Thursday, August 28, 2008

Dancing With Shiva, Part 3

All of India was not like that city of misery between the airport and Mumbai. In fact, few places in India are worse that what we had seen that first day. In the weeks to come, we would experience a land so complex and diverse and so very different than anything else we had known.

I had been in Russia the previous winter, and if a place can be the sensual opposite of that cold, gray and dimly-lit land, it is south India, a riot of aromas and sounds, a kaleidoscope of colors under a relentless, burning sun.

Exactly 100 years before our visit, in January 1985, Mark Twain had come to Bombay on his around-the-world trip. He wrote about his experience in "Following the Equator": "It is winter here, yet the weather is the divine weather of June, and the foliage is the fresh and heavenly foliage of June."
Twain's observations seem fresh and relevant, even today:
"This is indeed India! The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the nations – the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined."

In our first few days, we could barely catch that glimpse because of all the people blocking our view. The Indian city teems with humans, overflowing from buildings constantly moving at all times of day in all places, piled upon one another on buses, coursing in tight masses thorough streets, their bare arms and silk saris bumping and brushing us. And in Bombay, everywhere we went, we were followed by an entourage of small, dark, tattered people, reaching out to us with thin, black hands opening and closing, their gray fingertips touching their dry lips.


Brant said...

That Twain fella had a pretty good grasp of the English language. Did he write anything else? ;)

Anonymous said...

Once again you have trapped me in your story. I feel as if I am there. I so much enjoy reading of places you have gone that I never will be able to go. Thanks for sharing. I miss you all-tell everyone hello!
Kathy - accounts payable :-)