Mariel and I zipped through Mysore in the dark of the morning, cool wind waking us up as we sat in the back of a rickshaw on our way to yoga at 5:30 AM yesterday. The memory that sticks out to me–other than the calm of morning and the excitement coursing through me on our first day of yoga–was the sight of a woman on the back of a motorbike.
Chaotic doesn’t begin to describe traffic in India. There are no lanes, horns are used to signal “hello, watch out” rather than “screw you”, and rickshaws and motorbikes and small trucks zoom past, criss crossing within inches of each other. Riding in a rickshaw requires a good dose of faith in your driver, but I haven’t seen an accident yet. Don’t worry Dad, I’m already in the habit of looking right first when I cross the road.
But that morning, traffic was calm and this woman was sitting gracefully on the back of a bike with a man in front, navigating the road. What struck me was the beauty of her outfit that stood out against the grey of her (I assume) husband’s shirt and the dark morning. Her sari, artfully wrapped around her body (how do they do that??), was all gold and white and red, shimmering borders and bright and colorful and gorgeous.
This sight is common in India, or at least what I’ve seen in the past few days: women’s saris provide splashes of bright, bold, unabashed color against a somewhat dirty, urban, loud and chaotic landscape. Men wear grey and black and simple dress shirts, but women–who traditionally have had less power in Indian society–walk through life in colors than announce their presence and their beauty and their lives without shame or self-consciousness.
The beauty in India is undeniable and uniquely vibrant, embracing what exists rather than trying to fix it. Mariel and I have been struck by how beautiful everyone here is, specifically the older women: wrinkly and often a bit weathered, but wearing it proudly. The bright saris (which often reveal a bit of tummy skin), dark eyeliner, and intricate fabrics celebrate life and add beauty wherever possible. The aesthetic is not based off of fixing, of covering up, of smelling like roses, of hairless bodies, of zero body fat, of flawlessness. It embraces the wear and tear and wrinkles and rolls that life gives us.
When traveling, things can get a bit hairy. We get smelly, clothes get dirty, priorities become seeing and experiencing rather than brushing and laundering and trimming. So thank you, India, for allowing me to be a bit smelly, a bit dirty. I know that as long as I throw on a (newly purchased!) colorful scarf and hand-printed skirt, I may not fit in (I’m PALE), but I can participate in the beauty that your country breathes.
Bright spices and incense and golden saris will forever be etched in my memories of India. Loud horns and smiling faces and goats in the road and poverty and grace. In a homily I heard recently, the priest explained that beauty isn’t always pretty. And I am so happy to be in a place were beauty is embraced, exuded, without being sacrificed for prettiness.
postscript: I’m hoping to update this post with pictures soon. We have moved into a house (it is perfect; we lucked out), and our “host family” lets us use their computer, but I haven’t been able to upload pictures yet. I hope to figure something out soon so my ramblings are a little more visually stimulating.