I stood outside Mrs. Guha’s doorstep, clutching the bottle of hot water she had given me in one hand, and the plastic bag she had let me to borrow to carry the rest of my belongings home. I thanked her for having me over, for the broccoli pakora she had saved for me, for the black tea she had made me. She chirped her usual response to when I thank her for things: “For what?”
I gave her a hug. She needed it. Her daughter is moving to America and although she fervently denies her daughter’s worries about leaving her here, I can tell she is being strong for others, because that’s how she always is. I hugged this woman, a stranger to me only a few months ago, and with my arms wrapped around her she said, “My daughter.”
I’ve learned a lot about relationships since I’ve been in India. My fiercely independent ways have buckled under the unrelenting crush of co-workers who come to my door to nurse me when ill, the almost constant chorus of “Alishon, please come!!” or “Alishon, please sit!!!” or, my personal favorite, “Alishon, please take!!!!” My life here is completely different than I thought it would be. In August I had imagined myself living in a flat in the middle of Ranchi, in and of itself no metropolis, but at least a city. I’m comfortable in cities. I absolutely knew that I would go crazy if I was given a rural placement. I absolutely knew that I would go crazy if I didn’t have independence. But now, here I am. I live in a village in Jharkhand, just about as rural and independence-less as you can get. What to do? Go crazy? Leave?
Sometimes I do genuinely feel like I’m going crazy. There are times I want to scream at people who tell me what food to eat, when to eat it, and where to sit when I am allowed to eat it. There are times I want to run away and go to a place where I can live my own life that involves access to cafés and libraries, shops and markets. But there have been innumerable times when being a part of the interconnected web of my life here in the countryside of Jharkhand has been the only thing stopping me from running away. The people here would miss me, not only because I wasn’t where I was supposed to be at the appointed time, give or take the obligatory 30-40 minute window of time everybody gives everybody else. Being a part of this web, somehow, means something more.
It all makes me think of the movie “Crash.” An Oscar-award winning film, it opens on shots of Los Angeles traffic and a voice-over from Don Cheadle explaining that because people in L.A. never touch each other, sometimes they just crash into each just to feel something. In other words, Don Cheadle is describing the complete opposite of here. In contrast, I feel like people are always crashing into me. I was asked whether I believed in God on my first week in the office by the Finance Manager. I was asked on my third hour of being at KGVK if I was married, and then, why I’m not. I feel like if I had a real personal life here, it wouldn’t be that personal.
There are times when that drives me nuts, but there are plenty more times when I’m indescribably grateful for the moments when Mrs. Guha lets me take carrots off her plate because she knows they’re my favorite, and expects no thanks, or even permission. The force and extent of “in-your-face-ness” bypasses what I might feel is a normal benchmark of time. I was considered Mrs. Guha’s daughter after only a couple months of knowing her, more than likely within a couple days, I just didn’t know. And that’s pretty extraordinary.