Friday, November 19, 2010

Yes, this is India.

Jaipur, the Most Indian of Indian Cities. We didn't start here or end here, it was just one stop on our jam-packed tour of northern India. "Jammmm-pakt." First, the greener than green Delhi with its wide streets fit for a capital. Next, the glistening lakes of Udaipur.

This is India???

As if summoned by our question, Jaipur arrives (it was only a matter of time really). Our shoulders relax, we tone down our skepticism and feed our insatiable appetite for the sights and sounds of "real" India.

Yes, this is India. "Did it meet your expectations, ma'am?" Buses, taxis, cars, rickshaws, cows, elephants, motorcycles, hairdressers, camels. Together, they form the puzzle pieces of the mayhem that here is called a street. We don't compete for space, there's room for all. This is India, anything is possible, everything is possible. The street is a place to pee, spit, walk, stop traffic, get into accidents, watch accidents, try to prevent accidents.

Applause on the bus, as our tour-guide-turned-storyteller-turned-traffic police, Vishal, clears a traffic jam and makes room for a cargo truck to pass. Collision averted. The Indian Street derides the limits of our creativity, "Hah, and you were just expecting cows." The Indian street of Jaipur. We met up with it again on the road from Agra to Delhi. Exceeding our expectations, ma'am.

Hundreds of eyes. Peering from above an elaborate mustache, from below a turban, from behind diamond-studded shades, on a pair of barefoot brothers. We are being watched. Made aware that we ourselves are staring. "A tomb! In the middle of the street!" (Vishal: It was there before the street.)

A window from the Indian street is rolled down for a better view. A timid smile, sometimes a wave, once every five cows, a toothful grin. We don't stop traffic-- we provide a distraction from it. Mutual. 6-hour trip and not one "are we there yet?" is muttered. Instead, "Look at that huge cow!" ("That's a bull," Vishal ever-patient). In short, the ocean of humanity that we packed Dettol wipes and packaged food to protect us from. Shields that lowered our expectations. The image that did not prepare us for New Delhi or Udaipur or the sheer magnificence of the Taj Mahal (not overrated).

India. Edible India. Credible India. Incredible India. Where we danced in the rain. A trip that revealed our "indomitable spirits," witnessed by Vishal. In his name, a collective determination disguised behind Indian-accented English: V. Shall. We shall. "Yes, We Shall" memorize the names of the 6 Mughal emperors, the 5 distinguishing features of a Sikh. Yes, India, We Shall Meet Again.

IT began as a field diary for my summer in Jizan (2006) under the title "Watch Out Bubba Gump." Now I'm not sure what it is... but I do know it's time for me to start writing again.