Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Understanding India through art

{sunset from my Bangalore trip in February}
I got to India on December 23rd, sixteen weeks ago. Hearing the number, seeing the weeks in between now and then feels surreal. I would say that I’d never spent so much time away from home before, but this is home — just as much as GW is, if not more. I think of GW as a temporary home away from home, if seven semesters spread over four years can be considered temporary. And even though I’ve been in Hyderabad for just one semester, the conceptualization of my time here in India as home is made possible partly by the fact that I’ve been living with family, then because of the fact that many of my friends are American students, then because it’s been easy for me to connect with Indian students as a Non-Residential Indian (NRI) myself, and finally because of my connection to this country. India is home in ways the United States will never be, in spite of the fact that the opposite is equally true, in spite of the fact that I’ve spent eighteen of my twenty years in the States. 

A few days ago, I finally did what I’d been putting off: I booked my tickets away from here. For once, I’m living in a city I have little emotional attachment to. Hyderabad has a great food scene, and I much prefer this dry heat to winters in New Jersey. And when I return years from now, I'll think of it fondly as the city I lived in for five months, the city in which I met amazing people and cut off all my hair and learned to read and write in Hindi. But I’m not in love with this city the way I fell in love with Madrid or San Francisco or Venice. Usually when I visit a new place, I become infatuated fairly easily. But for once, my time abroad has nothing to do with the city I’m in. For once, the experience is only about the people I’ve spent my time with and the way my time here has shaped me. And in four weeks, my present will become my past.

I don’t consider myself a nationalistic person. When you’ve spent your life sprawled across oceans, when your love for people and place is so spread out, it’s hard to feel exclusively patriotic, to feel as though one country is superior over another.

But there’s nothing like travel to remind you of your love for one specific place. I love Madrid with all of my heart and plan on living there for a few years down the road. And after spending eight of the past twelve consecutive months abroad, it’s safe to say that I value and appreciate the U.S. now more than ever.

But my love for India is something I’m still struggling to understand. From the conversations I’ve had with countless friends and family, I don’t know if others feel the same sense of longing, the same omnipresent experience of missing a place even when you’re in it. India isn’t perfect, not by any means, not even to me personally. But the love I have for it — again, something that I’m still struggling to conceptualize and unravel and explore — is something I best understand through art. Here is a song  along with the lyrics and their translation  that perfectly captures my experience, that features the missing and longing and flashbacks that come with loving this place the way I do, with constantly feeling as though your love is spread across continents — a song I mentioned in my second post in the India series, the day of my flight to Mumbai. And here is a poem, written by Tyler Knott Gregson and featured in his recent book Chasers of the Light, that captures the experience of missing as well. 

And finally, here’s a poem I wrote after a year of avoiding writing poetry, after just as much time wanting to resume doing so.

learn to let go.
learn to accept that
you will never really belong,
not truly.
to understand that you
will forever be stretched
between continents,
pieces of you sinking
and swimming in oceans
in between them.
to appreciate that you
are unique are rare and
that you alone decide
your fate,
that somewhere in 
between the places
you call home
you will find a
space to call your own
and for the first time
it will be okay
to not belong.

For the remainder of my stay here, I'm trying to focus on just being. I'm trying not to constantly count and recount the days I have left. Trying not to think of what I have left in terms of to-do lists, in terms of what to fit in one last time. I'm trying to just be here, to memorize the smells and the heat and the taste of Cadburys and samosas and fresh mosambi juice for an afternoon snack. And more than anything, I'm trying to make most of the time I have left with all these amazing people that have made this experience what it is. So here's to that and here's to loving India.

~ V

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Weekend in Rajasthan

After about three and a half months into my time in India, I've finally figured out a good travel-to-home ratio. For every two weeks I spend in Hyderabad, I need one to visit a new place. Now that finals have started I won't be traveling until the end of my program, but my last trip was so productive and exhausting that I'm happy just being in Hyderabad for a while.

I spent the last weekend of March in Rajasthan, with about two days each in Jaipur and Jaisalmer. My friend Alena and I left Hyderabad very early on Friday morning and landed in Jaipur around 6 AM. As the sun hadn't even risen yet, we decided to catch a few hours of sleep before exploring the city. We checked into a hotel and after resting for about two hours, we headed towards the Hawa Mahal. We did some shopping in the area and then explored the City Palace for a bit. Then we grabbed lunch in the area, headed back for another nap, had dinner in our hotel restaurant, and then headed towards our sleeper bus to Jaisalmer.

As beautiful as Jaipur is, Jaisalmer was definitely my favorite part of our trip. I'd visited both cities about a decade before as part of a two-week trip through Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan, and even then riding camels through the Thar Desert was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. After resting in a guesthouse near the Jaisalmer Fort, Alena and I headed into the desert for a camel ride, which took us to where a few other friends from our program already were.

That night, we ate a meal cooked by campfire and listened to our guides perform some Rajasthani songs. We stargazed for a bit  definitely my favorite part of the trip  and I got to see four shooting stars before the moonrise ruined our night vision.

The next morning, we woke up with the sun, had breakfast, and got back on the camels for a final ride. We headed out for lunch and exploring in the Fort, relaxed in the guesthouse, and then headed towards our train back to Jaipur.

For the last day of our four-day weekend, Alena and I walked around the Amber Fort for a while, talking, taking photos, and trying to stay cool in the hot sun.

While it definitely feels like Hyderabad is much hotter than the desert, I'm trying to enjoy the time I have left in this city, trying to soak up all that I can. Here are some photos from our trip.

~ V