I got a short email from B today:
"Am I right in thinking that you did not enjoy your India trip as much this time as you usually do? Your posts on the subject have both sounded terribly irritated."
It made me smile, those lines. And it occurred to me that others must have felt similarly, reading the posts.
My mind wandered to some lines I had recently read. It was by an Indian writing about his experience trying to settle back in India:
"This fucking city. The sea should rush in over these islands in one great tidal wave and obliterate it, cover it underwater. It should be bombed from the air. Every morning I get angry. It is the only way to get anything done; people respond to anger, are afraid of it. In the absence of money or connections, anger will do…….
Any nostalgia I felt about my childhood has been erased. Given the chance to live again in the territory of childhood, I am coming to detest it. Why do I put myself through this? I was comfortable and happy and praised in New York; I had two places, one to live and one to work. I have given all that up for this fool’s errand, looking for silhouettes in the mist of the ghost time. Now I can’t wait to go back, to the place I once longed to get away from: New York. I miss the cold weather and white people. I see pictures of blizzards on TV and remember the warmth inside when it’s cold outside and you open the window just a crack and the air outside slices in like a solid wedge. How it reaches your nostrils and you take a deep breath. How you go outside on a bad night and the cold clears your head and makes everything better."
That’s Suketu Mehta, in Maximum City.
I looked back at the email. I sounded irritated? Yes, I was irritated and angry in those moments. It seems like I did not enjoy my trip? No, not true. Any experience of India after a gap of two years is exhilarating, intense, and provokes a mix of positive and negative emotions. I’ve only just started (and time has not been on my side these last weeks, so progress has been slow, and the writing has just skimmed the surface) – there are many more episodes to come: the Basti; the Passport Officer; Cochin to Bangalore; Hyderabad to Cochin; the ATM; the night watchman…
Let us see what emotions they bring out, what patterns emerge.