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January 6, 2016

In a place where monkeys roam about and cows wandered unharmed, how can you not feel charmed by and a bit reflective on human nature? The cows are taken for granted, generally, noticed only when one needs to avoid hitting one. The monkeys, on the other hand, are rare enough to garner attention, joyous attention and a few camera shots, from my experience.  I cannot help but thinking that back home, unless the cows and monkeys were fenced in and caged up, these animals would be considered a nuisance, things to fear or potential target practice.  Maybe I shouldn’t think that way, but when a troupe of monkeys suddenly bound over a rooftop, thunk onto the road way and go skittering down the street, even as people pass and vehicles zoom by, I find it both surprising and exciting in a way I don’t feel at home.  That, I suppose, is the fun and enticement of traveling; encountering the unknown and surprising.

However, my now 10 years of traveling on and off to India has been far more than the enticement of visiting an unknown culture and place.  In fact, that is not why I have been traveling here so much over that decade.  It is more the rumination on humanity and nature that continues to draw me here.  Just as the cows make me believe I should just putter through life and not worry too much about what’s happening around me, and just as the sudden appearance of the masked-face monkeys arrest my attention, the daily life here keeps me forever remembering that humanity is nothing without ‘human.’ 

I rode the local trains with a well-respected theatre troupe and director, traveling from festival to festival in just a matter of days.  More than once we found ourselves jam-packed on the train, talking with each other between other people’s legs, nearly, as if that were the most natural thing in the world to do.  I watched amazed as the company loaded and unloaded the set, costumes, props and personal luggage in under two minutes, knowing the train would leave, regardless.  And when they accidentally unloaded another person’s luggage along with theirs, that man jumped off the train a little perturbed, but the situation calmed not escalated, even as we discovered his wife was still on the train as it continued on without him.  The company stopped, cared for a small wound he got, gave him a little food (I believe) and made sure he was fine and ready to catch the next train.  He thanked them graciously.

Then I find myself at a boarding school where a great number of the teachers and others are volunteers who live and work here.  Work as hard as anyone I know with a 9-5 salary, and occasionally harder, as many are also the house parents in the dorms.  These folks demonstrate an eagerness to learn, and a desire to guide the students almost as if each were their own children.  There is a kind of civility, a genuine civility, that permeates the place and makes a stranger feel far from being just that.

There is an earnestness, a seriousness that keeps people focused, generous and intensely engaged in what they are doing.  Of course that means that sometimes there is a harshness of tone, as people collide occasionally, but the heated arguments remain just that: arguments.  Despite the constant vehicle beeping, rushing on and off trains, buses, etc. and the great numbers of sometimes fit into small places, civility is the foundation of interaction.

Even to a monkey loping across the road, or a cow standing in front of your car.