Courage and Joy

It is morning now in Mumbai. The first thing I saw when I woke up was the sad news about a shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. How frightening that must be for all of you who are about to fly, and for your families, as it is for me. I don’t want to let this moment pass unremarked, for your sakes or for those who have suffered in Florida.

We all know at some level that we live in a dangerous and unpredictable world, but if we let that knowledge dominate our thoughts all the time, we would never taste the sweetness of any moment, as Reyna’s beautiful post says so well. Smart research shows that our lives are in fact more safe than they have ever been in human history, but our communications technologies plus our human tendency to focus on dangers magnify our sense of the prevalence of disaster.

Certainly we expose ourselves to different challenges when we travel, but locking ourselves up at home is no guarantee of safety either. My choice has been to travel as widely as I can and meet as many people as I can, hoping for the best from all of them even as I acknowledge that not everyone deserves my trust. I stay alert for warning signs as I venture out every day. And I have enjoyed such kindness and friendship everywhere I go. The rewards have far outweighed the risks.

The fifteen of you have all taken the brave step of committing to this journey and I take very seriously the trust you put in me as you do so. Your safety is my first and constant priority. And not just mine. Security at U.S. airports will be heightened after this latest shooting. Security at Indian airports is more intense than at any U.S. airport I have seen. You will see security measures all around Mumbai too, and these have been in place for years. Gun laws are much more restrictive here than they are in the US.

Keep all that in mind if it helps, and take this step with me anyway. We will be brave together but not foolish. It will be wonderful to see you on Sunday evening.

The Unknown is Confusing… and VERY Exciting.

Sometimes it is difficult to get excited about things before they happen, especially if I am not sure of what to expect. That is a bit how I feel about India. Don’t get me wrong — I am, in fact, excited. However, for all that I learned in class, there is so much more left unknown. The cave, temple, and stupa monuments that we studied are only a TINY portion of Mumbai and Aurangabad, and a far smaller portion of the entire country. So, with so many questions unanswered, so much exploring to be done, and so many experiences remaining to enjoy, the question of about what I exactly I should be excited remains unanswered.

What I am excited about is putting an answer to some of the questions and filling in the blanks in my understanding of India. Amidst the many isolated and stagnant monuments that we studied in class is a dynamic and unique Indian culture to which I am entirely foreign. I cannot wait to feel the culture that we have been studying for the entire semester. I have a good feeling that I will be most excited once this feeling begins and want to explore as much as possible.

So now, nearly exactly 24 hours before arriving at the airport, it is time for me to start packing. See everyone soon!

Excitement Before India

I want to start off this post by stating that I hold the same excitement that many of my classmates have previously shared about going to India. However, the way I have been dealing with this excitement has been somewhat obsessive. Over the past couple of days, I’ve spent most of my free time looking for anything relating to India online. I have looked at everything from youtube vlogs to random photographs people took on their trips. The purpose of this was to gather as much information as possible so that I would be prepared for all the things I could see and do once I actually get there. I feared that I would miss out on experiencing something incredible because I didn’t do enough research on the places we would be staying.

My case of “fear of missing out” put an overwhelming pressure on me that I did not know how to deal with. After exhausting myself with endless researching, I realized that the only way that I would be able to genuinely enjoy being in India was to not rush from place to place with the goal of seeing all that I possibly could. Instead, I should leisurely bask in all the sites, sounds, and tastes around me. With that in mind, I can not wait for all the amazing memories I am going to make in an breathtaking environment alongside such wonderful peers.

Kindness in the Thieves’ Market

Today we visited an area filled with stalls selling antiques, also bicycle parts, plumbing, and fresh vegetables.  The area has the colorful name of Thieves’ Market (Chor Bazaar) but it is a quiet Muslim neighborhood full of people just going about their day. I was wearing Indian clothes – a wide scarf (dupatta) across my chest, a long tunic (split at the sides), over loose pants – and I had a heavy bag slung across my front.  After we had walked and shopped for an hour, a woman walking by stopped right in front of me, looked at my hips, and silently tugged the front of my tunic back down over my pants. The heavy bag had made the tunic ride up. I had no idea.  But she did and she took the time and trouble to take care of me.  Such kindness to a stranger.  I leaned toward her, touched her arm and thanked her and we just smiled at my foolishness.

A Sheltering Sky

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really…How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems so limitless.”

-Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

Though the idea of stepping onto a plane in Newark, and stepping off of it in Mumbai is still an abstract and somewhat illusory concept to me, I can’t help but think of this quote from The Sheltering Sky. A post colonial story about an American couple abroad in Africa, I think it is a must read for anyone traveling to an unfamiliar place. Some may find this quote to be a little cynical, possibly pessimistic, and I wouldn’t completely disagree with you. Yet the realist in me recognizes and resonates with the idea that everything has a limit and therefore an end. Our trip is ten days long, an insignificant amount of time in the grand scheme of things, a story we tell our kids about,”that one time when I was in India….” I don’t mean to take away from the thrill of travel. As this is my first time out of the country I can’t quite formulate the anticipation I feel into a coherent sentence, yet I find myself more focused on the presentness of everything. My last week at home with my family until the summer, my last night with friends who are very rarely all in the same state and/or country at one time, my last night binge watching a Netflix show in my bed that I’ve had since fifth grade. And soon, my last night in Mumbai, my last day taking in the wonder that is Elephanta, my last night in India. I’ve become very aware of how my time is spent and I hope it follows me to India, forcing me to take in everything as if it is my last time there, because it very well might be. And ultimately I share the same feelings as everyone else, pure and unfiltered excitement at the thought experiencing something new.

 

Fast approaching

With the holiday season safely over and our trip almost upon us, I feel a similar sentiment to many of my classmates: excitement and disbelief. I have been looking forward to this trip all semester and the prospect of seeing the sites that we have studied made learning about them even more interesting. Even so, I still cannot fathom the fact that I will return to Colgate on Friday to begin our travels to India. As I often feel while traveling, be it to ski destinations, a whirlwind month around Europe after senior year, or flying to London for a long weekend this fall, it takes waking up in the new location for it to feel real. No amount of preparation, day dreaming, packing, or even travel makes it sink in quite like waking up in an unfamiliar place does.

Building on my research, it will be interesting to see some of the Jain sites that I learned about and saw through opposing perspectives of magnitude and importance as well as many of the places we spent more time on in class and examined closely.

With that I should start to think about packing and prepare to wake up on our first morning in Mumbai ready for a great experience.

Elephanta is waiting for YOU

We went to Elephanta today to scope out how to get you there and back most efficiently.  And to take loads of pictures. Pretty magical.  Saw a craven little gana I had never seen before!

Personified weapon (?) beside a door guardian protecting Shiva Sadashiva
View of Sadashiva with human door guardian
Professors Rotter and Hingorani at the East entrance to Cave 1, Elephanta.

Countdown to India

It’s kind of hard to believe that in a week I will be on a 15 hr flight to Mumbai. Never did I thought I would be going to Indian until I got accepted into this class. To say that I am excited about this trip is an understatement. Learning about those impressive architectures and figures in class was one thing, but I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to stand there and experience them in person. I cannot wait to get to Newark and get on that plane to begin this journey, and I am excited to share this experience with people I know. Like a true tourist, I will have my camera ready to document all the magnificent sites we visit. Elephanta, here I come!