"I miss 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." — Suketu Mehta, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found
Nothing about India was planned: not the trip, not the destinations, not the welcome company or the unwelcome illness or the complicated eye surgery or the half-hearted departure. It is early March, and I am supposed to be paddling back to civilization after thirty days without seeing another human. Instead I am flying high over Europe with dead E. Coli in my stomach and fledgling corneas in my eyes and a million new faces recently installed in the annals of my memory. Nothing about India was planned, yet nothing was regretted: not the trip nor the destinations, not the companionship nor the complications. It was a maximum experience of maximum sights and sounds and smells, a gorgeous overdose of civilization I won't ever forget.
I return to DC and am unsettled by the quiet. The winter chill feels wonderful on my sun-kissed skin; the silence of the early evening is stiller than anything I've heard in a month. The sky is blue—not white, but blue—and the sun actually hurts when you look directly at it, and the roads are straight and demarcated and the sidewalks wide and mostly even, and everything feels new and strange and foreign. I see white people and hear American-English and feel overwhelmed by my sheer ability to communicate. I walk through the twilit streets and realize that I know these roads, and for the first time I come to see them as truly beautiful. The air is clean and even the cars seem quiet—the occasional honk here or there, sure, but these blares only punctuate the status quo; they don't create it.
There are no cows and no stray dogs and no unaccompanied children who run up to my side. There are fewer smiles and fewer colors and I come to find sari-red and lungi-white replaced with nothing but suit-grey. The suit replaces the soot and the grim replaces the grime; there are blankets of white snow as expressionless as the white faces. It's good and bad, strange and nice, foreign and familiar, this business of being back. I catch up with friends and they ask about the trip and I struggle with what to say. There's no "best" place or "best" experience or "best" anything; there's just India, and every place and experience within it is inseparable from the next, and yes I loved it and yes I had a good time and yes it was everything I hoped it would be.
And yes, it's nice to be home.