Saturday, March 19, 2016

Good Horn, Good Brakes, Good Luck

The last day of my trip to India began late.  I met my driver at noon after spending a slow morning around the hotel, reading by the swimming pool, eating a relaxed breakfast, and generally trying to wrap my head around the fact that today, I was leaving.  For real.

Jaipur to Delhi is a fairly long drive, and though I tried to stay awake and take in every last detail that I could, I did fall asleep off and on.  While I was awake, though, I got to speak with the driver more than I had for the rest of the trip, while Hitesh was still with us.  We were driving on an important Shiva holiday, and every Shiva temple we passed was full of worshipers dressed in bright saris other traditional clothing.  I saw more traditional Indian clothes on this one day than during the rest of the trip combined.  It got to the point where I could tell when we were approaching another temple, because all of a sudden we would start passing groups of women and children walking along the side of the road in their brilliant colors.

I finally asked a question which I'd been wondering about for some time--there are so many different varieties of horns in India, do different types of vehicles come with different types of horns?  In answer to this question I received one of the most oddly profound answers I've ever heard.

"There are three things you need to drive in India.  Do you know what they are?" Keshav asked.

"Watch everything around you, listen to what's coming from behind, and don't hit anything?" I guessed.

Keshav smiled and shook his head.  "Good horn.  Good brakes.  Good luck."

The tiny orange Ganesha idol on the dashboard suddenly made a whole lot of sense.

Out of all the things that I learned in India, this may very well be the one that sticks with me the longest.  Not only is it vital advice for surviving Indian roads, it can be understood and interpreted much more broadly.

I did manage to get home without any major incidents, although I almost missed my plane out of Delhi.  The immigration line in the Delhi airport is vast and nearly immobile.  I made it to my gate with five minutes to spare.  After that, the video screen fell out of the seat back in front of mine and was dangling by its wires like the airplane had been shot and had some internal organ hanging from its veins.  This was the last of my major meltdown moments.  The stress of almost missing the flight, along with the plane deciding to fall apart left me standing behind my seat and crying while the engineer attempted to coax the thing back into place.  A nice fellow passenger tried to talk me down, but I'd already decided it was time for some anti-anxiety medication--the only half a pill I used for the entire trip--and by the time we were airborne, I had settled back down into a gently-medicated mellow.

Upon my return home, I promptly caught a cold, and the combination of jet lag and germs have left me fairly wiped out.  And all that time, I've been struggling to come to grips with everything that I experienced.

I have seen some of the most beautiful and monumental architecture in the world.  I have been steeped in history and culture like well-spiced chai.  I've met some of the kindest people I ever hope to know and experienced the kind of luxury travel that I would never have considered I could indulge in.

At the same time, I've seen people sleeping with stray dogs on the side of the road, where cows are happily eating trash.  I've smelled the Yamuna river, which is so polluted it's hard to imagine what it might once have been, clean and full and gliding past the white domes of the Taj Mahal.  I've celebrated my first glimpse of the sky in four days, because until that point all I had seen was a thick yellow-gray haze of smog.

How do I reconcile these two worlds?  And how does it relate to my everyday life?

I haven't been able to answer those questions yet.  All I know is that I am already longing to return.  I want to take my son with me.  I want him to share these experiences, to see how another part of the world lives.  And to my great joy, he wants to come with me.  I don't know when, and I don't know how, but someday, we will make this journey together.

In the meantime, I will try to incorporate my driver's advice into my life.

Good Horn:  Sometimes you have to let people know you're there.  It's easy to let yourself slide into the background, but that's a good way to be accidentally left behind.  If something is important to you, go for it.  Let people know that it's important.  That you are going there.  Sometimes just telling people your goals is the best way to be sure to accomplish them.

Good Brakes:  Have the ability to stop, and don't be afraid to utilize it.  Saying no is an important skill, and one that I have often failed to use, but it's a vital tool for self-preservation.  Be aware of your own limits, and make sure you don't extend yourself beyond them too far.  A buffer zone is a good thing.

Good Luck:  There are times when your good horn and your good brakes aren't enough.  Sometimes you don't get a choice to say no.  You will be faced with challenges that may seem insurmountable.  I don't have a statue of Ganesha, but I do have my own faith to lean on.  I believe that all people do--even if that faith is in themselves rather than a higher power.  Prayer.  Preparation.  Patience.  These are all things that can work together to help to see you through the rough spots.

So thank you, Keshav, for giving me a whole lot to think about, even though I'm sure you weren't aiming for deep thoughts when you shared your insight.  It's helped me to frame my experiences in a way that I will never forget.

To my husband, who made this all possible, thank you.  It astounds me that you love me enough to send me away, and makes me all the more grateful to have you to come home to.

Thank you for everything.