I am not sure whether I believe in God, in many gods, in one lifetime, in many lifetimes, in a divine Universe, in fate, or just in plain old coincidence. The answers to these questions don’t plague me the way they do many others; they simply exist on a plane which I trust will become as clear as it needs to become to me, when it needs to become so, throughout this lifetime.
What I do know is that for whatever reason, Mother India has woven her mysteries into my life from forever. My very first friend was an immigrant to Canada from Punjabi India, and some of my first memories involve eating hot chappatis dipped in spicy pickles on the floor of her red-carpeted living room. The love I have for chappatis has never waned, and I still turn to the warmed bread dripping with ghee when life leaves me decidedly underwhelmed. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that my eternal commitment to India was kneaded into bread.
My first cultural intrigue, and awareness of difference, came about India also. The bangles and dancing and intricate henna work which flavoured my first Indian wedding seemed like magic to me when I was a child, and I remember watching it and feeling like I had never seen so much freedom dance around a room until that moment. I will never forget sitting (on an intricately woven cushion on the floor!) next to the sister of the bride the next afternoon during the most tradition-laden ceremony I have ever had the honour to witness, so that she could explain to me what each of the moments meant to the bride, the groom, and to the Sikh religion. I thought the bride looked like a real-life princess, and I was as besotted as only a child can be as I watched her float around her groom as gracefully as a painted butterfly.
Contrarily, my first understanding of my own privilege came around India as well. I did not understand why my dad was not allowed to walk our Indian babysitter home, alone, for her own safety when my Mom was struck down with food poisoning, or when my female friend received a beautiful pink bike for her birthday but was not allowed to ride it until her younger brother had his fill. These ideas seemed as foreign in my white egalitarian(ish!) household as eating with my hands and worshipping statues of elephants with eight arms. At the time they seemed neither right nor wrong, and I try to maintain that perspective as I grow into a strong and opinionated woman.
Later in life, I found solace from depression and anxiety only through the ancient practice of yoga, revelled in the mysteries held within Indian scriptures as I minored in religious studies, and drank in Indian literature with a thirst so insatiable it sometimes hurt. I was, patiently though diligently, obsessed.
It is surprising to me that despite my obsession and having travelled to many corners of this magical and wondrous globe, I have never set foot in Mother India. The chaos I have witnessed as the tuk-tuks weave between cows and children, the smells which have greeted me as the discarded paan floats from mouth to pavement, and the colours which have captivated me as I’ve lost myself in a market of saris form only whispy memories that I have not yet made. They are the almost-tangible, though not-quite, moments of my life. And that just isn’t good enough.
So, after many long years of visiting in every way but physical, I have booked my ticket and will set foot in India in 2016. Finally.
And I am petrified.
Part of me is scared that the image I have built up is so powerful, that nothing earthly could ever compare. Somehow, this does not scare me so much. I think the deep part of me knows that India is both more heartbreaking and more magical than something any single mind could fabricate, and I know that I will be touched in ways so extraordinary that my almost-memories will seem grey in comparison.
No. I’m not scared because it won’t be everything I want. I am scared because it will.
For some reason, going to India next year has made me reflect on my life as it is. It has made me wonder if I am happy. Am I doing what I want? Am I growing into the woman I want to be? Am I as compassionate, spirited, aware as I can be? Am I ready to settle down and have children and own a house and continue to progress in my career, or is my spirit compelled to do something which is both less stable and more extraordinary?
I imagine that going to India will challenge me to face the parts of myself that are all too easy to run away from in day to day life. I worry and hope that it will re-awaken the adventurous, carefree woman who wants to get to know the world and make an impact on it. I dread, and pray, that it will lighten the spark within me which dims a little more each day as I trudge through life as I’ve been shown it. I fear I may turn into a wandering hippie, and wonder if that would be such a bad thing?
Alternatively, I wonder if India will finally give me the closure on whatever box was opened so long ago, so that I can stop wondering about what is not and what could be, and start focusing on what is, already, inside. Perhaps my biggest fear of all is that India will be my last big bang before true adulthood kicks in, before I start to enjoy and even thrive in the house-holding part of life which involves having children and loving them more than I do myself. Even Indian scriptures suggest that house-holding well and with compassion is a form of meditation.
Whatever the answers, off I will go. I will explore the sites which have always been so close behind me eyes, and in so doing, open myself up to explore the sites inside of myself which are currently scaffolding-clad and hidden behind dusty white sheets. I hope that the mystery of India which was sparked all those years ago can be solved finally, 33 years and a whole lot of lifetime later.
I hope that whatever fate (or god, or Gods, or Buddha, or the universe) show me is divine, and that I am open, compassionate, and brave enough to welcome it.
The question that scares me, perhaps rightly so, is what I will find.