I have a string of memories from a surprisingly busy and hectic last week, most of which seem so different and distant from each other that it is difficult to remember sometimes that they all do belong to me. But they do, and I love that fact. I love that my life here in these short three months has been filled with Villagers and Coconut men, Working-Class Indians and charming Expats, Autralian diplomats and Bollywood movie stars. That is I suppose much of why people love India. The contrasts and contradictions that arise from this vast continent are so overwhelming and crazy and seemingly incompatible but yet here they are not only possible but strangely normal.
One of my last nights was spent on the back of my friends motorcycle driving through Chennai madness, eating Dahi Puri, listening to him tell me of his amazingly romantic proposal to his girlfriend (Indians are perhaps the most utterly romantic people you will ever find) and watching these amazingly terrifying huge Australian men bash at each other with heavy sticks and balls. This, I think to myself, is a hopeful example for the future of India.Not the Australian men, but my friend Rakeesh.
India could, in my humble opinion, go a number of ways. It already is and is going towards becoming one of the most important economic powers of the world. It has 1/6 of the worlds population, is one of the largest growing consumers of oil,rice, energy, food and value-added consumer products. I shudder to think that India will continue to “advance” unreflectively the same way it has been. The world is already groaning under the weight of unreflective consumption and the synthetic and biological waste of barely 750 million people.Yet this 20 something Indian sits in front of me,secular enough to have in depth conversations about politics and marriage and sustainability and India’s waste problem and orthodoxy and treat me as an equal in that regard; Indian enough to not let me pay for anything,make sure I am having a great time all the time and escort me to my front door to see me home safe. He is part of the trekking club here, actively a part of this club that more than anything else is actively promoting the good kind of environmentalism in Chennai. He is still a vegetarian, doesn’t drink or smoke and lives with and supports his parents. He is able to take out of western culture that which is positive and healthy and leave what is not behind. However he is also not distant from his own roots. He is this fascinating hybrid that I sincerely wished I had spent more time with but somehow imagine I will see again. India will continue to advance, there is no doubt about that. At the moment that advancement scares the living daylights out of me and maybe that is why I like Rakeesh: he gives me hope.
It is also why I like the organization I am working with. If one could actually get a country like India, even a state like Tamil Nadu to invest more into organic agriculture, into increasing biodiversity on farms, into introducing more indigenous varieties, into reintroducing kitchen gardens and enhancing farmers knowledge then you have already done a heck of a lot not only in terms of food security but also in creating a more healthy, able and conscious community. In every other place it seems utterly unfeasible to actually change much of the structures we have in place-too many rigid rules, too many inflexible idiots, no history of great change or revolution and adversity towards adopting new ideas. But this is India- aside from all of her obvious problems she has an extremely open and tolerant society,an acceptance of other people, cultures, religions and ideas, a history of strong democratic thought and one of the longest traditions of reasoning and logic (who would have thought….). Maybe her chaos and informality and openness and flexibility could work to her advantage. Maybe her history,culture and customs have the potential to carry India through something that China, or the States or Europe is incapable of seeing and implementing. Especially in terms of Agriculture and Food Security India really has no other direction to go but forward.If you change India, you have the potential to change the world.So although I am leaving Chennai and happy to get out of the dirty, overcrowded, underserviced city I am increasingly excited to return. Excited to return and see what people like Rakeesh and CiKS will create from this city, excited to see the hybridization of multiple cultures and customs and innovations and excited as always to see what India will do with it.
I have no concluding story to end my time in Chennai.India just isn’t quite as comical as it was in the beginning. Once you start to understand what is going on it, in a very weird sort of way, starts to make sense and thus the contradiction is lost in the eye of the writer.I leave Chennai with a wallet full of business cards and addresses, a head full of thoughts and ponderings, and a heart bursting with love for new people and places.There is a certain nostalgia to leaving any place. There is this passage from one of my favorite novels that sums it up well : “You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again”.
It was fun while it lasted, Chennai. Thanks to all the people who made it what it was.
This is officially my last blog post on Chennai. Stay tuned (maybe-internet depending) for more stories of my travels through the North East of India. There is the possibility I will continue this blog when I return to Vancouver, perhaps even include a few anecdotes about Canadians and their weird and amusing cultural quirks. Otherwise thanks for reading!