know it has been a while since we've spoken. months even. and
with india tossing me around like this, there is some catching
up to do, some chasing down. so you've caught me. held me down
for a second so i can scribble a few words, maybe paint a few
pictures for you. so you can see what i see, if for only a second.
you see, it's been some time since i've gained this kind of altitude,
this kind of high up, looking back over the plains with clear
breath and wind perspective. the kind you get from the hills (now
i'm up in the queen of stations, Darjeeling). and after those
three months in the mountains, it has been two months on the plains,
two months of following the mighty Ganga along her long straight
banks, two months of grit in my hair and soul mates and flip flops
and long train platforms strung with treats. my arms have turned
brown. from the capital to west Bengal. i've been following direct
lines. moving straight for the source.
dove into delhi with flourish. found friends with connections
on opposite ends of the city, and as usual, tried to digest all
that contrast with my usual gulp and swallow. from sipping champagne
in a party dress, backstage of the Sting concert, to headscarves
for the evening chanting at the sufi ruins, where piss smelling
catacombs are lined with roses and thick smoke. chokes you. really.
crashing wedding buffets at the Sheraton with budgey Punjabi boys,
an hour after squatting in the rickshaw wallah's kitchen, as he
begs you to cure his son with the swollen spine, the one who surely
won't make it until spring.
and palaces. and bottomless dahl. and wonders of the world and
suddenly spring. the chill from my himalya finally shaken from
my bones. and the plains. all late afternoon shadow, all dust
slashes and dry forest spread thin over the shoulders of ruins,
like a shabby shawl. midnight sleeper class, some all alone trains,
the clack clack of the bridges as we cross the Ganga again and
again. Ganga: long lean Punjabi princess, as straight and lean
as the woman bearing branches on her head, sari unpinned and just
tucked, skirt just brushing her cracked feet dyed red. i finally
understand the folds of a sari, pan stained teeth, the hands that
pound the chapati. how they grace a forehead each morning to place
a bindi between the eyes. how they bring my hand to their chests
to say good-bye.
i've counted their babies, tucked all around their hips as we
pass through villages on bicyles, and i've seen their dead. Varanasi,
and every town since. paraded down main street on men's shoulders,
draped in mourning orange cloth and mouth exposed, hands clenched
around something. my first dead bodies. piling up now.
and two months like this. buddha's sacred bodhi tree. hinduism's
sacred bathing spots. and finally, Bihar, India's poorest state
and most touching. most certainly. a scrape the surface kind of
wind. bandits tucked into Buddha's caves, sorching two o'clock
sweat stains, the protruding spine of the pony, tugging our cart
between hips and cracked mane and garland strings in front of
her eyes. her entrails strung out behind her like a tail. a water
pump under a banyon tree, where a sister may scrub between her
toes. and kids. hundreds of kids.
we ride bikes along dried up rivers, stop for popsicles and become
suddenly THE WHITE PEOPLE EATING POPSICLES SHOW! train station
platform, forty sets of eyes, beholding the spectacle MAGAZINE!
on my lap. and with so many kids, everything becomes a game of
sorts: kids leaping on our handlebars, riding until they're bored.
mountains of fried sweets, stinking flies and soupy shits; that
ache around the middle, because i drank the water and their stupid
'SPECIAL DRINK MADAM NICE FEELING' milkshakes. because the wind
here is like a welcome, only pushing me deeper into doorways.
my desire to stay. like a dare. like smoking too many cigarettes
on a patio and flicking butts in the gutters. like listening to
the capital, where armed guards man family restaurants and late
night train station cops buy you tea in the waiting room before
begging a blow-job in the closet. and how i love it. and now i
have to leave.
so i got a new plan. gotta skip the country before they kick
me out. five months here and looking down at the world's third
highest peak and crying inside for more. so i gotta find a way
to come back. and find a new way.
so keep it real. yo. keep it soft and smiley and sweet like this
here india. how they hold me up and push me along. like i'm blessed
or something. gotta give a little thanks.
Leah Bailly won't