Memories of India (excerpts from Dancing in the Bamboo Forest)
The intensity with which Indians look instantly into your eyes is amazing. On the bus it was especially amazing – moving by so quickly in opposite directions someone will catch your eye – not for a second – but for an impossibly long time. It seemed as if you could see deep into each other in the smallest moment.
My breath deepened as I watched the film of life fly by past the open doorway of the bus: a sea of lotus blossoms, fields of rice, beaches in the distance. Every few moments the horn of the bus squawked as we careened around motorcycles, tractors, and oxen plodding along steadily, pulling their load as their driver tapped them with a stick while he laughed into his cell phone. The door was just a hole in the side of the bus, I was afraid my suitcase was going to fly out at any moment.
The bus stopped for a break. The flies invaded through the glassless windows while we waited. Bulls meandered past, followed by a herd of goats. I saw the resemblance between goat and human kids – energetic, running here and there, jumping out of line and being herded back into place, getting excited and then complaining about the lack of freedom. On the road again. The driver was flying; we made good time. The road from Mahabalapuram took me past Auroville and I reminisced about their delicious kulfi.
In Mahabalapuram, on a shady wall my friend and I sat to catch our breath and cool down, when a young monkey scampered over to us. He had spied my water bottle and became determined to capture it. He wasted no time knocking it out of my hand and we watched curiously as he tried to drag it away. It was nearly full and I’m sure weighed more than his slight body. He pushed and pulled, it rolled down a little hill, he dashed after it. Finally he hunkered down to try opening the bottle to get at the good stuff inside. I almost wanted to go over and help him. A few adult monkeys felt the same way and he had to push and pull and drag his prize away a few more times. When he managed to crack an opening into the bottle and drink what didn’t spill, I was happy for his success.
Then he came back and thought he’d have a go at my guidebook. We decided it was a good time to leave.
It has been a few years since I traveled and lived in India but the memories are still vivid and immediate. The intensity of the experience has been seared into me. Travel has a way of becoming who you are as all of those memories and experiences transform the eyes through which you see.