Leaving India Again [en]

I’ve gone back and forth between Switzerland and India a dozen of times now. It’s funny, people think I’m a big traveller because “India”, but actually, aside from a handful of countries in Europe and a few trips to North America, it’s pretty much the only place I’ve been.

Leaving India has always been hard for me, as far as I can remember. In 2000 I had built a life there, I was 25, leaving people I loved and had a real connection to behind, heading back to a life in Switzerland which had gone on without me, where my parents had separated and my heart had finished being broken during my absence.

I’ve been going through some of my old posts to see what I’ve written about this in the past. It’s funny (and unsettling) to see how some of my memories from 20 years ago have warped. I can imagine as years go on, I’ll be happier and happier to have this written account of bits and pieces of my life. This is from 2004, my second trip back, and so is this post. (I’d forgotten how “dramatic” my journey home in 2001 had been.) In 2004, I was obviously planning to come back as soon as I could, but it would be 7 long years before that happened. 2011 was particularly difficult as Bagha had died shortly before my trip. 2012 had me writing about it again. And so on.

This time, grief and travel are also on the platter. Grief over my stepmom’s death but also not having the time I was so looking forward to with Aleika. It was a short trip for me, two weeks. I wasn’t in a very good place when I left Switzerland, I did manage to get a breath of fresh air in Rajasthan, but it was too short, and now I’m flung back where I was, struggling to find my balance, unpack my suitcase, reconnect with work and loss.

My stepmom would have liked Rajasthan. But she’s not there to hear about it, and I felt that acutely during my trip. I would have liked to show her things. I think that for me, a large part of the pleasure of travel is sharing it with others. And that went and pressed painfully on my loss.

I don’t like transitions. I never have. They’re always stressful. The added understanding I have about certain specificities of how I function, since diagnosis, have helped me make sense of this. There’s maybe a little personal history in there too, but mainly, I just think that context changes are hard for me. I know it’s often hard for people to understand how I can react and perform well in a crisis (talk about a change in context) but simply taking myself from home-in-my-flat to home-in-the-chalet can be complicated. But that’s how it is. And India-to-Switzerland is definitely a major transition, loaded with history af good-byes with no certainty about the future.

One thing India has maybe also brought me that I struggle to find here is a different pace of life, a different sense of time. In my life here, I find it difficult to slow down. Even when I try to slow down, I’m still running around, still putting myself under a lot of pressure to do a lot of things (desired and less desired). In India, there is more waiting, there is more lateness, there is more unexpected that makes planning complicated (so you do it less), things take more time. At least, that’s what I experience. In India, I get a lot of downtime. Now, is it India or is it holidays? The two are linked, anyway. Leaving India behind when I return from a trip is also leaving behind a certain taste of life that I need more of here, but so often fail to achieve.

My body is slowly drifting back to Switzerland. I didn’t get up too early this morning, and as I write, the clock is ticking and it’s going to be time to get ready for work. I’ll leave these words here, and thank you for reading – and thank this trip to India for reconnecting me to my blogging keyboard again.

India: Adventures Till The Very End [en]

I’m sitting at my gate here in Delhi airport. In a few hours I’ll be in the air, in less than a day I’ll be home. Leaving India is always surreal and inevitably makes me very sad. I think it sends me back to my first “leaving India”, and also, maybe more than other places I go, it’s somewhere I feel strangely at home, despite how alien and removed from my “normal life” it is here. I already noted a few years ago that when in India, Switzerland disappears (and vice-versa). I look forward to seeing my cat, but right now, honestly, I don’t want to go home. I know things will be different once I’m actually back, and I’ll be happy to see my friends, be in my flat, live a familiar life. But I think there is something about how different these two “ways of being” are that unsettles me. In addition to that, this time around, although I think I managed to make good of it, my trip had a rocky start. And I miss not having had the two weeks with my friend that I was so looking forward to.

Two adventures today. The first, getting to the airport. There is very heavy smog in Delhi right now. So bad that it’s in the international papers. So bad that people are advised to stay indoors if they can. So bad that diesel vehicles are banned from entering Delhi, we are told. I heard something about a 40k INR fine. Ouch. So, we had to find a petrol car to drive me to Delhi. Actually, the same driver who took me to Rajasthan. This had me a bit wary as I had very nearly said something to him on that trip given how pushy I found he was about getting ahead of any car in front of him and squeezing into any gap in the traffic. But there wasn’t that much traffic on the way to Rajasthan. Delhi airport is another story. I’ve seen my fair share of Indian roads and driving, but let me tell you I was a little tense – and intervened to mention there was no emergency and we had plenty of time to get me to the airport. The pace calmed down a little, but still, I was almost surprised to reach the airport without us touching anybody on the road. It wasn’t disastrous, but still, I’ve been treated to less nerve-wracking driving in India and I know it’s possible.

The second, at the airport. I had dinner before coming, but discovered Delhi airport has a huge food court (in addition to a large selection of luxurious stores). I wandered around, and figured that it might be wise to grab a little snack before getting on the plane, as I was almost starting to feel a little peckish, and I wasn’t certain when we would be fed on the plane (departure 1.45am). Browing the various food stalls, I see mention of a Kolkata chicken andha roll. Yum! There we go. I pay with my card, but am surprised to discover I have been charged 330 INR instead of the 260 written on the board. Worried that there might be a misunderstanding with my order (I really wanted that chicken roll), I enquired, and got a rather unsatisfactory answer. I started wondering if this was another of these situations where a quick buck can be made from a presumably clueless visitor (it happens).

A man next to me in the queue asked me what the problem was. I explained, he enquired (more efficiently than me), a lot of confusion ensued (with, at one point, my order cancelled and a cash refund on the counter), but in the end things were sorted out and I got my roll with a complimentary masala chai as well as a dinner companion. It turns out the price on the board was wrong. OK, said we, but in that case, you inform the customer before charging a different price… The roll was nice (and huge, I wasn’t expecting so much! I’m definitely not worried about my next meal now) and I had a nice chat with this man from Andhra Pradesh who was on his way back to Chicago where his family lives. Sometimes India serves you with these pleasant, random encounters that leave you with a little extra faith in life and humanity.

Another highlight of my day was attending a danse performance by students of Ashoka University. Different styles, taking us through the rasas of the Natya Shastra. I regretted not having a better understanding of what was going on (I often feel shame at my lack of Indian “culture” for somebody who has studied it) but I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and was very impressed by the talent of the students on stage, be it dancing, singing and reciting, or playing music. A very high-quality production!

I head back to Switzerland a little anxious about what the coming week will bring me. Will this break have had the positive effect I expect, even though I’m feeling like a big jumble of emotions right now? Fingers crossed.

La fin en vue [en]

On sait tous comment c’est. Le début des vacances, les jours s’étirent et le temps ralentit. Et soudain, on se retrouve presque à la veille de rentrer, un peu désorienté et dépaysé, à se demander si le monde normal de “à la maison” existe vraiment.

Demain, je rentre à Sonipat. Une nuit et un jour là-bas, puis direction Delhi pour prendre mon avion au milieu de la nuit, très tôt dimanche matin. Cela fait bien une semaine que je ne sais plus quel jour on est. On est jeudi, mais ça ne veut plus rien dire.

Juliette Armanet chante “c’est la fin” en boucle dans ma tête. Je pense à toutes les choses que je n’aurais pas faites durant mon séjour, tous ces possibles qui ne se sont pas réalisés, je m’exerce à “lâcher”. Des choses que je pensais ramener, bijoux, tissus, et autres peut-être, pour lesquels il me semble maintenant déraisonnable de fournir l’effort, au risque de regretter plus tard, de me dire “j’étais là, j’aurais quand même dû profiter”. Les habits que je voulais acheter avant-hier (ou était-ce hier?) et que j’ai remis au rayon car les cabines d’essayage n’avaient pas de lumière (nuit noire) et que ma capacité à communiquer avec le personnel du magasin n’a pas suffi à les faire marcher, ou apparaître, et après avoir attendu et attendu j’ai cru comprendre qu’à midi il y aurait la lumière, et je n’allais pas attendre là une heure dans ce magasin-fournaise alors que mon idée initiale était de rentrer dans le magasin, trouver 2-3 trucs, essayer, acheter, rentrer. J’accepte relativement bien tout ça.

Mais c’est la fin. Je ne l’ai pas vu venir. On est jeudi soir, dimanche matin je suis de retour à Lausanne, quelques heures de décalage horaire perdues en l’air entre Delhi et Zurich.

Me suis-je assez reposée? Ai-je assez récupéré? Y a-t-il un bilan à ces vacances qui ont démarré par un changement d’aiguillage assez brutal? Ai-je fait ce qu’il fallait? Vais-je revenir dans ce coin du monde un jour, ou est-ce que je quitte à tout jamais le Rajasthan, cette ville, ces gens? Vais-je réussir à ramener dans ma vie en Suisse un peu de ralentissement, de sérénité, d’équilibre? Non pas que j’idéalise mon temps ici, je ne veux pas croire ou faire croire que j’ai trouvé la paix et la sérénité ou un rythme de vie que je pense transposable en Suisse dans une vie professionnelle active, mais j’ai pu reprendre contact avec un certain goût du temps qui passe, du faire, de l’être, qui m’ont un peu manqué ces dernières années dans ma vie, et je rentre avec l’espoir de réussir à me servir un peu dans cette petite boîte à épices indienne que représente cette dizaine de jours à Nawalgarh, et aussi la crainte d’échouer complètement à cela.

Les phrases longues c’est pour vous montrer comment c’est dans ma tête.

J’ai peur d’arriver à la fin, alors que je suis déjà sur le seuil. La fin, comme la fin de la vie, c’est clore, c’est dire adieu à tous les potentiels, à tous les possibles. Quand on meurt, la somme de notre vie est faite. Elle est entière. Elle est comme elle est, ou plutôt a été. Il n’y a plus de marge de manoeuvre pour changer, pour être autre chose, faire autre chose, surprendre ou se surprendre, décevoir ou être déçu.

Loin de moi l’idée de mettre sur le même plan deux semaines de vacances et une vie qui s’achève, mais le mécanisme de clôture est là aussi. Tant que les vacances sont encore en cours, leur sens n’est pas complet. Elles peuvent encore apporter ceci ou cela, donner l’opportunité de faire, d’observer ou d’accomplir – de mettre du sens dans cette parenthèse au milieu de la vie ordinaire. Une fois que c’est fini, une fois dans l’avion du retour, l’histoire est écrite, la pièce est jouée, ce qui est fait est fait et ce qui n’est pas fait n’est pas fait. On peut tirer un bilan. On n’est plus dedans, on est dehors, à chercher à faire sens, peut-être, mais ça ce n’est plus du vivre, c’est de l’analyse, du commentaire, de l’interprétation, du discours sur. Un voyage qui se termine, c’est un espace qui se ferme. Un délai avant lequel il reste encore un peu de temps pour quelque chose, qui réveille désagréablement en moi ce sentiment d’urgence de vivre dont je parlais hier.

Comment faire, pour vivre ce jour qui vient comme s’il pouvait être suivi de tant d’autres, alors que je sais pertinemment que c’est le dernier? Aujourd’hui, alors que j’étais couchée sous mon ventilateur entre un repas et une sieste, j’écoutais un épisode du podcast The Pulse: How We Talk About Death. Il y a une histoire qui me prend à rebrousse-poil, mais qui me fascine aussi, parce que ça va tellement à l’encontre de mes croyances sur le monde que je me demande si je ne suis pas en train de rater quelque chose. Ce couple, dont l’un des deux est HIV+, qui se rencontrent dans les années 90, et vivent ensemble 30 ans sans jamais avoir les fameuses discussions sur la mort qui est à l’horizon, restant sciemment dans le déni en quelque sorte, et malgré les alertes, les hospitalisations, les “ça n’a pas passé loin”, continuent à vivre comme si cette épée de Damoclès n’était pas là – une formule qui leur a fort bien réussi, semble-t-il.

Alors, en continuant avec mon parallèle douteux entre les vacances et la vie, la fin du voyage et la mort, est-ce que j’arrive à vivre demain matin comme si je ne rentrais pas? A ne pas voir ce mur dans le temps devant moi, à me balader en ville comme si je pouvais y revenir demain? Est-ce souhaitable? Qu’est-ce qui me retient?

Je ne sais pas.

Still Having Adventures in India in 2023 [en]

[fr] En 2023, toujours des aventures en Inde!

When I first arrived in India in 1999, I quickly started writing up my “Adventures in India“, as I seemed to be having some. Nearly 25 years and a dozen visits later, it seems India still has it in her to provide me with adventures.

My plan for these precious two weeks of holidays was to meet up with one of my very best friends and head off for a good week of walking and road-tripping in Arunachal Pradesh, after a couple of days of shopping in Delhi. Everything organised, comfortable, a perfect holiday for two middle-aged women who needed one and were “so over” managing everything themselves.

Unfortunately, barely 24 hours after my arrival, my friend had to head off to the USA for a family emergency. I needed a different holiday plan. I reached out to everybody I could think of who might be able to help me improvise something. After considering a trek in Nepal (something I will definitely do on some other occasion), I realised that given the circumstances, I needed a slightly different holiday than what was originally planned.

I ended up heading to Rajasthan (5 hours away by car) to settle in Apani Dhani Eco-Lodge – a recommendation by a friend’s brother who runs an Indian-centred travel agency in Lausanne. Apani Dhani reminded me a little of Hillview Farms where I spent so many lovely days in Mysore. They also had a little catalogue of activities you could choose for, and I figured that it would allow me to find the right balance of rest and activities. Also, I’d always wanted to go to Rajasthan.

So off I went, by car (not very economical but simplest and less stressful), heading into a rather rural area without a proper wardrobe (I’d left my Indian dresses in Switzerland given our programme), and realising that I had lost all sense of how much things are worth. My sense of money is stuck 20 years ago, and all my last visits (the last one was five years back) I have always been visiting friends or travelling with them, and not directly dealing that much with financial issues. Thankfully my friend’s husband quickly gave me some pointers regarding the cost of things and expected amounts for tips.

Upon my arrival, I was informed that there was another guest at the lodge (a larger party would be arriving a few days later). The other guest was a woman from… Lausanne! What a coincidence, I thought. But then, maybe she was also there through my friend’s brother’s travel agency – the owner of the lodge is a francophile so it makes sense that it would attract French-speaking visitors.

To my surprise, it turns out this other guest was an ex-colleague of mine from 20 years ago! She was also very familiar with India (more than me probably) and I really enjoyed our long conversations for the few days we were here together. After her departure, five French guests arrived: a couple who were visiting India for the first time, and a family (a mother and two daughters) who had spent two weeks in Ladakh followed by two weeks in Rajasthan, and were stopping here for a few days before going off their separate ways.

Talking to them, I realised how long it has been since I’ve come in contact with people who are discovering India, and how obvious some things are to me now that were not when I arrived. (I just read through the first chapter of my Indian logbook – gosh, what a trip down memory lane.) So, these last days I’ve been diving back into my experiences in this country and my understanding of it.

As far as activities go, I enjoyed a guided visit of the town of Nagalwarh and got a chance to visit two havelis – the traditional houses with two courtyards and striking painted frescoes. I also went out for a bicycle tour in the surrounding countryside. A punctured tyre gave me a chance to brush up on my Hindi by making conversation over a cup of chai with the daughter-in-law of my guide’s friend, as we stopped there to fix his bicycle. I also had a go at doing traditional tie-and-dye with the mother and her two daughters (we had quickly connected), and the next day we all went out to visit havelis in the neighbouring villages with a French-speaking guide. A great day out, but tiring!

As a new batch of travellers arrive tomorrow, I’m going to try and have a little more quiet time. I’ve taken quite a lot of bird photographs which I’m happily editing and cataloguing. I also want to take some time to write. And rest…