Outside Looking In — Lydian Shipp
Asia India South Asia

Outside Looking In — Lydian Shipp

Looking into other people’s lives is reassuring…

The sounds here are intoxicating. Downstairs (or down the hall, I can’t tell) I can hear the sounds of drums and flutes playing vibrantly, and the murmur of many people’s voices. Occasionally, I’ll hear a car horn from outside going, wee-o-wee-o-wee-o. And then a bird cooing in the distance. And people shouting to each other from across the courtyard down on the bottom level of the apartment complex. The buildings are never entirely quiet until 3AM, and even then birds coo softly in their sleep.

Sound usually bothers me. It disturbs my sleep, and disrupts my thoughts. But the noise here (right now) is just within the range of tolerable. It’s interesting, even. I’m sure it would get annoying after staying here for a while, but I like the honeymoon phase where it’s still interesting to me.

Every night while I’m sitting in bed, I look across into the windows of the apartment building across from ours, and into an apartment with a similar layout to our own. At around 8PM each night, the woman living in the apartment directly across from ours emerges from behind curtains into her kitchen, where she appears to either be preparing food for the next day or cleaning up from that night. She does the cooking/cleaning with such peace, it seems. Or maybe it’s just that, within the quiet peace of my own room, she too appears peaceful and relaxed.

Every morning (and sometimes nights), I watch a woman squat outside in her small, concrete “backyard” in front of her tin-sheltered house to clean clothes in a too-small washing bin that looks to be a dull and worn-out purple. She, too, appears peaceful and content. Her two boys walk around the concrete backyard, doing some of their own chores. Yesterday, one of them (wearing a neon green t-shirt that stuck out amid the gray, damp, stormy color of the city) wandered down the street outside his house barefoot toward a building that, although dilapidated, looks almost regal if I squint my eyes. Today, an old woman there was also washing clothes in a too-small bin.

I always wonder what goes on inside people’s homes, when they know (or think they know, I suppose) that nobody’s watching. Who are they when they’re alone? What do they do?

Watching simple, ordinary people go about their lives here in India is calming. It’s like a sense of knowing that everything will be okay, or that it’ll turn out. Here are these women (and men and boys) living their lives amidst rubble and dilapidation, cleaning their clothes only on rainy days when there’s water they can use, and cleaning up and cooking in their kitchens late at night and alone. And they have a routine, a way of being, a sense of themselves (or so it seems).

Traveling gives me perspective on my own life. I get so wrapped up in the little things when I’m at home. I don’t stop to smell the roses, so to speak. I get concerned that I’m not “doing the right thing” or “being the right way,” and I get lost in the tiny, unimportant events while forgetting to acknowledge the simple and ordinary things that make life, life. Like brushing my teeth in the morning or going outside for a jog in the morning. These are things I take for granted, and things I don’t acknowledge. They’re so small and so much a part of my routine that I forget I’m even doing them. I don’t stop to enjoy the simple act of brushing my teeth, and how good it feels to have minty fresh breath, or just to observe the way that the toothbrush bristles feel brushing across my teeth and the way that they sound.

If somebody looked in at my life from a window across the way, what would they think of me? What would I think of me? Am I one of the people who looks calm and content with their life, or am I one of the people who goes through nightly and obvious conflicts? Am I a part of the group of people at peace with their lives, or the group that is unsatisfied and always needs or wants something more?

I know which group I want to be a part of. But I often think I’m a member of the other.

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