India was beautiful. India was horrible.
India was unbearably hot and overwhelmingly humid. India had beautiful, tranquil breezes.
India stunk like cow shit, hot piss and rot. India smelled like aromatic spices, sacred incense and sweetness.
India was scathingly loud with non-stop honking, shouting and zooming. India is filled with soft-spoken, respectful people.
Indians wanted to sell us things constantly. Indians all wanted to help us.
I felt incredibly uncomfortable in India. I felt completely at home in India.
All these things are true.
Contrasting information flooded my senses throughout the entire trip. India was completely in my face and confrontational. I felt myself confronting my own biases the most. My privilege was thrust in my face. I was forced to acknowledge and contend with it constantly; when women with babies asked for money, when I brushed my teeth with bottled water, when I had to cover up despite the heat, when children asked for food and shattered my heart, when the constant heat pushed me to my limits of rationality.
There were times when I wanted to run back to my privilege as fast as I could. I longed for the clean sheets in my bed, my superfood additives for my green smoothies, air conditioning, clean feet, friends who were in the same time zone, my spoiled dogs, my lavender scented sugar scrub and roads where everyone drove inside of the lines.
And yet, once I surrendered to the discomfort, heat, filth and noise, I felt completely at peace. In India I felt constantly surrounded by love. I cried on the ride to the airport to leave for Nepal and recalled one of my favorite quotes from the book Shantaram. I finally understood what it meant:
“That’s how we keep this crazy place together – with the heart. Two hundred fuckin’ languages, and a billion people. India is the heart. It’s the heart that keeps us together. There’s no place with people like my people, Lin. There’s no heart like the Indian heart.”