Elan Vital Media | SERIES FEATURE: An Invitation to India, Pt. 1
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SERIES FEATURE: An Invitation to India, Pt. 1

An Invitation to India – Part One

A pictorial journey to The Land of Prayer

Written and Photographed by: James Artaius

“This year is my ‘yes’ year.”  That’s how it all started.

Well, that’s not quite how it all started. It actually all started some two months before. After 20 years of friendship and 16 years of marriage, my wife had decided that our relationship was no longer working for her. Not knowing how to take such news, I initially did what I presume most people do: hunker down in my house (if only to enjoy doing so before it was sold off in the settlement) and become a hermit-like creature so that nobody else could do me any harm.

This strategy was successful for a while – especially since I’d found myself working primarily from home, so there really was no reason to leave the house (or, by proxy, to risk human contact) until the fridge was empty. I could barricade myself behind a fortress of emails, social media, videogames and junk food, safe from anyone who might finally shatter my already cracked emotional shell.

Headwear is seldom seen on the Indian highways. It’s a local custom you really shouldn’t follow.
Don’t know the rules of the road? Don’t worry, they don’t really apply here anyway.

However, while it certainly prevented me from being hurt any further, this approach sadly fell short in terms of actually helping me heal. And so it was that, while absent-mindedly scrolling through Facebook one Friday evening, I somehow caught glimpse of a picture-free status amid a sea of selfies and TFIF chaos. “With WOMAD vanishing over my shoulder in the distance, I’ll be making my way to The Convent in Stroud to play a late piano set tonight.”

It was a post from one of my dearest friends, Jaz Delorean, a musician with a soul made of pure poetry whose music always nourishes my being. “I should go and hear Jaz play tonight,” I thought. “It will be good to hear him sing, and even better to give him an overdue hug.” So I hurriedly threw on some creased clothes (because although I had been a hermit who’d scarcely left the house, that still wasn’t enough to make me want to do any ironing) and headed down the road to Stroud.

Remember Man as you go by, as you are now so once was I.
You’re always spoiled for choice at India’s fresh produce stalls.

And so it was, sipping green tea in a converted Cotswolds convent with my friend-come-favourite musician-come spirit animal, that it actually all started.

I told Jaz about my marital situation (he might have been only the second person I’d spoken to at that point), at which point he did what any good friend-come-favourite musician-come spirit animal would do: he invited me to India. It had been something of a tradition for him, starting in the north of the country and travelling south, all the while writing songs and clearing his mental cache and generally experiencing the richness of life in a way that would make Jack Kerouac proud.

“You know,” I began with a sigh, “I really don’t think I can. I don’t know that I should be taking time off work, especially now. And I don’t know that I can afford it, especially now. I would absolutely love to go, especially with you. And it would probably be really good for me, too, but I think I’ll probably have to say no. It’s just the timing…”

Raw vegan ice cream – it’s dry, it looks like a pancake, but it’s good.
Everywhere you point your camera in this country, there are always multiple moments going on.

Even as I spoke the words I could hear how limp and pathetic they were. The reasons were grounded in truth, of course. Who knew what kind of financial shape I would be in after a divorce. It would be much more sensible to stay at home doing my job than spending money I may not have gallivanting off to India – and it would be much safer, too, barricaded behind that fortress of Facebook and food.

I knew I was playing it safe but, damn it, I’d shown more than enough courage by leaving the house tonight. Going to an airport and getting on a plane and flying to the other side of the planet and dealing with new people seemed as perilous as a trip to Mordor to do some jewellery shopping. Yes, I was better off at home. “Maybe next year, if the offer is still open, I would genuinely love to take you up on it. But I think I’d better say ‘no’ this year.”

Jaz nodded sagely, as he always did. He reassured me that any decision I made was okay with him, so long as it was the right decision for me – at the end of the day, that was all that mattered. After a moment he poured more tea into his cup and sipped it, as a Buddhist monk might do before dispensing some wisdom. “I was the same last year,” he mused. “Last year was my ‘no’ year. I kept saying no to things. So I’ve decided that this year is going to be different, I’m going to say yes to things. This year is my ‘yes’ year.”

Indian children might well be the happiest in the world, possessing nothing and everything all at once.
Kids here are pretty adorable, even when they’re eyeing you suspiciously.

The sound of the penny dropping was so loud that I almost checked my pocket for holes. Like it or not, my life was about to change profoundly. Call them challenges, call them opportunities, call them whatever you want – life was going to start throwing them at me, whether I was ready for them or not. Was I really going to be in the best place to meet those challenges or seize those opportunities if I simply locked myself in the house, drew the curtains and hoped that everything would somehow sort itself out?

“You know what, Jazzy, the hell with it – I will go to India. This year will be my ‘yes’ year, too.”

I went home and fished out my passport. I bought my ticket. I packed my mosquito bite-zapper and finest tank tops. I thrust my trusty Olympus PEN and a handful of primes into my camera bag. Adventure awaited me halfway around the globe – along, hopefully, with a pinch of self-discovery. It was time for the hermit to leave his cave.

Cows are sacred in India, so nobody can usher them along – even when they stand in the middle of the road.
Trust me – take an Indian bus and you will never complain about public transport again.

“You know what, Jazzy, the hell with it – I will go to India. This year will be my ‘yes’ year, too.”

Traditional jewellery like besars and naths aren’t just ornamental – they are also believed to be therapeutic.
Some of the haberdashers here would put those on Savile Row to shame – as do their prices.

I went home and fished out my passport. I bought my ticket. I packed my mosquito bite-zapper and finest tank tops. I thrust my trusty Olympus PEN and a handful of primes into my camera bag. Adventure awaited me halfway around the globe – along, hopefully, with a pinch of self-discovery. It was time for the hermit to leave his cave.

James Artaius

About the Author/Photographer:

As it says on his business card, James is a “Maître Jacques” – jack of all trades. An Olympus-addicted photographer, long-in-the-tooth model, lapsed journalist and recovering videogame addict, he currently makes his residence in the birthplace of catch wrestling, Wigan, in the northwest of England. He enjoys deciphering David Lynch and listening to The Midnight.

Check out his portfolio on PurplePort: James Artaius Portfolio

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