I find myself buried in thoughts of India. My mind shifts uncontrollably to the country that reached into the depths of my heart, nearly pulling it out of me, back to the millions of people, the dust, the heat, the dark red earth. The memory of the sounds and smells come back to me too. The jingle of bells on oxcarts, car horns, people yelling and selling things on the busy streets, the smells of fried foods, jasmine flowers and shit. The memories are all-encompassing, so that I feel like my mind is a movie, or that I am walking in a dream, and it takes over. The present disappears.
Just as I had fallen in love with India, my heart continues to carry out the powerful emotions, only now it is the painful sense of loss. It aches. My heart actually aches for the entire country. And it makes me sad sometimes when I remember the people, the smiles, the puppies I grew attached to and the non-stop action to make the country run as functionally as possible – to feed each other and care for each other. To survive.
I remember the small children asleep on the sidewalks, the many deformed bodies begging for rupees. People without limbs, or with a body so twisted they are confined to dragging themselves across the dirty ground. And then I remember the sex workers and their efforts to stand up for their rights. They would put themselves out there, with everything they had, to tell people that they too are human, that they too deserve the right to work without the fear of being beaten, raped and thrown in jail. Because it’s all they’ve got. They need to feed their children too. And maybe one day put them in school.
The most vivid memories tend to revolve around small gestures: the man who came over to us when our motorbike wouldn’t start. The way he simply fixed it and nodded. The happy little kids that ran after us and grabbed our arms and legs, laughing. The boy who gave us a single flower and welcomed us to his country. The old Iranian man who genuinely wanted to thank me for having his niece in my country. The friendly man that let us sit at his table in Mumbai and shared his favourite dishes of street food with us. The way a very poor-looking man at the back of the bus put his kids on his lap to make room for us to sit down. The way the woman sitting next to me offered me some of her snack she had brought for her long journey. The huge smiles we would get for just saying hello, especially in Kannada.
Even though these memories make me sad, I never want to forget them. Somehow I don’t think I could, no matter how hard I tried.