What is my routine these days?
I get up in the morning, I get parathas, pickle, curd, and and a thermos of tea brought to my room. At this point, getting breakfast in bed is making me feel more like a convalescent than a princess.
I turn on the hot water heater (no more bucket baths, though I miss being able to quantify my water use). I watch BBC for news on the war.
I take a shower and get ready, grab an autorickshaw to work, greet the women in the office, and sit down at my computer with occasional breaks for conversation and design/content questions.
Around 1:30, the delivery man from a local south Indian restaurant comes by with a stacked tiffin-carrier of rice, 2 curries, chappatis, yogurt, and a plastic bag filled with lime, chilis, and onions.
We all share our food and eat on floor cushions in a sunny room and talk a bit before returning to work. The whole lunch break lasts 20 minutes. Throughout the day, people ask me if I want tea or coffee and bring it to my desk. We also work Saturdays.
Yesterday, I found myself talking to Punima, one of the women who works on the org's magazine, Pitara. There was no firey-eyed zealotry in her. Which is good, because activists in Canada have always intimidated me with their agenda lenses and intensity. A tall woman around my age with a shy kind of self-possession, Punima told me of stories of going to the villages and teaching basic literacy skills to Shidur (untouchable) castes in Uttar Pradesh, and teaching the women to value their work as much as the men's.
But as much as she loves her work, she admitted she was not the type of woman who could live in the field and work there for months at a time. Plus, she is not so sure that what she is doing is objectively right. "They have their life, their ways. I come with my ideas and my perspective. Who can say that what I am teaching them is a good thing?" So the villagers teach the activists and the activists teach the villagers, and somewhere there is a sharing. Everyone writes their names.
I have been feeling a bit off since I got to Delhi. I am happy to be here and the work is going well, but I guess I thought that somehow I would feel progressively stronger as the trip progressed. Fortified with new tools for the new environment and all that. And this should be the easiest part in the trip: Staying put modern Delhi with a routine and specific objectives.
But in many ways, this has been the hardest stretch. So close to the end. I feel kind of fragile. Outside my window at the guesthouse, there is a puppy that cries all the time and it is driving me nuts. The kids with the crusty faces and filthy hands that tap me on the arms when the rickshaw stops at a light are breaking my heart. The poverty is getting to me more than before. I still do not know if it is better to take it all in or shut it all out. I bounce between the two. It is hard to find a middle ground.
And I am thinking of home and choices and work and all those things. And how being broke always makes me take jobs that I know won't make me happy. Just so that I can have my apartment with hot water 24/7 on a quiet street close to where I can meet my friends at a restaurant and put it on my credit card or walk in my flip-flops and pyjamas to that American coffee chain for a soychino and say: this is my lifestyle.
Listen to me: I am such a cliche. Everyone goes through this with travel. It is what we all secretly want when we go away: that perspective that makes us catch our lives unawares, like passing yourself in shop window and for 1.4 seconds seeing a stranger. But what happens is, as much as you crave life-altering change you go about sabotaging it, recreating the very same routines you had at home, struggling with the same sense of inertia.
So instead of decisive change, there are just way more questions. And the worst part is, I know how unoriginal all these sentiments are. When you expose yourself to new things, I have learned, instead of forgetting who you are for a bit, you remember everyone you have ever met and everyone you have ever been. You dream about people from your past, and you are struck by memories in the oddest places.
Travel stirs it all up. And not that I was looking for them, exactly, but there are way more questions than answers.