Posts Tagged ‘meaning’

On our long bus trip to Shillong, Meghalaya, I watched a group of four or five children comfortably squatting around the backside of a goat, curiously studying its butt. The goat had some sort of enormous growth hanging from its belly and it was profusely bleeding from its anus.

What does it mean to watch another’s suffering? What would it mean to look away? “I feel like I don’t have good defenses. I feel really exposed to all these raw impressions.” I wrote in an email to my Mom about this disturbing scene, only one of many, observed for a few moments out of the bus window. (more…)

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The photos in this post were taken on our last day in DC. Caleb and I wanted to spend our last day doing what we loved doing during almost three years of living in DC. We took a long walk of exploration. We steered into Northeast, behind the farmer’s market close to Gallaudet University, and there along the train tracks we committed home invasion: freshly washed clothes lying on a wall in the sun, a bag of groceries, a cooking station. I remember thinking: In what ways could this person’s life possibly be anything like mine? What do we share?

Traveling in India feels like a constant act of home invasion. Vulnerable aspects of peoples’ lives are laid bare. I am witness to intimacies that should be reserved for lovers and families, not strangers like myself. It feels both wrong and sacred. Discretion is an unaffordable luxury for most. Unlike the person whose home we observed by the traintracks in DC, there is not much I can do to protect the privacy of people in many places in India that we visit.

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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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Children and puppies everywhere growing up, human and animal waste decomposing, people eating and starving, hurting and feeling pleasure, so many comings and goings, an unfathomably large amount of breathing. And here is the lowly self, tasked with the almost laughable burden of communicating, drawing connections, creating meaning, and building a life where these things have value (because otherwise, what’s the point?).

View from a riverbank in Kolkata.

In India the insides are laid bare in a way I have never experienced before. If I look, I can see where everything is coming from. If I dare to follow, I can learn to where it all goes. Raw materials are constantly in the process of being manipulated, cut, sculpted in the light of day on the sidewalks. The chaff of society is constantly and visibly cast off, swept up, burned in fragrant piles or carried away in hand-pulled dollies, daring me to follow. (more…)

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After our three-day vacation in Puri, it is hard to reactivate the engaged mind of a traveler. Even in Bhubaneswar, our next destination, I feel myself settled into dangerous rhythms and habits of mind. Having established internally that India is the new background for my life, I am no longer content to just watch it all go by. Suddenly, disturbingly, I have trouble coming up with “something to do.” Eat? Shop? Play cards? Visit the internet? Read? I go through these options like a checklist when in doubt.

Watching laundry dry.

How did this happen? I have somewhat forgotten how to watch and see with freshness of mind. One most noteworthy casualty: my eye for photos. I am not looking for shots, I am not seeing beyond the background. My senses are numbed. Subconsciously, I have adjusted to the smells of India; I now only identify smell sensations as negative or positive and pass over the actual content of the experience. (more…)

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