India will be hard to leave behind

Illustration by Anthony Mata/The Guardsman

By Mckenna Toston

I’ve learned a lot about myself during this trip..

I can go without showering for eight days straight.

I can sleep on the floor for two weeks without having one negative thought.

I’ll eat anything served to me on a plate, whether I recognize it or not, so long as it’s vegetarian. My stomach is no longer capable of properly digesting anything.

I don’t do well in the heat—at all. And I absolutely love California.

I love India, too, and would be happy to stay, but during this adventure I have realized how close my home is to my heart.

When the temperature hit 99 degrees Fahrenheit in Kolkata, and I got groped and verbally harassed, I’d had enough. Sonu and I took a train to Darjeeling, a city in the mountains surrounded by tea fields and littered with Tibetan prayer flags.

Darjeeling provided me with the escape I needed. Not just from the heat, but from the chaos of Kolkata—the consistent horn honking, the aggressive begging of people on the streets, and the insistent talk of wedding plans by Sonu’s family.

And after a while, being stared at by everybody stops being flattering and becomes downright frustrating.

I could finally relax in the quintessential hill station—with a hot cup of fresh tea. I even splurged on a hotel room, 750 rupees a night ($14), with a big bed, warm blankets, stunning views of the mountains, a private bathroom with hot water (first warm shower since I left Calif.) and a television.

I’m usually not much of a TV watcher, but the comfort of familiar films was astounding after communicating solely in broken English for the past two-and-a-half months.

And I can’t even tell you how satisfying—and effective—a hot shower is. I thought the dirt on my feet was permanent.

On March 27, I joined a crowd of hundreds for Holi, the Festival of Colors, which celebrates the beginning of spring and commemorates events in Hindu mythology.

Participants cover each other in scented, colored powder and sing and dance in the streets.

I’m usually apprehensive to join large crowds, due to the risk of being physically harassed, but I made an exception for Holi and didn’t regret it.

They joy was contagious and left me with a new appreciation for India’s capacity to celebrate. Besides having rainbow-stained skin, I came out of the crowd completely untouched.

After a week of enjoying the fresh air and sweet silence of Darjeeling, Sonu and I made our way back down the mountain in a jeep ride that I thought would be my last, and then caught the train back to Kolkata.

With only a few days left, the weight of leaving is starting to hit me.

I’m savoring everything. The sweet lassi. The spicy sabji. The beauty of the bustling streets. The way a mosque, temple and church live in harmony on the same street corner. The way I am welcomed into Sonu’s home at anytime of day for a hot plate of food. Yes, it’s going to be a painful departure.

Then there are the things that I won’t miss. Like the hanging corpses of cows in the Muslim neighborhood. The eye-watering stench of urine that lingers around every corner. And the constant worry of being ripped off—or raped.

Half of me has come to love this country more than I ever thought possible. The other half can’t wait to get the hell out of here and back to California—where I can wear what I want, act how I want, sleep without bed bugs and have plenty of toilet paper (though I’ve come to love my new method of wiping)—and immediately go to In-N-Out and get an Animal Style grilled cheese.

Regardless of my excitement to be home, saying goodbye to the people I’ve come to know, and the man I have fallen in love with over the past three months won’t be easy.

I’m predicting a heart wrenching goodbye with Sonu.

We’ve toyed with the idea of continuing our relationship, but with more than 7,600 miles between us, I’m not sure it’s possible.

The Guardsman