Neat. Spotless. Organized. All things that were a rarity in India are now in abundance in Dubai. Immigration is a breeze and feels legal, a stark contrast to the lines, or lack their of, in my blurry first night in New Delhi’s immigration, where Middle Easterners were cutting and herding each other, talking excitedly and basically ignoring that I too was standing “in line.” Outside the Dubai airport it is quiet and empty with the exception of the queues of taxis lined up in precise rows. No men shouting taxi, no haranguing, no gawkers. There is even a queue of ladies only taxis, white with pink trim, driven by Muslim women with their hair cloaked in traditional veils.
The hotel shuttle picks me up. We emerge onto a well maintained, ok, let’s make that pristine highway. I traveled on one of those once in India, on the way to Agra. It was quite a talking point anytime I mentioned I had been to Agra. “Ohhh, you must have taken the new expressway. How was it? Did you like it?” They’d ask, beaming with pride. We are further from the airport now. The streets remain deserted, the lawns manicured, the grass uniformly cut. There are sidewalks again, I haven’t seen those in a while either. I don’t see any people, trash, Chai stands, dogs, cows, goats or monkeys. It’s a desolate oasis.
I have spent my whole life living in a world of order and cleanliness like this one. But in just five short weeks I grew accustomed to the chaos of India. What freaked me out from time to time, in the end became what I found most beautiful. The entropy endeared me to India. Today when I stepped inside the newly renovated Mumbai International Terminal I was shocked. It was immaculate. Detailed. Sophisticated. I have used a lot of positive synonyms in my attempts to put India into words in the last month, however I never had occasion to call on those three words. I thought of Modi, the hopes and dreams of the people hinged on the promises of their newly elected prime minister and wondered if the Mumbai airport would be a bench marker of what’s to come in India’s bright future.
Everyone I met and spoke with about the election talked of change. In the last ten years India has fallen disparagingly backwards instead of striding forwards. Progress has been miniscule, corruption plentiful. On my flight to Dubai, I sat next to a woman (wohoo, the first woman I have sat next to on any form of public transportation in India) from Mumbai. An entrepreneur named Hema. She mentioned the price of petrol (read gas in your best over the top American accent) has doubled since 2006. How can India handle that kind of inflation, she mused to me. As she shared her thoughts on India with me I felt guilty. Sitting in the Mumbai airport, marveling at the ornate light fixtures, the marble tables with semi precious stones inlaid—like the Taj Mahal—and the swanky overpriced restaurants I felt a pang of sadness that this might be the India I someday bring my children to. It was too neat, too perfect. Too much like home. Where was the life? I had come to see India as a cup that was always overflowing with both life and potential. Sometimes that felt oppressive and exhausting. Most of the time though, it touched me deeply. Looking at this utopia of an airport I appreciated the beauty, but it was so sterile in contrast to the India I had come to know.
Hema went on to tell me that she splits her time between Mumbai and Dubai, having recently moved back to Mumbai after 17 years in latter. Her husband does not want to move back to India. She told me, “I’m in love.” I assumed she meant with her husband but her next words surprised me, “…with India.” In five words she had just summarized what it was that I felt in my tears earlier that morning. It’s the chaos she said. In Dubai, she said it is so easy. Everything functions and works the way it is supposed to. It’s boring. Sterile. In India, the most basic aspects of everyday life can pose a challenge. Yes, she wants change. Her eyes grew fierce as she talked about the possibilities of real change. But she also recognized that some of India’s greatest strengths are born out of the struggles her countrymen and women face. She wants to protect the chaotic spirit of her greatest lover. Me. Too. Me. Too.