Namaste

It is appropriate that I begin this chronicle with the one and only Hindi word in my lexicon. My preparations have assembled along the way from singular cogs of information – names of towns I can neither pronounce nor locate, professional contacts of the same nature, foods to avoid. Sometimes the entire trip seems like a sham, or a kluge just waiting to malfunction. I am leaving in 18 days, and I feel less prepared than I did last year when this whole enterprise nucleated. My callow sense of travel romanticism is gone with my bank account; my sympathetic nervous system is operating on all cylinders – I am fighting final exams but flighting from the country.

The question most often asked of me is how India became my ideal travel location. “Why India?” I answer at least once a week. Typical explanations suffice: Instruction is in English; I like curry; I wanted adventure; I have done multiple research projects on some aspect of the country. But if I were more frank and a better story-teller I would say the honest moment, which is such:

Throughout high school I spent most evenings doing homework while lying across my bed and listening to the radio, mostly NPR. Later at night on weekdays a show called The World Café played for two hours. Among the commercial FMs on the Wichita airwaves, this show was the jewel in the crown of public broadcasting. When I heard a song I liked, I waited for the next announcement and wrote down the name of the band on . This was pre-iTunes days, so I would go to Borders every week and listen to the sample songs on the band’s cds. The list of music I discovered and still enjoy as a result of the tenacity contains multitudes: Wilco, Camera Obscura, Wolf Parade, Andrew Bird, Neko Case, M. Ward, and the like.

One night, a song broke through the haze and glaze of reading. A milky voice drenched my room. It spanned octaves, succulently scoring stringy instrumentation below. I didn’t understand any of the words, which only captivated more. I couldn’t stop listening. I stayed completely attentive for the next three songs until David Dye returned at the next air break. The artist’s name was Asha Bhosle, and then it was onto the next song sequence.

The next day it took me nearly an hour to find her through an internet search, partly because I had written her name down incorrectly, partly because dial-up internet had yet to antiquate. Finally, after enduring the static connection chorus and minute-long page loads, I found the name of the song, which was created in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet -“Chua Liya Hai Tum Ne.” If I couldn’t say Asha’s Bhosle’s name, my mouth was far too proud to attempt this title. She was a famous Bollywood singer but retained a neotonous voice even in old age. I didn’t even know what Bollywood was, or what really what India meant, except a kite-shaped fill-in-the blank on geography tests. Yet, from then on I was enchanted. I would like to say my two-month trip resulted from careful contemplation and responsibility, and there were of course other steps. Truthfully though, the visa, the vaccinations, the train tickets all originated from a three-minute song distracting me from algebra assignments.

Now, my journey across the world is an oleo of geographic and academic landings. My schedule is packed yet unpredictable. I am already leaving with a taste for chai. I will carry everything on my back. I know one Sanskrit character but forget its phonemic twin. I anticipate Delhi belly afflictions.

But every time I listen to this song, I remember the original mystery and textured charm of the country that I enjoyed alone one night. Every decision towards the scheme since has also been my own. I have agency in the chaos. I hope this translates across continents once I am landed, steeped in it all.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “Namaste

  1. Hollie

    I think I’m in love with you. You will be sorely missed. What will keep me going through the summer is knowing that come the beginning of the Fall semester, we shall be together (with Nicole, too!) in a perfect little Blue Barn on the most charming little street in Lawrence…most likely dragging our toes lazily across the wooden slats below our perch on the porch swing. Enjoy India, mi amor, but know that another form of nirvana awaits you upon your return.

  2. Katie, you should know that as I’m typing you this, a squirmy little man of GP just panted his way to the stairwell, evoking sound clips of Hey Arnold’s character Brainy (http://www.hey-arnold.ru/characters/otherchild/Brainy4.jpg). Ew.

    Okay. He just returned from his brief sojourn, hopping like a man imitating a sneaky rabbit, chucking to no one. He’s a gremlin, I swear it.

    Your writing has a way of endearing you to the world. If this post is any indication of the rest of your summer’s missives, I am less disappointed that we will no longer be pen pals. Would you be distraught if I stole your idea and also created a blog? Understand that it will be inferior, have a different color palette, and instead of “curry” and “chai” I will be typing “crab” and “beer.” Also, I promise keep a running section on puns dedicated to you. Deal?

  3. brennad87

    what a wonderful beginning to your tale, katie. isn’t it funny where our inspiration to go somewhere comes from?

    i decided to go to angers after going to borders and opening a travel book. there, i read about troglodyte villages and in that two seconds of reading, i decided angers was for me. it sounds like a magical region, i thought. it was a huge day when i went to see the villages– and knew my whole adventure happened because of this: http://www.ot-saumur.fr/photos/TROGLODYTES_ga21355.html

    i can’t wait for you to hear the song in a busy street or meet asha herself. somehow, your magical reason for going will resurface when you are there, i promise you!

    keep writing– your writing is concise and filled with beautiful verbiage! nicely done!
    xoxoxo

    also. hilarious tags. HILARIOUS.

  4. Vicky

    Great intro Katie. Makes me want to go listen to all the songs you mention. Happy travels – I can hardly wait to read the rest.
    Vicky

  5. Aubrey

    My dearest Katie,

    This will be a summer unlike any other, perhaps in your whole life: not because there will be no future travels; but because nothing can compare to your first sojourn into the unknown of foreign territory and unfamiliar language. Like losing your virginity, like taking your first hit of heroin (or so I’m told), no journey is quite as (bitter)sweet in quite the same ways as your first.

    Take lots of pictures, post lots of these entries. I miss you already, but I know you will grow and flourish like a small, curly-haired Katie hibiscus. As I’ve told you many times, be safe – it’s not so much a warning as a prayer, and it won’t be the last time I say it. I hope you relish every moment of it, and be sure to collect all your stories and keep them carefully. I want to hear every last one over some wine on your porch in August.

  6. justinl7

    You’re funny. Nice lexicon. KEEP WRITING!!!

  7. brad

    I’m just speculating here, but Indian music and food might just be the first impulse sending you into an incredibly deep and interesting culture. I hope you find some great India along your travels.

    Here’s a song from my favorite culture crossers.

    among these world musicians, Zakir Hussein represents inda as a master musician, one of the best tabla players alive.

    If you like that song, I think this one is better, although no female voice from gigi is a drawback.

    http://www.imeem.com/groups/CXZKaTYz/music/mhpeV5Is/tabla-beat-science-magnetic-dub/

    Anyways, Safe travels, and

    ~~namaste

    (most times I’ve seen this word meaningfully typed its somehow connected to a ~, I think it must be important)

    Brad

  8. brad

    and while I’m still wishing I was going to india, check this out too:

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