Wednesday 29th August
I’m here for a little R & R, as Lonely Planet describes it. A do nothing place – eat, sleep and chat to those travellers met before. A chance too to indulge in bodily weaknesses. For me, the opportunity to get covered in a rash of spots. Surely not mosquitoes?
My shoulders, arms and chest look like I’ve got measles. People. stay away, I’m contagious, I’m a picture of stress. I hope it’s a reaction to all those days travelling, because there isn’t the time or willingness to indulge illness.
The only self-indulgence permitted is nostalgia. I wish I were at home among familiar people and places, the ease and comfort of expectedness. In an environment where everything is new, although not necessarily unexpected, where constant adjustments have to be made, it requires a constant effort to remain equable.
I suppose that what worries me the most is that the attitude of caring, of an interest in social concerns and other people, carefully nurtured in familiar surroundings, has been dissipated. The past few years (running a children’s out-of-school charity and being involved in various community-based activities) have been good for the soul and the sense of being needed. The opportunity to dispense wisdom, advice and the benefit of experience is of little value here.
Each activity is new, a constant evaluation of self in time and place, ever readjusting, so that reality is never still. It distorts, fluctuates and gives little space to pause. Points of recognition are few and merely serve to heighten one’s isolation and aloneness.
The dangerous times are when this turns to loneliness: What if …? I wish… What would they think …? A shared interest is heightened: Wow, fantastic, never seen anything like that before... and so on.
Instead, one gets blasé, if not actually hardened. Each temple, monument and sight to see has its entourage of peddlers. Come buy a souvenir, hello friend, baksheesh. Alone, the cries become constant. It gets difficult to focus one’s vision and energies when they’re constantly being distracted by the draining contacts of humanity. Nay baba, give me space, back off, go away.
One answer is to lose my British reserve, to readjust and allow myself to be at the beck and call, the constant thrust, of Indian humanity. To do that probably means losing that essential politeness and due regard for others. I can already feel that happening. Each time I join a queue for bus tickets, stamps or information, my height and teacher’s voice push forward. My long arms outreach the many imploring, questing palms. My skeletal frame juts, digs and thrusts into any available gap. My full height commands, usually with a faint apologetic smile.
Oh, do excuse me, but please let me through first and you can then continue with your jostling. Just give me some distance because I’m not part of your fight. Your existence has little meaning for me, so don’t ask me to share it.
So my carapace protects and guards against the knocks. It also shields me from many of those experiences that are essentially India.
Is that why I’m here?