Change Of Perceptions.
I may be wrong, but there seem to be only two traffic lights in the city of Bhubaneswar. Traffic signs are indeed scattered here and there but the locals seem to be taking them merely as a recommendation. Yet, Bhubaneswar is home to over two million Indians as well as the capital of a state in India. Like any big city elsewhere in the world it attracts hundreds of thousands of commuters every single day and an endless chaotic river of buses, trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles, scooters and bicyclers floods every bit of the city every single moment. I’m not sure how one gets a driving license in this country but there seem to be a big gap in road education when it comes to the rule of right of way. Not a gap, actually, this rule simply seems to not exist here. An Indian driver never stops. For anything but a holy cow.
Three months ago, in cold peaceful London it never crossed my mind that I will have to deal with this seemingly minor issue of crossing a road. It didn’t occur to me that I will need to draft a raod crossing strategy. Six weeks ago, in Delhi, I found that the best way to cross a road is to follow the Indian man or woman crossing next to me, figuring they know what they’re doing. That was in Delhi. Then I arrived in Bhubaneshwar which seems to have a different game. A game I found harder. And so, during the first couple of weeks it took me an average of eight minutes to cross a road. I’m not exaggerating. It literally took me 8 minutes to cross the 7 meters from my home to the nearest bus stand!!!!
Regular Temporarily Insanity
But life goes on, and somehow, without really paying attention to the process, I suddenly realized that I’m no longer waiting for traffic. For the past week I’ve realized I cross the street by just walking straight into the chaotic traffic. I guess I unconsciously concluded that no one is gonna kindly allow me to cross so I’ve just been going for it. I walk in. And it looks something like that.
I know, I know. It’s completely insane. In my mind I compare it to deliberately swimming in a stormy ocean or intentionally hiking on an active volcano mountain. Laughter aside, in “reality” this is a potentially very dangerous game which of course goes against any health and safety regulations I’ve ever received from early childhood until my recent departure to India. It obviously goes against my own common sense. Yet I guess my common sense is being altered. Redefined. I mean, this has been working for millions of Indians for decades so who is to say what is common and what makes sense….
Bhubaneswar doesn’t grow on me I must admit. For many reasons, it is possible the toughest place I’ve ever lived in. But I’m getting used to it. The same way I’m adjusting to the insanity of crossing the roads, I no longer smell the stench. I can sleep through the honking and deafening traffic sounds and I learned to accommodate the 50 minutes journey it takes me to commute back and forth to work. Perceptions change…. constantly…. A human being, it seems can adjust to just about anything, including imprisonment, and Bhubaneshwar in not a nearly as bad as a life sentence.
I’m far from feeling at home in Bhubaneswar but I complain less and less with every passing day. I begin to realize that the main thing missing in my life these days is a sense of intimacy and relating. There are millions of people around and I never feel or am alone. Nor do I feel lonely but I do miss having a person in my life to share the small incidents of our days. Someone to have meaningful conversations with on life goals, dreams and dedications. A close daily friend or a partner to reflect with on spiritual growth and karma yoga. I miss the regular human touch of a comforting hand or an embracing loving hug. I miss the feeling of warmth. I miss the heart to heart. I don’t feel separated or alienated but I also don’t always feel that I belong. I miss being understood without needing to explain.
Yet there are moments when everything is OK exactly as it is. Moment when all I see or hear, feel, taste and smell is beauty. Moments of purity and conduct. Moments of love, patience and joy and a sense of freedom. There are daily regular moments of grace and gratitude and appreciation to life. And these moments keep me alive.
And there are other moments as well. Moments when even the deafening sounds and the stench are OK. Moments when even the constant stares, the unbearable heat, the unnecessary argument with the rickshaw drivers who refuses to give me change or the unflattering Indian outfit I’m wearing are simply OK. As they are. With the whole spectrum of unpleasant sensations. There are moments when none of it matters. Moments of OKness even when life isn’t as smooth as I’m used to or want it to be. And there is nowhere else I’d rather be. There are moments of realizing grace and beauty and divinity in the overflowing sewage and the poverty and sickness of humans and animals. Moments when there’s only essence. Moments of acceptance. Of surrender. Of being surrendered. And these moments remind me why I’m alive.
My friend Robert says one cannot search for India, rather it is India that finds us when we’re ready. Am I ready? will I ever be?