I leave India in a little over a week. I have many feelings about this fact, starting with sadness and ending with something close to elation.
The elation does not come from the idea of leaving this place, this country, this sky and these people behind. But it comes from what lies before me. An exciting summer full of good food, a beautiful landscape, art, children, teaching, and beyond amazing company. If I were the type of person who only looked forward, I would be beyond excited. Jumping up and down with joy. And sometimes, I am, and I do.
But then. Then, I turn my head and look back, as I am apt to do. And I think about the things and the people that I am leaving behind. And then I tuck my chin to my neck, hide in my hair, and I feel a deep, deep sadness. Because I do not know when I will be back.
That is an undeniable truth. I do not know when I will be back. Because, I don't know if you know this, guys, but flying to India is expensive. Flying to India is expensive, and, if I ever settle down and get a real job (fingers crossed and hoping for "never"), finding the time to come is nearly impossible. Nearly, nearly impossible.
Luckily, I am not a grown up and will hopefully never be one. Luckily, I am good at making money a decent amount of money when I want to and finding temporary jobs. Luckily, luckily, luckily. With those things in mind, I feel more hopeful, optimistic, and sure that, yes, I will return. Because I must return. Because these are my people, are they not?
In so many ways, they are not. I do not relate to them, listen to the same music, wear the same clothes, share the same life experiences, or share similar ideals. And yet. In so many ways, they are. Because we look alike, yes. But we also grew up speaking the same language, playing so many of the same games, spent our childhoods listening to so many of the same stories.
And I feel that in India. That deep sense of rightness in my bones. That undeniable sense of connection, of history, of breathing the same air as my ancestors.
They have walked on this earth. They have eaten this food. They have slept under this sky and wished upon these stars. For so many years, they have done all these things and more. And now I have done the same. And when I get up and walk out of this cafe, I will once again be breathing in that dust, squinting in that sun, sweating under that heat.
I belong to it. To this land. My blood, my skin, my bones. I was born here; surely, it would make sense for me to die here. For my body to be burned with the wood of my ancestors, under the sky of my ancestors, and then to be spread in the fields that were tilled by my grandparents' hands.
I was thinking about that the other day. That my grandfather, who was older than the country of India, grew up in what is now Pakistan, fled during the Partition, got married and had his children in Punjab, then moved to Chicago, where he lived for two decades before moving to and dying in California. How he lived in so many places, saw so many things, lived through so many different times.
Earlier in my trip, I went to the village where my father grew up, where my grandfather lived for the better part of his life, and walking into that small cement house set deep into the winding alleys, looking at the cramped staircase and the open courtyard where my father used to play and eat, sitting in the room where my grandfather used to sleep, looking over the field that brought him his livelihood, I felt him. I felt him as if he were standing right there next to me, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyebrows furrowed over his eyes, mustache moving with his breathing.
And I cried. Because I am not sure if I believe in souls or a life after death. I am not sure what I believe. But if we do have souls, and if my grandfather's soul is roaming anywhere on this great, vast Earth -- it is there. It is there in that house, walking those alleys and fields, touching those walls and looking at night, with glittering eyes, at those countless stars.
And then I can't help but wonder: where will my soul be? When it leaves my body and floats, so slowly, to the sky, where will it go?
I do not know; I do not know. I do not know.