Traveling to India: The Sean Shelton Edition
Can you feel at home anywhere in the world? I think if we are truly honest with ourselves the answer would be no. After all, our home is filled with understanding. When you are home all of the important needs are covered. We have access to good food, clean water and health care. When problems come up they can be easily solved with something we take for granted: language.
When we travel to other parts of the world we uproot what is comfortable to us and replace it with something that may very well be scary. It’s a romantic idea to want to be at home anywhere and everywhere, and for a rare few of us this might be true. When Emily and I made our final arrangements to travel to India with our son, Connor, we started looking at different blogs, talking to our friends and other people in the community to figure out our plans. We heard a mix of concerns and fears being projected.
Not only were we hearing people’s concerns about traveling to India, but a disbelief and even disgust about traveling with our son. There were a lot of conversations about all the things that could possibly go wrong, as if it were a guarantee that by going to India we would for sure have to deal with these problems. If you go online the people who post travel blogs seem to largely agree. This may not be the actual consensus, however, the proportion of people writing about their perfect trip is far fewer.
This may not be so compelling to other writers, and as readers we may be looking for the negative.
“Hey, Google, tell me about traveling with kids in India.” Most likely the results are not so positive. When we talk on these things it makes our gut feel uneasy and might result in people being unwilling to take the journey to see for themselves. It's my personal feeling that we should be writing to inspire. We should be helping others to fear less. I want the world to learn to be comfortable calling anywhere home.
As we got off the plane in Bengaluru at 3:20am, we made our way through a relatively empty airport. Immigration was a breeze with some vague yet aggressive questions about our stay. We made it past and onto baggage claim. Here we had a mild scare that Connor’s car seat did not make the commute. However, it was just the last thing they unloaded. After collecting our bags and car seat we had to make our way through customs, which at this time in the morning was little more than one guy in uniform letting everyone walk on by.
Now for the part my mind was giving me the most grief about: Was the taxi guy I arranged really waiting for us? We exited the airport with our bags, being stopped by a few taxi drivers promising a “cheap” ride. Out the doors we got hit by the sticky humid air. Compared to our Arizona weather in July, however, we were pleasantly greeted with a wonderful 70 degree breeze. It felt lovely. There were lines of taxi drivers waiting with signs welcoming the arriving fares. As we walked the line looking for our name my nerves were rising. We were unable to see ours.
Walking the line again we finally saw the sign reading, “Sean Shelton.” Thank you! I felt like we had already arrived even though we had a 3 hour cab ride ahead of us. The cab driver, who might have been waiting an hour for us, did not seem too pleased when we arrived. More over, he seemed exhausted. I am sure he had been awake all day. We followed him to our cab and began our journey to Mysore.
The ride was a very interesting one. As I have said, Emily and I read our share of articles and talked to many people, and it seems everyone’s accounts of trips to Mysore are wildly different. One such account described a smell of death and air that burns, the rest of the article would not do much to sell you on the idea to come, either. I am guessing the writer had a lot of illusions that caused some fear; everything that was different from what they were used to sent off a warning signal in the gut.
Different does not mean we need to fear, it can just be a place to learn. It brings us to a space where we can be a student of the experience. In India there is much to learn from.
We began our drive at around 4:30am. The city of Bangluru was asleep. I rolled our window down (you had to pay for AC), relieved to feel the air after 27 hours of planes and airports. The air in India has a weight to it, it is humid and carries with it wonderful smells. I say wonderful because they tell a story. I did not smell the death that was being referred to, however this may not be too uncommon for many reasons.
In addition to the 1.3 billion people of India, the streets were teaming with life, even at night— cows, dogs, cats, the little school of monkeys hiding on the roof tops. We can smell life everywhere. This could be the smell of spices or flowers or maybe even the poop that lines the roads, the piles of burning trash and a mild smell of burning magnesium.
As we continued on to Mysore, the city streets started their hustle: people waited at major speed bumps for the opportunity to sell flowers to the passers-by, little shops opened their doors and gates. People who slept in the roads started to collect their things. Ladies came out to sweep the streets.
Everything was on the road, even people walking. In this wonderful ballet it seemed that the lines, the traffic lights and signs merely played the role of suggestion, and yet here we were safely moving. Our taxi driver, tired from his day, nodding off at the wheel, was still able to move in and out of traffic with great skill. It was impressive to see how things moved. As more and more cars gathered for the morning commute it became very entertaining to be in the chaotic flow. Horns blasted off, never out of anger but more a subtle “I am here,” “I am next to you,” “I have passed you.” You would think our car was changing size as we squeezed between bikes and cows and large busses.
I could tell that city regulations, while maybe present, were more like guidelines. Buildings under construction were being held together by large sticks, old school scaffolding lined large buildings all the way to the top, people worked with jack hammers without wearing protective gear. Our road, at times covered with pot holes and over sized speed bumps, moved in and out and under major construction zones. No cones, no warning signs, even if cranes were carrying multi-ton slabs of concrete over city streets.
When they advertise in India they go big, plastering the side of walls with signs for sesame oil or concrete. As we continued our commute, the familiar popped up from time to time. There were Coke logos and advertisements for Subway painted on the side of walls lining farms. Large billboards with giant canvases hung until they got so old they just fell off.
I found all of this very entertaining and in some ways it just felt freeing. I am sure it comes with it’s share of complications, but it’s just people being people. This just means that they have to deal with their own consequences.
The thing about India is they just don’t hide it. Life and all it’s details cover the streets. All of the people moving and beating and breathing, the vendors hanging the skinned carcass of lambs, the billboards with their rotting canvases, the buildings being taken over by pressures of humidity and rain. Trash is everywhere and people just don’t seem to care. Nothing is painted over; you see it all. In the states we hide the death and decay, and even the life. The risk is that we learn to fear what we don’t constantly interact with.
We are humans on Earth and as such we were designed to efficiently live here, and at the end of the day we should not fear life. Travel can teach us a very important yoga skill:
As we enter the city we drive under a large sign welcoming us to Mysore. What a day. As I see that sign I think, “We are here. Mysore, India with my family, Connor and Emily, in the car. What a beautiful life. What a wonderful adventure.” As we pull up to our first destination, a small home close to the shala, we are met by our hosts. A lovely couple who has offered their place for a few days. They are strangers to us and have graciously allowed us to be in their home. People across the world are truly like this, willing to help and willing to share. What a connection. More to come on this journey. For now we sleep.
[Photos by Sean Shelton @capturedconnections]