I’ve been here before. 3 months in 04/05 with my bestie from school. I was scared then, I’m even more scared now. This time I’m with F. and I know the journey we are about to embark on is going to change her/us forever. It was still changing me all these years later, right up until the moment the plane landed for the second time.

“So, this is Sudder Street?”

“Ya, Sudder Street.” Bobbling his head yes then no.

“Are you sure?” It looked like a war zone.

“Let me see your paper.” The cabbie reached over and snatched the pre-paid taxi receipt from the airport from my hand. “Ya Sudder Street.” He pointed with annoyance. He immediately started undoing our bags from the rooftop of his famous Kolkata taxi. He didn’t care if we were scared. He drove off with our bags sitting idle in the middle of the street. We were once again alone in the most amazing place on earth.

It didn’t take long before the touts started swarming like angry bees. I was trying to piece my surroundings together through their stinging sales pitches of, “Clean room.” “Very cheap.” “Come with me, I show you.” Over and over again. After a lengthy search through the swarm of touts, we settled upon an over-priced room, smouldering in humidity, paint peeling and grime seeping from every pore. It was the worst room we had stayed in after seven months of travel but the best room we had seen, after looking at six other hotels. I tried my best to be positive about our surroundings, but it didn’t take long before things went from bad to worse. Welcome to India.

“Are those cockroaches?” She said with the innocence of a young child. My heart sank, hoping that whatever she was looking at was not the, “C” word. We had been lucky so far not to have had any run-ins with them up to now. I went over to look at what she was pointing at. I killed it with my flip-flop and said defiantly, “No.”

“What is it then?”

Back into the madness…

Seven countries later and none of them compare to our first day in India. As far as I’m concerned you haven’t been anywhere until you’ve been here. Humanity at its apex. A mad rush to survive. You can’t explain it, the energy, the smells, the noise, all of your senses running full speed, every moment could be a life changing one. Eyes opened wide, life rushing in, your brain trying desperately to keep up to the maddening pace. The next image even more engaging, even more surreal. Where am I? How do I belong in all of this? Truth a step away on either side. Truth. A spiritual melting pot that can take you to the inner depths of yourself in one exhaust filled breath or can take you to the edge of the precipice, tossing your hands up in surrender to the chaotic spiral that is India. Either way, you will be alive in a way you have never been before. No Facebook quote by somebody way smarter than you will help you here. You’re on your own. You either sink or swim and the current will always be way stronger than you thought. You find out very quickly what you are made of, what your ideals are, what you love, what you hate, what you miss, what you can live without, what you can’t and most importantly, once India has stripped all of the bark from your tree, you get to find out who you are. Nothing is sugar coated here. Nothing. Nobody is trying to make you think that life is better than it is, no market tested coffee shops, no fancy malls, nothing is cleaned or polished into tricking you into a false sense of reality. The white picket fence has been burned for survival and just like at home, it doesn’t exist anyway. You will actually have to become the person you so desperately seek and if you want to fight it, India will pin you in a corner and beat you down, showing no mercy. Not because it’s a bully but because the truth hurts sometimes. The amazing thing about India though, is that the pain always manages to turn itself into pleasure. Well, most of the time.

We got back from our first meal in India full of garlic Naan and Dahl. Glorious! As soon as we opened the door to our hotel however F. spotted one of our dear friends from earlier scurrying along the dirty bamboo coffee table next to the bed. She killed it as fast as she saw it and I realised that we in fact had a,”C” word problem. F. asked again if they were cockroaches. I hesitated and said,” Yes.” This time disappointed. F. replied, “Gross.” Like the way you think a girl would. I tried to laugh it off wondering how this room just managed to get worse. I removed all of the unneeded furniture and F. insisted we put one of the dirty sheets from the bed on the floor in case they were crawling in from under the door. I tried to play it off like it was nothing; I kept telling her that they won’t bother us.

“B. GET UP! Where is the light?”

“What’s going on?” Dazed from sleeping, I turned the flashlight on and she had a dead cockroach between her fingers. She woke up with it crawling on her chest. I didn’t say a word. I calmly got up and immediately set the mosquito net up over the bed. F. managed to fall back asleep after her, “C” word ordeal. I know she wasn’t happy, but she took it in stride, I was very proud of her.

End of day one.