Everything I felt and saw when I returned from India came to me in pieces, little realizations that I had to consciously assemble together to register a complete picture, one that seemed so foreign after ten days away. The frost on the ground. The cleanliness of Main Street. The silence was overwhelming—it was almost too quiet.
What inevitably followed our return were millions of questions about our trip. How was India? Was it so much fun? Did you love it? I nodded “yes” to everything, too jet-lagged, sick, and exhausted to detail the shock of my experience. How could I explain anything when I was still trying to process, in my own mind, what I had seen?
Since our return almost two weeks ago, classes, homework, sports practice, and college applications have quickly forced me to readjust to Deerfield life. Now that I am removed from India, I am finally able to catch my breath.
I am able to reflect on the experience more aptly than I was able to before and share those experiences, to the best of my ability, with the community to which I returned.
Now I am able to remember things with a certain retrospective clarity. This is what I remember: my eyes burn and my ears are ringing. The swollen buses and the scores of their screeching horns compete with those of taxis racing between the braying moans of pregnant, hairless dogs and the creaks of rusty bicycles. I lick the dirt off of my lips, letting my tongue taste the terracotta air. It is dry and gritty and smeared, like old newspapers saturated with the grease of fried na’an. Crushed plastic bottles drip with the condensation of brown water, piled high in a garbage heap indistinguishable from crumbling cement walls.
Every sense of my body recoils in shock at these differences. But I am pulled in. Everything pulses with an aliveness of color, of sound, and of emotion. It is impossible to tear myself away.
“No mother, no father, no chapatti,” a little girl whispers hoarsely. The orange-brown shade of her hair is the same color as the fine sienna dirt that covers our hands, our faces, and the plants that seem to never have been green. “No mother, no father, no chapatti,” she chants again, in a monotone repetition. She tugs on my pant leg. “No mother, no father, no chapatti.” What can I give her? What do I have to give? She points at my ring, the one remainder I have left of my grandmother. I swallow and shake my head, “no.” “No mother, no father, no chapatti.” She must say this one thousand times each day.
I untie a cloth bracelet with brown beads from around my wrist and hand it to her. She loops it around her own tiny wrist and then pulls on my pant leg again, searching for more.
She is not the only one who approaches us. Each child asks for a different thing: some for rupees, some for clothing, or jewelry, some for food, and some for soap. Two boys play musical instruments at us, while others throw rocks and yell in a language we aren’t able to understand. Others simply stare because of our whiteness, a thing I am becoming more aware of and sometimes embarrassed by, because it makes us different.
Yet, despite it all, I feel a sort of attachment to this place, this country of immense mountains and hospitality, of genuine happiness and of contradictions.
By the time I leave, I have been gone for ten days, and I am beginning to miss the small characteristics of home: the temperatures more forgiving than the brutal Indian heat, the postcards on my walls, fresh fruit that can be consumed without fear of becoming ill.
And then I think about all of the things I am leaving behind: leisurely tea breaks that offer time for quiet reflection or socializing, the vast number of people I have met who have expanded my perceptions immensely, the greater sense of self I discovered through the nonexistence of internet and cell phones.
Perhaps, most importantly, I realize that my going back to Deerfield may remove me from the situations in which I found myself while in India, but it changes nothing for the nine-year-old girl who tugged on my pant leg to beg for chapatti.
I cannot reconcile this in my mind. I try, at least, to contemplate it, but my mind is already overwhelmed with emotion. What else can I do? What more can I give?
Leaving Deerfield for this brief moment was the best decision I’ve ever made. I find now that I have the strength and capacity to ask myself questions that I’ve needed to ask myself for a long time. And perhaps I’m no further along at finding the answers to those questions, but I certainly have a new perspective through which to try.