A Westerner heading to India for spiritual enlightenment is such a cliche. Fuck it, I like cliches. They make the world go round.
I travelled there for the first time last week, and since I returned I feel refreshed, centred, inspired, and perhaps most importantly - decidedly less important. If there were ever a profession which indulges the self centred side of us, it's stand up comedy. I'm not saying that's bad... after all, we provide a useful service. Laughing is therapeutic and invaluable. All I'm saying is, it's a lot of ME, ME, ME getting a comedy career going and keeping it going.
So much so that I found myself getting pretty wound up these past few months. Firstly, I'm putting on my debut hour long show at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August. This is a notoriously stressful experience and in many senses, a big rite of passage. It's your chance to really showcase your skills and hammer home a themed concept to the comedy world and public. And trust me, my head (and stomach) have been feeling the impact of that stress.
The last gig I had before heading to India was one of the worst I've ever had. I was feeling tightly wound, tired, and nervous about my show, but for some reason decided to turn the gig into a preview of sorts. It's a long story, and one I don't even feel like recounting, but a woman with whom I'd had some banter at the venue the year before had apparently felt I'd insulted her...and in trying to diffuse her heckling I went on to TRULY insult her. Oops. Not only did I feel awful about it, but I had a roomful of people who were baffled and I daresay, a bit insulted themselves.
Then I treated them to a full hour of me looking at notes, trying out untested material, and fumbling towards the end of that hour with great anticipation. Actually, in retrospect, I handled it pretty well and at least I powered through...don't think I'll be asked back any time soon though. Meh.
Suddenly the next day I was on a flight to India with my husband. The trip had been booked quite spontaneously as he had to do work there and I was really just tagging along. We had barely gotten our visas in time - in fact they were delivered the MORNING we flew. In retrospect that was very indicative of how things have been feeling lately. A bit crazy and last minute. What a Western cliche THAT is.
From the moment I entered the taxi and swerved down the insanity of the Delhi motorway, I felt peaceful. I can't explain it. Anyone who's been to India knows that the street is the opposite of peaceful. Lanes mean nothing in India and you're sharing the frenetic mania with trucks, motorbikes with Indian women riding side saddle and helmetless as their husbands drive 70 MPH, auto rickshaws, bikes, and as I'd later discover in Jaipur, sometimes elephants, camels, and cows (who always, always have the right of way).
But seeing (and immersing myself) in this chaos did exactly what was needed - it took me out of my head and forced me to look outside myself. At a country with an infinite amount of intrigue, sights, and sounds. One minute you're looking at a Mughal temple, admiring it's intricacy and effort, the next you're at a red light with a 6 year old girl holding a baby, tapping desperately at your window. It feels like an M Night Shyamalan film, but you have to stare forward or they won't go away. And if you give them money, we were warned, it will only go to the leader of their child exploitation ring.
Suddenly worrying about my punchlines seemed a little trivial.
India is a constant paradox - you're drawn in by graciousness, curiosity, and love...then sometimes manipulated and taken advantage of. You see beauty and splendour and feel awe towards your fellow human - then see ugliness and callousness and feel resentful in the same breath. You smell curry, incense and roses, the next second raw sewage fills your nose. You eat the most perfumed and delicious meal of your life...then your body decides to...erm, reject that.
Everything in India feels more complicated. Preparing a meal means going to four different shops, not a supermarket. Buying anything means haggling. Booking anything means getting a connection to someone you can trust, assuming you'll be ripped off otherwise. But all these contrasts to my frame of reference made me instantly love India. Because having to work harder means you appreciate what you get at the end (albeit the disappointment is greater when you don't)
Feeling enlightened by India is a cliche, but it's become one for good reason. So much of what I experienced restored my faith in living life day to day - not just five year plan to five year plan - or career milestone to career milestone, as it's been feeling lately. There's a great beauty and inspiration in the chaos of India, and I'm forever grateful I got to experience it.
It's hard to feel anxious when you're on top of a camel giggling with your husband as you see your bizarre Arabian nights shadow beside you.
I'm grateful for this little oasis in my chaos, because it made me realise that none of my chaos is really chaos at all. I've got an easy life compared to the majority of people in the world. A VERY easy and very privileged life indeed. And I want to enjoy every minute of that rather than feel angst about it...down to my Edinburgh show and whatever the hell happens after it. Because the bottom line is, and how lucky I am to say this and mean it: I love my life and everything in it. So what's there to worry about?
It's no surprise that my last three gigs have gone well, and have been, most importantly, fun again. Let that be a lesson. So I'm already looking into Thailand for December...let's call it an occupational necessity. Maybe I can even write it off as an expense. Anyone have a dodgy accountant they wanna share with me?
Anyway, since this has been so saccharine sweet anyway, let's end with this...in the words of the dorky Alanis M: thank you India. Another cliche? Ah, isn't it ironic...