Saturday, November 25, 2006

Still more transitions

I don’t know which end of my pendulum-swinging emotions to give more credence. Sometimes I imagine I am a horrible monster who is out of touch with humanity. When I walk through campus, I watch the female chappel-clod construction workers in their bra-less blouses and petticoat-less saris. Their heads are wrapped with layers of cloth to support the shallow pans of earth they carry to cover the rocks they have just laid for the new road. Their brows sweat persistently under the direct heat of the sun and there is a slight curl at the tip of their lips from the heavy strain of their labor. They work quietly and do not judge me as I leisurely pass them on my way to the shopping complex up the road. In contrast to these women, my shoes are made of leather and my job allows me to work indoors and gives me the time and resources to study and read five international newspapers regularly in two languages. My privilege disgusts me as I pass these laboring women whose reality I do not have to confront unless I choose to.

Why should I be in a position to have a choice? What makes me different from these women? Yet, I am not rich—I only have a few dollars left in my bank account and am about to spend that balance when I go shopping tomorrow. Compared to the construction workers, I live a luxurious life, but compared to many people in my country, I am poor. In a world where everything is relative, that is to say where everything exists in relationship with everything else, where do I position myself? Do my own lifestyle choices isolate me from both extremes? Since my career choice will dictate my future, do I have to choose a side to relate to more? Why can I not just accept that I cannot be intimate with everyone and will inevitably be alienated from most people?

I am caught between two worlds. I have tasted the savory morsels of elitism and chewed the scraps from the rich man’s table and still I have no place to call my home. All around me people are living in tents and working for a few rupees a day. They are lucky if they have one change of clothes. They worry about how they will feed their children and marry their daughters. In contrast, I am preparing for my anticipated initiation into the “professional world”: I just had a business suit made with Italian wool and silk dresses tailored. I am reading about international relations and studying an ancient language that is only useful for verbal communication among 300 or so highly educated scholars. Most of my friends at home are going to law school or working for the government. They are all intelligent, motivated, successful, and enjoy great social advantages. Why do I feel guilty to want to be like them? Am I a bad person if I want to have some financial mobility?

I had very little money during my first trip to India, so my experience was very much influenced by trying to skimp and save in order to squeeze the most out of my time abroad. Probably for this reason more than any other, I adapted easily to a rather commonplace “Indian” lifestyle. I learned just how little I needed to survive and felt like I grew stronger as a result of the simplified way of life. However, during my second trip, I have had slightly more money and it’s made a huge difference. I’ve become greedy and I’ve forgotten to be content with what I have. Instead of living in the present moment and feeling connected to life around me, I am strategizing how to prepare for my upcoming jobs and interviews like an actor prepares for the stage. The irony of the whole situation is that my lack of resources in the US has compelled me to take advantage of my buying power in India because I would not be able to afford the same clothes and books at home. But in a country where quotidian necessities are desperate to be met, my present requirements seem inconsequential. Are my preparations justified? Or am I out of touch with reality? Why do I get to choose which reality I operate in?

And about religion. I don’t feel motivated to read the Upanishads and the Gita. I just spent the past 15 months learning Sanskrit for this very purpose, and now that I am in a position to read these texts, the desire to do so is gone. So much time and energy and now I don’t even know toward what end. I feel like God is more abstract and yet at the same time more at hand than ever before. It’s like any attempt to personalize God is met with contempt in my mind. I am disgusted with ritual, and yet still fascinated by the way it captures the imaginations of others. I can’t pray anymore. I am restless when I sit for meditation. I question my teachers and exemplars. I wonder what has happened to me. I used to be so pious and traditional and now I feel like I have learned what I could from religion and now need to walk further on the road to realization. Yet, my path is so mysterious that I can’t see where it’s leading me. I feel displaced from my own intentions and at the same time I want to stay true to these inclinations. India is the place where my subtle consciousness was awakened…Why should it now turn me away from the path I thought I was to follow?

Sometimes during transitions I don’t recognize myself. I felt frustrated with how I perceived myself behaving, but couldn’t figure out what was bothering me. Now I realize I just didn’t recognize myself after the change of routine. When I graduated and no longer had a full-time student life (so after Pune), I changed, inevitably! I changed. It is a sort of maturing that had to take place and inescapably I felt lost at sea. Confusion is just a part of the journey, but as I settle into this new role of working and only taking one class, I think I will be more comfortable with my altered identity. Transition periods are challenging, but usually lead to unchartered beginnings!