Immersed: What’s Going On?

Posted by Benjamin R. Weiss • Monday, April 19. 2010 • Category: Crossing Cultures
An alto saxophone squeals, then quickly fades away. Soft strums on a guitar creep in, backed by gentle taps on a snare drum. I can’t help but bob my head. And then a mellow voice croons: “What’s going on? Oh, what’s going on?”

Marvin Gaye’s provocative query has wracked my brain since the moment I left home and set down roots in this unfamiliar land.

But on one recent, scorching Delhi afternoon, as I sought to quench my thirst for news on the health care debate in the United States, that famous question resonated in a way I hadn’t quite expected.

Sitting amid books, magazines, a cell phone, a computer, a radio—saturated with information (and sweat, of course)—I felt out of the loop, alien, immune to the excitement, the suspense, the sheer gravity of the controversial decisions being debated just blocks from my old apartment in Washington, D.C.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I felt out of touch with most things happening back home; I knew about events—a lot about them, in many cases—but I couldn’t really grasp them: how potent was the adrenaline that pumped through New Orleans when the Saints won their first Super Bowl? Did grey clouds seem to shroud the Manhattan skies when news of J.D. Salinger’s death hit the streets? Could a collective cry of “Dude!” be heard across southern California as Jeff Bridges accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor?

Today, it seems that no matter how much information I soak up about goings on back home—from the articles, the broadcasts, the blog posts, the box scores, the radio segments, even the conversations—I still can’t adequately answer the question, “What’s going on?”

But that doesn’t frustrate me. Instead, I see opportunity, the chance to experience.

Six months ago I grappled with that same question about a far-off place called “India.” The novels and the articles, the documentaries and the films, the art, the photographs, the music, the food, the stories—they all painted a stunningly vivid picture. But it was incomplete; “India” was still beyond my grasp.

That sense of mystery—the urge to really know “What’s going on?”—that’s what put me on a one-way flight to New Delhi. It’s that same curiosity that sends many of us far from home to explore, to marvel, to be challenged, to learn, to teach, to struggle, to grow. And to wonder.

Sometimes that means wondering not about the things we have yet to experience, but about those things that were once so familiar.

And from Marvin Gaye, my iPod omnisciently shuffles to another 1970s classic, this time from a bunch of British punks calling themselves “The Clash.”

Guitars wail. Symbols crash. And Mick Jones asks, “Should I stay or should I go?”

This time, the answer is crystal clear: my journey’s only just begun.

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