South Asia FLAS fellow Rylee Gallagher, an undergraduate student in International Studies, writes about her travels in India following the completion of her summer 2015 Hindi language program at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur:
Jump, as to not be stagnant. Leap, as to cross our fear without stumbling. And, when caution is needed, pass over spaces and holes in the earth with thought. I have come to understand that although the world pushes us in many directions, we like to stay true to our own predetermined course. But sometimes, the best of rastas (both ‘path’ and ‘road’ in Hindi) can come from letting go of our fixed order and embracing the ones which fall open in front of us. And instead of stopping in wonder and hatred and bitter refusal, we must jump.
I set off with a backpack as big as my body, a ukulele, and a hula-hoop. That’s all a girl needs. And, with two people from my Hindi program in Jaipur, India, I catch a bus to Delhi. Now, this being my first time on an Indian bus, I don’t know what to expect. What I get is a bus filled halfway with native Indians (as we did not pay to take the expensive tourist bus) and my two male companions and I take the back. My bag alone takes up a whole seat and if you want to note privilege at all, this would be a good example. Every ten minutes, or so it appears, we stop and crowds pack their way into the aisle, people crowd around me and my backpack until I feel the need to make room for others to sit beside me. There are still not enough seats for everyone and when we stop, those standing get off and another fifteen enter.
Upon reaching Delhi, the place of mayhem and traffic or in Hindi: pagalpan aur yatayat. The light is just starting to recede, making the chaos of traffic all the more risky. We hit a biker and he falls to the ground, but in the middle of a wall of mechanical boxes, few seem all that concerned. He gets up, a bit disheveled, and remounts his fallen steed. Because we are late, as our train leaves in 45 minutes and we have not reached Delhi heart, we run.
By this I mean, as we decide to stay or go, we decide to venture into the yatayat and chance our way on the rasta. However, since it was the day before Indian independence, getting through the Delhi subway was pure chaos. After coming to a street completely full of high speed cars, with 25 minutes, and having no time to think, we let the universe guide us as we walk in front of moving traffic with our hands out to stop a collision (as if that would do much) like Moses parting the Red Sea. And we run. Upon coming to a gate, instead of taking the 3 minutes to go around, we jump. My bag feels the size of an elephant as I continue on, wishing I worked out more regularly. As we climb over a barbed wire gate, police watch in bewilderment and slight humor as three ghoras (white people) climb the metro’s gate. 23 minutes. We arrive at the right metro line only to be taken in by a crowd of pre-independence rush and we try to enter, with my bag being too big to squeeze through the mix, I end up pushing and prodding my way into a suffocating vehicle. In order to make room for me before the next metro train arrives, my friends push Indians farther into the back of the train in an epic clump. When I enter, the people are barely able to stand straight in claustrophobia. 15 minutes.
We arrive at the second line of the metro. 11 minutes. As we just barely reach the 3rd line, and without starting a stampede, we bolt. 7 minutes. We get through the hordes of travelers by cutting Indian style and quite literally run through security. 4 minutes. By the time we reach the platform, we can all visualize the train moving farther and farther until it leaves our sight. In our minds eye, the train leaves the 30 seconds before we arrive. And, as we just reach it, we jump. And yet, as we get on, we realize it is not moving. We made it. It’s not moving, and we are in our compartment. And we are going to Kashmir. And so, because we did not take 1 more minute to walk around a 5-foot fence, or to sit on a slow moving bus, or to wait for the cars to clear, or to squeeze onto the next subway, we made it. And now, with no more effort, we will make it to Jammu in 14 ½ hours. Although a small event, it greatly effected the three weeks to come.
If I had not made it to Jammu on that train, I would have been days behind my actual arrival. And only 20 hours after departure, I was in Srinagar, Kashmir. In Srinagar, I met the people who taught me about the Partition of India and how many hope that one day Kashmir may also gain independence. I met the driver who picked up the owner of a houseboat, which we came to stay in. And, through this owner, 68 hours after boarding the train, we found our ride to Ladakh on which I discovered the people I would continue to see throughout my travels South. Although a small event, it set the precedent for the rest of my 24 days. If I had not decided to jump at moments of indecision, I would forever be stuck in the myriad of decisions that seem paralyzing at times such as these. Should I ask this person to join us? Should I drive 14 hours over the tallest rasta in the world? Should I change my flight because things aren’t working out? Should I get on the train, even though I don’t have a ticket? Should I cancel my plans, because I met people worth canceling for? Just jump.
After I accepted that I had no control over the circumstances of my travels, including the life or death drive (teeter-tot) across the Himalayas, I realized that what the world has planned for me is far better than anything I could have ever planned for myself. I realized this not because I raced to board a train, but because of everything, both difficult and good, that occurred thereafter. At some point, I chose to accept that I could not control who I met or when I met them; I could only accept the circumstances which led me to the places I reached at the time I reached them. I have yet to be disappointed.
Many times in life, as humans, we make a choice. Sometimes that choice is to push on through what may seem implausible odds. Sometimes that choice may be to choose between two things we love most. Sometimes that choice may be to give up on one rasta and turn towards a new. And sometimes that choice is whether or not to take the metro or the bus. Regardless, with every choice, comes a new self, a new human. With every choice we make, we are made by our choice. We cannot be frozen in our indecision, there is no right or wrong. There is only us and our rasta (path). I believe in letting the path choose us as much as we it, for to not listen to the places and destinations that call us is to more likely be led astray than not. Coming to India has taught me that no matter how many precautions I take, the world, or maybe just India, will make me realize how I have no control over my fate. Just as there are no seat belts in India (even driving across the Himalayas) there are no absolutes. There is no way to ensure things will work out the way you want. But they will work out.
As I drive in spirals through hidden Himalayan passes, I realize the drive is far superior to the destination. My favorite part of being in India has been both figuratively and literally the rasta to the Himalayas and arriving in time for my 14 hour car ride smashed in between 6 Indian men listening to a mix between classical Indian music and rap. And with that, I have come to rely less on my “plans” and focus on the drive. Don’t ever wish it otherwise, or you may wish away your life. And this is how I have come to say, jump.”
FLAS Fellowships are funded by the International and Foreign Language Education office of the U.S. Department of Education. FLAS fellowships support undergraduate, graduate and professional students in acquiring modern foreign languages and area or international studies competencies. Students from all UW departments and professional schools are encouraged to apply. Find out more about the FLAS Fellowship here.