Entropy and the Traveler

The second law of thermodynamics in physics states that every mechanism or living being within a closed system will eventually exert all of its energy and cease to function. For cars it could mean running out of gas, for a pendulum it means losing momentum, and for life forms it means old age and eventual death. Entropy is the amount of thermal energy not available to do the work, and also a measure of the disorder or randomness of the system. There is perhaps no greater place on earth to experience entropy than in India. Because in India, entropy is speeded up: buildings are crumbling, poor people starving, motor vehicles falling apart, animals fighting to survive in cities, and travelers becoming sick.

Healthy and shell-shocked -- My first week in India at the Taj Mahal.

The Indians have known about entropy for thousands of years. One of the most famous gods in the pantheon of Hindu religion is Shiva the Destroyer. To counter Shiva is Vishnu the Preserver. The two gods clearly personify the constant breakdown and renewal most Indians go through every day in this burgeoning nation of 900 million (and growing by 17 million every year!) The resulting overpopulation puts an enormous strain on the overworked land and existing resources. One can clearly visualize entropy at work. India is on a collision course with itself.

For travelers it means dealing with all this, as well as a required case of the shits. For these reasons alone it is no wonder most travelers hate India with a passion upon first arrival, myself included. But India can be much, much more if given a proper chance. In a country where millions of holy men wander about in search of the sacred, the poor are resigned and almost content in their poverty. Also home to some of the best monuments in the world, India is not only educational, it can be . . . enlightening.

Fifteen pounds lighter -- Five months later at the Anjuna flea market.

India taught me a profound lesson. First, it stripped away my Western conditioning by demonstrating how most people really live in this world. Dirt poor. India showed me material wealth does not necessarily equate into happiness. This different frame of mind -- living in a physical world whose inhabitants are in a constant state of breakdown -- does not disturb me anymore. Entropy in our lives is as inevitable as the sun rising everyday. We just have to learn to deal with it.

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