I am leaving India today. I hate goodbyes. They confuse me; I don't think my brain knows how to to fully compute the given situation; and that's probably true for most people. Just as it is unnatural for the mind to understand death - to fully comprehend the idea of permanently leaving this world - so it is unnatural to be leaving particular people or places temporarily, but on a smaller scale, of course. Saying goodbyes is like momentarily meeting death, or rather, momentarily acknowledging death and impermanence. It's defiant acceptance of the inevitable; and I don't particularly like that. We weren't meant to live this way.
My time is almost done here. I have a little over two days left to absorb what I can; and then Delhi is a dream, a dream I hope to return to later in life. I thought for this post I would include portions of my journal entries from throughout the trip.
June 6, 2009
The disappointing thing about the trip thus far is that in my mind it is difficult to separate Delhi from India, along with the images I've seen, the little reading-material I've read, and the movies I've watched - all shaping a shape I haven't really seen until now - and I don't know how agreeable I find everything. However, each day the city and its people grow on me; and every day my mind, and my heart too, perceives and feels for this place with a little more clarity, and in that clarity, out of the fog of my preconceived notions of Eastern myth and abject poverty emerges a heartbeat not so unlike my own, a human heartbeat.
What a terrible night. I think I got at most three hours of sleep...I had to get up. It was useless lying in bed, allowing the mosquitos to feast on me. I don't know how many bites I got last night; enough to make me restless and force me out of bed.
As the conches resounded inside the immaculately decorated temple, the enthusiastic congregates raised their arms and hands above their heads. They were preparing for the revealing of the idols. And it was at this point that I truly sensed something rather alien to me, an electricity I wasn't sure how to calculate: I sensed the breath of the divine over the people, I sensed the waking of the gods from their deep, primordial slumber. And I sensed the gods sinister appetite to devour the minds and hearts of the people eagerly waiting their approval. Their capricious laughter filled the room, and I stood stunned, for what could I do?
I had this thought that I would stop living by the days, that days are really an illusion, and rather moments are the true reality. Instead of thinking, today I will accomplish this, or today I should go here or go there, or today I need to read my Bible, I should think, now I will do this or do that, now I will go here or go there, now I will no longer be afraid, and now I will love.
I had never felt so close to what it really feels like to be a father as I did when she spontaneously wrapped her little arms around my legs.
What are my experiences so far? If I were to write a book about my experiences in India, would it be worth reading? Would the characters be compelling? What did I come here for in the first place? I came here to feel the heartbeat of India; to see faces; to hear voices; to give and be given to. And why haven't I wept yet? I came here to be human. Where are all the tears inside?
After mazing our way into the slum, we parked the car and looked apprehensively out at the drenched surroundings, not fully ready to step into the sheets of rain coming down. Concerning the surroundings, almost all the houses were made entirely of red brick; and nearly half of those looked as though they were in construction or simply in ruins - I couldn't tell the difference. The structures that looked more or less completed on average reached the height of three to four stories, which was rather impressive given their precarious-looking designs. For even the sturdiest of the homes looked as if though the smallest of earthquakes would collapse them. But I should be careful to judge so quickly. Despite their crude and curious architecture, like massive chimneys inhabited by people, which were a wonder to look at, the houses, in their plentitude, looked well-worn in and rather warm and cosy. For all I knew, generations of families could have been living in these brick homes, persevering through Mother Nature and the demands of rapidly developing society that wants brush the existence of slums under the table. No doubt, however, that over the years these structures have had to be reinforced. Or perhaps many of these homes have fallen in the past. But, to borrow a summary of India civilization from another writer: what Indians do best as a people, better than perhaps all other nations, is begin again. Instead of abandoning land to its demise, Indians simply build their lives on the tops of ruins. They are the masters of the cycle. They just accept their fates with passive tenacity.
Here is an excerpt from a book I am reading called An Area of Darkeness by V.S. Naipaul. The book is an account of Naipaul's first travels throughout India. It was published in 1964.
"India is the poorest country in the world. Therefore, to see its poverty is to make an observation of no value; a thousand newcomers to the country before you have seen and said as you. And not only newcomers. Our own sons and daughters, when they return from Europe and America, have spoken in your very words. Do not think that your anger and contempt are marks of your sensitivity. You might have seen more: the smiles on the faces of the begging children, that domestic group among the pavement sleepers waking in the cool Bombay morning, father, mother and baby in a trinity of love, so self-contained that they are as private as if walls had separated them from you: it is your gaze that violates them, your sense of outrage that outrages them. You might have seen the boy sweeping his area of pavement, spreading his mat, lying down; exhaustion and undernourishment are in his tiny body and shrunken face, but lying flat on his back, oblivious of you and the thousands who walk past in the lane between sleepers' mats and house walls bright with advertisements and election slogans, oblivious of the warm, over-breathed air, he plays with fatigued concentration with a tiny pistol in blue plastic. It is your surprise, your anger that denies him humanity. But wait. Stay six months. The winter will bring fresh visitors. Their talk will also be of poverty; they too will show their anger. You will agree; but deep down there will be annoyance; it will seem to you then, too, that they are seeing only the obvious; and it will not please you to find your sensibility so accurately parodied...I had learned too that escape was always possible, that in every Indian town there was a corner of comparative order and cleanliness in which one could recover and cherish one's self-respect. In India the easiest and most necessary thing to ignore was the most obvious. Which no doubt was why, in spite of all that I had read about the country, nothing had prepared me for it."
Today, as I was walking alongside a busy road in East Delhi, during the height of the sun's fury, a temperature well over one-hundred degrees, watching my surroundings closely as drops of sweat, growing ever more, hit the baked dirt below, I passed a donkey, forlorn and heartbreaking to see. He stood there against the brunt of the heat motionless and seemingly indifferent to anything and everything around him. And as much as I wanted to avert my eyes from him, I couldn't.
The first thing I noticed about this sad creature was that his ears were completely missing. And I thought, either he was born this way or some cruel person must have had heartlessly cut them off and then abandoned him to his humiliation, for there seemed to be no indication of an owner around. Yet the more I took this donkey into account and his sad condition, the more I began to think the latter was a more plausible explanation, that in fact his ears had been cut off: because not only did he appear to be extremely malnourished and sickly, with most of his fur gone, exposing his decaying, leathery skin, but also his back and sides were striped with deep scars, due, most likely, to severe beatings.
However, it wasn't really his physical condition that fully convinced me someone had cut off his ears. Instead, it was his lifeless expression and demeanor that told me this, an expression only acquired, I think, from years of heavy torture. His eyes cut me deep, eyes that had long ago stopped looking for a kind hand. He carried the face of a spirit completely crushed, as if he had been spurned and tortured into a lidless shame, for not once did I see him blink, even in the heat and with all the flies. His eyes were glued into a vacant and infinitely empty stare. And truthfully, I wouldn't be surprised if his eyelids too, along with his ears, had been cut off, forced to bear, in full, the humiliation of his condition: unwanted, cursed, a burden to society.
His stillness invades me even now, an unnatural kind of stillness that presupposed that if he were even to shake the flies off his back some stick or whip might unflinchingly slash him again, or even worse, he might lose some other part of his body. And the idea of lying down and resting probably meant death, which if you were in that kind of condition you would most likely desire, for death and freedom would be synonymous. But perhaps the idea of death was also beat out of him. Or I wonder to what extent animals carry the concept of death, that is, if he even knew he could die.
I walked passed this donkey full of sorrow and confusion. He was beyond any help to my estimation. Even if I were to offer him a bowl of water or a kind pat on the back, he would probably refuse and just stare at me as if I wasn't there. Or maybe rather he would interpret my kindness as more maliciousness, and in so doing be provoked into hysterics, kicking and biting and feverishly baying.
It saddened me more than anything else to know he would die like this; he would die alone, without knowing the kindness some humans can have for animals, beaten into a submission that wouldn't allow him to accept kindness from someone else, beaten into a submission that wouldn't even allow him the dignity to use his animal instincts to fight back against cruelty. He had been degraded to less than animal. This was his place, his destiny of abject poverty, and there was nothing he could do to climb out of the filth; he had accepted and embraced his fate. He was an object of humiliation and, more than anything, he was ugly, and society hates the ugly; he was the green slime in the sewer water next to him. He was even unworthy of being killed.
And sitting here, thinking now of this poor, pathetic donkey, I can only imagine him still standing there, from day to day and night to night. He will eventually die standing there. His flesh will rot and slip off his bones and fall to the ground. But his bones, stricken from the scorn of society, will, for awhile, remain the way he was before when he was alive, standing and intact, unwilling to budge, frozen in place by a curse long ago.
A few days ago, during a scorchingly hot afternoon, I stood at the feet of a massive statue of Hinduism's monkey deity, Hanuman, friend and helper of Rama and god of strength. The statue, or idol rather, stood almost a hundred feet tall from head to toe and was painted a crimson red. He had the body of a man - chest bare and muscular - but the head of an ape. The only clothing he was dressed in was the loin cloth that reached the middle of his stout thighs. Also, on his head sat a large pyramid-shaped crown and in his left hand he held a magnificent mace. He held the weapon in a way that did not seem to impose threat, for Hanuman relaxed the crown of the mace on the ground near his giant, sandaled feet. His other hand was held out chest high, palm faced outward, expressing peace to his spectators.
It was the largest statue I had ever found myself staring up at - a red giant frozen and captured from another world, foreboding yet borderline ridiculous to behold. For as intimidating as he appeared - given his size and the fact that if he were to come alive, the weapon he possessed could easily erase a house with one sheer blow - I could not help but think he would be kind and even gentle in his own way. His face carried the expression of cool friendship and timeless contentment, like the face that has experienced many years of peace after many years of war; a face that tells the heart,"The bad years are over. Let us forget them and now rest and be glad." Looking deeply into his face, I couldn't help but think Hanuman would let me climb his arm and find a seat on his broad shoulder.
Sarah expressed vehemently to me, yet in a hushed tone, that she would like to topple this statue if she could, this statue that so many revered and prayed to in India and turned people away from the living God. I imagined the huge red thing coming crashing down, falling as if in slow-motion and hitting the ground with a resounding, earth-shaking, thud. The sound of splitting rocks would briefly fill the air and then silence would ensue as a god met its death and lay in pieces on the ground . I imagined this and tried to find sympathy in the sentiment, but in the deepest parts of my heart I could not. I did not wish to see the death of Hanuman.
Hanuman is part of a story, a human story, or to be more precise, a human myth. Stories and myths are extensions of the human soul that when without God are searching for meaning in the dark; they are frantically reaching out to grab something to hold on to in a world veiled by the evil one. Hanuman is a crystallized expression of the power of the imagination and creativity of mankind, but a fallen imagination. What I mean is that Hanuman, in part, represents the depravity existing in the human heart; he is a leap across the chasm and in his fall and in his rebellion he became what he is.
But I do not think this means Hanuman should be crushed. I think he ought to be humbled and remade - that is, his story needs to be remade and then told as it should always have been, when mankind's imagination was not polluted and bent toward idolatry. Therefore, just as the hearts of men and women need a Savior, so do the stories of old and new, and their many characters - which are the children of men and women's imagination - need a Savior. In other words, the myth needs to be told the great Myth; if books are people then myths are people; and if the person can be saved so can the myth. The myth needs to repent and be changed according to the ultimate Myth of Christ - the myth humans have been waiting for since the fall but could not create on its own.
Remake the myth of Hanuman. Remake the myth of Krishna. Remake the myth of Shiva. Over Hanuman's heart carve a cross and around his great mace engrave the words of the living Myth. Standing there in the orange heat of summer, I did not wish to see Hanuman fall, but I wished to see him bow underneath the cross of Christ where his story belongs.
I am over half way through my trip in India. Sometimes it's hard for me to admit that I am actually here, living in another country - and for over a month now. Some days I think this is all a trick, that I'm actually not in India but in some unknown part of America, as if this was all some kind of large simulation - or even worse, that I'm just dreaming, because I know when I get back to America, this will all feel like a dream, a really vivid dream.
Everything always ends up feeling like a dream. And most everyone moves on without any problems, because you have to.
I have four weeks left. I have met people. Good people. I must love them. Even though they are characters in this dream, I have to see them as real. I have to believe that I will see them again one day. I have to believe that God has invaded this dream and has given me these people for a reason.
It's always been fascinating to me that during some dreams, if they are vivid enough, you are convinced you are awake, but then when you actually do wake up, you then are most certain you are awake. I don't understand how we tell the difference sometimes. Maybe after I die and awake into the afterlife, it will feel like waking from a dream. And then at that time I will be certain more than ever that I am awake.
This is silly. Sorry for the pointless post. I just don't know what to write. I'll try and make my next post more worth reading.