I have been in India for over a month now and have seen many sites I never thought to imagine before my departure. These surprising events have included a bearded man and monkey riding a bicycle, a large crowd of exuberant young men dancing down the streets to loud music around midnight, and impromptu concerts of tabla, flute, and drum playing on the road. Aside from these unique moments, I am beginning to feel a sense of comfort and familiarity here. Things that once shocked or disturbed me have become common place; my eyes have adjusted and my heart and mind have gained a greater respect for sights, smells, and feelings I once considered to be a lack of appreciation and now see as a lack of understanding. I knew that I was adjusting to life in Banaras when I noticed myself not noticing the horns and cycle and auto rickshaws passing by. My time here thus far has been a series of valleys and peaks, at times am homesick and at others I am filled with awe at the beauty present in the simple street scenes, unable to imagine myself returning to Oklahoma. I have come to reconcile that when I do return home I will take a piece of India with me, as well, leaving a part of myself here.
I am becoming more aware of the people of Banaras, particularly in Assi, as I walk to class each day and see familiar faces. I have begun to discuss and talk to some of these people, drank chai and discuss art forms, concepts of family and marriage, health, and various opinions and ideas. Through these discussions I realize how easy it is to category the unknown into an “other”; when actually conversing with these “others” one can realize that between the differences there exist wide similarities which connect humans to each other. Besides interacting with adults of Banaras, I have had the pleasure to live in a household with two young children; one baby celebrated his first year yesterday, sharing a birthday with Gandhi Ji, and one who fills the house with laughter and mischievous games. He is proved to be an excellent Hindi teacher and embarrassingly for me, his English is much better than my Hindi. However, my Hindi is improving each day; I am learning the importance of the phrase “theek hai”, meaning okay, which can be used in an innumerable amount of situations.
The academic part of life in India is going well. I have read two interesting essays by Nita Kumar who did field work in Banaras; her writing gave a great insight to life in Banaras and helped me put words to my own feelings and experiences in India. In my Jewelry Making tutorial, I (finally) finished making a ring, with the help of my instructor and another worker. When I look at this finished product, a simple silver band, I do not see a “plain” ring, I see all the work and time put into it; the process of transforming a block of silver into a shiny ring, such a beautiful experience. Although I am learning many important things in class, a great deal of my learning is happening outside, on the streets, at various Ghats, and in restaurants and cafés.
Thus far, in my month of life in India, I have learned how much we take from inside ourselves and project out onto the world. From this, I try to grow happiness inside and take it with me when I walk outside, feeling thankful to be experiencing this unique moment and contemplating the sheer unlikelihood of it all.