Friday, June 22, 2007

worlds a part (a story from India)

Oh sad, neglected little blog! How I have crushed you under my preoccupied feet, and treated you with such undeserved contempt and scorn! You who have been such a faithful slate for my verbal wanderings, such an open door to vast expanses of writerly wondering. I return to you, hoping you'll receive these worn, forgotten thoughts.

Many of you have asked about India, on facebook and otherwise. There are a few reports "straight from the field" on our couple blog, but here I wish to relay one story that I think translates the whole of the trip quite poignantly.

While sauntering an evening away in India's hip yoga capital, Rishikesh, Mark and I were crossing one of the main bridges over the Ganges that bisects the town. This bridge is patrolled by a tribe of monkeys, who pace along the railings and swing from the cables, waiting for treats. Once in awhile, with a good streak of luck, a person can cross the bridge unperturbed by these mangy, red-bottomed fur balls. But not this time.

One particular monkey had stationed himself near the end of the bridge. Just when I thought this crossing would be a monkey-free one, there he was, perched mischievously on the rail. Now a monkey is not a particularly intimidating creature. Quite the opposite, actually. With their crouching stature, human-like features and matted gray coats, they are hardly a fearsome bunch. But there I was, in a new country, engulfed in a swarm of newness and difference. I didn't know what to expect of these little creatures, roaming free from zookeepers and unencumbered by the West's safety fences. These guys were wild and free to attack my head at will.

The bridges in Rishikesh are a constant rush of bodies, motorcycles and bikes. But near this particular monkey, the crowd had thinned a little, perhaps in deference to its unpredictability.
As I summoned up my strength to pass this strange and ratty creature, backed by Mark's faithful encouragement, the monkey's little face contorted in an evil scowl and set its beady eyes upon me in a look of malicious intent. The combination of that wrinkly face, the foreboding frown and violent hiss, was enough to make me jump three feet backwards into the safety of the crowd of strangers.

A few seconds passed, and then one by one the brave ones (my hubby included) slipped by its watchful post to the other side. "Come on Jenny, just come. Just walk, you'll be fine," he assured me. And so once again I called on bravery (that virtue that is is so unused in our culture of luxury) to help me pass that furry devil.

Beside me was a small group of Indian women, dressed in black saris, and with their heads covered. They were older women, and they seemed to be traveling together in a tight-knit group. They too had held back after the monkey's display of discourteous behaviour. As I began to pass the monkey, I felt the hand of one of these women brush mine. Thinking it was just an accidental touch, I did not respond. When the small, leathery hand then firmly clasped mine, I knew it was no accident. I returned the grasp, and together, holding hands like two frightened school girls, we succeeded in running the gauntlet of our fear.
She let go of my hand on the other side, but before descending to the street with her companions, threw me a delighted shriek of amusement. I will never forget her playful smile, as if to say thank you for conspiring with me.

Throughout our trip to India, as with other past adventures, I made an effort to accept a culture and a people vastly different from the familiar. Sometimes it was easy, as in the case of holding that old woman's hand. Sometimes it was difficult, and required great courage. But that one moment summed up a trip that will remain forever on my heart and in my mind. It only took a few seconds for that woman to teach me how similar we all are, in our silliest fears, our bitterest loses, and our loftiest joys.