In the Spring of 2015, I got to go to India with my partner and meet his family while he took people around the country for a yoga tour. It was my first time visiting India, and I documented some of the things I saw in this prose-poem. I call it “Travel Highlights” as a joke, because some of it was not pleasant. Since then, I have been back twice, and stayed at his parent’s house in Tamil Nadu for almost a month in 2016. India is profoundly diverse in every way and infinitely beautiful, but I don’t think you’ll get that from this piece. That’s okay though—it’s just what stuck with me after that first trip.
In South India, I saw the beach was home to three dead sea turtles. All bulging and discolored like dark green algae. One cooked in the heat on its stomach. Bubbling pools of blood and sebum popped out of its shell and blood had ran from its mouth and dried on its face and on the sand.
My trip to the hospital in Mahabilipuram will forever be a secret I keep from my mother. A staph infection began on my big toe and we went to get antibiotics before it became a serious problem. The hospital was small and crowded. Mosquitos hung around while a block away a huge billboard warned against standing water and dengue fever. Motorcycles lined the broken road outside the entrance near puddles of filthy water. Everyone was barefoot including myself. I saw trash on the floor, a cartoonish overflowing garbage receptacle, and bloody cotton balls on the floor. I inspected a seat to make sure it was dry, unlike other seats that were wet, before I sat down. The electricity was unpredictable. A child vomited on the floor and no one made a motion to clean it up or notify a person who might care. A tall barefoot man walked past it and the edge of his lungi lightly brushed against the vomit. At one point, a stray dog entered the lobby.
We walked from the beach along a sidewalk of sorts on the way back to Ela’s apartment in Chennai. The sky grew dark. Traffic is chaos. Noisy and reckless. I stepped in dog poop. I saw a man peeing on the sidewalk. A sign declared “Accident Prone Area” before a bend. In the middle of the narrow stone path, some stones had broken away beneath the stonewall. Here had materialized a little shrine to Ganesh. Rice scattered in front of him, a candle flickered, and flowers adorned the little statue. Over the rock wall came a wire and a lone light bulb hung at the end of it, glowing above Ganesh. I passed it. I turned and saw JK kiss the back of his thumb as he acknowledged the shrine.
I exited the rickshaw and saw a bundle of filthy cloth at my feet. After a moment, the shape revealed to me that a person was inside it. Much like our homeless, but more compact, completely still and unmoving among the hoards of people bustling around us.
Traveling is hard. Traveling gets harder as it gets easier. Traveling is especially difficult when you feel like you have nothing in common with your companions. All the people on this trip love yoga. I suppose I like yoga. But these people seem to be looking for some deep connection to the Hindu gods or seem to be looking for themselves on the other side of the planet. I guess, for some, that’s what it takes.
A man just grasped the back of my seat to stabilize his large, aging body as he sat back down. My seat moved a lot and it startled me. I turned around and saw his speckled, fat sausage fingers. One of them held my gaze. A dry, shriveled golden raisin of a fingernail stood out among the ordinary ones. Only 9 more hours on the plane.
Crystaline Brown is an aspiring writer, and her accomplishments include this sentence.