Toward the end of my time in India I started contemplating a lot. I sat in my friend’s apartment in Delhi, the same one I was a bit afraid to leave when I first arrived in India about five months earlier.
I grew accustomed to the many things I didn’t like in India – the poverty, the lack of hygiene, the noise, the smells, the treatment of women, the patriarchal society, etc. I also grew accustomed to the many things I did like – the compassion you find in the most unlikely places, the tolerance, the hospitality, the smiles, the focus on education, family unity, etc.
India has a way of grabbing hold of you and not letting you go. It had a way of hardening me in a way I didn’t like. As much as I’ve learned to love, be open, and be compassionate on this trip, I somehow hardened up when I got to India. Few places on earth need more compassion than India does, yet when I got there I hesitated.
I’ve heard many people say that India presents you with what you need to experience. Others say that your attitude in India determines your experience there. I’d say both are true. But that’s the power of India. I don’t think any other place on earth forces you to look inside yourself as much as India does. And the more I looked within, the more I realized how much India is a window into humanity’s core, its soul or its consciousness.
India is a microcosm of the entire world – many languages, many cultures, phenomenal wealth and abject poverty, its titillation of all five senses in a way no other place on earth can match, its injustice mixed with love and generosity, etc.
There are so many people in India I sometimes felt like I was part of a flow of people leaving a Delhi Metro station or a Bombay suburban train station. I’d like to say we flowed like a future scene of driverless cars rapidly navigating a highway in close proximity to each other without bumping or crashing. But it was more like reality, a flow of molecules that perpetually bump into one another yet on a macro level form something as vital and congruent as water.
It is in such a situation where you can gain perspective. Life is also one big flow that you are apart of. The more you resist it, the more your mental health suffers. You can change things to a certain extent, but much of the outer path is fixed – yet you have the ability to look within and determine how you perceive and understand the flow around you.
As I flowed through India, as I walked past kids in Dharavi defecating in the street without thinking twice about it, your concepts of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, justice, and humanity are tested. India is raw and when you arrive it’s like a band-aid (aka plaster) that has covered a wound your whole life gets pulled off in an instant. You feel exposed and vulnerable in one sense, yet at the same time you feel like you are seeing life and humanity without a filter for the first time.
This removal of the filter, this rawness I describe.. it’s humanity’s soul. Just as we personally cloud our lives with distractions so we don’t actually look within and work toward self-actualization and enlightenment, so too does humanity preoccupy itself with distractions, things that don’t matter, and a persistent whitewashing of the human condition.
India is real. It’s honest with itself in a way that no other place I’ve been on earth is. The result, for many travelers, is pain and disgust. Though pain and suffering are not unique to India, all societies have them both to some extent, it is the lack of filtering and the lack of sugarcoating that make India different.
When you are exposed to all these new things, you also expose yourself to parts of your own soul/consciousness that you’ve never explored before, for better or worse.
India is the world’s conscious. It’s a barometer for how we as a people are doing. We can be quite ugly, and India’s rawness reveals this to outsiders for the first time and insiders every day. But when you scratch beneath the surface you also find abundant beauty, grace, and tolerance. The dichotomy is enough to make your head spin, and in that spinning you get a glimpse of humanity’s soul. What we see is unique to each one of us, as is how we react to what we see.
India is neither perfect or imperfect. It just is. It’s us. It’s the reflection humanity sees when it looks itself in the mirror.