Pushing through the Surf and Bracing for Take-off

I pump up my phone, poison my shirts, and ponder what books to pack in my case; I count my southern blessings and brace for psychic assault.

A friend compared the pre-departure chaos to getting the boat through the surf as you launch out into the deep.  Or planning an extended tramping trip, wrestling to fit gear in your pack and weighing up what you don’t need and worrying about what you’ve missed, before the sigh of relief as you step out on the trail, the die is cast and decisions are left behind.

I’ve spent the last week crossing off multitudinous “to do” lists.  Loading Dad’s classical music collection, Hindi learning videos, maps and Lonely Planet India onto my new phone; last weekend’s Times of India news onto my Kindle.  Training Mum on computer tasks, and installing remote access software to help her from overseas.  Purging my filing cabinets and cupboards, filling bins with expired clothing and notes.  Sorting out Dad’s wardrobe with Mum to find cool shirts for English teaching in the heat.  Donning gloves to impregnate my mosquito net and travel shirt with permethrin to kill bugs on contact.  Getting hair and beard trimmed to remove excess insulation.

I’ve been googling internet security: had my gut been as infected as my USB stick was in 2007, I’d never have left the bathroom.  I’m higher tech this time, and the bad guys will also have upped their game.  I’ve confirmed accommodation contacts, and been invited to a wedding in Bangalore – with 2000 other guests!  Weighing up books versus clothes in my case.  For a list of physical (versus electronic) books I’m taking, see here .  I’ve re-read cards received during the year and am taking a couple to cheer me up in hard moments.

And of course I’m farewelling friends and counting the blessings I will miss.  Familiar faces.  Hokey-pokey ice cream.  Jogging along Auckland’s waterfront.  Spotting the Southern Cross; soon I’ll be navigating by the North Pole Star!  Turning on the tap for a glass of water; I’ve got purification tablets (dissolve and wait for 30 min) and an ultraviolet Steripen lamp (submerge and stir for 40 seconds) if I run out of safe bottled water.  I may desperately miss the public and university libraries, a few minutes’ walk from my office, but at least Bangalore and Delhi have good bookstores!  (I listed things I missed about New Zealand in India during 2007 here.)

In the words of writer Shashi Tharoor, India’s civilisation was “the birthplace of four major religions, a dozen different traditions of classical dance, 85 political parties, and 300 ways of cooking the potato”.  With such diversity, it’s frequently said that for any statement about India, the opposite is equally true.  It’s a land of contrasts, where even a steady stolid phlegmatic may become manic depressive, swinging between ecstasy and excrement.

I’ll probably be troubled by crippled beggars; yet India reportedly has the most billionaires of any Asian country.  India has around 40% illiteracy and standard women are far worse off than men; but few years pass without an Indian novelist shortlisted for the Booker prize – and many are female.  Earthquake-potholed, rubble-strewn Christchurch streets reminded me of normal Indian roads; but after the pumping commercial sparkle of Bangalore’s malls, Auckland’s central Queen Street feels like a drab small town.  Even the time zone is ambivalent and eludes the usual schedule: India is 7 ½ hours behind New Zealand.  So if my reactions range from delight to despair, I hope no Indian readers will take offence.

My next missive, God willing, will be from offshore: tomorrow I fly!