Before heading to India some people warned me that the country was unlike any other I had been to. They claimed that India would surely test the “shit happens” stoner credo that guides my life. Supposedly, my first 24 hours in India was to have me lunging at the sight of any air-conditioned tour bus and begging for mercy at the feet of the elderly tourist that ride in them.
But that didn’t happen.
Instead, the whole time we were there I kept waiting to step over a dead body as one of my friends cautioned me. I had hoped to be flabbergasted by the crawling masses of humanity, the traffic jams, the cows, the slums. I had expected to be assaulted by smells so powerful and so fragrant that I would fall to my knees.
But let’s be real. In today’s economy India is one of the few places in the world where people still have jobs. Like any nation, India has its poverty, some of it staggering. It also has its nouveau riche, its krump hoppers (as they call it) and its terrorist attacks. You might say that India is a complete country-- it has the highest highs and the lowest lows.
What I learned when I was in India was that the world is shrinking. To take from Thomas Friedman, we are indeed living in a world that is hot, flat, and crowded.
I also learned that in my older age, there are just some things I can no longer do. Such as ride on an elephant or sit on a back of a rickshaw while attempting to discreetly nurse a crying baby. And I cannot, with any dignity, gingerly walk barefoot in a filthy mosque compound trying to avoid stepping in pile after pile of bird feces, rat droppings, and other dubious looking substances while trying to stop my two year old son from sticking his hands in it.
And while in the desert town of Jaisalmer I discovered that it was high time for me to stop living my life like I was a collector of unique cultural experiences. For example, at my age I don’t need to live through an “authentic” Ayurveda massage by Dyna, the local practitioner of ancient Indian healing arts, Vedic scholar, and over all sorceress.
I’ll confess that when I first heard of Dyna, I pictured a gorgeous Indian woman in a flowing Sari of saffron orange or some other color that signifies mystic qualities. As I was led down the narrow streets in the old fort city, dodging cows and dog fights and really old women carrying loads of laundry on their heads, I am not sure why I imaged that the location of my massage would be a place that rivaled the beauty and hygiene of a spa at the Four Seasons.
My heart did sink a little when I walked up the tiny steps of an old sandstone building that opened up on to a one room flat (if you will) that had a sheet separating the waiting room from the, uhm, treatment room.
Thankfully Dyna, when she greeted me at the door, did not disappoint. She was beautiful and wore a bright blue Sari (which I was certain held some magical properties). But she did wear an ugly brown sweater over it and it was sort of hard for me to look directly at her face as I would have to stare at the wide crocheted rainbow headband that she wore an inch off her brow. Perhaps, I thought, this sweatband had some magical significance too.
However, all the magic flew out the door when Dyna pulled back the sheet to her treatment room and told me to strip. She pointed to a dirt and oil soaked mat on the floor, the likes of which resembled a mattresses used in an extremely busy crack den.
It is true that what doesn’t kill you, doesn’t kill you, but what doesn’t kill you can give you lice, flea bites, scabies, conjunctivitis, a nasty cold, and a very strong urge to scrub your skin clean off your bones.
But the biggest lesson I learned from my trip to India came from traveling with two kids under the age of three. With both boys still in nappies, I now know that it is essential to always, always take more diapers than you think you’ll need. Because after several days of travelers constipation, shit happens.
Oh, in case you were wondering, we had a great time. Rajasthan is beautiful.