Update from Azza Cohen - India
Back to Benares
Before we went to Kolkata, I was happy here in Benares. Sure, I have my ups and downs but I didn't at all think I needed a break from this city. Then we went to Kolkata and I felt myself relaxing back into a quasi-Western routine again: in the morning I drank coffee instead of chai, took taxis instead of rickshaws, and at the YWCA where we stayed, I indulged in hot showers. We saw presentations at the planetarium and Victoria Memorial in English and ate international cuisines. We wore jeans because we could, and danced to a live band at a nearby hotel. We spent hours in Oxford Book Store and most restaurants had western toilets. It started to feel a little like the home I left last August, and frankly, it felt weird. Putting on jeans felt liberating, but at the same time, I found myself instinctively reaching for my dupatta (scarf) when I got dressed before realizing I didn't need it. One night, while hanging out at a coffee shop, it hit me how much it felt like home. I wondered if my friends at college were sipping similar lattes or listening to the same tune. We always joke about how our lives here are so much different than what they could be if we were at Princeton right now; Doug and I like to laugh about how our friends are studying for finals while we're riding rickshaws around a colorful city.
Then, after two too-short days of all the coffee I could drink and wearing all the Western clothing I had, it was back to reality. Back to Benares. Back to needing that dupatta, back to cold showers, back to cow dung-coated streets. Back to that place I used to feel so uncomfortable; back to the routine I didn't realize how much I now need. It surprised me how much I craved my host mom's chai, how much I love the ease of a pre-matched salwar qameez Indian outfit and how much more comfortable I felt at home. My new home.
Kolkata was great, and the day we returned I felt a little depressed. It was cold and foggy and a nice chilly rain mixed the cow dung and dust into neat little rivers flowing in the road. Waking up and needing layers of yak wool shawls was not as fun as waking up and planning a day of sightseeing. For a little while, I wanted to go back to the place in which existed my previous comfort zone—my comfort zone of the western pleasures whose absence I used to complain about. But I went back to my host family who had a birthday dinner waiting for me, and returned to Guria to kids who interrogated me on why I had missed three days of games. Dolly-ji taught us to cook one of our favorite Indian street snacks, pav bhaji, and I learned all the vowels in Sanskrit with my new guru-ji. I definitely needed a vacation, but not for the reasons I usually did. I wasn't academically exhausted from the first semester of school, and I wasn't craving a change of scenery. I did, however, need to leave Benares to appreciate how much I like staying.