Carl Jung visited India in 1949, and among other impressions of the country he wrote, “It is quite possible that India is the real world, and that the white man lives in a madhouse of abstractions. Life in India has not yet withdrawn into the capsule of the head. It is still the whole body that lives. No wonder the European feels dreamlike: the complete life of India is something of which he merely dreams. When you walk with naked feet, how can you ever forget the earth?”
Now in this day and age people still walk here with naked feet, even on the grubby streets of Mysore. And there are lives that have still not withdrawn into the capsule of the head. There is the coconut man who in three deft strokes cleaves open a coconut to drink, the young girl nonchalantly balancing her basketload on her head, the women who weave garlands of flowers with astonishing dexterity. But there is also the man pushing a cart laden with fruit up a steep hill in the heat, or the dustmen with their truck, who stoop to scoop up spilled garbage with their bare hands. From Jung’s writings, my understanding is that this is the complete life of which he speaks, one where pure and impure, riches, rags and wretches mix and mingle, all aspects of life come together to form a whole, or rather they were never separate.
Then again, there is the doorman of a cheap hotel, who spends his time glued to mobile-phone internet; the keeper of a small shop who shuffles wares and rupee notes all day; the beauty parlours, enticing shopfronts, shiny motorcars and scooters, the pull of things – or rather the idea of things, the thought of possessing them, the lure of increase. What is this if not life in the capsule of the head, if not an existence cut off from the earth?
And yet, for me, India retains a greatly soothing effect, which is hard to put into words. I think it is because even in cities, the choice between walking with naked feet, or retreating into the bubble of the mind is always there, readily accessible. Reminders of the most basic realities of life, be they the physical environment (the tropical vegetation, the dirt, heat, dogs, and wandering livestock), or a kaleidoscope of the human condition (the poverty, the chaotic hubbub of a swarming population, the downtrodden, the unnoticed and the forgotten), are everywhere apparent. Strangely, in this way, everything seems oddly to add up, the bigger picture somehow feels complete. Abstraction is offset by tangible reality. And it feels easier to live with one’s feet firmly rooted in the dirt, from ground level up.