|Subject: Round Three
Date: Thu, 20 Apr 2000 23:25:14 -0700 (PDT)
Back in Calcutta again. Soon as I got back to Northern India, I felt at home. I know my way around Calcutta pretty well. So I came here to make the big decision. And a big decision it was.
Stay or Go? Somehow I dwelt a week on this and came to no definative answer. But in the end, It's a decision I'm glad I preemptively forced upon myself. I've spent the week since cochin agonizing over why I'm here and what I hope to accomplish by prolonging my stay.
India ceases to be exotic after two months. It ceases to be particularly interesting after six months. Now at the dog end of seven, I'm approaching the longest length of time I've ever been in the open seas, that is so far from home that everything is unfamiliar, and there's no one for thousands of miles I can turn to for consolation when things get rough. Oh poor me... Homelessness is a strange thing. Little bouts of self pity come upon you when you are closest to achieving the very goals that sent you into homelessness. You begin to regret the decision to renounce security and companionship. Certainly the only defence my celebacy has is unrealistically high standards (fellow meditators are impossible to find). I don't know one tends to take oneself for granted. After a while the big decisions become foreground and the causal conditions fade further and further into background. The shadows covering one's intentions causes one to forget. So these agonizing weeks of in-decision are critically important. Analytically I realized, I was just too far from the mountains. So here I am on my way up to the Himalayas, which have historically been refuge for those in the throes of existential angst. I thought I drowned this flavor of angst in Gallo Burgundy and Bukowski short stories back in ninety four. But instead I just made a "white whale" of it. It surfaces to blow its spout and I see the ominous hump like snow hill reminding me that snowhills are perferable than their analogies. So that's where I'm off to. The air is thinner at 10,000 feet. The atmospheric pressure is lower. The sun is markedly brighter. And the pull of gravity is less. All these factors are critical for allowing one to "lighten up." And this, of course, is the remedy for existential angst. Its not from under the burden of said angst that one can answer the questions raised by that leviathan. It is only when the bouts pass that you can see the questions clearly, but by then most people just drop them until they find themself back in the mouth of the whale, like Jonah, realizing the futility of trying to run from one's destiny. Existentialism doesn't alter the meaning of life by denying determinism and a causal godhead. A modern existentialist just has to acknowlege that you decide, you choose your own fate, you make your own rules, you ascribe your own meanings,,, and still You Don't Know! Dammit!
Back to the drawing board. Much to my surprise I found a copy of Derrida's "On Grammatology" here in Calcutta. Perfect timing. When last we spoke, I was reading a primer on said deconstructionist. And what better way to reevaluate oneself than indepth study of the meaninglessness of all things. A thing in itself has no meaning, but what thinking ascribes to it. And there are no things unless thought about. Hmmm. This goes round and round much as my Stay or Go argument that's been ongoing.
See, India's a curious place. Its abstract from the other side. It's exotic, its adventure, its the unknown, its freedom. But from over here, after several months, its loud, its dirty, its obnoxious, and its routine. So why stick it out? Am I here to suffer? Each traveller has to answer these questions for their self. Lately I've been hanging out with a Bostonian, two Irishmen, a Canadian, and two dutch. One of the Dutchmen has been here a little longer than I, but all volunteering in Vijaywada. So of the lot, I've been travelling longest. Its very instructive. I see how much my attitude has changed. I see them reacting to things I haven't even consciously considered for months. Like the fact that everyone's in bed by ten and the city's locked up tight. Like the staring of the Indians, especially at white women. Like security of one's possession. Like excitement of travelling. Like planning four cities in a week. I can't really describe backpacker culture, cause, lately, I've been too alienated from it. But by the time I return, and y'all have seen the Beach with Leonardo DeCaprio, I'll be able to circumscribe my thoughts on that thing which I'm a part of. Layers and layers and layers.
Not to much to say in the way of travellog. Who really cares about where I've been? Less and less do I even. The crew I've been hanging out with really loved Hampi. Kept raving about the beauty. In the 14'th century it was known as Vijayanagar. But that was before the Muslims sacked it. Then it lay in the ruins we find today. Great a ruined city. And only some 700 years old. And the sculpture was better in Khajuraho, and the same in Bhubaneswar. And there's not even a real temple, but just a pretend one for the less savy Indian "pilgrims". (With so many millions of temples in this country, sanctity is a precious comodity which the Brahmins carefully ration). And true the landscape is covered in Boulders, but nothing to compare with Arches or Monument valley or the Himalayas abouve 17,000 feet. In short, I've seen too much to really appreciate the place? That seems strange if not plain wrong. But I merely withheld my judgement, knowing that I was in a strange mood whilst there, and therefore no real authority. Sure its a swell place.
But you have to understand my friends I've been "Homeless" in one way or another since 1992. I, at least, have yet to complete the full term of a lease (in residence for a year) in that time. It's hard to think about. Four appartments in two and a half years in Boulder, and six months of travel. Seven apartments and houses in three cities of North Carolina from 1992-1996. This is my claim to eight years of homelessness. Take it for what it is. So my experience in Hampi, so contrasted to my green travel companions, is a function of this past history as well. It's all relative, they say. And moreso after so much travel. That much more in touch with yourself, yet that much more out of touch with your surroundings. But these seven solitary months in a very foriegn culture has been harder than I expected. I miss having people who've known me for longer than a day around.
So why am I still here? The best answer I can come up with is that I want to spend at least as much time in India/Nepal as I spent in my mother's womb.
So off I go to Leh. To the source of the Ganga in Gangotri. To Parvati Valley, legendary among backpackers for the quality of their verdure. To manalli, maybe, but I doubt it, to Darmasalla to see the residence-in-exile of the Tibetan Government. If there's an overhyped backpacker's destination its that. But Leh is known as Little Tibet, and even has a fort reminiscent of the Potalla Palace in Lhasa. No Dalai Lama, but other Tulkus, though less famous, to be sure. I think Derrida and Lamaism is the perscription for the relativism I'm burdened by.
I shouldn't overdramatise the situation. I'm oddly not depressed. Calcutta just seems like St. Lewis to me; sort of on the way between two places and not a very large city, reputation for being seedy undone by a very relaxed atmosphere in certain nicer areas. Calcutta's my favorite big city in India. All the amenities with half the hassle. Internet for a dollar an hour. So I'll be checking back in shortly. And I've been responding to everyone who writes, so please please please click on respond and just say hi!
talk to you later.