The First Night – New Delhi, India

The bus screeched through the stacked streets. It was night in New Delhi, and it seemed barely possible that a mere 15 hours ago the rain puddled like black silk on a tarmac in America.

Sleep deserted me. Pakistan sprawled out below us in the night, like aspen leaves with amber veins holding all the poverty and extremism I only read about. We approached New Delhi. Like a glowing orange ocean, it stretched all the way to the horizon. I pressed my face to the window, trying to breathe in this new country. The lights sprawled haphazardly: small silver islands in a dark sea.

Home was wonderfully far away. Breathing felt easier despite the humid smog that hit me like a brick wall as I walked out of the airport: a cauldron of spices, body odor, trash, shit, and poverty. It was real. I was whole world away from anywhere I had ever been.  I could no longer read a single sign or advertisement, and that was liberating. The constant gush of information no longer translated to me.

A long bus ride to north India through the night lay in front of us. We plunged into New Delhi and what appeared complete chaos. A mog pog between a national geographic collage, ruined concrete skeletons, lights of every color, trash, cars, and masses of humans. All this woven intricately together in a beautiful pattern. Horns blared non-stop as rickshaws careened around us barely missing my fingers as they dangled out the window.

Horns blared, tweeted, and honked, assaulting my ears non-stop: the constant soundtrack to any road in India. I could barely keep from jumping at every beep, my heart hurtling to my mouth at every single car, tractor, bike, human, cow, or dog we seemed to almost hit. Driving in India isn’t just on another side of the road, it’s a whole other world.

New Delhi whizzed by in a blur of color, I watched glowing mansions next to puny shacks, lighted palaces, weddings with dance parties spilling out almost to the highway – the women stood apart from the dancing men, like a flower bouquet ready to blow away. We swerved around tractors pulling semi-sized sticks of bamboo. One did a wheelie trying to pull its load. We kept jolting and dodging towards the mountains.

It looked like chaos to me, but underneath my perception lay simply a more wild and free social organization: where the western world grids India spirals. Everything mixes here. The woods and the city, the poor and the rich, mangy dogs and humans, religion and life. Art lathered over everything: elephants, patterns, colors, even turquoise rimmed the windows of trucks so it seemed they had eyes.

Everything thrummed with life, not a corner of peace. I barely blinked, watching the chaos in front of me, hoping to miss none of it. I drank my first chai in India under wooden awnings as the moon hung heavy with orange pollution in the black sky.

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