Its been about two weeks since I wrapped up my India project work and returned to my home base in Stockholm. It has not been the easiest of transitions back and I clearly miss my friends, and my experiences in India. I miss India itself, what with all its lovely inconsistencies, inconveniences and incongruity all of which remind me, confirm for me, man’s ability to remain spontaneous, frail, and human. Now back in the overly disciplined, predictable, regimented world of Scandinavia, the contrast could not be higher, and the longing for the return could not be greater. Not that I sit here idealizing India, but during the last nine months of extensive travel and immersion in the country in pursuit of stories for my The Idea Of India project, I developed a greater appreciation for communities, societies and institutions not completely regimented, scheduled, and time-tabled under the demands of a deep and rigid state bureaucracy, driven by the singular value of efficiency and profitable returns, and determined to box its citizens into little compartments with innocuous titles like ‘vacation’, ‘work’, ‘weekends’, ‘time off’, ‘lunch break’, ‘meetings’, ‘going out’ and so on. I miss the fluidity of life in India (or South Asia in general) where people and communities can still live and function without segmenting everything into their iPhone calendars and Filofax planners. I miss the ease with which people meet, the generosity with which they offer hospitality, the willingness with which they come together on any day, at any hour, the openness with which they welcome conversations, music, poetry and just ordinary acts like the offering of a cup of tea, or a place to sleep for the night.
The point that I actually wanted to make was that I am struggling to write as a consequence of this return to the perfectly organized, scheduled, disciplined, and predictable life of Sweden which is completely throwing me off. I am repulsed by the predictable morning commuter rush, the glazed over eyes, the mindless nature of faces browsing the insipid pages of ‘free’ morning newspapers (or actually advertisement brochures with a few pieces of gossip and wire news thrown in to convince you to see the ads!), the stress of getting to work, to a meeting, to lunch, to the school to pick up kids, to do groceries, to catch the sitcom, the 9:00 pm news, and do it at precisely the same time, in the same manner, at the same locations as one did yesterday.
I am being thrown about, finding myself in the way of an efficient, driven, determined, and hungry hoard of Stockholm citizens, who probably can’t figure out why I am lazying about local cafes staring out into space, pen in hand, and simply lost. I stare out at the beautiful fall weather and feel I want to actually enter the meaning of the fall. I am not even sure what that means, other than that I want to exist and experience this life unfolding around me in a way beyond what the demands of an industrialized, service sector economy can allow.
I want to be the fall, with its transformations, renewals, effusion of color and belief in values that defy human comprehension. I can’t write because I am trying to find a way to connect to the broader rhythms of life in all its forms: human to leaf!
There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood
and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.
There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable
and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings
do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives
as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;
and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.
Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,
who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.
Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.
I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.
I read this lovely piece called I Have News For You by Tony Hoagland this morning and realized that I wanted to feel the breeze on my face and put that into my Filofax. I want to schedule a series of meetings with life in the coming week. To put down into my iPhone calendar a to do list that includes laughter, trust, passion, engagement, conviction, care, compassion, generosity, presence, and emotions. I want to cleanse my soul of its pursuit of the efficient, the profitable, the career, the measurable, the milestone, the outcome, the deliverable, the productive.
I am back in Stockholm, Sweden. Over two hundred rolls of film sit in the dark of my closet and I have as yet not looked at a single frame I made from my nine months of travel. I can’t seem to. Perhaps I fear that by editing them, and scanning them, I will finally close what I will always remember as perhaps one of the greatest adventures of my life. I fear to look to avoid closing this moment. Words do not come at the moment. I have wanted to write about much: the Occupy Wall Street movement, developments in Pakistan, the conclusions of the India work. But as yet I am struggle to say anything coherent. When I am not spending moments with my daughter, laughing with her about the silliness of the lives we so quickly construct, I am sitting in parks and staring at the light as it moves along the branches, the breeze as it ruffles the hair of children playing, the sound of feet on the gravel walkways, and the quiet seconds that sneak in. I can’t write.