Under a full moon on a hot sticky night in Southeast India, tossing and turning in a mosquito tent pitched on a dingy mattress in a dingy closet of a room. The fan is not cutting it. I’m covered in sweat. In spite of the tent something is biting my elbows and knuckles, leaving lines of itchy red dots. No sleep. I flip on my headlamp, read, flip it off, try to sleep. Not a wink. At 4:30am I give up. Bus leaves at 5:30. No point to sleep now. The guest house barricade is propped up from the ground just enough to squeeze under on my belly and drag my pack through. Out on the street, it’s quiet. Such a contrast from daylight hours. An old man is firing up his corner stall. A young kid in school shorts, toes stretching for the bike peddles, creaks past. The dogs, comatose in the heat of the sun, are bold now. The night belongs to them. They bark and charge in packs of three and four. I reach for the ground, pretending to pick up a rock. They yelp and scurry away, but continue to stalk me, from a safer distance, barking barking.
The bus stand is waking up. The dosai and chai stalls are steaming, hot milk bubbling. Barefoot bow-legged men with dhotis wrapped around their loins, button-down collar shirts tucked in the folds, slap down rupees and huddle around the makeshift stands, sipping chai. Women in bright saris and dangling nose chains. Bleary children. I join the huddle, downing a few hot cups of tea in a vain effort to stimulate consciousness. I’m used to India at this point, after six months. The cows meandering. Piles of sleeping human on concrete. Dirt and garbage. Store front sign stacked upon storefront sign, the swirling cyphers of Tamil. The push of crowds. The smell. None of it is exotic or strange; it’s just people living, life going on. But this is my last day, my last few hours, in India, and I’m breathing it all in. The bus drivers are waking up, having stretched out on a bus seat for the night, and are brushing their teeth in the rear-view mirror. By this afternoon I’ll be in Singapore. I have no idea what to expect. I know nothing about the place, other than it’s cheap to fly there from Chennai.
The bus blasts past the bullock-carts, motorbikes, and pedestrians, honking full speed through narrow village lanes, driving mostly on the wrong side of the road. I’m used to this as well, charging honking accelerating forward in spite of oncoming Tata trucks, squeezing at the last possible second to safety. I used to grip the seat back, my heart in my throat, each time. Now I barely notice. The South India morning is stunning, lyrical voices float with the rising sun across the brilliant green rice fields, singing. Temple priests light incense. People bathe in the river, brushing teeth, combing hair. Little naked-butt kid scrubbed down by mom at the fountain, school uniform standing by. There are countless moments of grace in the midst of this chaos, a beautiful mess. India. Continue reading