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An India Journal — Flying Into the Sun

INDIA, October 2012

A little over a year ago, I found myself suddenly living alone for the first time in 25 years.

Is it mere coincidence that I’m now on an airplane headed to the opposite of alone, on the other side of the planet? I have never dreamed of visiting India. It was not on my list, that which I refuse to call bucket. And here I am, at 32,992 feet, somewhere over Newfoundland, on my way to Delhi with a dear friend (one who needs no tragedy to travel), about to embark on a week-long photography excursion to the Asian subcontinent. I’m listening to Anoushka trilling Krishna on airplane earphones, observing out of the corner of my eye the petite, shy Indian woman who’s stuck in the middle seat next to me. She drinks her yogurt and eats her vegetable curry and Rasmalai with her right hand, her “unclean” left tucked securely away. I’m wondering how I’m going to get through a week of eating with only my right hand — forget the fact I’m rehabbing a fracture — I just know I’m going to screw up and touch a kindly and unsuspecting vendor with my toilet hand or commit some other egregious cultural faux pas, like point to someone with my feet or laugh inappropriately in a temple.

Why India? Well, why not? This might seem like a devil-may-care attitude, or maybe that’s my delusion. Maybe I just seem irrational. What I have, really, is a well-developed sense of denial — but so far it’s served me well. I think of myself as tolerant and resilient, so therefore I can be adventurous. Yes! I’ve been through hell and back! I can handle anything! But when faced with an airplane “queue” comprised of a majority of persons who are speaking a language that I do not, that’s when I tend to go — oh, yeah, what the hell am I DOING? I speak two words of HIndi — Om and Namaste, and that’s only because my yoga instructor says them first. But here I am, on this huge plane with very huge wings (all the better to get us across the Arctic Circle), and on the other end is a world I have barely been able to imagine. But why INDIA?

It’s full of life, and my house is not.

This time out, I’m fortunate. I’m with a woman who is a much braver and more experienced world traveler than I, and we’re on a group tour. I’m pretty organized (the term that comes to mind is anal) and while this is my first trip to a developing country, I’ve planned quite well, I believe. I have wipes for hands and other, uh, areas; I have sprays, ointments, extracts, lozenges and prescriptions. Protein bars, nut bars, fruit bars and greens bars. Washable underwear, a security wallet, fifteen copies of my passport and my emergency contact information tattooed on my chest. I’ve also got about 11 digital and/or electronic devices secured in different bags and totes and suitcases and money (American dollars and Indian Rupees) stashed in tiny wallets hidden about those same bags and totes and suitcases (with a list and backup list of where I hid it from myself). Yet for all my planning, the guidebooks, fellow world travelers and Murphy all say that something WILL go wrong.

My friends, everything has gone wrong — now it’s just time to have fun with it. Tragedy and trauma can give us an excuse to do something spontaneous and “irrational,” but you shouldn’t have to have a bucket list to do what you dream of doing in this life. It’s about living, so do that. I’m starting now.


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