Calling Home: Journals From India

Posted on March 17th, 2009 by

In January Term, 2009, Deane Curtin led a group of students to India, in a course entitled “Buddhist India.” Caleb Phillips, a senior philosophy member, was a part of that course, and he kept a journal while he was there. Below are some excerpts from his journal.

I don’t know if I wrote about Kolkata & Mother Teresa’s tomb, nunnery, & orphanage.  I openly cried reading of her uncertainties & tribulations, I cried over her unending-ness concerning her goals & deeds.  She spoke of emptiness, of being a temporary vessel for grace & goodness.  Some of her words tied neatly into Nagarjuna’s, but only some.  The nunnery was calm & austere, simple & welcoming.  I recited a Hail Mary at her tomb, feeling the tug of my history & the beauty of that place.  The museum was touching beyond compare.  Small children begged at their mother’s command outside.  The orphanage filled me with hope [with] smiles & laughter & innocence confined by a safe place…

We are leaving from here again, as snow-capped mountains walk about in their blankets of clouds.  We witnessed a perfect sunrise from Tiger Hill with Everest pointing her nose up for us to see…

I have reached the last week of my sojourn which has become our sojourn.  I want to return home & want to stay.  I wish to hike & climb & meditate here.  For now, though, I am just sitting, writing, & wearing my Tibetan style shirt, waiting for my compatriots to rise & for breakfasting.

-24 January 2009, from Pelling, Sikkim

I include this excerpt from my journal intentionally, though I cannot exactly specify that intention.  It reflects on the spirituality and of the ecology of thought and biology I witnessed, but hints at the ways in which spirituality can feel both familiar and foreign.  Mother Teresa was a foreigner, a stranger in the strange land of West Bengal, practicing a form of Christianity brought to India, not of India.  All the same, she succeeded in making it something of India by recognizing the needs and customs of that place, of Kolkata.

Such was not my aim; all the same, something like adaptation to strangeness did happen.  India encountered me, while I underwent my encountering.  Something intimate that was also invasive occurred; something about this process was also anaesthetizing.    At this point, under a psychological and cultural scalpel, I admitted my sense of despondence, of exhaustion, of eagerness to return home.

This was not homesickness, which I have known profoundly, and I was able to recognize it as something else early.  The malaise has become clearer now that I have engaged in overcoming it; it has shown itself to be the recovery from that sort of experience, the recuperation of myself now into something I was not before.  After any surgery, one is not what one was; one may be well or on the way to healing, but one is first beset with greater, even dangerous weakness.  My physicality is healthier, more so than before, but I can say that I am undergoing mental-I would add spiritual if I could avoid the kitsch of saying such-mending.  I returned drugged, intoxicated by the reality I left and the reality to which I was seeing again, experiencing it with a profound sense of novelty.  Even as India pulls away through time, I cannot shake this novelty; and with it, novelty’s dual sense of fear and excitement about the world.


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