One more time with feeling
Try it again
Breathing's just a rhythm
Say it in your mind
Until you know that the words are right
This is... why we... fight"
One More Time With Feeling (2007)
by Regina Spektor
This entry was written on the 16th of April, 2011.
It'll be another four hours before a bus would pass through this neck of the woods to take me to the antiquated ciy of Chamba - I am, how you say, "in between places". I had voraciously consumed all the books I've hauled with me to the Hindu subcontinent, including an old, dogeared copy of Aravind Adiga's White Tiger I found lying about in a guesthouse in which I boarded. It was digested between lunch and dinner of the same day. I had also exhausted all the entertainment my MP3 player had to offer. So here I sit, on a grassy knoll in a clearing in the middle of a pine forest called Khajjiar with a stray pooch lying by my side (this sleeping dog I let lie) with nothing to do. Or rather, there's nothing here I find appealing enough to do. Should I desire it, I can ride horses, chase sheeps, paraglide, zorb, or genuflect at the feet of one of the 16th century carved wooden Pandavas in the 12th century Khajji Naag temple - but I elected instead to retreat into the confessional booth of my mind with a pen in one hand and a well-travelled copybook in the other.
Khajjiar is dubbed the Mini Switzerland of India and it amuses me the same way as when a 5-year-old put on a blanket cape and call himself Superman. My other home, Malacca, calls itself the Venice of the East unironically. It may even be true, historically speaking, but the Venetians are just going to think it's cute.
My other home.
Somehow, I've come to think of India as someplace I belong to, regardless of whether she wants me or not. It's not because I have a strong affinity towards her cultures. It's not because I am particularly fond of her many, many people. I can't speak her frenzied languages and have no plans to pick them up. I know, however, that she is a country I'll return to again and again for the rest of my life. In a sense, India is my second birthplace - to whatever a degree a person can be meaningfully reborn. I came here to study in 2006, a boy in love with a girl he's certain was the love of his life. The boy returned a man in 2009, in love with a woman he hopes will be the love of his life.
It's cold here in Himachal Pradesh, being blanketed permanently in the wintry shadow of the Himalayas. I brought along my favourite sweater; a heavy grey hoodie the Ex-Grrrfriend™ gifted me for my birthday in 2005, and I'm wearing it right now. I was travelling in Sarawak at the time when she called and asked cryptically in I prefer grey or maroon. I have worn it regularly for the past six years and counting; to India, across India and then back again. Do I treasure it for nostalgic reasons? I like to think I don't - it's just a very durable, warm piece of garment I happen to own.
The dog lying beside me is kicking about in its doggy nap. It must be dreaming of running.
Phoebe doesn't mind the hoodie - or at least, she showed not the slightest sign of minding. She is the best girlfriend any guy can ask for and I mean every word I said. There are times when I catch myself slipping into a state of surprise at how lucky I am to have found her. Like right this moment, for instance. She is understanding, patient, rarely jealous, funny, smart, well-read, a great confidant, a lover of animals and a damn cute sight for sore eyes. She also scaled my teeth for free in the living room of her apartment while I shine a pen torch into my gob. I found her in India.
I was a Buddhist when I left for India, the place where Buddhism erupted around a man I used to (and still do) refer to as "Sid". Here, I lost all my childish notions of karma, the afterlife, supernatural beings and reincarnation. It's ironic that in a land of a thousand gods, I returned godless. And in the stead of religion, I picked up an unquenchable thirst for travel, started a weblog, and began what I think will be a lifelong love affair with films. I think that's a steal of a barter.
That boy I once was lived until the ripe, old age of 19 before he died. He and I - should we meet in say, some hypothetical metaphysical paradox, we would find almost nothing in common between us. I daresay we would hate each other on first sight.
My bus would arrive in an hour and I suppose I better get in position to flag it down. I don't want to miss it. I honestly don't fancy a 25-kilometre hike to Chamba after dark in these mountains. I heard there are black bears about.
P.S. I arrived in Chamba safely without running into any ursine incidents. That night, I asked around for a bookstore to restock on essential travelling supplies and was told firmly by a local chemist: "There are no bookshops in Chamba." The horror.
Self-declared honorary Indian,
k0k s3n w4i