artist, color, creative process, discovery, healing, heartbreak, India, love, relationship, story, storytelling, temple, transportation, travel, woman, womanhood, writing, writing process, writing prompt
India is a love story that is hard to tell. I am gathering the words. Laying them out in assorted phrases. Trying to find the combination of thoughts that makes the telling most beautiful and most true. I say most true because I don’t think the whole truth could fit into words. As a writer, I will do my best. As a woman, I am sifting through the chatter in my memories for the one that renders me most whole. It has been over seven years since I first landed in Bangalore. A deliriously black, chaotic hour of a morning I didn’t even know was there. National. Then Newark. Then de Gaulle. Then Mumbai. Then finally a skeptical customs agent who checked the passport three times to make sure it was really me who had flown twenty hours around the world. I was here. I had come all this way and the combined forces of crossing multiple time zones, consuming Air India’s vegetarian-option food, and being completely unprepared for impending language barriers had done nothing to ease the pain of my fresh and jagged broken heart.
There I was fantasizing that India could be a pleasant retreat from inner turmoil. I spent the flight with my favorite author, Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, attempting to escape the present moment with her mystical rendering of historical fiction. Now that was a strong woman, I had thought. Why can’t I love like her? Reading a novel worked to a point, but it didn’t help that I was traveling with a large and lively group where everyone was celebrating, meditating, and seeking to deepen their spiritual awareness. Not at all the kind of friends you want around when you’d rather sink into your misery and curse out whoever you need to in your head!
So fast forward to today, and India’s role in my development as a woman and an artist is still an important story for me to tell. Except, I’ve never fully told it. And even now, I don’t intend to tell it all. But I do have many things I want to place out on pages, paint pictures of some unlikely discoveries, and essentially talk about how I came to make peace with love. And then there’s the experiment that encompasses this whole writing venture. How do I tell a story that I am actively trying untell? What I mean is that the story will shape itself around these necessary silences that I’m intentionally constructing into the piece. These omissions are as vital to the telling as the confessed words. And it is this internal conversation that I am having with myself about why I am leaving some parts unsaid that is illuminating dynamics of my be(come)ing yet to be articulated.
For this first rough draft though, I stumbled into a writing process after struggling for two weeks with how to begin. The first line of the essay, India is a love story that is hard to tell, became a prompt for me to start writing and just see what themes popped up. I was also looking at some of my favorite pictures from my three weeks in India. In that short time I was able to travel to several different areas. There were three pictures that jumped out at me. The elephant on the road in Delhi, the woman in front of the blue door in Rishikesh, and the gypsy elder woman walking through Hampi with mirrors on her dress. From each picture, I extracted one word that I felt captured the scene. Those three words then sparked a beginning from which to explore the idea of India being a love story. The words–transportation, color, temple—serve as different doorways through which to enter the same journey. I’m allowing the telling to walk through each one. For now I’ve set a random maximum of 200 words per prompt. A small-scale challenge just to see how this process might feel to the storytelling. This is a glimpse of an epic love story, written in the form of just the beginnings.
India is a love story that will take you where it wants to go. I soon surrendered my usual need to have a sense of direction. Being lost most, if not all, of the time was a part of being in India. I welcomed the confusion. Somehow when you don’t know where you are going, you have less energy to bemoan a heartache. On so many days I was blessed to be lost. And because I was lost, I became aware of all sorts of things that a knowing mind would have ignored. For instance, the way the road was shared by all types of travelers. People on foot, bus, car, motorbike, auto rickshaw, elephant. So many options in how to experience the here to there rhythms in life. And every time I set out somewhere, each mode of transportation generated a different way to feel the journey. On the bus, when I was way up high above the road, the many bumps on the road were so unnerving. That anxiety was so familiar all of the sudden. The fretting over when something jarring would happen. The constant bracing for the bang. This was how I knew love to be…
India is a love story that won’t let you hide beneath the beauty of what is on the surface. I made it my mission to wear the brightest spectacle of colors everyday. I layered pinks over yellows, tied blues around greens, draped everything in something orange. This was my uniform for India: color play as a performance of happiness. And I was very good at it. My colors alone would draw people to me. And then when I would start dancing, vibrant-toned garments spinning in the air, this magical spectrum of colors created a happy aura that added to the idea that I was feeling great. There was this grand irony in the story my dress told. It concealed the black hole in a heart space that was still bruised by an ugly truth. And no matter how I assembled them, my fleet of pretty wraps and scarves could not undo the hurt. Getting dressed so beautifully in India then was this stark reminder that all was not well. That the mask I wore so expertly would have to come off if ever I was to know love as regenerative…
India is a love story that insists the prayers be tangible. Every time I visited a temple, or any other sacred grounds, I would try to say a prayer or something I was thankful for. While my words were honest, my spirit was not wholly present with it. At the bottom of my offerings was sadness over a love story in decay. The trust that was supposed to grow that story had been siphoned off to an irretrievable place. Still I had come to India with shallow hopes of recovering that special thing, knowing it was lost before I had even crossed the oceans. In the temples, at the altars, on my knees, at the riverbank, beneath a sunrise. All these places I prayed and nothing filled the gap of what was permanently gone. I wanted to ignore that the love story I came to India with was dying. But the journey was demanding that my more authentic self show up. India introduced me to this actions-based kind of prayer, one that would take many years of practice. But it was inside that constant invitation to be real with myself that I saw flickers of some other choice in love…
This essay is a part of the Journeys: Traveling To, Through & Away from Home collection.