On January 1, I watched fireworks explode above a stage pulsing with lights at an party in Goa. I was in a car, in the parking lot, nursing a bottle of sparkling wine for the event (“It’s just like a Delhi New Years!” said another passenger), and trying to work up enthusiasm and tamp down the general feeling of illness and exhaustion that crept around the margins and frequently directly into the picture of my vacation. Two days later, I turned 27 with a ridiculously good and ridiculously cheap meal, beers on the beach, and slightly less energy expended on tamping down illness. I rode a scooter for the first time the day before I turned 27, on the theory that if little Indian aunties could nonchalantly navigate them along Goa’s palm crowded roads, so could I. Barring one fall negotiating my first turn, and probably thanks to the prayers of the man and his mother who witnessed it and warned me to stay off the road, I was proved right. I also learned that scooters break down, are extremely heavy when pushed up hill and can get out of control when pushed down hill, and that, in Goa at least, they are frequently offered to tourists without working headlights. This led to an enjoyable 25 drive from a helpful mechanics office to the edge of Benaulim, our beach side town, and a stressful 10-minute remainder of the drive through the growing gloom.
A week later, I took an overnight bus to Rampur, a valley city nestled between high mountains in the heart of Himchal Pradesh, to interview farmers. Compared to my initial field visit to the green and gold, table flat plains of Haryana, this trip was different in almost every way. Instead of voluble men who offered clear and reasonably compelling stories of why they switched from conventional to organic agriculture, I was surrounded by a women’s cooperative where the idea of “organic” couldn’t be separated from the way they’d grown their individual hectares of crops since time immemorial, and who generally, despite my best (probably insufficient) efforts, were willing to let the chairman of the Himchal Organic Food Board narrate their story for them. I sat sweating in the sun, with too many layers for the hot, piercing sun in the high clear air, and tried to take in as much as possible, to let descriptions of the village and their day to day bring out what was important, and to tease out a reason why people would like to know about this strikingly beautiful village perched on the edge of endless mountains.
By the admission of people in Rampur itself, back down in the valley, there are much more beautiful places in Himachal, which is saying something, and I made a mental note to plan my own trip back. But the place had its definite charms, from the fez like, gray and emerald green dhopis worn by men and women alike, to the Buddhist temples, to the elaborately carved wooden palace of the local royalty and the small, well stocked market with excellent gulub jamun. I’d forgotten just how beautiful it could be at night at night when the deep black of the mountainside was pierced with countless colorful lights from quiet homes and villages. Without much else to do, I took in the site with my coworker, our feet up on the rails of Rampur’s only bar/restaurant, getting existential over drinks and nibbling papad.
There was also a metal bucket in Rampur, roughly the size of a grocery cart, which one could pull across a deep gorge on a rope to get from point A to point B. I saw this bucket with my coworker while we were waiting for a bus back to Delhi. Five minutes later, after we’d each remarked how stupid and dangerous it looked, we were at the edge of the gorge. To fit us and our two guides, four full grown men, into the gorge bucket required each of us to sit straddling the edge with one leg hanging out the side into the unknown. We rode there and back, our momentum freezing us just over the baby blue center of the river below each time and giving me a moment to assess why, exactly I wanted to do this. The reasons being: a) it was there, b) it probably won’t kill me, and, given (a) + (b), I’d probably regret not doing it. I like following this logic, and like where it gets me (into gorge buckets). The next time I find myself in a similar situation though, I’ll probably just take the bridge.
I sat down to write this post feeling like I did not have much to say. While what I’m saying might not be especially interesting, that does feels inaccurate. The expectation of travel, first to Goa, and now with an upcoming trip to Kerala before the midpoint of my fellowship, has probably put a damper on my enthusiasm for the day to day, and whatever inspiration I might otherwise work to glean from it. My first really serious case of food poisoning, after months of gastrointestinal hubris, also really took it out of me in ways that feel clearer in the light of steady recovery. The Delhi winter, which seeps into the uninsulated buildings with their marble floors and which wraps you in thick, disturbingly polluted fog that hides the sun and seeps into the bones, making 50 degrees feel like the tundra, also dulls the senses. Point being, I can think of reasons why writing’s felt less vital than I’d like it to.
More than anything else though, I feel like the act of settling into a routine, of accepting and enjoying Delhi simply as a place where I’m living, and the reality of banalities that come from living anywhere for a while have just dominated my life, the result being other things, like observation and attendant creativity, have stagnated. I get up, I go to work, sometimes I go to Hindi classes; I see my friends, I ride the metro, I try to guess what my auntie has cooked for dinner (lately rajma, or kidney beans, is the best bet). It’s easy to get lulled into this rhythm, but it’s also nice when certain major events, like the resetting of the calendar and the anniversary of one’s birth, can coincide so closely with the midpoint of my time here in India to help remind me that this experience is not forever, that banalities are everywhere by definition, and that there’s always more that can be done to break through the routine. With that in mind, here’s to finding new ways to engage, learn from, and embrace my surroundings. And, of course, here’s to writing about what I find when that happens.