The appeal of India for this restless soul: A reflection

Back from a month in India, I am struggling to reorient myself. The jet lag and the cold I thought I had shaken that has now morphed into a different version of moderate misery do not help. My brain is foggy. My body is trying to adjust to the twelve and a half hours I just gained back. My heart is sick with a longing to grasp again, just for a minute, whatever it is that I left behind. That I leave behind every time I return.

India has a strange charm. One I can’t quite place. I never imagined I would go there; I cannot pinpoint when the seed was sown. I do know that for years it was a secret wish, not bound to any  particular calling but simply a desire to go there. Last year’s chance decision to visit Seagull Books in Calcutta was an opening, this year I expanded my time and orbit, and met so many more people along the way. Had so many great conversations.

How is it, I ask myself again and again, that I can travel halfway around the world, and make more solid connections—new or renewed—in four weeks, than I can manage in an entire year in a city I have lived in for most of my life? Is it, perhaps, that I am able to be myself in a strange land, relax into a comfort with who I am in a place where I do not naturally belong? Why can I not bring that person back with me? Or at least feel at ease with him when I come home.

What is home, then? And why does this place fail to complete me? Why do I feel a home-away-from-homesickness weighing on me? I envy those who belong someplace.

As long as I can remember, I have felt that I was out of step, out of sorts, a misfit. Marriage, moving, midlife metamorphosis—nothing has ever completely eased the discomfort. Only in travelling do I find relief. Only in upsetting the equilibrium do I feel whole.

At least for a while.

Toward the end of my visit, an unexpected event challenged this temporary relief. I went out to visit a friend at a school in Andhra Pradesh. Here, in a rugged and breathtaking location with only the faintest internet signal, the world was out of reach for the night. In the morning, as I climbed into the car, my driver greeted me with news he had just received. “India attacked Pakistan,” he reported with enthusiasm, “people are celebrating in Bangalore!” I politely responded that I wasn’t sure that was a good thing, but all the way back into the city I contemplated what it would mean to be in a country at war. I was not unaware of the tensions that had been building, but I had no clear grasp of the historical context. As an outsider, I am cautious to hold to a respectful neutrality, but somewhere along the way a line is crossed. I have become attached to people and places. I am not simply a visitor.

Once again I am aware of a sensation similar to what I feel as a person without a coherent gender history. A neither-here-nor-thereness defines my life. Always has, always will. Only now it is slipping across other boundaries, opening new possibilities.

After this recent trip to India, and the many rewarding and validating encounters that I was fortunate to have, I am beginning to believe that if I can learn to embrace an inherent disequilibrium as a fundamental and vital part of who I am, I can finally move ahead to tell the story that has been eluding me. My own story.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

15 thoughts on “The appeal of India for this restless soul: A reflection”

  1. Yes, I think that’s a promising future. It’s not the same for me, but my peripatetic life could have made me feel anxious about not belonging anywhere. Now I embrace it. I don’t need to ‘belong’. Like millions of people around the world, I have a ‘home’ but it’s not the same as other people who live in the same place, and I don’t care. Why not relish the difference and celebrate being unique?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You never know, Joe, there is something very special about you and the way you perceive the world and you may one day come to cherish that unique perspective.

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  2. India does get under your skin. I leave there with so many emotions – excited by the colours and sensations, thrilled by the enthusiasm and curiosity of the people I meet and yet so frustrated that so little ever gets done….

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  3. I think perhaps being away from your homeland lets you shed much of the baggage you carry – at least if only temporarily. Certainly, you seem to have made a deep connection with India and perhaps you can carry home some of that connection with you. If it helps you to make peace with your past that’s going to be a good thing.

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  4. I thought of you when I heard on the news about the conflict btw India and Pakistan, because it was affecting air traffic. I thought “Gosh I know someone over there right now-hopefully he can get back to Canada!” Did you have any troubles making your way home?

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    1. Because I was flying out of Bangalore which is in south India, the flight plan did not go anywhere near the conflict zone. However, I was a little concerned about the airline, Jet Airways, which has had to cancel scores of domestic flights due to non-payment of bills. Fortunately my flight, their daily run to Amsterdam, is their mainstay so it was not effected. Still was a long, brutal trip, as these things tend to be.

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  5. This is the beauty of india… we have different cultures, traditions, religions… for us guests are form of god.. so we greet them with all out heart.. being an Indian I feel good wen people carry a bag of all good memories with them and become attached to our country… Hope u visit again

    Liked by 1 person

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