The Belly Button of the World
New Delhi, India
Our time in the Great Belly has come to an end. We are hiding in a little place called “Cyber Bar-Be-Que,” while outside a storm rages. A dust storm, it seems. The shopkeepers smelled it before it hit and began scrambling to bring in their wares. The wind showed up and roared down the dirt road, snapping saris and clogging pores along the way.
We took shelter in a small jewelry shop, which we immediately found out was unfortunately missing the glass in its front door. The electricity in most parts of the country is sporadic at best – it can be frustrating when the AC goes off at midnight but a power outage can also produce some wonderful candlelit side streets.
We wandered through the main bazaar last night – the electricity was off and the fruit sellers all had candles and Nag Champa wedged into piles of mangos and bananas on their old wooden carts. One of them ran over my foot and giggled when chastened by a turbaned gentleman. Cows wandered about, foraging and stealing offerings, and women haggled mercilessly for the last of the day’s purchases. This morning we got lost, which turned out to be an blessing. While trying to find the tiny shop where we had stored our suitcase in the maze of lanes that is the bazaar, we found ourselves wandering down tiny residential alleys. People were taking their morning basin wash, cooking breakfast on the front stoop over a low fire and going for morning prayers.
There is a constant shifting music to India – every noise seems to be linked to the next. A horn wails and a fruit seller yells and a woman’s ankle bracelet jangles and a cart rattles and dog snaps and someone is singing. A whiff of incense and a Sadhu’s orange wrap swims by as bells tinkle somewhere to the right. Your gaze moves from corner to corner to alleyway to stoop – a surprise awaits you at every turn. Sometimes an assault, sometimes a symphony, India demands every ounce of sustenance you are able to give. She squats, gazing directly at you, strong legs beneath her, a naked baby in one arm, a Pentium motherboard in the other.
The dust storm today seemed only a part of the great and gorgeous show. It does not care about your feelings or your space or your issues. It knows it is BIGGER and STRONGER and more REAL than you’ve ever dreamed of being and it is connected to the life force that is us all. The force that we in the the soft Charmin beds of America, Italy and Australia have forgotten existed. The poorest people here eat, shit, make love, beat each other, laugh and sing all in the same place. They have not divided themselves and their souls into compartments – they know that it is all one and they move with it. This is the center of life. I feel that I have seen l’ombelico del mondo – the belly button of the world.