Before I reminisce and debrief myself, I’ve put up a few photos – go back to the individual pages, and you’ll see photos on most of them…
India leaves me with distinctly Kolkatan memories. Rachael is leaving a day before me, so we take a taxi out to the airport, organised by where we’re staying – the Sunflower Guest House. They load her luggage into the boot, then realise they have a flat tyre, so immediately set to swapping it with their spare. Lungi-ed men stagger up to the car to watch and scratch themselves. Nearby, a hjira propositions a truck-driver. Piles of rubbish burn. On the way back from the airport, 2 am, the taxi stops at a mechanic to get the flat tyre repaired. Ah, India. Maddening and wonderful.
Kolkata International Terminal is hilariously slapdash – it has a strong 1960’s vibe to it, there are very little actual counters and signs, there are I think four shops… The local terminal is much more equipped and welcoming. Even the pre-paid taxi sign is more obvious. Intriguing. Makes you wonder if Kolkata expects any visitors.
After waking up at 6am in Ali and Penny’s loungeroom in Dubai (thankyou so much – it was a superb stopover), I packed myself into a smooth, air-conditioned, conversationless Emirates taxi, then into a smooth, air-conditioned, conversationless Emirates airplane – for around sixteen hours of limbo. The land around Melbourne is yellow from a harsh summer. The light is yellow, somehow more open, broad. As the plane lands, burly airport workers punch each other playfully. At customs, a peroxide-mulleted woman shouts in her best “Kath & Kim” accent to a man filling out his declarations form at the front of a queue, “yous carn’t fill that out thayre, sur!! You’ll haf ta go over thayre!!”.
Walking around Melbourne with India still in my body is strange. Everyone seems slower, fatter, bigger, more cumbersome and clumsy, yet also self-consciously “cool”. I ride a tram and there is only one conversation happening; the others strain to surreptitiously listen in, keen to somehow assuage their boredom and detachment. The streets are impeccably clean. There are footpaths. It’s windy and cold. Lunch at an organic cafe costs as much as a double room at Hotel Derby, Puri.
It was definitely time to come home, and being in India reminded me of how Australian I am, how it is in my bones and muscle. But I don’t feel I’m at home. I feel alienated. It’s as if I slipped into another time entirely, and have slipped back in to Melbourne and nothing’s changed. I go straight back to my RMIT course, our home in Coburg, our bills in Coburg, and because I’m sick (a throat cold from someone on the plane, I think; how ironic!) I’m spending my time indoors and lethargic. Maybe my soul is still lost in transit, circling some lonely baggage carousel somewhere. I’m sure it will catch up with me someday soon…
So, was India what I’d hoped, expected, planned? No. It’s completely confounding and astounding. It has its own agendas and energies, which force you to accommodate to it. I’d wanted to go to the International Poetry Festival in Kolkata, but we got stuck in the West Bengal Hills. I’d wanted to meet some friends of friends in Hyderabad, but they were away when we were there. I’d wanted to go to Varanasi and Bodghaya, but underestimated how huge the country is, how “little” you can fit in in three months. I’d wanted to find qawwali, but even the Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department don’t know anything about the Deccan Festival.
We did somehow, with only a few days notice, manage to meet up with a lovely Bangalore-based writer, Anjum Hasan. Her poetry is evocative, lyrical and restrained, quite beautiful. We had a very civilized dinner at the Jayamahal Palace with her and her partner Zac, talked about the arts and literature scene in India and Australia, cultural nuances and annoyances.
Would I go back? Yes. Not yet, but hopefully soon. Next time, I’ll plan in advance, get some solid contacts, base myself in one place, do less trekking. India reminds me of the luck of birth, how our futures are shaped so much by where we’re born. Being born into my life, I have the mind and sometimes the financial ability to travel. I’ve caught the bug, I think. Who knows what it will do to me!