Often, people will exalt the glory of modern times by citing the marvelous technological progress we have made. Not only has it made life very convenient, technology can be used to save the Earth. For example, we now have paperless banking and bills and what not. This can be used to save trees.
Technology that is used to increase convenience for us without a consideration for justice is fundamentally a tool of violence. If we save time by using a blender to make our frappe instead of doing it manually, some person in China slaves away for hours at a terrible pay and in awful conditions to make that happen. Energy is conserved. We cannot save it without someone else picking up the slack.
This is my application for a visa to a first-world nation.
The whole application procedure is online we save so much paper that way, except that there is so little trust left in the world that they ask for your entire life history in order to allow you to travel in their country for 3 weeks. I remember visa applications in my earlier and technologically backward days where paper was being wasted left right and center. You had to submit your passport and maybe 3-4 pages of documentation. It used to take a lot longer because the embassy would do the work of verifying your papers. Now, all they want is money and your entire life on paper. So it is faster. But it is faster because the time that is saved is offset by the amount we lean on nature. It takes a lot more paper and a lot more money which is essentially effort we have expended in our (almost certainly exploitative) employment. So the technological “progress” has done nothing. It has caused us to expend more natural resources and lull ourselves into a belief that things have got easier. This is nothing but confusion.
Progress will come when we learn to trust each other. The road to progress for our generation is inward. That is where the solutions lie. As long as we seek progress outside of ourselves, we will cause more devastation than ever.
I realize that this is basically a rant. I am excited for my travels but honestly, the price that the Earth is paying for our adventures is starting to become prohibitively expensive.
You can never have a first night in a city again. Paris immediately strikes a friendly note to an Indian visitor from London on account of being dirtier. I don’t know if it is only me or all Indians but we feel slightly on edge in cities that are too clean and orderly. Being creatures of chaos, despite our proud nature, we hold some anxiety about doing something wrong and getting caught. The traffic underneath the magnificent front entrance of the Gare Du Nord is chaotic and yet people stop for you to cross the street. It is an Indian person’s dream because you get the sense that you can be free and still feel safe. The city is grand and yet cozy. Imposing yet intimate. It fulfills every promise. People dine on the sidewalk, have spirited discussion holding cigarettes, drink Coca Cola out of bottles, a couple kisses on the bridge the man smothering the woman her eyes half closed intoxicated by love, the Seine glitters by the lights and the spire of Notre Dame extends ominously into the night sky. First few hours are spent gasping for orientation in the labyrinthine haze of the metro, disappearing underground, being whizzed around by a fast train and re-appearing overground into another world. The pace slow and lilting on the surface and fast and dizzy below. You go under leaving a boulevard of serene beauty and get swallowed up by an electrically propelled serpent and get spat out on to a breathtaking town vista. You float into a cobblestoned alley with the most stunning people with glowing faces. Like some sort of heaven and hell.
I am at the end of my stay in London which as lots of you know has been a really heartwarming and healing time spent with my family. Tomorrow I will arrive in Paris and start another journey in the rest of Europe. I am very excited for the unknown and unexpected and also to see my old friends who have spread themselves across the continent. Yesterday I spent some time at the Bank Junction in Central London and I marveled at the place which once held and accounted the wealth of the British Empire. I wandered around Parliament Square and looked for a long time at the newly installed statue of Mahatma Gandhi and then of the towering one of Churchill. While I do feel awe at the giants of history I feel greater awe for the people that live in the world now. The people who are willing to let go of the demons of past wars and work to forge friendship and understanding. Later I was at the Royal Exchange and I saw all the people walking about, trying to do their jobs with honesty and preserve their dignity in this world. Some had arrogance and a sense of being unsure, some tried to emphasize authority with fancy clothing or in the way they sat but all I saw were people trying to be happy and whether they realize it or not, trying to do the right things. Being humbled by their imperfections. More to be seen yet.
Up in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, there is an institute for the study of classical Indian wisdom traditions. Built in the style of a Buddhist monastery, the main temple is painted in bright colors and is nestled in the bosom of three magnificent peaks. On the fourth day of my course, I sat in a room meditating along with several disciples when a huge storm was riled up. Hail smattered on the glass windows and doors slammed all over the building. Rain poured on the roof and we all sat silently with eyes closed contemplating the fury and letting it resonate in our hearts. I wonder why sitting together silently is not more acceptable as a mode of socializing.
Later that day, I walked to a nearby canteen for some hot momos with a new friend. A man from Holland who was working on a Sanskrit to English translation project. We talked of belief systems and of marriage. The conversation was very amusing and I ended up staying too long. On the trek back to the mud house where I was staying, I got lost and somehow emerged on the main road up the hill instead of at the house. Being a city dweller, I never actually fathom being in situations where there is no way out. No late night taxi service. I also don’t account for darkness. It gathers really fast in the absence of street lighting. The power was out because of the storm so the odd lightbulb in the houses was also not lit. A jeep went by and blinded me with its headlights. Now I know how animals feel. My host phoned to let me know that she had sent someone after me. Thankfully, being on the road meant that I could communicate roughly where I was (near the school for example). If I had been lost on a path on the hill, not only would I be stuck without any sense of direction, being in the middle of trees would also have made it impossible to supply landmarks. Meanwhile I had found a man who had offered to escort me to the mud house because he recognized the neighbor’s name when I told him. It was too late though, a car was coming for me. At night there was no electricity so we sat talking in candlelight. We listened to the rain on the bamboo roof and amused ourselves by reading poetry. The night air was a perfect temperature. Clean, cool, crisp, clear.
The next day, the word was out in the village the the city boy was hopelessly lost at night asking people for directions. I went and met my friend at his place in the afternoon. There are no addresses so the only way to get anywhere is to walk “in that general direction” and try to spot destinations by physical description. In this case, a single storied red house with peeling paint. Single story means he had the entire roof to sit and enjoy the view on. They grow watermelons up there so he had bought some from the market and we ate it on the roof. All around us were field of gold. Wheat farming in steps along the gentle hill. Since it was in steps, the next field “up” from his house was at the same level as the room so the woman working in it seemed to float in mid air, her legs lost among the tall yellow stalks. We talked of weird dogma films and how neither of us were interested in them. Further up the slope, two jackals chased each other among the wheat. One of them had a bad leg and kept getting caught.
The bus journey back to Delhi was nothing short of torture. A young Haryanvi driver was driving the bus like a Ferrari, cutting corners sharply which made the food in my stomach rise up to my throat, go back down and then left, then right like some sort of ping pong ball. He blared some awful Akshay Kumar film which was so bad, it made me want to throw up even more. I didn’t though but it was close. I slept the entire day and met friends in Defence Colony in the evening. I told them all the stories and then we all had hot chocolate fudge sundaes. We all agreed that we were losing our touch because had we been 10 years younger, we would have had one each.