A week in India and I feel withered and swollen at the same time
“Withered” because – compared to the women of all ages wrapped in beautiful silks and saris, toting children and purposeful packages – I am a dried up, visiting spinster. My western clothes of high-tech fibre have gone brittle in the October heat. I have packed all the wrong clothes and ignored the advice of my friends (“don’t bring anything – you can buy it there”). I know nothing.
“Travel is very humbling,” I said to Deepika this morning. She was beautiful with her hair knotted at the back of her head and a patterned cotton top over her child-bearing belly. She made me cardamom-scented Goan porridge and left with a purpose.
“Swollen” because either I’ve gained weight from all the meals cook Lena has prepared (without any cycling to compensate), or I’m retaining water. As Deepika puts it: I come from a country where I don’t need to sweat. It’s true: my skin has been hot and dry even as my hands, feet and belly have swelled with all the cold tea I’ve poured down my throat.
“Selfish”? While people here work and work and work and work, I justify the luxury of a six-month stay in India and work hiatus by calling myself a “writer”. I lounge, shop and eat. I sleep, stare and stroll. I listen to the shouts of tomato-cart men, boys learning cricket and women calling for taxis. I wonder how I will fulfill my purpose here. I’m scared and lethargic.
And I know nothing.