Returning to India after four months in the West visiting my family felt exactly like that – coming home. Being greeted at the airport by the same wonderful friends who saw me off, breathing in the hot, humid, distinctively aromatic air, hearing the familiar cacophony of beeping horns and barking dogs, and driving home with no seatbelt on through a raging torrent of scooters and rickshaws almost brought tears to my eyes… it may be crazy, it certainly has its ups and downs, but this is my India, and I love her.
I was curious before arrival to see how I would react after being away and on more familiar territory for a few months again, enjoying the best the West has to offer rather than living and working there, eating European bread and cheese and olives, drinking wine and beer, wearing shorts and singlets instead of being fully encased in layers of clothing in the heat, enjoying blissful anonymity amongst the crowd rather than being pointed out and stared at. Passing through the international and domestic terminals in Chhatrapati Shivaji at Mumbai gave me my wake up call ; crowds, delays, bizarre security procedures, grimy seats. My Western teeshirt and jeans made me feel conspicuous instead of comfortable; the backs of my knees were sweaty (only my daughters will completely understand that reference!); I was the only woman in the whimsically named ‘Smoking Lounge’, a horrid little cupboard of a space. Here we go.
Returning to my flat was wonderful. I love travelling; but after four months it was sheer heaven to empty the suitcase, bathe in my own bathroom, water my plants. I found the noise levels extreme for the first few days, another thing I had semi-forgotten, exacerbated by the councils decision to spread tarry gravel over Keshavnagar Road at 3.30am yesterday with assorted trucks, graders and tractors roaring away; the tail end of monsoon brings with it extremely high humidity levels although the actual temperature is ten degrees less than it was pre monsoon when I left, and that has been hard to adjust to; and this year, the flies are having a bumper season with at least ten times as many as there were last year, but overall, yes, glad to be in my own space again.
During my time away, lane markings have appeared on Ashram Road, and zebra crossings have popped up here and there…they make not the slightest difference to either the traffic or pedestrians, but they are there! The building next door to my flat has been repainted white, and it looks clean and fresh…for now, the pigeons and the dust will soon dull it. Monsoon rains have filled the river and it looks good…from a distance. As I walk into the community, the ‘bridge’ across the stream has collapsed, and it’s now a scramble down a bank, a hop from concrete pipe to concrete pipe, and another scramble up the other side. Still holding your breath. Nothing has changed and yet everything has, because I am seeing it all afresh.
My first morning back and I head straight for the library at the Community Centre. I can’t wait to see how Pritiben and Aartiben have done creating the new theme…we worked together before I left on the planning process….and its fabulous! They have created a wonderful display, with lots of information, focusing on Gujarat, and I’m delighted! I was greeted so enthusiastically by the kids that I was warmed through to the cockles of my heart, everythings working well, and the sense of accomplishment I feel is worth bottling. A genuine, true blue ‘glory moment’.
Glory moments for me are what our memories are made of, the moments that define our lives, the things we will always remember, big or small, from watching your child take its first few tentative steps to finding the first fruit on a tree you planted, and I have to say, India has given me more than a few….just yesterday, I bumped into a student I worked with last year who has now embarked on a computer course in English, and was speaking confidently in English…and I can pat myself on the back and know I played a small part in his achievement. Being here long term has given me the ability to see the work I have done bear fruit, and it has given me more pleasure than I can describe, certainly much more than working in a call centre ever did. Returning has consolidated my intuition that this has been one of the most important things I have ever done on a personal level, it has undoubtedly changed my life for the better, and I am beginning to believe that it has been of genuine value to others as well.
I’ve talked before about how easy it is here to feel that the problems are just too big, you can’t make the slightest difference, and to become overwhelmed by the sense that nothing you do can possibly be worthwhile. The only way to overcome this is to focus on each small accomplishment, and do whatever you can on a daily basis, often avoiding looking at the ‘big picture’. The great joy for me is that I have been fortunate enough to have been able to spend a comparatively long time here, sufficient to observe measurable, tangible results. I am so lucky, I’ve had the time to see the big picture, and I like what I see. Full glory moment.
Many things are changing in my life at the moment, and much of my effort during my remaining time here will be to consolidate the work I have already done and ensure it continues successfully without my physical presence….but I also know that there is a large part of me that can never leave, that I have a family here, that sharing this period of time with wonderful people like Mahesh, Neeta, Ajay, and many others has left an indelible impression on my heart and soul. I’ve learnt so much about this wonderful place, and about myself as well; I’ve learnt to accept gracefully, and to give humbly; and I have remembered what I always really knew, that without love, we only live half a life, but that love comes in many many guises, we simply need to open our hearts and our eyes to see it all around us. India, thank you for helping me to find myself again, and for reminding me that I was never really lost to begin with – I am so happy to be home.