I Dream India into Existence
I dream India into existence.
Not that it was my personal private dream, but a believable movie reasonably constructed from the group psyche.
It was comforting this dream, cushioned, as it were, with familiarity. It tamed the wild profusion of things, using the sights, sounds, and faces of India as its raw material.
Everything might appear different from my ordinary world back home, but I knew that this was the way it was supposed to be. It was a good dream, it made me feel happy.
I recognized India immediately, like meeting a blood relative for the first time, because I carried with me, deep inside, images corresponding to what I saw on the outside.
Later I realized that these images resembled Orientalist paintings of 19th-century Europe. I saw that same domed dwelling as the artist Delamain. I learned to label it a dargah, the tomb of a Sufi saint.
I searched the back streets of the Muslim Quarter looking for Deutsch’s water seller, knowing full well I would never drink that water. Guaranteed dysentery. But I would enter into his doorways.
I dreamed the Orient, fueled on these images and others that filtered their way down a hundred years into my thoughts. By their circuitous expansion into popular culture, into literature and film, I was informed, prepared. I was ready for the sensuality, promise, terror, spirituality, delight, and intense energy that I had been promised.
Thoughts appeared in my head that led me to compare and contrast normal with abnormal, the Same with the Other, and to assign categories to my experience of India: what it was supposed to be.
But I was unable to understand then that there was another India right under my feet and before my eyes, an India that was different from my dream. I did not grasp that my idea of India told me more about my own culture and how it imagined another culture than it did about this extraordinary land itself.
India gradually began to reveal itself as sacred geography. Mountains were no longer masses of inert granite observing the laws man assigns to nature but living beings—gods and sages. Rivers became goddesses. I started to recognize everywhere the signs of these great beings, the spectacular signatures of nature.
How else would we know where the great powers of the universe reside, how else would we know the meeting of worlds, if these places were not clearly marked?
This topography is known throughout India in a voluminous mythological narrative, often conflicting, and confusing to me, but as such, the very source of mystery and wonder. I discovered that there were those who read the face of this Extraordinary World with its flags, characters, ciphers, and obscure words the way we read a book.