I think that I will most likely “process” India for the rest of my life. The daily frustrations, and “lack of proper etiquette” encourages me to continually babble cuss words, but the magic tempers and calms me to the point of being in the moment. How does one even begin to describe the “magic”, that I only remember glimpses of in the United States?
On the eve of the Chhath Puja, I see lights and walk across an intersection to a market that this morning was a vacant lot. This is my third Chhath and most likely my last as this festival falls exactly six days after Diwali every year. The familiar coconuts, pineapples and straw baskets lie on the floors of make-shift covered stalls with Indians of all shapes and sizes trying to sell them. The bananas and apple lie on push carts across from the stalls. I notice the long stalks of palm leaves accompanying many families, weaving their way across the busy streets, dodging cars, buses, jitneys and motorcycles. Never mind the traffic signal down the street which on occasion turns red with the drivers sometimes even stopping. (When giving directions in India everyone always talks about going to the “red” light as an identifying marker, as if the light is always red).
Right before the “red” light I take a left and there on my right, the park with a three foot deep, large “cesspool”, filled only by the monsoon rains, where people washed their clothes and children swam during the hot summer months and who knows what else, has been very recently drained, scraped and refilled. The park fence has recently been painted a shade of aqua and a large area apparently for drying rugs and other things has been painted white. I notice the area around the park has been cleaned up, when only this morning there was a huge pile of pooja materials.
There is a ring of pearl lights running around and reflected in the pool. As I scan the park I see lights placed in trees throughout, realizing once again that this magic is only seen once every year. I wrap around the park to the right and notice a gigantic white clothed entrance and a number of light strings placed on a fence behind the entrance. This morning when I left for work none of these props could be seen.
Things spring up out of the dust, which is swept every morning, on a regular basis for weddings, festivals, parties. One night the area around the park may be pitch black, but on the next there is a large tent with lots of people, the name of the tent renter and the words, “Shilpa weds Anil”. The next morning on my way to work the only remains are the tent skeletons. That evening an entire new tent may go up with statues of various “Gods”, loud music playing and male cooks stirring the contents of gigantic pots to make a variety of Indian dishes.
This is the India that I will miss as I visit the United States in March. There will be no sounds, except the television or me listening to the music on my laptop. There will be nothing happening in the streets except people spacing out in their cars. The “magic’ will be so pre-planned that it really isn’t. On those evenings when I’m in the US, I will sit and remember and play back the magic that I’ve found in India.