In 2009 I was in my early thirties and unhappy. I had good friends, enough money to live well, and my schedule was busy and exciting. But I still felt empty. A low-grade depression had gnawed at me for years, wearing me down. I wasn’t sure what to do and it felt as if I’d tried everything; work, academia, sabbaticals, living abroad. Nothing felt as vivid as it should do.
The person who inspired me to go to India, Dr Tom, wasn’t someone I knew particularly well, but when he talked about travelling he made it sound worth doing. I had some money left over from a recent contract so I decided to go to India.
I’m not sure exactly why I picked India. I wanted to visit one of the places on what I later learned was called ‘the banana pancake trail’, named after the ubiquitous dish requested by Lonely Planet reading travellers. (I searched for a book on ubiquitous backpacker cuisine, but it’s not been written yet. Maybe I should do it one day?). I think India appealed to me from the little I’d read about it and because of the connections between England and India.
Everyone knows that wherever you go, you take the weather with you. I understood that and was going to India to tour rather than to find myself. And there was no great revelatory moment, no sunrise by the Ganges that made me realise that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. But there were little revelations, a relief in being overwhelmed by the scale of the world.
My mentor had told me of someone she knew who had actual depression rather than the nagging dissatisfaction I dragged around. Whenever this friend’s depression became overwhelming they would head for another country. Forced to deal with the million little hassles of being somewhere new, the difficulty of finding food and shelter, their misery would fade into the background.
A year after that first trip, I read Deborah Baker’s A Blue Hand which tells the story of the Beats in India through the life of Hope Savage. A sentence in that book evoked my experience of India perfectly: “And perhaps just as the mysteries of train tables, currency exchange and cheap accommodations were eventually resolved, so might others”.