The last pictures I took of India were on laundry day. Little wonder: after two and a half weeks on the road, I’m ready to wash my clothes too, and missing the routines and comforts of home. I think it will take me along time to wrap my mind around everything I have seen.
Every Sunday, people throng to the steps of the temples around the Udaipur lake to do the wash. The women pour water over their long hair, children swim and splash off the steps, teenagers dive off the walls and shove each other playfully. Its generally a scene of cozy merriment.
Everyone cleans their clothes, soaping them, beating them with large flat paddles, soaking and rinsing them, wringing them out, and letting them catch the breezes before draping them over the steps to dry in the hot sun. I have no doubt that clothes have been cleaned in exactly the same way, in exactly the same places, for hundreds of years--and that’s one of the most amazing things about being in India. This scene was playing out in towns all over the country.
In so many corners of India--and we covered only one state, Rajasthan--life is played out exactly as it always has been. Sludgy water sluices through open sewers past everyone’s doors, spilling into the lake.
Cars and motorcycles share the road with cows and goats and camels and donkeys and dogs, everyone moving amiably along. It was stunning, at first, and frightening, to watch cars careen past cows, but I got used to the sight. The animals were familiar to the townspeople, of course, and I began to see them as slightly befuddled creatures just trying to make their way, like we all were. In the countryside, oxen turn wheels to bring up water from cisterns to irrigate the fields. Shepherdesses in brilliant saris tend their flocks of goats and sheep. Nothing has changed.
And of course, everything is always changing. I kept thinking about which of my friends would love being in India, and which would loathe it. (You probably know who you are.) It is achingly difficult, emotionally draining, to see the poverty and filth in which people live. India is also a brilliantly beautiful place, full of imagination and creativity and craft, a place in which the past is as alive as the present--often there doesn’t even seem to be a line between past and present--and there aren't many places in which Americans get a sense of that in our country. From so many people we met, no matter rich or poor, we picked up a sense of peaceful acceptance--not resignation--about what life hands you. That, too, could be deceptive. There’s no point in romanticizing, or summarizing. It’s impossible. That largeness turned out to be the most wonderful thing about India.