Since Feeling is First
Going about day-to-day in India,
you discover there's a big dunce cap perched invisibly on your head.
You realize you can't make sense or trace the logic of what anyone
around you is doing all day long. Laughing at a dry well, shouting
at a crippled beggar, speaking softly to a cow. You wonder what
they're thinking, and even if they're thinking at all. But once
you tire of being incredulous, you conclude that your dunce cap
is that of the logician, and under that hat you must conclude that
you don't have the full view of how human beings reason.
In the logical West, we have had our feverish bouts with Romanticism,
but in truth, we keep our pajamas on, never strip, sweating, to
confront ourselves out of doors. When we manage a fever, we don't
sustain it long. Logic can at best achieve naiveté, or fanaticism,
and certainly bombast, but Westerners cannot be romantic toward
life in a sustained and essential way. Our romanticism passes through
us uncomfortably and becomes nostalgia or is sublimated as neurosis.
We weather our passions with huge sighs of relief when they have
passed. Consider for a moment that in all parts of the world, in
all variations of human culture, this is not so. Consider also that
logic, it's nostalgia and its neurosis, is not simply your own because
logic, like passions, cannot be perfected by individuals, only by
entire societies. If someone is going to fling himself to the floor
or faint away cold, someone else must gasp otherwise its just fanatical
and insipid behavior. If someone is to restore calm and order, someone
else must fall silent or the act will not qualify as logic. Logic
is inspid except that every American knows the movie must end, that
less-is-more, and that restraint is the unassailable posture of
Things are not so in India. Feelings
come first. Getting whipped up into lather is not only acceptable,
it's quite agreeable to others, and I came to suspect that it is
an important basis for people to trust one another. There's a government
strike in Rajasthan right now. All water into homes has been cut
off for the past month. We learned this when we saw a dozen men
laughing their heads off one night in the center of town. Yelling
up to a man who turned out to be the police, who laughed hardest
of all. Soon, someone, maybe one of the strikers, turned up with
an illegal water key and switched on the old town well. He was a
hero briefly, and rode away on a bicycle. The laughter stopped,
and the water was carried home in buckets on heads. More daily mysteries,
even at night.
I would rather not try to describe the living conditions I saw as
I arrived in Delhi by train. Suffice to say that among the poorest,
you are sure to see affection and laughter. It defies logic certainly,
but not reason. Of daily mysteries wedding processions have been
a good sort for us to learn. Several weddings roll by every evening.
Weddings at this time of year occur daily, they're consistent, without
subtlety, and quite impossible to figure out. A wooden sled, painted
with horses and hung with tinsel supports six crackling bullhorns
and is guided by a steering wheel. The sled blocks traffic and rolls
through the busiest and the narrowest city streets over-amplifying
a keyboard and a crazed vocalist. Tubas, trumpets, valve trombones,
and a drum corps round out the band. A dozen women carry full sized
chandeliers (you'd have to call them that) blazing with a dozen
bulbs each. At the back of the procession a giant generator, bigger
than a car engine, is pushed on a trailer, sputtering exhaust into
the faces of passersby trapped against buildings. The groom is on
his way to the three-day wedding He hasn't seen his bride yet. He
is dressed in white, trimmed in gold, and so is his horse. Occasionally
the procession stops so that three or four men can dance ferociously
ahead of the bullhorn-sled. In Jodhpur, it happened that I became
one of those mad dancers. The best-man pulled me in and said "Break
dance, damn you." He looked at me fiercely and said "Break
dance. You must!" We danced. Just my luck, I was photographed
doing it. We were invited into the wedding, ate many fine and strange
things, and endured a full-frontal social onslaught. You've never
seen faster talking, with more people interrupting to ask your name
and start a separate conversation, and just general frenzy with
not a drop of booze in the house. The story could go on from there,
but the story here is that we haven't been able to get a grip on
what has happened, or why, at weddings. The goal seems to be to
get worked up, and they're great at it. Feeling comes first. Not
planning, not logic, not discernment, not understanding, but emotion.
I've thought it might also have been like this in the West, although
logic dictates... well, logic does dictate.
Indians are expansive about living. Geography has been the best
conceptual model my mind can muster for spirituality in India, not
calm, not peacefulness, not wizened besceptred saddhus. If there
is a mountain in India, a valley, a strange tree, or just a curve
in a city street, there is invariably a shrine there. Even a particularly
wide-open space becomes notable, an event, not to be passed over.
All space is given it's due. And there are so many blessed places
that no one site, or affliction, or mad dance can topple the scale.
It is all encountered in stride, no one thing before or above another.
Terrific associations to be made with fractal geometry, irreducible
space, and maybe even strangeness attractors, but I'd just be getting
carried away. Some of this surely has to do with how much geography
I am taking in. Miles and miles in slow buses and small bicycles,
seeing sunrises and also sunsets nearly every day.
Anyway, feeling is first in India. Not hidden inside each Indian,
but it rules each day; emotions govern people. When you grasp the
terror of this, you get a start at grasping how terrifying the West
may seem, how incomprehensible our hair's breadth divisions of categories
and heirarchies, repressions and seclusions, sublimations and resentments
must seem. And language bears witness to the degree of difference.
I still cannot get an explanation of the Indian refusal to distinguish
between goat's meat and lamb. We found a sheep tied up near a goat
and I thought this was my chance to find clarity. I queried a group
of men nearby about what to call each since the name was the same
for both. I suppose the two animals are seldom found apart. I was
given a smile and an graceful swiveling head gesture, a common non-verbal
communication which might translate as, "Just as you please."
I've overheard and talked with many
Westerners who do not like being in India. Mostly I hear them say
that they are being ripped off and cheated constantly (of course
they never venture far from the shops, or know the actual prices
of things, or acknowledge that nothing at all costs more than three
or four dollars.) It's strange to me that they expect currency to
be the pole star, not the effort of labor, which would seem to be
more readily intelligible, or any experiential value instrinsic
to the services they are enjoying. No, they came to India and now
feel cheated. And so they are if feeling is first. I'm nearly two
months into my travels with at least ten more to come and these
first questions are just starting to form. It takes more than a
month to begin a journey. We just saw today in a newspaper that
40 Indian nationals were cuffed in San Antonio, Texas suspected
of visa fraud. That's immigration visa, the nationalist polestar.
I have a different understanding of the perceptions of the arrest
on both sides than I would have had a week ago. But I am still in
comparative mode, still looking from a distance to see where I am.
Tomorrow is Republic Day in Delhi. I'm hoping they wheel out their
one nuclear missile for the big parade. That way we can keep an
eye on it, for awhile. I'm happy to be in Delhi. Glad to be in from
the desert-fort cities. I'm sitting right now in the strangest of
places. An internet disco or something. Beer on tap (unheard of),
loud Indian pop music (talk about a frenzy), and forty computers
with fast Internet access.
We sorely miss seeing and hearing and touching family and friends.
Gifts won't do it. Sending home souveniers of soft yellow gold and
pointy tipped shoes won't tell it. Oops, I see my brother did buy
himself a pair of pointy shoes. You have to try, I suppose. We do
see kids toys and think they're good to send to the nephews. And
think with hope that one day they'll come here, and with wonder
at coming ourselves, wondering if maybe feeling is first sometimes
in the West.