Before leaving Bangalore, I planned a day for sight-seeing and the hotel provided me with a driver. The destination: the palace and temple in Mysore, a 3-hour drive away. I dismissed the warning from my driver that the itinerary would make for a long, exhausting day. After all, I was used to driving 2-3 hours to a trailhead, hiking up and down a mountain, and then driving home.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sensory experience of vehicular traffic there, the non-stop sound of horns most of all. The road had one-way traffic but dynamic lanes: with one vehicle driving on the center line, the road expanded to fit three, five or more lanes as needed. There were few traffic lights, but we were frequently slowed down by random speed bumps and gutsy moves by cross-traffic and pedestrians.
I could not not look out the window at this chaos and at the massive billboards with bejeweled models, penthouses, and luxury cars. Beneath the billboard, someone sweeping dust in front of a tiny shack selling US-branded sugar-water. Breathe.
The Hindu temples were fascinating and my driver was helpful with comments, customs, and an unspoken lesson in compassion. When he asked me why I wasn’t taking photos or buying souvenirs, I clumsily explained that I was just trying to experience it.
I had only one day that might come close to a feel of India other than walking between a 5-star hotel, an office behind a security gate, and a high-end mall. Photos and postcards would not prove to myself that I had been there.
By 1PM, I was ready to raise the white flag.
I held together through lunch, another temple, the drive back, and sitting in bumper-to-bumper Bangalore traffic. I emailed MF:
Back in hotel oasis. I am western and soft. I am crazy-trafficked out, peopled-out, povertied-out. Overloaded.
Yes, I’m glad I went.
I am western and soft. I have the luxury of aloneness and space.
His response was a gift, reminding me that I had witnessed what a normal life, with good days and bad days and not-necessarily-unhappier-than-my-life days, looked like for people in another country. I started sobbing, exhausted yet grateful for it all.
I left the next day and when I was waiting at the airport gate in Dubai for my connection to Seattle, a woman started talking to me. When I hike or travel, I have a little toy cat hanging from my backpack and she recognized it from the flight leaving Seattle the week before. She told me about going home to India because of the unexpected death of her sister. I listened. I have only a rudimentary understanding of karma but I know this: in the movie that is that woman’s life, I (with cat mascot) was an extra with two purposeful scenes. And in the movie that is my life, that woman and I along with the thousands of extras in the India street scenes and everywhere else … we all share a broken heart.
- MF: manfriend
- India Part 1: kindness and luxury