In August, Delhi had been soaked in heat, its cluttered old market neighborhood sticky and pressing in close. The dusty crowd, the sheer volume of surround-sound stimulation, overwhelmed me. Still reeling from the sudden shift, I could only leave my hotel room for an hour at a time; and I showered at every return. A previous traveler had told me to leave Delhi as soon as I could; I took off for the Himalayas with no intention to return.
Six weeks later I was passing through and met Charnita, the future co-facilitator of the workshop.
From then on, it was home base, grounding weeks of sporadic movement. I resented its pollution haze which wrings out gorgeous sunsets and early death. Its center-less patchwork maze distorted my understanding of urban life, and the reckless harassment dueled with Hyderabad for Worst Gender Trouble.
Over time, reliable auto drivers appeared among the ruthless, the smog lifted to reveal the stars, and I grew into a new appreciation. Returning from Varanasi at the end of November felt even more like coming home.
Nomadic life does that to you: “home” takes on new space every few days, in a way is attached to anywhere your backpack rests for more than a night. It’s a lifestyle, not a vacation. Living unattached to a physical place can bring out the essence of community and home when you choose to build it. Without the assumed pedantry, the general slog of living can become something more than itself.
Jyoti, a Belgian friend, welcomed me back to Lhasa House in the Tibetan colony of Majnu Ka Tilla with fresh fruit and toast — luxury itself. Among long term travelers, cultural identification can become fluid. Jyoti has moved beyond travel: although Belgian, she lives in Nepal and is only in India to fulfill visa requirements. Emanating peace, she evokes a Buddhist atmosphere; naturally, she felt deeply connected to Nepal years ago and rearranged her life to make a transition possible. Although we each inherit a culture, to suggest that that is all we are limited to does not match reality. Encountering, engaging, and embracing other cultures requires thoughtful ethics. At the same time, not everyone’s assigned cultures, countries, and practices match their inner selves.
Jyoti shifted to my former rooftop room, and rented the kitchen across the way. We wander the (Indian side of the neighborhood) market, a medley of colors — produce piled high in front of seated vendors. We collect vegetables for dinner from the waiting heaps. And choose oil out of the options that a shopkeeper lays before us, as browsing is rare outside of Western-style grocery stores. More often, the salesperson reaches for your requests; there is no casual perusal of what you might want to purchase, no search for potential inspiration A LA leisurely Americans. You are expected to come to the shop with articulate-able purpose. I struggle with this.
Once we have flour, we cross the pedestrian bridge back into Majnu Ka Tilla, and climb the four flights back to our rooftop home. Having access to a kitchen again produces excessive delight: to know all ingredients, return to brief veganism, and, most dearly, prepare fresh vegetables again.
Stories of temples and poverty, scarves and friendship mix in with the spices. I battle with dough in my first attempt at chapatis without watchful eyes guiding my work. The imperfect (American?) version. On the laundry-bedecked terrace, Jyoti covers the rusty low metal table with a stretch of bright fabric, and we lay out the haphazard dish collection. Under the slightly smothered stars, we reimagine convention and celebrate our good fortune to have such a beautiful little home.