“Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, ‘you owe me’. Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.” – Hafiz
I was sitting in the airplane listening to Hindi music and about to make my descent into JFK airport when I laughed to myself as I realized something: my whole life up until nine weeks ago, no one would have ever guessed that I’d be voluntarily listening to Hindi music. My mindset was completely different back then. I was Indian by blood and grew up visiting India and knowing about the culture, but I didn’t have the connection to my native country the way that I do now. I feel as if I had a Craigslist “missed connections” ad without even knowing it: “India, I was born with your brown skin and a name that originated from you, but you’re all the way across the world and I can’t see you or feel your presence. How can I find you again?”
What I found in India was more than I could have ever imagined. I’ve covered a lot of ground over the past nine weeks. I visited family and family friends all over the country, some of which I hadn’t seen since my last visit 8 years ago, or even longer. With some people, it felt as if we were meeting each other for the first time. I’m an adult now – well, most of the time – and am much different than the 18-year-old me who last visited India more out of obligation than interest. I learned more about my family roots and my culture; oh yeah, and I got my nose pierced!
I backpacked through parts of India I have never been to, and felt kindness, as well as frustration. I made a conscious effort to learn Hindi (despite being a little shy to speak to people I knew!) and plan to keep up with it. I drove a scooter in beach towns of the south and walked around the hills of the north. I visited churches, synagogues, mosques, and Buddhist and Hindu temples in both India and Nepal, and opened myself up to spirituality and meditation. And most importantly, I met amazing people whom I will carry with me in my heart wherever I go. I felt a close enough connection to feel sadness when saying goodbye to every single person I met on this trip, from new friends to the kindhearted taxi drivers who may as well have been strangers to me. I hope I cross paths with all of them again one day.
Every time I return to the US after a backpacking trip, I know that I have changed a bit on the inside. But sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the fast paced life back home and I momentarily forget about the experiences that transformed my perception. After spending two months in India and a short week in Nepal, I don’t ever want to forget the way I feel now, and the way this trip has changed me. I feel that all five senses have been altered, but in the best way possible; I have seen, smelled, heard, touched, tasted things that I never even knew existed. I have felt more happiness, love, gratitude, and compassion than I thought was possible for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same, and I’m so happy about that. I leave a piece of my heart wherever I go, and I’ve left the biggest piece in India. I am already making plans for my return next year – there’s still so much more to see!
Although I’m back in the US for now, Europe is on the horizon. Fingers crossed, very soon I’ll be heading to backpack around for a bit before moving to Spain to teach English for nine months. I have so much more wandering to do, I can’t wait!
What I can definitively say about India is that Lavi was here. And part of me always will be.