Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Sangam

Sangam is the Sanskrit word for the confluence of rivers -- it's a word that's been rolling around my head for days as I say my goodbyes and pack up my bags to move across the world again. I used to think of these moments as crossroads. But choices, decisions -- all those things fade when you know where you need to be.

That hasn't made it any easier to leave.

The past 19 months in India have been the most dynamic of my life. I reported in ten states and at least one hundred villages, some that could only be reached on foot. I spoke to women and men of every caste, religion, income status and belief system, and found myself connecting to people I didn't know existed. I've been belittled by powerful men, and empowered by tiny children. 

I wrote dozens of articles for dozens of publications -- collaborating with meticulous editors who have pushed me to dissect and unlearn, and others who have tested every bit of patience I have with their obsession with page views. I struggled to maintain integrity and nuance, and fought when an editor tried to use the word "Slumdog" in my headline. 

I worked with incredible, incredible journalists. Vivek, a brilliant, obsessively detailed writer who is now one of my best friends, and Bibek, an even-tempered Buddha-being who met our deadlines even after a horrific earthquake hit his home. Atish, my British bro, who is as spontaneous and hardworking as they make them.

I got handsome checks for work that felt too joyful to be called work, and tiny checks that came six months late for hours and hours of arduous research and writing. I received grants from three sources to pursue projects I've been thinking about for years. I asked for double, then triple, the rate that was offered to me, and learned to demand what I deserve. 

I fell in love with Bombay a little more each day I lived here -- with its turbulent sea and ubiquitous soul that refuses to get lost in the hustle. Its massive creative community and entrepreneurs, and beauty tucked into every corner. My Ultimate team that allowed me to fail and learn and fail and learn with nothing but love and encouragement. And friends that make everything feel like home.

I learned to be alone -- on trains and at home and in coffee shops and on work trips. I learned the luxury of silence and anonymity, and the power of my mind in the face of fear and injustice. I learned frustration and anger with no outlet, and joy that couldn't be tangibly shared.

And when I didn't want to be alone, there was my family. My cousins and aunts and uncles and Diwali, Raksha Bandhan and Holi. Birthdays and babyshowers that I would never have gotten to attend, and grand-uncles I had only met once. Family that could sense my cough from miles away, and packed me food for the road no matter how much I protested. And my family in Chandigarh, who taught me a new way to love.

In India, I've learned that love can be the silent walk between two grandparents who no longer hold hands, or the snuggles of new lovers on Carter Road. It can be the intense dedication of a doctor to his patient, and the belief of a teacher who climbs up ladders to her students. Love is in the way mothers tuck their babies under a sari fold, and the food that strangers share with me on the train.

And oh man, have my tastebuds been singing since I landed: fermented ambal in Andhra, coconut-fried fish on the Konkan coast, kababs and biryani in Hyderabad, wada pav and sol cuddy in Mumbai, real Mysore dosas, vinegar-marinated Coorgi meat, kheer in the Punjab pind, gatte ki sabzi in Rajasthan, rossogullas in Calcutta. (And somehow my jeans are too big now.)

I can honestly say that not a day of my time in India was wasted, not a day was less or more than it should have been, and that in itself has been a lesson in living. I leave with a heart that has been cracked wide open -- not so much broken as demanding what it now knows to be real.

But the thing about rivers is they don't just stop. So this sangam is just a moment, and my feet are already getting pulled forward in the strength of a current that is India and America and family and purpose all at once. The only thing I know how to do right now is let go.


Every goodbye deserves a rickshaw selfie.

4 comments:

Dale Johnson said...

Wonderful au revoir Ankita.

John MacCormack said...

Dear Ankita: Welcome back! What a wonderful fond farewell - only for the time being I'm sure - to India. Hope to see you and Uncle Sri sometime soon. JXM

Kimyagar said...

Lovely wonder women. I love you! <3

AparnaKothary said...

so proud of you! life is one big adventure :-) thanks for keeping us updated with your beautiful writing!