Steel Notes Magazine September 2016 - Page 161 Steel Notes Magazine JOURNEY TO INDIA Chapter Two: Dharamsala Rex Maurice Oppenheimer I remember not long after I’d first arrived in Kashmir I would repeat a mantra that went, “descend slowly.” What I meant was that although I wanted to live as cheaply as possible, I had no idea of how well I would be able to deal with conditions that seemed as though they could be severe. Throughout my couple of years in the country I never had hot running water and at times had no running water at all. Food one purchases on the street can be covered in flies, buying a train ticket can mean waiting in line for hours. Busses could be so crowded that people were two deep out of the door, holding on to each other as their only protection from falling into the street. I’ve seen villages where the open sewers ran along beside the open trenches that carried the water supply, and boys squatting on the street washing dishes in front of the restaurants, placing the clean dishes on the street where everyone walks and spits. Despite the hardships and unpleasantness, by the time I’d reached Dharamsala, I relished the slower pace and didn’t miss the modern conveniences, except maybe hot water for a shower once in a while. My moments were filled with the reality of the world right up against me. No constant bombardment of news from beyond the borders of my daily life. I would go for long stretches of time having no idea what was happening in the world at large. Unlike in the developed world, where history was relegated to books or quaint recreations at tourist sites, here every image seemed to coexist with its history; the past lived visibly within the present, and the continuity of survival somehow provided a sense of security. Negative thoughts and imagined fears about the future paled against the vividness of the moment. In India there was a basic confrontation with the processes of life and death that was somehow comforting. I remember when I was living on my little houseboat on Nagin Lake in Kashmir, having breakfast one morning when a little mouse ran right across the table. I looked up and said, “get outta here!” And he scampered off. I took it so much more in stride than I would have back in the States. In India living so much closer to the natural world, and with oxen everywhere, cows in the streets, chickens, roosters, ducks, goats, all kinds of birdlife, and now this little mouse, I recall thinking that it was as though I was part of the barnyard and maybe “The Farmer” was looking out for me, too. It seems strange that I had come to India with a one-way ticket, knew nothing about the country, had a very limited amount of money and no idea where I would ever get any more, was surrounded by a culture that was always strange and at times bizarre, and living conditions that would strike horror into the hearts of many Americans, and yet I felt secure. It was a relatively short time after arriving in Dharamsala that I remember saying out loud to myself, “I think I’m falling in love with India.” Steel Notes Magazine 161