19 April 2008

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

I am leaving India, and the subcontinent where I have been for so long, and it seems appropriate that I write some kind of sentimental summing up of things. In the spirit of my original declaration, I will keep it brief.

I had a good time. I never came here to "find myself" or lose myself, though it seems so many foreigners do come to reinvent themselves, improve themselves, or just to be someone else for awhile. India must be the perfect place for this, because, as they themselves often say, everything is possible here. Still, I can't help but feel that despite visiting, I am still 16,000 miles away from most of them. There are mysteries hidden behind their mustaches that no amount of earnest chit-chat can penetrate. India does an excellent job of appearing to be open, accessible, and permeable by every possible influence, idea, or kind of person with whatever kind of agenda. But I think there is something illusory about that. Westerners, in particular, are invited to come and indulge (inexpensively) in every possible pursuit, whether material (trekking, sightseeing, eating) or spiritual (yoga, meditation, transformational hypnotherapy). The level of permissiveness is seductive, too, because it's a permissiveness we don't experience at home any more than the Indians themselves are able to enjoy it here--and yet we seem to think, to the extent that it makes us feel so free and pure, that it bridges some gap between our Western societies lost to modernity and the ancient wisdom we believe resides in Asia. Certainly, there are sincere attempts and sincere successes at doing just that: whether it's Western backpackers spurning material comfort for austerity practices in an ashram or a middle-class Indian family abandoning the banalities of tradition for Western consumerism, hands are always reaching across whatever gaps persists between us. The problem, I suppose, is that what we are grasping for is not always what's reaching out from the other side--we could miss in the middle. Personally, I have long been intrigued by the scholarly notion of the "Indo-European", which suggests there are ancient affinities, more than just linguistic, between East and West, at least among Europeans and the Indian peoples. I thought I could get some sense of those affinities by coming here, but it will take time--and distance--before my ideas on the subject are properly matured.

I am leaving India. Today, I will enter into an entirely different civilization, society, and mentality: the Arabian. And after that, the Eastern Orthodox. And after that, the Turkish. One almost has to keep ones defenses up to be able to confront so many and still return an intact person. I am leaving India, but part of my thoughts will remain here, even if at rest, in a place that defies any kind of easy or cursory examination such as I have attempted to do these past few months. Most of all, I will miss the cows.


Hare Om!

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