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Finding India

Published on August 16, 2006, by in India, Mark Twain, Preparations.

What a ridiculous conceit, to research India, armed with a Google search button, a Barnes and Noble discount membership and a Public Library card. I don’t want the pale lightbulb of vicarious information; I want the fire of experience.

I know that even a few weeks of that will be inadequate. After all, India is the source of the cautionary tale of the blind men invited to describe an elephant after running their hands over the part nearest at the moment. The one at the trunk said it was a firehose; men at the legs said it’s a tree; the man at the tail described a snake, etc.

All my life, whenever someone would ask me, where haven’t you been that you want to go, the prompt answer always has been “India.” And that starts the dreaming.

She has been, for me, the mystery on the other side of the sunrise and the fantasy beyond every sunset.

I know India the same way I know the other side of the moon, from the inadequate words of those who have been there and photos or video that reveal scenes that simply cannot be. How can a place like that exist? Once you know it is there, how can you not go look for it?

Yet, the more I learn, the less I understand. Can anyone go there, or even start out for it, without being changed by the act?

Siddartha, the great Buddha, was born and enlightened there. Rumors whispered across the centuries say The Christ spent his missing years there. It was Christopher Columbus’ unreached goal. It eventually humbled the British Empire.

Mark Twain played off it using clever faux-condescensions but did not try to hide his awe . . . or his amusement. Gandhi looked within India and found the conscience of the modern world. The Beatles found Love.

India, in its diversity and spectacle, entices every seeker of a response. Perhaps that response is not the answer to the question one brings it. Perhaps the response is yet another question handed back to the questioner. Perhaps it’s all a colorful illusion, without meaning – which is, in its own way, meaningful.

I must find out for myself.

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