By Sam Aldridge
---- — The month of May is the height of the summer in India, a time best spent indoors with a good book and a sliced mango for company.
Unlike the comfortable temperatures of May in Upstate New York, the afternoon highs in my city of Baroda come to rest at around 42 C (that’s 108 F) every day, and will continue to do so until at least the end of the month. For that reason, we all take cover beneath trees, fans, and/or AC units each day for the few hours it takes the sun’s heat to peak and subside. Returning to the United States during the “hot” weather of June will be a welcome change.
My mother recently paid a visit, stepping into my life like a figure from an old painting that hangs in a prominent position on the wall. Immediately upon her arrival, I looked on as she gasped at and photographed some of the more profound aspects of India, things that have become ordinary to me. I was reminded that there had been a time when I too was seeing everything the same way, “shocked and awed” by my new surroundings. While what I see is the same, my vision of it all has been greatly changed.
We traveled to Varanasi (Benares) and New Delhi for a few days of sightseeing. Besides being the oldest city in India, and the holiest in Hinduism, Varanasi, with its indescribably wild streets and eccentric inhabitants, is truly a unique place. The city is on the Ganges River, and many people travel to the city at their time of dying, believing that if one passes from life at Varanasi and has their ashes spread on the water, the soul travels directly to heaven. Thankfully, our purpose there was quite the opposite: To live, to take it all in and to experience a brief but unforgettable moment in both our lives.
Following an early morning drive through the stirring streets, a short walk to the ghat (the steps leading to the water’s edge), and a boat ride, I at last found myself standing on the banks of the Ganga (as it is called in Hindi), next to my mother. In a way, being there was the pinnacle of my experience in India; standing at that ancient center of knowledge, history and spirituality, the allure of which first drew me to the country, and being there with my mother, without whom none of it would have been possible. Like every experience, it was the culmination of everything I had ever done in my life, yet this time it felt different. This time, I sensed the essence of India and of my own self, and how the two have come together in a beautiful confluence. We waded in, and, with some thoughtful words on my lips, I knelt down and immersed myself in the waters of the river thought to flow from heaven itself.
Like all exchange students around the world, I have reached that point where there is much more to look back upon than there is to look forward to in my time away. But I cannot confine everything I have done to the boundaries of time. It all continues carrying me ahead in a single direction, a course charted long before I ever landed in India. This chapter is coming to a close, and I am preparing to turn another page. Just as the Ganga flows back to its spring in heaven, so I, in the waning days of my Indian life, must begin anew that which has become old.
Sam Aldridge is a Rotary Exchange student from Milford. To read more from him, visit thebarodasagas.wordpress.com.