When asked to describe India, I recall sensory overload. The colors, the flavors, the sounds, the textures, the smells all intensified. I lived in Delhi, a caldron of sensory splendor -- vibrant marigold garlands and fuchsia sarees, Aunty's to-die-for aloo gobi parathas with ghee, the ceaseless honking, the red crumbling stone of the Deer Park madrasa, the sweet jasmines in the evening -- all of it floods back to memory and I'm transported back to India.
Before I lived in Delhi, however, I worked with an NGO up north in Himachal Pradesh. On my first trip up there, the "luxury" buses were sold out so a kind gentleman managed to book me three seats on a local bus. Picture school bus-style seats for rather thin, five-foot-tall individuals. I had an entire seat to my self and, honestly, that was an unheard of luxury to locals. My mountaineering-sized backpack sat in the "aisle" seat and I took up the remaining two "seats." The kind gentleman explained to a couple ladies on the bus (I was Fresh Off The Boat or Plane, as it were, and spoke no Hindi) that I required assistance finding the toilet and procuring food along the overnight journey. They dutifully led me to the shacks with holes in the floor and even paid my toilet fee! With that business taken care of, they joyfully waved me over to join them for a spicy dal chawal (rice and lentils) dinner with their family. We pantomimed back and forth in conversation then returned to the bus. I wearily arrived at the local bus station at dawn and met my new boss, also known as the Communist who did not celebrate Gandhi's birthday but that's a story for another time.
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