I could be writing the same post about Cambodia, Vietnam, or Malaysia I suppose, but I’m going to write it about India because it is foremost in my mind, and it is probably the most complex country I’ve visited so far. It is a post without photographs since I want to test my descriptive ability. I know I should have chosen an easier place to describe. I also know that I will never be able to paint the picture I have in my head. I know my limits in some ways.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I do realize that Goa is not typical of the rest of India. This is not Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, or Bangalore. Goa is a unique little state on the western shore facing the tropical Arabian Sea. It was colonized by the Portuguese nearly 500 years ago and has more Catholic churches than it does Hindu temples. There are nearly as many foreign tourists here as there are native Indians, but, I don’t feel slighted, and I even think that it was wise to have such a gentle entry into this land.
I suppose I will write about how my sensory organs perceive this environment and I also suppose I will get to this in due course. But it is how the people go about their everyday lives that intrigues me most and makes me most curious. I’m being honest with myself by realizing that I will never understand this, certainly not on this trip, but I do make up little stories in my head to match the scenes that unfold in front of me. Each time I see a particularly interesting face, a colorful sari, a family gathering, I make up a story to suit my needs all totally confined in my own little solitude. Since I realize this is all fantasy and not reality I’m convinced that this is a harmless pass time. The little lies that we tell ourselves; that we understand more than we really do, should be forgiven I think.
Cleanliness is a curious thing here. I simply don’t understand how people can knock about in this dusty, pre-monsoon place and remain spotless with their clothing. I walk out the door and I’m sweating like a pig, have dusted three cars with my shorts, and have dog shit in the treads of my sandals before I can even get in a taxi. But I constantly see people maintaining a dignity that I can’t fathom. School aged children are walking home FROM school in crisp white uniforms (including the white shoes) with nary a blemish anywhere, creases sharp, and in the most civilized fashion that you can imagine. Women. The colorful saris that they wear touch the ground but there is never a stain anywhere.
Cows do roam freely here, that’s no myth. Cows do excrete large patties, that’s no myth either. The streets are dirty; let me clarify, in some cases they are filthy. Wafts of the “fragrance” from the open sewers in the tropical heat can sometimes be overwhelming, but that’s all outside. Inside is meant to be an oasis, a family paradise perhaps. Even in the most humble of shops and homes piles of shoes are in front of the door and everything is spotless once you cross the threshold. There are obviously rules that help people cope; I just don’t pretend to know what they are.
I only have glimpses, but it seems that people live very big, full lives on very little means and resources. Different things are obviously important. I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of this, but I get a sense that people take care of each other and understand the tribulations that we all go through. Karma plays a big part in their lives and I’m pretty sure that if it played a bigger part in mine I’d be a better person for it. On the way home from the beach today we saw two men walking down a busy street, arms around the shoulders. The taxi driver said: “This one keeps the other from falling in the street; the other keeps his friend from falling in the gutter. They’re both drunk. It’s the blind leading the blind.” They looked completely harmless and no one gave them a hard time. It was just two souls trying to get by in the best way they knew how. Everyone just sort of got that…it was a given.
Visually, it’s stunning. I cannot think of a culture that values color more than the Indians. You can see it in their clothes, especially the women. You can see it in their houses because they are painted every color in the rainbow (and some colors that don’t even exist there). Here in Goa the dirt is red, the sea and sky are blue. The temples to the Gods and Godesses: Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, and the all the rest, are little grace notes of color in this calliope.
Smell and taste runs toward the exotic. I wish I could describe the general, overall smell…because there is one I truly believe. In my head it will be the smell of wood smoke, incense, humanity, filth, and curry being wafted along on hot tropical breezes. But, it is somehow proportioned as to not be overwhelming, simply reminding: reminding of the reality that exists with this many people living together in an ancient culture.
Then there are the sounds. These are easier to describe: Honk. Perhaps beep, beep.