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Changes in Latitude

MUMBAI—I looked out a window of our apartment I had never looked out before. The orange ball of the sun, rippling at the edges, hung above a tiny section of the Indian Ocean, shining grey, visible through the forest of buildings. As I watched, it disappeared. There was none of the usual fading away. It was there and then it was gone and the sky began to dim. It is nine and a half hours later here in Mumbai than it is back in the the eastern U.S. There is an explanation for that half hour but it eludes me at the moment.

All of us have been suffering the effects of the jet lag, fully awake at odd times of the night, as I am right now, or crushed with a terrible fatigue in the middle of the day. I have always liked to travel slowly, by foot or bus, or boat, to make the physical journey over the land or water, to see the passage of time and space. The old accounts of going to India almost always begin with the ocean voyage. The traveler leaves the cool, orderly green of England and begins the long journey south and east. As he goes, the world grows stranger, hotter, more wild until finally his destination lies spread before him as the ship swings at anchor. The smells and sounds of the place reach him before he arrives and there is time to prepare, time to reflect.

We rarely get that chance anymore, to go to or from a place in a fashion that allows us the time to adjust our perspectives and acclimatize to new latitudes. We are forced onto a metal tube, strapped down and hurtled through the air at terrifying speeds. Like astronauts on a interstellar voyage we slip into a state suspended animation, half conscious, half comatose, kept alive by manufactured nutrients until suddenly we are disgorged into an alien environment.

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