I left Pondicherry, my home of almost two months, only two days ago. Now, I find myself in a completely different world. A world where there are no crowds, no dirt, little rubbish and no man-made noise, only the breeze rustling the fronds of the coconut trees, some squawking crows and the surf pounding the beach, just 30 metres from my cabana, before surging across the sand in a foamy roar. I am alone except for the sometimes too friendly staff and a handful of other guests content to maintain their own distance. I have fallen asleep listening to the rumble of the sea. I have walked miles along the golden sandy beach, alone and sometimes with a friendly local for company pointing out where a turtle has dragged herself ashore to lay her eggs. I have laid beneath coconut trees partly shaded from the Sri Lankan sun watching the sea whilst listening to my favourite music. I am in yet another paradise and if I could stay in this moment it would be perfect. But for all its peace, beauty and serenity, my heart is not content here. It longs to be back in another crazy world, the complete opposite of where I am.
My ever wandering mind, rewinds, thinking back over the last two months. Memory after memory pops up like tiny brightly coloured fireworks. The display is so spectacular, I whisper to myself, “Was it all a dream?” I revisit photos, solid proof of what occurred before. No it wasn’t a dream. It was all so very, very real. My eyes linger over each picture and I remember the sounds, the flavours, the people, the action, the emotion. I ride the roller coaster once more feeling each different moment in time, the joy, the frustration, the happiness, the sadness, the tiredness, the connection, the disparity and the contentment. I deposit each memory into my heart, allowing it to be gently enclosed, trapped, immortalised within my own life, forever.
For more than 3 years, I thought India called my name but it was my own heart that cried out for my return. In the moments I was quiet and still, I heard it spoken softly and slowly over and over again in a voice that was not quite mine, “In-di-a. In-di-a. In-di-a.” And in the moments I was distracted and not wanting to listen, it called out fervently over and over again with more urgency, “India, India, India!” I heard it in the morning in the blinking moments after I awoke. I heard it in the middle of a meeting, sometimes turning to see from where the voice had called. And I heard it in my daydreams blending in with the background noise until in a quiet moment it jumped out, loud, shaking me out of my reverie. The voice called time and time again until finally I answered.
I came back to India hoping without expectation to reconnect to the joy I felt last time I was here. I was not disappointed. Amongst the frustrations, hardships, dirt and poverty, joy lurks here too, waiting to be stumbled upon in unanticipated ways. I found joy when I was driving in the dirty, crowded streets, dodging buses and trucks, just another tiny spoke in the wheel of life. I found it in absurd moments so foreign from my Australian life that I couldn’t help but laugh. A cow interrupting a conversation with a loud moo as it passed by our gate. Parking my scooter next to a cow on the only dry piece of in my flooded street and then wading home to a porch full of floating shoes. Watching a family of buffaloes create peak hour chaos as they moved slowly down the middle of MG Road oblivious to the mayhem around them. And I experienced it in a trip down the street to purchase a sewing needle and black cotton that unexpectedly turned into a scavenger hunt, each clue provided by a helpful stranger.
Joy appeared in the moments I sat with little Anita, listening to her read, spell, and answer my questions testing her school work, caught up in her enthusiasm to learn and interact with me. I found it in the service of my favourite waiters eager to show me kindness and make sure my needs were met. It was ever-present in the laughter and friendly waves of children I passed on the streets or maybe it was more in the laughter and the waves that I gave back. Joy was there watching my orphan boys get soaked by waves splashing up over the rocks at Pondy beach whilst dressed in jeans and t-shirts as they hunted for crabs. I found joy in the eyes, hugs and kisses of a little street puppy and as I watched her heal, grow, and then be adopted by a loving family. And there was joy too, in the quiet and not so quiet moments spent laughing with new friends.
Joy was always in the dancing. It was there, watching the orphan boys freely and unselfconsciously singing and dancing their hearts out Tamil style and then laughing with them at my poorly replicated dance moves. It was in the singing and dancing performances of the slum school children eager to welcome me to their school and then embracing me in their arms as we sang and danced until near exhaustion I wanted to collapse. And joy rained down upon me at an outdoor dance party where I danced with friends and strangers, moving freely, uninhibited to our individual rhythms but as one pulsing mass whist the rain tumbled down upon us washing away our sweat but not our enthusiasm.
Now I am here, alone, in this quiet, tranquil place, I feel like I am coming down off a massive high. Maybe I was a little addicted to the chaotic energy that surrounded me back in India. As I sit and watch the waves roll in, I allow, little by little, a new rhythm to take hold of my life. I accept, little by little, that I have once again moved on from a place and time that I have loved with all my heart. As with the end of any beloved relationship, I feel the pain and the sadness of the forced separation but I have lived the gypsy life long enough to know that there can always be a return.
In the distance, past the sound of squawking crows, the rustling coconut fronds and the thundering waves, I can hear that voice, not quite mine, call out once again, slowly and softly. “In-di-a. In-di-a. In-di-a.”
Tangalla, Sri Lanka
Sunset @ Tangalla, Sri Lanka
Beautiful little Ivy
Participants in the Ganesha Vinayaka procession
Dancing all night long (courtesy Izumi Yamaguchi)
Xaviyer and Rajasekar at the beach with their crab
Little Anita at remedial school