My beloved,

Somehow, I should miss you. But this country—this place—has worked my heart into a deep, seductive love. I do wish you could know it like I do, to be saddened and overjoyed as I am. Every day, I write of what I see and yet it never seems to do this country justice. Still, you must have some sense of my life here, so I will share with you a writing from my journal. Perhaps, with this inspiration, you will come to love what I love so well.

August 16

There is a hole in India’s sky like some interminable gorge. It wades above the incense of Marrakech, swallowing the barter of the stalls, and droops between the rocks and seas. Painstakingly, it crawls to the brown-skinned sub-continent, resting above the parched bed of the Ganges while wrinkled old men splash their leathered faces like children. This is India’s ever-morning ritual, and it keeps her alive.

I was not there in tents when Ghandi ruled with stubborn peace. And I did not know the nation when it was fractured by ten thousand tribes. But I know it now: the dusty scent that trails every living thing, the cracking teeth I see when laughter finally comes, the piquant spices that fill me with sneezes, the swollen alleyways and blind boys begging. There is a stirring brownness everywhere that renders everything so close to earth, it scares me. Because I am as white as a balding noonday sun.

It’s true, I am thankful for India: for the reminder of what I have, and what I had. But mostly, for what I’ve missed. Growing up on the farmlands of Nebraska, I never knew want so stark as this. But to Indians, it is like breathing, like soaking in the ineluctable mire of life. Perhaps that is why the grime of the age-old Ganges is still used to bathe—it is the ritual that matters, not the purity of the water. I hope someday to know it so well that I, too, can immerse myself in all the beautiful brown waters of the river.

This morning, I walked to the edge of the city and looked out. When I first came here, son of the New World, I could not speak to emptiness. Even the plains of Nebraska cannot compare to the landscape stretching out beyond me here. But now, I feel it becoming a part of me—a necessary neighbor, steps from where I sleep. And though the day is filled with noise and chatter, I never forget the emptiness that stretches out beyond me. There are days where I crave its silence.

Tonight, as I was wandering outside the city, walking toward the tired sun, I came across and old man sitting in the dust. His legs were crossed and on his head he wore a shining white turban. There was a peculiar calm about him, a lack of anxiousness that comes with rusty age. For several minutes, I stood awkwardly in the blowing wind, turning one way to see the darkening sky, the other to watch the glowing face of this meditating man.

In the space of time that I took them both in, I couldn’t know which I wanted more—to be with the sun as it set over the horizon, or next to the man, cloaked in peace on the ground. I can’t imagine why I thought so, but I knew he was immune to every fear and loneliness: the perfect state of being. Slowly, abandoning the dying sun, I moved toward him, and sat in the dust beside him. Crossing my legs, I, too, faced West and lowered my eyes. Gently, I released the burning thoughts of my mind, and nestled into the close of day. My eyes shut, I pictured the perfect sun as it set and every curvature of earth exactly as it was. I smelled the dusty wind that rubbed against my hair like a lover, and I smiled without knowing.

I cannot think how long I spent in that place, but when my eyes opened of their own accord, the blue-black sky was lush with stars, and the man who once sat beside me had disappeared. All that was left of him was a lurking musk—and perhaps it was just the scent of India.

~~

Know that you are here in spirit, my dear, and that I think of you often. If ever there were a country so beautiful, so peaceful as you, it would be India. I suppose that is why I never want to leave.

Yours,

Jeff