May 15, 2024

“First Impressions of India” by Jon Meyer

“First Impressions of India” by Jon Meyer

*Featured Image courtesy of Naveed Ahmed on Unsplash*

Travelling can always lead to some memorable experiences, and Jon Meyer certainly made some memories in his visit to India. Read a snippet of Jon’s trip in his nonfiction piece, “First Impressions of India.”

First Impressions of India

It was 1973, and I had been a follower of Meher Baba for three years. The white light from Lord Meher through Darwin was powerful, and was still sustaining me even though the constant bliss was somewhat diminished.  I spent a year at the Orrefors Glass School in Sweden and came home to be offered a job at Steuben Glass in Corning, NY. This work was quite varied, which I enjoyed. It entailed being in charge of the new apprentice program in addition to my other duties. Since the glass factory ran 2 shifts, and I also came in to make glass sculpture and functional objects at night, I was working a large portion of the 24- hour day. 

So, at the end of my first year, I requested 3 weeks off to travel to India. Normally, new hires were only given two weeks off per year, but since I had been working so many hours, my request was granted. There was a special excursion ticket available for India travels of three weeks. 

After booking my ticket, I had the required injections which made me very sick. It felt like I had reacted by contracting cholera from one shot, and tetnus, typhoid, and yellow fever from another all at once! I asked for Meher Baba’s help so my trip wouldn’t have to be cancelled. Shortly before the departure, I felt well enough to travel.

I packed everything for the trip in a day pack, small enough to carry comfortably. Since I had a lot to fit in, it took many hours of packing carefully, filling every small space. The wait at the airport was long, but finally my Air India flight was called, and I proceeded to the gate. There were no x-ray machines then at the Air India gate, so bags were inspected by hand. When it was my turn, the inspector zipped open my pack and dumped and scattered the contents on a large table. Then he said, “Hurry, you don’t want to miss your flight.” What went in over many hours was dumped in seconds, and there was no way I could carefully fit it all back in a hurry. I stuffed in all I could and carried the rest in my arms. Imagine the sight of a young American man with arms dripping with underwear, shaving gear, toilet paper, etc. It was a welcome to India before even leaving. Twenty- six hours and a transfer later, we landed in Mumbai (then Bombay) My plan was to Meher Baba’s ashram in Meherabad near Ahmednagar, a town about six hours away by car.

My first sight of India was unlike anything I had experienced… I was told to wear a Baba button when I arrived. When I was waiting on a long line to clear customs, a man came up to me, looked at my Baba button, and asked me to step out of line and follow him. He took me to a special short line where another skinny man in a light brown shirt with matching trousers marked chalk on my bag, and pushed me away toward the exit.

Outside the airport it was muggy and aggressively hot. It felt like someone had shut off the air. When I stepped out of the terminal, I thought that I could be on another planet. The trees were unrecognizable, I couldn’t identify any of the insects, and the scenery was completely foreign. There was a huge drooling cow chewing its cud, surrounded by cow shit. That great billowing cow body was sitting in the middle of the road right outside where passengers were scurrying, and little cars zooming past. The men dressed in drab brown suits with white Nehru hats and women in saris were everywhere. A strong farm smell was wafting from the paved parking lot. I could also see bicycles, scooters, and many piles of dung. India, at least in Mumbai seemed boisterous, entropic, complex.

I was accosted by taxi touts. I randomly chose one and he led me to a small taxi. I hopped in and asked to be taken to Nargis Dadachanji’s address in Dardar, Bombay. In those days, the international airport was still out in the countryside. It was only years later that Bombay grew out around it. 

The land beyond the airport was vaguely similar to the countryside near Conway, SC- an elevated road, surrounded by marshy wetlands. The road was narrow, barely two lanes with no shoulders, but just a steep drop- off down into the marsh. Soon after we got up to speed, a large truck was approaching us with another truck passing it. They were headed straight for us. With both narrow lanes completely filled and no room for us, it appeared like I was not going to make it to Meherabad! 

My driver never flinched, never slowed down, and drove straight toward the two trucks, now looming in front of us. My driver did hit the horn as the passing truck just barely cut back into his proper lane. The driver of the passed truck could have smacked the passing truck’s rear with his fist. I saw the driver’s face, and he looked bored. We barely missed both trucks, and still my driver never flinched and never slowed down. This was far worse than driving in New York City or other cities in the West.

A few miles down the road, a goat herder was directing his herd in the road ahead. Dozens of goats were walking toward us. I first thought, “This should be interesting. Goat meat for lunch?”  When we were very close, the driver hit the horn and the gas pedal. 

I was amazed as goats jumped and scattered. We appeared to be inside a billiard break with this taxi as the cue ball, but without touching anything. I looked out the back window, then the front window, and was shocked to see us in the middle of a goat herd, going 50 miles an hour. We passed through and not a goat was touched. Wow!

Next, I saw a sadhu (holy man) walking toward us on the side of the road. He could have come from central casting in Hollywood. He had a flowing white beard down his chest, a long white robe, shoulder length white hair, and a walking staff. A large bus was now passing another bus, and was headed straight toward him. His steps never waivered, and as one bus just missed him, I saw his eyes riveted in the distance. His expression never changed. 

Welcome to India.

Jon Meyer has written for The Village Voice, ARTnews, ARTS, New Art Examiner, Visions Quarterly, CRITS, Q, Dialog, Art New England, Fictional Café, and many more publications. As Department Chair, Meyer led a small team producing a film about one of his students, Dan Keplinger. This film, King Gimp won the Oscar for best short documentary at the 2000 Academy Awards.  

His first book, Love Poems From Vermont: reflections on an inner and outer state won ten awards, including Best National Poetry Book 2019/2020 by Reader Views. His second book, Love Poems From New England won 15 awards, including winning a “Best Book” award for poetry, and winner of the Poetry Award from Reader Views. Clouds: love poems from above the fray won the International Book Award: poetry in 2022. 

Meyer’s work has been in 60 solo and group exhibitions (18 museum exhibitions) and has his work in 20 museum/ public collections globally. He has received 12 grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant. He serves as Vice President of the League of Vermont Writers. 

#Goats#india#jon meyer#nonfiction#travel

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