A couple weeks before leaving for India, I took my cat to the vet. They set her up on the counter and scratched her behind her ears, petting her unruly white mass of fur in attempt to ease her fearful meows. She had no idea where she was, and she had not been in for a check-up up years, so undoubtedly the setting was extremely unfamiliar. Going to see an Ayurvedic doctor feels a bit like this. When I arrived, he waved me through the curtains to the back of his garage-like office. I crawled up onto the table like a dog, and indeed, felt like a drooling puppy when, after taking my vitals, he proceeded to scratch the top of my head. The purpose of this remains unclear, even after mulitple visits. He smooshed my face into funny shapes, rubbed my ears, pet my head some more, massaged my throat, and wordlessly retreated to the corner of the room. From my spot on the counter, I watched as he used matches to heat up a substance that he poured into a spoon. A moment later, he quietly returned, and dropped tiny doses into my nostrils (I did not fearfully meow, at least not out loud.) My treatment involves licking basil-honey mixed with powdered herbs off of a little piece of paper, twice a day, for five days, among other things. No paperwork, no insurance, no politics — just a few hundred rupees, and the deed gets done. Kitty’s check up was ten times more expensive then mine.
At some point, I stopped hating India. I could not tell you a precise moment when my dislike for my experiences transformed into appreciation, or when I began to shed the critical American lenses through which I peered. It happened in the way that Spring arrives after a cold winter — one day, you look outside, and the grass is suddenly vibrantly green, and the flowers are abloom, and the birds are singing. Half the time, this takes me by surprise — I never really notice the transition, but once it has progessed enough, it is as clear as day, as colorful as the flourishing world coming back to life. It was in this manner that this place began to grow on me. I noticed this because at some point, the men stopped all being creeps, and the guys at Ganga View Cafe became my friends, not my annoyances. At some point, women started shaking my hand on the streets and wanting their picture taken with me, instead of bashing me violently out of their way (or, I may have started shoving back, just a little bit. Or maybe pretty hard.) The eternal honking of passing vehicles no longer made me cringe, I came to realize, and it seemed I had developed a sort of sixth sense related to the spacial awareness that one requires in order to not get run over while trying to get to the market. The beggars and hawkers eventually faded into background noise (although I can still hear the wobbling old man that walks around with his dog, repeating the phrase,”Excuse me, I’m a schizophrenic, and I need money for my medicine.”) A little puppy comes to visit me while I study at the cafe, the monkeys no longer seem quite as menacing, and I have become accustomed to bathers being urgently pulled from the Ganges almost everyday because apparently, “swimming” is not a very polished skill around these parts. When this happens, everyone within ear shot flocks to the riverside, as though an audience for the the potential drowning of a child is of vital importance. Anyways, when meditation classes become salsa lessons, you know things must be going pretty well.
In addition to flowers, Sping time brings mud. Thick, excessive mud that one must walk through in order to reach the daisies popping their noises through the soil. The springtime in my mind has mud, too. There are catty students, there is study stress, there is unsanitary drinking water. There is Delhi Belly (as travelers have affectionately termed the rampant food poisoning that is prevalent within the community) and there are the meditation classes where I burst into tears in the middle of the silence (but there are the ones where I burst out laughing for no reason and embarrassingly cannot contain myself, too.) I will remain at the ashram for one more week before moving on from Rishikesh. For now, I wade through the mud to get to the beauty. Chai at Freedom Ganga Cafe! The cafe (we spend a lot of time here!) Veggie street vendor. Face paints/powders
Classmate Samar and me
Cows are everywhere! They wander the streets like stray dogs. One should never walk behind them when their tail is raised; you are about to get peed on.