To leave Bombay was to escape it without knowing what lay beyond the moat. Books and guides advised romantic getaways and historic forts, which is what instant travel books do, I suppose. But these were outlines. I needed texture. What did the fishermen of Alibag do when it rained? Was white sand really white? Was life in the countryside a romantic notion? Some questions were obvious but I needed to know first hand, rather than hear incomplete experiences and vivid descriptions of glorious mountain peaks and nothing about their bases. India, we see when we step back from its shining glory, is a testing country where helplessness can be a persistent companion. It is not a place of romance or mystery but of eternal struggle, which is not to say that romance cannot be found in its appearance and characters. But this struggle is between moving forward against holding back.
I brooded over many things between destinations as the landscapes changed from lush flatlands to curvy green and reddish-green mountains, but mostly about why progress was this limited. In the fields laborers picked at the soil. Why? How much did they earn? Over and over for two weeks I wondered about opportunity and its absence for so many. And it scared me because after a fortnight on the road, traveling and talking to people of different castes from different religions, the most lasting impression was one of a silent battle for survival. I found myself in that struggle, breaking out of a claustrophobic cocoon because there was no alternative. To not fight would mean resigning to fate, a terrible choice, and forever living a life wondering what if? Where would we end up if we resigned to fate? And yet it is what so many give themselves up to everyday. At times it felt as if the only way out of trouble was to live with a sense of urgency. At times it felt as if nothing but a cool bed and warm meals mattered. At times it felt as if money and nothing else mattered. At times there was abject misery and desperate loneliness and a feeling of being uprooted and being thrown into a strange country. I longed for the India I knew. But everyday the India I knew changed a little more, and everyday I changed a little with it.
It's been a fascinating and frustrating two weeks on the road. In a few days I'll put up a log of the adventure.