This is the first post in a series of my notes on India.
Purely for the sake of argument and not to assign any blame, it all started with the death of my universally beloved grandfather. A jovial, wise and endlessly intelligent man, he lived to be eighty, the last two thirds of this time in a perpetually tipsy state. He was, and still is, survived by his wife - my grandmother - and their offspring. Gran is a strong, stubborn and most givingly selfish person, standing at five feet no inches.
There was always a chicken-or-egg type dilemma in our family: did my grandfather's drinking turn her into a nag or did her incessant nagging ultimately drive him to his - paradoxical as it may sound - sort of harmless habit of consuming no non-alcoholic beverage? Gran, of course, is of the opinion that her husband, in his small way, obstructed her projected career path as secretary of state (at the very least) while he took his no doubt insightful opinion on the matter to the grave with him. One day, in the middle of the night, "a routine visit" to the hospital, as gran called it, revealed two large tumors in my grandfather's brain. This came as a shock to our family, because we were certain that after having outlived us all, it would ultimately be his liver to do him in, if anything. The man was indestructible. Or so we thought.
"Seeing her resigning herself without putting up the fight I had always anticipated she would disappointed me."
After a 57-year-strong marriage, my grandmother broke under the weight of her husband's passing, and she had no interest of fixing herself ever again, thank you very much. She was slowly withering away under layers of grief, mourning the loss of her life partner after almost six decades of "for better or for worse" because death did them part. She mourned having become a widow, mourned the feeling of being useful to someone or something after her reluctant retirement from teaching, the paying of a sort of "rent" to life for the little place she occupied in the world. She mourned the loss of someone to fuss over, really. For good measure, she threw in the preemptive grief of her own impeding death, idly and rather dramatically awaiting it because she had nothing left to live for, at eighty-four. My primary feminine role model, someone I looked up to and strived to resemble, I've always known my grandmother as an endlessly fierce firecracker, a feisty woman overflowing with wit and zeal. Seeing her resigning herself without putting up the fight I had always anticipated she would disappointed me. I felt I had lost my compass of what being a woman was about. Growing up, I always instinctively looked for female voices to guide me; from Debbie Harry to Charlotte Bronte, Sofia Coppola to Oriana Fallaci, I needed female figures to admire, to want to be like, and not (just) male ones to have unrequited crushes on. But one also needs figures to look up to that are aware of being one's personal role model - somebody real, who intentionally guides you, not a line of lyrics you can relate to. A person who points out when you're making a mistake, if not to keep you from making it, then to spare you the surprise of failure. Living in Italy at the time, I decided to move to Budapest to be with her during this difficult time.
This being the story of how I got to India I will jump ahead four months, to after my grandfather's funeral. Around that time, a chance encounter on a sunny Budapest afternoon rekindled my friendship with someone I had known for years. Anette was a stunningly beautiful girl from a small town in Hungary with the best legs and worst feet the world had ever seen, and was asked by her Indian boyfriend of six months to become his wife. Had she not said yes, I would most probably not be sitting in my apartment in Bombay. But this is the story of how she did say yes and why I ended up staying long after the wedding I was invited to was over. Having done all I could for dear little grandma and with nowhere else to go, I said my teary-eyed goodbyes and set off.
Sure life changes, and changes you along with it whenever you move out of your comfort zone, but having lived out of mine for a long time and having been lucky enough to see many places the world over, I can with full confidence say nothing comes even close to the rattling shock that India is to your life as you used to know it. It changes everything. From one day to another in a big way, and creeping and quiet in other thousand.
"[N]othing comes even close to the rattling shock that India is to your life as you used to know it"
Bombay, a city of twenty-something million people, is a sprawling metropolis oversaturated with, well, everything - so it's a little surprising that contrary to other cities much smaller in population, it does sleep - and how! It sleeps about twelve hours a day. Despite this, one is constantly accompanied by a sense of adventure wherever in the city one might be at any given point in time, because Bombay, and really all of urban India, is endlessly entertaining.
"It needs to be said, though, that not once in my time here did I wake up to a day that didn't turn out to be a challenge."
People, all of them western, often counter my amorous accounts of India with "escapism" - the concept of hiding from one's mundane daily life behind a wall of a fascinating but ultimately unsupportable lifestyle - like being in a punk band, or going to India, in my case. But this isn't one of those stories where you hole yourself up in an ashram to try and find something that isn't there or buy a one way ticket to Goa with the purpose of devoting yourself to the rave. You can full well live a regulated, westernized life in Bombay, Bangalore or Delhi. It needs to be said, though, that not once in my time here did I wake up to a day that didn't turn out to be a challenge. Not always a good one, or not even one that made me grow as a person - I don't see how getting stuck in the middle of the highway with a passed out rickshaw driver is an enrichment to my life - but a challenge that I wouldn't be faced with, had I not purposely missed my flight back to reality as I knew it.