But India is different; India is difficult, maddeningly difficult. It’s crowded, noisy, polluted, and squalid. All of your senses are continually bombarded in India: the sites, the sounds, and especially the smells…they’re almost overwhelming. You can’t be comfortable in India, even for two minutes. You walk two feet and you inevitably step in the putrid shit of some fetid, half dead animal; mischievous monkeys swing insanely from the telephone wires, leaping to the ground to snatch food out of the hands of unsuspecting tourists; crippled beggars and con men attack you at every possible turn; even the simplest food item assaults you, overwhelming your taste buds and convulsing your bowels.
That’s why I’m going back to India so soon. I’m sick of cotton candy living. I need my soul to be roughened up a bit. I want to be thrown off balance, so that I remember once again what it means to be ALIVE.
During my last trip, I distinctly recall walking past the burning ghats in Varansi with their endless stream of corpses being offered up to Shiva or some other deity in the endless Hindu pantheon. Bodies shrouded in gold, glowing in the moonlit sky…ashes scattered by mournful family members in the sacred river where the devout purify themselves…the mad, holy sadhus holding court on the rotting, slimy steps of the temples. You sit and watch the spectacle and you are transported to a different time long before our own antiseptic, cellophane-wrapped age. You are transported, not just to a different time, but a completely alternative plane of existence. The physical world with all its mundane, silly preoccupation simply disappears and you awake in the world of Arjuna, battling the Kauravas under the ever-vigilant watch of Lord Krishna.
I am returning to India, not because I want comfort, or cleanliness, or some degree of order—that’s why I go to Germany. I am going back because every now and then in this pathetic little life our ours you need to be forced out of your comfort zone and bourgeois ways of thinking in order to get to the essence of what human existence is all about.
Last time I was in India, I strolled along the Ganges at dawn and sampled the sacred rites that have endured down through the millennia. This time I will gorge myself upon them. I will sit on the steps of the burning ghats in the company of my brothers, the sublime sadhus, and force myself to come to terms with the essential mystery that is the human predicament. And, even if I fail to arrive at any profound conclusion about the meaning of my tawdry life, I will be infinitely better off for having spent even a few moments squatting on the slimy, shit strewn steps cascading down into the sacred Ganges. Better because India does not allow for halfway measures. It’s enlightenment or destruction, spiritual rebirth or cosmic self-annihilation. In Shiva’s homeland you either loose yourself completely or you are lost completely. No two ways about it. And I for one relish in the prospect of loosing myself (if only for a few hours) as all thoughts of worldly concerns slip away like thousands of arti lights flowing down the river into dark, peaceful oblivion.
And that, in a nutshell, is why I must go back to India.