India


This was written in 1990, 19 years after I first travelled to India. This proved to be the first of many visits since.  I consider my many trips to India to have been an enormous privilege where the intensity of learning has been balanced by an apparent constant lack of comprehension.  And where the all too visible effects of human indifference and suffering are intensified by the depth of affection I have received – often to my continuing surprise. 


Two weeks in India.  The cities are horrifying the noise of the traffic with its constant hooting and anarchic progress is abominable.  The stench of the roadside dumps littered with vegetable matter of all kinds, intermingled with articles such as bits of old shoes, assaults the nostrils incessantly.  It is a place of smells: spices, food cooking, excrement and urine, blooming flowers, incense.

Noise: chatter, shouting, traffic, animals, bells, horns, birdsong, coughing, spitting.  Silence:  walking through countryside, walking in the quiet lanes of some ancient town, sitting by the pond in a village.  The animals, people, birds merge and are part of the living earth.  We meet villagers, water buffalo, and goats moving easily along the dusty paths.  Expanding beauty and peace in a land of rock, trees and scrub.  Open skies, wheeling birds, clear light and the lost tread of bare feet.

This is a land of paradox, the rich and living closely together in apparent ignorance.  The horror of the cities and the beauty of the countryside.  The capabilities of the intellectuals and the illiteracy of so many.  The exquisite craftsmanship and the plethora of appalling, garish plastic.  The reverence for life and the wanton killing.  The affection of individuals and the fear in the crowds.

T o sit and listen to drumming, singing and watch the graceful movement of the dancers.  To feel the freedom and lack of inhibition, and to be away from passive entertainment and to be part of it all.

Travelling over the badly made up roads, weaving like a drunken cyclist through the crowded streets, just missing the nose of a donkey.  Beware any innocent who might stray into our pathway.  Driving straight at the lumbering trucks, the arrogant camels and patient oxen.  Cutting back in at the last minute.

Lying back on the first class bunk in a dirty, dusty carriage.  No light, just the sound of the train.  Throwing us about, tossed like leaves in the wind.  Occasionally we stop, voices sound close.  Coughing, spitting, eerie sounds of the night.  We start up again, slowly, jerkily, grinding into action.  The morning light begins to make its way through the shutters and another day dawns.  Through the rattling gloom the sun makes its way bringing brilliant blue and searing heat.

In the city it is difficult to look beyond the squalor, filth and human degradation.  But in the eyes of the beggar girl, the proud bearing of the holy man, the flash of the sari and the turban, vivid explosions in a brown dusty haze there is a different world. 

In the country there is the upright swinging walk of women expertly balancing unfeasible loads, the smile of the child and the weather-beaten walnut faces of men….



In the river of life I have moved from the rushing shallows that vigorously plunge from the mountains to the deeper, slow moving progress towards the sea.  How far away from its completion I am it is impossible to tell.  There is unspoken richness from my long marriage, my grown up children, my young grandchildren and my friends far and wide. 

As the river gathers richness as it journeys through the land creating fertile soil in its final stages, then humanity has that possibility to acknowledge the debt of gratitude and to give back whatever can be given.  Not through superiority of knowledge or experience, but out of the humility of understanding the fragility of all life.

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