My time in India has ended. My next destination is Egypt. Since this is almost the halfway point in my six-month journey, I want to give myself a check-up.
While my ultimate purpose is to rethink and rewrite my course on Moral Responsibility, I have not wanted to confine myself to observations solely relevant to that course. Here are some of my musings regarding the “Experiment in Mind.”
- Globalization. My recognition of globalization began with Kul’s comments that he bought his older dog dogfood from Amazon. It concludes at the Mumbai Airport where posters proclaim “Uber is Now in Mumbai.” Sometimes the globalization is annoying as when I hear music like “Yesterday” and “You ae Always on My Mind” for the 100th time in hotel restaurants. India has always been “globalized.” Many of the early Hindu communities became part of the Muslim Mughal Empire; many Indians were conquered first by Portuguese, then Dutch, then French, then Danish, then British. Prime Minister Modi has begun to move away from a foreign policy which is mono-Pakistani focused. Certainly, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is one example of Modi trying to forge economic and social relationships with many other nations. Although I haven’t visited a mall and checked where items were produced, I sense that globalization affects not only tourists at the high-end hotels, but also India’s growing middle class.
- Massive. I’ve traveled from the eastern border with Pakistan to the northeast hill station of Darjeeling to the deep southwest city of Cochi, and up the coast to Goa. Seeing these cities and regions for the first time, I am struck by how massive India is geographically. This geographic immensity is only a condition for other features. The population is massive; the number of animals is massive; the poverty is massive; the pollution is massive.
- Complex. To use a hackney metaphor, I can now distinguish more of the threads that make up the garment of India. Part of that complexity is due to the many past cultures and traditions, from types of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs that continue into the present. In the face of poverty, many people have a relentless and overwhelming drive to “better one’s life.” In the face of the bewildering list of party names and politicians, the ascendency of Modi and the BJP is unmistakable. In a mostly Hindu nation, reformists groups such as the Ramakrishna Mission and BAPS to more traditional Braham temples proliferate everywhere. The immensity of a Kolkata, Delhi, and Mumbai combined with the thousands of villages I see every 2-3 kilometers from the train window.
- Indian Individuals. From my very first visit in 1990, I’ve been aware of the incredible diversity of India’s people: Bengalis, Rajasthanis, Tibetans, and Marati’s to name a few. Although academics to ordinary folk use the terms “otherness” or “differences,” seeing the people and getting to know slightly some of these people makes those terms less abstract. In my photographs and blogs, I’ve tried to focus upon actual, concrete individuals and their activities.
Since being morally responsible involves individuals responding from a variety of perspectives to issues in a given context, I can’t help but notice elements of Indian life relevant to these various categories.
While I have traveled extensively, I have never traveled for six months. I know that to survive and to make the best use of these months, I must pay attention to my own “spirit,” my own emotional well-being. Here are some of my observations.
- Sense of Purpose. Since I have a purpose for my travels, I see myself as a traveling gawker. I have made sure that I’m not so obsessed with thinking about my sabbatical’s purpose that I miss out on other events or observations.
- Anticipating. My spirit has been strengthened when I have something to anticipate. I anticipated my interviews at the Ramakrishna Mission, the new desert region of Jaisalmer, the hill-station of Darjeeling, the Portuguese influence in Cochi and Goa.
- Companionship. The several weeks’ companionship of Mary and Dwight allowed me to chat with them about India and to see India through their eyes. To partially replace that companionship, I find myself talking to complete strangers. At the Khajuraho Airport, I talked with Dr. Stephen Goodlad who is the chief geologist for an Indian oil company. At my Aurangabad hotel, I talked several times with Shawn and Mary from west Texas. When traveling, one must become a bit of an extrovert.
- Emotions. I knew that a six-month journey can’t be “all highs.” In fact, I noticed for a week or so a dulling of the range and intensity of my emotions.
- “Seize the Moment.” I’m more acutely aware that the present moment doesn’t return. I visit South Park Street Cemetery; I visit the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute’s Museum in Darjeeling; I take a boat ride through the backwaters of Kerala. Even if I’m not sure about visiting a site, I sometimes do simply because I know I may not have a second chance.
- Touts. Any traveler to India knows the drill. I am walking down the street and I’m approached by a person. The conversation goes like this: “My friend, where are you from.” “How do you like India?” “How long are you in X, Y, Z?” Besides talking briefly, and then saying “I’m not interested.” Besides smiling, and then quickly saying “I’m not interested.” Besides replying with the Indian wordless dismissal hand gesture which means “I’m not interested.” I have learned that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Several times when an Indian tout approaches me, I’ll bombard them with my own questions. When I ask the first question, “Where are you from?” I’ll get a hesitant response. When I ask “What do you think of India?” they begin to know something different is happening. When I ask him “How long have you lived here?” he and I both know that I’m not going to his shop. I tried this tactic on one poor Indian who came up to me at a Khajuraho Temple and began explaining the temple. I simply began blabbering about Hinduism non-stop for three or four minutes. I talked about the history of Hinduism, the different types of Hinduism, the variety of Hindu temples, the comparison of Hindu temples with other religious buildings. As he walked away, I don’t know if it was because he couldn’t understand what I was saying or because he thought I better get away from this foreign madman. I chuckled inwardly as he walked away!
If a person is messed up physically, then that person is miserable. Throughout these first three months, I’ve tried to monitor my body.
- Delhi Belly. Fortunately, I’ve only had fever and the Delhi belly once. I’ve avoided all street food, all train food, and all flight food. Better safe than sorry.
- Pacing Myself. I know that I’m 65 not 35. As a compliment, Ibrahim a 65-year-old Muslim from Singapore that I met in the Cochi hotel we shared said: “You are stout.” He meant it as a complement. I think part of being “stout” is to maintain one’s strength by not forcing your body to do too much. If I do two activities in a day, then I go to sleep with a smile on my face.
- Rest. I realized early that traveling places one in a different sense of time. One deprives oneself of the usual rhythm of work, rest, work, rest. I’ve had to listen to my body to create artificially those days of complete rest. In the Kolkata Ramakrishna Mission, in the hotels at Darjeeling, Goa, Aurangabad, and now in Mumbai, I’ve spent a whole day “resting” at the hotel. This “resting” usually consists of reading newspapers, catching up on emails, and writing in my journal. While my mind might not be “resting,” my body certainly is.
It has been a wonderful first three months. I hope the next three months is the same.