Monday, May 26, 2008

Giacometti in Singapore

After a brief tryst with the West, a month-long journey during which time I ate reindeer steak in Finland and watched a dwarf sing karaoke on a ferry to Estonia, I've returned to India. True to form, in the last 10 days I've been between Philadelphia, DC, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Delhi, and Bombay. Life moves fast, but when the dust settles, not a whole lot has changed except my time zones. After spending a great day in Singapore, where I toured an Alberto Giacometti exhibit at the Singapore Art Museum, drank a Singapore Sling at the Raffles, walked the quay, and had a five-dollar shower in the airport (amazing!), I boarded my final flight to India. As I landed in New Delhi last night I smelled familiar smells, heard familiar sounds, and saw familiar sites. This has, after all, become my home. It is host to a year of my youth, and 4 percent of my life. It's a part of me, for better and for worse. The dialectic is powerful, and at every turn I find myself experiencing contradictory feelings of frustration, elation, resignation, and excitement.

India has taken part of my life away, and at the same time, made me a better person for having experienced something that so many other dare not embrace. As I looked over the serene Pacific from Highway 1 in Northern California, watching a perfect sunset, I knew it would appear different a week later over Marine Drive in Bombay. It would be accompanied not with serenity and sand, but with energy and vibrance, not with pensiveness, but with camaraderie, surrounded by eyes and smiles of scores of onlookers. As I squint through the hazy morning sky of Gurgaon, where a blanket of dust and smog obscures newly constructed glass edifices, I consider my health and the consequences of my location; As I step over the littered pieces of discarded lives, sandals, dusty cloth, paan wrappers and crumbled curbsides, I question the failures of a resource-rich country with gross governmental mismanagement; As I turn on the radio I realize I'm in touch with Indian, and not American pop culture, as I know the lyrics, gossip, and movies from which each song hails.

I will depart the sub-continent in July in person, but it has become part of me in practice. My relationship with her is complex. I love her virtues, but I despise her shortcomings. For every religious beauty there is a political fault; For each linguistic plurality there is a bureaucratic ultimatum; For each cultural purity there is a breath of carbon emission that makes one long for the clear skies of Los Angeles or Mexico City, and demand a better alternative than Kyoto; For each Bollywood ideal there is a system that cannot provide for its own people. I am Californian, and 4 percent Desi. That's a proud, and dismal truth.