A friend of mine who lived in India and Nepal for many years wrote to me recently from Geneva. She works there with the World Health Organization. She said it had taken her some time to identify what it was that was missing from her life after she left Asia: tension, anxiety.
I know exactly what she meant.
Living in India for the past thirty years, I have grown accustomed to feeling uneasy. Usually it is mild, a background white noise. Its vagueness is part of its power. When I try to analyze it, to trace its source so I can name it and deal with it, it eludes me. It is no one thing. It cannot be pinned down. It’s in the air.
The cooking gas is about to run out and the new tank might be delivered tomorrow, but just as likely it won’t. I have a report due and it’s raining, which means the electricity could go off any moment and my laptop has only fifteen minutes of battery life. My daughter Moy Moy is down to the last bottle of her anticonvulsant medication, and the pharmacy has no idea when the new stock will arrive. The local college is holding student elections and the streets are full of slogan-shouting young men (in an election a few years ago, a student politician was murdered).
Things almost always work out, but we have developed an elaborate safety network. I can borrow a gas tank from my office. Our home is...