Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Dawn in India

My niece, Dawn (that's her in the picture, below), has been on a journey -- and what a journey -- in India during the past few months.

I received this e-mail from her this evening, accompanied by these beautiful photos that she took. I am just in awe of Dawn's adventurous spirit, her quest for self-knowledge, her maturity and her wonderful perspective. Can you imagine having the chance to do this at 23?

And her writing!! Oh, to be able to write like this:

Namaste (literally "I recognize the divine within you"),

I unmistakably find that the longer I am in India the more I can ultimately take in. Perhaps this is why I still find myself mesmerized in utter disbelief by the impenetrable realism that is so boldly India. As a general rule I think it is safe to say that our eyes open with our hearts. I am finding that I see and feel India today differently than I saw it my first week and it is increasingly obvious to me that I couldn't have picked a better place to spend these months.

Lets see…

My back hurts from sleeping on stiff, lumpy, S shaped beds. My feet hurt from walking on unstable ground. My head hurts from the constant cycling of ideas about the world and who I am and what it all means. My stomach hurts for reasons I wont even get into. My body is swollen from heat, samosas and chipati. My heart hurts because it has a huge, gaping crack in it where my ignorance used to live. My eyes burn from the desert dust, simmering plastic and diesel fumes. My lungs are struggling to bring in each breath, as the air here tops the world pollution charts. It is amazing how much pain can live inside a body that also houses so much happiness.

The flight to Jodhpur, Rajasthan, was a trip unto itself. Two hours late, like most other flights I have taken in India thus far, tiny, unstable and unpredictable. Survived the flight I may have, but as I took my first few steps on new earth I wondered to myself if I felt like starting India Experience #21,837. Not that anyone is counting. Each state, each city, each meal and each train, plane or bus is its own mini-adventure capsuled in this escapade of India, further crammed into this mega-adventure of life. Rajasthan is a whole new state. This newness sparks a mini-chain of combustion of more and more newness in my life. It means a whole new language, new food, new dress, new people, new turbans, new mustaches, new colors, new climate, new animals, new smells, new rules, new body language, new art and new customs. You name it, all around me there is new everything, again.

I have been in India six weeks. Six weeks is such a short amount of time that I cannot even think of anything that you can do (I mean truly accomplish from start to finish) in six weeks. I feel like I have lived a life, here in India in these last six weeks, longer than I could have imagined any life, even if I had all the time in the world to dream it up. Within these weeks each day, each minute, each breath, each second is a complete experience in itself. Communicating one word can mean a half hour jumbled debate spanning many languages, getting lunch can be an all day endeavor, and any random thought can take your mind wheeling one hundred miles an hour in some world where time is completely irrelevant and you don't know how long you have been off thinking when a truck two meters away honks, you jump, and all of the sudden you are pulled back to this reality. This reality of India.

All of this to say, the last few weeks have been utterly and simply indescribably incredible, exhausting and enthrallingly inspiring. Every leg of this journey has revealed to me new layers of myself and of the world. The last few weeks and Varanasi in particular was so unique in its offerings that I have skipped writing about it all together. For me, the craziness and complicity of life can fall into writing, and so can be made orderly and somehow understandable. But some things cannot be written and so cannot be explained, at least not in their entirety. As writing seems to give me the ability to make sense of the insensible, and Varanasi was not exactly comprehensible, not even to myself, there is no need to try to write about it. What it all means is not certain yet, and I find gratitude in the amazement that I can write anything without writing it all, seeing as I have skipped over a major chapter. But now, it is all history, it is in the past and I am in Rajasthan, in India, on planet earth, with my mother, my dreams and camels – lots and lots of camels.

Rajasthan, amid its vast and dull desert background, is alive with color. Amongst buildings painted sky blue, brilliant lavender and grandmother pink, heads of scarlet red, sunburst yellow, ocean blue, deep fire orange, flamingo pink and emerald green saris, turbans and headscarves bob effortlessly through a sea of crowded streets, bazaars and shops. It is festival season here in India, and in three days time it will be Diwali, the festival of lights and unarguably the largest and brightest festival of the year. It is a bustle of preparation and celebration. Shops are piled four-feet deep with brightly colored fabric covering every inch of floor, shopkeepers taking prime position perched atop. Fabrics are piled so high and so thick that they literally overflow out the front of the shops and onto the filthy streets of Jodhpur. Women sit perfectly positioned atop the heaps, thoroughly searching through sprawls of fine fabric embellished with gold, silver and stone. A baby on hip, their beautiful faces veiled in vain revealing only colorful glimpses of their mysterious splendor, they amaze me with their reverence and poise. It is a scene like nothing I have experienced and I have to admit that I have found myself, once or twice, overwhelmed by the heat, noise, trash and sheer thickness of bodies, motorbikes, grimy air and complete, undisturbed chaos.

Nothing in India comes easily for me. Here, nothing is natural, nothing is simple and nothing is boring. Everything in India, for that matter, everything in life, is multiple levels deep and contains many, many lessons, rewards, pleasures and difficulties. For India makes anything else look simple. If I have survived this, I can survive it all. This, of course, is far too great of an overstatement, seeing as I have not endured much suffering in my life and, in all honesty, know nothing about what real pain is or how it must feel to suffer in great length. Not to mention the small fact that one-sixth of the world's population live here in India and seem to do just fine. But, nevertheless, the mentality comes in useful when thinking of life back home and when thinking about aspects of my reality that seem so big and intimidating. Any and every small endeavor I may ever come across in my measly little life cannot be that big of a deal. India is and will hopefully be forever, my reminder that I cannot take my life and all my meager issues too seriously. I will have this place to look upon when I meet an obstacle. Remembering that life is truly a gift and knowing that mine is particularly easy, in all relativity. Perhaps, even, it is this ease of life that has sent me whirling around India looking for some challenges, stumbling upon obstacles and literally tripping over my own two feet and falling head first into this world of realities, where so much of humanity lives, suffers and flourishes.

My mother is here now and the wind that filled my sails has shifted directions. My journey has changed, but the wind is still blowing and my ship is still sailing. Pulling my sails in and tightening the main line I have changed with the wind. It is a great joy and gift to have her here and I am constantly surprised by her strength and savvy travel knowledge. I don't know how, but somewhere along the line I had forgotten that I learned all of this travel lingo from my great traveling parents. We are proving to be a pretty good team and the swimming pools and cocktails are a very welcome change from the cold showers and squat toilets.

I send all my love and sincerely hope that this message reaches everyone in happiness, health and well being.

Love to you,


Also, because of some special requests I have attached as many pictures as I could to this email. Keep in mind that most of these are from Varanasi, and where I am now, the desert, is the ultimate contrast to that serene land. Here, anyhow, is just a sample, there are about four thousand more.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. - Buddha

Posted with permission by Dawn. Please do not copy anything on this page, as both the words and the photos belong to Dawn!

PS: Dawn actually darkened her hair before she went to India, because she is naturally a blond-blond! This is her before she traveled.

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13 comments: said...

India is truly experiences mirror hers in many ways, in the 6 odd years I worked in the place. That piece is reasonably serious publishable essay stuff! VERY well expressed.

Every part of India is different and fascinatingly different, with all the senses at times overwhelmed, sometimes not all that nicely though!

The place does function amid all the chaos......, and function reasonably well.

Enjoy it!

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

I have always wanted to go to India...and hope that someday I will. Your niece wrote such a beautiful piece (and took such wonderful pictures), thank you for sharing.

Princess Cat's Pajamas said...

Wow! What a wonderful experience! Now my travel itch is acting up again...

Anonymous said...

Wow! What did I do at 23??

PS: I tagged you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. Her writing is wonderful and her photos are incredible. Reading this today helps me put a few of my own issues in perspective. She is really a courageous and hugely talented and conscious woman.

When I was her age, I traveled in a college group to Istanbul and Turkey and I knew that we stuck out like sore thumbs and we received a lot of good and bad attention. It sounds like being a blond American woman traveling alone hasn't hindered her in India. Has she spoken about how she manages that?

Carol said...

Actually, she dyed her hair! That color in the photo much darker than her natural BLOND!

I'll post an "addendum photo" of her "before"...


Jen said...

What extraordinary writing and photos! She (and you)might be interested in another blog called Wandering Here and There. It's a 21-year-old student traveling, writing and photographing India. His insights, and particularly his photography, are really amazing. He doesn't write like Dawn, though.

Thanks to you and to Dawn for sharing this amazing journey!

mks said...

What is it that brough Dawn to India is she working over there or is it a purely personal growth experience. I have studied Budhism for a few years and would love to go to India and Tibet....someday perhaps.

Rositta said...

There is so much of the world to discover isn't there? She is a lucky woman to be able to do that. Her writing is amazing, sounds like she is enjoying her trip...ciao

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. What is Dawn doing in India? Is she working, or is it pleasure?

Carol said...

Dawn went to India for much the same reason that Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, went -- for personal and spiritual growth.

Dawn graduated from college last June with a degree in philosophy. This, I guess, is the real-world application of what she's learned... like a practicum or internship!


anno said...

I loved this piece! What an amazing journey -- thanks so much for sharing this!

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