So, how was India?

 

We're some 35,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean and I'm racking my mind trying to figure out how I'm going to answer this looming question.  It's been nearly a year since I left the city where I was born to work with Oasis India and the anticipation of my homecoming stretches the 22 hour flight time to what feels like 22 years. It gives me plenty of time to collect my thoughts on the past year, though it does me little good.

 

In the following days I reunite with friend after friend, aunt after uncle, all asking that same unanswerable question:

 

"So, how was India?"

 

It's so seemingly simple and certainly expected, considering my long absence, and yet every time, I'm caught off guard. I don't know what to say. "Crazy, but amazing" becomes my automated response because it's easier than trying to describe the home-cooked meals eaten at a stranger's table, the street children forced to tug on my sleeves and demand money, the schools of auto-rickshaws swimming through narrow streets, the woman cured of tuberculosis, the man who died of it,  the walls of water that fell all night, the orphanage that had no beds, the joy that bubbled up from even the poorest neighborhoods…

 

Trying to describe this country that defies definition and rejects summary only gets more difficult with each attempt.

 

When I try to talk about India, I find myself telling stories about another place. A place less exciting, desaturated and flavorless, like wax fruit compared to the real thing. The people I had grown to love become cardboard cutouts and the late night expeditions through the city become boring and uneventful. I've never had language fail me so completely, so utterly. India, I've come to accept, isn't a place that can be captured in an anecdote or even by the thousand-word pictures filling up my hard drive. It requires something else, something more. Don't ask me what though-I don't know.

 

I've been home for over a month now and I've had plenty of opportunities to answer the 'How was India' question, though I've come no closer to a satisfactory answer. It's been admittedly frustrating; there's so much I want to share, but don't have the words for. Perhaps my new automated response from here on out will simply be "Buy a plane ticket. Go see for yourself."