India’s Quilt

Eve Kraicer


From the sky, India looks like a quilt. The lights from the houses and roads create intertwining patches and threads of illumination, and each pool of light is connected to
other patches that line the horizon in any direction. From the sky, India looks
busy, India looks bright, India looks large, India looks exactly like what I
thought it would be. The drive from the airport to the hotel alone solidified
my idea of the country. Beggars banged on the windows of the van, the ever-present
honking from all directions was only masked by other screeches and slams, bangs
and clashes. No rickshaw, motorcycle, bus, truck or jeep seemed fazed by the
mundane concepts of “lanes” or “signals” let alone “one-way” or “road signs”.
Stalls selling souvenirs, crisps, water bottles, chickens, bananas, paintings,
saris and any other necessity lined every inch of sidewalk, while colorful
pedestrians fought with vehicles for road space, which seemed to be limited
enough without people in the mix. We only spent one day in Delhi, and at that
point I had had enough. My body, my senses, my mind were exhausted and
overwhelmed. India, it seemed, was exactly what I had pictured: busy, bright
and large.  But twelve hours later, after
driving by van, bus and car up winding mountain trails to Simayal, Uttarakhand,
I stood on the lawn of a handsome brick building, enveloped by the smell of
almond blossoms, the sights of terraced foothills and the sounds of wild
monkeys and birds. I spent the next two weeks in some kind of arborous utopia;
eating chapati and subji on potato sacks in clay kitchens, hiking to temples
with views of snow-capped Himalayas and teaching multiplication and the
“hokey-pokey” to primary school kids dressed in knitted woolen toques
and navy blue uniforms. I fetched water from wells, peeled
potatoes with my fingers, rode elephants through tiger reserves, dug out landslides
blocking a springs and found some kind of home, some kind of family in a rural
village in the mountains halfway around the world. And although I learned some
Hindi, tried some folk dancing and eventually got my bearings in the town, I
cannot explain who Indians are, how Indians dance, or what India looks like.


When I looked at Delhi through the oval
window in the airplane, I thought I was looking at India. I thought that
although there was diversity, it was diversity within my static, generalized
image, an image that left no room for anything outside my first impression of
the country. And once this image was unwoven and re-sewn again and again, it
became smaller, as I found a whole country can’t be captured by anything close
to a single picture, especially not a country like India.


So I guess in a sense, I know less
about India now then I did sitting on that plane. Because when I sat there, I
thought I knew at least something about everywhere in the country, and now I
realize I know nothing about any place in India I’ve yet to see. I can make
assumptions, (one can always make assumptions) but likely they’re wrong, and I
would rather learn the truth. Because there isn’t enough time, there aren’t
enough trains and boats and planes to take me everywhere I haven’t been in
India, let alone in the world. But there enough rickshaws, buses, footpaths and
elephants who have carried me to some pretty wonderful places, and hopefully
will take me to many more, and maybe someday I’ll collect and connect enough
small, detailed patches to sew together some sort of mismatched Indian quilt.