Sunday, April 10, 2011

Home again

So, I am home now, safe and sound in KW, Canada.  I thought it might be appropriate to post one last entry to this blog, as it has been a few days since I have arrived back home.
I started way back in January in London and it has been a long time away, but now that I am home it is like I haven’t missed a beat.  Of course, the store looks different and I have to figure out how to eat again, but maybe someone will take me out for Indian food soon…
typical thali i would have had daily

Jet lag hit badly my second day back.  I was dizzy and actually nauseous and barely able to think.  Someone described it like being hung over, and though it has been a long time, I think that is probably appropriate.  I think I am experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock.  My first indication is that I actually had to ask on Thursday if it was a holiday of some kind.  I really couldn’t figure out where all the people had gone.  It felt like I was in a ghost town – downright eerie.  Only when my father suggested that I had simply come from a more populated place did I recognize that to be true.  Now, two days later, I actually still have this sense that there has been some kind of secret mass exodus from this place – there is nobody anywhere!  Saturday morning I woke up and was thoroughly disoriented for well over a minute.  Now, I know we all know what it is like to wake up and be like this for a quick moment, but for me this actually dragged on a long while.  “Where am I?  Which hotel am I in, in which city?  What am I supposed to be doing today?”  I was utterly confused and when I realized I was back in Canada it felt quite odd.  Just, odd.   
I have not fully settled back into my skin here.  In India I think the food I most missed having was good granola so I have since had my fill.  And Theresa made me a raw burger meal for my first night back that was almost ecstatic - but last night I broke down and made white rice, spicy veggies and plain purple onion and ate it with my hands.  Just trying to ease the transition. 

            Before I left I had asked people to place bets on whether I would gain or lose weight during the trip.  As I personally suspected, I went against the norm and gained weight – 8.5 lbs in fact!  Wow, eh?  And yes, that was the same scale I used both times.  Well, all that rice and not running will do that, I guess.  But I bet without any effort at all it will come back down a bit within  a week or so.  I’m not pushing it.  I did go for a short run on Friday – just around the park and back (which was a fraction of my previous running circuit) – and I was amazed that Saturday I woke up with wicked sore muscles.  Yikes. 
            To answer the question of whether my connection to India has been sated or seeded, it is clearly the latter.  Will I go back?  I don’t see how it could be possible that I not go back.  I see time as less of an arrow as a spire, and I believe that our past and future trickle from both directions, pressing us into every moment.  My passion for India is simply more rooted now, part of my cells instead of just my mind and soul.  There is much about the place that I truly disliked.  If I made a list, in fact, there would probably be more on my dislike column than the other.  But the trump is an inexplicable love for the place. 
People have been asking if my trip met my expectations.  Well, after all my previous reading about India, I really kept my expectations in check before going.  I knew enough to expect nothing but craziness but to allow the beauty to find its way through.  I think that I was less frustrated than most travelers, and also more inclined to appreciate small things.  I was more impressed by a fantastic 10 rupee meal from a street vendor than I was with the Taj Mahal.  I had ups and downs, and I really feel that I had a thorough experience of what India has to offer.  That is not to say that I did or saw everything, which is of course not possible.  But I believe that I experienced a solid cross-section of the sub-continent and all its cultures, flavours, peoples and places.  And I know that I don’t need to do that again.  If and when I go back (in’shallah!) I will be well pleased to arrive quickly at a peaceful destination – some ashram or community – and settle there for a good month or more.  That is, at least, what I would choose to do at my present perspective.   
            But that does not mean that I would change anything about this last trip.  Certainly, I had a miserable time with certain parts of it.  And no, I am not talking about the days when I was sick, because those were important and I am glad to have had the experience.   I mean the damp cold of Kashmir (without boots on cement floors) the ferocity of the touts in Varanasi, the inevitable prison tortures of group travel, the choking blocks of black air from engines burning unregulated diesel fuel thinned out with cheap kerosene – these things I could do without.  Or could I?  At this point, I simply know how to do things differently should there be another time around.  
the ubiquitous green and yellow auto-rickshaw
            On the whole, the trip was less of a personal revelation than many persons have during their journeys to India.  Perhaps I did not need India for that, but for other reasons.   I had some important moments of clarity and depth which were bold enough to make a lasting impression early on in my stay.  The Ramanasraman was, in my first week or so, the certain high point of my journey.  Kashmir was music of another song – sadder, deeper, more heart than head – but also touching and teaching in a grand and unexpected way.   Otherwise, for much of the trip I was merely a student, a tourist, a traveler, and I was just trying to soak up the moment every day, knowing that the next day I would be gone and never be back. 
By the end I was thoroughly exhausted, and that is even more clear now that I am home and I see that I have nothing at all in reserve.  My last weeks were caffeine-fueled and having experienced adrenal fatigue in the past, I can see that this is where I am at right now as well.  But I know what to do about that, and I know that I will recuperate in time.  Kashmir hit me with a left hook, too, and I have to figure out in myself what I am going to do with that connection and with the reality that I cannot ignore.  I truly hope that any and all of you will consider helping me do some small or large thing in the future for this land, whenever I figure out what that might be.  Prayer, it should be noted, is not without value in this regard.  Just 2 days ago a militant leader was killed by a small bomb in Srinagar, as he was entering his mosque for afternoon prayers.  The whole city has gone on strike – no buses are running and shops in many areas are closed en masse - and there are major safety concerns in some areas.  So in one way, I left at a very good time.  However, I pray for Christine and her family, and for all the lovely Kashmiri’s who only want peace to their beloved land which they will not abandon.  There are, as Justine reminds me, many there who are simply and deliberately acting to prevent peace.   When I was there, I would often ask people about what can be done about the whole situation in Kashmir.  Some think money will help, some think that social programs or education or political change is the answer.  Clearly, it is going to take time – and all of the above.
Monument under construction at the Dalai lama's temple

In India, I started in the south at the Ramanasraman, and ended in Kashmir.  So in a way, I started in heaven and ended in paradise.  Not too bad, really.  I brought back a few books about India, and though I do not rush to read them now, I am sure they will not be the last to add to this shelf.   I also brought back clothes, which fit me well, and which I will continue to wear. 
Now, I have the chore if integrating this experience with the one I have here in Canada, and of not letting things like the price of tea or the inevitable winter bring me down. 

I hope some of you enjoyed this blog and learned a little bit from it.  I will be adding photos and videos to past entries at some point, but mostly I hope to share all this with most of you in person.  My love and light to you all.  

Sat Shri Akal
Tashi Delek
Khuda hafiz

sunset from Arunachala


  1. Winter is over Rob!

    Yours tales caused me to be harrowed to the very bones each evening. I shall miss that.

  2. Continue to make all your dreams come true Robinder.

  3. So sorry I missed finding this blog earlier. I am another ex-pat living in India and working in Kashmir. There are only a handful of us but we're around! (I'm familiar with Justine and Christine's fabulous work... and I could introduce you to a few more also.) You mentioned offering 'advice on documentary filmmaking' at one point... and also mentioned having further interest in getting involved to support Kashmir in the future. Feel free to get in touch with me!


  4. Rob -

    I came across your blog while planning my trip to Kashmir for this upcoming June. Well done, sir, I must say. I'd love to pick your brain a bit -- if you're so willing -- though I was unable to find a email address anywhere on here. Let me know.

    Jeff Lopatka, Chicago, IL, USA