091223a camel is a very large animal, larger than I thought. two people stacked on top of each other might begin to look a camel in the eye. "in india," our tour guide says, "camels only have one hump." this makes them difficult and uncomfortable to ride on for very long. although it is illegal to carve ornaments from ivory, you can find all the indian gods and goddesses rendered in camel bone at any neighborhood souvenir shop.
I have taken the camel as my point of departure. an inroads to an experience that is tricky to write about, hard to look at from one angle. so many years of build-up to visit a sort of ancestral homeland – but also I sit on the couch under the whirring ceiling fan, in Bathla Apartments, drinking Kiran's chai, and it all feels quite casual and commonplace, natural and familiar.
in Agra was the sole camel. in Delhi, and elsewhere, there are cows. the cows sit on the side of the road, whipping their tails back and forth, watching. some of them have one hump, like the aforementioned camels. sometimes they block the road, and sometimes they trot, en masse, like the wild turkeys alongside me some years ago in niles. "whose cows are these?" I wondered initially. "no one's," my mom said. they are street cows – they oblige to no one.
there are 5 million stray cows wandering india. I wonder why none of the starving poor kill the cows to eat. my uncle reminds me that cow vigilanteism runs strong in this country, especially under BJP. I wonder then why no one milks them? I read that dairy cows can survive up to 15 years, but only produce milk for 7. the cows on the road are starved, often bulls, and for one reason or another un-milkable, and thus abandoned.
India is the world’s largest producer of milk, and used to be a top exporter of beef. before, farmers used to butcher the cows that no longer calved or produced milk. now, modi has outlawed this butchering, pronouncing it unholy. these unwanted cows roam the street, destroying crops, eating plastic, attacking humans out of hunger, creating unsafe road conditions, and passing on contagious diseases.
every dead cow in Uttar Pradesh is expected to be reported to the authorities. every suspicious death necessitates a post-mortem examination.
at first I lauded the harmony that indians seemed to have with the animal kingdom. I delight still in the stray dogs and monkeys carrying littler monkeys underneath them, upside-down, like a pouch. I understand now from my family that it is more of a forced co-existence – "the dogs and monkeys often carry rabies," our tour guide advised, so it is best to keep your distance. the taj mahal had a sign that warned not to make eye contact with the monkeys, and not to take photos.
my cousin says that at their farmhouse office, they had a monkey problem. the urine of the langur is said to keep the monkeys away, so every day, a man brought Sonu the langur to pee in a circle around the office. he was their unofficial co-worker, but I assume he did not cash out when Zomato went public.
during yoga on the lawn outside my aunt's apartment, there was a brief pause in the instruction when a woman saw a nearby hawk swoop down and carry something like a field mouse into the sky. the moms looked upwards and in intrigued tones discussed the frequent hawk sightings in the park, and what unlucky vermin might have been swooped. it struck me that this 'forced co-existence' lends itself still to a certain fascination with the natural world, perhaps distinctly Indian and social, a curiosity and observance of animals (as people?), of weather, of people (as animals?).
I am reading Amit Chaudhuri's Finding the Raga. in it, he discusses the quality of the raga as referencing a certain time of day, or a certain weather, without being mimetic – that is, without overtly describing or representing that time or weather in form or sound. I take this as indicative of a particular harmony that Indians have with the natural rhythms of life. "The rains are an outburst of existence," he says. "You acknowledge them by singing a Malhar; and, by acknowledging them, you add another dimension of veracity to them."
090323[and time keeps marching on...]
My phone feeds me memories of Zach from Fall/Winter 2020, like a fashion catalog. Chris and Zach and I cheers margaritas on Manhattan Beach, in boomerang.
When I ask my mom if she misses being young, she says "of course, all the time. Being old isn't fun, you know." I think about how I should relish my youth, how my grandma loved watching me dress up, how Jeffrey's dad says to look smart while you're young and enjoy it. When I put on makeup to play at F8, I look at myself in the mirror and am surprised by how young I look, when I feel so old.
"It's hard to want to do anything at all when you’ve been confronted with such a loss that puts everything into perspective," says Kaesha.
"Getting older isn't fun," I think. To be confronted with the gravity of life is almost too much to bear. From ages 14 to 24, I dealt with uncomfortable feelings by over-indulging in drugs and alcohol – a worthy replacement for my techniques of yore, and a way to feel happy and alive, if only for a moment.
Now all that feels quite hollow. It would be too easy to distract myself – I know I have to do the work of sitting, sober, and feeling my pain, in its multitudes, if I am to ever emerge enlightened. Curse my commitment to self-betterment – it would be far simpler to numb, and anyway it's in my genes.
"What would it mean to look in the mirror and really face yourself?" I thought while in Chicago. This is the task of being 25. I better figure it out soon — I only have a few months left. (My sense is that it involves crying at least three times a week.)
"Reading is a great way to spend alone time with yourself without having to do too much introspection," says Amy.
My solipsism came to a head with finishing This Side of Paradise. As Amory returns to Princeton, so I return to the University of Chicago, to purchase said book from the Seminary Co-Op. I felt as if I mirrored his sense of disillusionment, albeit less cynically – I don't feel as if I've been robbed of some promise of my college experience, although walking around campus made me realize how specific and located those undergraduate years are, and how little bearing they have on the rest of life. What I'm trying to say is that instead of feeling nostalgic and yearning, I felt decidedly apathetic and like the place had nothing to offer me anymore. Those days of sitting with Ella on the Quad, her in baggy calf-length Adidas track pants, appearing out of nowhere after a few weeks in hermitage, are over – she is no longer there, though her long-haired ghost haunts the blades of grass beneath the new lawn chairs. Zach's pursuant footsteps in the Neubauer Collegium have been trampled by hundreds of others; Chris's frantic energy on the library computers, at odd hours of day and night, has dissipated particle by particle in the dispassionate air conditioning.
I walked by the chalk mural Louis and I drew one fine summer day on our way to the lake, at the peak of our infatuation. It had deteriorated over six years, with faint outlines where he had written "Go jump in the lake!" alongside some squiggly waves. The vines that once embellished our portrait of love were dead and dying, dried out in the summer heat. The weather that day in Hyde Park was a sticky grey. I took a picture and sent it to him, and went on my way.
What does it mean to be young? To take risks, to make use of our condition of having few responsibilities. To be free, and silly, and joyous – but what to do with pain? Perhaps there is enough time to be sad when we're older, and we should punt it until then. "If I am so sad now, what will it be like to be old?" I worry.
"When it seems like the night will last forever,
And there's nothing left to do but count the years,
When the strings of my heart start to sever,
And stones fall from my eyes instead of tears,
I will walk alone by the black muddy river,
And dream me a dream of my own,
I will walk alone by the black muddy river
And sing me a song of my own."
Chris said when his grandma died a few years ago that grandparents are the only people in life that love you unconditionally, and to lose that is so painful. It seems to me the only important thing in life is to be surrounded by loved ones, until you go.
Catherine has moved back to New York; the fog rolls in, cold, through my window. The city moves on, day by day, and so do I – if not with hope nor resolve, then at least with a cup of steaming hot coffee from South Dakota, and perhaps a book by the bay window.