India: A Wonderful Weave
It has been two weeks since I returned from my trip to India. Distance of a decade from the country of my birth made it possible for me to observe it as an outsider. I wondered, was I born and brought up here? So I just looked and breathed it all in. Years of my previous experiences as a young woman resurfaced as I soaked in the sights, sounds, smells and local foods. I felt saturated with the sensuousness, consumed with warmth of the people, their love. The colors, the art, the music, the ethnic food bursting with flavors revived my senses, made me feel alive. So hard to describe the experience!
The month divided itself into three segments. First, the research for my second novel in the villages of Deorala and Jhunjhunu; second, a few days in New Delhi and the train trip through Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Utter Pradesh; and finally a longer stay in Mumbai.
The First Segment: Meeting with the people of Deorala opened my eyes to the fact that a community’s worldview can be so different than my own and yet their contradictory point of view would seem obvious within their cultural context, in this case the milieu of the two villages. My sorrow and awe about suttee of young widows was not alleviated as I talked to the people or visited the suttee sites yet it helped me better understand the antagonists’ perspective. A magnificent temple dedicated to Sati goddess, that locals honor and highly regard, further clarified their points of view.
In Deorala village I met Roop Kanwar’s father-in-law and other men of the village. I interviewed the father-in-law sitting in the verandah outside the room where Roop lived. (See: Home Page, A Month in India, September 19, 2013) This was the room where she had dressed herself in her bridal attire and jewelry before following her husband’s dead body to the cremation site. The room has been turned into sort of a shrine. Roop has become an ishtadevi now-one of the tutelary deities of the local people.
Upon my request I was taken to the place where Roop had performed suttee. I treaded the path, not more than quarter of a mile, that she had walked as four male relatives carried her husband’s body. Mourning old and young men followed the dead body while Roop with the help of two women headed a lamenting crowd of women. Standing at the desolate ground, where the ritual had taken place twenty-six years ago, was quite a moving experience.
I visited the two villages to observe the indigenous men and women, to note their clothing and hair and to study local flora and fauna, architecture of homes and stores and schools.
The Second Segment: The luxurious train travel through the heart of India–the three central states– was an unforgettable experience. Aboard “Royal Rajasthan on Wheels” we were treated like Maharajas and Maharanis. There was a spa, a workout room and a bar in addition to two dining halls and a kitchen. Except the sounds of chhuka-chhuka and jerky movements during nights (we got used to it after 2-3 nights) the historic palaces and forts, ancient monuments and temples came alive as we walked through them with knowledgeable guides. We made some good international friends whom, as you know, we may never meet again!
The Third Segment: In Mumbai we stayed with my sister in her beautiful air-conditioned condo. We visited Gateway of India, Haji Ali Mosque, Jahangir art Gallery, Prince of Wales Art Museums, Taj Hotel, Hanging Garden on Malabar Hill, Chawpati, spent a weekend at Mandva Beach and tasted Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Parsee delicacies and my sister’s home cooked Kashmiri and Punjabi dishes. Every few days she would place a bouquet of flowers in the family room. Flowers such as marigolds and roses, white Sonttake and sweet jasmine. Every time I passed by a fresh bunch I breathed the exotic scents that gently reminded me that I was in India. Outdoors, foul and aromatic smells exist simultaneously.
While traversing the country my senses were fully engaged, I could not write anything worthwhile. I needed to sit still in the silence, solitude and cool of my study to digest what I had experienced. But while I was there heat and humidity tortured me. Outdoor was unbearable. I have never perspired as much before in my life as I did then. In the intense heat and humidity sweat dripped down my body. Morning, afternoon and evening drops of sweat would gather under my chin, my armpits, my back, my waist soaking my blouse or shirt and pants. Under such physical condition it seemed impossible for me to penetrate the quiet space within-the source from where my writing flows.
After my return it took me more than a week to sort out my rich experiences-colors, textures, sounds, and expressions of warmth, affection and love. I have settled down at my writing desk now. It is a pleasure to unravel the jumbled threads to weave a wonderful tapestry that traveling in India has been for me.