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Posts Tagged ‘rhythmsoflife’

Sikkim is more impacted by a newfound tourism bug, but the land and the lives we see in it are pretty incredible. I love the breeze, the dozens of prayer flags, the hilltop gompas, and the paths that lead off and upwards into unknown hideaways.

Michele and I ended up in Yuksom by accident, a fortuitous shared jeep appeared, so we went wherever it was going. The village is the trailhead for the trek toward Kangchenjunga, so it gets a particular brand of tourists that leave a specific mark. Most notably, children here ask for candy, so I must believe that someone is giving it to them. (more…)

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What a change to enter the Himalayan foothills of North Bengal and Sikkim. In Darjeeling, what refreshment to see women carrying out their daily lives in public, moving and interacting freely. People seem very sincere and forthright here. Unlike elsewhere in India, there are no touts, nobody asking for our money. As a rule, people help us honestly even when blurring the truth could lead to their own profit.

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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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We have had our most fruitful interactions on trains. It’s almost as if the camaraderie of sharing the industrial and impersonal quarters of a sleeper car creates enough of a common ground to shift the framework of interaction away from the sort of generic curiosity we meet on the street. I also think it has something to do with inhabiting a space that is mostly middle class, sealed off in a way from the general chaos (of India, and in this case, of the Unreserved cabins).

Looking down on a seat in unreserved.

On one trip, we were asked to define racism (from our Western perspective), before getting into a conversation about a news article in Australia alleging “reverse racism” of Indians against white Australians. On another trip, our new friends talked about work, making a living in the nonprofit sector, travel, music, photography. (more…)

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River life and death

Varanasi strikes me as a huge and complex habitat of twisting, unnamed alleyways and expansive, somewhat unsettling riverfront terraces filled with tiny characters carrying out their lives. The architecture of the riverbank of the Ganges is monumental, with stairs all along it leading down to the holy water, while others lead up to unknown temples and chambers embedded in the massive stone facade. In many places spires and ramparts tower over the promenade, liquids of dubious integrity oozing out of each layer of stone and spreading an incredible stench across the vast ghats.

Ancient structures looking out over the ghats.

The ghats emit an ancientness that permeates all the activities that take place along the river. The begging and blessing sadhus with dreads and bare chests, the bathers, the laundry washers who lay out their drying cloth in vast swaths that ripple across the steps. Even the small groups of men young and old that gather to smoke hash in the twilight, playing cards on outcroppings over the water. (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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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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