Posts Tagged ‘belonging’

Kolkata as a city defied my expectations dramatically. As predicted, it was a vibrant Indian city; it was the most cosmopolitan place I’ve seen in India by far. Also, as I could have foreseen, it had a bit of the dark Kali energy lurking in places. Ultimately I was surprised that it lacked the pervasive and crushing poverty I expected from its reputation. It was much cleaner than Chennai in terms of sidewalk and street condition, and there were far fewer people living in the streets where we explored.

Street view in Kolkata.

Turn the page to the Buddhist village of Bodhgaya. Here, it is refreshing to be a part of an international presence that is not about the interests, demands, and money of white people. True, there are more beggars and as many touts here as anywhere we’ve been, but the real business of this town is to serve the monks who are pilgrims to the holy site of the Buddha’s enlightenment. (more…)

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What Backpackers Like

-Billowy pants and shirts in muted colors. This is in stark contrast to India’s preference for bright, vibrant color in all of their textiles. Are the muted, dusty colors a manifestation of the backpacker’s desire not to look rich?

– Frizzy, wild hair. In one sense, it’s just not the backpackers fault. It’s so dusty that anyone’s hair will billow up, dry up, and stiffen into a strawy mess. Dreads are popular of course, and that colored string wrapped around a single strand of hair with a bell at the end of it. Remember those? I think I had something like that in 5th grade.

– Little shawls, intended to cover up scandalous tank tops.

– Linen shoulder bags

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From my journal two weeks ago:

I find it amazing that even though I have only just set out on this journey, I have already left a place behind. I want to carry Chennai with me; I will haul the authentic feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness of that place as I recognize my tendency of reaching for abstractions and generalizations to make this experience more packageable, more portable, and more impartable. I have to decolonize the part of my brain that sees it all as a mess, restrain and admonish the lobe that identifies problems and dreams up solutions.

I am not sure how to do this yet beyond acknowledging these motivations as things I carry, for better or for worse, that I pack and unpack when I leave and return to the haven of my room and reflections; they are things that take up room in my luggage like anything else, and like anything else they take up space that could otherwise be filled with other essential tools and toys of a travelling mind or body.

After sleeping in nine different towns and two trains in the 13 nights since that entry, I am used to the refrain from rickshaw drivers as they see us carrying packs near the train or bus station: “Coming or going, coming or going?” And I am still haunted by the problem of fishing authenticity out of constant migration. What am I trying to accomplish as I live for a short time in these places?

In Pondicherry, I buy Indian rubber monsoon sandals and a longi, but it would be laughable for me to harbour illusions that I can fit in. Am I trying to elevate myself above the status of interloper? Is it possible to overcome my reductive mind and cultivate a type of temporary belonging that does not hinge on pretending, but rather on me acting as my imperfect self? This probably is not possible, since my thoughts and actions inherently exist firmly in the greater narratives of labels such as white, Western, tourist, etc. (more…)

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