So this is it.
I don’t really know how to conclude.
(I’ve been concluding things since I got here, I realize. I’ve been saying goodbye for as long as I can remember. I just do it. I don’t reflect; it just happens. Endings come because they have to, not because you want them to.)
I am back in Bombay, and back in Dongri. I got in two days ago, took a cab from Bombay Central to my old haunt. It smelled like nostalgia when I got here. This will always be my India smell, Dongri will. Tantanpura Street. It is the smell of thousands of people, goats, chickens, rats, pigeons, hawks, smog, dust, grime. It is the smell of streetside kebabs, of kids playing cricket in traffic, of poor people slowly dying in the street. It is the smell of a subcontinent that I cannot possibly understand, but which I’ve done my best to navigate.
And now it is the smell, too, of finality.
So, full disclosure time: I don’t know what I’ve learned. I don’t know that I’ve become a better person. I know this: traveling India is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is harder than twelve-hour days painting houses. It is harder than writing twenty-page term papers at the last minute. It is harder than having your heart broken, picking up the pieces, and sewing it together again.
Traveling in India is impossible.
But it isn’t, and it’s eminently easy. If it weren’t, I couldn’t have done it, because I’m a pussy. All that traveling in India requires is a little bit of grit, the will to live, and a lack of the financial wherewithal to change your plane ticket.
Really. That’s all.
I wish that I could come up with something special to say, something to wow you with, but I can’t. I’m hot, I’m tired, it’s Easter, and I’m thinking about the meal I’m going to eat tonight at Shalimar. Shalimar, where Aliya and I shared our first meal, where we began to fall in love…this is where it will end. I’ll order lamb kebabs, palak paneer, rice, chapatis, and I’ll eat with my hands… and if there are leftovers I’ll get them bagged, find the most destitute-looking one-legged sleeping person on the street, wake him up, and tell him to eat. And then I suppose I’ll take a cab to Bombay Central, a train up toward the airport, and a rickshaw to Terminal 2.
I’ll sit at the airport waiting for my flight, smoke cigarettes, and cry.
And then I’ll come home.