroit Eatery on the Danforth in Toronto, with chai instead of coffee.
At breakfast I watch a table of men in their twenties. They are affectionate with each other, the way brothers are, and every greeting is not just a hug but also a big smile. They kid each other and are unselfconscious in how fond they are of each other, of the food, of the moment.
It’s raining outside as we get ready for the day. I’ve managed to pour almost all the food I’ve eaten since we arrived on my sweatshirt, so we drop it off along with the rest of the dirty clothes at the front desk. Outside, we hop in a big car with Mitali, Ravindra, and Chandra and our driver plunges into the Raipur traffic. (The drivers here thread their way through the snarl of autorickshaws, scooters, cyclists, cars and pedestrians with deceptive ease.) Ravindra is the founder of the NGO Jivandeep. He is a never-stopping powerhouse of hope and energy.
Chandra (that’s him in the photo) is only twenty one years old but has the gravitas of someone twice his age. He tells us a story as we fly down the road.
“I grew up in Delhi. I was in the hospital waiting for my medical test results. I could see a woman crying, sobbing. I asked what had happened. This was a simple village family. Their son had a stomach problem and would die without surgery. But the family could not afford the surgery and the father had decided he would sell their farm, the family’s only source of income. And this way he would save his son. I could not stop thinking of this family. I was a poor university student, I could not pay for the surgery. But maybe if I gathered together enough of my friends? So I talked to my friends, all poor students too. We all put as much money as we could into the fund. But it was not enough. I tried to talk to one NGO after another and no one, no one would help. The family was in my mind all the time. I knew I had to do everything I could, but what could I do? And then, finally, Ravindra of the NGO Jivandeep in Raipur called. Yes, he said, Jivandeep could help. And that boy was saved, the family kept their farm. A few months later, Ravindra called and said that Jivandeep needed MY help. Could I move to Raipur? Could I work with them? I was waiting to find out about a job. A job I had been working towards from the moment I started school as a child. I thought for a week, very hard. The phone rang – I had the job, the big salary, everything! What should I do? In the end I could not turn my back on Ravindra, on Jivandeep. I gave up the job, my apartment, my salary. I moved to Raipur to work with Ravindra.”
Listening to Chandra talk about his life makes me think of myself at twenty one years old, navel-gazing and obsessed with how *I* felt and what choices I could make that would make ME feel happy. Meanwhile, Chandra wakes up every day and his first and last thought is – “How can I help that person over there?” (I mean. I say “when I was twenty one”, but have I really changed in the intervening years? Chandra makes me want to be a better human being.)
Soon we’ve left the city and are on the highway. I watch the rain falling on impossibly green fields. Todd says to Mitali, “In the winter in Toronto, we lose all the leaves on the trees. Does that happen here in the winter?” Mitali says that they do lose the leaves, but in the summer months when the temperature averages 35C. It’s such an odd thought, bare leaves and the sun beating down.
We pass a village, cement buildings painted green. In my head, villages were remote and unreachable but these buildings are a stone’s throw from the highway. We turn left. Now the road is narrower and we are surrounded by lush trees that hang over the road. The driver suddenly honks, hard, at what I think at first are street dogs in the road BUT THEY ARE DOG SIZED MONKEYS YOU GUYS, MONKEYS and they look up, irritated, and leap a ridiculous distance right up into the trees as we pass.
We pass cows in the jungle with their babies, grazing. Signs warn of elephant crossings, just like the moose crossings in Canada. After thirty minutes we arrive at a small rest stop. I open the car door and can only hear the dripping of the rain, the birds, the breeze in the trees. Mitali and I go to the washroom, walking through echoing halls. It’s dim, the lights are all off inside, which has been the case everywhere we’ve gone so far. In the hotels, the lights are attached to the hotel key – when the hotel key is outside the room, the lights are automatically turned off. How simple! Meanwhile, in Toronto I turn my office light on at 5 AM and only turn it off around noon when I realize the lightbulb is still burning. So much of my own electricity use is based on avoiding small discomforts – like turning on the heat in my office and then having breakfast in the kitchen because I want to come back to a warm room.
The bathroom is dark too. When I finish peeing I reach for the hose and no water comes out. I giggle to myself. I feel like a small child here in the best way. People are eager to teach me the basics of everyday living and I’m eager to learn (but, you know, not a possibility in this particular moment).
At the rest stop we sit down to upma, curd, and gobi paratha and a sauce I don’t recognize. I say, “Look away!” to the rest of the table, then ask Todd in a loud whisper, “How do I say, ‘What is it?'”
“Yaha kya hai.”
I turn to Chandra. “Chandra, Chandra, yeeeh kyaaaah hay?”
Everyone laughs. “You are picking up the language all by yourself, very good!” says Chandra. “This is just some chutney.”
After eating I go outside and am suddenly hit by the smell of rain and trees and wind. The smell of the land where my mom, Kite, lived for most of her life. I walk quickly to a gate with my back to everyone and look through. Fighting tears.
I have a photograph in a box at home. A dirt path, emerald green trees and an overcast sky. Kite is just stepping onto the path, one foot high in the air, joyful. She is a woodland sprite.
I look through the gate at a dirt path, emerald green trees and an overcast sky. I close my eyes. For a moment I can almost hear her cackling witch’s laugh on the wind.
Thanks so much to everyone who’s commented. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know you’ve read what I’ve written. Please feel free share these posts with anyone who you think might be interested.
Part two, coming soon. Missed a few episodes? You can find them here: https://gooutsidetoday.com/category/india-2019/