Friday, July 28, 2006

Knowing when it's time to duck out the back for a wash

In a couple of days, the Donkeys are going to be taking their first trip out of Delhi in five months. I feel a great enthusiasm for this weekend retreat … we’ve been trying to get tickets on a train out of Delhi all Summer, but those ticket sellers, peculiarly dressed as they are in lab-coats, seem unable or unwilling to bend their alchemic skills towards conjuring up a couple of valid railway tickets for us. Every weekend, the trains are full of people attempting to escape the heat, and although the monsoon has arrived and it’s no longer 45 degrees at midnight, it’ll still be great for us to get up into the Himalayas and breathe some semi-clean mountain air.

I sense that this journey might also be the beginning of a new outlook on life in Delhi. All the stars seem to be moving towards some pleasant horizons; the weather has begun to cool, as I mentioned, the local swimming pool has started to empty of fat Punjabi bellies around which one must negotiate with each lap, and I may actually get paid for my work soon as moves are afoot to ensure that I am legally allowed to work in this country. So I’m feeling positive.

But as I look towards a more positive future, my Catholic up-bringing forces me also to dwell, with considerable guilt, on the past five months, and particularly on my conduct as I tried to deal both with this often incredibly frustrating environment, and with an ever-increasing feeling of uselessness.

You see, ever since I was old enough to start making my own decisions, I somehow always tried to live my life such that I was contributing to society in some kind of useful or meaningful way. At times this commitment to a vague greater good, amongst some circles at least, had me leading a kind of secret double life, contrasting significantly with the drunken, irresponsible escapades which left some who weren’t in the know to view me as a complete waster!

As the years have passed, the causes have changed, but always there has been a large part of me that is prepared to give, in order to justify to myself what I would take. I reckon it’s always been a pretty even split, too, ‘cause generally what I’ve taken is knowledge and experiences about people, about places and about the world.

And then I found myself in Delhi, where every day for three months, I sat in front of a computer applying for jobs; where every day for three months, I offered my talents and skills to anyone who might have use for them, and in return, I asked for nothing more than to take what I needed.

Unfortunately, this being the land where even the street sweepers have an MBA, it was not so easy to stand out, and as each day slipped by with narry a response from prospective employers, so too did my self esteem slip away. In hindsight, the most devastating thing was not that I was being overlooked for work, it was a feeling that I was becoming some kind of freeloader; some kind of loafer, because every day that I was not working; everyday that I was at home, sitting in front of the computer, was a day in which I took from India, without giving anything useful back … to anyone.

I cannot describe how terrible and how ugly this was making me feel. With each fruitless day, the ugliness grew so that it was not merely an internal blemish … it soon came to taint my every thought and word, until my behaviour began to reflect that ugliness such that I was hurting those around me who were trying to help and support me; those who deserved it least.

Looking back, it seems farcical that I should have behaved as I did after only a short three month period … perhaps it has helped me to recognise in some small way, just how useless the long-term unemployed must feel, and just how much damage people and the media do by accusing them of being lazy and a burden to society!

So in a couple of days I will head to Haridwar; the town where the sacred Ganga River leaves its birthplace in the Himalayas and enters the plains, and where thousands of Hindu pilgrims flock each year to bathe in the spiritually healing water. I’ve been there before - eight years ago, I spent two hours walking around that remarkable town between train connections. They were two very enjoyable hours during a two month pilgrimage of my own that saw me grow considerably as a person. I still remember a certain positive, or perhaps healing energy in Haridwar, and I wonder, indeed with some measure of hope, if I will again feel and grasp that energy which seemed to stay with me for so many years, ironically only just running-out about the time that I arrived back in this remarkable land.

So was it real, or am I just romanticising? Is there such a thing as spiritual, or mind and body rejuvenation? My insecurities tell me that, eight years ago, I was 24, single and free from responsibilities … and that of course it would seem like one place or experience could change your outlook and make you feel so much better about your entire life. My insecurities tell me that I’m now much older; that I’m married and that I can’t afford to be so carefree. But could my mind be playing evil tricks on me; feeding my insecurities with porkies? Could Donkey’s mind in fact be wrong? Now that I’m working and contributing to society, and now that things seem to be on the up, Mrs Donkey tells me I was wrong to feel the way I did before … so I guess it’s possible that my mind could be a bit dodgy. I guess we’ll see…

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