Tuesday, August 5, 2008

7 Hours in Helsinki

I woke up in time to take a look at my connecting flight ticket before we landed, and I realized that I had an 8 hour layover.  I’d never been to Finland, and I’ve been to many airports, so I figured I’d take the road less traveled.  I bought a day pass for the bus that cost nearly the same as three nights in a Mysore hotel and headed out on the town. 

My first new friend was a Portuguese guy who had just taken up the profession of a traveling salesman in the most literal sense.  He’d come back from India with plenty of cheap goods and was now heading west to sell them with a slight “import” markup.  Not a bad life really.  The friendship lasted a bus ride and a few city blocks.

Walking into one of the city’s many pretty pedestrian squares, my interest was piqued by a group of about a dozen singing drunkenly with a guitar, a few near-empty bottles, and many lit cigarettes.  I wandered over amused and I was immediately accepted as a new friend by Irish men in suits covered in mud, an Irish girl, two Finnish ladies, and a local drunk who desperately wanted to be part of the fun.  We sang a few songs, including a few lines of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a full rendition of “Mercedes Benz,” and, of course, U2.  Once the town drunk and an Irishman somehow managed to fall off a bench while dancing without shirts on, they decided to call it a night.  Besides, it was only 8:00am. 

I continued on and admired the city, which was beautiful and clean and quiet and so completely different from Delhi that it was as bewildering to the senses as jumping from the hot tub to an ice-cold pool. 

Then I made another friend.  She was on my flight from Delhi and was returning to New York and we started talking and walking.  She was born in India, but in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, everything was in turmoil and her family found asylum in Iraq for two years before moving to California.  Despite our contrasting histories, we had tons in common and we had a great time in Helsinki. 

We ate at a seaside cafĂ© that looked out onto boats and islands in the harbor.  The food was delicious and every person with whom I interacted seemed to go out of her way to be perfectly lovely.  On the walk back, the town had woken up and I was struck by how profoundly nice it must be to live there.  Truly, I think anyone could be happy in Helsinki.  Life seemed so easy and clean and beautiful.  

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I am slouching in a hard plastic chair while being serenaded by constant announcements in English followed by Hindi.  I am enjoying my new aura of duty-free sample perfume.  I am wishing that instead of Subway and Nirula’s someone from South India had broken the chain-restaurant-only rule of airport holding pens and was serving Masala Dosas.  Oh, for one last dosa, I would unload every last Rupee in my possession.

I am terribly sleep deprived.  Perhaps that is why I can only seem to begin sentences by stating I am.  I’ve had about 7 hours of sleep in the past two days and I’m getting ready for a long road ahead.  I’ll be very happy to collapse into bed once I’m state-side.  I wish I could sneak onto the direct flight to NYC that is boarding right in front of me. 

Most of all, I am very sad to leave India.  So sad that I was nearly getting choked up as I stamped out my last cheap Indian cigarette before heading into the airport.  I feel that I even reconciled my differences with Delhi today.  This country is nothing short of amazing, in the true, non-hackneyed sense of the word.  Even as I came to view the once-bewildering occurrences as common place, there were still many complexities that unfolded and many new experiences that astounded. 

I’ve been making many comparisons in this blog—north vs. south, India vs. West, men vs. women.  But I’ve realized that my comparisons are inherently flawed.  They come from different vantages.  My perceptions three weeks ago are different from those of today and those of three weeks before.  I have changed in these six weeks.  Such a short time really.  But India is a powerful force.  Either you fight its abrasiveness and annoyances and nearly break under the onslaught or you become flexible and allow yourself to be stretched. 

In the one yoga class I managed to take while in Mysore, I learned many things about what I don’t know about yoga.  You want a downward facing dog?  Sure, no problem.  I’ll give you a downward facing dog.  Then the instructor came and pulled and pushed and posed my body in a way that felt completely foreign, somewhat painful, and yet somehow right.  Many of my experiences in India were just like that.  Just when I would think I had something figured out, my mind would be pushed and pulled into an uncomfortable stretch that felt strange and difficult, but more real and profound than what I had felt before.