Do not read this blog if you are sensitive to off color language. Brought up with Midwestern reserved sensibilities, I certainly am self-conscious about the following language.
I pay attention to where I place my feet. When I walk at Stone Mountain Park, I am aware of most rocks and tree roots. Since I have weak ankles, I find one quick sprain can keep me from walking for a week. I pay attention to where I place my feet in India. You can guess why!
I am walking down a street that leads to the Varanasi ghats. I usually can sense a salesperson or a tout coming toward me. This one fellow caught me by surprise. “Hello, where are you from?” Politely I respond “The United States.” He says “Oh, nice country. Would you like to see my silk shop?” I don’t say anything. He continues: “How do you enjoy Varanasi?” I still don’t say anything.
This time he answers his own question. “Varanasi has shit everywhere. Cow shit. Dog shit. Goat shit. Everywhere shit.” This language gets my attention. When he sees that I am now looking at him, he continues: “Yes, there is shit everywhere. A ton of shit. I sell shit. Others sell good merchandise.” I can’t keep from smiling and laughing. I stop. “You are great. I have never been approached by somebody telling me that they sell shit.” I extend my hand to shake his. Seeing that he has my attention, he continues the pitch “Come see my shit. It is only five minutes away.” Still smiling, I must end this conversation. “No, but you do have a great sales pitch.”
He knows Varanasi better than I do. Yet I know that there is shit everywhere. I can tell that different animals produce different size shit. I can tell whether the shit is old or new. I can tell if others have accidentally walked in it, if an animal has lain down in it, if a vehicle has flattened it.
I find it appalling. Indians find it appalling. Dogs mark their presence by urinating and shitting. Humans mark their presence in India with urinating and littering! We all know that waste creates unsanitary conditions. All sorts of diseases become a problem in these conditions. Shit is a health risk.
My eyes show me another side of India. Spending a February night in the Thar Desert, I am cold. The sides of my tent flap with the wind. I arise before daybreak to climb a dune to see the sunrise. The sun slowly rises as it has for aeons. I notice the wavy lines on the sand become more distinct. Maybe such lines provided the inspiration for the Arabic love of geometric shapes.
It is almost sunrise. I am in Dharjeeling. I’ve been waiting three days to see Mt. Kanchenjunga which at 28,000+ feet is the world’s third highest mountain. Although it is cloudy for most of my visit, I can begin to see the mountain ridges which lead to the top of Mt. Kanchenjunga. I don’t say anything. I simply watch the moving clouds. In a teasing fashion, the clouds break apart allowing various views of the highest ridges; however, the clouds never fully disappear from the peak. Yet, my disappointment does not overshadow the exhilaration of seeing so much of this massive mountain.
I am in Goa walking along the beach at sunset. I watch the waves from the Arabic Sea wash upon the shore. The water is a soft shade of blue; the sky is deep blue; the forest behind me is a deep green. It is even quiet!!
As my eyes take these places in, I am enthralled. There is beauty before me. The beauty is quiet; the beauty is dramatic.
As I said at the beginning of my blogs months ago, India is a “full sensory experience.” I can see and smell India. I am both appalled and enthralled. India prompts both of these reactions in foreigners as well as Indians. To neglect one of these sets of feelings is to misunderstand India.