New journal “Bandar-Log” is now live.
One year ago I was sitting in a train station somewhere in-between Varanasi and New Delhi, India, en route to meet some friends. I unfastened a staple from a semi-opened plastic bag of peanuts, poured them into my mouth and bit directly into a rock. I spit it out, extremely disappointed because I hadn’t eaten in hours. Everything had been a mess and I was in a rut — I just couldn’t catch a break. I turned around to see a book-seller that had a few books in English, and placed in front for every tourist to see was Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”. I gave the man a few rupees and hopped on the train, book in hand. I lied down on the stiff bed for the 12-hour train ride and began to read the book that I remembered as a Disney movie from my childhood.
One year later, as I am sitting here and reading headlines that India is once again celebrating its Holi Festival,memories come flooding back. The month I spent there was an extraordinary experience. Traveling long hours and resting only short periods of time, my friends and I jammed as many possible destinations as we could into that month. For most of that time we were extremely uncomfortable: I caught a virus of some sort, which lasted almost the entire first month I was there, and lost a lot of weight; I simply could not function, nor focus, as my senses were completely overwhelmed. In my fevered state, my impressions of India were that of a country that had gone completely mad. As I got better, I began to look for ways to focus on small moments, and I started to isolate and hone in on the beautiful little things occurring everywhere around me amidst the chaos. India is incredible: it is unique, and the contrasts— stark.
In the western hemisphere we are raised with organization. Our homes are built as perfect boxes that all look exactly the same in neighborhoods with roads on a grid. We have stores which have bins where everything is neatly placed. When we buy tickets, food, or almost anything for that matter, we form a queue. We have a mutual understanding to remain calm and stand in line. Even if there are no posted rules, we automatically apply them in an orderly fashion. In India this kind of order is simply not part of the culture, and though it is incredibly frustrating at first, when embraced, it can be liberating. Chaos can work— it finds a way, just like our universe.
When I arrived in Delhi, I left “The Jungle Book” behind, but it stayed with me, especially the part about the Monkey People (Bandar-Log). I kept thinking of how they seemed so wild, and how Mowgli was hungry and exhausted while they danced, scatterbrained, around the destroyed human city they occupied. It was his discomfort and regret for coming to the lost city that mirrored my own feelings at the start of the journey. I realized that to really understand this place, at first I had to get over the physical discomfort and accept the chaos. Reading that book on that train ride gave me a sense of perspective on my own adventure. Experiences can only be as high as they have been low, and India certainly blessed me with both of those. In India, when the highs came, they were vastly more powerful than could be imagined. Daily life is lived in the moment: it is freedom at its essence, chaotic and unplanned. Every breath taken is a gift; every sunrise is beautiful. India presents a conscience reality that is fragile and exposed to the core. Although India has already been heavily documented by much better and more prominent photographers than I, I have no qualms being one of the many. My experiences there are now a cherished memory: colorful, filthy, sickly, and joyous. I present “Bandar-Log”.
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