Today is one of the last full days in India. I can feel it closing in. Most of the day was spent on our bus heading to Jaipur and I could not help but look out the window almost the entire four hour journey. I have those “graduation glasses” like when you are about to finish your senior year of high school. Those last couple of days where everything makes you almost sentimental. I cannot help but think about everything that has happened here in India. The people, beauty and pleasantries of everyday.
The beauty of India is truly great. As we drove through the Indian countryside I watched as fields of yellow mustard sprouts that grow over the height of a man rose and fell with each passing of a barrier marking one man’s land from another. These gave way to small towns where people worked busily and cattle roamed the street before returning to the yellow flowers that dot the countryside. Peacocks have made a large appearance in the past few days. Sitting gently on posts or walking quietly through fields before they fade into the fog as the bus rolls on by. Smoke stacks of brick factories rising up from the earth like minarets calling the faithful to labor. Mountains appearing with little warning and disappearing just as quickly. Rivers flow and white suds wash along the black rocks from women washing their laundry loads. Roadsides spotted with char from small fires people have built to keep warm. Trees that reach up to the sky and branch out like beautiful fractals spreading everything out in equal proportions. But for all the natural beauty of India, I find the people to possess the true beauty of it all.
Their beauty is in their compassion, labor and love. The calloused feet of a child warming his appendages gingerly above a fire on a foggy North India morning. Careful not to burn himself by drifting in to close. The sweat that runs like little streams down a man’s face from his headband as he toils away pulling in fish from a mighty net he has cast out. The colorful pattern formed by a group of women wearing head wraps as they walk away gossiping with each other. Creating a moving body of water, yellow, blue and orange all staying separate but cohesive like oil in water. The eyes of a man after they have long since fogged over from working away at a blowtorch with no mask day in and day out. Still trying to scrape a living selling magnets to tourists.
I cannot help but think what Hemingway would think of these people. THese people who keep fighting despite almost every odd and adversity. The labor put in and the little gained. I had just finished reading The Old Man and the Sea last night when we started our treck through the countryside. Surely if he can idolize a Cuban fisherman in such a manner we can hold the workers of India up in a similar fashion. From the farmers who sleep in the fields to the busboys that sleep on the roof. The woman who struggle through the city against a culture that holds them below that of their worth. The mothers raising children in slums and those appeasing the appetites of men to earn a living for their family. Against all reason they keep on living and hoping. I cannot fathom a life of such adversity. Yet for these people it is not a notion worth imagining but a reality placed on them through the luck of who gave birth to who.
This spirit becomes most apparent in the interaction. Everyone is willing to be approached even during their routine. No one is off limits to a conversation. In every city there has been an outstanding example of the spirit of the people of India. In Bangalore it was the kids who played so eagerly on the rooftops of the market while their parents sold their wares. Wanting to show us their dances and affections before we walked away. In Mysore it was the man in the market who saw I had a camera and asked without words to take his picture. I obliged and showed him. He returned the favor in the most thankful and honoring way he could. He took my arm in his hands, raised it to his mouth and kissed my forearm before placing his hand on his heart and walking away. In Hassan it was the child who spotted me a he loaded into his rickshaw after school. He leapt out and without warning began to pretend box with me. It would have been so rude not to join in. We exchanged blows while the crowd of his carpool watched on laughing. At the end of our bout he grinned ear to ear shook my hand and hopped in the rickshaw. In Delhi it was the boy no older than me at Jama Masjid. He spoke little English so we had to help each other find meaning in foreign tonges. After some time and a few pictures he shook my hand. THen drew my hand close into his heart and his on mine. He looked me in the eye and said “Friend.” I nodded in agreement.
Even today we stopped briefly at a hotel in the middle of the Indian countryside to pump blood back into our legs. Cara and I wandered off down a road and we met a family of people who lived in a small thatch hut amongst their mustard plants. They eagerly drew us into their home while they labored away making bread. No one spoke the other’s language so we all sat in silence simply watching each other in an attentive and curious way. Exchanging bits of laughter at each awkward moment that passed by as we waited for each other to randomly learn the other’s language.
If all these do not seem to testify to the open and loving nature of the people of India there is still one more thing. When wandering through India, almost every person will look cold at first. Their face still and watching if they are not in discourse with someone else. And they will continue to look this way watching you until you make a move. All one has to do is smile and nod at them. As if to say “I see you and I understand.” The frozen face always cracks and a grin widens as they nod back or do the traditional head bob. This is the greeting I have found most often in India. A wide smile that surfaces when provoked by the slightest of gestures. This, to me, represents the people of India.
Hard, laborious, diligent and controlled as they watch out at you. But with little effort they become easy, open hearted, tender and willing to speak to anyone despite whatever language barrier may lay between you.