India is a country where you learn to wait.
The people living in the hamlets wait for the rain. After the first showers, they prepare and plough the fields. Then they wait for the monsoons, the unrelenting rain. When the air turns cool and the people anticipate the change in season, they sow their seeds. Soybean, corn, cotton, millets. Once the seeds are sown, and the clouds have filled all the discernible space between heaven and earth, they wait again. They wait to see if the rains will stop and give time enough for a walk to the market. They wait for the water to boil before adding milk to the chai. They wait, uncertain and anxious, to see if their seeds have been washed away, or if they’ve sprouted and rooted themselves into the cold soil. This waiting is the worst kind of waiting, like waiting for the verdict of a trial – at stake the loans they took to buy their seeds. The jury: a thousand hindu gods, Allah, the whims of an uncaring ecology. Men sit and play cards, attend to their storefronts, take jobs in sharecropped fields. Women, well women wait while they work, because for them waiting is not an excuse not to. There is too much to do. Their children, their husbands, and their elderly in-laws are, well, waiting also. And the whole family waits for the earth to yield to the crop. And they wait for the markets, for a fair price.
As interns, we also learn to wait. We wait each morning for Kaka, our driver, who arrives sometime between 8:30 and 10:30. And then we wait for him to finish his bidi, a hand-rolled cigarette, before driving off to interviews we’ve arranged. We wait for the women to arrive. Between interviews, we sit in tiled-floored, two-room agency offices, where occasionally we have access to the internet. Because our supervisor waits for her supervisor for the meeting to begin, we wait for the day to end, to be shuttled to our temporary home. There, we hope for electricity and running water. We bathe or hand-wash our clothes, and we wait, under ceiling fans in the damp monsoon air for our bodies and our fabrics to dry.
We wait for our own anxiety to subsist. We sit with our restlessness – foreign and unrelenting – unable to escape to leisure, to the gym, to Netflix. We try and find meaning in this, the true challenge of the internship. Because it’s novel and a badge of middle-class, first world courage to go without hot water, or a convenience store. To trade television for conversations with villagers. But the downtime in-between loses its charm. The dependence feels restrictive.
Months from now, back with our college routines – our to-do lists, our class schedules, study groups, club meetings yoga classes movies dates midterms facebookposts – we will miss this waiting. This space to think, to feel empty, to feel forced to get up and create our own good time. And we will begin to wait again, wait for the chance to escape the oppressive google calendar minute-by-minute schedule of our lives and go back to those places far away that drove us to be alone with our ourselves. Because in those places – like India – after we sit and wait and feel sorry for ourselves for all that we left behind, there is still time left to look outside, to chat with a coworker, to join a neighborhood game of cricket, to pray to think listen be. And you won’t even have a chance to check your calendar, because nearby your laptop is waiting to be charged, the power out, giving you all the time in the world.