Lakes and instagram wherever you go

Last week, I found myself in the state of Rajasthan. I was there with a field team from the organization Accountability Initiative (AI), whose mission is to "strengthen transparency and accountability in governance which is responsive to citizen need."

But more on my work with AI later. This post is dedicated to the moments in
between: those in transit, or late at night, or when my only company was myself.
These moments have increased as I have traveled further from my self-described
"home base" in Bangalore. Time alone is now the majority of my time.

Pigeons on the cobblestone walks of Udaipur, sometimes called "Venice of the East"

I call this transition easy, which is true, but only in one sense. Practically,
I have become very good at moving around. I can navigate Indian transit quickly
(and cheaply). It's been easy to find reasonable accommodations, and I don't
hesitate to move on when I am not pleased with my current situation. I continue
to empty my suitcase at every stop, constantly redefining what really are
"essential" travel items. So far, good underwear is the only I've identified. I
don't know how I ever wore cotton underwear.

In the other sense--the emotional/cerebral/existential one--my track record is
less consistent. And I choose the word consistent intentionally. There have
been wonderful moments. Like riding around the beautiful Badi Lake, outside of
Udaipur. Or Garba dancing until the sun rose in Ahmedabad. Or debating
artificial intelligence with young Indian journalists in their falling-apart,
book-lined, art-covered apartments. I hope to write more about these experiences
soon.

Garba dancing at India's most famous art school, The National Institute of Design
Me atop a hike in Badi Lake. We jostled for photographs with three different wedding shoots.

But there have also been afternoons of isolation that stretch into evenings,
that sometimes even stretch into days. They can be punctuated with a phone call
to friends or family or a forced conversation with the person sitting next to me
in the cafe, but given enough time, the sense of dread can be hard to stave off.
In these moments, I have turned to different coping mechanisms, some of which
work better than others.

Netflix can be a welcome respite, but can quickly bring guilt of escapism if not
careful. Writing is often difficult in the moment, but I find myself universally
appreciative after the fact. Photography can be a great way to continue engaging
with my environment, while occupying my hyperactive attention with the minutiae
of exposure, composition, and depth of field. As I'm sure most craftspersons
would attest, working with one's hands is really about placating the mind.

Sometimes the dread of being alone fades quickly, and it often stays within a
manageable threshold. Only a few times has it washed in like a flood, thrashing
my mental sandbag wall and leaving me no option but to ride out the wave. These
moments are miserable and serve little practical purpose. I just remind myself
that such lows are, in fact, necessary to differentiate the highs.

I'll leave you with a few excerpts of writing from these moments of isolation,
with a promise of more complete reflections to come.

Sunsets in Rajasthan were one of my favorite parts

from my notes 10-17-2019

I smell the train slowing before I feel it. Scents of liquefied rubber
particulate infuse the air and waft through the open air train. Only after
ingesting the rancid and intoxicating fumes for a number of seconds can I
physically perceive that the train is slowing. The next sign has to be the
sound of the axel rattling over the track. The cadence slows with a calming,
predictable deceleration and eventually the sound fades and then disappears
entirely, ending with a quiet, almost imperceptible hiss. We've come to a
stop, but only after this remarkable testament to the power of inertia.
I've been enjoying a long overdue revisit to the Punch Brother's "Phosphorescent Blues." In the course of listening to the album, the train has
moved from golden hot afternoon to pale-blue, smoky dusk. A huge red moon
rises on the other side of the train, only 30 minutes before the sun sets,
creating a dramatic scene.
Earlier in the afternoon, I would lean my arm out of the window and the
whipping wind on my sunburned skin almost felt cool to the touch—like menthol. I thought some one was throwing water out of the window in the cabin ahead of me. That's what the Rajasthan sun can do to you in just a matter of days walking through its sun-bleached forts and palaces.
In Jaipur, the dust suspends in the air permanently, never settling or
accumulating, but simply coating all that moves through it. I feel it on the
foot-bed of my sandals when I get up and down on the train. I feel it on the
back of my phone every time I check a message. It sticks to the sweat on the
back of my neck.

from my notes 10-11-2019

Once again, I find myself before an incredible Lake Pichola sunset.
Unfortunately, once again there is no one to share it with. This trip so far
has definitely allowed me to to become a more introspective person--not
introspective, per say, that's always been my tendency. But just more
comfortable confined to myself. That is definitely a skill being developed by
necessity.
But often, even when I do connect with people, I only enjoy it so much. It can
be perfectly pleasant, but many one-off conversations just aren't significant
in any way. Endless insignificant interactions can become tiring.

from my notes 10-9-2019

Why the difficulty in engaging things alone? Is there a problem in that I
cannot enjoy this sunset as much just for myself? So much pleasure comes from sharing an experience such as this with some one who you know--who knows you.
In the time of writing this, the sun has set completely. An entire sunset in
three short sentences. How fast the present blends with the future and past.