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Published: June 23rd 2008
I can never tell anyone the events that transpire during my morning commute. Only the broken white stripes on the asphalt of I-91 South prevent me from drifting into an adjacent lane. The commute is so stress free, I chuckle at traffic reports on WFAN out of New York City. I listen with anticipation as the updates are announced: It is “only a forty-five minute delay on the George Washington Bridge. Traffic is barely moving onto the inbound Lincoln and Holland tunnels, expect backup well through New Jersey and most of Pennsylvania.” I, on the other hand, become highly irritated when I have to stop at a red light. I check the clock on my dashboard; it is just a few minutes past six.
The morning commute is purgatorial cruise control. It is strikingly similar in the afternoon until my nine-year-old tells me everything he learned about biomes that day as he jumps into the back seat. It is so numbing that the slightest change catches me off guard. A new employee at the convenience store where I buy my morning coffee rearranged the bins on time. The sugar and other accessories weren’t where they were supposed to be. He just didn’t know where things went. I usually put sugar and light cream from a refrigerated dispenser into my coffee. One day, I dropped in powdered hazelnut creamer and Sweet and Low, then tried stirring it with an insulated cardboard protector. I determine whether I am at work on time by when the local sports report comes on over the radio for the second time. Every now and then at work, once I have put my over-the-shoulder briefcase on my desk and go downstairs to fire up the fickle copy machine, it will occur to me: How did I get here? Is it raining? Did I run a red light? I could rarely say. These are parts of my day that never really happen.
No place on Earth better cures the aforementioned monotony than the Indian subcontinent. There is no better stage to test one’s limits. India in particular is a maddening, bipolar scene of crushing humanity where foreigners come together to find inner peace. It has been the crucible of savage sectarian violence where Hindus and Muslims rub against each other like the Pacific and North American plates, often with similar consequences. It is only a matter of time until it overtakes its neighbor, China, as the world’s most populous nation. India has been mired in internal and external conflict. Sixty years after dismissal of British guardianship by Gandhi, colonial vestiges have been replaced by an exploding middle class, which is at the heart of an ongoing technological revolution. Don’t be surprised when the next time you call for technical assistance on your PC, Rajiv from Bangalore takes the call.
Yet India casts a protracted shadow. It begs to be a major player in the twenty-first century global marketplace while having to drag thirty percent of its population so disenfranchised by their own belief system, they have been rendered faceless. Travel in and discussions about India cannot take place without mention of the venomous divorce from what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. It takes a very long time for any entity to make a full recovery after its limbs have been amputated. Traversing India is meant to be memorable, simultaneously aggravating, and almost never comfortable. In a country with well over one billion inhabitants, it is imperative not to be counted as just another number. India brings out the best for the newcomer; unceasing kindness and courtesy, mountain peaks that pierce the upper reaches of the atmosphere, and vivid colors reflect an array of ancient cultures. It is also a cistern of unhappiness, hopelessness, touts, irritations, and disease, a place where the value of human life comes into question. In essence, India is live human theater without the need for dress rehearsals. It is my goal that this journey will not only change the way I look at things, but strip the veneer of humanity to transform the way I see.
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