Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Rain is Gone

I can see clearly. India has regaled me with two great gifts, unique presents that possess the power to unwrap all the rest. Vision and Perspective. The first came to me like a scene from a sci-fi flick, with me lying draped on a strange bed with green and red lights flashing, beams of energy speedily vaporizing my body's tissue (this is more commonly known as LASIK, and thanks to this wonderful procedure, my vision is now better than a newborn baby's. For anyone concerned about the fact that I chose to have elective ophthalmic surgery done in a developing country, don't worry - I did my homework, and am convinced that I received as good or better treatment in Mumbai than I would have in the U.S., for less than one-third the cost.) The second gift came to me slowly, strolling softly over weeks and months, occasionally leaping into epiphanies, stalling on self-debate, and resuming with imagined resolutions. Two great changes, one astonishingly fast, the other unhurried, the former temptingly symbolic of the latter.

The picture you see on the left is me, no doubt, but an earlier version. This was me on September 1, 2005, sitting in a terminal at LAX, waiting to board a plane that would take me away from my home for the next 5 and ½ months. At that moment, antsy with anticipation, I suddenly thought to take a “before” picture of myself, so that I could compare it to what I would look like at the end of my journey. What you see on the right is me in India - an amalgam of cultures, a blending of identities, a self-analytical work in progress, and someone who's at heart a bit ridiculous. So, the question must be asked…who am I now?

Experience, especially that which arises from leaving one’s routine, will change a person. During this trip, I challenged my routine, replaced it, destroyed it, picked up the pieces and rearranged them into funny shapes. I believe the resulting alterations in my personality and worldview may not even be fully apparent at the current time, but that they will manifest themselves subtly in my attitude and my decisions over years to come – so that like the minor movements of a raindrop sliding down a car window, my life’s course will be altered by a thousand seemingly unimportant occurrences, each affected by an ever-changing perspective.

From this vantage point, I can only guess at the significance of the present moment. I can also attempt to gather my thoughts, for both current closure and future reminder. The following, then, is a list of some of the lessons I've learned in India. There is nothing esoteric or exceptional about them - you could likely find as much wisdom in a series of Hallmark cards - but the crucial difference lies in the fact that they were written by personal experience and introspection, rather than gleaned from a receptacle-bound greeting. This is my renewed perspective, a few plain old lessons of daily life of which we seem to always need reminders, and I present them here not to preach them to anyone else, but as a sermon to my future (forgetful) self.

1. Lose the tension.
Don't succumb to the desperation of daily life. Remember that the smallest of tasks can bring tension if you let it, but even the most demanding of tasks can bring pleasure if you allow yourself a healthy sense of detachment. Very few things in the world depend upon you, but one of them is your happiness.

2. Don't ask, "What am I going to get out of this?"
While prioritizing one's activities is a necessity, devaluing activities that do not have obvious gain can be terribly detrimental. When you begin to prioritize based on preconceived notions of utility, you sideswipe serendipity and miss out on life. Asking "what am I going to get out of this?" may make you more efficient, but it makes you less experienced, and fosters discontent with the inherent unpredictability of your world.

3. Be where you are.
Daydreaming is a fun playground for stifled creativity, but in excess, it can significantly diminish one's enjoyment of reality. Those around you deserve your full attention, and you deserve to fully experience what is happening at any given moment. (This one is really important for me, because I'm a hopeless daydreamer - I can be caught daydreaming in the middle of conversations, even when I'm the one speaking.)

4. No one should be hurt because you have been hurt in the past.
Pain has a way of reviving itself. Too often we hurt others because we are unconsciously reliving our past pain, and using it to lash out in subtle or obvious ways. When you feel anger towards someone, take a moment to step back and ensure that you are not becoming an instrument of the hurt in your past.

5. Understand insecurity.
We all have some degree of insecurity, and it is responsible for much of our unhappiness. But it is not all bad. While it may cause us to act foolishly or to miss out on life's opportunities, it can also foster positive things such as creativity, humility, and compassion. Resist controlling it through denial or suppression, because that is an invitation for it to manifest itself in more insidious ways. Insecurity is like a fire - enlightening if controlled, consuming if given free reign.

6. Allow for your continuing self-creation.
Do not become attached to perceived images of yourself - this will hold you back. Allow yourself to reinvent and explore the different aspects of your persona; periodically eject yourself from your comfort zone in order to bring such challenges to the forefront.

7. Make a positive impact.
It doesn't matter how you do it. You don't need to take on the world. Some people prefer to make change with their hands, others with their minds - don't judge your own methods according to preconceptions of what is good or expected of a compassionate person. Do what makes you feel alive, and your positive impact will be felt much more strongly.

8. Spend time with yourself.
Some of your alone time should be spent on introspection, some without goal-directed thought, and some without thought at all.

9. Stay optimistic.
Don't concern yourself with whether the glass is half full or half empty. There's something in the glass, and you should take a sip. While you are enjoying your beverage, optimism is a wonderful state of mind to have, because it makes the flavor better, regardless of actual events.

10. Keep perspective.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy, and none of them are stopping you from being happy today.

These lessons I will carry with me as I return to the U.S., to my usual life, to routine and responsibility. I've known enough study-abroad expatriates to understand that it is difficult to keep a hold on the romanticized lessons of a travel experience once you hit the mind-erasing speed of Western civilization. The past can drown if the current is stronger, but I will do my best to keep it alive.

And with this, my blog comes to an end. I may create a new blog for my domestic adventures, but I doubt I will have time to write regularly during my medical rotations. For those of you who have grown accustomed to keeping in touch with me through passive reading, this will perhaps push you to pick up the phone and give me a call (Ha! I hereby force you to actively communicate!) For those readers whom I've never met or seldom had contact with, please drop me a comment or an email so that perhaps we can change that. Also check for updates on my picture gallery (www.ofoto.com, email rishiblogpics@hotmail.com, password blogpics) fairly soon.

Today I feel blessed. To have received such gifts, to have a family that has allowed me to wander aimlessly against traditional Indian judgment, to have been given a chance to renew myself at a young age. Today I sunk my teeth one last time into masala corn on Juhu beach, savored one final kesar-pista soymilk, and dusted off my U.S. passport. India is woven deeper into my fabric than ever before, and I will miss it dearly, especially the loving presence of my grandparents. But I am revitalized, and excited to see my family and friends back home. This has been an unforgettable, incredible journey...bye for now, and thanks for keeping me cyber-company along the way.

4 Comments:

Blogger Mihir Shah said...

fish-sticks

unfortunately i have been one of those people who haven't kept in touch as much as i should have and who haven't kept up to date with all the updates of your life in india, but i promise that i will be reading each and everyone of these blogs to understand and maybe get a glimpse of doing something this amazing and taking a chance at something not many people would be willing to take.

i read you first blog and i read your last blog just now and it's amazing to see that with all the changes that you have gone through in india, there are parts of you that are still the same...you're still the same great person...it seems like you just have a somewhat different perspective on life.

i do want to let you know that i am very proud of you and i do look forward to not only seeing you after almost a year, but to also see what kind of man you have become (kind of an uncle comment, but it's actually true...which makes me an uncle....DANG IT!!!...j/k).

i more look forward to start hanging out with you as we used to...i mean who can ever forget "sacre blue" and i'm sure there are many more that people won't understand except you and i. i not only envy what you did, but i look at it as motivation and inspiration. i think the best comment that i've seen on the last blog states it best...

"Don't concern yourself with whether the glass is half full or half empty. There's something in the glass, and you should take a sip."

we'll talk more soon...and this time, i really mean it...

mihir

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Niiidhiii said...

Hey Rishi,

I ran across your blog toward the end of last year, and since then I've been one of those silent readers looking forward to what new adventures you would bring to life through that unique writing style. I esp. liked those "like the minor movements of a raindrop sliding down a car window" moments :) Some awesome photographs too!

And so, I'm writing today because you've proclaimed THE END! It's great that you used your year off so wisely. (I know if I had, I would have just bummed/slept it away!) It has hopefully been an investment that will benefit not only you, but the generation after you who will be fortunate to hear first hand accounts of your time in India.

I guess I can only hope that one of my future visits to India will be a fraction of what yours was. I look forward to meeting those faces and seeing those places that will help me experience that rich culture that I've read about and heard my parents reminisce with such fondness.

I'm sure it'll be tough to get back into the groove of rotations, but I'm sure you'll have lots of happy memories to carry you through. Good luck, have fun catching up with all those friends and family you have in the States.

6:40 AM  
Blogger Rishi said...

Mihir, no worries if you don't have time to read back through the blog, we'll catch up on the phone one of these days. I know how busy uncles can get :). Nidhi, thanks for commenting - I hope that whenever you do make it back to India, you find the experience as moving as I did. And if you happen to keep a blog then, let me know so I can share in the discoveries!

5:38 AM  
Blogger Where 2 Next? said...

Hey Rishi,
Extremely well said..Tarak and I echo your sentiments completely...how are you doing?? I wrote you this HUGE email and tried to send it to the email in your entry and it bounced back...so send us info...

-sharvari and tarak

7:20 AM  

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