If the Creator were on acid, India might well be the manifestation of his/her hallucination. A collage of contradictions, a patchwork of cultures, castes, languages, religions and morals, India is like a huge department store boasting a dizzying array of products -- turn in any direction and the view changes.
Simultaneously confusing, exasperating, exhilarating and inspiring, India is a disparate nation of wealth and poverty, puritanical values and devalued life; where the cow is honored and women often dishonored; where sati and wife burning -- although illegal -- still occurs in remote villages; where tourist babas beg and a baby in her mother's arms has already learned to proffer an open palm to extract rupees from a passerby.
It is a country that gave the world Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Amma, "The Hugging Mother." Where the Buddha attained enlightenment and the Dalai Lama set up shop. It is a country where Bollywood stars walk the red carpet while the homeless and infirm carpet the streets. A country of gurus and basheesh-induced officials, high tech and low income, a country where Goans and Kashmiris don't consider themselves Indians and where it sometimes feels as though you need a passport to cross state lines, so diverse are dialects, geography, clothing and lifestyles. India is a country of vast expanse and diverse beauty, a cacophony of sounds, sights and smells. It is a nation that promotes sensory overload and spiritual epiphanies and it would take a lifetime, even a reincarnated one, to fully explore and understand this dichotomous behemoth.
The idiosyncrasies of Indians can be a source of both amusement and irritation. When I first arrived, the ubiquitous Indian "head roll," a noncommittal gesture which I soon adopted, drove me crazy. Is that a "yes" or a "no"? A nod often means no, a head roll, maybe or is it no, or is it yes? Subkuch milega, "everything possible," is an oft-used phrase, until you request something that cannot or will not be honored. Then the response will invariably be: Nahi milega. "Not my problem" is a mantra I heard more often than I'd care to recall during my two years there. Then whose problem is it when the rickshaw breaks down en route to the train station? Well, okay, I guess it's ultimately my problem when I miss the damn train. Should your overnight bus from Kasol to Delhi suffer an aneurism, expect a throng of Indian men to stand around idly looking at, not fixing, the engine. Why does it take so many Indians to observe a disabled vehicle? I think there's a joke in there somewhere.
Ah, sometimes so infuriating, India and its citizens. You are lying to me and cheating me, I know. You know I know so why do you persist in doing so? The price on the package clearly says 14 rupees, so why do you charge me 15 rupees... or more? Oh, you don't have the one rupee change. I see. The dance, the haggle, the cheeky way in which Indians toy with we foreigners like a cat taunts its prey before putting an end to its misery. Sometimes it's all too much.
But then the light shines, as it invariably and inevitably does in this land of legends and gods, and the reasons I love India AND its people are illuminated like a beacon in the fog. Working, as I did, alongside dedicated legions of Indian nationals who tirelessly aided Tamil Nadu's tsunami survivors, for one, was both an honor and revelation.
Although I spent two years living and traveling throughout India, it is a hiccup in time compared to the thousands of Reformed Westerners I know who have stayed or been returning for decades. Arriving dazed and bemused, lost in the labyrinth of society's expectations, some just lay claim to the country and party, while others find salvation in Hindu or Buddhist teachings, refuge in an Ashram or simply a different perspective from which to view the world.
Although my path led me away from India a few years ago, she is never far from my thoughts and remains firmly entrenched in my heart. Lately, especially, I've been contemplating my time there, reflecting on my remarkable experiences and trying to somehow congeal my memories and often bewildering impressions,
She is calling loudly now, beckoning my return, seemingly possessing an invisible magnet more powerful than the pull of gravity. With so much to do, learn and experience, India assaults and massages one's sensibilities and you grow if you are willing. In India, in my experience, even when you are lost, you discover the path.
*Please note* This submission has been slightly amended by eliminating one short passage.that created confusion in its intent.
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