Allow me, if you will, to paint you a picture of India. Like a whiff of jasmine hidden by a veil of some unknown smell, (which later turns out to be the reek of humanity), you reel with the sheer overwhelming tide of lives of noisy desperation. Work takes on a different meaning, as every moment is a work of some sort, with survival as the great reward, and happiness an even bigger (and more elusive) one. Children will often greet you as the patrons of a shop, calling their parents to see if 400 rupees is too low a price for the knock off shoes you are attempting to buy. Armed guards, shotguns at the ready, valiantly guard every ATM booth, warding off those who would try to rob you of your minty fresh Rupees.
A relentless march of stimuli vies for space in your awareness, and every moment must be faced with eyes wide open. The cost of not doing so can be tragic. Driving, or even just walking, must be done in the knowledge that anything can and will happen at any moment, be it a truck careening on the wrong side of the road, or someone deciding it’s okay to pull out right in front of you, or just the odd cow, looking for some dirt to chew on.
We had become quite familiar with the family of pigs who loitered on the dirt street leading to our villa. They were actually quite friendly, and we often made a habit of stopping to pet them as we ventured to and from our abode. The little things alight your senses to the depth, beauty and the sheer humanity of it all.
“Ding, ding, ding!” For a short while, the chime of a bike bell became our morning wake up call, fresh baked bread, promptly delivered by bicycle at 7am every morning. The smiling face of the bread man made for a most excellent way to start the day, with the smell of delicious baked goodness awakening our olfactory senses, and our hunger. I can almost smell the delicious, buttery, fresh baked goodness as I write these words…
If you should be so brave as to go to a market in India, you can look forward to an olfactory and visual smorgasbord, greeted one moment by the aromatic whiff of fresh flowers, followed the next by fish and chicken, slowly rotting in the heat, hopefully purchased before the decay became lethal. Spices serve more than to just flavour food in India. They also serve as an anti-bacterial and a preservative as the relentless march of pathogens sought their way into unsuspecting bellies.
Anything deemed unfit for consumption would get tossed into the corner, where the cows, cats and dogs would battle for morsels, trying not to ingest the litter that was part of the mélange. As much as we tried to make our own food from the fresh offerings, we ended up eating out a lot, in the hope that the restaurants had the pick of the freshest and best food at the markets.
People seemed to find shelter in whatever form it took, be it old empty crumbling buildings, or half built apartments with no walls, with generations of families living together in squalor. Modesty takes on a whole new meaning when you live in such open fashion. Life, it seems, clings tenaciously to any crag it can, eking out survival by any means possible. India represents this beautiful fractaline facet of life everywhere you look, much as it does in nature.
It was a potent reminder that in the west, we make every effort to shape our world to suit our needs as though caught in an epic struggle with a foe, where much of the world, like nature, adapts to what they are provided with, and gets on with the art of living. “Nature does not hurry, but everything gets accomplished.” As much as there is a bustle of life to India, the words of Lao Tsu ring true, as there is also the sense that things will evolve as they should, and that ‘everything will be ok’, in one form or another.